William Ellery Channing.

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

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of a few. God cannot have made spiritual
beings to be dwarfed. In the body we see no
organs created to shrivel by disuse; much
less are the powers of the soul given to be
locked up in perpetual lethargy.

Perhaps it will be replied, that the purpose
of the Creator is to be gathered, not from
theory, but from facts; and that it is a plain
fact, that the order and prosperity of society,
which God must be supposed to intend, re-
quire from the multitude the action of their
hands, and not the improvement of their
minds. I reply, that a social order demand-
ing the sacnfice of the mind is very suspi-
cious, that it cannot, indeed, be sanctioned by
the Creator. Were I, on visiting a strange
country, to see the vast majority of the people
maimed, crippled, and bereft of sight, and
were I told that social order required this mu-
tilation, I should say. Perish this order. Who
would not think his understanding as well as
best feelings insulted, by hearing this spoken
of as the intention of God ? Nor ought we
to look with less aversion on a social system
which can only be upheld by crippling and
blinding the Minds of the people.

But to come nearer to the point. Are labour
and self-culture irreopacilable to each other ?

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la the first place, we have seen that a man,
in the midst of labour, may and ought to give
himself to the most important improvements,
that he may cultivate his sense of justice, his
benevolence, nnd the desire of perfection.
Toil B the school for these high principles ;
and we have here a strong presumption that,
in other respects, it does not necessarily blight
the soul. Next, we have seen that the most
fruitful sources of truth and wisdom are not
books, precious as they are, but experience
and obsovation ; and these belong to all con-
ditions. It is another important considera-
tion, that almost all labour demands intellec-
ttia! activity, and is best carried on by those
who invigorate their minds ; so that the two
interests, toil and self-culture, are friends to
eadi other. It is Mind, after all, which
does the work of the world, so that the more
ibere is of mind, the more work will be ac-
complished. A man, in proportion as he is
intelligent, maJces a given force accomplish a
greater task, makes skill take the place of
imscle, and, with less labour, gives a better
pttKhict. Make men intelligent, and they be-
come inventive. They find shorter processes.
Their knowlec^e of nature helps them to turn
its laws to account, to understand the sub-
stances on which they work, and to seize on
useful hints, which experience continually
furnishes. It is among workmen that some
of the most useful machines have been con-
trived- Spread education, and, as the history
of tbis country shows, there will be no bounds
to useful invenrions. You think that a man
without culture will do all the better what you
call the drudgery of life. Go, then, to the
Sonthcm plantation. There the slave is
brought up to be a mere drudge. He is
robbed of the rights of a man, his whole
spiritual nature is starved, that he may work,
and do nothing but work; and in that slo-
venly agriculture, in that worn-out soil, in
the rude state of the mechanic arts, you may
find a comment on your doctrine, that, by
degrading men, you make them more pro-
ductive labourers.

But it is said, that any considerable educa-
tion lifts men above their work, makes them
look with disgust on their trades as mean
and low, makes drudgery intolerable. I reply,
that a man becomes interested in labour just
in proportion as the mind works with the
haods. An enlightened farmer, who xmder-
stands agricultural chemistry, the laws of ve-
getation, the structure of plants, the proper-
ties of manures, the influences of climate, who
looks intelligently on his work, and brings his
knowledge to bear on exigencies, is a much
more cheerful, as well as more dignified la-
bourer, than the peasant whose mind is akin
to the clod on which he treads, and whose
whole Bfe is the some dull, unthinking, unim-

