William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 11 of 169)
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the history of sects, &c. &c. ; nor is this
needful. All theology, scattered as it is
through countless volumes, is summed up in
the idea of God ; and let this idea shine bright
and clear in the labourer's soul, and he ha>
the essence of theological libraries, and a far
higher light than has visited thousands of
renowned divines. A great mind is formed
by a few great ideas, not by an infinity of loose
details. I have known very learned men who
seemed to me very poor in intellect, because
they had no grand thoughts. What avails it
that a man has studied ever so minutely the
histories of Greece and Rome, if the great
Ideas of Freedom, and Beauty, and Valour,
and Spiritual Energy, have not been kindled
by these records into living fires in his soul ?
The illumination of an age does not consist in
the amount of its knowledge, but in the broad
and noble principles of >*hich that knowledge
is the foundation and inspirer. The truth is,
that the most laborious and successful student
is confined in his researches to a very few of
God's works ; but this limited knowledge of
things may still suggest universal laws, broad
principles, grand ideas, and these elevate the
mind. There are certain thoughts, principles,
ideas, which, by their nature, rule over all
knowledge, which are intrinsically glorious,
quickening, all-comprehending, eternal; and
with these I desire to enrich the mind of the
labourer and of every human being.

To illustrate my meaning, let me give a few
examples of the Great Ideas which t>elong to
the study or science of mind. Of course, the
first of these, the grandest, the most compre-
hensive, is the idea of God, the Parent Mind,
the Primitive and Infinite Intelligence. Every
man's elevation is to be measured first and
chiefly by his conception of this Great Being ;
and to attain a Just, and bright, and quicken-
ing knowledge of Hhn. is the highest aim of



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tliongfar» In truth, the great end of the
universe, of revelation, of life, is to develop
in OS the idea of God. Much earnest, patient,
labcvious thought is required to see this
Infinite Being as He is, to rise above the low,
gross notions of the Divinity, which rush in
upon us from our passions, from our selfish
partialities, and from the low-minded world
around us. There is one view of God parti-
cularly suited to elevate us. I mean the view
of Him as the " Father of our spirits; " as
having created us with great powers to grow
up to perfection ; as having ordained all o\iKr
w^rd things to minister to the progress of
the soul; as always present to inspire and
strengthen us, to wake us up to inward life,
ami to judge and rebuke our wrong-doing ; as
looking with parental joy on our resistance of
evil ; as desiring to communicate Himself to
our minds for ever. This one idea, expand^
in the breast of the labourer, is a germ of
elevation more fruitful than all science, no
matter how extensive or profound, which
treats only of outward finite things. It places
him in the first rank of human beings. You
hear of great theologians. He only deserves
the name, be his condition what it may, who
has. by thought and obedience, purified and
enlarged his conception of God.

From the idea of God I proceed to another
grand one, that of Man, of human nature ;
and this should be the object of serious,
intense thought. Few men know, as yet,
what a man is. They know his clothes, his
complexion, his property, his rank, his follies,
and bis outward life. But the thought of his
inward being, his proper humanity, has hardly
dawned on multitudes ; and yet, who can live
a man's life that does not know what is the
distinctive worth of a human being? It is
interesting to observe how faithful men gene-
rally are to their idea of a man ; how they act
up to it. Spread the notion that courage is
true manhood, and how many will die rather
than fall short of that standard; and hence
the true idea of a man, brought out in the
labourer's mind, elevates him above every
other class who may want it. Am I asked
for my conception of the dignity of a human
being? I should say, that it consists, first, in
thai spiritual principle, called sometimes the
Reason, sometimes the Conscience, which,
rising above what is local and temporary, dis-
cerns immutable truth and everlasting right ;
which, in the midst of imperfect things, con-
ceives of Perfection; which is universal and
impartial, standing in direct opposition to the
partial, selfish principles of human nature;
which says to m€ with authority, that my
neighbour is as precious as myself, and his
rights as sacred as my own; which com-
mands me to receive all truth, however it may
war with my pride, and to do all justice, how-



