William Ellery Channing.

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

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that this country is to be only a repetition of
the. old world. We delight to believe that
God, in the fulness of time, has brought a
new continent to light, in order that the
human mind should move here with a new
freedom, should frame new social institutions,
should explore new paths, and reap new har-
vests. We are accustomed to estimate nations
by their creative energies ; and we shall blush
for our country if, in circumstances so pecu-
liar, original, and creative, it ^hall satisfy

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itself with a passive reception and mechanical
reiteration of the thoughts of strangers.

We have now completed our remarks on
the importance of a native literature. The
next great topic is, the means of producing
it. And here our limits forbid us to enlarge ;
yet we cannot pass it over in silence. A
primary and essential means of the improve-
ment of our literature is, that, as a people,
we should feel its value, should desire it,
should dennand it, should encourage it, and
should give it a hearty welcome. It will come
if called for; and, under this conviction, we
have now laboiu^d to create a want for it in
the community. We say that we must call
for it; by which we mean not merely that we
must invite it by good wishes and kind words,
but must make liberal provision for intellec-
tual education. We must enlarge our literary
institutions, secure more extensive and pro-
foimd teaching, and furnish helps and re-
sotux^es to men of superior talent for con-
tinued laborious research. As yet, intellectual
labour, devoted to a thorough investigation
and a full development of great subjects, is
almost unknown among us ; and, without
it, we shall certainly rear few lasting monu-
ments of thought. We boast of our primary
schools. We want tmiversities worthy of the
name, where a man of genius and literary
zeal may possess himself of all that is yet
known, and may stren^^hen himself by inter-
course with kindred mmds. We know it will
be said that we cannot afford these. But it
is not so. We are rich enough for ostenta-
tion, for intemperance, for luxury. We can
lavish millions on ^hion, on furniture, on
dress, on our pjalaces, on our pleasures ; but
we have nothing to spend for the mind.
Where lies oiur poverty? In the purse, or
in the soul?

We have spoken of improved institutions
as essential to an improved literature. We
beg, however, not to be misunderstood, as if
these were invested with a creating power, or
would necessarily yield the results which we
desire. They are the means, not causes, of
advancement. Literature depends on indivi-
dual genius, and this, though fostered, can-
not be created by outward helps. No human
mechanism can produce onginal thought.
After all the attempts to explain by education
the varieties of intellect, we are compelled to
believe that minds, like all the other products
of nature, have original and indestructible dif-
ferences; that they are not exempted from
that great and beautiful law which joins with
strong resemblances as strong diversities; and,
of consequence, we believe that the men who
are to be the lights of the world bring with
them their commission and power from God.
Still, whilst institutions cannot create, they
may and do unfold genius ; and, for want en

them, great minds of\en slumber or run to
waste, whilst a still larger class, who want
genius but possess admirable powers, fail of
that culture through which they might enjoy
and approach their more gifted brethittn.

A people, as we have said, are to give
aid to literature by founding wise and en-
larged institutions. They may do much more.
They may exert a nobler patronage. By
cherishing in their own breasts the love
of truth, virtue, and freedom, they may
do much to nurse and kindle genius in its
favoured possessors. There is a constant
reaction between a community and the great
minds which spring up within it, and they
form one another. In truth, great minds are
developed more by the spirit and character of
the people to which they belong than by all
other causes. Thus, a free spirit, a thirst for
new and higher knowledge in a community,
does infinitely more for Uterature than tne
most splendid benefactions under despotism.
A nation under any powerful excitement be-
comes fruitful of talent. Among a people
called to discuss great questions, to contend
for great interests, to make great sacrifices for
the public weal, we always find new and un-
suspected energies of thought brought out A
mercenary, selfish, luxurious, sensual people,
toiling only to secure the pleastures of sloth,
will often commimicate their own softness and
baseness to the superior minds which dwell
among them. In this impure atmosphere the
celestial spark bums dim ; and well will it be
if God's great gift of genius be not impiously
prostitute to lust and crime.

