A toast was given to “Ralph Waldo Emerson, grandson of Concord’s most patriotic minister, that high son of liberty, the Rev. William Emerson. The world honors him for his own freedom of thought and for his philosophic wisdom.”
The president of the day stated that he had invited Ralph Waldo Emerson to speak and he had declined, but he would call on him again, in hopes that he would respond. Mr. Emerson spoke very briefly: “I spoke the truth, sir, at first. I am sorry that I am not able to respond. I can understand with joy the speeches that I hear, but I cannot make one.” [*1]
The president replied: “It is a satisfaction to the people of Bedford just to see the man whom they admire, and, if I judge them rightly, whom they love.” [Applause.]
“The First Church in Billerica, which furnished Bedford with half its original church-members,” called up the Rev. C. C. Hussey, of Billerica, who believed in these old country towns, and advised his hearers to stay here, and keep up the culture and tone of the place, rather than to go to the cities. The First Church of Billerica has a most honorable record. He believed in these old churches, and would have these centres of worship well supported. Let the denominations bury the old schisms of the past, and go forward together to bless community by being each other’s helpers.
“Schools and education, they find a loving advocate in that friend of high culture and veteran teacher, A. Bronson Alcott. [^1]
[ p 80 ]
The venerable Mr. Alcott, now an octogenarian, replied to this toast in a lively and spirited manner. He recognized with pride the allusion to the illustrious authoresses, his daughters, and acknowledged their skill in the use of words. He urged upon all classes the need of more thorough training, especially in our mother tongue. He claimed that now the women are far more accurate than men in the use of English. He would have more culture and refinement in our primary-school teaching. He sharply criticised the use of the word “depot,” when we mean station; [*3] and urged that our sisters be admitted to all the opportunities that are open to their brothers.
“Samuel Fitch, the first town-clerk of Bedford, grandfather of Deacon Moses, wounded at White Plains, and of Jeremiah Fitch, Jr., at whose house the minute-men were entertained on the morning of April 19, 1775, [*4] and great-grandfather of the Jeremiah Fitch who imported the bell, and gave the clock and the Bible for the old society, and the land for a meeting-house to the new, and was a constant benefactor to all classes of Bedford people.”
Rev. Henry Fitch Jenks, grandson of the last Jeremiah, responded by pleasant allusions to the responsibilities of the early town “clarks”; and by apt and striking selections from the Bible, excused himself, as a young man, from further speaking in the presence of age and wisdom.
“The ‘Two Brothers’ or ‘Brother Rocks,’ so named by Gov. John Winthrop and Deputy-Gov. Thomas Dudley in 1638,” was responded to by the following letter from the Hon. Robert C. Winthrop, who counts among his ancestry both Dudley and Winthrop.
“Brookline, Mass., 22 August, 1879.
“Josiah A. Stearns, Esq.,
Chairman of Celebration Committee:
“My dear Sir, — I am compelled to abandon all idea of attending the Bedford celebration on the 27th inst. [*5] It would have given me great pleasure to visit your town on its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, and to listen to the story of its rise and progress, as it will he told by your distinguished brother. I should have eagerly embraced the opportunity to look on ‘The Two Brothers,’ — those monumental stones within your town limits which com-
[ p 81 ]
memorate one of the most characteristic and charming incidents in our earliest Massachusetts history. [*6]
“The controversies of Gov. Winthrop and Deputy-Gov. Dudley, and their reconciliation in 1638, while your town was a part of Concord and Billerica, furnish an edifying example to contentious statesmen in our own and in all other days. As I inherit the blood of both these first fathers of Massachusetts, I may be pardoned for not presuming to decide which had the best of the quarrel, or which deserves most credit for its amicable settlement. Mutual concessions and brotherly love were abundantly displayed by them both, and, instead of throwing stones at each other, they made the imperishable rocks their witnesses, that all malice and evil speaking and strife between them had ceased.
“I cannot but hope that such an inscription may be put on these historic landmarks that they may never be in danger of being overlooked or mistaken. [*7] The Bedford of New England may thus have almost as notable an association with Thomas Dudley and John Winthrop as the Bedford of old England has with John Bunyan, whose statue I saw there a few years ago, not far from the jail in which he wrote ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’
“I thank the citizens of Bedford for their most kind invitation, and you for its courteous communication, and regret my inability to accept it.
