The Years of Influence (1841-1859)
Theodore Parker never wrote a formal pamphlet or book on rhetoric or homiletics. He never had the opportunity to deliver the Yale Lectures on Preaching as did Henry Ward Beecher (three times) and Phillips Brooks, for Parker died several years before the Yale Lectures were inaugurated. Nevertheless, from his own sermons and lectures, from thoughts recorded in his Journal, from letters he wrote, and from the testimonies of those who heard him, it is possible to construct a tower of information on the rhetorical techniques that made Parker one of the most memorable of orators in a time saturated with great oratory.
If a person was to be a speaker who was "permanently impressive," Parker emphasized, "he must be a person of superior ideas." 1 Such ideas were the greatest of all human forces. Parker himself was the embodiment of "superior ideas." He was endowed with an intellect of the highest rank, having read Homer and Plutarch before he was eight; the poets Pope, Milton, Cowley, and Dryden before he was ten. By the time of his mid-thirties, Parker had mastered twenty languages. He may have possessed the greatest intellect ever to grace the American pulpit. Taking into account such intellectual clerics as the Mathers, Jonathan Edwards, and William Ellery Channing, Parker's mind would still seem to be unsurpassed. He nourished this great intellect by voracious reading over a wide diversity of subjects. His list of books read for the year 1836 alone numbered 320 volumes. Chadwick has written of Parker that "knowledge of all kinds had for him an irresistible attraction." When Parker was in Europe in 1843, he met the noted scholar, F. C. Baur, at Tubingen. When Parker asked Baur how many hours a day he studied, the German professor replied, "Alas! only eighteen." Parker noted that was two to three hours more than the maximum he had allowed himself. 2 By the time of his death the volumes in his library numbered 20,000, a library that Commager has written was the "richest and most