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Modern History Sourcebook:
William Ellery Channing (1780-1842):
On The Elevation of The Laboring Classes, 1840

Introductory Note

William Ellery Channing, the chief apostle of New England Unitarianism, was born at Newport, Rhode Island, April 7, 1780. He graduated from Harvard in 1798, and five years later became minister of the Federal Street Church in Boston, where he remained for thirty-seven years. He died October 2, 1842.

Channing was still a child when, in 1785, King's Chapel in Boston, in revising its liturgy, eliminated the doctrine of the Trinity. For the next fifty years the movement went on, separating the Congregational churches in New England into Trinitarian and Unitarian. A sermon preached by Channing in Baltimore in 1819, at the ordination of Jared Sparks is generally regarded as the formulation of the Unitarian creed, and throughout his life Channing continued a leader in the denomination.

To the tolerance, the culture, and the high civic and private virtue that characterized the typical Unitarian of that time, Channing added an emotional and spiritual quality, and an interest in philosophy, that make him not merely the greatest of the Unitarian leaders, but in important respects the first of the Transcendentalists. "The Calvinists," it has been said, "believed that human nature is totally depraved; the Unitarians denied this, their denial carrying with it the positive implication that human nature is essentially good; the Transcendentalists believed that human nature is divine" (Goddard). Judged by this test, Channing belongs to the third group, for it is in his passionate faith in the divinity of human nature, apparent in the following lectures "On the Elevation of the Laboring Classes," as in his writing and preaching in general, that one finds the characteristic mark of his spirit and the main secret of his power.

Introductory Remarks

The following lectures were prepared for two meetings of mechanics, one of them consisting of apprentices, the other of adults. For want of strength they were delivered only to the former, though, in preparing them, I had kept the latter also in view. "The Mechanic Apprentices' Library Association," at whose request the lectures are published, is an institution of much promise, not only furnishing a considerable means of intellectual improvement, but increasing the self-respect and conducing to the moral safety of the members.

When I entered on this task, I thought of preparing only one lecture of the usual length. But I soon found that I could not do justice to my views in so narrow a compass. I therefore determined to write at large, and to communicate through the press the results of my labor, if they should be thought worthy of publication. With this purpose, I introduced topics which I did not deliver, and which I thought might be usefully presented to some who might not hear me. I make this statement to prevent the objection, that the lectures are not, in all things, adapted to those to whom they were delivered. Whilst written chiefly for a class, they were also intended for the community.

As the same general subject is discussed in these lectures as in the "Lecture on Self-Culture," published last winter, there will, of course, be found in them that coincidence of thoughts which always takes place in the writings of a man who has the inculcation of certain great principles much at heart. Still, the point of view, the mode of discussion, and the choice of topics, differ much in the two productions; so that my state of mind would be given very imperfectly were the present lectures withheld.

This is, probably, the last opportunity I shall have for communicating with the laboring classes through the press. I may, therefore, be allowed to express my earnest wishes for their happiness, and my strong hope that they will justify the confidence of their friends, and will prove by their example the possibility of joining with labor all the improvements which do honor to our nature. - W. E. C., Boston, February 11, 1840.


Lecture I.

Part I.

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 socpal 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 day's 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 sentence 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 men's 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 is 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 bind 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 men's 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 misapprehe 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, whilst, 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 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 adventurers from the country, and the liberal professions are overstocked, in the hope of escaping the primeval sentence of living by the sweat 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 tailor's 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 laborers 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 a 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 of 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 p 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 stands or what he possesses; and with it, he towers, he is one of God's 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. The 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 contradint 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 shortsighted; and that a state of society which leaves the mass of men to be crushed and famished in soul by excessive toils on matter is at war with God's 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 exerted 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 he 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 soul's 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.


Part II.

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 its 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, buy 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 to 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 become 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, thought - thought 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 die 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, expect 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 mind - the 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 add, 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 communicate 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 this 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 are 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 him. 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 foundation of all the sciences which treat of mind is laid in every man's 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 man's 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 encyclopaedia, 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 mind's 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 laborer's 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 God's 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 man's 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 man's 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 laborer's 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 endued 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 a 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 country's 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 into 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 ideas come to us less from outward, direct, laborious 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 years 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 God's 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 fosters 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 impressions 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, if 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.


Lecture II.

Part I.

In my last lecture I invited your attention to a subject of great interest, the elevation of the laboring portion of the community. I proposed to consider, first, in what this elevation consists; secondly the objections which may be made to its practicableness; thirdly, the circumstances which now favor it, and gives us hope that it will be more and more accomplished. In considering the first head, I began with stating in what the elevation of the laboring class does not consist, and then proceeded to show positively what it is, what it does consist in. I want time to retrace the ground over which we then travelled. I must trust to your memories. I was obliged by my narrow limits to confine myself chiefly to the consideration of the intellectual elevation which the laborer is to propose; though, in treating this topic, I showed the moral, religious, social improvements which enter into his true dignity. I observed that the laborer was to be a student, a thinker, an intellectual man, as well as a laborer; and suggested the qualifications of this truth which are required by this peculiar employment, by his daily engagement in manual toil. I now come to consider the objections which spring up in many minds, when such views of the laborer's destiny are given. This is our second head.

First, it will be objected, that the laboring multitude cannot command a variety of books, or spend much time in reading; and how then can they gain the force of thought, and the great ideas, which were treated of in the former lecture? This objection grows out of the prevalent disposition to confound intellectual improvement with book-learning. Some seem to think that there is a kind of magic in a printed page, that types give a higher knowledge that can be gained from other sources. Reading is considered as the royal road to intellectual eminence. This prejudice I have virtually set aside in my previous remarks; but it has taken so strong a hold of many as to need some consideration. I shall not attempt to repel the objection by decrying books. Truly good books are more than mines to those who can understand them. They are the breathings of the great souls of past times. Genius is not embalmed in them, as is sometimes said, but lives in them perpetually. But we need not many books to answer the great ends of reading. A few are better than many, and a little time given to a faithful study of the few will be enough to quicken thought and enrich the mind. The greatest men have not been book men. Washington, it has often been said, was no great reader. The learning commonly gathered from books is of less worth than the truths we gain from experience and reflection. Indeed, most of the knowledge from reading, in these days, being acquired with little mental action, and seldom or never reflected on and turned to use, is very much a vain show. Events stirring the mind to earnest thought and vigorous application of its resources, do vastly more to elevate the mind than most of our studies at the present time. Few of the books read among us deserve to be read. Most of them have no principle of life, as is proved by the fact that they die the year of their birth. They do not come from thinkers, and how can they awaken thought? A great proportion of the reading of this city is useless, I had almost said pernicious. I should be sorry to see our laborers exchanging their toils for the reading of many of our young ladies and young gentlemen, who look on the intellect as given them for amusement; who read, as they visit, for amusement, who discuss no great truths and put forth no energy of thought on the topics which fly through their minds. With this insensibility to the dignity of the intellect, and this frittering away of the mind on superficial reading, I see not with what face they can claim superiority to the laboring mass, who certainly understand one thing thoroughly, that is, their own business, and who are doing something useful for themselves and their fellow-creatures. The great use of books is to rouse us to thought; to turn us to questions which great men have been working on for ages; to furnish us with materials for the exercise of judgment, imagination, and moral feeling; to breathe into us a moral life from higher spirits than our own; and this benefit of books may be enjoyed by those who have not much time for retired study.

