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SPEECH OF EDWARD WALDO EMERSON
CHAIRMAN, My Honored Friend, — My Friends and Neighbors:- The Social Circle, as stated in its book of chronicles, was not merely founded for the diffusion of useful communications” by the twenty-five members who composed it, — some of which might be shared by their wives and some not, — but for the promotion of the social affections, that they should not die. I am glad to see how liberally the Circle has gone to work to promote them by such a thoroughly social and affectionate and catholic occasion as this.
Now, it makes me smile a little when, after the exercises that I have had the privilege of attending here and elsewhere, I think of a remark that I have so often heard my father make. My mother was constantly remembering that “Ten years ago to-day such a thing occurred," and other members of the family would remember other anniversaries. When at table such remarks were made, my father would often laugh and say, "Oh, it is always a hundred years from something.” But he was so good a townsman and he had such an affectionate regard for his neighbors — and he construed that term very largely – that if we can conceive of him being present and receiving such a tribute as has been given to him to-day, it is very clear how it would have affected him. Some of you are too young- or too young
Concordians — to remember the burning of his house as far as the heroic mustering of his friends would allow it to be burned, for they, some of whom I see here to-night, at the risk of their lives, prevented the entire destruction and saved all his effects. Well, his friends had sent him abroad to restore his health, and he was coming home, and word had gone out that the steamer had come in, and the engineer was instructed to toot the whistle as the train came down the grade from Walden Woods if Mr. Emerson was on board, and the bells were ringing and the people gathered at the depot. Mr. Emerson was carried homeward delighted, under a triumphal arch, surrounded by his neighbors, with the school children marching alongside, but he supposed in good faith that all this was a tribute to my sister Ellen. He did not realize that it was for him. But when after passing beneath a triumphal arch, he came to his own door, and found the house just as he had left it, with hardly a trace of the injury, and his study just as it was before, with all the books there, and then saw the waiting throng of friends and neighbors around his gate, it suddenly came over him what it meant. He sped down the marble walk to the gate, - I cannot say all that he said; it was but a few words, for the meaning of it all swept over him. He began, “My friends and neighbors! I am not wood nor stone." He articulated but a few words, but he made his meaning clear. And so we, his family, feel to-day.
Now, what was the reason, though not born in Concord, though a scholar living apart, though following his own lines regardless of other people's ideas, has caused him to be considered, first, as crazy, and then as atheistic, and then the charge resolved itself into pantheism, and then it became merely mysticism, and finally he was accepted, what was the reason that he was accepted ? It was for two reasons. In the first place, he never fought. He simply announced his message. He was a herald; he announced the word that was given to him, and it was not his part to defend it. The truth, he believed, would defend itself. There was no pugnacity in him. The truth needed no defence. He simply left it to work its own way, and so he aroused no opposition. In the second place, while finding good in all things, he saw even in the fierce and ferocious wars of the Middle Ages and the institutions of feudalism, this benefit, that it was a proof of the gentleman that he carried his life in his hands and was ready to answer for his word with his life, - it was exactly that which Mr. Emerson did: he answered for his words with his life. Many persons were not reading his words in those days; only a few were; but his life was before the people, and those who had read his words also came to see his life, and finding his life humble and serene and sweet and expectant and hopeful, they became his friends. He made friends everywhere as the sun in heaven makes friends.
But while he was an idealist, this story is told of him by a friend, that when the philosophers who were visiting him were discoursing in his study, a load of wood arrived for him and he said to them, “Excuse me, for a moment ; we have to attend to these things just as if they were real.” And so when his duty to his town and his country and his globe came up, he attended to those duties as if they were real. He went to town meeting, although his neighbor on the hill advised him not to go be
do with the ballot is no use it won't stay so; but what you do with the gun stays done.” But he went to town meeting, and I want to recall one word that he said. It is a good political tract, and very short. He said, “What business have you to stay away from the polls because you are paired off with a man who means to vote wrong? How shall you, who mean to vote right, be excused from staying away ? Suppose the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylæ had paired off with an equal number of Persians. Would it have been the same to history? Would it have been the same to Greece? Would it have been the same to the world?” This morning, in the singing of the Ode at the town hall, I missed two verses. The time was short and they were therefore left out, but they were lasting truths that he announced — as true from 1898 to 1903 and onward as in the dark days of the Civil War. These were the omitted
« United States ! The ages plead,
Present and past in under-song,
Nor speak with double tongue.
« For sea and land don't understand,
Nor skies without a frown
By the other cloven down.”
Now, to turn to a more entertaining aspect of our subject, perhaps, I wish to tell two stories which were connected with the little book I wrote about my father, but which came to me too late to
into the book. I will try to make them brief, but they seem to me very delightful. Our good neighbor, Mr. Bowers, whom many of you remember, who lived on Heywood Street by the brook, - a patriot who always spoke so well in the temperance meetings and the Anti-slavery and Kansas meetings that my father, very humble about his own eloquence, always came home saying, “Bowers spoke admirably; - when the war came shouldered his gun as a private in the three months' men, and afterwards served as captain throughout the war with credit. From various troubles, owing to the war, Mr. Bowers’s reason was affected, and he was confined in Danvers Asylum willingly. But he did not forget his principles, and instantly set himself to make the life of the inmates as tolerable as he could. He would write to my sister and myself, asking if we would please send him some books, – “Why, the