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WILLIAM ELLERY CHANNING.
[Born 1780. Died 1842.]
appearing like a man who had nothing to do with the world. In a sermon which he preached at Newport, when he was himself an old man, he presented an interesting picture of those peculiar and venerable persons, around whom clung so many recollections of his early life.
THIS eminent man was born at Newport in | waist, and with a study cap on his head," Rhode Island on the seventh of April, 1780. His great-grandfather, John Channing, the first of the name who came to America, was a native of Dorsetshire in England; his grandfather, John Channing, was a merchant in Newport; and his father, William Channing, after graduating at Princeton College in 1767, became a lawyer, and was for many years Attorney General of Rhode Island. His mother, to whose piety, gentleness, and faithfulness he bore affectionate and grateful testimony, was a daughter of William Ellery, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and afterward a member of Congress, and Chief Justice of his state. Through her he was descended from Anne Bradstreet, the wife of Governor Bradstreet and daughter of Governor Dudley, who two hundred years ago was styled by one of the most learned and distinguished of the Puritans "the mirror of her age, and glory of her sex."
In 1780 Newport was the residence of two of the most remarkable men who have ever lived in New England, the Reverend Doctor Hopkins, whose writings had so great an influence upon theological opinions in the last century, and the Reverend Doctor Stiles, famous for profound and various learning, and "virtues proportioned to his intellectual acquisitions," who was afterward President of Yale College. They were ministers of the two Congregational churches in the town, and though in many respects very different from each other, and representatives of rival parties, they were both friends of the Attorney General, and often at his house. Doctor Channing states that when a child he regarded Doctor Stiles with more reverence than any other human being, and to the influence of that extraordinary man in the circle in which he was brought up, he attributes a part of the indignation which he felt toward every invasion of human rights. He was also much attached to Doctor Hopkins, whom he used to see riding on horseback through the streets, "in a plaid gown fastened by a girdle round the
Washington Allston, who was but one year his senior, went to Newport in 1787, and contracted an intimacy with him which continued through youth, the strength of manhood, and old age. They roamed together through the picturesque scenery, which still attracts annual crowds of strangers, and "amid this glorious nature" received impressions of the great and beautiful which had an influence in determining their modes of thought and habits of life. Richard H. Dana, a cousin of Channing, and afterward a brother-in-law of Allston, in a few years wandered, an inspired boy, over the same fields, and on the rocky coast listened to the roar and dashing of the waters of that ocean, which he was to describe with such effect in his noble poetry. Allston, Channing, and Dana were thus connected in childhood. In old age they often visited, from their neighbouring homes in Boston, these scenes of their earliest inspiration. Two of them, in the order of their ages, have gone to the world in whose atmosphere they almost seemed to live while here among us.
Channing entered Harvard College when but fourteen years of age. Among his classmates here were the late Judge Story, and Doctor Tuckerman, with whom, until the death of that most amiable man-a period of fortyseven years he lived as a brother, giving and receiving "thoughts, feelings, reproofs, encouragements, with a faithfulness not often surpassed." He had been through the customary range of study in the Latin and Greek authors before he went to Cambridge, and for a year or two he continued to exhibit a predilection for classical studies, but before the end of his term he became comparatively indifferent to them, and devoted his chief attention
to moral philosophy, history, and general lite- | tor of the church in Federal street in Boston, rature. His views of life were serious, his plans determined, and his studies were already made to bend in some degree to his prospective pursuits. Yet the highest honours of his class were awarded to him when he graduated, in 1798.
Soon after leaving Cambridge Channing became a private tutor in a family of Virginia, and went to reside in that state. His health hitherto had been remarkably good, but now it failed, and he was to the end of his life an invalid. After his return to Newport he pursued, without any professor or teacher to guide him, his studies in theology. When in the fulness of his years and fame he stood to instruct where in his youth he had been a learner, he reminded his hearers of this period in his life, in a manner equally graphic and beautiful: "I had two noble places of study," he said, "one the edifice now so frequented and useful as a public library, then so deserted that I spent day after day and sometimes week after week amidst its dusty volumes, without interruption from a single visiter;... the other, the beach,... my daily resort, dear to me in the sunshine, still more attractive in the storm. Seldom do I visit it now without thinking of the work, which there, in the sight of that beauty, in the sound of those waves, was carried on in my soul. No spot on earth has helped to form me so much as that beach. There I lifted up my voice in praise amid the tempest. There, softened by beauty, I poured out my thanksgiving and contrite confessions. There, in reverential sympathy with the mighty power around me, I became conscious of power within. There struggling thoughts and emotions broke forth, as if moved to utterance by nature's eloquence of the winds and waves. There began a happiness surpassing all worldly pleasures, all gifts of fortune: the happiness of communing with the works of God." Here is an index to his character. A mild, contemplative enthusiast, with a mind imbued with taste, and stored with the best learning, and an ardent desire that he might be useful, he went into the world, proposing to himself as his mission the elevation of men to his own kindness, serenity, and dignity, and the bringing of them into the same converse with nature and God.