It must not be forgotten, by those who despair of the laboring classes because they cannot live in libraries, that the highest sources of truth, light, and elevation of mind, are not libraries, but our inward and outward experience. Human life, with its joys and sorrows, its burdens and alleviations, its crimes and virtues, its deep wants, its solemn changes, and its retributions, always pressing on us; what a library is this! and who may not study it? Every human being is a volume worthy to be studied. The books which circulate most freely through the community are those which give us pictures of human life. How much more improving is the original, did we know how to read it? The laborer has this page always open before him; and, still more, the laborer is every day writing a volume more full of instruction than all human productions, I mean his own life. No work of the most exalted genius can teach us so much as the revelation of human nature in the secrets of our own souls, in the workings of our own passions, in the operations of our own intelligence, in the retributions which follow our own good and evil deeds, in the dissatisfaction with the present, in the spontaneous thoughts and aspirations which form part of every man's biography. The study of our own history from childhood, of all the stages of our development, of the good and bad influences which have beset us, of our mutations of feeling and purpose, and of the great current which is setting us towards future happiness or woe, - this is a study to make us nobly wise; and who of us has not access to this fountain of eternal truth? May not the laborer study and understand the pages which he is writing in his own breast?

In these remarks, I have aimed to remove the false notion into which the laborers themselves fall, that they can do little towards acquiring force and fullness of thought, because in want of books. I shall next turn to prejudices more confined to other classes. A very common one is, that the many are not to be called to think, study, improve their minds, because a privileged few are intended by God to do their thinking for them. "Providence," it is said, "raises up superior minds, whose office it is to discover truth for the rest of the race. Thinking and manual toil are not meant to go together. The division of labor is a great law of nature. One man is to serve society by his head, another by his hands. Let each class keep to its proper work." These doctrines I protest against. I deny to any individual or class this monopoly of thought. Who among men can show God's commission to think for his brethren, to shape passively the intellect of the mass, to stamp his own image on them as if they were wax? As well might a few claim a monopoly of light and air, of seeing and breathing, as of thought. Is not the intellect as universal a gift as the organs of sight and respiration? Is not truth as freely spread abroad as the atmosphere or the sun's rays? Can we imagine that God's highest gifts of intelligence, imagination, and moral power were bestowed to provide only for animals wants? to be denied the natural means of growth, which is action? to be starved by drudgery? Were the mass of men made to be monsters? to grow only in a few organs and faculties, and to pine away and shrivel in others? or were they made to put forth all the powers of men, especially the best and most distinguishing? No man, not the lowest, is all hands, all bones and muscles. The mind is more essential to human nature, and more enduring, than the limbs; and was this made to lie dead? Is not thought the right and duty of all? Is not truth alike precious to all? Is not truth the natural aliment of the mind, as plainly as the wholesome grain is of the body? Is not the mind adapted to thought, as plainly as the eye to light, the ear to sound? Who dares to withhold it from its natural action, its natural element and joy? Undoubtedly some men are more gifted than others, and are marked out for more studious lives. But the work of such men is not to do others' thinking for them, but to help them to think more vigorously and effectually. Great minds are to make others great. Their superiority is to be used, not to break the multitude to intellectual vassalage, not to establish over them a spiritual tyranny, but to rouse them from lethargy, and to aid them to judge for themselves. The light and life which spring up in one soul are to be spread far and wide. Of all treasons against humanity, there is no one worse than his who employs great intellectual force to keep down the intellect of his less favored brother.

It is sometimes urged by those who consider the multitude as not intended to think, that at best they can learn but little, and that this is likely to harm rather than to do them good. "A little learning," we are told, "is a dangerous thing." "Shallow draughts" of knowledge are worse than ignorance. The mass of the people, it is said, can go to the bottom of nothing; and the result of stimulating them to thought will be the formation of a dangerous set of half-thinkers. To this argument I reply, first, that it has the inconvenience of proving too much; for, if valid, it shows that none of any class ought to think. For who, I would ask, can go to the bottom of anything? Whose "learning" is not "little"? Whose "draughts" of knowledge are not "shallow"? Who of us has fathomed the depths of a single product of nature or a single event in history? Who of us is not baffled by the mysteries in a grain of sand? How contracted the range of the widest intellect! But is our knowledge, because so little, of no worth? Are we to despise the lessons which are taught us in this nook of creation, in this narrow round of human experience, because an infinite universe stretches around us, which we have no means of exploring, and in which the earth, and sun, and planets dwindle to a point? We should remember that the known, however little it may be, is in harmony with the boundless unknown, and a step towards it. We should remember, too, that the gravest truths may be gathered from a very narrow compass of information. God is revealed in his smallest work as truly as in his greatest. The principles of human nature may be studied better in a family than in the history of the world. The finite is a manifestation of the infinite. The great ideas, of which I have formerly spoken, are within the reach of every man who thirsts for truth, and seeks it with singleness of mind. I will only add, that the laboring class are not now condemned to draughts of knowledge so shallow as to merit scorn. Many of them know more of the outward world than all the philosophers of antiquity; and Christianity has opened to them mysteries of the spiritual world which kings and prophets were not privileged to understand. And are they, then, to be doomed to spiritual inaction, as incapable of useful thought?

