William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 31 of 169)
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forth profusely on the common earth and sky,
that it gleams from the loneliest flower, that
it lights up the humblest sphere, that the
sweetest affections lodge in lowly hearts, that
there is sacredness. dignity, and loveliness in
lives which few eyes rest on— that, even in
the absence of all intellectual culture, the
domestic relations can quietly nourish that
disinterestedness which is the element of all
greatness, and without which intellectual
power is a splendid deformity. Words^'orth
is the poet of humanity ; he teaches reverence
for otur universal nature ; he breaks down the
factitious barriers between human hearts.

The same is true in an inferior d^jee of
Scott, whose tastes, however, were more aris-
tocratic. Scott had a childish love of rank,
titles, show, pageants, and, in general, looked
with keener eye on the o«itward life than into
the soul. Still, he had a human heart, and
sympathiied with his race. With few excep-
tions, he was just to all his human brethren.
A reconciling spirit breathes through his
writings. He seizes on the interesting and
beautiful features in all conditions of life;
gives us bursts of tender and noble feelings
even from rude natures ; and continually knits
some new tie between the reader and the vast
varieties of human nature which start up
under his teeming pen. He delighted, indeed,
in Highland chiefs, in border thieves and
murderers, in fierce men and fieroe encoun-
ters. But he had an eye to catch the stream
of sweet affections as it wound its way through
humble life. What light has Jeanie Deans
shed on the path of the obsctu« I He was
too wanting in the religious sentiment to
comprehend the solemn bearing, the stem
grandeur of the Puritans. But we must not
charge with narrowness a writer who cm-
bodied in a Jewish maiden his highest con-
ceptions of female nobleness.

Another writer illustrating the liberalicing,
all-harmonizing tendency of our times is
Dickens, whose genius has sought and found
su^ects of thrilling interest in the passions.
Bufferings, virtues of the mass of the people.
He shows that life in its rudest forms may
wear a tragic grandeur; that, amidst follies
and sensucd excesses provoking laughter or
scorn, the moral feelings do not wholly die ;
and that the haunts of the blackest crimes are
sometimes lighted up by the presence and
influence of the noblest souls. He has, in-
deed, greatly erred in turning so often the
degradation of humanity into matter of sport;
but the tendency of his dark pictures is to
awaken sympathy with our race, to change



the utifeeling indifference which has prevailed
towards the depressed multitude into sArowful
and indignant sensibility to their wromgs and
woes. I

The remarks now made on literatuiie might
be extended to the Fine Arts. In thespwe see,
too, the tendency to universality, ft is said
that the spirit of the great artists | has died
out ; but the taste for their works is spreading.
By the improvements of engraving, and the
invention of casts, the genius of the great
masters is going abroad. Their conceptions
are no longer pent up in galleries open to but
few, but meet us in our homes, and are the
household pleasures of millions. Works
designed for the halls and eyes o( emperors,
popes, and nobles, find their ways in no poor
representations, into humble dwellings, and
sometimes give a consciousness of kindred
powers to the child of poverty. The art of
drawing, which lies at the foundation of most
of the fine arts, and is the best education of
the eye for nature, is becoming a branch of
common education, and in some countries is
taught in schools to which all classes are
admitted.

I am reminded by this remark of the roost
striking feature of our times, and showing its
tendency to universality, and that is the
unparalleled and constantly accelerated diffu-
sion of Education. This greatest of arts, as
yet litde understood, is making sure progress,
because its principles are more and more
sought in the common nature of man ; and
the great truth is spreading, that every man
has a ri^t to its aid. Accordingly education
is becoming the work of nations. Even in
the despotic governments of Europe, schools
are open for every child without distinction ;
and not only the elements of reading and
vrriting, but music and drawing, are taught,
and a foundation is laid for future progress
in history, geography, and physical science.
The greatest minds are at work on popular
education. The revenues of states are applied
most liberally, not to the universities for the
few, but to the common schools. Undoubtedly
much remains to be done ; especially a new
kank in society is to be given to the teacher ;
but even in this respect a revolution has com-
menced, and we are beginning to look on the
guides of the yotmg as the chief beneCactoiB
of mankind.

