26. Emerson's Library Dedication Speech
In 1835, soon after he settled permanently on the Cambridge Turnpike, Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke at the bicentennial celebration of Concord's incorporation - the first of his many ceremonial public addresses before the town. He also served as a regular Concord Lyceum lecturer between the 1830s and 1880. In light of his long-standing involvement with libraries in Concord (both the Concord Social Library and the Concord Town Library prior to the Concord Free Public Library) and of his enormous reputation as a lecturer by 1873, he was the natural choice to deliver the library dedication address.
Emerson wrote in an undated journal entry in 1873: "Be a little careful about your Library. Do you foresee what you will do with it? Very little to be sure. But the real question is, what it will do with you? You will come here & get books that will open your eyes, & your ears, & your curiosity, and turn you inside out or outside in." It is difficult to imagine that Emerson did not have in mind the impending opening of the Concord Free Public Library as he wrote these words.
The preeminent American thinker of his time, Emerson was also a good citizen of Concord. He chaired the Library Committee from 1875 until his death in 1882.