William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 4 of 169)
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binding power. In their very triumphs they
are rebuked by the moral principle, and often
cower before its still, deep, menacing voice.
No part of self-knowledge is more important
than to discern clearly these two great prin-
ciples, the self-seeking and the disinterested ;
and the most important part of self-culture is
to depress the former and to exalt the latter,
or to enthrone the sense of duty within us.
There are no limits to the growth of this moral
force in man, if he will cherish it faithfully.
Tliere have been men whom no power in the
universe could turn from the Right, by whom
death in its most dreadful forms has been less
dreaded than transgression of the inward law
of universal justice and love.

In the next place, self-culture is Religious.
When we look into ourselves, we discover
powers which link us with this outward,
visible, finite, ever-changing world. We have
sight and other senses to discern, and limbs
and various facuhies to secure and appropriate
the material creation. And we have, too, a
power which cannot stop at what we see and
handle, at what exists within the bounds of
space and time, which seeks for the Infinite,
Uncreated Cause, which cannot rest till it
ascend to the Eternal, All -comprehending
Mind. This we call the religious principle,
and its grandeur cannot be exaggerated by
human language ; for it marks out a being
destined for higher communion than with the
visible universe. To develop this is eminently
to educate ourselves. The true idea of God.
unfolded clearly and hvingly within us, and
moving us to adore and obey Him, and to
aspire after likeness to Him. is the noblest
growth in human, and, I may add, in celestial
natures. The religious principle and the
moral are intimately connected, and grow
together. The former is indeed the perfection
and highest manifestation of the latter. 1 hey



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are both disinterested. 1 1 is the essence of true
religion to recognize and adore in God the
attributes of Impartial Justice and Univei^al
Love, and to hear Him conmianding us in the
conscience to become what we adore.

Again. Self-culture is Intellectual. We
cannot look into ourselves without discover-
ing the intellectual principle, the power which
thinks, reasons, and judges, the power of
seeking and acquiring truth. This, indeed,
we are in no danger of overlooking. The
intellect being the great instrument by which
men opmp)ass their wishes, it draws more
attention than any of our other powers.
When we speak to men of improving them-
selves, the first thought which occurs to tliem
is, that they must cultivate their understand-
ing, and get knowledge and skill. By educa-
' tion, men mean almost exclusively intellectual
training. For this, schools and colleges are
instituted, and to this- the moral and religious
discipline of the young is sacrificed. Now I
reverence, as much as an^ man, the intellect ;
but let us never exalt it above the moral
principle. With this it is roost intimately con-
necteci In this its culture is founded, and to
exalt this is its highest aim. Whoever desires
that his intellect may grow up to soundness,
to healthy vigour, must begin with moral dis-
cipUne. Reading and study are not enough
to perfect the power of thought. One thing
above all is needful, and that is, the Disin*
terestedness which is the very soul of virtue.
To ^ain truth, which is the great object of the
understanding, I must seek it disinterestedly.
Here is the first and grand condition of in-
tellectual progress. I must choose to receive
the truth, no matter how it bears on myself.
I must follow it, no matter where it leads,
what interests it opposes, to what persecution
or loss it lays me open, from what party it
severs me, or to what party it allies. Without
this fairness of mind, which is only another
phrase for disinterested love of truth, great
native powers of understanding are perverted
and led astray, genius runs wild ; "the light
within us beoomes darkness." The subtilest
reasoners, for want of this, cheat themselves
as well as others, and become entangled in
the web of their own sophistry. It is a fact
well known in the history of science and
philosophy, that men, gifted by nature with sin-
gular intelligence, have broached the grossest
errors, and even sought to undermine the
grand primitive truths on which human virtue,
dignity, and hope depend. And, on the other
hand, 1 have known instances of men of
naturally moderate powers of mind, who, by
a disinterested love of truth and their fellow-
creatures, have gradually risen to no small
force and enlargement of thought. Some of
the most useful teachers in the pulpit and in
schools have owed their power of enUghten-



ing others, not so much to any natural supe-
riority, as to the simpUcity, impartiaUty, and
disinterestedness of their minds, to their readi-
ness to hve and die for the truth. A man
who rises above himself looks from an emi-
nence on nature and providence, on society
and life. Thought expands, as by a natural
elasticity, when the pressure of selfishness is
removed. The moral and rehgious principles
of the soul, generously cultivated, fertilize
the intellect. Duty, faithfully performed, opens
the mind to truth, both being of one family,
ahke immutable, universal, and everlasting.