Soon after he began to preach he received and accepted an invitation to become the pas
and was ordained on the first of June, 1803. The congregation worshipping there was then small, but on this account the situation was preferred to another which was offered to him, for the slenderness and debility of his frame would not allow him to labour much as a parochial minister. His countenance was beautiful, his voice, always tremulous, was variably musical, and his articulation slow and distinct. His manner altogether was natural, persuasive, and earnest. He immediately became popular, and the increase of his society soon rendered necessary the erection of a new and larger place of worship. A visit to Europe much improved his health, and filled his mind and heart with new purposes. He retained his connection with the society until his death, though in 1824 a colleague was associated with him, and in 1840 he was relieved from the obligation of performing any public duties.
Doctor Channing's earliest publications were on controversial theology. His sermon on the Unitarian Belief, preached at the ordination of the Reverend Jared Sparks, in Baltimore, in 1819, is perhaps the most ingenious and polished of his dogmatical essays. It excited an extraordinary degree of attention, and several of the ablest Trinitarian writers in the country replied to it. In 1820 he printed in the Christian Disciple a paper on the same subject, entitled The Moral Argument against Calvinism. But though he continued to feel a deep interest in this and other religious controversies, they could not have been congenial to one who was so sensitively alive to the beautiful; and notwithstanding the reputation he acquired by these writings, he was by no means fitted by his intellectual constitution for a pursuit of which the main element is logic.
He was brought more directly into notice as a literary man by his essay on National Literature, published in 1823, and his Remarks on the Character and Writings of John Milton, which appeared in the Christian Examiner for 1826. This article was written very hastily, and somewhat unwillingly, to oblige a friend who felt an interest in the sale of an edition of Milton's Treatise on Christian Doctrine, then just published in Boston. On reading it in print he concluded not to avow himself its author, which he might well do, for however creditable it would have been to
a writer of inferior powers, it was below the level of his own, and had in it very little that was original or distinctive. It was supposed by his more judicious friends, who were not in the secret, to be an imitation of his style, by some clever young man of the university, and one, who has since become eminent as a clergyman, being accused of it, thought it worth while to advise Dr. Channing of his innocence, as he considered the essay a poor one. The surprise of the author at the reputation to which it attained was never concealed. It is but justice to him to state that his own estimate of it was perfectly proper. The Edinburgh reviewer's criticism of it was perhaps just, though it was not fair to judge of the merits of an author by one of his poorest works.
His Remarks on the Life and Character of Napoleon Bonaparte have not been assigned their proper rank among his writings. This article is more able than that on Milton; undoubtedly it was written with care, and contained his deliberately-formed opinions; but much of its celebrity was owing to adventitious circumstances, by which it cannot be sustained. Its merits are in its generalities: it has none as a delineation of the character of that great man, whose name, given to the winds at Toulon, became an undying sound. In the period of his captivity, men held their breath at the stupendous crime, but when he died, one universal hiss from all the quarters of the globe poured upon England, so that every cheek was flushed in the scorching breath of human indignation. An attack upon the victim was a cosmetic for the festering faces of the criminals, all the better for being imported from a nation that was deemed less friendly to Britain than to France. This state of feeling was the secret of the temporary success of Scott's libel on Bonaparte, and it occasioned the republication of Channing's essay in every conceivable form. The republican is a candid judge, it was said, and if his portraiture is correct, it was right to violate every law to rid the world of such a monster. This is Doctor Channing's position: he assumes that Napoleon was resolved to make the earth a slaughter-house, and to crush every will adverse to his own, and denies that against such a person mankind should proceed by written laws and precedents. This is a doctrine which sanctions almost every mob and massacre since the conspiracy against Christ, for
it makes men in all cases the judges of the necessity and justice of their own actions. It is one of the instances in which passion obtained a mastery over his usually serene understanding. He was too sagacious a man not to know that obedience is the first condition of freedom; that it is better for a nation to suffer any thing than to do injustice; that there can be no true liberty where the authority of the law, whether it be right or wrong, while it exists, is not superior to every other possible obligation, contingency, or conviction, except, were such a thing to be looked for, the direct and audible interfering voice of God. The essay is full of misrepresentation and invective, and we are constantly reminded in reading it that the author was labouring to make out a case for which he was sensible that he had inadequate materials.
In 1829 Doctor Channing published in the Christian Examiner his Remarks on the Character and Writings of Fenelon; a paper in which are developed with much ability some of his ethical views, particularly in reference to the dignity of human nature.