I thought that I had finished my illustcations
on this {xrint ; but there has suddenly occurred
to me another sign of the tendency to uni-
versal intellectiud action in this country, a
sign which we are prone to smile at, but
which is yet worthy of notice. I refer to the
commonness among us of Public Speaking.
If we may trust our newspapers, we are a
nation of orators. Every meeting overflows
with eloquence. Men of *.ill conditions find



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ft tODKiie for poblic debate. Undoubtedly
tbcre is more sound than sense in car endless
speeches before all kinds of assemblies and
societies. But no man, I think, can attend
oor pubUc meetings without being struck with
the force and propriety of expression in mul-
titudes whose condition has confined them to
a very imperfect culture. This exercise of
the int^ect» which has almost become a
national characteristie, is not to be under-
valued. Speedi is not merely the dress, as it
is often called, but the very body of thought.
It is to the intellect what the muscks are to
the principle of physical life. The mind acts
and strengthens itself through words. It is
a chaos till defined, organiz^ by language.
The attempt to give clear, precise utterance
to thought is one of the most effectual pro-
cesses of mental discipline. It is, therefore,
no doubtful sign of the growing intelligence
of a people when the power of expression
is cultivated extensively for the purpose of
acting on multitudes. We have here one
invaluable influence of popular institutions.
They present at the same moment to a whole
people great subjects of thought, and bring
multitudes to the earnest discussion of them.
Here are, indeed, moral dangers; but stUl,
strong incitements to general intellectual
action. It is in such stirring schools, after
all, that the mind of a people is chiefly formed.
Events of deep general interest quicken us
more than fonnal teaching; and by these the
civilised world is to be more and more trained
to thought.

Thus we see in the intellectual movements
of our times the tendency to expansion, to
universality; and this must continue. It is
not an accident, or an inexplicable result, or
a violence 00 nature ; it is founded in eternal
truth. Every mind was made for growth,
for knowledge ; and its nature is sinned
against when it is doomed to ignorance,
'fte divine gift of intelligence was bestowed
for higher iises than bodily labour, than to
make hewers of wood, drawers of water,
ploughm^i, or servants. Every being so
gifted is intended to acquaint himself with
God and his works, and to perform i^nsely
and disinterestedly the duties of life. Accord-
ingly, when we see the multitude of men
b^'uining to thirst for knowledge, for intel-
lectual action, for something more than an
animal Ufe, we see the great design of nature
f^bout to be accomplished ; and society, having
^fceived this impulse, will never rest till it
snail have taken such a form as will place
. within every man's reach the means of intel-
lectual culture. This is the revolution to
which we are tending; and without this all
outward political changes would be but
children's play, leaving the great work of
society yet to be done.



I have now viewed the age in its Intellectual
aspects. If we look next at its Religious
movements, we shall see in these the same
tendency to universality. It is more and more
understood that religious truth is every mans
prop^yand right; that it is committed to
tio order or individual, to no priest, minister,
student, or sage, to be given or kept back at
will; but that every man may and should
seek it for himself; that every man is to see
with his own mind, as well as >)rith his own
eyes; and that God's ilhiminating spirit is
alike promised to ever^ honest and humble
fteeker after truth. This recognition of every
man's right of judgment appears in the
teachings of all denominations of Christians.
In all, the tone of authority is giving place to
that of reason and persuasion. Men of all
ranks are more and more addressed as those
who must weigh and settle for themselves the
grandest tnitl^ of religion.

The same tendency to universality is seen
in the generous toleration which marks our
times, in comparison with the past. Men, in
general, cannot now endure to think that their
own narrow church holds all the goodness on
the earth. Religion is less and less regarded
as a name, a form, a creed, a church, and
more and more as the spirit of Christ, which
works under all forms and all sects. True,
much intolerance remains ; its separating
walls are not fallen ; but. with a few excep-
tions, they no longer reach to the clouds.
Many of them have crumbled away, till the
men whom they sever can shake hands and
exchange words of fellowship, and recognire
in one another's faces the features of brethren.

