William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 10 of 169)
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for another rank. It is not political power.
I understand something deeper. I know
but one elevation of a human being, and
that is Elevation of Soul. Without this,
it matters nothing where a man stands or
what he possesses ; and with it, he towers, he
is one of God's nobility, no matter what place
he holds in the social scale. There is but one
elevation for a labourer, and for all other
men. There are not different kinds of dignity
for different orders of men, but one and the
same to all. The only elevation of a human
being consists in the exercise, growth, enei^
of the higher principles and powers of his
soul. A bird may be shot upward to the
skies by a foreign force ; but it rises, in the
true sense of the word, only when it spreads
its own wings and soars by its own Hving
power. So a n^an may be thrust upward
into a conspicuous place by outward acci-
dents ; but he rises only in so far as he exerts
himself, and expands his best faculties, and
ascends by a free effort to a nobler region of
thought and action. Such is the ele>'ation I



desire for the labourer, and I desire no other.
This elevation is indeed to be aided by an im-
provement of his outward condition, and in turn
it greatly improves his outward lot ; and thus
connected, outward good is real and great ; but
supposing it to exist in separation from inward
growth and life, it would be nothing worth,
nor would I raise a finger to promote it.

I know it will be said, that such elevation
as I have spoken of is not and cannot be
within the reach of the lalwuring multitude,
and of consequence they ought not to be tan-
talized with dreams of its attainment. It will
be said, that the principal part of men are
plainly designed to work on matter for the
acquisition of material and corporeal good,
and that, in such, the spirit is of necessity too
wedded to matter to rise above it. This
objection will be considered by-and-by; but
I would just observe, in passing, that the
objector must have studied very carelessly
the material world, if he suppose that it is
meant to be the grave of the minds of most
of those who occupy it. Matter was made
for spirit, body for mind. The mind, the
spirit, is the end of this living organization of
flesh and bones, of nerves and muscles ; and
the end of this >'ast system of sea and land,
and air and skies. This unbounded creation
of sun, and moon, and stars, and clouds, and
seasons, was not ordained merely to feed and
clothe the body, but first and supremely to
awaken, nourish, and expand the soul, to be
the school of the intellect, the nurse of
thought and imagination, the field for the
active powers, a revelation of the Creator,
and a bond of social union. We were placed
in the material creation, not to be its slaves,
but to master it, and to make it a minister
to our highest powers. It is interesting to
observe how much the material world does
for the mind. Most of the sciences, arts,
professions, and occupations of Ufe, grow out
of our connection with matter. The natural
philosopher, the physician, the lawyer, the
artist, and the legislator, find the objects or
occasions of their researches in matter. The
poet borrows his beautiful imagery from
matter. The sculptor and painter express
their noble conceptions through matter. Ma-
terial wants rouse the world to activity. The
material organs of sense, especially the eye.
wake up infinite thoughts in the mind. To
maintain, then, that the mass of men are and
must be so immersed in matter, that their
souls cannot rise, is to contradict the great
end of their connection with matter. I main-
tain that the philosophy which does not see.
in the laws and phenomena of outward
nature, the means of awakening Mind, is
lamentably short-sighted ; and that a state of
society which leaves the mass of men to be
crushed an4 famished in soul b^ ej^g^^vv



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toils cm matter, is at war with God's designs,
and turns into means of bondage what was
meant to free and expand the souL

Elevation of soul, this is to be desired for
the labourer as for every human being ; and
«bat does this mean? The phrase, I am
aware.. is vague, and often serves for mere
declamation. Let me strive to convey some
precise ideas of it; and in doing this, I can
nse no language which will save the hearer
from the necessity of thought. The subject
is a sixritual one. It carries us into the
depths of our own nature, and I can say
nothing about it worth saying, without task-
ing your powers of attention, without de-
manding some mental toil. I know that
these lectures are meant for entertainment
rather than mental labour ; but as I have told
you. I have great faith in labour, and I feel
that I cannot be more useful than in exciting
the hearer to some vip^orous action of mind.

