Essays: English and American. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
On the Elevation of the Laboring Classes: Lecture I
William Ellery Channing
IT is with no common pleasure that I take part in the present course of lectures. Such a course is a sign of the times, and very interesting to all who are interested in the progress of their fellow-creatures. We hear much of the improvements of our age. The wonders achieved by machinery are the common talk of every circle; but I confess that, to me, this gathering of mechanics apprentices, whose chief bond of union is a library, and who come together weekly to refresh and improve themselves by the best instruction which the state of society places within their reach, is more encouraging than all the miracles of the machinist. In this meeting I see, what I desire most to see, that the mass of the people are beginning to comprehend themselves and their true happiness, that they are catching glimpses of the great work and vocation of human beings, and are rising to their true place in the social state. The present meeting indicates a far more radical, more important change in the world than the steam-engine, or the navigation of the Atlantic in a fortnight. That members of the laboring class, at the close of a days work, should assemble in such a hall as this, to hear lectures on science, history, ethics, and the most stirring topics of the day, from men whose education is thought to fit them for the highest offices, is a proof of a social revolution, to which no bounds can be set, and from which too much cannot be hoped. I see in it a repeal of the science of degradation passed by ages on the mass of mankind. I see in it the dawn of a new era, in which it will be understood that the first object of society is to give incitements and means of progress to all its members. I see in it the sign of the approaching triumph of mens spiritual over their outward and material interests. In the hunger and thirst for knowledge and for refined pleasures which this course of lectures indicates in those who labor, I see that the spirit of man in not always to be weighed down by toils for animal life and by the appetite for animal indulgences. I do attach great importance to this meeting, not for its own sake or its immediate benefits, but as a token and pledge of a new impulse given to society through all its conditions. On this account, I take more pleasure in speaking here than I should feel in being summoned to pronounce a show-oration before all the kings and nobles on earth. In truth, it is time to have done with shows. The age is too stirring, we are pressed on by too solemn interests, to be justified in making speeches for self-display or mere amusement. He who cannot say something in sympathy with, or in aid of, the great movements of humanity, might as well hold his peace.
With these feelings and convictions, I am naturally, almost necessarily, led to address you on a topic which must insure the attention of such an audience: namely, the elevation of that portion of the community who subsist by the labor of the hands. This work, I have said, is going on. I may add, that it is advancing nowhere so rapidly as in this city. I do not believe that, on the face of the earth, the spirit of improvement has anywhere seized so strongly on those who live by the sweat of the brow as among ourselves. Here it is nothing rare to meet the union of intellectual culture and self-respect with hard work. Here the prejudice against labor as degrading has very much given way. This, then, is the place where the subject which I have proposed should be discussed. We ought to consider in what the true elevation of the laboring portion consists, how far it is practicable, and how it may be helped onward. The subject, I am aware, is surrounded with much prejudice and error. Great principles need to be brought out, and their application plainly stated. There are serious objections to be met, fears to be disarmed, and rash hopes to be crushed. I do not profess to have mastered the topic. But I can claim one merit, that of coming to the discussion with a feeling of its importance, and with a deep interest in the class of people whom it concerns. I trust that this expression of interest will not be set down as mere words, or as meant to answer any selfish purpose. A politician who professes attachment to the people is suspected to love them for their votes. But a man who neither seeks nor would accept any place within their gift may hope to be listened to as their friend. As a friend, I would speak plainly. I cannot flatter. I see defects in the laboring classes. I think that, as yet, the greater part of them have made little progress; that the prejudices and passions, the sensuality and selfishness of multitudes among them, are formidable barriers to improvement; that multitudes have not waked as yet to a dim conception of the end for which they are to struggle. My hopes do not blind me to what exists; and with this clear sense of the deficiencies of the multitude of men, I cannot, without guilt, minister to their vanity. Not that they alone are to be charged with deficiencies. Look where we may, we shall discern in all classes ground for condemnation; and whoever would do good ought to speak the truth of all, only remembering that he is to speak with sympathy, and with a consciousness of his own fallibleness and infirmity.
In giving my views of the elevation of the laboring multitude, I wish that it may be understood that I shall often speak prospectively, or of changes and improvements which are not to be expected immediately, or soon; and this I say, that I may not be set down as a dreamer, expecting to regenerate the world in a day. I fear, however, that this explanation will not shield me from this and like reproaches. There are men who, in the face of all history, of the great changes wrought in mens condition, and of the new principles which are now acting on society, maintain that the future is to be a copy of the past, and probably a faded rather than bright copy. From such I differ, and did I not differ I would not stand here. Did I expect nothing better from human nature than I see, I should have no heart for the present effort, poor as it may be. I see the signs of a better futurity, and especially signs that the large class by whose toil we all live are rising from the dust; and this faith is my only motive to what I now offer.
The elevation of the laboring portion of society: this is our subject. I shall first consider in what this consists. I shall then consider some objections to its practicableness, and to this point shall devote no small part of the discussion; and shall close the subject with giving some grounds of my faith and hope in regard to the most numerous class of our fellow-beings.
