« VorigeDoorgaan »
toral cares. In May, 1822, he bade adieu to his native land, leaving three blooming children, and in company with Mrs. Channing set sail for England. During his brief stay in this country, it was the privilege of but few to see him. He found himself utterly unequal to the fatigue of general society and the excitement of forming new acquaintances, and therefore quickly withdrew from the several friendly circles which opened to him their hospitable homes, and hastened to the quiet beauty and sublimity of the Lakes. There he almost forgot his debility in the excitement of conversation with Wordsworth. The description of his interview with the poet will be generally quoted by English critics, and may therefore be passed over by us. He paid a short visit in the neigh. bourhood of London, and made the acquaintance of Coleridge, who said of him, that he was a philosopher in both the possible renderings of the word he had the love of wisdom and the wisdom of love. Of Mrs. Barbauld, whom he visited, Dr. Channing afterwards wrote, “It is rare to meet with such sensibility, mildness, and I may say sweetness, united with the venerableness of age; and I was particularly gratified with seeing, in a woman so justly distinguished, such entire absence of the consciousness of authorship.”
Leaving England before the close of the summer, they proceeded by France and Switzerland to Italy, passing the winter months at Florence, Rome and Naples. His arrival at Rome disclosed to him the melancholy tidings of the loss of his youngest child.
He returned home in August, 1823, with improved health, and with a spirit greatly expanded by his own personal experience, and by his extended observation of society and the world, but, above all, by the opportunities he had enjoyed during his travels and voyages of quiet meditation. On the first occasion of re-occupying his pulpit, he poured forth the emotions of his heart in one of those beautiful addresses-s0 rich in auto-biographical materials—of which these volumes present us several examples. His biographer regards his year of absence as a transition period in his life. He points out a change which now took place in his style of pulpit address. There was less attention to formthere was some little disregard of pulpit proprieties—but there was greater earnestness and a greater breadth of purpose, and a resolute application of Christianity to life and individual conduct. We think Mr. Channing singularly unhappy when, in speaking of this period, he describes his uncle as becoming less ministerial and more manly." (P. 262.) The truth is, that Dr. Channing's was so completely religion in earnest, that the more manly his spirit became, the more resolutely ministerial was he. He was not content to minister to his flock merely in things pertaining to their faith and religious profession, but sought to influence them in all their relations, public as well as private. It is clear from a passage which we shall immediately quote, written by Dr. Channing so late as 1842, that it was no object of his to become less ministerial. His ministry was widening in its scope and compass, and he had the needed powers to fulfil it. Standing on an intellectual and spiritual elevation, which few can reach, he could speak to his people on subjects on which feebler men may scarcely venture. Even Channing was sometimes misunderstood; but in this he only shared the penalty which all great men, in advance of their age, . have sometimes to pay.
“The erroneous views which doomed the Catholic clergy to celibacy are far from being banished from Protestantism. The minister is too holy for business or politics. He is to preach creeds and abstractions. He may preach ascetic notions about pleasures and amusements; for his official holiness has a tinge of asceticism in it, and people hear patiently what it is understood they will not practise. But if he come down,' as it is called, from these heights, and assail in sober earnest deep-rooted abuses, respectable vices, inhuman institutions or arrangements, and unjust means of gain, which interest, pride and habit have made dear and next to universal, the people who exact from him official holiness are shocked, offended. "He forgets his sphere.' Not only the people, but his brother ministers, are apt to think this; and they do so not mainly from a time-serving spirit, not from dread of offending the people--though this motive too often operates—but chiefly from false notions about the ministry, its comprehensive purpose, its true spirit, which is an allembracing humanity. Ministers in general are narrow-minded and superstitious rather than servile. Their faults are those of the times, and they are more free from these, perhaps, than most of the people. And are they not becoming less und less ministers, and more and more men ?”—P. 332.
That Dr. Channing, with his consciousness of increasing power and his deepening perceptions of the evils of society, and the remedial powers of Christianity, viewed his ministrations of truth less and less in regard to a particular congregation, and sought fit audience in the Catholic church of pure and earnest minds, is most true. Like Dr. Chalmers, he seems, in successive periods of his career, to have outgrown his first conceptions, and to have sought a wider sphere for the realization of his expanded views. Well did his friend and colleague, Mr. Gannett, say of him, “He had once belonged to a single congregation, then to a particular community ; but now his ministry embraced mankind, and he sustained to multitudes, in different regions of the earth, the relations of teacher and friend."
