William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 113 of 169)
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character. The processes by which he became
what he was were inward ; and the only voice
which could disclose them is now silent in

He was bom in Marblehead. October, 1788.
His mother, a sister of the late Chief lustice
Scwall, survived his birth but a few hours ;
and his life began with one of the heaviest of
Hfe's afflictions, the loss of a mother's love.
He was so happy, however, as to be the object
of singular and never-failing kindness to his
surviving parent, whom he requited with no
common filial attachment ; and he may be
cited as a proof of the good effects ot the
more unrestrained and tender intercourse
between parents and children which distin-
guishes the present from the past age. He
was early placed under the tuition of the
Rev. Dr. Harris, now President of Columbia
CoUege, New York, then preceptor of an
academy, and rector of an Episcopal church,
m Marblehead. He is said to have endeared
himself to his revered instructor by his docility,
industry, modesty, love of truth, and steady
improvement He held a high but unenvied
rank at school; and it may be mentioned, as
an evidence of early judgment and a constant
raiod, that some of the friendships of that
early period went with him to the grave, and
were among the best enjoyments of his life.

He entered the University at Cambridge,
A.D. 1803. in the fifteenth year of his age ;
and whilst his unremitting application gave
him the full benefit of its various provisions
for literary improvement, his consistent cha-
racter and social virtues won for him universal
confidence and esteem. On leaving the
University, he commenced the study of the
law under the Hon. John Quincy Adams,
and, having completed his preparation under
the Hon. Joseph Story, began the practice
ci his profession at Marblehead, A.D. zSio.
By the advice of his friends, he soon removed
to this metropolis, a more proper, because
wider, sphere of action. Here he experienced,
for a time, those anxieties and depressions
which form the common trial of young men
who enter a crowded profession. But his
prospects were brightened by a connection
in business which he formed with the Hon.
Wilh'am Prescott, and which, as it was un-
solicited and attended by other flattering
OTcumstances, gave him a gratifying assur-
s of the confidence which he had inH>ired.


The progress of his reputation as a lawyer
was soon a matter of common remark ; and
those who were most capable of understanding
the depth and extent of his legal attain-
ments were confident that, should his life be
spared, he would attain the highest honours
of his profession.

He died, December, 1820, at the age of
32. The shock given to the community by
this event was unusual, and the calamity was
heightened by its unexpectedness. His general
health, cheerfulness, and activity, had given
the promise of a long life, and his friends
were not alarmed for him until a week before
his death. His disease was an inflammation
of the brain, which first discovered itself in
slight aberrations of mind, and terminated in
delirium. This awful eclipse of reason con-
tinued to the last, so that his friends were
denied the satisfaction of receiving from his
dying lips assurances of his Christian hope.
Some of them, however, recollect with
pleasure, that at the beginning of his disease,
when his intellect was rather exalted than
deranged, his expressions of religious feeling
and joy were unusually strong ; and he has
left them higher consolation than a dying
testimony, even the memory of a blameless
and well-spent life.

Having given this brief record of a life too
peaceful and prosperous to furnish matter for
biography, we proceed to give our views of
the character of Mr. Gallison.— His chief
distinction was not talent, although he had
fine powers of intdlect, and a capacity of
attention which, in usefulness if not in splen-
dour, generally surpasses genius. His primary
characteristic, and that which gave him his
peculiar weight in the community, was the
force of moral and religious principle— a force
which operated with the steadiness of a law of
nature, a paramoimt energy, which suffered
no portion of life or intellect to be wasted,
which concentrated all his faculties and feel-
ings on worthy objects. His powers did not
astonish, but none of them were lost to him-
self or society. His great distinction was the
singleness of his mind, the sway which duty
had gained over him, his habit of submitting
to this as to an inviolable ordinance of the
universe. Conscience was consulted reverently
as an oracle of God. The moral power seemed
always at work in his breast, and its control
reached to his whole life.