There is a perceptible and steady increase of strength and beauty in Doctor Channing's writings, and they are more profound, original, and characteristic, the more he gave himself up to his true mission, which was, not so much to dispute about systems of faith, as to bring acts, customs, and institutions to the standard of Christian morality, and in the spirit of a genuine philanthropy to advocate the cause of peace, gentleness, and righteousness. Of peace he was an early and persevering friend: in 1816 he published his first discourse on the subject; when there was danger of a rupture with France, in 1835, he again raised his voice in remonstrance; and in 1839, when there was a prospect of a conflict with Great Britain, in a lecture before the American Peace Society, he brought out fresh proofs of the insensibility of the mass of the community to the crimes and miseries of war, and the general want of Christian and philanthropic views in regard to this barbarous umpirage of right. He discussed the subject in all its bearings, with a faithfulness, earnestness, and power of illustration, which showed a warm personal sympathy and thorough acquaintance with it; and the extent to which his writings were read and remarked upon proved that they struck a responsive chord in the national heart.
any of the anti-slavery societies, and is said to have doubted the wisdom of such associations; but he was unhesitating and uncompromising in his opposition to slavery, and his tracts on the Annexation of Texas and the Duties of the Free States, and others of a similar purpose and spirit, with the book on Slavery which he published in 1841, had a more powerful influence on the question than any other writings that have been published in this country. The last public act of his life was an address delivered at Lenox in Massachusetts on the first of August, 1842, in commemoration of Emancipation in the British West Indies.
He was also much interested in the plans for the suppression of intemperance, and disclosed the depths of its causes and the essential remedies which it demanded in a discourse which indicates a deep thoughtfulness upon our social relations and necessities, and a true apprehension of the general capacity for a higher range of duties and enjoyments. This was preliminary to, and should be considered with his two noblest productions, those which bespeak most truly the nature of his ambition, and are likely, from the sagacity and rational views they display, and their rare adaptation to raise the mass of men from the degradation of mind and heart in which they are sunk, to be longest remembered. These are the Address on Self-Culture, delivered in Boston in the fall of 1838 as an introduction to a course of lectures attended chiefly by mechanics, and the Lectures on the Elevation of the Labouring Portion of the Community, delivered before an Apprentices' Library Association in that city in the winter of 1840. They are built upon the principles of the absolute essential equality of all men, and of the dignity of human nature, which makes all assumption of superiority on account of outward privileges a violation of the divine purposes, as well as an infringement of the fundamental law of our social organization. He was far from contending that the mass are competent to form just estimates of the great matters which have relation to their moral and material interests, without previous initiation and discipline; but demanded of society the encouragement to unfold and exercise, and of every individual the development and use, of the highest capacities. He claimed mutual respect, according to virtue, intelligence, and genius, without regard to any factitious distinctions of birth, wealth, or position. But however radical were his views on this subject, he was no leveller in the common acceptation of the term; he would take nothing from the high but their pride, reserve, and contempt, and nothing from the low but their envy, hatred, and jealousy.mired for his honesty and heroism. His works He would not elevate the labourer above his occupation, but in it; he would dignify the most humble pursuits, that are necessary to human happiness, and persuade their followers that if they had the will and the energy, there was nothing to prevent their elevation to the highest range of cultivation and enjoyment.
Doctor Channing was never a member of
Doctor Channing's discourses on The Evidences of Revealed Religion, embracing a philosophical and perspicuous statement of the true principles upon which our belief in human testimony is regulated, are the most creditable of his writings of this description. Some of his sermons inculcating the practical duties of religion are of the first order of excellence. He had neither the learning nor the metaphysical power to be a great theologian. In one volume he claims for reason supremacy, and appeals to it as the last umpire; and in another derides the results of the most rigid induction as opposed to his own consciousness. Consciousness was the law of his belief. Logic was resorted to, reluctantly, for its defence: never for its formation. Let no one suppose that this excellence in "practical preaching" is to be lightly esteemed even in comparison with the far higher intellectual force of such men as Edwards. The theory of beauty which Edwards taught, Channing understood and appreciated, and the pure and ardent benevolence which it inculcated he practised. Whether his abstract notions were right or wrong, he really loved virtue "for its own beauty and sweetness," and was eminently successful in implanting a love of it in others. His mind, without being of the first, was of a very high order, his taste was elegant, but not faultless, and he is justly ad
will undoubtedly fail to sustain his reputation as a thinker and man of letters.
Dr. Channing passed the last few years of his life in much privacy, at Boston in the winter and at Newport in the summer. He was seized with a typhus fever, while travelling, at Bennington, Vermont, where he died, on the second of October, 1842.
FROM AN ESSAY ON THE WRITINGS OF MILTON.
