EMERSON AND THOREAU
IN THE MIDDLE PERIOD of the nineteenth century the village of Concord in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stirred with new life. Here Hawthorne wrote polished studies of damaged souls; here Bronson Alcott turned from schoolmastering to philosophy. Here Emerson, during summer days, walked often along the town's main street past stores where farmers' families came to trade, and continued on the thoroughfare after it had become a dusty country road winding into the surrounding hills. At the northern edge of the village, the Concord River was crossed by a bridge where in 1775 the opening battle of the Revolution had been fought. The patriots of Concord proudly recalled that first blow struck for American liberty by Concord men. Their bridge was becoming a shrine to which pilgrims came to venerate the spot where Americans first died for the ideal of constitutional democracy. In 1837 Concord erected a battle monument beside the bridge. Concord, therefore, was no ordinary village metropolis of a rural area. It had a past. It was old-several times as old as contemporary villages of equal size in the Upper Mississippi Valley. Many of its houses were, according to American standards, venerable. The mood of Puritanism, which had dominated its thought in the seventeenth century, still clung to it like wisps of fog that the morning sun has not yet driven from the fields. In its periodic town meetings its quiet life was governed by the methods of a well-tried democracy. To these gatherings went Emerson, to discuss with his neighbors the problems of highway upkeep and the management of the Common.
Citizen Emerson was one of the atoms that made up the Concord community. So was his young friend, Henry Thoreau, who, by the 1850's, had acquired a reputation for being a little strange.