I have enlarged on this subject, because
the connection bet\veen moral and intellectual
culture is often overlooked, and because the
former is often sacrificed to the latter. The
exaltation of talent, as it is called, above vir-
tue and rehgion, is the curse of the age. Edu-
cation is now chiefly a stimulus to learning,
and thus men acquire power without the prin-
ciples which alone make it a good. Talent
is worshipped; but, if divorced from recti-
tude, it will prove more of a demon than a
god.

Intellectual culture consists, not chiefly, as
many are apt to think, in accumulating in-
formation, though this is important, but in
building up a force of thought which may be
turned at will on any subjects on which we
are called to pass judgment. This force is
manifested in the concentration of the atten-
tion, in accurate, penetrating observation, in
reducing complex subjects to their elements,
in diving beneath the effect to the cause, in
detecting the more subtile differences and re-
semblances of things, in reading the future in
the present, and especially in rising from par-
ticular facts to general laws or universal truths.
This last exertion of the intellect, its rising to
broad views and great principles, constitutes
what is called the philosophical mind, and is
especially worthy of culture. What it means,
your own observation must have taught you.
You muat have taken note of two classes of
men, the one always employed on details, on
particular facts, and the other using these
facts as foundations of higher, wider truths.
The latter are philosophers. For example,
men had for ages seen pieces of wood,
stones, metals falling to the ground. New-
ton seized on these particular facts, and
rose to the idea that all matter tends, or is
attracted, towards all matter, and then de-
fined the law according to which this attrac-
tion or force acts at different distances, thus
giving us a ^:rand principle, which, we have
reason to think, extends to and controls tlie
whole outward creation. One man reads a
history, and can tell you all its events, and
there stops. Another combines these events,
brings them under one view, and learns the
great causes which are at work on tliis or an-



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odier nation, and what are its great tendencies,
whether to freedom or despotism, to one or
another form of civilisation. So, one man
talks continually ^x>ut the particular actions
of this or another neighbour ; whilst another
iooks tKjond the acts to the inward principle
from whk:h they spring, and gathers from them
laiiger views of human nature. In a word, one
man sees all things apart and in fragments,
whilst another strives to discover the harmony,
connection, unity of all. One of the great evils
of society is. that men, occupied perpetually
wilh petty details, want general truths, want
broad and fixed principles. Hence many, not
wicked, are unstable, habitually inconsistent,
as if th^ were overgrown children rather than
men. To build up that strength of mind which
apprehends and cleaves to great universal
tniths, is the highest intellectua] self-culture;
and here I wish you to observe how entirely
this culture agrees with that of the moral and
the religious principles of our nature, of which
I have previously spoken. In each of these, the
improvement of the soul consists in raising it
above what is narrow, particular, individual,
selfish, to the universal and imcon fined. To
improve a man is to liberalize, enlarge him in
thought, feeling, and purpose. Narrowness
of intellect and heart, this is the degradation
from which all culture aims to rescue the
human being.

Again. &lf-culture is Social, or one of its
great offices is to unfold and purify the alTec-
tions which spring up instinctively in the hu-
man breast, which bind together husband and
wife, parentand child, brother and sister; which
bind a man to friends and neighbours, to his
country, and to the suffering who fall under
his eye. wherever they belong. The culture of
these is an important part of our work, and it
consists in converting them from instincts into
principles, from natural into spiritual attach-
ments, in giving them a rational, moral, and
holy character. For example, our affection for
our children is at first instinctive; and if it
continue such, it rises little above the brute's
atuchroent to its young. But when a parent
infuses into his natural love for his ofi&pring
moral and religious principle, when he comes
to regard bis child as an intelligent, spiritual,
immortal being, and honours him as such,
and desires first of all to make him disinte-
rested, noble, a worthy child of God and the
friend of his race, then the instinct rises into
A generotis and holy sentiment. It resembles
God's paternal love for his spiritual family.
A like purity and dignity we must aim to give
to all our affections.