Elevation of soul, in what does this con-
sist? Without aiming at philosophical ex-
actness, I shall convey a sufficiently precise
idea of it. by saying tnat it consists, nrst, in
Force of Thought exerted for the acquisition
of Truth; secondly, in Force of Pure and
Generous Feeling ; thirdly, in Force of Moral
Purpose. Each of these topics needs a lec-
ture for its development. I must confine my-
self to the first ; from which, however, you
may learn in a measure my views of the other
two. — Before entering on this topic, let me
offer one preliminary remark. To every man
who would rise in dignity as a man, be he rich
or poor, ignorant or instructed, there is one
essential condition, one effort, one purpose,
without which not a step can be taken. He
must resolutely purpose and labotu* to free
himself from whatever he knows to be wrong
in lib motives and life. He who habitually
allows himself in any known crime or wrong-
doing, effectually bars his progress towards a
higher intellectual and moral life. On this
point every man should deal honestly with him-
self. If he will not listen to his conscience,
rebuking him for violations of plain duty, let
him not dream of self-elevation. The founda-
tion is wanting. He will build, if at all, in sand.

I now proceed to my main subject. I have
said that the elevation of a man is to be
sought, or rather consists, first, in Force of
Thought exerted for the acquisition of truth ;
and to this I ask your serious attention.
Thought, Thought, is the Fundamental dis-
tinction of mind, and the great work of life.
All that a man docs outwardly, is but the
expression and completion of his inward
thought. To work effectually, he must think
cleaiiy. To act nobly, he must think nobly.
Intellectual liorce is a principal element of
the soul's life, and should be proposed by
ctoy mpui as a principal end ©f bis hcing.



It is common to distinguish between the
intellect and the conscience, between the
power of thought and virtue, and to say
that virtuous action is worth more than
strong thinking. But we mutilate our nature
by thus drawing lines between actions or
energies of the soul, which are intimately,
indissolubly bound together. The head and
the heart are not more vitally connected than
thought and virtue. Does not conscience
include, as a part of itself, the noblest action
of the intellect or reason? Do we not de-
grade it by making it a mere feeling ? Is it
not something more? Is it not a wise dis-
cernment of the right, the holy, the good?
Take away thought from virtue, and what
remains worthy of a man ? Is not high virtue
more than blind instinct ? Is it not founded
on, and does it not include clear, bri^^ht per-
ceptions of what is lovely and grand m cha-
racter and action? Without power of thought,
what we call conscientiousness, or a desire to
do right, shoots out into illusion, exaggera-
tion, pernicious excess. The most cruel
deeds on earth have been perpetrated in the
name of conscience. Men have hated and
murdered one another from a sense of duty.
The worst frauds have taken the name of
pious. Thought, intelli|:encp, is the dignity
of a man, and no man is rising but in pro-
portion as he is learning to think cleariy and
forcibly, or directing the energy of his mind
to the acquisition of truth. Every man, in
whatsoever condition, is to be a student. No
matter what other vocation he may have, his
chief vocation is to Think.

I say every man is to be a student, a
thinker. This does not mean that he is to
shut himself within four walls, and bend
body and mind over books. Men thought
before books were written, and some of the
greatest thinkers never entered what we call a
study. Nature, Scripture, society, and life,
present perpetual subjects for thought ; and
the man who collects, concentrates, employs
his faculties on any of these subjects for the
purpose of getting the truth, is so far a
student, a thinker, a philosopher, and is
rising to the dignity of a man. It is time
that we should cease to limit to professed
scholars the titles of thinkers, philosophers.
Whoever seeks truth with an earnest mind,
no matter when or how, belongs to the school
of intellectual men.

In a loose sense of the word, all men may
be said to think ; that is, a succession of ideas,
notions, passes through their minds from
morning to night ; but in as far as this suc-
cession is passive, undirected, or governed
only by accident and outward impulse, it has
little more claim to dignity than the expe-
rience of the brute, who receives, with like
passivencss, sensations from abrowJ through



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his waking hours. Such thought, if thought
it may be called, having no aim, is as useless
as the vision of an eye which rests on nothing,
which flics without pause over earth and sky,
and of consequence receives no distinct image.
Thought, in its true sense, is an energy of
intellect. In thought, the mind not only re-
ceives impressions or suggestions from with-
out or within, but reacts upon them, collects
its attention, concentrates its forces upon them,
breaks them up and analyzes them like a living
laboratory, and then combines them anew,
traces their connections, and thus impresses
itself on all the objects which engage it.

