ADDRESS AT THE
CONCORD FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY DEDICATION, 1873
61. Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Address,” pages 37-45
in Dedication of the New Building for the Free Public Library of Concord,
Massachusetts, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 1873 (Boston: Tolman &
White, 1873). Letterpress on paper; half bound in light brown morocco
and marbled paper boards; original printed gray paper wrapper retained.
Myerson D87. From the Emerson collection of William Taylor Newton,
presented by Edith Emerson Forbes
On October 1, 1873, Concord celebrated the dedication of its new public library, the gift of William Munroe (1806-1877). A son of pencil-maker William Munroe (or Monroe), Munroe was born and raised in Concord. He moved away as a young man, made a fortune in dry goods and textiles, and retired in 1861. Living in Boston, he spent summers with his family in Concord, finally moving back here in 1876.
Never married, with no children to inherit his fortune, Munroe wanted to use his wealth to benefit the cultural and intellectual life of his hometown. He first planned to leave a bequest to the Concord Town Library, then decided that his purposes would be better served by establishing an entirely new institution.
The Concord Free Public Library was incorporated on March 24, 1873. Munroe had planned every detail of its management and operation. The new library was to be supported by a combination of public and private funding and jointly governed by the public Town Library Committee and the private, self-perpetuating Concord Free Public Library Corporation. The town committee would oversee staffing (a professional librarian was to be hired) and the general collection, while the private body would own and maintain the physical facilities and would receive gifts of rare books, manuscripts, works of art, and other valuable materials. This public/private form of management continues to this day.
Munroe engaged Boston architects Snell and Gregerson to draw up plans. They designed an impressive Victorian Gothic building, the core of which remains today in the library’s octagonal lobby.
The formal dedication ceremonies on Wednesday October 1st began in the Town Hall at 4:00 P.M., following a procession of citizens from the library. The new building was open to visitors all day. The ladies of the town had decorated both the Town Hall and the library with flowers and autumn leaves. The exercises included music by the Concord Band, remarks and reports by Library Corporation and Library Committee representatives, the presentation by William Munroe to E.R. Hoar of the keys to the building, and the keynote address by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Emerson served on the Library Committee for the Concord Free Public Library from 1873 until his death in 1882 and was its chairman for the final seven years of his tenure.
In 1873, as he prepared his speech for the library dedication, Emerson wrote in his journal about the transforming power of books and libraries: “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.”
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