Again. Self-culture is Practical, or it pro-
poses, as one of its chief ends, to fit us for
actioQ, to make us efficient in whatever we
undertgike, to train us to firmness of purpose
and to frttitfulness of resource in common life,



and especially in emergencies, in times of dif-
ficulty, danger, and trial. But passing over
this and other topics for which I have no time,
1 shall confine myself to two branches of self-
culture which have been almost wholly over-
looked in the education of the people, and
which ought not to be so slighted.

In looking at our nature, we discover, among
its admirable endowments, the sense or per-
qeption of Beauty. We see the germ of this
in eveiy human being, and there is no power
which admits greater cultivation; and why
should it not be cherished in all ? It deserves
remark, that the provision for this principle is
infinite in the universe. There is but a very
minute portion of the creation which we can
turn into food and clothes, or gratification for
the body ; but the whole creation may be used
to m inister to the sense of beauty. Beauty is an
all-pervading presence. It unfolds in the niun-
berless flowers of the spring. It waves in the
branches of the trees and the green blades
of grass. It haunts the depths of the earth and
sea, and gleams out in the hues of the shell
and the precious stone. And not only these
minute objects, but the ocean, the mountains,
the clouds, the heavens, the stars, the rising
and setting sun, all overflow with beauty.
The universe is its temple, and those men who
are alive to it, cannot lift their eyes without
feeling themselves encompassed with it on
every side. Now this beauty is so precious,
the cnjoyinents it gives are so refined and pure,
so congenial with our tcnderest and noble feel-
ings, and so akin to worship, that it is painful
to think of the multitude of men as living in
the midst of it, and living almost as blind to
it as if, instead of this fair earth and glorious
sky, they were tenants of a dungeon. An in-
finite joy is lost to the world by the want of
culture of this spiritual endowment. Suppose
that I were to visit a cottage, and to see its
walls lined with the choicest pictures of Ra-
phael, and every spare nook filled with statues
of the most exquisite workmanship, and that
I were to learn that neither man, woman, nor
child ever cast an eye at these miracles of
art, how should I feel their privation ! — how
should I want to open their eyes, and to
help them to comprehend and feel the loveli-
ness and grandeur which in vain courted their
notice i But every husbandman is Uving in
sight of the works of a diviner Artist ; and
how much would his existence be elevated
could he see the glory which shmes forth in
their forms, hues, proportions, and moral ex-
pression I I have spoKcn onW of the beauty
of natiu-e ; but bow much of this mysterious
charm is found in the elegant arts, and espe-
cially in literature? The best books have most
beauty. The greatest truths are wronged if
not linked with beauty, and they win their
way most surely and deeply into the soul



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when arrayed in this their natural and fit
attire. Now no man receives the true cul-
ture of a man, in whom the sensibility to the
beautiful is not cherished ; and I know of no
condition in life from which it should be ex-
cluded. Of all luxiuies, this is the cheapest
and most at hand ; and it seems to me to be
most important Xo those conditions, where
coarse labour tends to give a grossness to the
mind. From the diffusion of the sense of
beauty in ancient Greece, and of the taste for
music in modem Gcrmanv, we learn that the
people at large may partake of refined gratifi-
cations, whi^ have hitherto been thought to
be necessarily restricted to a few.

What beauty is, is a question which the
most penetrating minds have not satisfactorily
answered ; nor, were I able, is this the place
for discussing it. But one thing I would say,
the beauty of the outward creation is inti-
mately related to the lovely, grand, interesting
attributes of the souL It is the emblem or
expression of these. Matter becomes beautiful
to us when it seems to lose its material aspect,
its inertness, finiteness, and grossness, and by
the etherial Ughtness of its forms and motions
seems to approach spirit ; when it images to
us pure and gentle affections ; when it spreads
out into a vastness which is a shadow of the
Infinite; or when in more awfiil shapes and
movements it speaks of the Omnipotent. Thus
outward beauty is akin to something deeper
and imseen, is the reflection of spiritual attri-
butes ; and of consequence the way to see and
feel it more and more keenly, is to cultivate
those moral, religious, intellectual, and social
principles of which I have already spoken,
and which are the glory of the spiritual nature;
and I name this that you may see. what I am
anxious to show, the harmony which subsists
among all branches of human culture, or how
each forwards and is aided by all.

