The same thing was often manifested in his criticisms on current events. The broad truths were stated without fear or favor, the finer points passed over, and the special trait of the particular phase sometimes missed. His sermons on the last revivals, for instance, had an enormous circulation, and told with great force upon those who had not been swept into the movement, and even upon some who had been. The difficulty was that they were just such discourses as he would have preached in the time of Edwards and the “Great Awakening”; and the point which many thought the one astonishing feature of the new excitement, its almost entire omission of the “terrors of the Lord,” the far gentler and more winning type of religion which it displayed, and from which it confessedly drew much of its power, this was entirely ignored in Mr. Parker’s sermons. He was too hard at work in combating the evangelical theology to recognize its altered phases. Forging lightning-rods against the tempest, he did not see that the height of the storm had passed by.
These are legitimate criticisms to make on Theodore Parker, for he was large enough to merit them. It is only the loftiest trees of which it occurs to us to remark that they do not touch the sky, and a man must comprise a great deal before we complain of him for not comprising everything. But though the closest scrutiny may sometimes find cases where he failed to see the most subtile and precious truth, it will never discover one where, seeing, he failed to proclaim it, or, proclaiming, failed to give it force and power. He lived his life much as he walked the streets of Boston,—not quite gracefully, nor yet statelily, but with quick, strong, solid step, with sagacious eyes wide open, and thrusting his broad shoulders a little forward, as if butting away the throng of evil deeds around him, and scattering whole atmospheres of unwholesome cloud. Wherever he went, there went a glance of sleepless vigilance, an unforgetting memory, a tongue that never faltered, and an arm that never quailed. Not primarily an administrative nor yet a military mind, he yet exerted a positive control over the whole community around him, by sheer mental and moral strength. He mowed down harvests of evil as in his youth he mowed the grass, and all his hours of study were but whetting the scythe.
And for this great work it was not essential that the blade should have a razor’s edge. Grant that Parker was not also Emerson; no matter, he was Parker. If ever a man seemed sent into the world to find a certain position, and found it, he was that man. Occupying a unique sphere of activity, he filled it with such a wealth of success, that there is now no one in the nation whom it would not seem an absurdity to nominate for his place. It takes many instruments to complete the orchestra, but the tones of this organ the Music Hall shall never hear again.