At the present day, the grand truth of reli-
gion is more and more brought out ; I mean
the truth, that God is the Universal Father,
that every soul is infinitely precious to Him,
that He has no favourites, no partial attach-
ments, no respect of persons, that He desires
alike the virtue and everlasting good of all.
In the city of Penn I cannot but remember
the testimony to this truth borne by George
Fox and his followers, who planted them-
selves on the grand principle that God's
illuminating spirit is shed on every soul, not
only within the bounds of Christendom, but
through the whole earth. This universal,
impartial love of God is manifested to us
more and more by science, which reveals to
us vast, all-pervading laws of nature, admin-
istered with no favouritism, and designee'
for the good of all. I know that this prin^
dple is not universally received. Men have
always been inclined to frame a local, partial,
national, or sectarian God, to shut up the
Infinite One in some petty enclosure ; but
at this moment larger views of God are so
far extended that they illustrate 'he spirit of
the age.



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If we next consider by whom religion is
taught, we shall see the same tendency to
diii^ion and universality. Religious teach-
ing is passing into all hands. It has ceased
to be a monopoly. For example, what an
immense amount of instruction is communi-
catedi n Sunday-schools ! These are spreading
over the Christian world, and through these
the door of teaching is open to crowds — to
almost all, indeed, who would bear a part in
spreading religion. In like manner associa-
tions of vast extent are springing up in our
cities for the teaching of the poor. By these
means woman, especially, is becoming an
evangelist. She is not only a priestess in her
own home, instilling with sweet, loving voice
the first truths of religion into the opening
mind, but she goes ^road on missions of
piety. Woman, in one age made man's
drudge, and in another his toy, is now
sharing more and more with him the highest
labours. Through the press, especially, she
is heard far and wide. The press is a
mightier power than the pulpit. Books out-
strip the voice ; and woman, availing her-
self of this agency, becomes the teacher of
nations. In churches, where she may' not
speak, her hymns are sung; the inspirations
of her genius are felt. Thus our age is
breaking down the monopolies of the past.

But a more striking illustration remains.
One of the great distinctions of our times is
found in the more clear and vital perception
of the truth, that the universal, impartial love
which is the glory of God is the characteristic
spirit and glory of Christianity. To this we
owe the extension of philanthropic and reli-
gious effort beyond all former experience.
How much we are better on the whole than
former times I do not say ; but that benevo-
lence is acting on a larger scale, in more
various forms, to more distant objects, this
we cannot deny. Call it pretension, or en-
thusiasm, or what you will, the fact remains ;
and it attests the diffusive tendencies of our
times. Benevolence now gathers together her
armies. Vast associations are spread over
whole coimtries for assailing evils which it is
thought cannot be met by the single-handed.
There is hardly a form of evil which has
not awakened some antagonist effort. Asso-
ciated benevolence gives eyes to the blind and
cars to the deaf, and is achieving even greater
wonders; that is, it approaches the mind with-
out the avenues of eye and ear, and gives
to the hopelessly blind and deaf the invalu-
able knowledge which these senses afford to
others. Benevolence now shuts out no human
being, however low, from its regard. It goes
to the cell of the criminal with words of
liope, and is labouring to mitigate public
punishment — to make it the instrument, not
of vengeance, but reform. It remembers the



slave, pleads his cause with God and man,
recognises in him a hiunan brother, respects
in him the sacred rights of humanity, and
claims for him, not as a boon, but as a right,
that freedom without which humanity withers,
and God's child is degraded into a tool or a
brute. Still more, benevolence now is passing
all limits of country and ocean. It would
send our own best blessing to the ends of
the earth. It would make the wilderness of
heathenism bloom, and join all nations in the
bonds of one holy and loving faith. Thus,
if we look at the religious movements of the
age, we see in them that tendency to diffusion
and universality which I have named as its
most striking characteristic.