We believe that poetry, far from injuring society, is one of the great instruments of its refinement and exaltation. It lifts the mind above ordinary life, gives it a respite from depressing cares, and awakens the consciousness of its affinity with what is pure and noble. In its legitimate and highest efforts, it has the same tendency and aim with Christianity; that is, to spiritualize our nature. True, poetry has been made the instrument of vice, the pander of bad passions; but, when genius thus stoops, it dims its fires and parts with much of its power; and, even when poetry is enslaved to licentiousness or misanthropy, she cannot wholly forget her true vocation. Strains of pure feeling, touches of tenderness, images of innocent happiness, sympathies with suffering virtue, bursts of scorn or indignation at the hollowness of the world, passages true to our moral nature, often escape in an immoral work, and show us how hard it is for a gifted spirit to divorce itself wholly from what is good. Poetry has a natural alliance with our best affections. It delights in the beauty and sublimity of the outward creation and of the soul. It indeed portrays, with terrible energy, the excesses of the passions; but they are passions which show a mighty nature, which are full of power, which command awe, and excite a deep though shuddering sympathy. Its great tendency and purpose is to carry the mind beyond and above the beaten, dusty, weary walks of ordinary life; to lift it into a purer element; and to breathe into it more profound and generous emotion. It reveals to us the loveliness of nature, brings back the freshness of early feeling, revives the relish of simple pleasures, keeps unquenched the enthusiasm which warmed the spring-time of our being, refines youthful love, strengthens our interest in human nature by vivid delineations of its tenderest and loftiest feelings, spreads our sympathies over all classes of society, knits us by new ties with universal being, and, through the brightness of its prophetic visions, helps faith to lay hold on the future life.
We are aware that it is objected to poetry, that it gives wrong views and excites false expectations of life, peoples the mind with shadows and illusions, and builds up imagination on the ruins of wisdom. That there is a wisdom against which poetry wars, the wisdom of the senses, which makes physical comfort and gratification the supreme good, and wealth the chief interest of life, we do not deny; nor do we deem it the least service which poetry renders to mankind, that it redeems them from the thraldom of this earthborn prudence. But, passing over this topic, we would observe, that the complaint against poetry, as abounding in illusion and deception, is in the main groundless. In many poems there is more of truth than in many histories and philosophic theories. The fictions of genius are often the vehicles of the sublimest verities, and its flashes often open new regions of thought, and throw new
light on the mysteries of our being. In poetry, when the letter is falsehood, the spirit is often profoundest wisdom. And, if truth thus dwells in the boldest fictions of the poet, much more may it be expected in his delineations of life; for the present life, which is the first stage of the immortal mind, abounds in the materials of poetry, and it is the high office of the bard to detect this divine element among the grosser labours and pleasures of our earthly being. The present life is not wholly prosaic, precise, tame, and finite. To the gifted eye it abounds in the poetic. The affections which spread beyond ourselves and stretch far into futurity; the workings of mighty passions, which seem to arm the soul with an almost superhuman energy; the innocent and irrepressible joy of infancy; the bloom, and buoyancy, and dazzling hopes of youth; the throbbings of the heart, when it first wakes to love and dreams of a happiness too vast for earth; woman, with her beauty, and grace, and gentleness, and fulness of feeling, and depth of affection, and blushes of purity, and the tones and looks which only a mother's heart can inspire;-these are all poetical. It is not true that the poet paints a life which does not exist. He only extracts and concentrates as it were life's ethereal essence, arrests and condenses its volatile fragrance, brings together its scattered beauties, and prolongs its more refined but evanescent joys. And in this he does well; for it is good to feel that life is not wholly usurped by cares for subsistence and physical gratifications, but admits, 'in measures which may be indefinitely enlarged, sentiments and delights worthy of a higher being. This power of poetry to refine our views of life and happiness, is more and more needed as society advances. It is needed to withstand the encroachments of heartless and artificial manners, which make civilization so tame and uninteresting. It is needed to counteract the tendency of physical science, which, being now sought, not, as formerly, for intellectual gratification, but for multiplying bodily comforts, requires a new development of imagination, taste, and poetry, to preserve men from sinking into an earthly, material, Epicurean life.
FROM AN ADDRESS ON TEMPERANCE.
DANCING is an amusement which has been discouraged in our country by many of the best people, and not without reason. Dancing is associated in their minds with balls; and this is one of the worst forms of social pleasure. The time consumed in preparation for a ball, the waste of thought upon it, the extravagance of dress, the late hours, the exhaustion of strength, the exposure of health, and the languor of the succeeding day,these and other evils connected with this amusement are strong reasons for banishing it from the community. But dancing ought not therefore to be proscribed. On the contrary, balls should be discouraged for this among other reasons, that