Mr. Channing has given us (Vol. II. 295–300) a description, more elaborated than successful, of Dr. Channing as a preacher. We prefer the briefer and somewhat less flattering, but more characteristic, sketch given by Mr. Gannett:
“ The tones of his voice had singular sweetness and power. At first they fell so gently on the ear, that they failed to satisfy expectation ; but they soon enchained the attention and touched the heart; even as the music of a quiet stream, or the passage of the summer's wind through the leaves, if we pause long enough to catch its melody, fastens us to the spot and awakens a thousand tender thoughts. The characteristic of Dr. Channing's style of pulpit address was simplicity,—a simplicity so much in harmony with his whole character, so spontaneous an expression indeed of that character, that over them who knew him it had even more power than over the stranger. Does not memory recal him, my friends, as he appeared in this place, when his fragile form rose before us, and his feeble voice read the hymn which melted into our hearts as it came from his low but impressive utterance? He entered on his discourse as one talking familiarly on themes of serious but pleasant interest. As he proceeded his voice gained volume and force, his countenance beamed with the illumination of high sentiment, his figure seemed to expand into proportions befitting the majesty of his theme and the grandeur of his thoughts. His diction becomes wonderfully rich, his words are pictures, his illustrations flow on as if he were unburthening a mind so full that it must give out a portion of its wealth. What vividness of intellectual conception, what fervour of chastened feeling, what energy of spiritual life! Hark! there is no sound but that which issues from those lips; the congregation are fixed in motionless attention ; tears may be seen on many an upturned face; the persuasion of his language becomes more solemn, the sympathy between him and us more close, the address more direct, the silent response more immediate; till the discourse pauses, and we are restored to a consciousness of our independent existence only by the words, 'Let us pray. How often have we been thus affected by his wonderful power over our highest faculties !"
Dr. Channing soon found that he lacked the strength necessary for conducting the services of the Federal-street Church; and losing, in 1823, the valuable assistance of Mr. (now Dr.) Dewey, his people, with his full concurrence, resolved to provide him with a colleague. That colleague was found in the Rev. Ezra Stiles Gannett, who was ordained associate pastor in the spring of 1824. The relation thus established was for eighteen years the source of great and growing comfort to Dr. Channing: He now was enabled to devote to public objects, and especially to literature, a larger portion of his attention. Of his early miscellaneous publications, we regret that we have no knowledge. Mr. Channing tells us (p. 344) that to the journal of the "Anthology Club,” Dr. Channing contributed “two or three essays, a few fragmentary thoughts, and one or more short pieces in verse, which were probably the only attempts he ever made at poetical composition.” This is all the information the editor has given us on the subject. The absence of minute, personal, and, above all, chronological details in this Memoir, is its serious defect. We ought to have every thing here set down that belonged to the life of Dr. Channing, and the narrative should, as far as practicable, follow the course of his life. The editor has been chiefly solicitous to give his readers a full view of Channing's inner soul, and for his success in this we are deeply grateful to him. This great duty the biographer of Channing might have performed, and not left the lesser and merely literary part of his duty undone. These volumes are an attempt to combine the Memoir and the Essay, and the result is not satisfactory, We have neither the method nor analytical classification that should characterize an Essay, nor the minute and orderly detail that belongs to a Memoir.
Next to the “ Anthology," Channing contributed a few papers to the “ Christian Disciple,” the Boston periodical which preceded the betterknown “ Christian Examiner.” The “ Disciple” began its course in 1819. It was, we suppose (for we have not the work to refer to), in its pages that Dr. Channing printed his remarks on “Daily Prayer,” on the “Means of promoting Christianity," on the“ Importance of Religion to Society," and his “Memoir of John Gallison.” In 1824, began the Christian Examiner ; but we find no traces of Channing's pen till we come to the third volume. The work had just passed into new hands. Dr. Channing contributed to the first number of the volume his eloquent essay on Milton, which immediately acquired for him-as an essay on the same subject published in the Edinburgh Review did for Macaulay-an European reputation as a brilliant essayist. Both essays were faulty in style, and each had the same fault of being occasionally gaudy in its ornaments. Channing's essay was some years after criticized with severity in the Edinburgh Review, in an article, the spirit of which was neither kind nor just, attributed to the late Mr. Hazlitt.
In the year 1827, Dr. Channing furnished to the same periodical his first essay on the character of Buonaparte, in a review of Scott's Life of Napoleon. He continued the subject in a second article in the following year. In 1829, he contributed his fine essay on Fenelon. His other publications are too recent and too deeply stamped in the recollection of our readers to need specific mention.
For several years, Dr. Channing's thoughts were turned towards the preparation of a great work, in which he proposed to develop “ the principles of Moral, Religious and Political Science.” Of this only eight chapters were prepared, which are devoted to an analytic and synthetic view of human nature. This fragment, together with selections from his MSS., will probably be hereafter published. When it is borne in mind that his works were composed in the midst of constant debility, often in the short intervals of pain and exhaustion, and that continuous mental toil was always followed by after-suffering, the wonder will be, not that he did not complete his great work, but that he poured forth such a succession of spirit-stirring addresses on the great topics of his age, all characterized by intellectual vigour, and some of them (his latter works especially) models of composition.
