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[434]

There are men whom we measure by their times,--content, and expecting to find them subdued to what they work in. They are the chameleons of circumstance; they are Aeolian harps, toned by the breeze that sweeps over them. There are others who serve as guide-posts and land-marks; we measure their times by them. Such was Theodore Parker. Hereafter the critic will use him as a mete-wand to measure the heart and civilization of Boston. Like the Englishman, a year or two ago, who suspected our great historian could not move in the best circles of the city when it dropped out that he did not know Theodore Parker, distant men gauge us by our toleration and recognition of him. Such men are our Nilometers; the harvest of the future is according to the height that the flood of our love rises round them. Who cares now that Harvard vouchsafed him no honors! But history will save the fact to measure the calculating and prudent bigotry of our times.

Some speak of him only as a bitter critic and harsh prophet. Pulpits and journals shelter their plain speech in mentioning him under the example of what they call his “unsparing candor.” Do they feel that the strangeness of their speech, their unusual frankness, needs apology and example! But he was far other than a bitter critic; though thank God for every drop of that bitterness that came like a wholesome rebuke on the dead, saltless sea of American life! Thank God for every indignant protest, for every Christian admonition that the Holy Spirit breathed through those manly lips! But if he deserved any single word, it was “generous.” Vir generosus is the description that leaps to the lips of every scholar. He was generous of money. Born on a New England farm, in those days when small incomings made every dollar a matter of importance, he no sooner had command of wealth than he lived with open hands.

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