The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Parker, Theodore

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The American Cyclopædia
Parker, Theodore
Edition of 1879. Written by John WeissSee also Theodore Parker on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PARKER, Theodore, an American clergyman, born in Lexington, Mass., Aug. 24, 1810, died in Florence, Italy, May 10, 1860. He worked on the farm which had been in his family for 150 years, and in the tool shop, and at the age of 17 began to teach school in the winter months. In 1830 he entered Harvard college, but studied at home, only attending the examinations. In 1831 he was teaching a private class in Boston. Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, French, Spanish, and metaphysics filled his leisure. In 1832 he opened a private school in Watertown with two scholars, one of whom was on charity; but he soon had more than 50. For their benefit, and for his class in the Sunday school, he wrote a history of the Jews, which is still in manuscript. He entered the divinity school in Cambridge in 1834. Syriac, Arabic, Danish, and Swedish were here added to his list of languages; and Anglo-Saxon and modern Greek were commenced. He was one of the editors of the “Scriptural Interpreter,” a magazine conducted by members of the school. During the autumn and winter of 1836 he preached in various pulpits of Massachusetts, and was settled as pastor of the Unitarian church at West Roxbury in June, 1837. Here he formed views upon the authority and inspiration of the Bible which were not in harmony with those of his Unitarian brethren. At the ordination of Mr. Shackford in South Boston, May 19, 1841, Mr. Parker preached a discourse on the “Transient and Permanent in Christianity,” which, assuming the humanity and natural inspiration of Christ, gave rise to a controversy, during which Mr. Parker developed his anti-supernaturalism in various writings and sermons. In the autumn of 1841 he delivered in Boston five lectures, which were published under the title of “A Discourse of Matters pertaining to Religion” (1842). During the autumn and winter of 1842 he delivered six “Sermons for the Times” in Boston and elsewhere. He travelled in England, France, Italy, and Germany in 1843-'4; and after his return the controversy was renewed on occasion of his exchanging pulpits with some of the more liberal Unitarian preachers. He began to preach at the Melodeon, Boston, Feb. 16, 1845, and was installed there over a newly organized parish, styled the 28th Congregational society, in the spring of 1846. Up to this time, besides the writings above mentioned, his more notable productions were articles in the “Dial” and other periodicals. His translation of De Wette's “Introduction to the Old Testament,” with additions, appeared in 1843. Other translations, from Ammon, Eichhorn, and Gesenius, seem to have been preparatory to that work. In December, 1847, appeared the first number of the “Massachusetts Quarterly,” which he conducted during its life of three years. He became popular as a lecturer, vigorously opposed the Mexican war, and was one of the earliest advocates of temperance and anti-slavery. After the passage of the fugitive slave law in 1850, every case of attempted rendition in Boston enlisted his personal activity; and at the time of the rendition of Anthony Burns (May 24 to June 8, 1854), an indictment was brought against him for resisting an officer of the United States in his attempt to execute process, based upon a speech delivered at Faneuil hall before an anti-rendition meeting. It was quashed upon a technicality; but Mr. Parker had prepared an elaborate defence, which he printed. In November, 1852, his congregation occupied for the first time the great music hall in Boston, which was crowded every Sunday. He was now often ill, and compelled for a while to cease preaching and writing; but his persistent will carried him through till January, 1859, when an attack of bleeding at the lungs brought to a close his public services at the music hall. On Feb. 3 he sailed for Santa Cruz, whence in May he sent a letter to his parish entitled “Theodore Parker's Experience as a Minister.” Thence he sailed to Europe, spent some time in Switzerland, and went to Rome, where he passed the winter of 1859. Setting out thence in April, 1860, very much enfeebled, he reached Florence with difficulty, where he died. He was buried in the cemetery outside the walls. Parker's published works are: “A Discourse of Matters pertaining to Religion” (1842); “Miscellaneous Writings” (12mo, Boston, 1843); “Occasional Sermons and Speeches” (2 vols. 12mo, 1852); “Ten Sermons on Religion” (1853); “Sermons on Theism, Atheism, and the Popular Theology” (1853); “Additional Speeches, Addresses,” &c. (2 vols. 12mo, 1855); “Trial of Theodore Parker for the ‘Misdemeanor of a Speech in Faneuil Hall against Kidnapping’ ” (1855); “Two Christmas Celebrations;” and “Experience as a Minister” (1859). A collective edition of his works was edited by Frances Power Cobbe (12 vols., London, 1863-'5), and a later edition by H. B. Fuller (10 vols. 12mo, Boston, 1870). His “Life and Correspondence” was published by the Rev. John Weiss (2 vols. 8vo, New York, 1864), and his “Life” by the Rev. O. B. Frothingham (New York, 1874). See also Albert Réville's Théodore Parker, sa vie et ses œuvres (Paris, 1865). His library of more than 13,000 volumes he bequeathed to the public library of Boston.