The universe in which we live was plainly
meant by God to stir up such thought as has
now been described. It is full of difficulty
and mystery, and can only be penetrated and
unravelled by the concentration of the intel-
lect. Every object, even the simplest in nature
and society, every event of life, is made up of
various elements subtly bound together; so
that, to imderstand anything, we must reduce
it from its complexity to its parts and prin-
dples, and examine their relations to one
another. Xor is this all. Ever)'lhing which
enters the mind, not only contains a depth of
mystery in itself, but is connected by a thousand
ties with all other things. The universe is not
a disorderly, disconnected heap, but a beau-
tiful whole, stamped throughout with unity,
so as to be an image of the One Infinite Spirit.
Nothing stands alone. All things are knit
together, each existing for all and all for each.
The humblest object has infinite connections.
The vegetable, which you saw on your table
to-day, came to you from the first plant w hich
God made to grow on the earth, and was the
product of the rains and sunshine of six
thousand years. Such a universe demands
thought to be understood ; and we are placed
in it to think, to put forth the power within,
to look beneath the surface of things, to look
beyond particular facts and events to their
causes and effects, to their reasons and ends,
their mutual influences, their diversities and
resemblances, their proportions and harmo-
nies, and the general laws which bind them
together. This is what I mean by thinking ;
and by such thought the mind rises to a dig-
nity which humbly represents the greatness
of the Divine intellect ; that is, it rises more
and more to consistency of views, to bread
general principles, to universal truths, to
glimpses of the order and harmony and in-
finity of the Divine system, and thus to a deep,
enlightened veneration of the Infinite Father.
Do not be startled, as if I were holding out an
elevation of mind utterly to be despaired of;
for all thinking, which aims honcotiy and
earnestly to see things as they are, to see them
in thou- connections, and to bring the loose,
conflicting ideas of the mind into consistency



and haiinony, all such thinking, no matter in
what sphere, is an approach to the dignity of
which I speak. You are all capable of the
thinking which I recommend. You have all
practised it in a degree. The child, who casts
an inquiring eye on a new toy, and breaks it
to pieces that he may discover the mysterious
cause of its movements, has begun the work
of which I speak, has begun to be a philoso-
l>her, has begun to penetrate the unknown, to
seek consistency and harmony of thought;
and let him go on as he has begun, and make
it one great business of life to inquire into the
elements, connections, and reasons of what-
ever he witnesses in his own breast, or in
society, or in outward nature, and, be his con-
dition what it may, he will rise by degrees to
a freedom and force of thought, to a breadth
and miity of views, which will be to him an
inward revelation and promise of the intellec-
tual greatness for which he was created.

You will observe, that in speaking of force
of thought as the elevation of the labourer
and of every human being, I have continually
supposed this force to be exerted for the pur-
pose of acquiring Truth. I beg you never to
lose sight of this motive, for it is essential to
intellectual dignity. Force of thought may
be put forth for other puiposes — to amass
wealth for selfish gratification, to give the
individual power over others, to blind others,
to weave a web of sophistry, to cast a deceit-
ful lustre on vice, to make the worse appear
the better cause. But energy of thought, so
employed, is suicidal. The intellect, in be-
coming a pander to vice, a tool of the pas-
sions, an advocate of lies, becomes not only
degraded, but diseased. It loses the capacity
of distinguishing truth from falsehood, good
from evil, right from wrong ; it becomes as
worthless as an eye which cannot distinguish
between colours or forms. Woe to that mind
which wants the love of truth ! For want of
this, genius has become a scourge to the world,
its breath a poisonous exhalation, its bright-
ness a seducer into paths of pestilence and
death. Truth is the light of the Infinite Mind,
aud the image of God in his creatures. Nothing
endures but truth. The dreams, fictions,
theories, which men would substitute for it,
soon die. Without its guidance effort is vain,
and hope baseless. Accordingly, the love of
truth, a deep thirst for it, a dehberate purpose
to seek it and hold it fast, may be considered
as the very foundation of human culture and
dignity. Precious as thought is, the love of
truth is still more precious; for without it,
thought — thought wanders and wastes itself,
and precipitates men into guilt and misery.
There is no greater defect in education and
the pulpit than that they inculcate so httle
an impartial, earnest, reverential love of truth,
a readiness to toil, to live and die for it. Let