“Believe me, dear sir, with great regard, your obliged and obedient servant,
“Robert C. Winthrop.“
The president now said these rocks had been so long visited only by the moles, he would make it an even thing, and call upon Mr. Batt to speak in their behalf. [*8] Rev. William J. Batt, a former pastor of Bedford, but now settled in Stoneham, responded. He commended the wisdom of the men whose lives and deeds are commemorated by these historic rocks, and urged the protection and preservation of these sacred memorials of the past, so long as time shall endure.
“Capt Jonathan Willson,” killed while leading the minute-men of Bedford, in 1775, called for a dirge by the band. [^2]
“Bedford, the geographical centre and heart of Middlesex County,” called up the Rev. H. J. Patrick, former pastor of the Evangelical Church here, at present settled in Newton. He said
[ p 82 ]
he had lived in Bedford long enough to know and love the town. “Bedford was my first love, and I love it still. Its rich farms are always attractive. Bedford is the safest place to bring up a family of children that I know. I shall always rejoice in the prosperity of the place.” [^3]
Several toasts were unexpectedly but necessarily omitted for want of time. Among them were “The workers upon our committee. No one is better qualified to speak for them than the secretary, a prime mover, a skilled and efficient supporter of the cause, Rev. George E. Lovejoy.” [*9]
“The sons and daughters of Bedford, wandering North or South, turn back in loyal devotion, like the needle to the pole.” This was intended to bring out Chancellor Eben S. Stearns, D.D., of the University of Nashville, Tenn.
“Our Editors, a press-gang which promotes order and intelligence,” was a call for Mr. Frank B. Sanborn.
“Pages of History. Nathaniel Page, ensign of the Bedford minute-men in 1775, and his daughter, Mrs. Ruhamah Lane, still living in town, with intellect unimpaired, at the age of ninety-two, and at whose house the Page tribe have to-day been assembled.” Rev. Lucius R. Page and George W. Morse, Esq.
“The Reed Family, one of the oldest in Bedford.” This was responded to by a congratulatory telegram from the Reed family, assembled at Taunton, and signed by the Rev. S. Hopkins Emery, a former pastor in Bedford.
The following, among other letters, were received from invited guests : —
“Boston, Aug. 25, ’79.
“Dear Sir, — It is with great regret that I respond in the negative to your invitation for Wednesday. It would afford me very great satisfaction to be present, but I am not so far recovered from my accident as to allow me that privilege. Hoping that everything may go off to the honor of your good old town and the benefit of American history,
“I am with great respect, yours, etc.
“Josiah A. Stearns, Chairman Celebration Com.”
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“Nahant, Aug. 23, ’79.
“Gentlemen, — Please to accept my thanks for the honor you have done me by inviting me to the Bedford celebration, on the 27th proximo. [*10] Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to visit the old familiar scenes, and to listen to the address of the friend and guide of my youth, the Rev. Dr. Stearns, long revered and loved by all who know him. An engagement to be at another meeting obliges me to decline this one.
“May the memories which will be revived on this day serve to incite the youth of your ancient town to emulate the good deeds of their fathers.
“Yours very truly,
“Messrs. Webber, Clark, Stearns and Loomis, Committee.”
“Lexington, Aug. 19, 1879.
“Josiah A. Stearns, Esq.,
Chairman of the Committee of Invitation:
“In reply to your polite invitation to be with you at your celebration, I must say that while I thank you for the honor you have shown me, it is very doubtful whether I shall be able to attend. [^4] I can say most sincerely that ordinarily it would give me great pleasure, but while ‘the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.’ [*11] Age and growing infirmities admonish me to avoid extra fatigue and excitement. I can only say that, if the day should be favorable and I should feel pretty well, I may possibly attend; but the chances are against it.
“I regret it the more because I have always felt an interest in your town and people. Having been your guest on several festive occasions in days gone by, I have always been pleased with the zeal and unanimity with which your people have acted, all classes and conditions of the population manifesting a deep interest in the occasion.
“In fact, if I mistake not, the good people of Bedford have always been ready to turn out promptly, whenever duty called. On the 19th of April, 1775, Bedford required no public command to go forth and meet the foe of popular rights. It was enough to know that the oppressor was abroad, to enforce the arbitrary acts of the British Parliament. The gallant Capt. Willson did not stop to inquire whether the British had slaughtered any Bedford men, or had even set foot upon Bedford soil. [^5] It was enough for him and
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his patriotic men to know that human rights had been invaded and freemen had been slain, to induce him to appear in the field and add one more to the list of martyrs to the cause of freedom. What Bedford was then, she has continued to be, and I think there is good reason to believe she will continue to maintain her character by showing herself ready for every good work.