I. What is to be understood by the elevation of the laboring class? This is our first topic. To prevent misapprehension, I will begin with stating what is not meant by it, in what it does not consist.I say, then, that by the elevation of the laborer, I do not understand that he is to be raised above the need of labor. I do not expect a series of improvements, by which he is to be released from his daily work. Still more, I have no desire to dismiss him from his workshop and farm, to take the spade and axe from his hand, and to make his life a long holiday. I have faith in labor, and I see the goodness of God in placing us in a world where labor alone can keep us alive. I would not change, if I could, our subjection to physical laws, our exposure to hunger and cold, and the necessity of constant conflicts with the material world. I would not, if I could, so temper the elements that they should infuse into us only grateful sensations, that they should make vegetation so exuberant as to anticipate every want, and the minerals so ductile as to offer no resistance to our strength and skill. Such a world would make a contemptible race. Man owes his growth, his energy, chiefly to that striving of the will, that conflict with difficulty, which we call Effort. Easy, pleasant work does not make robust minds, does not give men a consciousness of their powers, does not train them to endurance, to perseverance, to steady force of will, that force without which all other acquisitions avail nothing. Manual labor is a school in which men are placed to get energy of purpose and character, a vastly more important endowment than all the learning of all other schools. They are placed, indeed, under hard masters, physical sufferings and wants, the power of fearful elements, and the vicissitudes of all human things; but these stern teachers do a work which no compassionate, indulgent friend could do for us; and true wisdom will bless Providence for their sharp ministry. I have great faith in hard work. The material world does much for the mind by its beauty and order; but it does more for our minds by the pains it inflicts; by its obstinate resistance which nothing but patient toil can overcome; by its vast forces, which nothing but unremitting skill and effort can turn to our use; by its perils which demand continual vigilance; and by its tendencies to decay. I believe that difficulties are more important to the human mind than what we call assistance. Work we all must, if we mean to bring out and perfect our nature. Even if we do not work with the hands, we must undergo equivalent toil in some other direction. No business or study which does not present obstacles, tasking to the full the intellect and the will, is worthy of a man. In science, he who does not grapple with hard questions, who does not concentrate his whole intellect in vigorous attention, who does not aim to penetrate what at first repels him, will never attain to mental force. The uses of toil reach beyond the present world. The capacity of steady, earnest labor is, I apprehend, one of our great preparations for another state of being. When I see the vast amount of toil required of men, I feel that it must have important connections with their future existence; and that he who has met this discipline manfully has laid one essential foundation of improvement, exertion, and happiness in the world to come. You will here see that to me labor has great dignity. It is not merely the grand instrument by which the earth is overspread with fruitfulness and beauty, and the ocean subdued, and matter wrought into innumerable forms for comfort and ornament. It has a far higher function, which is to give force to the will, efficiency, courage, the capacity of endurance, and of persevering devotion to far-reaching plans. Alas, for the man who has not learned to work! He is a poor creature. He does not know himself. He depends on others, with no capacity of making returns for the support they give; and let him not fancy that he has a monopoly of enjoyment. Ease, rest, owes its deliciousness to toil; and no toil is so burdensome as the rest of him who has nothing to task and quicken his powers.
I do not, then, desire to release the laborer from toil. This is not the elevation to be sought for him. Manual labor is a great good; but, in so saying, I must be understood to speak of labor in its just proportions. In excess it does great harm. It is not a good, when made the sole work of life. It must be joined with higher means of improvement, or it degrades instead of exalting. Man has a various nature, which requires a variety of occupation and discipline for its growth. Study, meditation, society, and relaxation should be mixed up with his physical toils. He has intellect, heart, imagination, taste, as well as bones and muscles; and he is grievously wronged when compelled to exclusive drudgery for bodily subsistence. Life should be an alternation of employments, so diversified as to call the whole man into action. Unhappily our present civilization is far from realizing this idea. It tends to increase the amount of manual toil, at the very time that it renders this toil less favorable to the culture of the mind. The division of labor, which distinguishes civilized from savage life, and to which we owe chiefly the perfection of the arts, tends to dwarf the intellectual powers, by confining the activity of the individual to a narrow range, to a few details, perhaps to the heading of pins, the pointing of nails, or the tying together of broken strings; so that while the savage has his faculties sharpened by various occupations, and by exposure to various perils, the civilized man treads a monotonous, stupefying round of unthinking toil. This cannot, must not, always be. Variety of action, corresponding to the variety of human powers, and fitted to develop all, is the most important element of human civilization. It should be the aim of philanthropists. In proportion as Christianity shall spread the spirit of brotherhood, there will and must be a more equal distribution of toils and means of improvement. That system of labor which saps the health, and shortens life, and famishes intellect, needs, and must receive, great modification. Still, labor in due proportion is an important part of our present lot. It is the condition of all outward comforts and improvements, while, at the same time, it conspires with higher means and influences in ministering to the vigor and growth of the soul. Let us not fight against it. We need this admonition, because at the present moment there is a general disposition to shun labor; and this ought to be regarded as a bad sign of our times. The city is thronged with adventures from the country, and the liberal professions are overstocked, in the hope of escaping the primeval sentence of living by the swear of the brow; and to this crowding of men into trade we owe not only the neglect of agriculture, but, what is far worse, the demoralization of the community. It generates excessive competition, which of necessity generates fraud. Trade is turned to gambling; and a spirit of mad speculation exposes public and private interests to a disastrous instability. It is, then, no part of the philanthropy which would elevate the laboring body, to exempt them from manual toil. In truth, a wise philanthropy would, if possible, persuade all men of all conditions to mix up a measure of this toil with their other pursuits. The body as well as the mind needs vigorous exertion, and even the studious would be happier were they trained to labor as well as thought. Let us learn to regard manual toil as the true discipline of a man. Not a few of the wisest, grandest spirits have toiled at the work-bench and the plough.