In conformity with the views now stated,
we believe that literature is to be carried for-
ward, here and elsewhere, chiefly by some
new and powerful impulses communicated to
society ; and it is a question naturally sug-
gested by this discussion, from what impulse,
principle, excitement, the highest action of
the mmd may now be expected. When we
look back, we see that literature has been
originated and modified by a variety of prin-
ciples : by patriotism and national feeUng. by
reverence for antiquity, by the spirit of inno-
vation, by enthusiasm, by scepticism, by the
passion for fame, by romantic love, and by
political and religious convulsions. Now, we
do not expect from these causes any higher
action of the mind than they have yet pro-
duced. Perhaps most of them have spent
their force. The very improvements of society
seem to forbid the manifestation of their for-
mer energy. For example, the patriotism of
antiquity and the sexual love of chivalrous
ages, which inspired so much of the old litera-
ture, are now seen to be feverish and vicious
excesses of natural principles, and have gone,
we trust, never to return.

Are we asked, then, to what impulse or

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pover^re look for a higher Htereture than has
fee existed ? We answer, to a new action or
development of the religious principle. This
MQiark will probably surprise not a few of
our readers. It seems to us that the energy
with which this principle is to act on the
intellect is hardly suspected. Men identify
lel^on with superstition, with fanaticism,
with the common forms of Christianitv ; and
teeing ft arrayed against intellect, leagued
with oppression, fettering inquiry, and in-
etpaUe of being blended with the sacred
dictates of reason and conscience, they see in
its progress only new encroachments on free
and enlightened thinking. Still, man's rela-
tion to God is the great quickening truth,
throw^ig all other truths into insignificance,
and a truth which, however obscured and
parahrzedbY the many errors which ignorance
and fraud have hitherto linked with it, has
ever been a chief spring of human improve-
ment. We look to it as the true life of the
mtellecL No man can be just to himself-^
can comprehend his own existence, can put
forth all his powers with an heroic confidence,
can deserve to be the guide and inspirer of
other minds — till he has risen to communion
with the Supreme Mind, till he feels his filial
connection with the Universal Parent, till he
regards himself as the recipient and minister
of the Infinite Spirit, till he feels his conse-
cration to the ends which religion unfolds, till
be rises above human opinion, and is moved
by a higher innpulse than fame.

FYom these remarks it will be seen that our
chief hopes of an improved literature rest on
o*!r hopes of an improved religion. From
the prevalent theology which has come down
to us from the dark ages, we hope nothing.
It has done its best. All (hat can grow up
under its sad shade has already been brought
forth. It wraps Che Divine nature and human
nature in impenetrable gloom—it overlays
Christianity with technical, arbitrary dogmas,
'frae faith is of another lineage. It comes
from the same source with reason, conscience,
and oor best affections, and it in harmony
with them alL True faith is essentially a
moral conviction ; a confidence in the reality
and immutableness of moral distinctions ; a
confidence in disinterested virtue or in spiritual
esEcellence as the supreme good ; a confidence
in God as its fountain and Almighty Friend,
and in Jesus Christ as having lived and died
to breathe it into the soul ; a confidence in its
power» triumphs, and immortality; a confi-
dence, throagh which outward changes,
ob s tr u ctions, disasters, sufferings, are over-
come, or rather made instruments of per-
fection. So^ a faith, unfolded freely and
powerfully, must "work mightily" on the
tntdlect as well as on practice. By revealing
to^us the sopreme purpose of the Creator, it

places us, as it were, in the centre of the
universe, from which the harmonies, true
relations, and brightest aspects of things are
discerned. It unites calmness and enthusiasm,
and the concord of these seemingly hostile
elements is essential to the full and healthy
action of the creative powers of the soul, u
opens the eye to beauty and the heart to love.
Literature, under this influence, will become
more ingenuous and single-hearted ; will
penetrate farther into the soul ; will find new
interpretations of nature and life; will breathe
a martyr's love of truth, tempered with a
never-failing charity ; and, whilst sympa-
thizing with all human suffering, will still be
pervaded by a healthful cheerfulness, and
will often break forth in tones of irrepressible
joy, responsive to that happiness which fills
God's universe.