We sometimes witness a strong regard to
duty, which confers little grace or interest on
the character, because partial and exclusive
views are taken of duty, and God is thought
to require a narrow service, which chains and
contracts instead of unfolding the mind. In
Mr. Gallison the sense of duty was as en-
lightened and enlarged as it was strong. To
live religiously, be did not think himself

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called to give up the proper pursuits and
gratifications of human natiu'e. He be*
lieved that religion was in harmony with in-
tellectual improvement, with the pleasures of
imagination and society, and esi>sdally with
the kind affections. His views of the true
excellence of a human being were large and
generous; and hence, instead of that con-
tracted and repulsive character which has
often been identified with piety, his virtue,
though of adamantine firmness, was attrac-
tive, cheerful, lovely.

This union of strength and light in his
sense of duty, gave a singular harmony to
his character. All his faculties and sensi-
bilities seemed to unfold together, just as the
whole body grows at once ; and all were pre-
served by a wise, presiding moral sentiment,
in their just proportions. He was remark-
ably free from excess, even in the virtues and
pursuits to which he was most prone. His
well-balanced mind was the admiration of his
friends. He had strong feeling, yet a calm
judgment; and unwearied activity, without
restlessness or precipitancy. He had vigour
and freedom of thought, but not the slightest
propensity to rash and wild speculation. He
nad professional ardour, but did not sacrihce
to his profession the general improvement of
his intellect and heart. He loved study, and
equally loved society. He had religious sen-
sibility, but a sensibility which never rested
until it had found its true perfection and
manifestation in practice. His mind was sin-
gularlv harmonious, a well-adjusted whole ;
and this was the secret of the signal confi-
dence which he had inspired ; for confidence,
or the repose of our minds on another, de-
pends on nothing so much as on the propor-
tion which we observe in his character. Even
a good feeling, when carried to excess,
though viewed with indulgence and affection,
always shakes in a measure our trust.

From this general survey, we pass to some
particulars of the character of Mr. GalUson.
His religion was a trait which claims our
first consideration. He believed in God, and
in the revelation of his will by Jesus Christ ;
and he was not a man in whom such a
belief could lie dead. That great and almost
overwhelming doctrine of a God, the Maker
of all things, in whom he lived, and from
whom all his blessings came, wrought in
him powerfully. He was not satisfied with
a superficial r^igion, but was particularlv
interested in those instructions from the puU
pit which enjoined a deep, living, all-pervad-
ing sense of God's presence and authority,
and an intimate union of the mind with its
Creator. A friend who knew him intimately
observes : — •• In our frequent walks, his con-
versation so naturally and cheerfully turned
on the attributes and dispensations of God,

as convinced me that his religion was no le$s
the deUgbt of his heart than the guide of his
life. Though habitually temperate in his
feelings, I have sometimes known him kindle
into rapture while conversing on these holy

But his religion, though strong and earnest,
was in unison with hi$ whole character, calm,
inquisitive, rationa}. Uninfected by bigotry
or fanaticism, and unseduced by the fair pro-
mises of the spirit of innovation, he formed
his views of the Christian system Mrith caution,
and held them without asperity. In regard
to that important doctrine which has lately
agitated the commimity, he was a Unitarian,
believing in the pre-existence of the Saviour,
and as firmly believing that he was a distinct
being from the Supreme God, derived from
and dependent on Him ; and he considered
the Gospel of John, which is often esteemed
as the stronghold of opposite sentiments, as
giving peculiar support to these views. We
mention this, not because the conclusions of
so wise and good a man were necessarily true,
but because reproach is often thrown on the
opinions which he adopted, as wanting power
to purify and save. He may have erml, for
he was a man ; but who that knew him can
doubt that, whatever were his errors, he held
the most important and efficacious doctrines
of Christianity ? His religious friends, and
they were not a few, can testify to the serious-
ness and reverence with which he approached
the Scriptures, and to the fidelity with which
he availed himself of the means of a right

His religion was not ostentatiously thrust
on notice ; but he thought as little of hiding
it as of concealing his social feelings, or his
love of knowledge. It was the light by which
he walked, and bis daily path showed whence
the light came. Of his decision in asserting
the principles of that religion which he re-
ceived as from God. he gave a striking proof
in his Address to the Peace Society of ttu^
Commonwealth, which breathes the v^xy
morality of Christ, and is throughout a mild
but firm remonstrance against great practical
errors, which have corrupted the Church
almost as deeply as the world. It was so
natural to him to act on the convictions of his
mind, that he seemed on this occasion utteitr
unconscious that there was a degree of b^io-
ism in a young man of a secular calling; aod
who mixed occasionally in fashionable life.
enlisting so earnestly in the serVice of the
most neglected, yet nnost distinguishing, v||w
tues of Christianity.