There is another power, which each man
should cultivate according to his abihty, but
which is very much neglected in the mass of
the people, and that is, the power of Utter-
ance. A man was not made to shut up his
mind in itself; but to give it voice and to
exchange it for other minds. Speech is one
of our grand distinctions from the brute. Our
power over others lies not so much in the
amount of thought within us, as in the power
of bringing it out. A man of more than ordi-
nary intellectual vigour may, for want of ex-
pression, be a cipher, without significance, in
society. And not only does a man influence
others, but he greatly aids his own intellect,
by giving distinct and forcible utterance to his
thoughts. We understand ourselves bettCT,
our conceptions grow clearer, by the very
effort to make them clear to another. Our
social rank, too, depends a good deal on our
power of uttcnvnce. The principal distinction



between what are called gentlemen and the
vulgar lies in this, that the latter are awkward
in manners, and are especially wanting in pro-
priety, clearness, grace, and force of utterance.
A man who cannot open his lips without
breaking a rule of grammar, without showing
in his dialect or brogue or uncouth tones h^
want of cultivation, or without daricening his
meaning by a confused, unskilful mode of
communication, cannot take the place to
which, perhaps, his native good sense entitles
him. To have intercourse with respectable
people, we must speak their language. On
this accotmt, I am glad that grammar and a
correct pronunciation are taught in the com
mon schools of this city. These are not trifles;
nor are they superfluous to any class of people.
They give a man access to social advantages,
on which his improvement very much depends.
The power of utterance should be included by '
all in their plans of self-culture.

I have now given a few views of the culture,
the improvement, which every man should
propose to himself. I have all along gone
on the principle that a man has within him
capacities of growth which deserve and will
reward intense, unrelaxing toil. I do not look
on a human being as a machine, made to be «
kept in action by a foreign force, to accom-
phsh an unvarying succession of motions, to
do a fixed amount of work, and then to fall
to pieces at death, but as a being of free spiri-
tual ppwers ; and I place little value on any
culture but that which aims to bring out these,
and to give them perpetual impulse and ex-
pansion. I am aware that this view is far
from being universal. The common notion
has been, that the mass of the people need no
other culture than is necessary to fit them for
their various trades ; and, though this error is
passing away, it is Jar from being exploded.
But the ground of a man's culture lies in his
natiu^. not in his calling. His powers are to
be unfolded on account of tneir inherent
dignity, not their outward direction. He is
to be educated because he is a man, not
because he is to make shoes, nails, or pins.
A trade is plainly not the great end of his
being, for his mind cannot be shut up in it;
his force of thought cannot be exhausted on
it. He has faculties to which it gives no
action, and deep wants it cannot answer.
Poems, and systems of theology and philo-
sophy, which have made some noise in the
world, have been wrought at the work-bench
and amidst the toils of the field. How often,
when the arms are mechanically plying a
trade, does the mind, lost in reverie or day-
dreams, escape to the ends of the earth ) I low .
often docs the pious heart of woman mingle
the greatest of all thoughts, that of God, witU \
household drudgery ! Undoubtedly a man i^
to perfect himself in his trade, for by i