proving toiL But thb is not all. Why is it,
I ask, that we call manual labour low, that
we associate with it the idea of meanness, and
think that an intelligent people must scorn it?
The great reason is, that, in most countries,
so few intelligent people have been engaged
in it. Once let cultivated men plough, and
dig, and follow the commonest labours, and
ploughing, digging, and trades will cease
to be mean. It is the man who determines
the dignity of the occupation, not the occupa-
tion which measures the dignity of the man.
Physicians and surgeons perform operations
less cleanly than fall to the lot of most me-
chanics. I have seen a distinguished chemist
covered with dust like a labourer. Still these
men were not degraded. Their intelligence
gave dignity to their work, and so our labour^
ers, once educated, will give dignity to their
toils. — Let me add, that I see little difference in
point of dignity between the rarious vocations
of men. When 1 see a clerk spending his days
in adding figures, perhaps merely copying, or a
teller of a bemk counting money, or a merchant
selling shoes and hides, I cannot see in these
occupations greater respectaWeness than in
making leather, shoes, or furniture. I do not
see in them greater intellectual activity than
in several trades. A man in the fields seems
to have more chances of improvement in his
work than a man behind the counter, or a
man driving the quill. It is the sign of a
narrow mind to imagine, as many seem to do,
that there is a repugnance between the plain,
coarse exterior of a labourer, and mental cul-
ture, especially the more refining culture. The
labourer, under his dust and sweat, carries
the grand elements of humanity, and he may
put forth its highest powers. I doubt not there
u as genuine enthusiasm in the contempla-
tion of nature, and in the perusal of works of
genius, under a homespun garb as under
finery. We have heard of a distinguished
author who never wrote so well as when he
was full dressed for company. But profoimd
thought and poetical inspiration have most
generally visited men when, from narrow
circumstances or negligent habits, the rent
coat and shaggy face have made them quite
unfit for polished saloons. A man may see
truth, and may be thrilled with beauty, in one
costume or dwelling as well as another; and
he should respect himself the more for the
hardships under which his intellectual force
has been developed-

But it will be asked, how can the labouring
classes find time for self-culture ? I answer,
as I have already intimated, that an earnest
purpose finds time or makes time. It seizes
on spare moments, and turns large fragments
of leisure to golden account. A man who
follows his calling with industry and spirit,
and tises his earnings economically, vrill always

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have some portion of the day at command ;
and it is astonishing how fruitful of improve-
ment a short season becomes, when eagerly
seized and faithfully used. It has often been
observed, that they who have most time at
their disposal profit by it least. A single
hour in the day, steadily given to the study of
an interesting subject, brings unexpected accu-
mulations of knowledge. The improventents
made by well-disposed pupils, in many of our
cotmtiy schools, which are open but three
months in the year, and in our Sunday-schools,
which are kept but one or two hours in the
week, show what can be brought to pass bv
slender means. The affections, it is saicC
sometimes crowd years into moments, and the
intellect has something of the same power.
Volumes have not only oeen read, but written,
in flying journeys. I have known a man of
vigorous intellect, who had enjoyed few ad-
vantages of early education, and whose mind
was almost engrossed bv the details of an
extensive business, but who composed a book
of much original thought, in steamboats and
on horseback, while visiting distant customers.
The succession of the seasons gives to manv
of the working class opportunities for intel-
lectual improvement. The winter brings
leisure to the husbandman, and winter even-
ings to many labourers in the city. Above all,
in Christian countries, the seventh day is
released from toil. The seventh part of the
year, no small portion of existence, may be
given by almost every one to intellectual and
moral culture. Why is it that Sunday is not
made a more effectual means of improvement ?
Undoubtedly the seventh day is to have a
religious character; but religion connects itself
with all the great subjects of human thought,
and leads to and aids the study of all. G«l is
in nature. God is in history. Instruction in
the works of the Creator, so as to reveal his
perfection in their harmony, beneficence, and
grandeur; instruction in the histories of the
church and the world, so as to show in all
events his moral government, and to bring out
the great moral lessons in which human life
abounds; instruction in the lives of philan-
thropists, of saints, of men eminent for piety
and virtue; all these branches of teaching
enter into religion, and are appropriate to
Sunday; and, through these, a vast amount of
knowlec^e maybe given to the people. Sun-
day ought not to remain the dull and fruitless
season that it now is to multitudes. It may
be clothed with a new interest and a new
sanctity. It may give a new impulse to the
nations souL^I have thus shown that time
may be found for improvement ; and the fact
is, that among our most improved people, a
considerable part consists of persons who pass
»iie greatest portion of every day at the desk,
' the oountmg-room, or in «ome otherwhere,

