Page images

vancing drearierinward skepticisms; when difficulties at all, they touched them on violent socialisms were appealing to vague the external side; rather raising, for exand turbid “universal sentiments ;” and ample, questions as to the formal equality when the stern and jealous lovers of re- of different classes than as to their inner publican freedom necessarily strove to character and mutual moral dependence. assert for the spiritual will of all men that The issues, as to the true relations between measured responsibility, that sphere of employers and employed as to the relareal but limited and equal self-control, tions between the criminal or dangerous which was most closely analogous to their classes, and society at large---as to femipolitical faith. Channing's father was a nine capabilities and duties--and as to all Calvinist ; and Channing found in actual the more intricate problems of social duty possession of the religious world in which and social guilt which occupy us so much he was educated a kind of gradually ra- now-had not yet been raised or cared tionalizing Calvinism, which was not very for. And accordingly Channing, though averse to fortify itself by the aid of the he elevated the religion of his day to suslatitudinarian school of the English Estab- tain and guide a noble political faith, lishment, at that time represented by never kindled in it that perfect glow Paley. In both schools of thought, the which fuses into one temper the deeply ends and realities of religion were entirely channeled class-feelings of a highly civilsubordinated to the means: the Calvinistic ized society, and which alone ever enabled theologians stopping short of any care for any man, even for a moment, to live by the spiritual life to be desired, in their sympathy the inmost life, and almost to technical interest about the “means of re- avail himself of the most individual experidemption;" and the latitudinarians, in like ence, of another. There was an extreme manner, ignoring the objects of faith, in simplicity of constitution in Channing's their anxiety about the means of proof mind, which gave him a certain advantage about contrivance, testimony, and "unin- in treating political morality, which is tentional coïncidences.” No wonder that almost always simple: but when he touches Channing found the received divinity a social problems, this simplicity amounts to most dreary study. On one side were tenuity of treatment; you feel that the explanations how to get redeemed, the complex and crossing threads of these point being apparently immaterial what questions are not gathered up in his mind. the reality of redeemed life would be when His faith reflected perfectly, and justified the process was over; on another side he from the deepest spiritual sources, the was deluged with convincing demonstra- noble New-England passion for freedom; tions of the existence (elsewhere) of God but it never attained, and scarcely even and Christ, but in no way shown how they sought for, the religious springs of a deep did, as actual existences, live and prove and spontaneous social unity. It kept even themselves in his own life. This was the to the last much of the bare moulding, state of the religious literature of the day and of the self-tasked and self-contained when Channing began his studies. Social temper, of the old Presbyterian thought. and political interests were passing into Paley lived in the study and admiration the young republic, and, partly as a con- of divine means, Channing in the contemsequence, the old religious formulæ were plation and pursuit of divine ends; and dying out. Paley's consecration of“ vio- though this was the characteristic power lent motives,” and Edwards's predestina- of his mind, it may be truly said to have rianism, were no doctrines for a young been his weakness, that there was no and vigorous nation, rapidly growing in “natural” man to graft them into. “His power and activity, and thrilled by the soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.” great vibrations of hopeful political change His spiritual aims were ranged round his which reached them from the old world. will in fair ideal perfection ; but there

But if unsocial latitudinarian philosophy seemed no mass of natural tastes, disposiand grim tyrannic theology were little tions, and temperament to fill up the suited to that place and time, it was intervening space. And consequently he neither the place nor the time for a reli- never appreciated that Pauline side of gion of fully developed social power to theology which implies and asserts a spring up. The enthusiasms of the day double nature in man. The noble will, were, strictly speaking, political rather the clear sense of freedom and responsithan social. So far as they touched social bility, was at the center of his character;

around it only an etheral atmosphere, in his presence of mind and foresight, his calm which shone luminous purposes of good. contentment, and above all his steady growth His life reads like one long series of high-the question rose whether his energy of will and free volitions; it has not that close and wisdom were not most displayed in this texture of human interests and motives, rificed impulse to method, fullness of force to

