The Concord of 1855-1856


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THE CONCORD OF 1855-1856

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    1. (14) THE C…

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    THE CONCORD OF 1855-1856

    Though the Concord of sixty years ago was less than half as populous as the
    Concord of 1915-16, it was as attractive to the rest of the world, even more
    so, than the present Concord, with its automobiles and garages, its high taxes,
    its forums for discussion, its statue of Emerson in the Monroe Public Library,
    its promised art gallery, its Board of Health and its lawsuits. For in 1855-6
    it had its Concord authors here in the flesh, writing books, giving lectures,
    surveying farms, laying out roads, and giving the town the reputation that it
    was to delight in for years to come. The population was small, and not much
    increasing, but here were old families and the new-comers; here was the family
    of Dr. Bartlett, with its dramatic and social talent; here were the residents
    of the Old Manse, with their threads of connection with the great world outside;
    here was Thoreau with his original, creative genius, and his radical, progressive
    connection with the vivifying thought of his generation, which was to take the lead in
    the

    19

    reconstruction of the Republic, after the ancient formalism and domination of
    the slave-power should have yielded to the Spirit of the Age; here, above all,
    were Emerson and Alcott, embodying the
    Transcedentalist leaven, which was soon
    to leaven the whole lump of reconstruction, when the nation was thrown into the
    crucible by the struggle between the advancing thought of the nineteenth century
    and the reactive institutions of the century of the Stuarts, against which Cromwell
    and the Sidneys of Milton and the greater Puritans had victoriously contended.
    It was by no accident that the American Revolution had come to the crisis of battle
    in Concord and Lexington; Boston and
    Williamsburg had kept the lamp of Liberty
    alive by the hands of Adams and Jefferson,
    Otis and Patrick Henry; but the practical
    solution of the political problem lay with the voters of New England, who had the
    scheme of a democratic republic in their local institutions, all ready to be
    launched as the framework of a new nation, when Jefferson and Franklin gave the
    signal and France furnished the military support.

    By 1855 the coming struggle in our national politics was defining itself
    clearly on the horizon of the future. The reaction of 1851-52 (by which the
    nation seemed to be yielding to the demands of a few hundred thousand slave
    holders and giving guarantees for the permanence of negro slavery) had spent its
    force, and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise had turned almost every Northern
    state against the administration of President Pierce, whose own New Hampshire
    had ceased to support his pro-slavery policy. A new political party, to be called
    “Republican,” was forming to take the best of the two old parties at the North--the
    Democratic and the Whig parties--and by 1856 this new party had strong hopes of electing
    its presidential candidate. Concord and Massachusetts, indeed,
    nearly all New England
    was controlled by its leaders--the mushroom growth of the Native American party having
    died away almost as fast as it had risen up. We still had an “American” governor (Gardner)
    but his party had lost most of its hasty and ill-managed power. Sumner was winning favor
    as the successor of Webster in the Senate, and Henry Wilson, the “Natick cobbler,” had
    superseded the aristocratic Winthrop as the colleague of Sumner. Wendell Phillips and
    Theodore Parker were the most popular political speakers from the lecture platform, and
    were heard with pleasure at the Concord Lyceum, which then existed in its full glory, though
    the old custom of debating the lectures had practically ceased. Emerson, Thoreau,
    Parker and Edwin Whipple lectured there every winter, and the Women’s Anti-Slavery
    Society not only aided fugitive slaves to make their way to Canada, but held Garrisonian
    meetings here and furnished the Liberator with many subscribers and gave audience to
    colored orators, among whom Frederick Douglass was eminent. Hawthorne had been sent to
    Liverpool as consul by his college friend, President Pierce, but he was to return and his
    “Wayside” house was occupied by the Peabody family, relatives of Mrs. Hawthorne. The Alcotts
    had not yet returned for residence, having sold their house to Mr. Hawthorne, but they visited
    here and Thoreau visited them in their New Hampshire residence at Walpole when he went
    botanizing to Vermont. He and Ellery Channing visited Monadnoc and Cape Cod together and
    the success of Thoreau’s Walden in 1854 had opened several lyceums to him as a lecturer.

    My school continued to grow in 1855 and before the end

    Pg bk.

    of the year I wrote my mother that I had 27 pupils and that I should realize from the
    tuition fees, which were not high, the sum of $1,000, which Mr. Emerson had guaranteed
    me as an income from the school. Meantime I had learned to row on the river and was keeping
    two boats, rather an unusual thing at that time. Canoes were then almost unknown, and
    paddling was not a general accomplishment. Mr. Wheildon owned a green “dug out” which
    passed for a canoe and was paddled, but the most common boat was built with a keel and
    was either sailed or rowed. Occasionally you would see on the river when in freshet, a
    boat with a “crate” in which a fire could be lit, by the light of which fish were speared.
    Professional fishermen, Sam Haines and Jonas Melvin, paddled about the two rivers and
    brought round fresh water fish for breakfast, and good sized trout were occasionally
    caught in the brooks. The same men were gunners also and shot partridge, pigeons and
    quail--no pheasants having then invaded our pastures nor deer been seen in our roads.
    Channing, in one of his little-read volumes of verse, was describing these rovers and
    boatmen:

    2. Strange fi…

    Strange fisherman! Whose highest aim may soar
    To whirl the pickerel on the grassy bank,
    With watery shoe unconscious of a leak;
    But while the fisher dreams, or greasy gunner
    Lank with ebon locks, shies o’er the fences,
    And still upon the outskirts of the town
    A tawney tribe denudes the cranberry bed,
    Still shall our race, even as the Indians did,
    Clasp palm to nature’s palm and pressure close
    Deal with the Infinite.
    Franklin Benjamin Sanborn.
    Date: 2006
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