Celebrating the Battles of Lexington and Concord: Emerson & French

Point of impact

By 1775, American colonists and the British were on a collision course. The Stamp Act, imposed in 1765 to defray the cost of defending the colonies from the French and the Indians, was followed by the Townshend Acts in 1767, the Boston Massacre in 1770, and the Boston Tea Party in 1773. In 1774 the first Continental Congress resolved to boycott of British goods, provoking (among other responses) Samuel Seabury’s Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress and Alexander Hamilton’s Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress (December 1774):

And first, let me ask these restless spirits, whence arises that violent antipathy they seem to entertain, not only to the natural rights of mankind; but to common sense and common modesty. That they are enemies to the natural rights of mankind is manifest, because they wish to see one part of their species enslaved by another. That they have an invincible aversion to common sense is apparent in many respects: They endeavour to persuade us, that the absolute sovereignty of parliament does not imply our absolute slavery; that it is a Christian duty to submit to be plundered of all we have, merely because some of our fellow-subjects are wicked enough to require it of us, that slavery, so far from being a great evil, is a great blessing; and even, that our contest with Britain is founded entirely upon the petty duty of 3 pence per pound on East India tea; whereas the whole world knows, it is built upon this interesting question, whether the inhabitants of Great-Britain have a right to dispose of the lives and properties of the inhabitants of America, or not?

Civil disobedience turned to outright rebellion a few months later. In April 1775, British soldiers stationed in Boston were ordered to march on Concord, some 30 miles away, in order to confiscate weapons and ammunition that the colonials had stockpiled there. Warned of the British army’s plans, the American militia rushed to cut them off, facing the British in a skirmish at Lexington, and then at the Old North Bridge across the Concord River. The British, routed, retreated to Boston. In all, 49 Americans and 83 British died.

Amos Doolittle, Battle of Concord, 1875. Print. Image: Wikipedia

For contemporary sources on on these events, see “A Revue of Royal and Revolutionary Rhetoric, 1756-1776,” in my series of Hamilton posts.

“The Concord Hymn”

On July 4, 1837, a marker was raised at the site of the Old North Bridge, which had been dismantled in 1793. (The current bridge is a replica constructed in 1956.)

Memorial obelisk at the Old North Bridge, Concord, Massachusetts, dedicated July 4, 1837. Image: PC-user / Wikipedia

Young Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) commemorated the event with the “Concord Hymn”. Until this week, I wasn’t aware that the poem was, in fact, meant to be sung, to the tune of the hymn “Old Hundredth” (a familiar melody if you were raised Protestant). The choir of First Parish Church in Concord, Massachusetts, has a nice rendition on YouTube. Or, if you prefer the spoken version, Derek Jacobi does it magnificently – although the British accent for this particular poem seems odd.

“Concord Hymn”

Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
   Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
   And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
   Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
   Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
   We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
   When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
   To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
   The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Daniel Chester French’s Minute Man

For the centennial of the Battle of Concord, the town of Concord commissioned young Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) to create an over-lifesize sculpture. The plow on which the Minute Man’s hand rests as he lifts his musket to fight is a reminder that the militia was formed mostly of farmers who were ready on short notice to take up arms to defend their lands and liberties.

On the pedestal is the first stanza of Emerson’s “Concord Hymn”. Emerson – by this time the grand old man of American letters – was present at the dedication on April 19, 1875.

Daniel Chester French, The Minute Man, 1875. Minute Man National Historical Park, Concord, Massachusetts. Image: Wikipedia

More

  • Daniel Chester French (1850-1931, b. Exeter, N.H.) was one of America’s most notable sculptors. He studied with John Quincy Adams Ward in New York and Thomas Ball in Florence. Among his most notable works are the Minuteman, 1875 (Concord, Mass.); the Milmore Memorial, 1893 (copy at the Metropolitan Museum); the enormous Republic for the 1893 Columbian Exposition (smaller reproduction still standing in Chicago); the doors of the Boston Public Library, 1904; the Melvin Memorial (Mourning Victory, 1908; copy in the Metropolitan Museum); and the Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, 1922 (Washington). Manhattan has the Hunt Memorial, 1900 (Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan Chapter 38), Alma Mater, 1903 (Chapter 49), and Four Continents, 1907 (Chapter 4). Brooklyn has allegorical figures of Brooklyn and Manhattan, ca. 1900 (in front of the Brooklyn Museum), and a lovely relief of Lafayette, 1917 (9th Street entrance to Prospect Park).
  • See also the page on French on the Metropolitan Museum’s site. I could have sworn the MMA had a reduced-size cast of the Minute Man, but it’s not turning up in a search of their site.
  • The page on the Minute Man  by Doug Yeo is here. One of his pics shows the obelisk at one end of the bridge and the Minute Man at the other. Yeo has done a wonderful series of essays on Daniel Chester French’s sculptures. See also Thayer Tolles’s article from 1999.
  •  Chesterwood, Daniel Chester French’s home and studio in Stockbridge, Masachusetts, is open to visitors. Highly recommended.
  • My go-to book on French is Michael Richman’s Daniel Chester French: An American Sculptor, 1976, which includes many B&W photos of sculptures and drawings, plus extensive quotes from French and other primary sources.
  • Want wonderful art delivered weekly to your inbox? Members of my free Sunday Recommendations list (email DuranteDianne@gmail.com) receive three art-related suggestions every week: check out my favorites from last year’s recommendations. For more goodies, check out my Patreon page.

About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and two videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

Comments are closed.