William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 3 of 169)
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from kindling a flame which may involve the
woiid ; these are the principles and feelings
which do honour to a people. Has not the
time come when a nation professing these
may cast itself on the candour of mankind ?
Most fresh blood flow for ever, to keep clean
the escutcheon of a nation's glory ? For one,
I look on war with a horror which no v/ords
can express. I have long wanted patience
to read of battles. Were the world of my
mind, no man would fight for glory ; for the
name of a commander, who has no other
claim to respect, seldom passes my lips, and
the want of S3rmpathy drives him from my
mind. The thought of man, God's immortal
child, butchered by his brother ; the thought
of sea and land stained with human blood by
human hands, of women and children buried
under the ruins of besieged cities, of the
resources of empires and the mighty powers
of nature all turned by man's malignity into
engines of torture and destruction; this
thought gives to earth the semblance of hell.
I shudder as among demons. I cannot now,
as I once did, talk lightly, thoughtlessly of
fighting with this or that nation. That na-
tion is no longer an abstraction to n^e. It is
DO longer a vague mass. It spreads out
before me into individuals, in a thousand
interesting forms and relations. It consists
kA hustonds and wives, parents and children,
who love one another as I love my own
home. It consists of affectionate women and
sweet children. It consists of Christians,
onited with roe to the common Saviour, and
in whose spirit I reverence the likeness of
his divine virtue. It consists of a vast mul-
titude of labourers at the plough and in the
workshop, whose toils I sympathize with,
whose burden I should rejoice to lighten, and
Cor whose elevation I have pleaded. It con-
sists of men of science, taste, genius, whose
writings have beguiled my solitary hours, and
£iven life to my intellect and best affections.
Here is the nation which I am called to
fight with, into whose families I must send
mourning, whose fall or humiliation I must
seek through blood. I cannot do it, without
a clear commission from God. I love this
nation. Its men and women are my brothers
and sisters. I cottld not, without unutterable
pain, thrust a sword into their hearts. If,
indeed, my country were invaded by hostile
annles, threatening without disguise its rights.



liberties, and dearest interests, I should strive
to repel them, just as I should repel a crimi-
nal who should enter my house to slay what
I hold most dear, and what is entrusted to
my care. But I cannot confound with such
a case the common instances of war. In
general, war is the work of ambitious men,
whose principles have gained no strength
from the experience of public life, whose
policy is coloured if not swayed by personal
views or ixirty interests, who do not seek
peace with a single heart, who, to secure
doubtful rights, perplex the foreign relations
of the state, spread jealousies at home and
abroad, enlist popular passions on the side of
strife, commit themselves too far for retreat,
and are then forced to leave to the arbitration
of the sword what an impartial umpire could
easily have arranged. The question of peace
and war is too oRen settled for a country by
men in whom a Christian, a lover of his
race, can put little or no trust; and at the
bidding of such men, is he to steep his hands
in human blood ? But this insamty is pass-
ing away. This savageness cannot endure,
however hardened to it men are by long use.
The hope of waking up some from their
lethargy has induced me to recur to this topic
so often in my writings.

I might name other topics, which occupy
a large space in the following tracts, but
enough has been said here. I will only add.
that I submit these volumes* to the piiblic
with a deep feeling of their imperfections.
Indeed, on such subjects as God, and Christ,
and Duty, and Immortality, and Perfecdon,
how faint must all human utterance be I In
another life, we shall look back on our pre-
sent words as we do on the lispings of our
childhood. Still these lispings conduct the
child to higher speech. Still, amidst our
weakness, we may learn something, and make
progress, and quicken one another by free
communication. We indeed know and teach
comparatively little; but the known is not
the less true or precious, because there is an
infinite unknown. Nor ought our ignorance
to discourage us, as if we were left to hope-
less scepticism. There are great truths, which
every honest heart may be assured of. There
is such a thing as a serene, immovable con-
viction. Faith is a deep want of the soul.
We have faculties for the spiritual, as truly
as for the outward world. God, the founda-
tion of all existence, may become to the mind
the most real of all beings. We can and do
see in virtue an everlasting beauty. The dis-
tinctions of right and wrong, the obUgations
of goodness and justice, the divinity of con-
science, the moral connection of the present
and future life, the greatness of the character

[« The editioo referred to litre was la sereril ▼olunM.)