I have said that, by the elevation of the laboring mass, I do not mean that they are to be released from labor. I add, in the next place, that this elevation is not to be gained by efforts to force themselves into what are called the upper ranks of society. I wish them to rise, but I have no desire to transform them into gentlemen or ladies, according to the common acceptation of these terms. I desire for them not an outward and showy, but an inward and real change; not to give them new titles and an artificial rank, but substantial improvements and real claims to respect. I have no wish to dress them from a Parisian tailors shop, or to teach them manners from a dancing-school. I have no desire to see them, at the end of the day, doff their working dress, that they may play a part in richly attired circles. I have no desire that they should be admitted to luxurious feasts, or should get a taste for gorgeous upholstery. There is nothing cruel in the necessity which sentences the multitude of men to eat, dress, and lodge plainly and simply, especially where the sentence is executed so mildly as in this country. In this country, where the demand for labor is seldom interrupted, and the openings for enterprise are numerous beyond precedent, the laboring class, with few exceptions, may well be satisfied with their accommodations. Very many of them need nothing but a higher taste for beauty, order, and neatness, to give an air of refinement and grace as well as comfort to their establishments. In this country, the mass of labors have their share of outward good. Their food, abundant and healthful, seasoned with the appetite which labor gives, is, on the whole, sweeter as well as healthier than the elaborate luxuries of the prosperous; and their sleep is sounder and more refreshing than falls to the lot of the less employed. Were it a possible thing, I should be sorry to see them turned into men and women of fashion. Fashion is a poor vocation. Its creed, that idleness is a privilege, and work is disgrace, is among the deadliest errors. Without depth of thought, or earnestness of feeling, or strength of purpose, living an unreal life, sacrificing substance to show, substituting the factitious for the natural, mistaking a crowd for society, finding its chief pleasure in ridicule, and exhausting its ingenuity in expedients for killing time, fashion is among the last influences under which a human being, who respects himself or who comprehends the great end of life, would desire to be placed. I use strong language, because I would combat the disposition, too common in the laboring mass, to regard what is called the upper class with envy or admiration. This disposition manifests itself among them in various forms. Thus, when one of their number prospers he is apt to forget his old acquaintance, and to work his way, if possible, into a more fashionable caste. As far, indeed, as he extends his acquaintance among the intelligent, refined, generous, and truly honorable, he makes a substantial improvement of his condition; but if, as is too often the case, he is admitted by way of favor into a circle which has few claims beyond those of greater luxury and show, and which bestows on him a patronizing, condescending notice, in exchange for his old, honorable influence among his original associates, he does any thing but rise. Such is not the elevation I desire for the laborer. I do not desire him to struggle into another rank. Let him not be a servile copyist of other classes, but aim at something higher than has yet been realized in any body of men. Let him not associate the idea of Dignity or Honor with certain modes of living, or certain outward connections. I would have every man stand on his own ground, and take his place among men according to personal endowments and worth, and not according to outward appendages; and I would have every member of the community furnished with such means of improvement, that, if faithful to himself, he may need no outward appendage to attract the respect of all around him.
I have said, that the people are not to be elevated by escaping labor, or by pressing into a different rank. Once more, I do not mean by the elevation of the people, that they should become self-important politicians; that, as individuals or a class, they should seize on political power; that by uniting their votes they should triumph over the more prosperous; or that they should succeed in bending the administration of government to their particular interests. An individual is not elevated by figuring in public affairs, or even by getting into office. He needs previous elevation to save him from disgrace in his public relations. To govern ones self, not others, is true glory. To serve through love, not to rule, is Christian greatness. Office is not dignity. The lowest men, because most faithless in principle, most servile in opinion, are to be found in office. I am sorry to say it, but the truth should be spoken, that, at the present moment, political action in this country does little to lift up any who are concerned in it. It stands in opposition to a high morality. Politics, indeed, regarded as the study and pursuit of the true, enduring good of a community, as the application of great unchangeable principles to public affairs, is a noble sphere of thought and action; but politics, in its common sense, or considered as the invention of temporary shifts, as the playing of a subtile game, as the tactics of party for gaining power and the spoils of office, and for elevating one set of men above another, is a paltry and debasing concern. The laboring class are sometimes stimulated to seek power as a class, and this it is thought will raise them. But no class, as such, should bear rule among us. All conditions of society should be represented in the government, and alike protected by it; nor can any thing be expected but disgrace to the individual and the country from the success of any class in grasping at a monopoly of political power. I would by no means discourage the attention of the people to politics. They ought to study in earnest the interests of the country, the principles of our institutions, the tendencies of public measures. But the unhappiness is, they do not study; and, until they do, they cannot rise by political action. A great amount of time, which, if well used, would form an enlightened population, is now wasted on newspapers and conversations, which inflame the passions, which unscrupulously distort the truth, which denounce moral independence as treachery to ones party, which agitate the country for no higher end than a triumph over opponents; and thus multitudes are degraded into men-worshippers or men-haters, into the dupes of the ambitious, or the slaves of a faction. To rise, the people must substitute reflection for passion. There is no other way. By these remarks, I do not mean to charge on the laboring class all the passionateness of the country. All classes partake of the madness, and all are debased by it. The fiery spirits are not confined to one portion of the community. The men, whose ravings resound through the halls of Congress, and are then circulated through the country as eloquence, are not taken from among those who toil. Party prejudices break out as fiercely on the exchange, and even in the saloon, as in the workshop. The disease has spread everywhere. Yet it does not dishearten me, for I see that it admits of mitigation, if not of cure. I trust that these lectures, and other sources of intellectual enjoyment now opening to the public, will abate the fever of political excitement, by giving better occupation to the mind. Much, too, may be hoped from the growing self-respect of the people, which will make them shrink indignantly from the disgrace of being used as blinded partisans and unreflecting tools. Much also is to be hoped from the discover, which must soon or later be made, that the importance of government is enormously overrated, that it does not deserve all this stir, that there are vastly more effectual means of human happiness. Political institutions are to be less and less deified, and to shrink into a narrower space; and just in proportion as a wiser estimate of government prevails, the present frenzy of political excitement will be discovered and put to shame.
I have now said what I do not mean by the elevation of the laboring classes. It is not an outward change of condition. It is not release from labor. It is not struggling for another rank. It is not political power. I understand something deeper. I know but one elevation of a human being, and that is elevation of soul. Without this, it matters nothing where a man stand or what he possesses; and with it, he towers, he is one of Gods nobility, no matter what place he holds in the social scale. There is but one elevation for a laborer, and for all other men. There are not different kinds of dignity for different orders of men, but one and the same to all. The only elevation of a human being consists in the exercise, growth, energy of the higher principles and powers of his soul. A bird may be shot upward to the skies by a foreign force; but it rises, in the true sense of the word, only when it spreads its own wings and soars by its own living power. So a man may be thrust upward into a conspicuous place by outward accidents; but he rises, only in so far as he exerts himself, and expands his best faculties, and ascends by a free effort to a nobler region of thought and action. Such is the elevation I desire for the laborer, and I desire no other. This elevation is indeed to be aided by an improvement of his outward condition, and in turn it greatly improves his outward lot; and thus connected, outward good is real and great; but supposing it to exist in separation from inward growth and life, it would be nothing worth, nor would I raise a finger to promote it.