Let me briefly point out this same tendency
in Government. Here, indeed, it is too ob-
vious for illustration. To what is the civilized
world tending? To popular institutions, or,
what is the same thing, to the influence of
the people, of the mass of men, over public
affairs. A little while ago, and the people
were luiknown as a power in the state. Now
they are getting all power into their hands.
Even in despotisms, where they cannot act
through institutions, they act through public
opinion. Intelligence is strength; and in
proportion as the many grow intelligent, they
must guide the world. Kings and nobles fill
less and less place in history ; and the names
of men who once were lost amidst the glare
of courts and titles are now written there im-
perishably. Once history did not know that
the multitude existed, except when they were
gathered together on the field of battle to be
sabred and shot down for the glory of their
masters. Now they are coming forward into
the foreground of her picture. It is now
understood that government exists for one
end. and one alone ; and that is not the glory
of the governor, not the pomp and pleasure
of a few, but the good, the safety, the rights
of alL Once government was an inhented
monopoly, guarded by the doctrine of divine
right, of'^an exclusive commission from the
\fost High. Now oflSce and dignity are
thrown open as common things, and nations
are convulsed by the multitude of competitors
for the prise of public power. Once the
policy of governments had no higher end than
to concentrate property into a few hands, and
to confirm the reladon of dependant and lord.
Now it alms to give to each the means of a^
quiring property, and of carving out his f^
tune for himself. Such is the political cu. A;i.
of our times. Many look on it with dfa*.
forebodings, as on a desolating torrent ; while
others hail it as a fertilizing stream. But in
one thing both agree; whether torrent or
stream, the mighty current exists, and over-
flows, and cannot be confined ; and it shows
us in the political, as in the other movements



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of our age, the tendency to universality, to
di/TtisioD.

I shall notice but one more movement of the
age as indicating the tendency to universality,
and this is its Industry. How numberless are
the forms which this takes I Into how many
channels is human labour pouring itself forth !
How widely spread is the passion for tux^uisi-
tion, not for simple means of subsistence, but
for wealth ! What vast enterprises agitate the
community I What a rush into all the depart-
ments of trade I How next to universal the
insa^ty of speculation I What new arts spring
up I Industry pierces the forests, and startl^
with her axe the everlasting silence. To jrou.
Gentlemen, commerce is the commanding in-
terest; and this has no limits but the habitable
world. It no longer creeps along the shore or
lingers in accustomed tracks ; but penetrates
into every inlet, plunges into the heart of
uncivilized lands, sends its steam-ships up
unexplored rivers, girdles the earth with rail-
roads, and thus breaks down the estrange-
ments of nations. Commerce is a noble calling.
It medkues between distant nations, and makes
men's wants, not, as formerly, stimulants to
war, but bonds of peace. The universal
inteUectual activity of which I have spoken is
due, in no small degree, to commerce, which
spreads the thoughts, inventions, and writings
of great men over the earth, and gathers
scientific and literary men everywhere into an
intellectual republic. So it carries abroad the
missionary, the Bible, the Cross, and is giving
universahty to true religion. Gentlemen, allow
me to express an earnest desire and hope that
the merchants of this country will carry on
their calling with these generous views. Let
them not pursue it for themselves alone. Let
them rejoice to spread improvements tar and
wide, and to unite men in more friendly ties.
Let them adopt maxims of trade whidi will
establish general confidence. Especially, in
their intercourse with less cultivated trib^, let
them feel themselves bound to be harbingers
of civilization. Let their voyages be missions
of humanity, useful arts, science, and religion.
It is a painful thought that commerce, instead
of enlightening and purifying less privileged
coromimities, has too often made the name of
Christian hateful to them, has carried to the
savage, not our useful arts and mild faith, but
weapons of war and the intoxicating draught.
I call not on God to smite with his ughtnings,
to overwhelm with his storms, the accursed
ship which goes to the ignorant, rude native,
freight^ with poison and death; which goes
to add new ferocity to savage life, new licen-
tiousness to savage sensuality. I have learned
not to oil down fire frcm heaven. But, in
the name of humanity, of religion, of God, I
implore tlMS merchants of this country not to
use the light of a higher civilization to cor-