That a man, to whom Chrisdanity ^tms 9Q
authoritative, should be characterised tgr ft9
chief grace, benevolence, we cannot jra^^^
Nature focgied him for the kind affcff<k>ft(V
and ieUgi0US principle added

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steadiness* dignity, to the impulses of nature.
That great maxim of Christianity, " No man
liveth to himself," was engraven on his mind.
Without profession, or show, or any striking
discoveries of emotion, he felt the claim 5
everything human on his sympathy and ser-
vice. His youth and i^rofessional engage-
ments did not absolve him to his own con-
science from labouring in the cause of man-
kind; and his steady zeal redeeined from
business sufficient time for doing extensive
good. In the institutions for useful objects
with which he connected himself, he gave
more than his propertjr; he contributed his
mind, his judgment, his well-directed zeal;
and the object which he was found to favour
derived advantage from his sanction, no less
than from his labours.

He fell strongly what a just view of human
nature always teaches, that society is served
by nothing so essentially as by the infusion of
a ntoral and religious spirit into all its classes ;
and this principle, like every other when once
recognized, became to him a law. We can-
not but mention, with great pleasure, the
earnestness with which he entered into a plan
for collecting the poor children, in the neigh-
bourhood oi the church where he worshipped,
into a school for religious instruction on the
Lord's day. He visited many poor families
CHI this errand of charity, offering at once
Christian instruction and the peomiary means
by which the children might be clothed de-
cently to receive it ; and he gave a part of
every Sunday to this office. The friend
whom we formerly quoted observes, "I was
much deb'ghted to see him one Sunday, lead-
ing one of his little flock (who, being a
stranger, bad not become famiharized to his
borne) through our dirtiest lanes, and in-
quiring at the humblest sheds for his
dwelling." To a roan crowded with business,
and accustomed to the most refined society,
this lowly and unostentatious mode of charity
could only have been recommepded by a
supreme sense of religious and social obliga-
tion. He was one of the few among us who
saw that the initiation of the poor into moral
and religious truth was an office worthy of
the most cultivated understanding, and that
to leave it, as it is sometimes leu, to those
whose zeal outstrips their knowledge, was to
expose to hazard and reproach one of the
roost powerful means of benefiting society.

Another cause to which he devoted himself
Tvas the Peace Society of this Common-
wealth, and to this institution his mind was
drawn and bound l^ perceiving its accord-
ance with the spirit of Christianity. Accus-
tomed as he was to believe that every principle
which a man adopts is to be carried into life«
W was shocked with the repugnance between
U)e Christian code and the pnuctice of its prot


fessed followers on the subject of war; and
he believed that Christianity, seconded as it
is by the progress of society, was a power
adequate to the production of a great revolu-
tion of opinion on this point, if its plain
principles and the plain interests of men were
earnestly unfolded. There was one part of
this extensive topic to which his mind par-
ticularly ttuned. He believed that society
had made sufficient advances to warrant the
attempt to expunge from the usages of war
the right of capturing private property at sea.
He believed that the evils of^ war would bo
greatly abridged, and its recurrence checked,
were the ocean to be made a safe, privileged,
unmolested pathway for all nations, whether
in war or peace ; and that the niinds of men
had become prepared for this change by the
respect now paid by belligerents to private
property on shore : a mitigation of war to be
wholly ascribed to the progress of the princi-
ples and spirit of Christianity. His interest
in this subject led him to study the history of
maritime warfare, ami probably no man among
us had acquired a more extensive acquaint-
ance with it. Some of the results he gave in
an article in the North Avurican Meuiew
on Privateering, and in a memorial to Con-
gress against this remnant of barbarism. To
this field of labour he certainly was not drawn
by the hope of popularity; and though he
outstripped the feelings of the community,
his efforts will not be vain. He was a pioneef
in a path in which society, if it continue to
advance, will certainly follow him, andwUl at
length do justice to the wisdom as well a9
purity of his design.