I know it will be said that such elevation as I have spoken of is not and cannot be within the reach of the laboring multitude, and of consequence they ought not to be tantalized with dreams of its attainment. It will be said that the principal part of men are plainly designed to work on matter for the acquisition of material and corporeal good, and that, in such, the spirit is of necessity too wedded to matter to rise above it. This objection will be considered by and by; but I would just observe, in passing, that the objector must have studied very carelessly the material world, if he suppose that it is meant to be the grave of the minds of most of those who occupy it. Matter was made for spirit, body for mind. This mind, the spirit, is the end of this living organization of flesh and bones, of nerves and muscles; and the end of this vast system of sea and land, and air and skies. This unbounded creation of sun, and moon, and stars, and clouds, and seasons, was not ordained merely to feed and clothe the body, but first and supremely to awaken, nourish, and expand the soul, to be the school of the intellect, the nurse of thought and imagination, the field for the active powers, a revelation of the Creator, and a bond of social union. We were placed in the material creation, not to be its slaves, but to master it, and to make it a minister to our highest powers. It is interesting to observe how much the material world does for the mind. Most of the sciences, arts, professions, and occupations of life, grow out of our connection with matter. The natural philosopher, the physician, the lawyer, the artist, and the legislator, find the objects or occasions of their researches in matter. The poet borrows his beautiful imagery from matter. The sculptor and painter express their noble conceptions through matter. Material wants rouse the world to activity. The material organs of sense, especially the eye, wake up infinite thoughts in the mind. To maintain, then, that the mass of men are and must be so immersed in matter, that their souls cannot rise, is to contradict the great end of their connection with matter. I maintain that the philosophy which does not see, in the laws and phenomena of outward nature, the means of awakening mind, is lamentably short-sighted; and that a state of society which leaves the mass of men to be crushed and famished in should by excessive toils on matter is at war with Gods designs, and turns into means of bondage what was meant to free and expand the soul.
Elevation of soul, this is to be desired for the laborer as for every human being; and what does this mean? The phrase, I am aware, is vague, and often serves for mere declamation. Let me strive to convey some precise ideas of it; and in doing this, I can use no language which will save the hearer from the necessity of thought. The subject is a spiritual one. It carries us into the depths of our own nature, and I can say nothing about it worth saying, without tasking your powers of attention, without demanding some mental toil. I know that these lectures are meant for entertainment rather than mental labor; but, as I have told you, I have great faith in labor, and I feel that I cannot be more useful than in exciting the hearer to some vigorous action of mind.
Elevation of soul, in what does this consist? Without aiming at philosophical exactness, I shall convey a sufficiently precise idea of it, by saying that it consists, first, in force of thought external for the acquisition of truth; secondly, in force of pure and generous feeling; thirdly, in force of moral purpose. Each of these topics needs a lecture for its development. I must confine myself to the first; from which, however, you may learn in a measure my views of the other two.Before entering on this topic, let me offer one preliminary remark. To every man who would rise in dignity as a man, be her rich or poor, ignorant or instructed, there is one essential condition, one effort, one purpose, without which not a step can be taken. He must resolutely purpose and labor to free himself from whatever he knows to be wrong in his motives and life. He who habitually allows himself in any known crime or wrongdoing, effectually bars his progress towards a higher intellectual and moral life. On this point every man should deal honestly with himself. If he will not listen to his conscience, rebuking him for violations of plain duty, let him not dream of self-elevation. The foundation is wanting. He will build, if at all, in sand.
I now proceed to my main subject. I have said that the elevation of a man is to be sought, or rather consists, first, in force of thought exerted for the acquisition of truth; and to this I ask your serious attention. Thought, thought, is the fundamental distinction of mind, and the great work of life. All that a man does outwardly is but the expression and completion of his inward thought. To work effectually, he must think clearly. To act nobly, he must think nobly. Intellectual force is a principal element of the souls life, and should be proposed by every man as a principal end of his being. It is common to distinguish between the intellect and the conscience, between the power of thought and virtue, and to say that virtuous action is worth more than strong thinking. But we mutilate our nature by thus drawing lines between actions or energies of the soul, which are intimately, indissolubly bound together. The head and the heart are not more vitally connected than thought and virtue. Does not conscience include, as a part of itself, the noblest action of the intellect or reason? Do we not degrade it by making it a mere feeling? Is it not something more? Is it not a wise discernment of the right, the holy, the good? Take away thought from virtue, and what remains worthy of a man? Is not high virtue more than blind instinct? Is it not founded on, and does it not include clear, bright perceptions of what is lovely and grand in character and action? Without power of thought, what we call conscientiousness, or a desire to do right, shoots out into illusion, exaggeration, pernicious excess. The most cruel deeds on earth have been perpetrated in the name of conscience. Men have hated and murdered one another from a sense of duty. The worst frauds have taken the name of pious. Thought, intelligence, is the dignity of a man, and no man is rising but in proportion as he is learning to think clearly and forcibly, or directing the energy of his mind to the acquisition of truth. Every man, in whatsoever condition, is to be a student. No matter what other vocation he may have, his chief vocation is to Think.
I say every man is to be a student, a thinker. This does not mean that he is to shut himself within four walls, and bend his body and mind over books. Men thought before books were written, and some of the greatest thinkers never entered what we call a study. Nature, Scripture, society, and life, present perpetual subjects for thought; and the man who collects, concentrates, employs his faculties on any of these subjects for the purpose of getting the truth, is so far a student, a thinker, a philosopher, and is rising to the dignity of a man. It is time that we should cease to limit to professed scholars the titles of thinkers, philosophers. Whoever seeks truth with an earnest mind, no matter when or how, belongs to the school of intellectual men.