It is sometimes said, that the multitude may think on the common business of life, but not on higher subjects, and especially on religion. This, it is said, must be received on authority; on this, men in general can form no judgment of their own. But this is the last subject on which the individual should be willing to surrender himself to others' dictation. In nothing has he so strong an interest. In nothing is it so important that his mind and heart should be alive and engaged. In nothing has he readier means of judging for himself. In nothing, as history shows, is he more likely to be led astray by such as assume the office of thinking for him. Religion is a subject open to all minds. Its great truths have their foundation in the soul itself, and their proofs surround us on all sides. God has not shut up the evidence of his being in a few books, written in a foreign language, and locked up in the libraries of colleges and philosophers; but has written his name on the heavens and on the earth, and even on the minutest animal and plant; and his word, taught by Jesus Christ, was not given to scribes and lawyers, but taught to the poor, to the mass of men, on mountains, in streets, and on the sea shore. Let me not be told that the multitude do actually receive religion on authority, or on the word of others. I reply, that a faith so received seems to me of little worth. The precious, the living, the effectual part of a poor man's faith, is that of which he sees the reasonableness and excellence; that which approves itself to his intelligence, his conscience; his heart; that which answers to deep wants in his own soul, and of which he has the witness in his own inward and outward experience. All other parts of his belief, those which he takes on blind trust, and in which he sees no marks of truth and divinity, do him little or no good. Too often they do him harm, by perplexing his simple reason, by substituting the fictions and artificial systems of theologians for the plain precepts of love, and justice, and humility, and filial trust in God. As long as it was supposed that religion is to benefit the world by laying restraints, awakening fears, and acting as a part of the system of police, so long it was natural to rely on authority and tradition as the means of its propagation; so long it was desirable to stifle thought and inquiry on the subject. But now that we have learned that the true office of religion is to awaken pure and lofty sentiments, and to unite man to God by rational homage and enlightened love, there is something monstrous in placing religion beyond the thought and the study of the mass of the human race.

I proceed to another prejudice. It is objected, that the distinction of ranks is essential to social order, and that this will be swept away by calling forth energy of thought in all men. This objection, indeed, though exceedingly insisted on in Europe, has nearly died out here; but still enough of it lingers among us to deserve consideration. I reply, then, that it is a libel on social order to suppose that it requires for its support the reduction of the multitude of human beings to ignorance and servility; and that it is a libel on the Creator to suppose that he requires, as the foundation of communities, the systematic depression of the majority of his intelligent offspring. The supposition is too grossly unreasonable, too monstrous, to require labored refutation. I see no need of ranks, either for social order or for any other purpose. A great variety of pursuits and conditions is indeed to be desired. Men ought to follow their genius, and to put forth their powers in every useful and lawful way. I do not ask for a monotonous world. We are far too monotonous now. The vassalage of fashion, which is a part of rank, prevents continually the free expansion of men's powers. Let us have the greatest diversity of occupations. But this does not imply that there is a need of splitting society into castes or ranks, or that a certain number should arrogate superiority, and stand apart from the rest of men as a separate race. Men may work in different departments of life, and yet recognize their brotherly relation, and honor one another, and hold friendly communion with one another. Undoubtedly, men will prefer as friends and common associates those with whom they sympathize most. But this is not to form a rank or caste. For example, the intelligent seek out the intelligent; the pious, those who reverence God. But suppose the intellectual and the religious to cut themselves off by some broad, visible distinction from the rest of society, to form a clan of their own, to refuse admission into their houses to people of inferior knowledge and virtue, and to diminish as far as possible the occasions of intercourse with them; would not society rise up, as one man, against this arrogant exclusiveness? And if intelligence and piety may not be the foundations of a caste, on what ground shall they, who have no distinction but wealth, superior costume, richer equipages, finer houses, draw lines around themselves and constitute themselves a higher class? That some should be richer than others is natural and is necessary, and could only be prevented by gross violations of right. Leave men to the free use of their powers, and some will accumulate more than their neighbors. But to be prosperous is not to be superior; and should form no barrier between men. Wealth ought not to secure to the prosperous the slightest consideration. The only distinctions which should be recognized are those of the soul, of strong principle, of incorruptible integrity, of usefulness, of cultivated intellect, of fidelity in seeking for truth. A man in proportion as he has these claims, should be honored and welcomed everywhere. I see not why such a man, however coarsely if neatly dressed, should not be a respected guest in the most splendid mansions, and at the most brilliant meetings. A man is worth infinitely more than the saloons, and the costumes, and the show of the universe. He was made to tread all these beneath his feet. What an insult to humanity is the present deference to dress and upholstery, as if silk-worms, and looms, and scissors, and needles could produce something nobler than a man! Every good man should protest against a caste founded on outward prosperity, because it exalts the outward above the inward, the material above the spiritual; because it springs from and cherishes a contemptible pride in superficial and transitory distinctions; because it alienates man from his brother, breaks the tie of common humanity, and breeds jealousy, scorn, and mutual ill-will. Can this be needed to social order?

It is true, that in countries where the mass of the people are ignorant and servile, the existence of a higher and a worshipped rank tends to keep them from outrage. It infuses a sentiment of awe, which prevents more or less the need of force and punishment. But it is worthy of remark that the means of keeping order in one state of society may become the chief excitement of discontent and disorder in another, and this is peculiarly true of aristocracy or high rank. In rude ages, this keeps the people down; but when the people by degrees have risen to some consciousness of their rights and essential equality with the rest of the race, the awe of rank naturally subsides, and passes into suspicion, jealousy, and sense of injury, and a disposition to resist. The very institution which one restrained, now provokes. Through this process the Old World is now passing. The strange illusion, that a man, because he wears a garter or a riband, or was born to a title, belongs to another race, is fading away; and society must pass through a series of revolutions, silent or bloody, until a more natural order takes place of distinctions which grew originally out of force. Thus aristocracy, instead of giving order to society, now convulses it. So impossible is it for arbitrary human ordinations permanently to degrade human nature or subvert the principles of justice and freedom.

I am aware that it will be said, "that the want of refinement of manners and taste in the lower classes will necessarily keep them an inferior caste, even though all political inequalities be removed." I acknowledge this defect of manners in the multitude, and grant that it is an obstacle to intercourse with the more improved, though often exaggerated. But this is a barrier which must and will yield to the means of culture spread through our community. The evil is not necessarily associated with any condition of human life. An intelligent traveller1 tells us, that in Norway, a country wanting many of our advantages, good manners and politeness are spread through all conditions; and that the "rough way of talking to and living with each other, characteristic of the lower classes of society in England, is not found there." Not many centuries ago, the intercourse of the highest orders in Europe was sullied by indelicacy and fierceness; but time has worn out these stains, and the same cause is now removing what is repulsive among those who toil with their hands. I cannot believe that coarse manners, boisterous conversation, slovenly negligence, filthy customs, surliness, indecency, are to descend by necessity from generation to generation in any portion of the community. I do not see why neatness, courtesy, delicacy, ease, and deference to others' feelings, may not be made the habits of the laboring multitude. A change is certainly going on among them in respect to manners. Let us hope that it will be a change for the better; that they will not adopt false notions of refinement; that they will escape the servile imitation of what is hollow and insincere, and the substitution of outward shows for genuine natural courtesy. Unhappily they have but imperfect models on which to form themselves. It is not one class alone which needs reform in manners. We all need a new social intercourse, which shall breathe genuine refinement; which shall unite the two great elements of politeness, self-respect, and a delicate regard to the rights and feelings of others; which shall be free without rudeness, and earnest without positiveness; which shall be graceful, yet warmhearted; and in which communication shall be frank, unlabored, overflowing, through the absence of all assumption and pretence, and through the consciousness of being safe from heartless ridicule. This grand reform, which I trust is to come, will bring with it a happiness little known in social life; and whence shall it come? The wise and disinterested of all conditions must contribute to it; and I see not why the laboring classes may not take part in the work. Indeed, when I consider the greater simplicity of their lives and their greater openness to the spirit of Christianity, I am not sure but that the "golden age" of manners is to begin among those who are now despaired of for their want of refinement.