We carmot close our remarks on the means
of an improved literature without offering one
suggestion. We earnestly recommend to our
educated men a more extensive acquaintance
with the intellectual labours of Continental
Europe. Our reading is confined too much
to English books, and especially to the more
recent publications of Great Britain. In this
we err. We ought to know the diflerent
modes of viewing and discussing great sub-
jects in different nations. We should be
able to compare the writings of the highest
minds, in a great variety of circumstances.
Nothing can mvour more our own intellectual
independence and activity. Let English
literature be ever so fruitful and profound, we
should still impoverish ourselves by making it
our sole nutriment. We fear, however, that
at the present moment English books want
much which we need. The intellect of that
nation is turned now to what are called prac-
tical and useful subjects. Physical saence
goes forward, and, what is very encouraging,
it is spr^^ with unexampled zeal through all
classes of the community. Abuses of govern-
ment, of the police, of the penal code, of
charity, of poor laws, and com laws, are
laboriously explored. General education is
improved. Science is applied to the arts with
brilliant success. We see much good in

5>rogress. But we find little profound or
ervid thinking expressed in the higher forms
of literature. The noblest subjects of the
intellect receive little attention. We see an
almost total indifference to intellectual and
nioral science. In England there is a great
want of philosophy, in the true sense of that
word. If we examine her reviews, in which
much of the intellectual power of the nation
is expended, we meet perpetually a jargon of
criticism, which shows a singular want of
great and general principles in estimating
works of art. We have no ethical work of
any living English writer to be compared with

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that of De^erando, entitled " Du Perfeo
tionnement Moral; " and, although we have
little respect for the rash generalizations of
the bold and eloquent Cousin, yet the
interest which his metaphysics awaken in
Paris is, in our estimation, a better presage
than the lethargy which prevails on such
topics in England. In these remarks we have
no desire to depreciate the Uterature of Eng-
land, which, taken as a whole, we regard as
the noUest monument of the human mind.
We rejoice in our descent from England, and
esteem our free access to her works of science
and genius as among our high privileges.
Nor do we feel as if her strength were spent.
We see no wrinkles on her brow, no decrepi-
tude in her step. At this moment she has
authors, especially in poetry and fiction, whose
names are " familiar in our mouths as house-
hold words," and who can never perish but
with her language. Still, we think that at
present her intellect is labouring more for her-
self than for mankind, and that our scholars,
if they would improve our Uterature, should
cultivate an intimacy not only with that of
England, but of Continental Europe.

We have now finished our remarks on the
importance and means of an improved lite-
rature among ourselves. Are we asked what
we hope in this particular? We answer,
much. We see reasons for anticipating an
increased and more efficient directk}n of
talent to this object But on these we caimot
enlarge. There is, however, one ground of
expectation to which we will call a moment's
attention. We apprehend that Uterature is to
inake progress through an important change
in soaety, which civiUzation and good insti-
tutions are making more and more apparent.
It seems to us that, through these causes,
poUtical life is less and less regarded as the
only or chief sphere for superior minds, and
thai influence and honour are more and more
accumulated in the hands of Uterary and
thinking men. Of consequence, more and
more of the inteUect of communities is to be
drawn to Uterature. The distinction between
antiquity and the present times in respect to
the importance attached to poUtical Ufe seems
to us striking ; and it is not an accidental
difference, but founded on permanent causes
which are to operate with increased power.
In ancient times everything, abroad axKi at
home, threw men upon the pubUc, and gene-
rated an intense thirst for poUtical power.
On the contrary, the improvement of later
periods inclines men to give importance to
literature. For examfde, the instability of the
ancient repubUcs, the imsettled relations of
different classes of society, the power of
demagogues and orators, the intensity of
factions, the want of moral and religious
restraints^ the want of some regular organ for

