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By Rev. Tryon Edwards, Rochester, N. Y.
Self-Culture : an Address introductory to the Franklin Lectures,
delivered at Boston, September, 1838. By William E. Channing. Boston: James Munroe & Co. 1839.
“I HAVE a shelf,” said the sententious Cecil, “I have a shelf in my study for tried authors—one in my mind for tried principles, and one in my heart for tried friends.” Had we the first of these shelves, this volume of Dr. Channing's should at once go upon it. Though far inferior, as a literary production, to many of his works, it is one of the most excellent and useful of them all. It abounds in that somewhat rare article, plain good sense; and is pervaded throughout, as by an elemental fire, with that uniform trait of a powerful mind—a mind made to influence, and ever influencing others—that it constantly rouses the reader to think, to feel his own might, and strongly to resolve, if not to do. Happy the hearers of such lectures ! Thrice happy if they act upon
his counsels! But favorably as we think of the Lecture before us, it is not all that we could wish. Self-culture, as bearing upon our physical system, is not even alluded to; and “ that great means of selfimprovement, Christianity,” the author professes to leave “ touched,” because its greatness forbids” him “ to approach it” at the close of his other remarks. And in addition to these things there are some points that are not set forth with that proportion which is due to their importance, and which might well be expected even in the hasty efforts of so able a writer as Dr. Channing. With these things in view, our first thought was to review the Lecture. The second (and perhaps the more becoming, where an author like Dr. Channing is concerned) was to throw out the thoughts which the subject itself suggests - thus endeavoring
CULTIVATION - often availing ourselves of the thoughts, and sometimes of the expressions of the valuable lecture before us.
The subject is one of immense importance. If language contains one word that should be familiar-one subject we should wish to understand-one end on which we should be bentone blessing we should resolve to make our own—that word, that subject, that end, that blessing should be, in the broadest sense of the expression, self-improvement. This is alike the instinct of nature, the dictate of reason, the demand of religion. It is inwoven with all to which it is possible, either to aspire or to rise. It appeals to us as men—calling us to the highest and noblest end of man—reminding us that God's image is upon us, and that as men we may be great in every possible position of life. It tells us that the grandeur of our nature, if we will but improve it, turns to insignificance all outward distinctions; that our powers of knowing and feeling and loving—of perceiving the beautiful, the true, the right, the good-of knowing God, of acting on ourselves and on external nature, and on our fellow beings—that these are glorious prerogatives, and that in them all there is no assignable limit to our progress. It reminds us that each one of us is a diamond; and that wbile, with cultivation, we may attain our highest value and most splendid perfection, without it we shall remain in our roughness, never disclosing our own beauty or worth, never reflecting the glorious light that God is pouring around us. It impresses the thought, that we have something to do for ourselves; that knowledge and wisdom are not to be poured into us, without effort on our part; that we are more than mere receptacles; that we are to reflect as well as read or hear, to ponder what may come before us, and to think for ourselves, and judge for ourselves whether it be right or wrong, and what may be its value and its uses. Books, lectures, social intercourse, appeals from without-these may rouse us to exertion, when without them we might have slumbered for ever, unconscious of our own capacities; but they will be worse than useless if we rely on them alone, if we feel as if
But to pass to the subject. Self-cultivation may be noticed in its prerequisites, or what it implies; its elements, or rather the departments for its scope ; and its means of growth and progress, or how we may advance in it. 1. Its prerequisites
, or what it implies. Three things may be noticed as implied in self-cultivation-self-knowledge, self-rule, and self-formation. For each of these we have the capacity ;each is possible to us.