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to earn his bread And to scfve the community.
• But bread or subsistence is not his highest
good : for, if it were, his lot would be harder
tiian that of the inferior animals, for whom
oattire spreads a table and weaves a wardrobe,
without a care of their own. Nor was he
made chiefly to minister to the wants of the
community. A rational, moral being cannot,
urithout infinite wrong, be convertwl into a
mere instrument of others' gratification. He
i«; neossarily an end, not a means. A mind
in which are sown the seeds of wisdom, disin-
terestedness, firmness of purpose, and piety,
is worth more than all the outward material
interests of a world. It exists for itself, for
Its own perfection, and must not be enslaved
to its own or others' animal wants. You tell
.ie that a liberal culture is needed for men
ho are to fill high stations, but not for such
as are doomed to vulgar labour. I answer
that Man is a greater name than President or
King. Truth and goodness are equally
predous, in whatever sphere they are found.
Besides, men of all conditions sustain equally
the relations which give birth to the highest
virtues and demand the highest powers. The
^labourer is not a mere labourer. He has close,
^tender, responsible connections with God and
lis fellow-creatures. He is a son, husband,
, ^tber, friend, and Christian. He belongs to
a home, a country, a church, a race; and is
such a man to be cultivated only for a trade ?
Was he not sent into the w<H-ld for a gjeat
w«rk ? To educate a child perfectly requires
oTofounder thought, greater wisdom, than to
govern a state; and for this plain reason, that
the interests and wants of the latter are more
superficial, coarser, and more obvious, than
the spiritual capacities, the growth of thought
and feeling, and the subtile laws of the mind,
which must all be studied and comprehended
before the work of education can be thoroughly
performed; and yet to all conditions this
greatest work on earth is equally committed
by God. What plainer proof do we need that
a higher culture than has yet been dreamed
of is needed by our whole race?

II. I now proceed to inquire into the Means
by which the self-culture just described may
\je promoted ; and here I know not where to
b^n. The subject is so extensive, as well as
important, that I feel myself unable to do any
justice to it, especially in the limits to which I
am confined. I beg you to consider me as
presenting but hints, and such as have offered
themselves with very little research to my own
Aind.

And. first, the great means of self-culture,
that which includes all the rest, is to fasten
I m this culture as our Great- End, to deter-
f mine, deliberately and solemnly, that we will
*«ake the most and the best of the powers
ikich God has given us. Without this reso-



lute purpose, the best means Att worth little,
and with it the poorest become mighty. You
may see thousands, with every opportunity of
improvement which wealth can gather, with
teachers, libraries, and apparatus, bringing
nothing to pass, and others, with few helps,
doing wonders ; and simply because the latter
are in earnest, and the former not. A man
in earnest finds means, or, if he cannot
find, creates them. A vigorous purpose
makes much out of little, breathes power
into weak instruments, disarms difficulties,
and even turns them into assistances. Every
condition has means of progress, if we have
spirit enough to use them. Some volumes
have recently been published, giving exam-
ples or histories of " knowledge acquired
under difficulties;" audit is most animating
to see in these what a resolute man can do
for himself. A great idea, like this of Self-
culture, if seized on clearly and vigorously,
bums like a living coal in the soul. He who
deliberately adopts a great end has, by this
act, half accomplished it, has scaled the chief
barrier to success.

One thing is essential to the strong purpose
of self-ctilture now insisted on, namely, faith
in the practicableness of this culture. A
great object, to awaken resolute choice, must
be seen to be within our reach. The truth,
that progress is the very end of our being,
must not be received as a tradition, but com-
prehended and felt as a reality. Our minds
are apt to pine and starve, by being impri-
soned within what we have already attained.
A trae faith, looking up to something better,
catching glimpses of a distant perfection,
prophesying to ourselves improvements pro-
portioned to our conscientious labours, gives
energy of purpose, gives wings to the soul ;
and this faith will continually grow, by ac-
quainting ourselves with our own nature, and
with the promises of Divine help and im-
mortal life which abound in Revelation.

Some are discouraged from proposing to
thetnselves improvement, by the false notion
that the study of books, which their situation
denies them, is the all-important and only
sufficient means. Let such consider that the
grand volumes, of which all our books are
transcripts— I mean nature, revelation, the
human soul, and human life — are freely un-
folded to every eye. The great sources of
wisdom are experience and observation ; and
these arc denied to none. To open and fix
our eyes upon what passes without and
within us, is the most fmitful study. Books
are chiefly useful as they help us to interpret
what we see and experience. When they
absorb men, as they sometimes do, and turn



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 4 of 169)