[Footnote 1: See Laing's Travels in Norway.]

In these remarks, I have given the name of "prejudices" to the old opinions respecting rank, and respecting the need of keeping the people from much thought. But allow these opinions to have a foundation in truth; suppose high fences of rank to be necessary to refinement of manners; suppose that the happiest of all ages were the feudal, when aristocracy was in its flower and glory, when the noble, superior to the laws, committed more murders in one year than the multitude in twenty. Suppose it best for the laborer to live and die in thoughtless ignorance. Allow all this, and that we have reason to look with envy on the past; one thing is plain, the past is gone, the feudal castle is dismantled, the distance between classes greatly reduced. Unfortunate as it may be, the people have begun to think, to ask reasons for what they do and suffer and believe, and to call the past to account. Old spells are broken, old reliances gone. Men can no longer be kept down by pageantry, state robes, forms, and shows. Allowing it to be best that society should rest on the depression of the multitude, the multitude will no longer be quiet when they are trodden under foot, but ask impatiently for a reason why they too may not have a share in social blessings. Such is the state of things, and we must make the best of what we cannot prevent. Right or wrong, the people will think; and is it not important that they should think justly? that they should be inspired with the love of truth, and instructed how to seek it? that they should be established by wise culture in the great principles on which religion and society rest, and be protected from scepticism and wild speculation by intercourse with enlightened and virtuous men? It is plain that in the actual state of the world, nothing can avail us but a real improvement of the mass of the people. No stable foundation can be laid for us but in men's minds. Alarming as the truth is, it should be told, that outward institutions cannot now secure us. Mightier powers than institutions have come into play among us, the judgment, the opinions, the feelings of the many; and all hopes of stability which do not rest on the progress of the many, must perish.

But a more serious objection than any yet considered, to the intellectual elevation of the laboring class, remains to be stated. It is said, "that the laborer can gain subsistence for himself and his family only by a degree of labor which forbids the use of means of improvement. His necessary toils leave no time or strength for thought. Political economy, by showing that population outstrips the means of improvement, passes an irrepealable sentence of ignorance and degradation on the laborer. He can live but for one end, which is to keep himself alive. He cannot give time and strength to intellectual, social, and moral culture, without starving his family, and impoverishing the community. Nature has laid this heavy law on the mass of the people, and it is idle to set up our theories and dreams of improvement against nature."

This objection applies with great force to Europe, and is not without weight here. But it does not discourage me. I reply, first, to this objection, that it generally comes from a suspicious source. It comes generally from men who abound, and are at ease; who think more of property than of any other human interest; who have little concern for the mass of their fellow creatures; who are willing that others should bear all the burdens of life, and that any social order should continue which secures to themselves personal comfort or gratification. The selfish epicure and the thriving man of business easily discover a natural necessity for that state of things which accumulates on themselves all the blessings, and on their neighbor all the evils, of life. But no man can judge what is good or necessary for the multitude but he who feels for them, and whose equity and benevolence are shocked by the thought that all advantages are to be monopolized by one set of men, and all disadvantages by another. I wait for the judgment of profound thinkers and earnest philanthropists on this point, - a judgment formed after patient study of political economy, and human nature and human history; nor even on such authority shall I readily despair of the multitude of my race.

In the next place, the objection under consideration is very much a repetition of the old doctrine, that what has been must be; that the future is always to repeat the past, and society to tread for ever the beaten path. But can any thing be plainer than that the present condition of the world is peculiar, unprecedented? that new powers and new principles are at work? that the application of science to art is accomplishing a stupendous revolution? that the condition of the laborer is in many places greatly improved, and his intellectual aids increased? that abuses, once thought essential to society, and which seemed entwined with all its fibres, have been removed? Do the mass of men stand where they did a few centuries ago? And do not new circumstances, if they make us fearful, at the same time keep us from despair? The future, be it what it may, will not resemble the past. The present has new elements, which must work out new weal or woe. We have no right, then, on the ground of the immutableness of human affairs, to quench, as far as we have power, the hope of social progress.

Another consideration, in reply to the objection that the necessary toils of life exclude improvement, may be drawn not only from general history, but from the experience of this country in particular. The working classes here have risen and are still rising intellectually, and yet there are no signs of starvation, nor are we becoming the poorest people on earth. By far the most interesting view of this country is the condition of the working multitude. Nothing among us deserves the attention of the traveller so much as the force of thought and character, and the self-respect awakened by our history and institutions in the mass of the people. Our prosperous classes are much like the same classes abroad, though, as we hope, of purer morals; but the great working multitude leave far behind them the laborers of other countries. No man of observation and benevolence can converse with them without being struck and delighted with the signs they give of strong and sound intellect and manly principle. And who is authorized to set bounds to this progress? In improvement the first steps are the hardest. The difficulty it to wake up men's souls, not to continue their action. Every accession of light and strength is a help to new acquisitions.

Another consideration, in reply to the objection, is, that as yet no community has seriously set itself to the work of improving all its members, so that what is possible remains to be ascertained. No experiment has been made to determine how far liberal provision can be made at once for the body and mind of the laborer. The highest social art is yet in its infancy. Great minds have nowhere solemnly, earnestly undertaken to resolve the problem, how the multitude of men may be elevated. The trial is to come. Still more, the multitude have nowhere comprehended distinctly the true idea of progress, and resolved deliberately and solemnly to reduce it to reality. This great thought, however, is gradually opening on them, and it is destined to work wonders. From themselves their salvation must chiefly come. Little can be done for them by others, till a spring is touched in their own breasts; and this being done, they cannot fail. The people, as history shows us, can accomplish miracles under the power of a great idea. How much have they often done and suffered in critical moments for country, for religion! The great idea of their own elevation is only beginning to unfold itself within them, and its energy is not to be foretold. A lofty conception of this kind, were it once distinctly seized, would be a new life breathed into them. Under this impulse they would create time and strength for their high calling, and would not only regenerate themselves, but the community.