When the state of his health is remembered, the zeal with which he promoted schemes of social reform and of philanthropy will be deemed truly admirable. It would occupy as many pages as we can now spare lines to detail the reforming and benevolent movements which he either originated or largely helped. We must content ourselves with specifying a few only of the objects of his wise and benevolent attention.
His lectures on “Self-Culture” and on the “ Elevation of the Labouring Classes,” delivered in 1838 and 1840, were composed and published with the view of bringing “ down the highest to the apprehension of the most lowly, and to shew how the Divine might mingle with, and be brought in common life and in every condition.” No testimony of approbation more gratified him than a vote of thanks for these lectures from a party of miners, in an obscure village in Yorkshire, who had formed themselves into a Mechanics’ Institution. To these humble people, living at Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield, he penned, only the year before his death, an admirable letter. (Vol. III. 56, 57.) After his death, the bereaved family received this beautiful tribute to his memory from one of the Slaithwaite miners :
" It will be some relief under your bereavement to know that the good man never dies; he lives and breathes in our cottages; his work on Self-Culture is the text-book of the young men of our land; the soul-stirring sentiments of that book are working a moral regeneration in this country; and I feel that Boston has given us another FRANKLIN, another guide to the regions of virtue." III. 58.
That degraded and neglected, but right-hearted class of men, sailors, were objects of his tender compassion; and when Father Taylor, the patriarch of seamen, developed his plans for their elevation and improvement, he found in Dr. Channing his first and fastest friend.
“He was delighted, when attending at the sailors' meeting, to watch the bronzed faces of the weather-beaten tars, now melt into tears, now brightened into smiles, while their sturdy forms swayed to and fro as the heart-stirring eloquence of their wonderful preacher swept over them with alternate gales and calms."--III. 61.
Dr. Channing's high courage in asserting a principle in the face of clamour and popular odium was seen in 1834, when Abner Kneeland
was convicted in the municipal court of atheism, and sentenced to three months' imprisonment. To a petition, admirably drawn up, asserting by Christians the equal rights of atheists to freedom of thought and speech, presented to the Governor of the State, and praying for the pardon of Kneeland, the name of William Ellery Channing was the first signature. The editor observes that this petition, though rejected by the Governor and Council, did its work in educating the public mind, and there will never, in all probability, be another prosecution for atheism in Massachusetts.
It required in Dr. Channing the exercise of not less moral courage to give his support and sympathy to a Boston minister, prosecuted for righteousness' sake, the Rev. John Pierpont, who had excited great odium against himself by his sharp rebukes of " distillers and traders in intoxicating drinks.” An attempt was made by a combination of these interested classes to drive from his pulpit, in Hollis Street, this brave apostle of temperance and freedom. Dr. Channing encouraged him to persevere in the course which conscience had directed him to take, by telling him that the “Hollis-Street pulpit would stand the highest in the city.”
But in America there was—and, alas! is—a monster grievance, the treatment of which is an infallible touchstone of a reformer's integrity and courage-SLAVERY. Notwithstanding some assertions to the contrary, it has been already shewn that from the first hour of his acquaintance with Slavery at Richmond, he abhorred the pernicious and dreadful system. He was compelled by the state of his health in the winter of 1830-1 to seek a warmer climate, and proceeded to the island of Santa Cruz. He lived on a plantation, and the piazza on which he sat or walked from morning to evening overlooked a negro village. He heard from day to day the complaints of the hapless slaves. While he mused, the fire of virtuous indignation burned within his soul, and on his return to his flock, he spoke to them, with his eloquent tongue, of the atrocious wrong-doing which Slavery begets. It is true that Dr. Channing could not enrol himself as a a participator of all the opinions and an approver of the plans of the Abolitionists. He waited in the hope of seeing the heat and passion excited by the Abolition movement pass away. It was not till four years after his winter's residence in the West Indies, that he made up his mind to appeal to his nation on the subject of Slavery. An interesting narrative is given (Vol. III. 157159) of a conversation between Mr. May, afterwards the agent of the Anti-Slavery Society, and Dr. Channing. In reply to a bold expostulation on the part of Mr. May with Dr. C., for not having shared and directed the Anti-Slavery movement, “in a very subdued manner, and in his kindest tones of voice, he said, ' Brother May, I acknowledge the justice of your reproof; I have been silent too long.'” Soon after this, in December, 1835, he published his memorable book on Slavery. In 1837, occurred the murder of Mr. Lovejoy, a distinguished Abolitionist writer, who was shot by one of the mob while defending the building containing his press. Dr. Channing was greatly moved by this event, and suggested, and took a prominent part in, a meeting at Boston to protest against the lawless violence of the opponents of Abolition. The cause of the slave was the last subject on which he was permitted to address a public audience. In the summer of 1842, he went to reside VOL. IV.