ever it may conflict with my interest; and
which calls me to rejoice with love in all that
is beautiful, good, holy, happy, in whatever
being these attributes may be found* This
principle is a rare Divinity in maiL We do
not know what man is, still something of the
celestial grandeur of this principle in the soul
may be discerned. There is another grand
view of man, included indeed in the former,
yet deserving distinct notice. He is a Free
being; created to act from a spring in his own
breast, to form himself and to decide his own
destiny ; connected intimately with nature, but
not enslaved to it; connected still more
strongly with God, yet not enslaved even to
the Divinity, but having power to render or
withhold the service due to his Creator ; en-
compassed by a thousand warring forces, by
physical elements which inflict pleasure and
pain, by dangers seen and unseen, by the
mfluences of a tempting, sinful world, yet
endued by God with power to contend with
all, to perfect himself by conflict with the very
forces which threaten to overwhelm him.
Such is the idea of a man. Happy he in
whom it is unfolded by earnest thought.

Had I time, I should be glad to speak of
other great ideas belonging to the science of
mind, and which sum up and give us, in one
bright expression, the speculations of ages.
The idea of Human Life, of its true end and
greatness ; the idea of Virtue, as the absolute
and ultimate good; the idea of Liberty,
which is the highest thought of political
science, and which, by its intimate presence
to the minds of the people, is the chief spring
of our countnr's life and greatness,— all these
might be enlaiged on; and I might show
how these may Be awakened in the labourer,
and may give him an elevation which many
who are above labour want. But, leaving all
these, I will only refer to another, one of the
most important results of the science of mind,
and which the labourer, in common with every
man, may and should receive, and should
strengthen by patient thought. It is the Idea
of his Importance as an Individual. He is
to understand that he has a value, not as
belonging to a community, and contributing to
a general good which is distinct from himself,
but on his own account He is not a mere
part of a machine. In a machine the parts
are useless, but as conducing to the end of
the whole, for which alone they subsist. Not
so a man. He is not simply a means, but
an end, and exists for his own sake, for the
unfolding of his nature, for his own virtue
and happiness. True, he is to work for
others, but not servilely, not with a broken
spirit, not so as to degrade himself; he is to
work for others from a wise self-regard, from
principles of justice and benevolence, and in
the exercise of a free will and intelligence,



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by which his own character is pcifected.
His indixidual dignity, not derived from birth,
from success, from wealth, from outward
show, but consisting in the indestructible

Principles of his soul— this ought to enter into
is habitual consciousness. I do not speak
rhetorically or use the cant of rhapsodists,
but 1 utter my calm, deliberate conviction,
when I say that the labourer ought to regard
himself with a self-rcspc-ct unknown to the
proudest monarch who rests on outward rank.
I have now illustrated what I mean by the
Great Ideas which exalt the mind, 'iheir
worth and power cannot be exaggerated.
They are the mightiest influences on earth.
One great thought breathed into a man may
regenerate him. The idea of Freedom in
ancient and modem republics, the fdea of
Inspiration in various religious sects, the idea
of Immortality, how have these triumphed
over worldly interests ! How many heroes
and martyrs have they formed I Great ideas
are mightier than the passions. To awaken
them is the highest office of education. As
yet it has been little thought of. The educa-
tion of the mass of the people has consisted in
giving them mechanical habits, in breaking
them to current usages and modes of thinking,
in teaching religion and morality as tmditions.
It is time that a rational culture should take
place of the mechanical; that men should learn
to act more from ideas and principles, and less
from blind impulse and undiscerning imita-
tion.