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the labcniring man be imbued in a measure
unth this spirit ; let him learn to regard him-
self as endowed \%-ith the power of thought,
for the very end of acquiring truth; let him
l^m to regard truth as more precious than
his daily bread ; and the spring of true and
p^^rj^tual elevation is touched within him. He
has b^^n to be a man ; he becomes one of the
elect of his race. Nor do I despair of this
elevation of the labourer. Unhappily little,
almost nothing has been done, as yet, to inspire
either rich or poor with the love of truth for
its own sake, or for the life, and inspiration,
and dignity it gives to the soul. The pros-
perous have as little of this principle as the
labouring mass. I think, indeed, that the
spirit of luxurious, fashionable life, is more
hostile fo it than the hardships of the poor.
Under a wise culture, this principle may be
awakened in all classes, and wherever awakened
it will form philosophers, successful and noble
thinkers. These remarks seem to me parti-
cularly important, as showing how intimate a
union subsists between the moral and intel-
lectual nature, and how both must work to-
gether from the beginning. All human culture
rests on a moral foundation, on an impartial,
disinterested spirit, on a willingness to make
sacrifices to the truth. Without this moral
power, mere force of thought avails nothing
towards our elevation.

I am aware that I shall be told that the
work of thought which I liave insisted on is
difticult, that to collect and concentrate the
mind for the truth is harder than to toil with
the hands. Be it so. But are we weak
enough to hope to rise without toil? Does
any man, labourer or not, expect to invigorate
body or mind without strenuous effort ? Does
not the child grow and get strength, by
throwing a degree of hardship and vehemence
and contlict into his very sports? Does not
life without difficulty become insipid and
joyless? Cannot a strong interest turn ditfi-
ciity into pleasure? Let the love of truth,
of which I have spoken, be awakened, and
obstacles in the way to it will whet, not dis-
courage, the mind, and inspire a new delight
into its acquisition. -

I have hitherto spokenof Force of Thought
in general. My views will be given more
completely and distinctly, bv considering,
next, the objects on which this force is to
be exerted. These may be reducetl to two
rlvL^aes, Matter and Mind; the physical world
which falls under our eyes, and the spiritual
world. The working man is particularly
called to make matter his study, because his
business is to work on it, and he works more
wisely, effectually, cheerfully, and honourably,
in proportion as he knows what he acts upon,
knows the laws and forces of which he avails
bimsdf, tmderst^ds the reason of what he



does, and can explain the changes which fall
under his eye. Labour becomes a new thing
when thought is thrown into it, when the mind
keeps pace with the hands. Every farmer
should study chemistr>', so as to understand
the elements or ingredients which enter into
soils, vegetation, and manures, and the lav.s
according to which they combine with and
are loosened from one another. So, the
mechanic should understand the mcclianic
powers, the laws of motion, and the history
and composition of the various substances
which he works on. Let me add, that the
farmer and the mechanic should cultivate the
perception of beauty. What a charm and
new value might the farmer add to his grounds
and cottage, were he a man of taste? The
product of the mechanic, be it great or small,
a houso or a shoe, is worth more, sometimes
much more, if he can succeed in giving it
the grace of proportion. In France, it is not
uncommon to teach drawing to mechanics,
that they may get a quick eye and a sure
hand, and may communicate to their works
the attraction of beauty. Every man should
aim to impart this perfection to his labours.
The more of mind we carry into toil, the
better. Without a habit of thought, a man
works more like a brute or machine than
like a man. With it, his soul is kept alive
amidst his toils. He learns to fix an observ-
ing eye on the processes of his trade, catches
hints which abridge labour, gets glimpses
of important dij^coveries, and is sometimes
able to perfect his art. Even now, after all
the miracles of invention which honour our
age, we little suspect what improvements of
machinery are to spring from spreading intelli-
gence and natural science among workmen.