chained to tasks which have verr little ten-
dency to expand the mind. In the progress
of society, with the increase of machinery, and
with other aids which intelligence and philan-
thropy will multiply, we may expect that more
and more time will be redeemed from mamuU
labour for intellectual and sodal occupations.
But some will say. " Be it granted that the
working classes may find some leisure ; should
they not be allowed to spend it in relaxation ?
Is it not cruel to summon them from toils of
the hand to toils of the mind? They have
earned pleasure by the day's toil, and ought
to partake it." Yes, let them have pleasure.
Far be it fh>m me to dry up the fountains, to
bUght the spots of verdure, where they refresh
themselves after life's labours. But I maiu-
tain that self-culture multiplies and increases
their pleasures, that it creates new capacities
of enjoyment, that it saves their leisure fix>ra
being, what it too often is, dull and weari-
some, that it saves them from rushing for
excitement to indulgences destructive to body
and souL It is one of the great benefits of
self-improvement, that it raises a people above
the gratifications of the brute, and gives them
pleasures worthy of men. In consequence of
the present intellectual culture of our country,
imperfect as it is, a vast amount of enjoyment
is communicated to men, women, and chil-
dren, of all conditions, by books^on enjoy-
ment unknown to ruder times. At this mo-
ment, a number of gifted writers are employed
in multiplying entertaining works. Walter
Scott, a name conspicuous among the brightest
of his day, poured out his inexhaustible mind
in fictions, at once so sportive and thrilling,
that they have taken their place among the
delights of all civiUied nations. How many
millions have been chained to his pages ! How
many melancholy spirits has he steeped in
forgetfulness of their cares and sorrows !
What multitudes, wearied by their day's work,
have owed some bright evening hours and
balmier sleep to his magical creations 1 And
not only do fictions give pleasure. In propor-
tion as the mind is cultivated, it takes deUght
in history and bic^japhy, in descriptions of
nature, in travels, in poetry, and even graver
works. Is the labourer, then, defrauded of
pleasure by improvement ? There is another
class of gratifications to which self-culture
introduces the mass of the people. I refer to
lectures, discussions, meetings of associations
for benevolent and literary purposes, and to
other like methods of passing the evening,
which every year is muJtipljring among us.
A popular address from an enlightened man,
who has the tact to reach the minds of the
people, is a high gratification, as well as a
source of knowledge. The profound silence
in our pubUc halls, where these lectures are
deliver^ t9 crowds, 6hpw:» that cijltiv^on Is

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no foe to enjoyment.— 1 bave a strong hope. shop, as little amoh^ the prosperous as

ttiat by the progress of intelligence, taste, and among those of narrower conditions. The

morals among ail portions of society, a class path to perfection is difficult to men in every

of pubUc amusements will grow up among us» lot; there is no royal road for rich or poor.

Iiearing some resemblance to the theatre, but But difficulties are meant to rouse, not dis-

purified from the gross evils which degrade courage, llie human spirit is to grow strong

our present stage, and which, I trust, will seal by conflict. And how much has it already

its ruin. Dramatic performances and recita- overcome t Under what burdens of oppres-

tions are means of bringing the mass of the sion has it made its way for ages i What

people into a quicker sympathy with a writer motmtains of difficulty has it cleared I And

of genius, to a profounder comprehension of with all this experience, shall we say that the

his grand, beautiful, touching conceptions, progress of the mass of men is to be de-

than can be effected by the readCig of the spaircd of, that the chains of bodily necessity

closet. No commentary throws such a light arc too strong and ponderous to be broken by

on a great poem, or any impassioned work of the mind, that servile, unimproving drudgery

literature, as the voice of a reader or speaker is the unalterable condition of the multitude

who brings to the task a deep feeling of his of the human race?

