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Of the “repulsiveness” of his manners on a first acquaintance he is himself aware; though not, I think, of all the evil it causes, in compelling mere strangers to carry away a wrong idea of him, and in deterring even familiar acquaintances from opening their minds, and letting their speech run on as freely to him as he earnestly desires that it should.
It might not be difficult to account for this manner, but this is not the place in which we have to do with any but the facts of the case. The natural but erroneous conclusion of most strangers is, that the dryness proceeds from spiritual pride ; and all the more from there being an appearance of this in Dr. Channing's writings—in the shape of rather formal declarations of ways of thinking as his own, and of accounts of his own views and states of mindstill as his own. Any stranger thus impressed will very shortly be struck, be struck speechless, by evidences of humility, of generous truth, and meek charity, at such variance with the manner in which other things have been said as to overthrow all hasty conclusions. It was thus with me, and I know that it has been so with others. Those superficial observers of Dr. Channing who, carrying in their own minds the idea of his being a great man, suppose that the same idea is in his, and even kindly account for his faults of manner on this ground, do him great injustice, whatever may be his share of the blame of it. No children consulting about their plays were ever farther from the idea of speaking like an oracle than Dr. Channing; and the notion of condescending-of his being in a higher, while others are in a lower spiritual state-would be dismissed from his mind, if it ever got in, with the abhorrence with which the good chase away the shadows of evil from their souls. I say this confidently, the tone of his writings notwithstanding; and I say it, not as a friend, but from such being the result of a very few hours' study of him. Whenever his conversation is not earnest—and it is not always earnest—it is for the sake of drawing out the person he is talking with, and getting at his views. The method of conversation is not to be defended -even on the ground of expediency-for a person's real views are not to be got at in this way, no one liking to be managed ; but Dr. Channing's own part in this kind of conversation is not played in the spirit of condescension, but of inquiry. One proof of this is the use he makes of the views of the persons with whom he converses. Nothing is lost upon him. He lays up what he obtains for meditation; and it reappears, sooner or later, amplified, enriched, and made perfectly his own. I believe that he is, to a singular degree, unconscious of both processes, and unaware of his part in them, both the drawing out of information and the subsequent assimilation ; but both are very evident to the observation of even strangers.
One of the most remarkable instances of all this is in the case of Mr. Abdy's visit to Dr. Channing and its results. Mr. Abdy has thought fit to publish the conversation he had with Dr. Channing, and had an undoubted right to do so, as he gave fair warning on the spot that he visited Dr. Channing as a public character, and should feel himself at liberty to report the circumstances of his visit. It is not necessary to repeat the substance of the conversation as it stands in Mr. Abdy's book; but it is necessary to explain that Mr. Abdy was not aware of his host's peculiarities of manner and conversation, and that he misunderstood him; and that,
1 on the other hand, no stranger could be expected to make allowance for the unconsciousness which Dr. Channing expressed of the condition of the free coloured population of America. Some mutual friends of the two gentlemen tried to persuade Mr. Abdy not to publish the conversation he had with Dr. Channing till he knew him better ; and Mr. Abdy, very reasonably, thought that what was said was said, and might, honourable warning having been given, be printed.
Immediately after Mr. Abdy's departure, Dr. Channing took measures to inform himself of the real state of the case of the blacks ; and, within the next month, preached a thorough-going abolition sermon. He laid so firm a grasp on the fundamental principles of the case as to satisfy the farsighted and practised abolitionists themselves who were among his audience. The subject was never again out of his mind; and during my visit the next autumn, our conversation was more upon that topic than any other. Early in the winter after he published his book on slavery. This has since been followed by his Letter to Birney, and by his noble Letter to Clay on the subject of Texas, of all his works the one by which his most attached friends and admirers would have him judged and remembered.
No one out of the United States can have an idea of the merit of taking the part which Dr. Channing has adopted on
this question. Abroad, whatever may be thought of the merits of the productions, the act of producing them does not seem great. It appears a simple affair enough for an influential clergyman to declare his detestation of outrageous injustice and cruely, and to point out the duty of his fellowcitizens to do it away. But it is not a very easy or simple matter on the spot. Dr. Channing lives surrounded by the aristocracy of Boston, and by the most eminent of the clergy of his own denomination, whose lips are rarely opened on the question except to blame or to ridicule the abolitionists.
The whole matter was, at that time, considered “a low subject," and one not likely, therefore, to reach his ears. He dislikes associations for moral objects ; he dislikes bustle and ostentation ; he dislikes personal notoriety; and, of course, he likes no better than other people to be the object of censure, of popular dislike. He broke through all these temptations to silence the moment his convictions were settled; I mean not his convictions of the guilt and evil of slavery, but of its being his duty to utier his voice against it. From his peaceful and honoured retirement he came out into the storm, which might, and probably would, be fatal to his reputation, his influence, his repose, and, perhaps, to more blessings than even these. Thus the case appears to the eye of a passing traveller.