In a loose sense of the word, all men may be said to think; that is, a succession of ideas, notions, passes through their minds from morning to night; but in as far as this succession is passive, undirected, or governed only by accident and outward impulse, it has little more claim to dignity than the experience of the brute, who receives, with like passiveness, sensations from abroad through his waking hours. Such thought, if thought it may be called, having no aim, is as useless as the vision of an eye which rests on nothing, which flies without pause over earth and sky, and of consequence receives no distinct image. Thought, in its true sense, is an energy of intellect. In thought, the mind not only receives impressions or suggestions from without or within, but reacts upon them, collects its attention, concentrates its forces upon them, breaks them up and analyzes them like a living laboratory, and then combines them anew, traces their connections, and thus impresses itself on all the objects which engage it.
The universe in which we live was plainly meant by God to stir up such thought as has now been described. It is full of difficulty and mystery, and can only be penetrated and unravelled by the concentration of the intellect. Every object, even the simplest in nature and society, every event of life, is made up of various elements subtly bound together; so that, to understand anything, we must reduce it from its complexity to is parts and principles, and examine their relations to one another. Nor is this all. Every thing which enters the mind not only contains a depth of mystery in itself, but is connected by a thousand ties with all other things. The universe is not a disorderly, disconnected heap, but a beautiful whole, stamped throughout with unity, so as to be an image of the One Infinite Spirit. Nothing stands alone. All things are knit together, each existing for all and all for each. The humblest object has infinite connections. The vegetable, which you saw on your table to-day, came to you from the first plant which God made to grow on the earth, and was the product of the rains and sunshine of six thousand years. Such a universe demands thought to be understood; and we are placed in it to think, to put forth the power within, to look beneath the surface of things, to look beyond particular facts and events to their causes and effects, to their reasons and ends, their mutual influences, their diversities and resemblances, their proportions and harmonies, and the general laws which bind them together. This is what I mean by thinking; and by such thought the mind rises to a dignity which humbly represents the greatness of the Divine intellect; that is, it rises more and more to consistency of views, to broad general principles, to universal truths, to glimpses of the order and harmony and infinity of the Divine system, and thus to a deep, enlightened veneration of the Infinite Father. Do not be startled, as if I were holding out an elevation of mind utterly to be despaired of; for all thinking, which aims honestly and earnestly to see things as they are, to see them in their connections, and to bring the loose, conflicting ideas of the mind into consistency and harmony, all such thinking, no matter in what sphere, is an approach to the dignity of which I speak. You are all capable of the thinking which I recommend. You have all practised it in a degree. The child, who casts an inquiring eye on a new toy, and breaks it to pieces that he may discover the mysterious cause of its movements, has begun the work of which I speak, has begun to be a philosopher, has begun to penetrate the unknown, to seek consistency and harmony of thought; and let him go on as he has begun, and make it one great business of life to inquire into the elements, connections, and reasons of whatever he witnesses in his own breast, or in society, or in outward nature, and, be his condition what it may, he will rise by degrees to a freedom and force of thought, to a breadth and unity of views, which will be to him an inward revelation and promise of the intellectual greatness for which he was created.
You will observe, that in speaking of force of thought as the elevation of the laborer and of every human being, I have continually supposed this force to be exerted for the purpose of acquiring truth. I beg you never to lose sight of this motive, for it is essential to intellectual dignity. Force of thought may be put forth for other purposes, to amass wealth for selfish gratification, to give the individual power over others, to blind others, to weave a web of sophistry, to cast a deceitful lustre on vice, to make the worse appear the better cause. But energy of thought so employed, is suicidal. The intellect, in becoming a pander of vice, a tool of the passions, an advocate of lies, becomes not only degraded, but diseased. It loses the capacity of distinguishing truth from falsehood, good from evil, right from wrong; it becomes as worthless as an eye which cannot distinguish between colors or forms. Woe to that mind which wants the love of truth! For want of this, genius has becomes a scourge to the world, its breath a poisonous exhalation, its brightness a seducer into paths of pestilence and death. Truth is the light of the Infinite Mind, and the image of God in his creatures. Nothing endures but truth. The dreams, fictions, theories, which men would substitute for it, soon die. Without its guidance effort is vain, and hope baseless. Accordingly, the love of truth, a deep thirst for it, a deliberate purpose to seek it and hold it fast, may be considered as the very foundation of human culture and dignity. Precious as thought is, the love of truth is still more precious; for without it, thoughtthought wanders and wastes itself, and precipitates men into guilt and misery. There is no greater defect in education and the pulpit than that they inculcate so little an impartial, earnest, reverential love of truth, a readiness to toil, to live and dies for it. Let the laboring man be imbued in a measure with this spirit; let him learn to regard himself as endowed with the power of thought, for the very end of acquiring truth; let him learn to regard truth as more precious than his daily bread; and the spring of true and perpetual elevation is touched within him. He has begun to be a man; he becomes one of the elect of his race. Nor do I despair of this elevation of the laborer. Unhappily little, almost nothing, has been done as yet to inspire either rich or poor with the love of truth for its own sake, or for the life, and inspiration, and dignity it gives to the soul. The prosperous have as little of this principle as the laboring mass. I think, indeed, that the spirit of luxurious, fashionable life, is more hostile to it than the hardships of the poor. Under a wise culture, this principle may be awakened in all classes, and wherever awakened, it will form philosophers, successful and noble thinkers. These remarks seem to me particularly important, as showing how intimate a union subsists between the moral and intellectual nature, and how both must work together from the beginning. All human culture rests on a moral foundation, on an impartial, disinterested spirit, on a willingness to make sacrifices to the truth. Without this moral power, mere force of thought avails nothing towards our elevation.