willingness to wait..... Seemingly he had sacthat spontaneous mingling of high pur- order."* poses with the commoner impulses and enjoyments of human life, which give them If the illumined critic had said that Dr. their deepest social power, and possibly Channing was kept from the highest good even their widest influence. Every thing by his pursuit of rectitude rather than by was an “aim” to Channing, or it was his love of it, we think the criticism would nothing at all. “Great men,” he said, have been just. If there is, and can be, " are produced by great ends.” This is no binding religion while we stop compo doubt true: but the ends must find pletely short of the aims and objects of their way round to the springs of life, so life, after the fashion of Paley, yet there as to be "beginnings," and unconscious is no doubt that the highest good is beginnings, as well as ends; they must reached by those who trust rather than mix freely in states of mind into which strain, who are content to have aims given they do not enter consciously or predomi- them rather than to toil arduously after nantly; they must dissolve themselves, so aims of their own. Channing was conas to defy analysis, into all sorts of insig- scious of this defect in the cast of his own nificant and secular pursuits, if they are to religious character in later days: he felt take their most influential and expressive that he had not attained to the “wise pasform. They can not remain in the insolu- siveness” of the poet, that he had been too ble shape of “ great ideas," if they are ready to believe that really to work on men, and color the aspects of social life. Channing's was, no “ Nothing of itself would come, doubt, a mind of more delicate grain than But we must still be seeking.” that of even his great English contemporary Dr. Arnold, and certainly of a key Whether it be or be not true, as his bioquite as noble. But in this respect grapher hints, that this was not a natuÅrnold was vastly superior; if, as has ral necessity of his mind from the first, been truly said, he too was deficient in a but rather a tendency cherished by his solvent humor, by which his overtasking deliberate purpose, we have little means views of children's duty might have

been of judging. But it seems clear at least, modified, and his sometimes strained that if his character acted strongly on the “ moral thoughtfulness” relaxed, yet he type of his faith, his faith reäcted strongly had an eagerness about human arrange- upon his character. Let us look briefly ments of all sorts which gave his “high at its most striking elements. principles" a more natural and less formal Perhaps the central conviction in Chanand didactic vent than they found with ning's faith was the unreserved and inDr. Channing.

tense belief not only in the freedom of

the human will, but in the real power of “A remarkable person,” says his accom- the will to adopt and interweave into plished biographer, " in a state of mystic illu- human life, or to reject and resist, the mination, once said of Dr. Channing : 'He was divine purposes and influences. This dockept from the highest good by the love of recti- trine was preached, at least in his early verified the correctness of this criticism. There life, quite beyond the verge of spiritual certainly had been periods of his life when he health, and yet probably never issued in restrained himself too stiffly, though every year spiritual pride. At all events, the noblest of maturing virtue rendered him more free. .. features of his noble character, as well as An earnestness, a susceptibility to profound his weakest points, were due to these emotion, an exuberance of sanguine cheerfulness, “ voluntary virtues.” There sprang from a chivalrous daring, a stern yet smiling heroism, it that resolute determination to weigh a poetic glow—Aashed out at times through his anxiously all that could be urged on a of a higher style of greatness than that which he side of thought that was uncongenial to revealed. And yet when one beheld his composed consistency, his attempered strength * Channing's Memoir, edited by his Nephew, most self-relying when least outwardly sustained vol. iii.

him, and to weigh it the more carefully some are the slaves of good, others of bad imthe more clearly it led to a conclusion pulses. That blessed freedom in which we which he could not endure. “I owe the govern ourselves according to our ever-improve little which I am,” he says, “to the ing and daily changing perceptions of right is conscientiousness with which I have listen

an eminence to which we slowly rise." ed to objections springing up in my own And even in his purely intellectual mind to what I have inclined, and some capacity, the most characteristic touches times thirsted, to believe, and I have are those of a mind which has checked attained through this to a serenity of itself half way, in order to note the course faith that once seemed denied in the pre- of an impulse, and record its peculiarity. sent state.” The same high mettle that “I would avoid,” he says, in the course of would face, as a duty, all that is disquiet- an unhealthy list of regulations as to his ing, appears, though perhaps in a more inward self-government-"I would avoid fanciful form, in a remarkable letter to the diffuseness which characterizes anger," Mr. Blanco White.

The deliberate respect which he enter

tained, however, for this conscious self"I have thought, that by analyzing a pain I government, led him into a self-scrutinizhave been able to find an element of pleasure ing habit of mind that never did any man in it. I have thought, too, that by looking a any good. Like many other theologians, pain fully in the face, and comprehending it, I he had, at least in early years, no faith have diminished its intensity. Distinct percep that God could show him his sins unless he tion, instead of aggravating, decreases evil. This I have found when reading accounts of went through the most worrying catecheterrible accidents which have at first made me tical process to find them out. He tried shudder. By taking them to pieces, and con- every test that spiritual chemistry could ceiving each part distinctly, I have been able suggest to discover traces of sin. “Have to think of them calmly, and to feel that I too my thoughts this day been governed, my could pass through them. Sympathy increases attention concentrated ? what have I by the process, but not fear. The sympathy learned? what has constituted my chief whole explanation. The soul, by resisting the pleasure? have I been humble ? have I first shudder, and by placing itself near the had peace ?” etc.; painfully showing that terrible through an act of the will, puts forth he did not then believe that the "word energies which reveal it to itself