But I do not stop here. Nature is to
engage our force of thought, not simply for
the aid which the knowledge of it gives in
working, but for a higher end. Nature
should be studied for its own sake, because so
wonderful a work of God, because impressed
with his perfection, because radiant with
beaut}', and grandeur, and wisdom, and
beneficence. A labourer, like every other
man, is to be liberally educated, that is, he
is to get knowledge^ not only for his bodily
subsistence, but for the life, and growth, and
elevation of his mind. Am I asked, whf ther
I expect the labourer to traverse the whole
circle of the physical sciences? Certainly
not ; nor do I expect the merchant, or the
lawyer, or preacher, to do it. Nor is this at
all necessary to elevation of soul. The truths
of physical science, which give greatest dignity
to the mind, are those general laws of the
creation which it has required ages to unfold,,
but which an active mmd, bent on self-en-*
largement, may so far study and comprehend,
as to interpret the changes of nature perpc-



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tually taking place around us, as to see in all
the forces of the universe the workings of one
Infinite Power, and in all its arrangements the
manifestation of one unsearchable wisdom.

And this leads me to obsen'e the second
great object on which force of thought is to
be exerted, and that is Mind, Spirit, compre-
hending under this word God and all his
intelligent offspring. This is the subject of
what arc called the metaphysical and moral
sciences. This is the grand field for thought;
for the outward, material world is the shadow
of the spiritual, and made to minister to it.
This study is of vast extent. It comprehends
theology, metaphysics, moral philosophy,
pohtical science, history, literature. This is
a formidable list, and it may seem to include
a vast amount of knowledge which is neces-
sarily placed beyond the reach of the labourer.
But it is an interesting thought, that the key
to these various sciences is given to every
human being in his own nature, so that they
are peculiarly accessible to him. How is it
that I get my ideas of God, of my fellow-
creatures, of the deeds, suffering, motives,
which make up universal history? I com-
prehend all these from the consciousness of
what passes in my own soul. The mind
within me is a type representative of all
others, and therefore I can understand all.
Whence come my conceptions of the intelli-
gence, and justice, and goodness, and power
of God ? It is because my own spirit contains
the germs of these attributes. The ideas of
them are first derived from my own nature,
and therefore I comprehend them m other
beings. Thus the foundation of all the
sciences which treat of mind is laid in every
man's breast. The good man is exercising
in his business and family faculties and affec-
tions which bear a likeness to the attributes
of the Divinity, and to the energies which have
made the greatest men illustrious ; so that, in
studying himself, in learning the highest prin-
ciples and laws of his own soul, he is in truth
studying God, studying all human history,
studying the philosophy which has immor-
talized the sages of ancient and modem times.
In every mans mind and life all other minds
and lives are more or less represented and
wrapped up. To study other things. I must
po mto the outward world, and perhaps go
far. To study the science of spirit, I must
come home and enter my own soul. The
profoundest books that have ever been
written do nothing more than bring out.
place in clear light, what is passing in each
of your minds. So near you, so within you,
is the grandest truth.

I have, indeed, no expectation that the
labourer is to understand in detail the various
sciences which relate to Mind. Few men in
any vocation do so understand them. Nor is



it necessary; though, where time can be com-
manded, the thorough study of some particular
branch, in which the individual has a special
interest, will be found of great utility. What
is needed to elevate the soul is, not that a man
should know all that has been thought and
written in regard to the spiritual nature, not that
a man should become an Encyclopaedia, but
that the Great Ideas, in which all discoveries
terminate, which sum up all sciences, which
the philosopher extracts from infinite details,
may be comprehended and felt. It is not the
quantity, but the quality of knowledge, which
determines the mind's dignity. A man of
immense information may, through the want
of large and comprehensive ideas, be for in-
ferior in intellect to a labourer, who, with
httle knowledge, has yet seized on great
truths. For example, I do not expect the
labourer to study theology in the aiic'ent
languages, in the writings of the Fathers, in



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 10 of 169)