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INTRODUCTORY RFMARfCS.



of Christ, the ultimate triumphs of troth and
love, are to multitudes not probable deduc-
tions, but intuitions accompanied with the
consciousness of certainty. They shine with
the clear, constant brightness of the lights of
heaven. The believer feels himself resting
on an everlasting foundation. It is to this
power of moral or spiritual perception that
the following writings are chiefly addressed.
I have had testimony that they have not
been wholly ineffectual in leading some
minds to a more living and unfaltcnng per-
suasion of great moral truths. Without this,
I should t« little desirous to send them out
in this new form. I trust that they will meet
some wants. Books which are to pass away,
may yet render much service, by their fitness
to the intellectual struggles and moral aspira-
tions of the times in which they are written.
If in this or in any way I can serve the cause



of truth, humanity, and religion, I shall
regard my labours as having earned the l>est
recompense which God bestows on his crea-
tures. W. E. C.
Boston, April i8M, 1841.

P.S. — I intended to say, that some of the
following tracts savour of the periods in which
they were written, and give opinions which
time has disproved. In the article on Napo-
leon Bonaparte fears are expressed which
have in a good measiu^ passed away. In the
same Review, the conqueror of Waterloo is
spoken of as having only the merit of a
great soldier. No one then believed that
his opponents were soon to acknowledge his
eminence in civil as in military affairs. The
article is left as it was, from the difficulty of
reniodellhig it, and because it may be useful
as a record of past impressions.



SELF-CULTURE :

An Address introductory to t/ie Franklin Lectures, delivered at
Boston f September, 1838.



[This Address was intended to make two lectiu« ; but the author was led to abridge it and
deliver it as one, partly by the apprehension that some passages were too abstract for a
popular address, partly to secure the advantages of presenting the whole subject at once
and in close connection, and for other reasons which need not be named. Most of the
passages which were omitted are now published. The author respectfully submits the
discourse to those for whom it was particularly intended, and to the pubhc, in the hope
that it will at least bring a great subject before the minds of some who may not as yet
have given to it the attention it deserves.]



My REspectkd Frtpnds, — By the invitation
of the committee of arrangements for the
Franklin Lectures, I now appear before you
to offer some remarks introductory to this
course. My principal inducement for doing
so is my deep interest in those of my fellow-
citizens for whom these lectures are princi-
pally designed. I understood that they were
to be attended chiefly by those who are oc-
cupied by manual labour ; and, hearing this,
I did not feel myself at liberty to decline the
service to which I had been invited. I wished
by compliance to express my sympathy with
this large portion of my race. I wished to
express my sense of obligation to those from
whose industr)' and skill I derive almost all
the comforts of life. I wished still more to
express my joy in the efforts they are making
for their own improvement, and my firm faith
in their success. These motives will give a
vticular character and bearing to some of
' remarks. I shall speak occasionally as



among those who lire by the labour of their
hands. But I shall not speak as one separated
from them. I belong rightfully to the great
fraternity of working men. Happily in this
community we all are bred and bom to work ;
and this honourable mark, set on us all,
should bind together the various portions of
the community.

I have expressed my strong interest in the
mass of the people ; and this is founded, not
on their usefulness to the community, so much
as on what they are in themselves. Their
condition is indeed obscure ; but their impor-
tance is not on this account a whit the less.
The multitude of men cannot, from the nature
of the case, be distinguished; for the very
idea of distinction is. that a man stands out
from the multitude. They make little noise
and draw little notice in their narrow spheres
of action ; but still they have their full pro-
portion of personal worth and even of great-
ness. Indeed evei-y man, in every condition,



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SRLP'CULTVRE.