, and make it of God was quick and powerful as any conscious of something within mightier than two-edged sword, piercing even to the suffering. The power of distinct knowledge in dividing asunder of soul and spirit.” He giving courage I have never seen insisted on, did not wait for the secret uneasiness and yet it is a part of my experience. The un- that is the work of God; but thought known, the vague, the dark, what imagination invests with infinity--this terrifies; and the that, even “if our hearts condemn us not," remark applies not to physical evils, but to all conscience might be cross-examined till others."

she gave up her secret. Channing was

too little of a quietist. He writes at times And the same characteristic supremacy as if he thought that “every word that of will shines out in Dr. Channing's whole proceedeth out of the mouth of God” moral theory. He could not bear to see was wrung forth by human will. “Force undeliberate action, He held that the of moral purpose,” he says, “makes us will should be always in court, ready to happy. There is an exhilaration, a hope, hear appeal after appeal, rather than to a joy, springing up within us when we pledge the future to a mere decision of will with power what we see to be good,

when we are conscious of treading under

foot the low principles and interests which “ There is such a thing as being slaves to would part us from God and duty.” Is our own past good impressions. I think perfec- not this rather the imaginative will of the tion lies in a present power over ourselves, in a ideal conflict, the joyous will of the poet superiority to what is good as well as evil in our conceiving vanquished Satans, than of the past course, in acting from a fresh present practical man sorrowfully beating them? energy. Few of us attain this. Most good men Generally speaking, the Mephistopheles is turn their benevolent objects into hobby-horses, and ride them most furiously; or rather are not very skillful and formidable whom it hurried on by them passively, unresistingly. is an exhilarating” process to beat. Such is the weakness of our nature. Our tend- Perhaps the less splash and effort the will ency is to slavery. The difference is, that I makes in these conflicts, the more it does

the past.

If it declines to entertain evil, it has done instinct to assume it, but begin instead to its work; the good that enters and occu- discuss what value we are to attach to our pies instead is not its own.

impressions; and it is certainly not less It is clear, that neither on its stronger easy to turn spiritual realities into shanor on its weaker side is this high doc-dows or mere foretastes of the future, by trine of self-regulation---this horror of any holding aloof from the influence they concession of the command of the mind, bring. even for the shortest interval, to any But Channing's high value for indivipower except deliberate free-will-likely duality not only implied a latent distrust to be an element in a strong social faith. of social influence; he expressly teaches Channing's fear and hatred of “ epidemic that society is valuable only as subsidiary religion," his fixed belief that “all strong to the spiritual life it cherishes in indivipassion has the effect of insanity on the duals. judgment,” were not the characteristics of a man who would regard social power to and calls forth intellectual and moral energy

"Society is chiefly important as it ministers and influence as in any way a primary and freedom. Its action on the individual is test of truth. Still less was his positive beneficial in proportion as it awakens in him a teaching as to minute and constant self-power to act on himself

, and to control or withculture, his high estimate of spiritual en stand the social influences to which he is at first deavor even in the least practical sphere subjected. Society serves us, by furnishing of life, his early tendency to incalcate objects, occasions, materials

, excitements, morbid self-regulation, likely to draw a into vigorous exercise, may acquire a conscious

through which the whole soul may be brought religious society into much closer union. ness of its free and responsible nature, may A common life must be the ground of become a law to itself, and may rise to the hapclose social union. Channing's teaching piness and dignity of framing and improving tended to make each man conscious of his itself without limit or end. Inward, creative own individuality-alike in its noblest and energy is the highest good which accrues to us its most painful phases--more and more from our social principles and connections. The profoundly. He spoke of spiritual life mind is enriched, not by what it passively too much as an aspiration, too little as a what it receives. We would especially affirm reality. He sometimes made men feel of virtue, that it does not consist in what we the infinite distance between themselves inherit, or what comes to us from abroad. It and God—the spiritual immensity across is of inward growth, and it grows by nothing which the poor human will must cheerful so much as by resistance of foreign influences, ly work its way—more keenly than the by acting from our deliberate convictions in power which, if they would but recognize opposition to the principles of sympathy and it, already worked in them. His was nature and connections are means. Inward

