CHAPTER FOURTEEN. LEXINGTON AND CONCORD
In 1852 he wrote in his journal, "I waked last night and bemoaned myself because I had not thrown myself into this deplorable question of slavery, which seems to want nothing so much as a few assured voices. But then in hours of sanity I recover myself, and say, 'God must govern his own world, and knows his way out of this pit without my desertion of my post, which has none to guard it but me. I have quite other slaves to free than those negroes, to wit, imprisoned spirits, imprisoned thoughts, far back in the brain of man, far retired in the heaven of invention, and which, important to the republic of man, have no watchman or lover or defender but me,'" thereby naively leaving to God the lesser task.
But he wrongs himself in his own journal, for he did bestir himself and he did speak, and he did not leave the black men to God while he looked after the white; he helped God all he could in his own peculiar, irresolute way. At the same time no passage from the journals throws more light on the pure soul of the great dreamer. He was opposed to slavery and he felt for the negroes, but their physical degradation did not appeal to him so much as the intellectual degradation of those about him. To him it was a loftier mission to release the minds of men than free their bodies. With the naive and at the same time superb egoism which is characteristic of great souls, he consoles himself with the thought that God can probably take care of the slavery question without troubling him; he will stick to his post and look after more important matters.
What a treat it must have been to those assembled in the Follen house to hear week after week the very noblest considerations and suggestions concerning life poured forth in tones so musical, so penetrating, that to-day they ring in the ears of those who had the great good fortune to hear. There was probably very little said about death. Emerson never pretended to a vision beyond the grave. In his essay on "Immortality" he says, "Sixty years ago, the books read, the services and prayers heard, the habits of thought of religious persons, were all directed on death. All were under the shadow of Calvinism and of the Roman Catholic purgatory, and death was dreadful. The emphasis of all the good books given to young people was on death. We were all taught that we were born to die; and over that, all the terrors that theology could gather from savage nations were added to increase the gloom, A great change has occurred. Death is seen as a natural event, and is met with firmness. A wise man in our time caused to be written on his tomb, 'Think on Living.' That inscription describes a progress in opinion. Cease from this antedating of your experience. Sufficient to to-day are the duties of to-day. Don't waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of the hour's duties will be the best preparation for the hours or ages that follow it."
Such was the burden of Emerson's message: make the very best of life; let not the present be palsied by fears for the future. A healthy, sane message, a loud clear voice in the wilderness of doubt and fears, the very loudest and clearest voice in matters spiritual and intellectual which America has yet produced.
It was during the days of his service in East Lexington that he went to Providence to deliver a course of lectures; while there he was invited to conduct the services in the Second (Unitarian) Church. The pastor afterwards said, "He selected from Greenwood's collection hymns of a purely meditative character, without any distinctively Christian expression. For the Scripture lesson he read a fine passage from Ecclesiasticus**, from which he also took his text. The sermon was precisely like one of his lectures in style; the prayers, or what took their place, were wholly without supplication, confession, or praise, but only sweet meditations on nature, beauty, order, goodness, love. After returning home I found Emerson with his head bowed on his hands, which were resting on his knees. He looked up to me and said, 'Now, tell me honestly, plainly, just what you think of that service.' I replied that before he was half through I had made up my mind that it was the last time he should have that pulpit. 'You are right,' he rejoined, 'and I thank you. On my part, before I was half through, I felt out of place. The doubt is solved.'"
He dwelt with time and eternity on a footing of familiar equality. He did not shrink or cringe. His prayers were sweet meditations and his sermon a lecture. He was the apostle of beauty, goodness, and truth.
Lexington Road from East Lexington to the Centre is a succession of historic spots marked by stones and tablets.
The old home of Harrington, the last survivor of the battle of Lexington, still stands close to the roadside, shaded by a row of fine big trees. Harrington died in 1854 at the great age of ninety-eight; he was a fifer-boy in Captain Parker's company. In the early morning on the day of the fight his mother rapped on his bedroom door, calling, "Jonathan, Jonathan, get up; the British are coming, and something must be done." He got up and did his part with the others. Men still living recall the old man; they heard the story of that memorable day from the lips of one who participated therein.