rupt, to destroy our uncivilized brethren.
Brethren they are, in those rude huts, in that
wild attire. Establish with them an inter-
course of usefulness, justice, and charity.
Before they can understand the name of
Christ, let them see his spirit in those by
whom it is borne. It has been said that the
commerce of our country is not only corrupt-
ing uncivilized countries, but that it wears a
deeper, more damning stain ; that, in spite of
the laws of the land and the protest of nations,
it sometimes lends itself to the slave-trade;
that, by its capital, and accommodations, and
swift sailers, and false papers, and prostituted
flag, it takes part in tearing the African from
his home and native shore, and in dooming
him, first to the horrors of the middle passage,
and then to the hopelessness of perpettial
bondage. Even on men so fallen I call down
no curse. May they find forgiveness from
God through the pains of sincere repentance !
but, continuing what they are, can I help
shrinking from them as among the most in-
famous of their race ?

Allow me to say a word to the merchants
of our country on another subject. The time
is come when they are particularly called to
take yet more generous views of their voca-
tion, and to give commerce a universality as
yet unknown. I refer to the juster principles
which are gaining ground on the subject of
free trade, and to the growing disposition of
nations to promote it. Free trade I — this is
the plain duty and plain interest of the human
race. To level all barriers to free ejcchange ;
to cut up the system of restriction, root and
branch ; to op«i every port on earth to every
product; this is the office of enlightened
humanity. To this a free nation should es-
pecially pledge itself. Freedom of the seas ;
freedom of harbours; an intercourse of
nations, free as the winds; — this is not a
dream of philanthropists. We are tending
towards it, and let us hasten it. Under a
wiser and more Christian civilization we shall
look back on our present restrictions as we
do on the swaddling bands by which in
darker times t^e himian body was compressed.
The growing freedom of trside is another and
glorious illustration of the tendency of our
age to universality.

I have thus aimed to show in the principal
movements of our time the character of diffu-
sion and universality, and in doing this I
have used language implying my joy in this
great feattue of our age. But you will not
suppose that I see in it nothing but good.
Human affairs admit no unmixed good, lliis
very tendency has its perils and evils. To
take but one example ; the opening of vast
prospects of wealth to the mtutitude of men
has stirred up a fierce competition, a wild
spirit of speculation, a feverish, insatiable



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cupidity, under which fraud, bankruptcy,
distrust, distress are fearfully mulriplied, so
that the naine of American has become a
by-word beyond the ocean. I see the danger
of the present state of society, perhaps as
clearly as any one. But still I rejoice to have
been bom in this age. It is still true that
human nature was made for growth, expan-
sion ; this it its proper life, and this must not
be checked because it has perils, llie child,
when it shoots up into youth, exchanges its
early repose and security for new passions,
for strong emotions, which are fiiU of dan^r ;
but would we keep him for ever a child?
Danger we cannot avoid. It is a grand ele-
ment of human life. We always walk on
precipices. It is unmanly, imwise, it shows
a want of faith in God and humanity, to deny
to others and onnelves free sco[)e and the
expansion of our best powers because of the
pc^ible collisions and pains to be feared from
extending activity. Many, indeed, sigh for
security as the supreme good. But God
intends us for something better, for effort,
conflict, and progress. And is it not well to
live in a sdrring and mighty world, even
though we suffer from it? If we look at
outward nature, we find ourselves surrounded
with vast and fearful eleraents-~air, sea. and
fire — which sometimes burst all bounds, and
overwhelm man and his labours in ruin. But
who of us would annihilate these awful forces,
would make the ocean a standing pool and
put to silence the loud blast, in order that
life may escape every peril ? This mysterious,
infinite, irresistible might of natiuc, breaking
out in countless forms and motions, makes
nature the true school for man, and gives it
all its interest. In the soul still mightier
forces are pent up, and their expansion has
its perils. But all are from God, who has
blended with them checks, restraints, balances,
reactions, by which all work together for
good. Let us never forget that, amidst this
^uful stir, there is a paternal Providence,
under which the education of our race has
gone on, and a higher condition of humanity
has been achieved.

There are, however, not a few who have
painfiil fears of evil from the restless, earnest
action which we have seen spreading itself
more and more through all departments of
society. They call the age wild, lawless, pre-
sumptuous, without reverence. All men, they
teU us, are bursting their spheres, quitting



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 31 of 169)