Again, I am not discouraged by the objection, that the laborer, if encouraged to give time and strength to the elevation of his mind, will starve himself and impoverish the country, when I consider the energy and efficiency of mind. The highest force in the universe is mind. This created the heavens and earth. This has changed the wilderness into fruitfulness, and linked distant countries in a beneficent ministry to one another's wants. It is not to brute force, to physical strength, so much as to art, to skill, to intellectual and moral energy, that men owe their mastery over the world. It is mind which has conquered matter. To fear, then, that by calling forth a people's mind, we shall impoverish and starve them, is to be frightened at a shadow. I believe, that with the growth of intellectual and moral power in the community, its productive power will increase, that industry will become more efficient, that a wiser economy will accumulate wealth, that unimagined resources of art and nature will be discovered. I believe that the means of living will grow easier, in proportion as a people shall become enlightened, self-respecting, resolute, and just. Bodily or material forces can be measured, but not the forces of the soul; nor can the results of increased mental energy be foretold. Such a community will tread down obstacles now deemed invincible, and turn them into helps. The inward moulds the outward. The power of a people lies in its mind; and this mind, if fortified and enlarged, will bring external things into harmony with itself. It will create a new world around it, corresponding to itself. If, however, I err in this belief; if, by securing time and means for improvement to the multitude, industry and capital should become less productive, I still say, Sacrifice the wealth, and not the mind of a people. Nor do I believe that the physical good of a community would in this way be impaired. The diminution of a country's wealth, occasioned by general attention to intellectual and moral culture, would be followed by very different effects from those which would attend an equal diminution brought about by sloth, intemperance, and ignorance. There would indeed be less production in such a country, but the character and spirit of the people would effect a much more equal distribution of what would be produced; and the happiness of a community depends vastly more on the distribution than on the amount of its wealth. In thus speaking of the future, I do not claim any special prophetical gift. As a general rule, no man is able to foretell distinctly the ultimate, permanent results of any great social change. But as to the case before us, we ought not to doubt. It is a part of religion to believe that by nothing can a country so effectually gain happiness and lasting prosperity as by the elevation of all classes of its citizens. To question this seems an approach to crime.

"If this fail, The pillar'd firmament is rottenness,
And earth's base built on stubble."

I am aware that, in reply to all that has been said in favor of the possibility of uniting self-improvement with labor, discouraging facts may be brought forward from our daily experience. It may be said that in this country, under advantages unknown in other lands, there is a considerable number on whom the burden of toil presses very heavily, who can scarcely live with all their efforts, and who are cut off by their hard condition from the means of intellectual culture; and if this take place now, what are we to expect hereafter in a more crowded population? I acknowledge that we have a number of depressed laborers, whose state is exceedingly unpropitious to the education of the mind; but this argument will lose much of its power when we inquire into the causes of this evil. We shall then see that it comes, not from outward necessity, not from the irresistible obstacles abroad, but chiefly from the fault or ignorance of the sufferers themselves; so that the elevation of the mind and character of the laborer tends directly to reduce, if not remove, the evil. Of consequence, this elevation finds support in what is urged against it. In confirmation of these views, allow me just to hint at the causes of that depression of many laborers which is said to show that labor and self-improvement cannot go on together.

First, how much of this depression is to be traced to intemperance? What a great amount of time, and strength, and money, might multitudes gain for self-improvement, by a strict sobriety! That cheap remedy, pure water, would cure the chief evils in very many families of the ignorant and poor. Were the sums which are still lavished on ardent spirits appropriated wisely to the elevation of the people, what a new world we should live in! Intemperance not only wastes the earnings, but the health and the minds of men. How many, were they to exchange what they call moderate drinking for water, would be surprised to learn that they had been living under a cloud, in half stupefaction, and would become conscious of an intellectual energy of which they had not before dreamed! Their labors would exhaust them less; and less labor would be needed for their support; and thus their inability to cultivate their high nature would in a great measure be removed. The working class, above all men, have an interest in the cause of temperance, and they ought to look on the individual who lives by scattering the means and excitements of drunkenness not only as the general enemy of his race, but as their own worst foe.

In the next place, how much of the depression of laborers may be traced to the want of a strict economy! The prosperity of this country has produced a wastefulness that has extended to the laboring multitude. A man, here, turns with scorn from fare that in many countries would be termed luxurious. It is, indeed, important that the standard of living in all classes should be high; that is, it should include the comforts of life, the means of neatness and order in our dwellings, and such supplies of our wants as are fitted to secure vigorous health. But how many waste their earnings on indulgences which may be spared, and thus have no resource for a dark day, and are always trembling on the brink of pauperism! Needless expenses keep many too poor for self improvement. And here let me say, that expensive habits among the more prosperous laborers often interfere with the mental culture of themselves and their families. How many among them sacrifice improvement to appetite! How many sacrifice it to the love of show, to the desire of outstripping others, and to habits of expense which grow out of this insatiable passion! In a country so thriving and luxurious as ours, the laborer is in danger of contracting artificial wants and diseased tastes; and to gratify these he gives himself wholly to accumulation, and sells his mind for gain. Our unparalleled prosperity has not been an unmixed good. It has inflamed cupidity, has diseased the imagination with dreams of boundless success, and plunged a vast multitude into excessive toils, feverish competitions, and exhausting cares. A laborer, having secured a neat home and a wholesome table, should ask nothing more for the senses; but should consecrate his leisure, and what may be spared of his earnings, to the culture of himself and his family, to the best books, to the best teaching, to pleasant and profitable intercourse, to sympathy and the offices of humanity, and to the enjoyment of the beautiful in nature and art. Unhappily, the laborer, if prosperous, is anxious to ape the rich man, instead of trying to rise above him, as he often may, by noble acquisitions. The young in particular, the apprentice and the female domestic, catch a taste for fashion, and on this altar sacrifice too often their uprightness, and almost always the spirit of improvement, dooming themselves to ignorance, if not to vice, for a vain show. Is this evil without remedy? Is human nature always to be sacrificed to outward decoration? Is the outward always to triumph over the inward man? Is nobleness of sentiment never to spring up among us? May not a reform in this particular begin in the laboring class, since it seems so desperate among the more prosperous? Cannot the laborer, whose condition calls him so loudly to simplicity of taste and habits, take his stand against that love of dress which dissipates and corrupts so many minds among the opulent? Cannot the laboring class refuse to measure men by outward success, and pour utter scorn on all pretensions founded on outward show or condition? Sure I am, that, were they to study plainness of dress and simplicity of living, for the purpose of their own true elevation, they would surpass in intellect, in taste, in honorable qualities, and in present enjoyment, that great proportion of the prosperous who are softened into indulgence or enslaved to empty show. By such self-denial, how might the burden of labor be lightened, and time and strength redeemed for improvement!


