« IndietroContinua »
the heats of affection. It is well that the record of the Works and Days of Parker was made by warm friends whose love was frequently too much for their judgment, since in this way we obtain a better opportunity to study and comprehend the man. To accept the showing of these ardent admirers, we should find him one of the noblest specimens of manly and saintly character which has blossomed in the thick and heavy atmosphere of our degenerate day. If such partiality sometimes inflicts too much indiscriminate eulogy on the impatient reader, it has the decided merit of trying to unfold Parker's story as far as possible in his own language.
The family from which Theodore Parker sprang traces its history back to certain dwellers in Browsholme, a hamlet of York County in England. The name indicates their social standing and quality as foresters or park-keepers. There were Quakers and Puritans and a brace of Non-Conforming clergymen among those who bore the name in the mother country. Some branch of the family had attained the dignity of a coatof-arms with an ample blazon of leopards' heads, stare, and with a stag pierced by an arrow for a crest. Their motto was "Semper aude"—a motto which at least one of their race was to obey in a spirit which might even have provoked the admiration of Danton with his "Audacity, audacity, audacity forever!"
Thomas Parker came to America in 1635, in a vessel fitted out by Sir Richard Saltonstall. He settled at Lynn, Massachusetts, and was made a freeman in 1637. As one of the original settlers in the town, forty acres of land were assigned him; this tract is included within the limits of the present town of Saugus. In 1640 he removed to Reading. He was one of seven who formed the first Church gathered in that ancient town, and in 1637 he was chosen one of its deacons. He rejoiced in six sons and four daughters, and died, in 1683, at the advanced age of seventy-four. His descendants grew and multiplied; they were solid and reliable men of the sort that view land, teach school, drill and train militiamen, have the itch for fighting in their very bones, and delight in the titles of lieutenant and captain. They were not remarkably thrifty people, and their one famous son might have said of them in the lump, as Lord Brougham did of his forefathers, that he had not been able to discover that any of them had ever been remarkable for any thing. Now and then a touch of pure and manly Christian piety appears among their dusty and yellow papers; but Mr. Weiss seems suspicious that all such weaknesses came into the family from an occasional intermarriage with deacons' daughters.
In 1710 John Parker, a grandson of Thomas, removed from . Heading, with all his children and grandchildren save one son, to Lexington, then known as Cambridge Farms. Here they settled on a tract of land, part of which still remains in possession of the family. They were rudely skilled in a great variety of employments, and, as is apt to be the case with such, were nicely skilled in nothing. Their education was mostly self-conducted, and commonly resulted in just enough knowledge to enable them to keep their accounts in a manner that would be a deep grief to the soul of the modern schoolmaster, bent on the education of mankind. John Parker, the grandfather of Theodore, was born in this place in 1729. He had the traditional military instincts of the family in full measure; he was sergeant in the old French and Indian war, and carried a light fowling-piece at the surrender of Quebec. Returning to peace and the pursuits of agriculture at the close of that struggle, we have no further glimpse of him until the outbreak of the American Revolution. His minister, the, Rev. Jonas Clark, not only preached politics from the pulpit, but had a hand in some of the active measures which hastened the outbreak of hostilities. His parishioners were mostly of his own way of thinking, and they formed a company of minute-men to prepare for resistance to the British. Of this company Sergeant Parker became captain. At one o'clock on the morning of the 19th of April, 1775, word came to Captain Parker, who lived about three miles from the village green, that regular officers were riding up and down the road insulting and capturing honest folks. Though ill in body, he hastened to the scene of danger, consulted with the minister and others whom he found there, and resolved not to risk his slender force of seventy raw men against nine hundred regular soldiers unless subjected to abuse or molestation. The Government forces came up and poured out three volleys on the rebels, killing seven and wounding eight After returning a feeble and scat
tering fire, the militia were ordered to disperse and take care of themselves. The country rose to repel the enemy, and the English speedily beat a retreat toward Boston. Captain Parker was too ill to join vigorously in the pursuit. He was present and in command of troops on the 17th of June following, at the battle of Bunker Hill, but had not the felicity to be called into action. In the next September he died,.and we humbly trust has never encountered Theodore in the unseen world. The latter cites the words of his grandfather, as attested thirty-five years later by his orderly sergeant, to show that Captain Parker desired the war to begin then and there, if war was really meant; also that he held his men bravely to their work until he thought best to disperse them. He states these items in a letter to the historian Bancroft, and thinks they should be preserved to future generations. We do what we can to assist this honorable and pious design, though with some misgivings over the well-known elasticity of memory in veteran survivors of famous battles. Vanish, O homespun Captain, from the scene of human affairs! Vainly shall obscurity clutch at thy name. Thou didst head the columu of American democracy in its earliest bloody conflict with royal power, and therefore shall thy humble name be had in remembrance in all the earth.