These bad consequences have only partially followed, but he could not anticipate that. As it has turned out, Dr. Channing's reputation and influence have risen at home and abroad precisely in proportion to his own progress on the great question ; to the measure of justice which he learned by degrees to deal out to the abolitionists, till, in his latest work, he reached the highest point of all. His influence is impaired only among those to whom it does not seem to have done good ; among those who were vain of him as a pastor and a fellow-citizen, but who have not strength and light to follow his guidance in a really difficult and obviously perilous path. He has been wondered at and sighed over in private houses, rebuked and abused in Congress, and foamed at in the South ; but his reputation and influence are far higher than ever before ; and by his act of self-devotion he has been, on the whole, a great gainer, though not, of course, holding a position so enviable (though it may look more so) as that of some who moved earlier, and have risked and suffered more in the same cause.
Dr. Channing bore admirably the wrath he drew upon himself by breaking silence on the slavery question. Popular hatred and the censure of men whom he respected were a totally new experience to one who had lived in the midst of something like worship; and, though they reached him only from a distance, they must have made him feel that the new path he had at his years struck into was a thorny one. He was not careless of censure, though he took it quietly. He read the remarks made in Congress on his book, re-examined the grounds of what he had said that was questioned about the morals of the South, with the intention of retracting anything which he might have stated too strongly. Finding that he had, in his assertions, kept within the truth, he appeared satisfied. But he could feel for others who were exposed in the same cause. When I was staying in his house at the end of the winter, I was one morning sealing up my papers in his presence, in order to their being put in a place of safety, news having reached us the night before of a design to Lynch me in the West, where I had been about to take a journey. While I was sealing, Dr. Channing told me that he hoped I should, on my return to England, boldly expose the fact that I was not allowed the liberty of going where I would in the United States. I told him I should not, while there was the far stronger fact that the natives of the country were not allowed to use this their constitutional liberty. Dr. Channing could not, at that time, have set his foot within the boundaries of half the states without danger to his life ; but he appeared more moved at my case than I ever saw him about his own. No doubt we both felt ashamed to be concerned about ourselves while others were suffering to the extremity, to the loss of fortune, liberty, and life, Still, to Dr. Channing, the change in the temper of a large portion of the nation towards him must have been no light trial.
He loves the country retirement in which I first saw him, for his habit of mind is not one which renders him indifferent to the objects about him. He never sits in his study for hours together, occupied with books and thoughts, but, even when most deeply engaged in composition, walks out into his garden so frequently, that the wonder to persons different methods is how, amid so many interruptions, he keeps up any continuity of thought or accomplishes any amount of composition at all. He rarely has his pen in
his hand for more than an hour at a time, and does not, therefore, enter into the enjoyments of writers who find the second hour twice as productive and pleasurable as the first, and the third as the second, and who grudge moving under five or six hours. Instead of the delight of this continuous labour, Dr. Channing enjoys the refreshment of a change of objects. In his last publication, as in some former ones, he affords an indication of this habit of his, which, to those who know him, serves as a picture of himself in his garden, sauntering alone in his gray morning-gown, or chatting with any of his family whom he may ineet in the walks. “ I have prepared this letter," he says, “not amid the goadings, irritations, and feverish tumults of a crowded city, but in the stillness of retirement, amid scenes of peace and beauty. Hardly an hour has passed in which I have not sought relief from the exhaustion of writing by walking abroad amid God's works, which seldom fail to breathe tranquillity, and which, by their harmony and beneficence, continually cheer me, as emblems and prophecies of a more harmonious and blessed state of human affairs than has yet been known." He has frequently referred in conversation, even to strangers, and once at least in print, to the influence on his mind of having passed his boyhood on the seashore ; and to this shore he lost no time in taking me. He liked that we should be abroad almost all day. In the morning we met early in the garden ; at noon he drove me, or we went in the carriage, to some point of the shore ; and in the afternoon we walked to the glen, where, truly, any one might be thankful to go every summer evening and autumn afternoon. The way was through a field, an orchard, a narrow glen, shadowy with rocks and trees, down to the shore, where the sea runs in between the island and the mainland. The little coves of clear blue water, the boats moving in the sunlight, the long distant bridge on the left hand, and the main opening and spreading on the right, made up a delicious scene, the favourite haunt of Dr. Channing's family. To the more distant shore of the ocean itself he drove me in his gig, even to Purgatory.* By-the-way, he showed me Berkeley's house, of gray stone, rather sunk
Purgatories. I know not what fancied resemblances have applied this whimsical name to several extensive fissures in the rocks of New-England.”—Professor HITCHCOCK's Geology, &c., of Massachusetts, p. 114.