author ai^ rich and various powers of cxpres- I conclude with recalling to you the happiest

sion. A crowd, electrified by a sublime feature of our age, and that is, the progress

thought, or softened into a humanizing sorrow, of the mass of the people in intelligence,

under such a voice, partake a pleasure at self-respect, and all the comforts of life,

once exquisite and refined ; and I cannot Init What a contrast does the present form with

believe that this and other amusements. At past times I Not many ages ago. the nation

which the delicacy of woman and the purity was the property of one man, and all iu

of the Christian can take no offence, are to interests were staked in perpetual games of

grow up under a higher social culture. — Let war, for no end but to build up his family,

roe only add, that, in proportion as culture or to bring new territories under his yoke,

spreads among a people, the cheapest and Society was divided into two classes, the

commonest of all pleasures, conversation, in- high-bom and the vulgar, separated from one

creases in delight. This, after all, is the great another by a great gulf, as impassable as

amusement of life, cheering us round our that between the saved and the iost. The

hearths, often cheering our work, stirring our people had no significance as individuals, but

hearts gently, acting on us like the balmy air formed a mass, a machine, to l>e wielded at

or the bright light of heaven, so silently and pleasure by their lords. In war. which was

continually, that we hardly think of its in- the great sport of the times, those brave

flnence. This source of happiness is too knights, of whose prowess we hear, cased

often lost to men of all classes for want of themselves and their horses in armour, so as

knowledge, mental activity, and refinement of to be almost invulnerable, whilst the common

feeling ; and do we*defraud the labourer of people on foot were left, without protection,

his pleasure fay recommending to him im- to be hewn in pieces or trampled down by

pcov e nients which will place the daily, hourly their betters. Who, that compares the con-

blKj»ng5 of conversation within his reach ? dition of Europe a few years ago with the

I have thus considered some of the common present state of the world, but must bless

objections which start up when the culture of God for the change? The grand distinction

tbe mass of men is insisted on as the great of modem times is. the emerging of the people

end of society. For myself, these objecuons from l>mtal degradation, the gradual recog-

tcem wonhy little notice, llie doctrine is nition of their rights, thie gradual diffusion

too shocking to need refutation, that the among them of the means of improvement

great majority of human beings, endowed as and happiness, the creation of a new power

they 7B[^ with rational and immortal powers, in the state, the power of the people. And

are placed on earth simply to toil for their it is worthy remark, that this revolution is

own animal sut>sistence, and to minister to due in a great d^free to religion, which, in

the hixury and elevation of the few. It is tbe hands of tbe crafty and aspiring, had

monstrous, it approaches impiety, to suppose l>owed the muldtude to the dust, but which,

fbat God has placed insuperable barriers to in the fulness of time, l>egan to fulfil its

tbe expansion of the free, illimitable soul, mission of freedom. It was relig^ion which,

True, there are obstmctions in the way of by teaching men their near relation to God.

impvovement But. m this ooumry. the chief awakened in them the consciousness of their

obslracrions He. not in our lot. but in our^ importance as individuals. It was the struggle

aelves^aot in outward hardships, but in our for religious rights which opened men's eyes

vorkUy and sensual propensities; and one to all their rights. It was resistance to reli-

pKoof xA this is. that a true self-culture is as gious usurpation whkh led men to withstand

littJe Cfaooght of on exchange as in the woik- political oppression* U was rdigiout discuft-

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sion which roused the minds of all classes to
free and vigorous thought. It was rehgion
which armed the martyr and patriot in
England against arbitrary power, which
braced the spirits of our fathers against the
perils of the ocean and wilderness, and sent
them to found here the freest and most equal
state on earth.

I^t us thank God for what has been gained.
But let us not think everything gained. Let
the people feel that they have only started in
the race. How much remains to be done !
What a vast amount of ignorance, intempe-
rance, coarseness, sensuality,' may still be
found in our community ! What a vast
amount of mind is palsied and lest I When
we think that every house might be cheered
by intelligence, disinterestedn^, and refine-
ment, and then remember in how many
houses the higher powers and affections of
human nature are buried as in tombs, what
a darkness gathers over society 1 And how
few of us are moved by this moral desolation ?
How few understand, that to raise the de-
pressed, by a wise culture, to the dignity of
men, is the highest end of the social state ?
Shame on us, that the worth of a fellow-
creature is so little fdt.