Am I met here by the constantly recurring
objection, that such great thoughts as have
now been treated of are not to be expected
in the multitude of men, whose means of
culture are so confined? To this diflkulty I
shall reply in the next lecture; but I wish to
state a fact, or law of our nature, very cheering
to those who, with few means, still pant for
generous improvement. It is this, that great
ideas come to us less from outward, direct,
laborious teaching, than from indirect influ-
ences, and from the native working of our
own minds; so that those who want the
outward apparatus for extensive learning
are not cut off from them. Tluis, laborious
teachers may instruct us for years in God,
and virtue, and the soul, and we may remain
nearly as ignorant of them as at the begin-
ning; whilst a look, a tone, an act of a fellow-
crcatiure, who is kindled by a grand thought,
and who is thrown in our path at some sus-
ceptible season of life, will do much to
awaken and expand this thought within us.
It is a matter of experience that the greatest
ideas often come to us, when right-minded,
we know not how. They flash on us as
lights from heaven. A man seriously given
to the culture of his mind in virtue and
♦ruth, finds himself under better teaching



than that of man. Revelations of his owH
soul, of God's intimate presence, of the gran-
deur of the creation, of the glory of disin-
terestedness, of the deformity of \NTong-doing,
of the dignity of universal justice, of the
might of moral principle, of the immutablc-
ness of truth, of immortality, and of the in-
ward sources of happiness; these revelations,
awakening a thirst for something higher than
he is or has, come of themselves to an humble,
self-improving man. Sometimes a common
scene in nature, one of the common relations
of life, will open itself to us with a brightness
and pregnancy of meaning unknown before.
Sometimes a thought of this kind forms an
era in life. It changes the whole future
course. It is a new creation. And these
great ideas are not confined to men of any
class. They are communications of the In-
finite Mind to all minds which are open to
their reception; and labour is a far better
condition for their reception than luxurious
or fashionable life. It is even better than a
studious life, when this fosters vanity, pride,
and the spirit of jealous competition. A
childlike simplicity attracts these revelations
more than a selfish culture of intellect, how-
ever far extended. —Perhaps a caution should
be added to these suggestions. In speak-
ing of great ideas, as sometimes springing
up of themselves, as sudden illuminations, 1
have no thought of teaching that we are to
wait for them passively, or to give up our
minds unthinkingly to their control. We
must prepare ourselves for them by faithful-
ness to our own ])owcrs, by availing ourselves
of all means of culture within our reach;
and, what is more, these illuminations, if they
come, are not distinct, complete, perfect views,
but glimpses, suggestions, flashes, given us,
like all notices and impressions from the out-
ward world, to be thought upon, to be made
subjects of patient reflection, to be brought
by our own intellect and activity into their
true connection with all our other thoughts. A
great idea, without reflection, may dazzle and
bewilder, may destroy the balance and pro-
portion of the mind, and impel to dangerous
excess. It is to awaken the free, earnest
exertion of our powers, to rouse us from
passiveness to activity and life, that inward
inspirations, and the teachings of out^^'ard
nature, are accorded to the mind.

I have thus spoken at large of that Force
of Thought whicli the labourer is to seek as
his true elevation ; and 1 will close the subject
with observing, that on whatever objects, or
for whatever purposes this force may be ex-
erted, one purpose should be habitually pre-
dominant, and that is, to gain a larger, clearer
compi'ehension of all the duties of life.
Thought cannot take too wide a range ; but
its chief aim should be to acquire juster and