expressing the pubUc mind, the want of pre-
cedents and precise laws for the courts of
justice, — these and other circumstances gave
to the ancient citizen a feeUng as if revolutions
and convulsions were inseparable from society,
turned his mind with unremitting anxiety to
public affairs, and made a participation of
poUtical power an important, if not an essen-
tial, means of personal safet]|r. Again, the
ancient citizen had no home, in our sense of
the word. He Uved in the market, the forum,
the place of general resort, and of course his
attention was very much engrossed by affairs
of state. Again, religion, which now more
than aU things throws a man upon himself,
was in ancient times a pu'bUc concern and
turned men to political life. The religion of
the heart and closet was unknown. The
relation of the gods to particular states was
their most prominent attribute, and to con-
ciliate their favour to the community the chief
end of worship. Accordingly, reUgion con-
sisted chiefly in public and national rites. In
Rome, the highest men in the state presided
at the altar, and, adding to their other titles
that of Supreme Pontiff, performed the most
solemn functions of the priesthood. Thus
the whole strength of the reUgious principle
was turned into poUtical channels. The gods
were thought to sustain no higher office than
a political one, and of consequence this was
esteemed the most glorious for men. Once
more, in ancient times poUtical rank was
vastly more efficient, whether for good or for
evil, than at present, aiui of consequence was
the object of a more insatiable ambition. It
was almost the only way of access to the
multitude. The pubUc man held a sway over
opinion, over his country, perhaps over foreign
states, now unknown. It is the influence of
the press and of good institutions to reduce
the importance of the man of office. In pro-
portion as private individuals can act on the
public mind ; in proportion as a people read,
think, and have the means of expressing and
enforcing their opinions; in proportion as
laws become fixed, krK>wB, and sanctioned by
the moral sense of the commimity ; in propor-
tion as the interests of the state, the pnnciples
of administration, and aU pubUc measiires,
are subjected to free and familiar discussion,
government becomes a secondary influence.
The power passes into the hands <^ those who
think, write, and spread their minds far and
wide. Accordingly, Uterature is to become
more and more the instnunent of swa3ring
noen, of doing good, of achieving fame. The
contrast between ancient and modem times,
in the particulars now sUted, is too obvious
to need iUustration, and our great inference is
equaUy clear. The vast improvements which,
in the course of ages, have taken place in
social order, in domestic li^ in rel^ion, in

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JEBOiHddgie, all oonsprire to one result, all tend we appreliend, is more and more felt ; and

(o introdtice other and higher influences than from its influence, Joined with our peculiar

political power, and to give to that form of condition and free institutions, we hope for

btelleetnal eflbrt which we call literature ourcountry the happiness and glory of a pure,

dnmtnioB am fanmon afiafcs. Thai truth, deep, rich, beautiful, and ennobling literature.


AS55i«r.ft»2lliiSiraiStfS' "- "^ "" code, or reUere poor debtors? They make

i.TheSecoad AimiulKcponofdieEicciitireCainilAtee societies. Would thCT enCOUra?e SCricultUFe,

3. Fim Aonmi Report of the GenenU Unkw for Pnmwdofr societies. Would one class encoufftge hofse-
Sr. 2ff" * " *^ "^ ^^**'***^ &ibb«h. adopted M»y ^^ing. and another discourage trarelling on

Sunday? They form societies. We have
Wb have affixed to this article the tides of immense institutions spreading over the coun-
several reports of societies, not so nrach for try, combining hosts for particular objects,
the poipose of discussing the merits of We have minute ramifications of these socie-
tht several jnstitiitions whose labours they ties, penetrating everywhere except through
celebrate, as with the more general design of the poor-house, and conveying resources from
offering some remarks on the disposition the domestic, the labourer, and even the child,
which now prevails to form associations, and to the central treasury. This principle of
to aecoMptfsh all objects by organized masses, association is worthy the attention of the
A difldmoe of opinion on this point has philosopher, who simply aims to understand
begun to manliest itself, and murmurs against society and its most powerful springs. To the
the oounttcsB societies which modestly solicit philanthropist and the Christian it is exceed-
or anthoritad^ely dafan our aid, which now Ingly interesting, for it is a mighty engine, and
assail as wHh iSair promises of the good which must act ieither for good or for evil, to an ex-
thcy propose, and now with ihetorical enco- tent which no man can foresee or comprehend,
miums on the good they have done, begin to It is very easy, we conceive, to explain this
break forth frona the judicious and well dis- great development of the principle of co-
posed, as w^ as from the querulous and operation. The main cause is, the immense
selfish. These doubts and complaints, how- facility given to intercourse by modem im-
ever, are most f5requently excited by particular provements, by increased commerce and tra-
cases <rf unfair or injurious operations in veiling, by the post-ofl&ce, by the steam-boat,
sodeties. As 3ret no general principles have and especially by the press—by newspapers,
been established, by which the value of this periodicals, tracts, and other publications.
mode of action m^ be determined, or the Through these means, men of one mind)
nlative dafms of difrerent associations may be through a whole country, easily understand
weighed. We will not promise to supply the one another, and easily act together. The
deficiency, but we hope to furnish some help mnd manoeuvre to which Napoleon owed
to a sounder judgment than yet prevails on his victories— we mean the concentration of
the subject. great numbers on a single point— is now