I am aware that I shall be told that the work of thought which I have insisted on is difficult, that to collect and concentrate the mind for the truth is harder than to toil with the hands. Be it so. But are we weak enough to hope to rise without toil? Does any man, laborer or not, except to invigorate body or mind without strenuous effort? Does not the child grow and get strength by throwing a degree of hardship and vehemence and conflict into his very sports? Does not life without difficulty become insipid and joyless? Cannot a strong interest turn difficulty into pleasure? Let the love of truth, of which I have spoken, be awakened, and obstacles in the way to it will whet, not discourage, the mind, and inspire a new delight into its acquisition.
I have hitherto spoken of force of thought in general. My views will be given more completely and distinctly, by considering, next, the objects on which this force is to be exerted. These may be reduced to two classes, matter and mindthe physical world which falls under our eyes, and the spiritual world. The working man is particularly called to make matter his study, because his business is to work on it, and he works more wisely, effectually, cheerfully, and honorably, in proportion as he knows what he acts upon, knows the laws and forces of which he avails himself, understands the reason of what he does, and can explain the changes which fall under his eye. Labor becomes a new thing when thought is thrown into it, when the mind keeps pace with the hands. Every farmer should study chemistry, so as to understand the elements or ingredients which enter into soils, vegetation, and manures, and the laws according to which they combine with and are loosened from one another. So, the mechanic should understand the mechanical powers, the laws of motion, and the history and composition of the various substances which he works on. Let me ad, that the farmer and the mechanic should cultivate the perception of beauty. What a charm and new value might the farmer add to his grounds and cottage, were he a man of taste! The product of the mechanic, be it great or small, a house or a shoe, is worth more, sometimes much more, if he can succeed in giving it the grace of proportion. In France, it is not uncommon to teach drawing to mechanics, that they may get a quick eye and a sure hand, and may communication to their works the attraction of beauty. Every man should aim to impart this perfection to his labors. The more of mind we carry into toil, the better. Without a habit of thought, a man works more like a brute or machine than like a man. With it, his soul is kept alive amidst his toils. He learns to fix an observing eye on the processes of his trade, catches hints which abridge labor, gets glimpses of important discoveries, and is sometimes able to perfect his art. Even now, after all the miracles of invention which honor our age, we little suspect what improvements of machinery are to spring from spreading intelligence and natural science among workmen.
But I do not stop here. Nature is to engage our force of thought, not simply for the aid which the knowledge of it gives in working, but for a higher end. Nature should be studied for its own sake, because so wonderful a work of God, because impressed with his perfection, because radiant with beauty, and grandeur, and wisdom, and beneficence. A laborer, like every other man, is to be liberally educated, that is, he is to get knowledge, not only for his bodily subsistence, but for the life, and growth, and elevation of his mind. Am I asked, whether I expect the laborer to traverse the whole circle of the physical sciences? Certainly not; nor do I expect the merchant, or the lawyer, or preacher to do it. Nor is that at all necessary to elevation of soul. The truths of physical science, which give greatest dignity to the mind, are those general laws of the creation which it has required ages to unfold, but which an active mind, bent on self-enlargement, may so far study and comprehend, as to interpret the changes of nature perpetually taking place around us, as to see in all the forces of the universe the workings of one Infinite Power, and in all its arrangements the manifestation of one unsearchable wisdom.
And this leads me to observe the second great object on which force of thought is to be exerted, and that is mind, spirit, comprehending under this word God and all his intelligent offspring. This is the subject of what called the metaphysical and moral sciences. This is the grand field for thought; for the outward, material world is the shadow of the spiritual, and made to minister to it. This study is of vast extent. It comprehends theology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, political science, history, literature. This is a formidable list, and it may seem to include a vast amount of knowledge which is necessarily placed beyond the reach of the laborer. But it is an interesting thought, that the key to these various sciences is given to every human being in his own nature, so that they are peculiarly accessible to hi. How is it that I get my ideas of God, of my fellow-creatures, of the deeds, suffering, motives, which make up universal history? I comprehend all these from the consciousness of what passes in my own soul. The mind within me is a type representative of all others, and therefore I can understand all. Whence come my conceptions of the intelligence, and justice, and goodness, and power of God? It is because my own spirit contains the germs of these attributes. The ideas of them are first derived from my own nature, and therefore I comprehend them in other beings. Thus the formation of all the sciences which treat of mind is laid in every mans breast. The good man is exercising in his business and family, faculties and affections which bear a likeness to the attributes of the Divinity, and to the energies which have made the greatest men illustrious; so that in studying himself, in learning the highest principles and laws of his own soul, he is in truth studying God, studying all human history, studying the philosophy which has immortalized the sages of ancient and modern times. In every mans mind and life all other minds and lives are more or less represented and wrapped up. To study other things, I must go into the outward world, and perhaps go far. To study the science of spirit, I must come home and enter my own soul. The profoundest books that have ever been written do nothing more than bring out, place in clear light, what is passing in each of your minds. So near you, so within you, is the grandest truth.