Other institutions shared his eeal and coun-
tenance ; but we pass from these to observe
that his benevolence was not husbanded for
public works or great occasions. It entered
into the very frame and structure of his mind;
so that, wherever he acted, he left its evidences
and fruits. Even in those employments where
a man is expected to propose distinctly his
own interest, he looked beyond himself ; and
those who paid him for his services felt that
another debt was due, and personal attach-
ment often sprang from the intercourse of
business. In his social and domestic con-
nections, how he felt and lived, and what
spirit he breathed, we learn from the counter
nanoes and tones of his IHends, when th^
speak of his loss. The kind of praise which
a man receives after death corresponds
generally with precision to his character.
We can often see, on the decease of a di»»
tinguished individual, that whilst all praise,
few feel ; that the heart has no burden, no
oppressioo. In the case of Mr. Gallison^
there was a general, spontaneous convictioii
that society had been bereaved ; and at the
same time, a feeling of person^ bereavement,
LL a

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as if a void which no other could fill were
made in every circle in which he familiarly
moved ; and this can only be explained by
the genuine benevolence, the sympathy with
every human interest, which formed his
character. His benevolence^ indeed, was
singularly unalloyed. Those feelings of im-
kindness which sometimes obscure for a
moment the goodness of excellent men,
seldom or never passed over him. Those
who best knew him cannot, by an effort of
imagination, put an acrimonious speech into
his hps, any more than they can think of him
under an entirely different countenance. The
voice ceases to be his, its tones do not belong
to him, when they would make it the vehicle
of unkiudness. We have understood, what
we should not doubt, that in his profession,
amidst the collision of rivals, his ambition,
which undoubtedly degenerated sometimes
into excess, was still so controlled by his
generosity and uprightness, that he was
never known to sully with an envious breath
the honest fame of another, or to withhold a
ready testimony to another's worth. So great
was the kindliness of his heart, that his many
pressing employments did not exclude those
httle attentions to his kindred for which
multiplied cares are generally admitted as
an excuse. He made leisure for minute as
well OS important services, and thus it is that
a feeling of tenderness as well as of respect
Ss spread through the whole circle of his

In regard to his intelleotual powers, they
derived their superiority not only fhjrn the
liberality of nature, but from the conscien-
tiousness with which they were improved.
He early felt the importance of a generous
and extensive culture of the mmd. and sys-
tematically connected with professional studies
the pursuit of general literature. He was a
striking example of the influence of an opera-
tive and enlightened moral sense over the
intellect. His views were distinguished not
so much by boldness and excursiveness as by
clearness, steadiness, judiciousness, and truth;
and these characteristic properties of his tm-
derstanding derived their strength, if not
existence, from that fairness, rectitude, sim-
plicity, and that love of the true and useful,
which entered so largely into his moral
constitution. The objects on which he
thought and wrote did not offer themselves
to him in the bright hues of inspired imagina-
tion, but in the forms, dimensions, and colours
of reality; and yet there was no tameness in
his conception, for the moral relations of
things— the most sublime of all relations— he
traced with eagerness and delighted toimfold.
Acoordingly, in all his writings we perceive the
marks of an understanding surrounded by a
dear and warm moral atmosphere. His intel-

lect, we repeat it, was excited and developed
very much by moral and religious p>rinciplc.
It was not naturally creative, restless, stin^
by a bright and burning imagination. The
strong power within was conscience, enlight-
ened and exalted by religion ; and this soit
life through the intellect, and conferred or
heightened the qualities by which it was dis-

Of his professional character we know
nothing by personal observation ; but we do
know, that in a metropolis where the standard
of professional talent and purity is high, he
was eminent. We have understood that he
was at once a scientific and practical lawye-,
uniting comprehensive views of jurisprudence,
and laborious research into general princi-
ples, with a singular acciu^cy and most
conscientious fidelity in investigating the
details of the causes in which he was
engaged. The spontaneous tribute of the
members of the Suffolk Bar to so young a
brother is perhaps without precedent. It
deserves to be mentioned among bis claims
to esteem, that he was not usurped by a
profession to which he was so devoted ; that
his thirst for legal knowledge and distinction,
though so ardent, left him free for such a
variety of exertions and acquisitions.