Part II.

Another cause of the depressed condition of not a few laborers, as I believe, is their ignorance on the subject of health. Health is the working man's fortune, and he ought to watch over it more than the capitalist over his largest investments. Health lightens the efforts of body and mind. It enables a man to crowd much work into a narrow compass. Without it, little can be earned, and that little by slow, exhausting toil. For these reasons I cannot but look on it as a good omen that the press is circulating among us cheap works, in which much useful knowledge is given of the structure, and functions, and laws of the human body. It is in no small measure through our own imprudence that disease and debility are incurred, and one remedy is to be found in knowledge. Once let the mass of the people be instructed in their own frames; let them understand clearly that disease is not an accident, but has fixed causes, many of which they can avert, and a great amount of suffering, want, and consequent intellectual depression will be removed. - I hope I shall not be thought to digress too far, when I add, that were the mass of the community more enlightened on these points, they would apply their knowledge, not only to their private habits, but to the government of the city, and would insist on municipal regulations favoring general health. This they owe to themselves. They ought to require a system of measures for effectually cleansing the city; for supplying it with pure water, either at public expense or by a private corporation; and for prohibiting the erection or the letting of such buildings as must generate disease. What a sad thought is it, that in this metropolis, the blessings which God pours forth profusely on bird and beast, the blessings of air, and light, and water, should, in the case of many families, be so stinted or so mixed with impurities, as to injure instead of invigorating the frame! With what face can the great cities of Europe and America boast of their civilization, when within their limits thousands and ten thousands perish for want of God's freest, most lavish gifts! Can we expect improvement among people who are cut off from nature's common bounties, and want those cheering influences of the elements which even savages enjoy? In this city, how much health, how many lives are sacrificed to the practice of letting cellars and rooms which cannot be ventilated, which want the benefits of light, free air, and pure water, and the means of removing filth! We forbid by law the selling of putrid meat in the market. Why do we not forbid the renting of rooms in which putrid, damp and noisome vapors are working as sure destruction as the worst food? Did people understand that they are as truly poisoned in such dens as by tainted meat and decaying vegetables, would they not appoint commissioners for houses as truly as commissioners for markets? Ought not the renting of untenantable rooms, and the crowding of such numbers into a single room as must breed disease, and may infect a neighborhood, be as much forbidden as the importation of a pestilence? I have enlarged on this point, because I am persuaded that the morals, manners, decencies, self-respect, and intellectual improvement, as well as the health and physical comforts of a people, depend on no outward circumstances more than on the quality of the houses in which they live. The remedy of the grievance now stated lies with the people themselves. The laboring people must require that the health of the city shall be a leading object of the municipal administration, and in so doing they will protect at once the body and the mind.

I will mention one more cause of the depressed condition of many laborers, and that is, sloth, "the sin which doth most easily beset us." How many are there who, working languidly and reluctantly, bring little to pass, spread the work of one hour over many, shrink from difficulties which ought to excite them, keep themselves poor, and thus doom their families to ignorance as well as to want!

In these remarks I have endeavored to show that the great obstacles to the improvement of the laboring classes are in themselves, and many therefore be overcome. They want nothing but the will. Outward difficulty will shrink and vanish before them, just as far as they are bent on progress, just as far as the great idea of their own elevation shall take possession of their minds. I know that many will smile at the suggestion, that the laborer may be brought to practise thrift and self-denial, for the purpose of becoming a nobler being. But such sceptics, having never experienced the power of a grand thought or generous purpose, are no judges of others. They may be assured, however, that enthusiasm is not wholly a dream, and that it is not wholly unnatural for individuals or bodies to get the idea of something higher and more inspiring than their past attainments.

III. Having now treated of the elevation of the laborer, and examined the objections to it, I proceed, in the last place, to consider some of the circumstances of the times which encourage hopes of the progress of the mass of the people. My limits oblige me to confine myself to very few. - And, first, it is an encouraging circumstance, that the respect for labor is increasing, or rather that the old prejudices against manual toil, as degrading a man or putting him in a lower sphere, are wearing away; and the cause of this change is full of promise; for it is to be found in the progress of intelligence, Christianity, and freedom, all of which cry aloud against the old barriers created between the different classes, and challenge especial sympathy and regard for those who bear the heaviest burdens, and create most of the comforts of social life. The contempt of labor of which I have spoken is a relic of the old aristocratic prejudices which formerly proscribed trade as unworthy of a gentleman, and must die out with other prejudices of the same low origin. And the results must be happy. It is hard for a class of men to respect themselves who are denied respect by all around them. A vocation looked on as degrading will have a tendency to degrade those who follow it. Away, then, with the idea of something low in manual labor. There is something shocking to a religious man in the thought that the employment which God has ordained for the vast majority of the human race should be unworthy of any man, even to the highest. If, indeed, there were an employment which could not be dispensed with, and which yet tended to degrade such as might be devoted to it, I should say that it ought to be shared by the whole race, and thus neutralized by extreme division, instead of being laid, as the sole vocation, on one man or a few. Let no human being be broken in spirit or trodden under foot for the outward prosperity of the State. So far is manual labor from meriting contempt or slight, that it will probably be found, when united with true means of spiritual culture, to foster a sounder judgment, a keener observation, a more creative imagination, and a purer taste, than any other vocation. Man thinks of the few, God of the many; and the many will be found at length to have within their reach the most effectual means of progress.