I would that I could speak with ail awalcetl«
ing voice to the people of their wants, their
privileges, their responsibilities. I would say
to them, You cannot, without guilt and dis-
grace, stop where you are. The past and the
present call on yeu to advance. Let what
you have gained be an impulse to somethings
higher. Your nature is too great to be
crushed. You were not created what you
are merely to toil, eat. drink, and sleep, like
the inferior aninuds. If you will, you can
rise. No power in society, no hardship in
jrour condition, can depress you, keep 3rou
doMm, in knowledge, power, -virtue, influence,
but by your own consent. Do not be lulled
to sleep by the flatteries which you hear, as if
your participation in the national sovereignty
made you equal to the noblest of your race.
You have many and great deficiencies to be
remedied; and the remedy lies, not in the
ballot-box, not in the exercise of your politi-
cal powers, but in the faithful education of
yourself and your children. These truths
you have often heard and slept over. Awake 1
Resolve earnestly on Self-culture. Make
yourselves worthy of your free institutions,
and strengthen and perpetuate them by your
intelhgenoe and your virtues.


X Petbr iL x7 : " Honour all men."

Among the many and inestimable blessings
of Christianity, I regard as not the least the
new sentiment with which it teaches man to
k)ok upon his fellow-beings ; the new interest
which it awakens in us towards everything
human ; the new importance which it gives
to the soul ; the new relation which it estab-
lishes between man and man. In this rer
spect it began a mighty revolution, which
has been silently spreading itself through
society, and which, I believe, is not to stop
until new ties shall have taken the place of
those which have hitherto, in the main, con*
nected the human race. Christianity has
as ]ret but begun its work of reformation.
Under its influences a new order of socie^
is advancing, surely though slowly ; and this
beneficent change it is to accomplish in no
small measure by revealing to men their own
nature, apd teaching them to *' honour all "
who partake it

As yet Christianity has done little, com-
pared with what it ii to do, in establishing

the true bond of union between man and
man. llie old bonds of society still continue
in a great degree. They are instinct, in-
terest, force. The true tie, which is mutual
respect, calling forth mutual, growing, never-
fiuling acts of love.' is as yet Uttle known. A
new revelation, if I may so speak, remains to
be made ; or rather, the truths of the old re-
velation in regard to the greatness of human
nature are to be brought out from obscurity
and neglect. The soul is to be regarded
with a religious reverence hitherto unfelt;
and the solemn claims of every being to
whom this divine principle is imparted are
to be established on the ruins of those per>
nidous principles, both in church and state,
which have so long divided mankind into the
classes of the abject Many and the sdf-
exalting Few.

There is nothing of which men know so
little as themselves. They understand in*
comparably moie of the surrounding crea-
tion, of matter, and of its laws, than of that
spiritual principle to wluch matter was made
to be the mmister, and without which tht

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mmvn dvu to all mrh.

Atttwanl univone would be worthless. Of
coarse, do man am be wboUy a stranger to
the soul, for the soul is himself, and be can-
not but be conscious of its most obvious
workings. But it is to most a chaos, a region
shrouded in ever-shifting mists, baiffling the
eye and bewiMering the imagination. The
ofnnitj of the mind vrith God, its moral
power, the purposes for which its faculties
were bestovrad, its connection with futurity,
and the dependence of its whole happiness
on us own right action and progress,— these
truths, though they might be expected to
absorb us. are to most men Uttk more than
sounds, and to none of us those living reali-
ties which, I trust, they are to become.
That conviction, without which we are all
poor, of tbe unlimited and immortal nature
of the soul, remains in a great degree to be
developecL Men have as yet no just respect
for themselves, and of consequence no just
respect for others. The true bond of society
b thus wanting ; and accordingly there is a
gncat de6ciency of Christian benevolence,
lliere is indeed much instinctive, native be-
nevolence, and this is not to be despised ;
bat the benevolence of Jesus Christ, which
consists in a calm purpose to suffer, and, if
need be, to die, for our fellow-creatures, the
benevolence of Christ on the cross, which is
tbe true pattern to the Christian, this is little
known ; and what is the cause? It is this.
We see nothing in human beings to entitle
them to soch sacrifices ; we do not think
them worth suflering for. Why should we
be martyrs for beings who awaken in us little
more of uKHai interest than the brutes?

I hold that nothing is to make man a true
loved of man, but the discovery of .something
ititeresttng and great in human nature. We

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 7 of 169)