Of his industry we have had occasion
frequently to speak, and it was not the least
striking trait in his character. We need no
other proof of this than his early eminence
in a profession which offers no prizes to
genius unaccompanied by application, and
whose treasures are locked up in books which
hold out no lures to imagination or taste,
and which can only interest a mind disposed
to patient and intense exertion. We recur,
however, to his industry, not so much because
it distinguished him, as from the desire of
removing what seems to us a fiedse impressfou,
that he fell a victim to excessive ^>plication.
That he was occasionally guilty of intem-
perate study (a crime in the eye of a refined
morality, because it sacrifices future and
extensive usefulness to immediate acquia-
tion) is probably true; but less guilty, we
apprehend, than many who are not charged
with excess. His social nature, his love of
general literature, and his regular use of
exercise, gave as great and frequent relaxa^
tion to his mind as studious men generaDy
think necessary; nor ought his example to
lose its power by the apprebeosioa that to
follow his steps will be to descend witb hun
to an early grave.

This excellent roan it has pleased Qodlo
take from us ; and to take without waniiB^
when our hope was firmest, and bis picw| iw 5
of usefulness and prosperity wett to f— —
tyes unclouded. That such a conrfte
be so short, is the genend tomftif*

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ought we to think It short? In the best
sense his life was long. To be the centre of
so many influences; to awaken through so
large a circle sentiments of affection and
esteem ; to bear effectual testimony to the
reality of religion ; to exalt the standard of
youthful character ; to adorn a profession to
which the administration of public justice
and the care of our civil institutions are pecu-
liarhr confided ; to uphold and strengthen
useful associations ; to be the friend of the
poor and ignorant, and a model for the rich
and improved ; to live in the hearts of
friends, and to die amidst general, deep,
unaffected lamentation ; these surely are not
evidences of a brief existence. "Honour-
able age is not that which standeth in length
of time, nor which is measured bv number
of years ; but wisdom is the grey hair unto
men, and an unspotted life is old age."

Still the question may be asked, "Whv
was he taken from so much usefulness? '
Were that state laid open to us, into which
he is removed, we should have an answer.
We should see that this world is not the only
one where intellect is unfolded, and the heart
and active powers find objects. We might see
that such a spirit as his was needed now in
another and nobler province of the creation ;
and that all God's providence towards him
had been training and fittinjg^ him to be bom,
if we may so speak, at this very time, into
the future world, there to perform offices and
receive blessings which only a mind so framed
and gifted could sustain and enjoy. He is
not lost. Jesus, whom he followed, "hath
abolished dfeath." Thought, affection, piety,
Qsefolness, do not die. If they did, we
should do well to hang his tomb with sack-
cloth, or rather to obliterate evory trace and
I tecoUection of his tomb and his name, for
I then a light, more precious than the sun's, is
' quenched for ever. But he is not lost, nor
I is he exiled from his true happiness. An
I enlightened, just, and good mind is a citizen
I of the universe, and has faculties and afiec-

tions which correspond to aU God's works.
Why would we limit it to earth, perhaps the
lowest world in this immense creation ? Why
should not the spirit, which has given proof
of its divine origin and heavenly tendency,
be suffered to rise to its proper abode, to a
holier community, to a vision of God, under
which earthly and mortal natures would sink
and be dissolved ?

One benefit of the early removal of such
a man as Mr. Gallison is obvious. We learn
from it how eariy in life the great work of
life may begin, and how successfully be pro-
secuted. Had he hved to advanced years,
the acquisitions of his youth would have
been forgotten and lost in those of riper

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 113 of 169)