Another encouraging circumstance of the times is the creation of a popular literature, which puts within the reach of the laboring class the means of knowledge in whatever branch they wish to cultivate. Amidst the worthless volumes which are every day sent from the press for mere amusement, there are books of great value in all departments, published for the benefit of the mass of readers. Mines of inestimable truth are thus open to all who are resolved to think and learn. Literature is now adapting itself to all wants; and I have little doubt that a new form of it will soon appear for the special benefit of the laboring classes. This will have for its object, to show the progress of the various useful arts, and to preserve the memory of their founders, and of men who have laid the world under obligation by great inventions. Every trade has distinguished names in its history. Some trades can number, among those who have followed them, philosophers, poets, men of true genius. I would suggest to the members of this Association whether a course of lectures, intended to illustrate the history of the more important trades, and of the great blessings they have conferred on society, and of the eminent individuals who have practised them, might not do much to instruct, and, at the same time, to elevate them. Such a course would carry them far into the past, would open to them much interesting information, and at the same time introduce them to men whom they may well make their models. I would go farther. I should be pleased to see the members of an important trade setting apart an anniversary for the commemoration of those who have shed lustre on it by their virtues, their discoveries, their genius. It is time that honor should be awarded on higher principles than have governed the judgment of past ages. Surely the inventor of the press, the discoverer of the compass, the men who have applied the power of steam to machinery, have brought the human race more largely into their debt than the bloody race of conquerors, and even than many beneficent princes. Antiquity exalted into divinities the first cultivators of wheat and the useful plants, and the first forgers of metals; and we, in these maturer ages of the world, have still greater names to boast in the records of useful art. Let their memory be preserved to kindle a generous emulation in those who have entered into their labors.

Another circumstance, encouraging the hope of progress in the laboring class, is to be found in the juster views they are beginning to adopt in regard to the education of their children. On this foundation, indeed, our hope for all classes must chiefly rest. All are to rise chiefly by the care bestowed on the young. Not that I would say, as is sometimes rashly said, that none but the young can improve. I give up no age as desperate. Men who have lived thirty, or fifty years, are not to feel as if the door was shut upon them. Every man who thirsts to become something better has in that desire a pledge that his labor will not be in vain. None are too old to learn. The world, from our first to our last hour, is our school, and the whole of life has but one great purpose, education. Still, the child, uncorrupted, unhardened, is the most hopeful subject; and vastly more, I believe, is hereafter to be done for children, than ever before, by the gradual spread of a simple truth, almost too simple, one would think, to need exposition, yet up to this day wilfully neglected, namely, that education is a sham, a cheat, unless carried on by able, accomplished teachers. The dignity of the vocation of a teacher is beginning to be understood; the idea is dawning on us that no office can compare in solemnity and importance with that of training the child; that skill to form the yo than he would be by all the histories in all languages as commonly taught. The education of the laborer's children need never stop for want of books and apparatus. More of them would do good, but enough may be easily obtained. What we want is, a race of teachers acquainted with the philosophy of the mind, gifted men and women, who shall respect human nature in the child, and strive to touch and gently bring out his best powers and sympathies; and who shall devote themselves to this as the great end of life. This good, I trust, is to come, but it comes slowly. The establishment of normal schools shows that the want of it begins to be felt. This good requires that education shall be recognized by the community as its highest interest and duty. It requires that the instructors of youth shall take precedence of the money-getting classes, and that the woman of fashion shall fall behind the female teacher. It requires that parents shall sacrifice show and pleasure to the acquisition of the best possible helps and guides for their children. Not that a great pecuniary compensation is to create good teachers; these must be formed by individual impulse, by a genuine interest in education; but good impulse must be seconded by outward circumstances; and the means of education will always bear a proportion to the respect in which the office of teacher is held in the community.

Happily, in this country, the true idea of education, of its nature and supreme importance, is silently working and gains ground. Those of us who look back on half a century, see a real, great improvement in schools and in the standard of instruction. What should encourage this movement in this country is, that nothing is wanting here to the intellectual elevation of the laboring class but that a spring should be given to the child, and that the art of thinking justly and strongly should be formed in early life; for, this preparation being made, the circumstances of future life will almost of themselves carry on the work of improvement. It is one of the inestimable benefits of free institutions, that they are constant stimulants to the intellect; that they furnish, in rapid succession, quickening subjects of thought and discussion. A whole people at the same moment are moved to reflect, reason, judge, and act on matters of deep and universal concern; and where the capacity of thought has received wise culture, the intellect, unconsciously, by an almost irresistible sympathy, is kept perpetually alive. The mind, like the body, depends on the climate it lives in, on the air it breathes; and the air of freedom is bracing, exhilarating, expanding, to a degree not dreamed of under a despotism. This stimulus of liberty, however, avails little, except where the mind has learned to think for the acquisition of truth. The unthinking and passionate are hurried by it into ruinous excess.

The last ground of hope for the elevation of the laborer, and the chief and the most sustaining, is the clearer development of the principles of Christianity. The future influences of this religion are not to be judged from the past. Up to this time it has been made a political engine, and in other ways perverted. But its true spirit, the spirit of brotherhood and freedom, is beginning to be understood, and this will undo the work which opposite principles have been carrying on for ages. Christianity is the only effectual remedy for the fearful evils of modern civilization, - a system which teaches its members to grasp at everything, and to rise above everybody, as the great aims of life. Of such a civilization the natural fruits are, contempt of others' rights, fraud, oppression, a gambling spirit in trade, reckless adventure, and commercial convulsions, all tending to impoverish the laborer and to render every condition insecure. Relief is to come, and can only come, from the new application of Christian principles, of universal justice and universal love, to social institutions, to commerce, to business, to active life. This application has begun, and the laborer, above all men, is to feel its happy and exalting influences.

Such are some of the circumstances which inspire hopes of the elevation of the laboring classes. To these might be added other strong grounds of encouragement, to be found in the principles of human nature, in the perfections and providence of God, and in the prophetic intimations of his word. But these I pass over. From all I derive strong hopes for the mass of men. I do not, cannot see, why manual toil and self-improvement may not go on in friendly union. I do not see why the laborer may not attain to refined habits and manners as truly as other men. I do not see why conversation under his humble roof may not be cheered by wit and exalted by intelligence. I do not see why, amidst his toils, he may not cast his eye around him on God's glorious creation, and be strengthened and refreshed by the sight. I do not see why the great ideas which exalt humanity - those of the Infinite Father, of perfection, of our nearness to God, and of the purpose of our being - may not grow bright and strong in the laborer's mind. Society, I trust, is tending towards a condition in which it will look back with astonishment at the present neglect or perversion of human powers. In the development of a more enlarged philanthropy, in the diffusion of the Christian spirit of brotherhood, in the recognition of the equal rights of every human being, we have the dawn and promise of a better age, when no man will be deprived of the means of elevation but by his own fault; when the evil doctrine, worthy of the archfiend, that social order demands the depression of the mass of men, will be rejected with horror and scorn; when the great object of the community will be to accumulate means and influences for awakening and expanding the best powers of all classes; when far less will be expended on the body and far more on the mind; when men of uncommon gifts for the instruction of their race will be sent forth to carry light and strength into every sphere of human life; when spacious libraries, collections of the fine arts, cabinets of natural history, and all the institutions by which the people may be refined and ennobled, will be formed and thrown open to all; and when the toils of life, by a wise intermixture of these higher influences, will be made the instruments of human elevation.