h great. It is only our own diseased sight
which makes him little. A man is great as a
man, be he where or what he may. The
gTAndeur ci his nature turns to insignificance
all outward distinctions. His powers of in-
tellect, of conscience, of love, of knowing
God, of perceiving the beautiful, of acting on
bis own mind, on outward nature, and on his
fellow-creatures, these are glorious preroga-
tive=t. Through the vulgar error of under-
valuing what is common, we are apt indeed
to pass these by as of little worth. But as
in the outward creation, so in the soul, the
common is the most precious. Science and
art may invent splendid modes of illuminating
tlie apartments of the opulent ; but these are
all poor and worthless compared with the
common light which the sun sends into all
our windows, which he pours freely, impar-
tially over hill and valley, which kindles daily
the eastern and western sky ; and so the
common lights of reason, and conscience, and
love, are of more worth and dignity than the
rare endowments which give celebrity to a
few. Let us not disparage that nature which
is common to all men; for no thought can
measure its grandeur. It is the image of God,
the image even of his infinity, for no limits
can be Set to its unfolding. He who pos-
sesses the divine powers of the soul is a great
being, be his place what it may. You may
clofbe him with rags, may immure him in a
dungeon, may chain him to slavish tasks.
But he is still great. You may shut him out of
your houses ; but God opens to him heavenly
mansions. He makes no show indeed in the
streets of a splendid city; but a clear thought,
a pure affection, a resolute act of a virtuous
will, have a dignity of quite another kind and
far higher than accumulations of brick and
granite and plaster and stucco, however cun-
nmgly put together, or though stretching far
beyond our sight. Nor is this all. If we
pass over this grandeur of our common nature,
and turn otw thoughts to that comparative
greatness, which draws chief attention, and
which consists in the decided superiority of
the individual to the general standard of
power and character, we shall find this as free
and frequent a growth among the obscure
and unnoticed as in more conspicuous walks
of life. The truly great are to be foimd
e\*c-rywhere, nor is it easy to say in what
co:idition th^ spring up most plentifully.
Real greatness has nothing to do with a man's
sphere. It docs not lie in the magnitude of
his outward agency, in the extent of the
eflects which he produces. The greatest men
may do comparatively little abroad. Perhaps
the greatest in our city at this moment are
burred in obscurity. Grandeur of character
tics wholly in force of soul, that is, in the
ioree of thought, moral principle, and love.



and this may be found in the humblest con-
dition of life. A man brought up to an
obscure trade, and hemmed in by the wants
of a growing family, may, in his narrow
sphere, perceive more clearly, discriminate
nwre keenly, weigh evidence noore wisely,
seize on the right means more decisively, and
have more presence of mind in difficulty, than
another who has accumulated vast stores of
knowledge by laborious study; and he has
more of intellectual greatness. Many a man,
who has gone but a few miles from home,
understands human nature better, detects
motives and weighs character more saga-
ciously, than another who has travelled over
the known world, and made a name by his
reports of different countries. It is force of
thought which measures intellectual, and so
it is force of principle which measures moral
greatness, that highest of human endowments,
that brightest manifestation of the Divinity.
The greatest man is he who chooses the Riglit
with invincible resolution, who resists the
sorest temptations from within and without,
who bears the heaviest burdens cheerfully,
who is calmest in storms and most fearless
under menace and frowns, whose reliance on
truth, on virtue, on God, is most unfaltering;
and is this a greatness which is apt to make
a show, or which is most likely to abound in
conspicuous station ? The solemn conflicts of ,
reason with passion; the victories of moral
and religious principle over urgent and almost
irresistible solicitations to self-indulgence ; the
hardest sacrifices of duty, those of deep-seated
affection and of the heart's fondest hopes;
the consolations, hopes, joys, and peace of
disappointed, persecuted, scorned, deserted
virtue; these are of course unseen; so that
the true greatness of human life is almost
wholly out of sight. Perhaps in our presence,
the most heroic deed on earth is done in some
silent spirit, the loftiest purpose cherished,
the most generous sacrifice made, and we do
not suspect it. 1 believe this greatness to be
most common among the multitude, whose
names are never heard. Anwng common
people will be found more of harc^hip borne
manfully, more of unvarnished truth, more
of religious trust, more of that generosity
which gives what the g^ver needs himself, and
more of a wise estimate of life and death, than
among the more prosperous. — And even in
regard to influence over other beings, which
is thought the peculiar prerogative of distin-
guished station, I believe that the difference
between the conspicuous and the obscure does
not amount to much. Influence is to be
measured, not by the extent of siufacc it
covers, but by its kind. A man may spread
his mind, his feelings, and opinions through
a great extent ; but if his mind be a low one,
he manifests no greatness. A wretched artist



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SELF-CVLTURB.



may till ft city with daubs, and by a false,
showy style achieve a reputation; but the
roan of genius, who leaves behind him one
grand picture, in which immortal beauty is
embodied, and which is silently to spread a
true taste in his art, exerts an incomparably
higher influence. Now the noblest influence
on earth is that exerted on character; and he
who puts forth this does a great work, no
matter how narrow or obscure his sphere.
The father and motherof an unnoticed family,
who, in their seclusion, awaken the mind of
one child to the idea and love of perfect
goodness, who awaken in him a strength of
will to repel all temptation, and who send
him out prepared to profit by the conflicts of
life, surpass in influence a Napoleon breaking
the world to his sway. And not only is iheir
work higher in kind; who knows but that
they are doing a greater work even as to
extent of surface than the conqueror? Who
knows but that the being whom they inspire
with holv and disinterested principles, may
communicate himself to others; and that,
by a spreading agency, of which they were
the silent CMrigin, improvements may spread
through a nation, through the world? In
these remarks you will see why I feel and
express a deep interest in the obscure, in the
mass of men. The distinctions of society
vanish before the light of these truths. I
attach myself to the multitude, not because
they are voters and have political power, but
because they are men, and have within their
reach the most glorious prizes of humanity.

In this country the mass of the people are
distinguished by possessing means of improve-
ment, of self-culture, possessed nowhere else.
To incite them to the use of these is to ren-
der them the best service they can receive.
Accordingly I have chosen for the subject of
this lecture. Self-culture, or the care which
every man owes to himself, to the unfolding
and perfecting of his nature. I consider this
topic as particularly appropriate to the intro-
duction of a course of lectures, in consequence
of a common disposition to regard these and
other like means of instruction as able of
themselves to carry forward the hearer. Lec-
tures have their use. They stir up many
who, but for such outward appeals, might
have slumbered to the end of life. But let it
be remembered that little is to be gained
simply by comin? to this place once a week,
and gi\nng up the mind for an hour to be
wrought upon by a teacher. Unless we are
roused to act upon ourselves, unless we en-
gage in the work of self-imjirovement, unless
we purpose strenuously to form and elevate
our own minds, unless what we hear is made
a part of ourselves by conscientious reflection,
very little permanent good is received.

Self-culture, I am aware, is a topic too ex-



tensive for a single discourse, and I shall be
able to present but a few views whk:h seem to
me most important. My aim will be, to give
first the Idea of self-culture, next its Means,
and then to consider some objections to the
leading views which I am now to lay before
you.

Before entering on the discussion, let roe
offer one reroark. Self-culture is something
possible. It is not a dream. It has founda-
tions in our nature. Without this conviction,
the speaker will but declaim, and the hearer
listen without profit. There are two powers
of the human soul which make self-culture
possible, the self-searching and the self-form-
ing power. We have first the faculty of turn-
ing the mind on itself; of recalling its past,
and watching its present operations ; of learn*
ing its various capacities and susceptibilities,
what it can do and bear, what it can enjoy
and suffer ; and of thus learning in general
what our nature is, and what it was made for.
It is worthy of observation, that we are able
to discern not only what we alreadv are, but
what we may become, to see in ourselves germs
and promises of a growth to which no bounds
can be set, to dart beyond what we have ac-
tually gained to the idea of Perfection as the
end of our being. It is by this self-compre-
hending power that we are distinguished from
the brutes, which give no signs of looking
into themselves. Without this there would be
no sdf-culture, for we should not know the
work to be done; and one reason why self-
culture is so little proposed is. that so few
penetrate into their own nature. To most
men, their own spirits are shadowy, unreal,
compared with what is outward. When they
happen to cast a glance inward, they see there
only a dark, vague chaos. They distinguish
perhaps someviolent passion, which has driven
them to injurious excess; but their highest
powers hardly attract a thought ; and thus
multitudes live and die as truly strangers to
themselves as to countries of which they have
heard the name, but which human foot has
never trodden.

But self-culture is possible, not only because
we can enter into and search ourselves. We
have a still nobler power, that of acting on,
determining, and forming ourselves. This is
a fearful as well as glorious endowment, for
it is the ground of human responsibility. We
have the power not only of tracing our powers,
but of guiding and impelling them ; not only
of watching our passions, but of controlling
them ; not only of seeing our faculties grow,
but of applying to them means and influences
to aid their growth. We can stay or change
the current of thought. We can concentrate
the intellect on objects which we wish to com-
prehend. We can fix our eyes on perfection,
and make almost everything speed towaxxisit.



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SELF-CULTURE,



13



This is indeed a noble prerogative of our
nature. Possesang this, it matters little what
or where we are now, for we can conquer a
better lot, and even be happier for starting
from the lowest point. Of ail the discoveries
which men need to make, the most important,
at the present moment, is that of the self-
forming power treasured up in themselves.
They little suspect its extent, as little as the
savage apprehends the energy which the mind
is created to exert on the material world. It
transcends in importance all our power over
outward nature. There is more of divinity in
it than in the force which impels the outward
universe; and yet how httle we comprehend
it! How it slumbers in most men unsus-
pected, unused ! This makes self-culture pos-
sible, and binds it on us as a solemn duty.

I. I am first to unfold the idea of self-cul-
ture; and this, in its most general form, may
easily be seized. To cultivate anything, be
it a plant, an animal, a mind, is to make grow.
Growth, expansion is the end. Nothing ad-
mits culture but that which has a principle of
hfe. capable of being expanded. He. there-
fore, who does what he can to unfold all his
poweis and capacities, especially his nobler
ones, so as to become a well-proportioned,
vigorous, excellent, happy being, practises
self-culture.

This culture, of course, has various branches
correspondiBg to the different capacities of
Imman nature ; but, though various, they are
intimately united and make progress together.
The soul, which our philosophy divides into
x^uKMis capacities, is still one essence, one
Ufe; and it exerts at the same moment, and
blends in the same act, its various energies of
(bought, feeling, and volition. Accordingly,
in a wise self-culture, all the principles of our
nature grow at once by joint, harmonious ac-
tion, just as all parts of the plant are unfolded
together. Wlien, therefore, you hear of dif-
ferent branches of self-improvement, you will
not think of them as distinct processes going
00 independently of each other, and requiring
each its own separate means. Still a distinct
ooDSideration of these is needed to a full com-
prehension of the subject, and these 1 shall
proceed to unfold.

First, self-culture is Moral, a branch of sin-
gular importance. When a man looks into
himself, he discovers two distinct orders or
kinds of principles, which it behoves him
especially to comprehend. He discovers de-
sires, appetites, passions, which terminate in
himself, which crave and seek his own interest,
gratification, distinction; and he discovers
another principle, an antagonist to these,
wluch is Impartial. Disinterested. Universal,
eajoining on him a regard to the rights and
h«|pSBes5 of other beings, and laying on him
mgations which must be discharged, cost



what they may. or however they may clash
with his particular pleasure or gain. No man,
however narrowed to his own interest, how-
ever hardened by selfishness, can deny that
there springs up within him a great idea in
opposition to interest, the idea of Duty, that
an inward voice calls him, more or less dis-
tinctbr, to revere and exercise Impartial Justice
and Universal Good-will. This disinterested
principle in human nature we call sometimes
reason, sometimes conscience, sometimes the
moral sense or faculty. But. be its name what
it may, it is a real principle in each of us, and
it is the supreme power within us, to be cul-
tivated above all others, for on its culture
the right development of all others depends.
The passions indeed may be stronger than
the conscience, may lift up a louder voice;
but their clamour differs wholly from the tone
of command in which the conscience speaks.
They are not clothed with its authority, its



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 3 of 169)