That the sub^t deserves attention, no man placed within the reach of all parties and
who observes tlie signs of the times can doubt, sects. It may be said that, b^ facilities of
Its importance forces itself on the reflecting, intercourse, men are brought within one an-
In truth, one of the most remarkable drciun- other's attraction, and become arranged ac-
stances or features of our age, is the energy cording to their respective aflinitics. Those
with whidi the principle of combination, or wh6 have one great object find one another
of action by joint forces, by associated num- out through a vast extent of country, ioin
bers, is tnaniKsting itself. It may be said, their forces, settle their mode of operation,
without muc^ cxaiggeration, that everything and act together with the uniformity of a dis-
is done now by societies. Men have learned ciplined army. So extensive have coalitions
what wonders can be accomplished in certain become, through the facilities now described,
cases by onion, and seem to think that union and so various and rapid are the means of
is co mp e tent to everything. You can scarcely communication, that, when a few leaders have
name an oti^fect for which some institution has agreed on an object, an impulse mar be given
not been fomoed. Would men spread one in a month to the whole country, whole states
set of opinions or onish another? They make may be deluged with tracts and other publi-

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cations, and a voice like that of many waters
be called forth from immense and widely
separated multitudes. Here is a new power
brought to bear on society, and it is a great
moral question how it ought to be viewed
and what duties it imposes.

That this mode of action has advantages
and recommendations is very obvious. The
prindpNd arguments in its favour may be
stated in a few words. Men, it is jusUy said,
can do jointhr what thcY cannot do singly.
The union of minds and hands works won-
ders. Men grow efficient by concentrating
their powers. Joint effort conquers nature,
hews through mountains, rears pyramids,
dykes out the ocean. Man, Teft to himself,
living without a fellow— if he could indeed
so live— would be one of the weakest of crea-
tures. Associated with his kind, he gains
dominion over the strongest animals, over the
earth and the sea, and. bv his growing know-
ledge, may be said to obtain a kind of pro-
perty in the universe.

Kor is this all Men not only accumulate
power by union, but gain warmth and ear-
nestness. The heart is kindled. An electric
communication is established between those
who are brought nigh, and bound to each
other in common labours. Man droops in
solitude. No sound excites him like the voice
of his fellow-creature. The mere sight of a
human countenance, brig^htened with strong
and generous emotion, gives new strength to
act or suffer. Union not only brings to a
point forces which before existed, and which
were ineffectual through separation, but, by
the feeling and interest which it rouses, it be>
comes a creative principle, calls forth new
forces, and gives the mind a consciousness of
powers which would otherwise have been

We have here given the common argu-
ments by which the disposition to association
is justified and recommended. They may be
summed tip in a few words ; namely, that our
social principles and relations are the great
springs of improvement and of vigorous and
^cient extttion. That there is much truth
in this representation of the influences of
society we at once feeL That without im-
pulses and excitements from abroad, without
sympathies and communication with our
feUow-creatures, we should gain nothing and
accomplish nothing, we mean not to deny.
Still, we apprehend that on this subject there
is a want of accurate views and just discrimi-

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 26 of 169)