imitation. According to these riercs, our social often the teaching of want; the aim was power is the end ; a power which is to triumph distant, the way was long, and for each over, and control the influence of society." man solitary. Even the fact of God's help had to be painfully realized by an effort This doctrine pieces-in with the whole of thought. He is apt rather to tell men temper of Channing's mind, which, as he what they ought to feel on the hypothesis himself was aware, was not social. Even of religion, than to explain to them what the closest ties seem scarcely to penetrate they do feel in the light of religious cer- to this inner essence of his spirit, till they tainties. The “ thought of God” fre had been made the “materials and exquently takes the place in his writings of citements ” of spiritual contemplation. God. Of course this is often the state of “I sometimes feel,” he once said in alluany sincere man's mind. But realities, sion to his love for his children, “ as if not thoughts of realities, are the basis of the affection which springs from thought all union; facts, not hopes. And Chan- were stronger than that of instinct.” And ning, by the ideal cast which he teaches all social ties were, in his view, intended us to give to every spiritual influence that rather to mature and refine special fruits acts on the mind-keeping it at arm's in the soul of each-to yield length till we have weighed and estimated “The harvest of a quiet eye its value-often turns a certainty into an

That sleeps and broods on its own heart," aspiration. We know how easy it is to doubt the existence even of the material than to answer any end in themselves. A universe, if we will not follow our first society was, in Channing's mind, never so

perfect as when it exercised no character- mind for clearer intellectual vision, or able istic or controlling influence of its own in to read its moral experience under the swaying or moulding the minds of those fascination of that--and it would shrink up who formed it. He held that sympathy, into absolute individuality - the narrowin the deeper concerns of the spirit, must ness of spiritual death. Possibly Dr. generally be given in the dark, and receiv- Channing's school might reply, that the ed in the twilight. And as it never value of all social influence is only to open seemed to cross him that a society's faith, to us as it were the character of God; and if noble at all, is a higher and better, and that, He remaining, all our moral experimoreover quite different thing from the ence would remain, even though every sum of the individual faiths it contains, human being were annibilated. Yet is he had no standard by which to try the this true? Is not the greater part of our value of society except that of the effect spiritual life as a matter of fact, still conwhich it produced on individual character. ditioned by the individual channels of He would have said with the poet: human influence through which we have

drawn it? Would“ progress” - would “Is it strange

life, as we understand it that is, the That our diviner impulses, great thoughts, growth of thoughts and faculties, all of And all the highest, holiest life of the soul, which have immediate and direct concern Should yearn for mortal sympathy, and not with the society in which we are placed

find it? It is the exceeding goodness of our God

be longer possible if the very law of our To bend our love unto his Father's breast,

being, the very condition of our conscience, And press our heads to his bosom. We are the very spring of our piety, were annihigreater

lated by the annihilation of the other As children than as brothers."

members of that living body of which we

are part ? It is the condition of human And this was Dr. Channing's constant life that we could not be children at all creed; not that he would have held it in without also being brothers. The social any sense depreciative of the moral digni- law of our being reaches, we are confident, ty and independence of human will, but to the deepest depth of our most solitary simply in this, that the ultimate and deep- life. A man's individual life could not est religious life of man can not include grow, nay, could not be that of a man at any human sympathy and social unity- all, could he be truly cut off from the that it is in a depth below the deepest life community of man; even in solitude and of society, and is a direct act of duty or isolation it is the life of a social being so love to the Father of spirits. This faith long as it is human. underlay all Channing's writings. But is Channing's difficulty in realizing this it true ? Is it given to human spirits to truth lay, we believe in his religious posibe children at all without being also bro- tion. He had grasped for himself the thers? The law of society is written on truth of moral freedom. Brought up in the individual conscience; and spiritual the gloomy belief that the shadow of prelife is not possible to individuals at all if destination hung over the world - that you strike out the social conditions under there was nothing for man to do but to which it is invariably found. Indeed, live his appointed lot, the truth had sudtruth itself, the search for which is usually denly dawned upon him that he had insupposed to isolate the mind, is truth no deed a free creative will, a power of relonger if you erase the conditions of socially becoming a "fellow-worker" with ety. We perceive all complete and per- God. This conviction inspired him at fect truth through others more than once with that profoundly “generous through ourselves. It is through our view of human nature” so much exaggerunion with others, through their life in ated--or at least so little balanced by the our minds and ours in theirs, that even belief which is its counterpart-in his the most solitary acts of true spiritual life school. And yet the sole point on which become possible. The mysterious power he rested this constant assertion of the of social influence is not merely an aid to " dignity of human nature” was moral the perception of truth, but the very con- freedom. All the involuntary affections dition of holding it. Suppose for a single and instincts of man he was inclined to instant that the mind could be absolutely distrust in the comparison; at least he isolated—no longer drawn towards this held that they were to be always and in

« PreviousContinue »