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brighter perceptions of the Right and the
Good, in every relation and condition in
which we may be placed. Do not imagine
that I am here talking professionally, or
slidiog unconsciously, by the force of habit,
into the tone of the pulpiL The subject of
Doty belongs equally to all professions and
aU conditions. It were as wise to think of
living without breath, or of seeing without
Ught, as to exclude moral and religious prin-
ciple from the work of self-elevation. And
I say this because you are in danger of
mistaking mere knowledge for improvement.
Knowledge fails of its best end when it does
not minister to a high virtue. I do not say
that we are never to think, read, or study,
iHit for the express purpose of learning our
daties/ The mind must not be tied down by
rigid Tules. Curiosity, amusement, natural
tastes, may innocently direct reading and
study to a certain extent. Even in these
cases, however, we are bound to improve
omselves morally as well as intellectually, by
seeking truth and rejecting falsehood, and by
watching against the taint which inheres in
alraosi ^1 human productions. What avails
intelkctual without moral power? How little
does it avail us to study the outward world,
if its greatness inspire no reverence of its
Aothor, if its beneficence awaken no kindred
love towards our fellow-creatures? How little
does it avail us to study history, if the past
do not help us to comprehend the dangers
and duties of the present ; if from the suf-
ferings of those who have gone before us, we
do not learn how to suffer, and from their
great and good deeds how to act nobly ; if
the development of the human heart, in
different ages and countries, do not give its
a better knowledge of ourselves ? How little
does literature benefit us, if the sketches of
life and character, the generous sentiments,
the testimonies to disinterestedness and rec-
titude, with which it abounds, do not incite
and guide us to wiser, purer, and more
graceful action ? How little substantial good
do we derive from poetry and the fine arts, if
the t)eauty, which delights the imagination,
do not warm and refine the heart, and raise
us to the love and admiration of what is fair,
and perfect, and lofty, in character and life?
Let our studio be as wide as our condition
will allow ; but let this be their highest aim,
to instruct us in our duty and happiness, in
the perfection of our nature, in the true use
of life, in the best direction of our powers.
Then is the culture of intellect an unmixed
good, when it is sacredly used to enlighten
the conscience, to feed the flame of generous
sentiment, to perfect us in our common em-
ployments, to throw a grace over our common
aCQoi]S» to nutke us sources of innocent cheer-
I «nd centres of holy influence, and to



give us courage, strength, stability, amidst
the sudden changes and sore temptations and
trials of life.



LEcmniE II.
In my last Lecture I invited your attention
to a subject of great interest, the elevation
of the labouring portion of the community.
I proposed to consider, first, in what this
elevation consists; secondly, the objections
which may be made to its practicableness ;
thirdly, the circumstances which now favour
it, and give us hope that it will be more and
more accomplished. In considering the first
head, I began with stating in what the eleva-
tion of the labouring class does not consist,
and then proceeded to show positively what
it is, what it does consist in. I want time
to retrace the ground over which we then
travelled. I must trust to your memories,
I was obliged by my narrow limits to confine
myself chiefly to the consideration of the
Intellectual Elevation which the labourer is
to propose; though, in treating this topic, I
showed the moral, religious, social improve-
ments which enter into his true dignity. I
observed, that the labourer was to be a
student, a thinker, an intellectual man as
well as a labourer; and suggested the qualifi-
cations of this truth which are required by
his peculiar employment, by his daily engage-
ment in manual toil. I now come to consider
the objections which spring up in many
minds, when such views of the labourer's
destiny are gfiven. This is our second head.

First, it will be objected, that the labouring
multitude cannot command a variety of books,
or spend much time in reading; and how, then,
can they gain the force of thought, and the
great ideas, which were treated of in the former
lecture? This objection grows out of the
prevalent disposition to confound intellectual
improvement with book-learning. Some seem
to think that there is a kind of magic in a
printed page, that types give a higher know-
ledge than can be gained from other sources.
Reading is considered as the royal road to
intellectual eminence. Tliis prejudice I have
virtually set aside in my previous remarks;
but it has taken so strong a hold of many as
to need some consideration. I shall not
attempt to repel the objection by decrying
books. Truly good books are more than
mines to those who can understand them.
They are the breathings of the great souls of
past times. Genius is not embalmed in them,
as is sometimes said, but lives in them perpe-
tually. But we need not many books to
answer the great ends of reading. A few
are better than many, and a little time given
to a faithful study of the few will be enough
to quicken thought and enrich the mind.