“Very respectfully yours,
The festivities in the tent closed, and the people went forth to view the variously decorated and beautifully illuminated dwellings, while the roar of forty-two guns and the ringing of the bell performed an evening salute.
When all was quiet, the multitude repaired again to the celebration grounds, and were entertained by a brilliant display of fire-works and the stirring music of an open-air concert given by the Natick Band. [*12]
Every undertaking of the day seemed to prosper. The “Arlington Advocate” does but speak the general voice when it says, “Never have we been present on an occasion when every one seemed to be enjoying themselves so fully. No accident marred the pleasures of the day, and the management can but feel that it was a success.”
[ p 85 ]
|O. J. Lane, Chairman.|
|Josiah A. Stearns.||Chas. H. Clarke.|
|Jerome A. Bacon.||E. G. Loomis.|
|A. P. Sampson.||Henry Wood.|
|S. W. Huckins.||C. A. Corey.|
|Banquet, Tent, and Grounds.|
|M. B. Webber, Chairman.||Jonas E. Monroe.|
|O. J. Lane.||Henry Wood.|
|S. W. Huckins.||C. A. Corey.|
|A. P. Sampson.||Calvin Rice.|
|Procession and Salute.|
|Calvin Rice, Chairman.||G. E. Lovejoy.|
|E. G. Loomis.||Capt. Cyrus Page.|
|Joseph Goodwin.||Fred Davis.|
|Henry Wood, Chairman.||G. E. Lovejoy.|
|A. P. Sampson.||M. B. Webber.|
|Amos B. Cutler, Chairman.||A. E. Brown.|
|Josiah A. Stearns.||Capt. Cyrus Page.|
|Ladies Assisting the Same.|
|Mrs. Amos B. Cutler. [*13]|
|Miss A. C. Stearns.||Mrs. Chas. H. Clark. [^6][*14]|
|Mrs. Sarah Sampson.||Mrs. A. E. Brown. [*15]|
|Ladies to Solicit Funds.|
|Mrs. Abbie Clark.|
|Mrs. Henry Wood. [*16]||Miss Lula Kenrick.|
|Miss Sarah C. Sampson.||Miss Annie Cooledge. [*17]|
|Miss Hattie Mudge.||Miss Mary Davis.|
|Miss Anna March.||Miss Lucinda Hosmer.|
|Mr. Joseph B. Goodwin.|
|M. B. Webber.||Josiah A. Stearns.|
|E. G. Loomis.||Chas. H. Clark.|
|Printing the Address, Etc.|
|Josiah A. Stearns.||A. E. Brown.|
- “A sketch of the celebration” (1879)
in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration (pp 79-85)
- education, ∨ Education,
- Willson,” ∨ Wilson,”
- “Bedford was . . . the place.”
∨ Bedford was . . . the place.
- with you ∨ withyou
- Willson ∨ Wilson
- Clark. ∨ Clarke.
- Emerson was not being modest: even before 1879, he genuinely could no longer make speeches.
Memory problems had plagued Emerson for years at this point; at times, he forgot his own name.
This was, in all likelihood, one of Emerson’s final public appearances. A heartbreaking anecdote!
- cf. Louisa May Alcott’s “My Boys” (1872)
in her Aunt Jo’s scrap-bag: Vol I (pp 1-34)
- Alcott’s opinion might have been considered eccentric even in his own time– the 1886 edition of Webster’s complete dictionary lists “railway station” as the third (of three) standard definitions of “depot”. (p 357)
- “whose house”: (the former) Fitch Tavern
Now a private residence: 12 Great Road
- “inst.” (i.e., “instant”): of this month
- These boulders lie on the eastern bank of the Concord River, due west of Chestnut Lane, which stems from (the fittingly-named) Dudley Road.
- Fifteen years later, “1638” was engraved on each rock. (BS1) p 138
- “Batt” is evidently being punned upon, producing a bat (that dwells above the earth) to “make [things] even” with the moles (that dwell within the earth).
- “prime mover”: person who sets something in motion
- “proximo”: of next month
- cf. KJV’s Matthew 26:41
- “repaired”: returned
- “Mrs. Amos B. Cutler”: Mary (Lane) Cutler (BHB) II: p 8
- “Mrs. Chas. H. Clark”: Abbie (Davis) Clark (BHB) II: p 7
- “Mrs. A. E. Brown”: Sarah (Flint) Brown (BHB) II: p 6
- “Mrs. Henry Wood”: Lydia (Willis) Wood (BHB) II: p 45
- “Cooledge”: [ (presumably) an error for ] Coolidge