But before Captain Parker had stumbled upon unexpected immortality, was born to him another John Parker, Feb. 14, 1761. This son was father to Theodore, and is therefore of great interest to us. He married Hannah Stearns of Lexington; their domestic life was peaceful and happy. Here are sketches of them as they appeared to Theodore. The father was more a mechanic than farmer, and left the farm-work mainly to his boys, while he made and mended wheels, pumps, and farming-tools. He was very fond of books, and used to read aloud in the long winter evenings to wife and children. When the clock told the hour of eight, a wave of the reader's hand dismissed the juniors to bed. He was stoutly built, ablebodied, ingenious, and industrious. He had studied algebra, geometry, and was a master-hand at figures; he talked well, and might have become an orator. He did not like debate, though his ability in it was conspicuous. He had a love for metaphysics, psychology, and all branches of mental and moral philosophy, and had read all the works on philosophy. He slept but five hours, and rose before day for study. He was acute in philosophical analysis, jovial and funny, but lacked the exuberant and grotesque mirthfulness of his famous son. He was good-mannered, and not clownish, profane, or indecent in his humor. He was inclined to think for himself in religion, and hated Jonathan Edwards and Paley. "Paley left us no conscience," was his verdict on that writer. He denied eternal punishment, and rejected the more extravagant miracles of the Bible. But he read the Scriptures with assiduity, and, on Sunday evenings, taught his little ones the ten commandments, prayers, and hymns. He was a Unitarian in theology, before there was any such religious body in the land. He did not like poetry, but read Milton, Dryden, Shakspeare, Pope, Trumbull, Peter Pindar, and Abraham Cowley. In later life he was fond of novels. He was a Federalist when only four others were to be found in his native town. He was just, fearless, a lover of peace, administered estates, and was guardian for widows and orphans. He was not thrifty, was a wise friend of education, and never grew rich. He took much pains with the intellectual and moral training of his family.
The mother was handsome, delicate, slightly-built, industrious, thrifty, and generous to the poor. She loved to hear her husband read of an evening, while the family sewing or knitting busied her restless hands; and she was fond of simple ballads and popular tales. Her familiarity with the Scriptures was unusual, and she had her favorite hymns. She had delicacy of mind, and a dainty imagination. Doctrines were in no great esteem with her, though she belonged to the Church and had all her babes duly christened. She was free from bigotry, cant, and fear. She took love and good works for religion. She bred up her family in such piety as she herself had, and kept all bigoted reading out of the household. Her manners were grave and gentle, but touched with the old Puritan state, till the mild blue eyes sometimes grew austere. She taught the children to repeat their prayers, after her careful haud had tucked them up snugly in bed for the night.
Such a picture deserves our careful examination. "When a great man of any sort appears, he is rarely unheralded by kinsmen who foreshadow his best qualities. From his worthy father Theodore Parker inherited strength of body, ability in speech, love of metaphysics, hatred of Paley and Jonathan Edwards, disbelief in some of the miracles in the Bible, reverence for the' Scriptures, Unitarian theology, such natural virtues as he had, love of learning, and habits of diligence in labor and study. It is implied, though not directly asserted, that his father's view of the inspiration of the sacred^ writers was much the same that Theodore carried with him, in 1834, to the Cambridge Divinity School. Theodore's taste for poetry, hard as he strove to mold it aright, was essentially derived from his father; for what he wrote and what he cites from others is nearly always didactic and rhetorical, very rarely of an imaginative quality. If his mother had the delicate mind and fine gifts of imagination which are ascribed to her, she did not communicate them to her noted son. It seems that Hannah Stearns ministered to the spiritual welfare of her children so far as it was attended to in the home circle. When she had stout Theodore baptized, he kicked and struggled, protested, and inquired what it all meant. She shared in their rehearsals of prayer, sought to make them well-bred and honest, and in particular strove to render them obedient to conscience. The father forbade the school-teacher to instruct his youngest child in the Westminster Catechism. The mother did not meddle with the personal religious life of her offspring. The only incident of the early years of Theodore which reveals her in her natural and solemn office as the religious teacher of her child is thus described: "I had lifted my hand to smite a turtle when a voice within me said clear and loud, 'It is wrong!' . . . I hastened home and told my mother the tale, and asked her what it was that told me it was wrong? She wiped a tear from her eye with her apron, and, taking me in her arms, said, 'Some men call it conscience, but I prefer to call it the voice of God in the soul of man. If you listen and obey it, then it will speak clearer and clearer, and always guide you right; but if you turn a deaf ear or disobey, then it will fade out little by little, and leave you in the dark and without a guide. Your life depends on heeding this little voice."