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Olf TUB ELEVATION OF



The grtatwt Wen have not been book-men.
Washington, it has often been said, was
no great reader. The learning commonly
gathered from books is of less worth than
the truths we gain from experience and
reflection. Indeed, most of the knowledge
from reading, in these days, being acquired
with little mental action, and seldom or never
reflected on and turned to use, is very much
a \'ain show. Events stirring the mind to
earnest thought and vigorous application of
its resources, do vastly more to elevate the
mind, than most of our studies at the present
time. Few of the books read among us
deserve to be read. Most of them have no
principle of life, as is proved by the fact that
ihey die the year of their birth. They do
not come from thinkers, and how can they
awaken thought ? A great proportion of the
reading of this city is useless, I had almost
said pernicious. I should be sorry to see our
labourers exchanging their toils for the read-
ing of many of our young ladies and young
gentlemen, who look on the intellect as given
them for amusement ; who reud, as they \isit,
for amusement ; who discuss no great truths
and put forth no energy of thought on the
topics which fly through their minds. With
this insensibility to the dignity of the intellect,
and this frittering away of the mind on super-
ficial reading, I see not with what face they
can claim superiority to the labouring mass,
who certainly understand one thing tho-
roughly, that is, their own business, and who
are doing something useful for themselves
and their fellow- creatures. The great use of
books is, to rouse us to thought ; to turn us
to questions which great men have been
working on for ages; to furnish us with
materials for the exercise of judgment,
nnagination. and moral feeling; to breathe
into us a moral life from higher spirits than
our own ; and this benefit of books may be
enjoyed by those who have not much time for
retired study.

It must not be forgotten, by those who
despair of the labouring classes because they
cannot live in libraries, that the highest
sources of truth, light, and elevation of mind,
are not libraries, but our inward and outward
experience. Human life, with its joys and
sorrows, its burdens and alleviations, its
crimes and virtues, its deep wants, its solemn
changes, and its retributions, always pressing
on us ; what a library is this ! and who may
not study it ? Every human being is a volume
worthy to ht studied. The books which
circulate most freely through the community
arc those which give us pictures of human
life. How much more improving is the
original, did we know how to read it ? The
labourer has this page always open before
him; and, still more, the labourer is every



day writing a volume More full of instruc^loo
than all human productions — I mean, his own
life. No work of the most exalted genius
can teach us so much as the revelation of
human nature in the secrets of our own souls,
in the workings of our own passions, in the
operations of our own intelligence, in the
retributions which follow our own good and
evil deeds, in the dissatisfaction with the
present, in the spontaneous thoughts and
aspirations which form part of every man's
biography. The study of our own history
from childhood, of ail the stages of our
development, of the good and bad influences
which have beset us, of our mutations of
feeling and purpose, and of the great current
which is setting us towards future happiness
or woe; this is a study to make us^ nobly
wise ; and who of us has not access to this
fountain of eternal truth? May not the
labourer study and understand the pages
which he is writing in his own breast ?

In these remarks. I have aimed to remove
the false notion into which labourers them-
selves fall, that they can do little towards
acquiring force and fulness of thought,
because m want of books. I shall next turn
to prejudices more confined to other classes.
A very common one is, that the Many are
not to be called to think, study, improve
their minds, because a privileged few are
intended by God to do their thinking for
them. "Providence," it is said, "raises up
superior minds, whose office it is to discover
truth for the rest of the race, lliinking and
manual toil are not meant to go together.
The division of labour is a great law of nature.
One man is to serve society by his head,
another by his hands. Let each class keep
to its proper work. " These doctrines I protest
against. I deny to any individual or class
this monopoly of thought. Who among
men can show God's commission to think for
his brethren, to shape passively the intellect
of the mass, to stamp his own image on them
as if they were wax ? As well might a few
claim a monopoly of light and air, of seeing
and breathing, as of thought. Is not the
intellect as universal a gift as the organs of
sight and respiration ? Is not truth as freely
spread abroad as the atmosphere or the sun's
rays? Can we imagine that God's highest
gifts of intelligence, imagination, and moral
power, were bestowed to provide only for
animal wants? to be denied the natural means
of growth, which is action? to be starved by
drudgery ? Were the mass of men made to
be monsters? to grow only in a few organs
and faculties, and to pine away and shrivel
in others? or were they made to put forth all
the powers of men, especially the best and
most distinguishing? No man, not the
lowest, is all hands, all bones and muscles.



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The mind is more essential to human nature,
and more coduring, than the limbs ; and was
this made to lie dead? Is not thought the
right and duty of all? Is not truth alike
precious to all ? Is not truth the natural
aliment of the mind, as plainly as the whole-
some grain is of the body ? Is not the mind
adapted to thought, as plainly as the eye to



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 11 of 169)