Such are my hopes of the intellectual, moral, religious, social elevation of the laboring class. I should not, however, be true to myself, did I not add that I have fears as well as hopes. Time is not left me to enlarge on this point; but without a reference to it I should not give you the whole truth. I would not disguise from myself or others the true character of the world we live in. Human imperfection throws an uncertainty over the future. Society, like the natural world, holds in its bosom fearful elements. Who can hope that the storms which have howled over past ages have spent all their force? It is possible that the laboring classes, by their recklessness, their passionateness, their jealousies of the more prosperous, and their subserviency to parties and political leaders, may turn all their bright prospects into darkness, may blight the hopes which philanthropy now cherishes of a happier and holier social state. It is also possible, in this mysterious state of things, that evil may come to them from causes which are thought to promise them nothing but good. The present anxiety and universal desire is to make the country rich, and it is taken for granted th the two hemispheres from each other. Heaven preserve us from the anticipated benefits of nearer connection with Europe, if with these must come the degradation which we see or read of among the squalid poor of her great cities, among the overworked operatives of her manufacturers, among her ignorant and half brutalized peasants. Any thing, every thing should be done to save us from the social evils which deform the Old World, and to build up here an intelligent, right-minded, self-respecting population. If this end should require us to change our present modes of life, to narrow our foreign connections, to desist from the race of commercial and manufacturing competition with Europe; if it should require that our great cities should cease to grow, and that a large portion of our trading population should return to labor, these requisitions ought to be obeyed. One thing is plain, that our present civilization contains strong tendencies to the intellectual and moral depression of a large portion of the community; and this influence ought to be thought of, studied, watched, withstood, with a stern solemn purpose of withholding no sacrifice by which it may be counteracted.

Perhaps the fears now expressed may be groundless. I do not ask you to adopt them. My end will be gained if I can lead you to study, habitually and zealously, the influence of changes and measures on the character and condition of the laboring class. There is no subject on which your thoughts should turn more frequently than on this. Many of you busy yourselves with other questions, such as the probable result of the next election of President, or the prospects of this or that party. But these are insignificant, compared with the great question, Whether the laboring classes here are destined to the ignorance and depression of the lower ranks of Europe, or whether they can secure to themselves the means of intellectual and moral progress. You are cheated, you are false to yourselves, when you suffer politicians to absorb you in their selfish purposes, and to draw you away from this great question. Give the first place in your thoughts to this. Carry it away with you from the present lecture; discuss it together; study it when alone; let your best heads work on it; resolve that nothing shall be wanting on your part to secure the means of intellectual and moral well-being to yourselves, and to those who may come after you.

In these lectures, I have expressed a strong interest in the laboring portion of the community; but I have no partiality to them considered merely as laborers. My mind is attracted to them because they constitute the majority of the human race. My great interest is in human nature, and in the working classes as its most numerous representatives. To those who look on this nature with contempt or utter distrust, such language may seem a mere form, or may be construed as a sign of the predominance of imagination and feeling over the judgment. No matter. The pity of these sceptics I can return. Their wonder at my credulity cannot surpass the sorrowful astonishment with which I look on their indifference to the fortunes of their race. In spite of all their doubts and scoffs, human nature is still most dear to me. When I behold it manifested in its perfect proportions in Jesus Christ, I cannot but revere it as the true temple of the Divinity. When I see it as revealed in the great and good of all times, I bless God for those multiplied and growing proofs of its high destiny. When I see it bruised, beaten down, stifled by ignorance and vice, by oppression, injustice, and grinding toil, I weep for it, and feel that every man should be ready to suffer for its redemption. I do and I must hope for its progress. But in saying this, I am not blind to its immediate dangers. I am not sure that dark clouds and desolating storms are not even now gathering over the world. When we look back on the mysterious history of the human race, we see that Providence has made use of fearful revolutions as the means of sweeping away the abuses of ages, and of bringing forward mankind to their present improvement. Whether such revolutions may not be in store for our own times, I know not. The present civilization of the Christian world presents much to awaken doubt and apprehension. It stands in direct hostility to the great ideas of Christianity. It is selfish, mercenary, sensual. Such a civilization cannot, must not, endure for ever. How it is to be supplanted, I know not. I hope, however, that it is not doomed, like the old Roman civilization, to be quenched in blood. I trust that the works of ages are not to be laid low by violence, rapine, and the all-devouring sword. I trust that the existing social state contains in its bosom something better than it has yet unfolded. I trust that a brighter future is to come, not from the desolation, but from gradual, meliorating changes of the present. Among the changes to which I look for the salvation of the modern world, one of the chief is the intellectual and moral elevation of the laboring class. The impulses which are to reform and quicken society are probably to come, not from its more conspicuous, but from its obscurer divisions; and among these I see with joy new wants, principles, and aspirations beginning to unfold themselves. Let what is already won give us courage. Let faith in a parental Providence give us courage; and if we are to be disappointed in the present, let us never doubt that the great interests of human nature are still secure under the eye and care of an Almighty Friend.

Note for the third head. - Under the third head of the lectures, in which some of the encouraging circumstances of the times are stated, I might have spoken of the singular advantages and means of progress enjoyed by the laborer in this metropolis. It is believed that there cannot be found another city in the world in which the laboring classes are as much improved, possess as many helps, enjoy as much consideration, exert as much influence, as in this place. Had I pursued this subject, I should have done what I often wished to do; I should have spoken of the obligations of our city to my excellent friend, James Savage, Esq., to whose unwearied efforts we are chiefly indebted for two inestimable institutions, the Provident Institution for Savings and the Primary Schools; the former giving to the laborer the means of sustaining himself in times of pressure, and the latter placing almost at his door the means of instruction for his children from the earliest age. The union of the Primary Schools with the Grammar Schools and the High Schools in this place, constitutes a system of public education unparalleled, it is believed, in any country. I would not be easy to name an individual to whom our city is under greater obligations than to Mr. Savage. In the enterprises which I have named, he was joined and greatly assisted by the late Elisha Ticknor, Esq., whose name ought also to be associated with the Provident Institution and the Primary Schools. The subject of these lectures brings to my mind the plan of an institution which was laid before me by Mr. Ticknor, for teaching at once agriculture and the mechanic arts. He believed that a boy might be made a thorough farmer, both in theory and practice, and might at the same time learn a trade, and that by being skilled in both vocations he would be more useful, and would multiply his chances of comfortable subsistence. I was interested by the plan, and Mr. Ticknor's practical wisdom led me to believe that it might be accomplished.

 


Source:

Harvard Classics Series, 1909


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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu