S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
W. Ellery Channing
Beauty is an all-pervading presence. It unfolds to the numberless flowers of the spring; it waves in the branches of the trees and the green blades of grass; it haunts the depths of the earth and the sea, and gleams out in the hues of the shell and the precious stone. And not only these minute objects, but the ocean, the mountains, the clouds, the heavens, the stars, the rising and setting sun, all overflow with beauty. The universe is its temple; and those men who are alive to it cannot lift their eyes without feeling themselves encompassed with it on every side. Now, this beauty is so precious, the enjoyments it gives are so refined and pure, so congenial with our tenderest and noblest feelings, and so akin to worship, that it is painful to think of the multitude of men as living in the midst of it, and living almost as blind to it as if, instead of this fair earth and glorious sky, they were tenants of a dungeon. An infinite joy is lost to the world by the want of culture of this spiritual endowment. The greatest truths are wronged if not linked with beauty, and they win their way most surely and deeply into the soul when arrayed in this their natural and fit attire.
Without depth of thought, or earnestness of feeling, or strength of purpose, living an unreal life, sacrificing substance to show, substituting the fictitious 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.
While earthly objects are exhausted by familiarity, the thought of God becomes to the devout man continually brighter, richer, vaster; derives fresh lustre from all that he observes of nature and Providence, and attracts to itself all the glories of the universe. The devout man, especially in moments of strong religious sensibility, feels distinctly that he has found the true happiness of man. He has found a Being for his veneration and love, whose character is inexhaustible, who after ages shall have passed will still be uncomprehended in the extent of His perfections, and will still communicate to the pure mind stronger proofs of His excellence and more intimate signs of His approval.
The grandeur of mans nature turns to insignificance all outward distinctions. His powers of intellect, of conscience, of love, of knowing God, of perceiving the beautiful, of acting on his own mind, on outward nature, and on his fellow-creatures,these are glorious prerogatives. Through the vulgar error of undervaluing what is common, we are apt, indeed, to pass them by as of but little worth. But as in the outward creation, so in the soul, the common is the most precious. Science and art may invent splendid modes of illuminating the apartments of the opulent; but these are all poor and worthless compared with the light which the sun sends into our windows, which he pours freely, impartially, over hill and valley, which kindles daily the eastern and western sky; and so the common lights of reason, and conscience, and love, are of more worth and dignity than the rare endowments which give celebrity to a few.
We say that destruction is the order of nature, and some say that men must not hope to escape the universal law. Now we deceive ourselves in this use of words; there is in reality no destruction in the material world. True, the tree is resolved into its elements, but its elements survive; and, still more, they survive to fulfil the same end which they before accomplished. Not a power of nature is lost. The particles of the destroyed tree are left at liberty to form new, perhaps more beautiful and useful, combinations; they may shoot up into more luxuriant foliage, or enter into the structure of the highest animals. But were mind to perish, there would be absolute, irretrievable destruction; for mind, from its nature, is something individual, an uncompounded essence, which cannot be broken into parts and enter into union with other minds. I am myself, and can become no other being. My experience, my history, cannot become my neighbours. My consciousness, my memory, my interest in my past life, my affections, cannot be transferred. If in any instance I have withstood temptation, and through such resistance have acquired power over myself and a claim to the approbation of my fellow-beings, this resistance, this power, this claim, are my own; I cannot make them anothers. I can give away my property, my limbs; but that which makes myselfin other words, my consciousness, my recollections, my feelings, my hopesthese can never become parts of another mind. In the extinction of a thinking, moral being, who has gained truth and virtue, there would be an absolute destruction. This event would not be as the setting of the sun, which is a transfer of light to new regions; but a quenching of the light. It would be a ruin such as Nature nowhere exhibits: a ruin of what is infinitely more precious than the outward universe, and is not, therefore, to be inferred from any of the changes of the material world.
When I compare together different classes, as existing at this moment in the civilized world, I cannot think the difference between the rich and poor, in regard to mere physical suffering, so great as is sometimes imagined. That some of the indigent among us die of scanty food is undoubtedly true; but vastly more in this community die from eating too much than from eating too little,vastly more from excess than starvation. So as to clothing: many shiver from want of defence against the cold; but there is vastly more suffering among the rich from absurd and criminal modes of dress which fashion has sanctioned, than among the poor from deficiency of raiment. Our daughters are oftener brought to the grave by their rich attire than our beggars by their nakedness. So the poor are often overworked; but they suffer less than many among the rich, who have no work to do, no interesting object to fill up life, to satisfy the infinite cravings of man for action. According to our present modes of education, how many of our daughters are subject to an ennuia misery unknown to the poor, and more intolerable than the weariness of excessive toil! The idle young man, spending the day in exhibiting his person in the street, ought not to excite the envy of the over-tasked poor; and this cumberer of the ground is found exclusively among the rich.
Oh, the unspeakable littleness of a soul which, intrusted with Christianity, speaking in Gods name to immortal beings, with infinite excitements to the most enlarged, fervent love, sinks down into narrow self-regard, and is chiefly solicitous of its own honour!
Is it asked, How can the labouring man find time for self-culture? I answer that, An earnest purpose finds time, or makes time. It seizes on spare moments, and turns fragments to golden account. A man who follows his calling with industry and spirit, and uses his earnings economically, will always have some portion of the day at command. And it is astonishing how fruitful of improvement a short season becomes when eagerly seized and faithfully used. It has often been observed that those who have the most time at their disposal profit by it the least. A single hour in the day steadily given to the pursuit of some interesting subject brings unexpected accumulations of knowledge.
Suffering comes to us through and from our whole nature. It cannot be winked out of sight. It cannot be thrust into a subordinate place in the picture of human life. It is the chief burden of history. It is the solemn theme of one of the highest departments of literature,the tragic drama. It gives to fictions their deep interest: it wails through much of our poetry. A large part of human vocations are intended to shut up some of its avenues. It has left traces on every human countenance over which years have passed. It is to not a few the most vivid recollection of life.