Theodore Parker: Orator of Superior Ideas

By David B. Chesebrough; Mark A. Noll | Go to book overview
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4
The Waning Months (1859-1860)

In the spring of 1857, Theodore Parker was miserably sick. For the past few years consumption had plagued his body. He would slow down for brief periods, enough to regain some of his strength, and then continued on with his rigorous schedule. His congregation had noted the debilitating effects and urged their pastor to take an extended paid leave of absence. The preacher allowed himself a few days off, but it had never been his nature to be idle for long. There was too much to be done and so much more to say. Even in the spring of 1857, he slowed only for short periods, and then it was back to the lecture circuit, sermons at the Music Hall, and other responsibilities.

A friend noted what was happening. "Mr. Parker works day and night. He is doing the work of half a dozen men. He is burning the candle at both ends. . . . He is only in his forty-seventh year. . . . But when I see him in the pulpit, oh, how much older he looks! His head is bald and his beard white, or almost so. He is giving his life to his work in a terrible sense." Parker himself wrote in that year of 1857: "I am forty-seven by the reckoning of my mother, seventyfour by my own internal account. I am an old man." 1

As the new year began in 1859, Parker's health had deteriorated to the point where even he admitted to himself that his time might be short. On January 1, he wrote in his journal:

This is the first New Year's Day that I was ever sick. Now I have been a prisoner almost three months, living in my chamber or my study. The doctor says I mend, and I quote him to my friends. But I have great doubts as to the results. It looks as if this was the last of my New Year's days on earth. I felt so when I gave each gift to-day; yet few men have more to live for than I. It seems as if I had just begun a great work. 2

The next day, Sunday, January 2, Parker delivered a sermon titled, "What

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