I have, indeed, no expectation that the laborer is to understand in detail the various sciences which relate to mind. Few men in any vocation do so understand them. Nor is it necessary; though, where time can be commanded, the thorough study of some particular branch, in which the individual has a special interest, will be found of great utility. What is needed to elevate the soul is, not that a man should know all that has been thought and written in regard to the spiritual nature, not that a man should become an encyclopædia, but that the great ideas, in which all discoveries terminate, which sum up all sciences, which the philosopher extracts from infinite details, may be comprehended and felt. It is not the quantity, but the quality of knowledge, which determines the minds dignity. A man of immense information may, through the want of large and comprehensive ideas, be far inferior in intellect to a laborer, who, with little knowledge, has yet seized on great truths. For example, I do not expect the laborer to study theology in the ancient languages, in the writings of the Fathers, in the history of sects, &c., &c.; nor is this needful. All theology, scattered as it is through countless volumes, is summed up in the idea of God; and let this idea shine bright and clear in the laborers soul and he has the essence of theological libraries, and a far higher light than has visited thousands of renowned divines. A great mind is formed by a few great ideas, not by an infinity of loose details. I have known very learned men who seemed to me very poor in intellect, because they had no grand thoughts. What avails it that a man has studied ever so minutely the histories of Greece and Rome, if the great ideas of freedom, and beauty, and valor, and spiritual energy, have not been kindled by these records into living fires in his soul? The illumination of an age does not consist in the amount of its knowledge, but in the broad and noble principles of which that knowledge is the foundation and inspirer. The truth is, that the most laborious and successful student is confined in his researches to a very few of Gods works; but this limited knowledge of things may still suggest universal laws, broad principles, grand ideas, and these elevate the mind. There are certain thoughts, principles, ideas, which by their nature rule over all knowledge, which are intrinsically glorious, quickening, all-comprehending, eternal, and with these I desire to enrich the mind of the laborer and of every human being.
To illustrate my meaning, let me give a few examples of the great ideas which belong to the study or science of mind. Of course, the first of these, the grandest, the most comprehensive, is the idea of God, the Parent Mind, the Primitive and Infinite Intelligence. Every mans elevation is to be measured first and chiefly by his conception of this Great Being; and to attain a just, and bright, and quickening knowledge of Him, is the highest aim of thought. In truth, the great end of the universe, of revelation, of life, is to develop in us the idea of God. Much earnest, patient, laborious thought is required to see this Infinite Being as He is, to rise above the low, gross notions of the Divinity, which rush in upon us from our passions, from our selfish partialities, and from the low-minded world around us. There is one view of God particularly suited to elevate us. I mean the view of Him as the Father of our spirits; as having created us with great powers to grow up to perfection; as having ordained all outward things to minister to the progress of the soul; as always present to inspire and strengthen us, to wake us up to inward life, and to judge and rebuke our wrong-doing; as looking with parental joy on our resistance of evil; as desiring to communicate himself to our minds for ever. This one idea, expanded in the breast of the laborer, is a germ of elevation more fruitful than all science, no matter how extensive or profound, which treats only of outward finite things. It places him in the first rank of human beings. You hear of great theologians. He only deserves the name, be his condition what it may, who has, by thought and obedience, purified and enlarged his conception of God.
From the idea of God, I proceed to another grand one, that of man, of human nature; and this should be the object of serious, intense thought. Few men know, as yet, what a man is. They know his clothes, his complexion, his property, his rank, his follies, and his outward life. But the thought of his inward being, his proper humanity, has hardly dawned on multitudes; and yet, who can live a mans life that does not know what is the distinctive worth of a human being? It is interesting to observe how faithful men generally are to their idea of a man; how they act up to it. Spread the notion that courage is true manhood, and how many will die rather than fall short of that standard; and hence, the true idea of a man, brought out in the laborers mind, elevates him above every other class who may want it. Am I asked for my conception of the dignity of a human being? I should say, that it consists, first, in that spiritual principle, called sometimes the reason, sometimes the conscience, which, rising above what is local and temporary, discerns immutable truth and everlasting right; which, in the midst of imperfect things, conceives of perfection; which is universal and impartial, standing in direct opposition to the partial, selfish principles of human nature; which says to me with authority, that my neighbor is as precious as myself, and his rights as sacred as my own; which commands me to receive all truth, however it may war with my pride, and to do all justice, however it may conflict with my interest; and which calls me to rejoice with love in all that is beautiful, good, holy, happy, in whatever being these attributes may be found. This principle is a ray of Divinity in man. We do not know what man is, still something of the celestial grandeur of this principle in the soul may be discerned. There is another grand view of man, included indeed in the former, yet deserving distinct notice. He is a free being; created to act from a spring in his own breast, to form himself and to decide his own destiny; connected intimately with nature, but not enslaved to it; connected still more strongly with God, yet not enslaved even to the Divinity, but having power to render or withhold the service due to his Creator; encompassed by a thousand warring forces, by physical elements which inflict pleasure and pain, by dangers seen and unseen, by the influences of a tempting, sinful world, yet endured by God with power to contend with all, to perfect himself by conflict with the very forces which threaten to overwhelm him. Such is the idea of man. Happy he in whom it is unfolded by earnest thought!
Had I time, I should be glad to speak of other great ideas belonging to the science of mind, and which sum up and give us, in one bright expression, the speculations of ages. The idea of human life, of its true end and greatness; the idea of virtue, as the absolute and ultimate good; the idea of liberty, which is the highest thought of political science, and which, by its intimate presence to the minds of the people, is the chief spring of our countrys life and greatness,all these might be enlarged on; and I might show how these may be awakened in the laborer, and may give him an elevation which many who are above labor want. But, leaving all these, I will only refer to another, one of the most important results of the science of mind, and which the laborer, in common with every man, may and should receive, and should strengthen by patient thought. It is the idea of his importance as an individual. He is to understand that he has a value, not as belonging to a community, and contributing to a general good which is distinct from himself, but on his own account. He is not a mere part of a machine. In a machine the parts are useless, but as conducing to the end of the whole, for which alone they subsist. Not so a man. He is not simply a means, but an end, and exists for his own sake., for the unfolding of his nature, for his own virtue and happiness. True, he is to work for others, but not servilely, not with a broken spirit, not so as to degrade himself: he is to work for others from a wise self-regard, from principles of justice and benevolence, and in the exercise of a free will and intelligence, by which his own character is perfected. His individual dignity, not derived from birth, from success, from wealth, from outward show, but consisting in the indestructible principles of his soul,this ought to enter not his habitual consciousness. I do not speak rhetorically or use the cant of rhapsodists, but I utter my calm, deliberate conviction, when I say that the laborer ought to regard himself with a self-respect unknown to the proudest monarch who rests on outward rank.
I have now illustrated what I mean by the great ideas which exalt the mind. Their worth and power cannot be exaggerated. They are the mightiest influences on earth. One great thought breathed into a man may regenerate him. The idea of freedom in ancient and modern republics, the idea of inspiration in various religious sects, the idea of immortality, how have these triumphed over worldly interests! How many heroes and martyrs have they formed! Great ideas are mightier than the passions. To awaken them is the highest office of education. As yet it has been little thought of. The education of the mass of the people has consisted in giving them mechanical habits, in breaking them to current usages and modes of thinking, in teaching religion and morality as traditions. It is time that a rational culture should take the place of mechanical; that men should learn to act more from ideas and principles, and less from blind impulse and undiscerning imitation.
Am I met here by the constantly recurring objection, that such great thoughts as have now been treated of are not to be expected in the multitude of men whose means of culture are so confined? To this difficulty I shall reply in the next lecture; but I wish to state a fact, or law of our nature, very cheering to those who, with few means, still pant for generous improvement. It is this, that great ides come to us less from outward, direct, laborous teaching, than from indirect influences, and from the native working of our own minds; so that those who want the outward apparatus for extensive learning are not cut off from them. Thus, laborious teachers may instruct us for year in God, and virtue, and the soul, and we may remain nearly as ignorant of them as at the beginning; whilst a look, a tone, an act of a fellow-creature, who is kindled by a grand thought, and who is thrown in our path at some susceptible season of life, will do much to awaken and expand this thought within us. It is a matter of experience that the greatest ideas often come to us, when right-minded, we know not how. They flash on us as lights from heaven. A man seriously given to the culture of his mind in virtue and truth finds himself under better teaching than that of man. Revelations of his own soul, of Gods intimate presence, of the grandeur of the creation, of the glory of disinterestedness, of the deformity of wrong-doing, of the dignity of universal justice, of the might of moral principle, of the immutableness of truth, of immortality, and of the inward sources of happiness; these revelations, awakening a thirst for something higher than he is or has, come of themselves to an humble, self-improving man. Sometimes a common scene in nature, one of the common relations of life, will open itself to us with a brightness and pregnancy of meaning unknown before. Sometimes a thought of this kind forms an era in life. It changes the whole future course. It is a new creation. And these great ideas are not confined to men of any class. They are communications of the Infinite Mind to all minds which are open to their reception; and labor is a far better condition for their reception than luxurious or fashionable life. It is even better than a studious life, when this foster vanity, pride, and the spirit of jealous competition. A childlike simplicity attracts these revelations more than a selfish culture of intellect, however far extended.Perhaps a caution should be added to these suggestions. In speaking of great ideas, as sometimes springing up of themselves, as sudden illuminations, I have no thought of teaching that we are to wait for them passively, or to give up our minds unthinkingly to their control. We must prepare ourselves for them by faithfulness to our own powers, by availing ourselves of all means of culture within our reach; and, what is more, these illuminations, if they come, are not distinct, complete, perfect views, but glimpses, suggestions, flashes, given us, like all notices and impression from the outward world, to be thought upon, to be made subjects of patient reflection, to be brought by our own intellect and activity into their true connection with all our other thoughts. A great idea, without reflection, may dazzle and bewilder, may destroy the balance and proportion of the mind, and impel to dangerous excess. It is to awaken the free, earnest exertion of our powers, to rouse us from passiveness to activity and life, that inward inspirations, and the teachings of outward nature, are accorded to the mind.
I have thus spoken at large of that force of thought which the laborer is to seek as his true elevation; and I will close the subject with observing, that on whatever objects or for whatever purposes this force may be exerted, one purpose should be habitually predominant, and that is, to gain a larger, clearer comprehension of all the duties of life. Thought cannot take too wide a range; but its chief aim should be to acquire juster and brighter perceptions of the right and the good, in every relation and condition in which we may be placed. Do not imagine that I am here talking professionally, or sliding unconsciously, by the force of habit, into the tone of the pulpit. The subject of duty belongs equally to all professions and all conditions. It were as wise to think of living without breath, or of seeing without light, as to exclude moral and religious principle from the work of self-elevation. And I say this, because you are in danger of mistaking mere knowledge for improvement. Knowledge fails of its best end when it does not minister to a high virtue. I do not say that we are never to think, read, or study, but for the express purpose of learning our duties. The mind must not be tied down by rigid rules. Curiosity, amusement, natural tastes, may innocently direct reading and study to a certain extent. Even in these cases, however, we are bound to improve ourselves morally as well as intellectually, by seeking truth and rejecting falsehood, and by watching against the taint which inheres in almost all human productions. What avails intellectual without moral power? How little does it avail us to study the outward world, it its greatness inspire no reverence of its Author, if its beneficence awaken no kindred love towards our fellow-creatures! How little does it avail us to study history, if the past do not help us to comprehend the dangers and duties of the present; if from the sufferings of those who have gone before us, we do not learn how to suffer, and from their great and good deeds how to act nobly; if the development of the human heart, in different ages and countries, do not give us a better knowledge of ourselves! How little does literature benefit us, if the sketches of life and character, the generous sentiments, the testimonies to disinterestedness and rectitude, with which it abounds, do not incite and guide us to wiser, purer, and more graceful action! How little substantial good do we derive from poetry and the fine arts, if the beauty, which delights the imagination, do not warm and refine the heart, and raise us to the love and admiration of what is fair, and perfect, and lofty, in character and life! Let our studies be as wide as our condition will allow; but let this be their highest aim, to instruct us in our duty and happiness, in the perfection of our nature, in the true use of life, in the best direction of our powers. Then is the culture of intellect an unmixed good, when it is sacredly used to enlighten the conscience, to feed the flame of generous sentiment, to perfect us in our common employments, to throw a grace over our common actions, to make us sources of innocent cheerfulness and centres of holy influence, and to give us courage, strength, stability, amidst the sudden changes and sore temptations and trials of life.