1. Self-knowledge. This is indispensable. To know what we are is the first step to becoming what we should be. And one reason why there is so little of self-cultivation is, that there is so little self-knowledge ;-that so'few ever know themselves, or penetrate or even look into their own natures. To most men, the outward is every thing, while the inward is vague and indefinite and unreal. Consciousness, that telescope of the heavens within them, is rarely used. Their highest and noblest powers, the stars of those heavens, rarely attract their attention, much less their serious thought, and they live and die as truly strangers to themselves, as they are to countries of which they have only heard, but on which they have never trod. But if we would cultivate and improve ourselves, we must inspect and know ourselves—where we are weak and where strong—where deficient and where the reverse. We must know, in short, what we are, and what we would be. Self-knowledge is the first stepping-stone to self-improvement. The next prerequisite to self-cultivation, is,
2. Self-rule. This, also, is indispensable to self-culture. Before we can greatly improve ourselves, we must be able to subject and govern ourselves to bow the will and the entire life to the judgment, and at any moment to fix the attention, and direct the thoughts, and control the feelings. Like the centurion of his soldiers, we must be able with truth to declare of every faculty and power within us, that to each we say: "go, and it goeth-come, and it cometh—do this, and it doeth it." He that rules his spirit--that has conquered himself-may well be strong in the confidence that he can improve himself, while he that is without system, or rule, or fixed and correct habit, can never be sure of doing it; but like the feather on the wave, or the leaf in the whirlwind, is at the mercy of every passing impulse. Connected with self-rule, or rather as a higher department of it, is, 3. Self-formation. Not only are we able to know ourselves, and negatively to control and rule ourselves, but positively to form ourselves—to guide and impel our powers, and to apply to them the means and influences which shall forward their growth and might. With perfection in our view, we can more and more conform ourselves to it. This trait we can cherish or suppress; that habit, cultivate or subdue; this propensity,direct or eradicate. Fixing our glance on the standard before us, we can press toward it, gaining fresh strength by every conquestmaking every attainment but the foundation of a future and a higher growth—like the steward of the parable, so using the one, or the five, or the ten talents that we have, as to gain by them as many more. Such are the prerequisites to self-cultivation, all of which are possible to us. Their very possibility makes that cultivation to us a solemn and imperative duty.
II. The ELEMENTS of self-cultivation, or rather the departments of our nature in which it finds its scope. To cultivate any thing, as the unfolding flower, or the tender shoot rising to the tree, is to watch it, and attend to it, and apply to it the aids and means of growth. And so to cultivate self, is to do all that we can to unfold our powers and capacities, especially our higher and nobler ones, and to make ourselves well proportioned and vigorous, and excellent, and of course happy in all things. This cultivation we may consider in its various departments, each having its foundation in some distinct department of our nature. Not that these departments are entirely distinct and independent, each of the other ;—not that they do not advance together, and each have its influence upon every other ; but noticing each by itself, the subject may be more distinctly before us.
1. Self-cultivation should be PHYSICAL. Accustomed as we are, to associate self-culture with the mind and heart, to some it may seem singular that the body should be mentioned as the first object of its attention. But we are physical as well as mental and moral beings; and self-cultivation is the improvement of all that we are. God has given us the body as the residence and the servant of the soul, as the mediator between it and the external world, as that which we are to carry with us through life, and which, being purified by the touch, or at least after the
process of the resurrection, may be worn for ever in glory. Every vein he designed as a channel of comfort, every sense as an inlet of joy, every nerve as a minister of delight. And more than this, he intended that by having sound and healthful bodies, we might also have sound and healthful minds.
And the latter can hardly be expected, except in the former, any more than the jewel can be safe in its case, when that case is broken and crushed about it. And yet how often do we entirely overlook and forget this subject; thus preparing for ourselves years of suffering, or at least greatly limiting our mental and social and moral growth. This is true, for example, of parents. This one, from mistaken tenderness, confines his child almost entirely to warm apartments; as though the pure air of heaven were never intended to be breathed till it had been shut up within walls and heated by a furnace. That one allows his child freely, and at any hour, whatever is most agreeable to the palate; as though the digestive system were one vast and devouring whirlpool, into which, at all times, every thing was expected to be swept, and might be with safety. That one, with an honest but mistaken desire to improve the mind of his child, permits it to be cooped up in the ill-ventilated schoolroom, or bent down to studies three-fourths of its time, at an age when it is all important that the chief care should be given to the physical system ;-to studies, too, which are often varied and difficult enough to task the powers of a full grown intellect. From the pride of having a superior child, he inconsiderately sacrifices its health, and of course a large share of its happiness, to its premature, precocious mental growth. And from such causes it is that we have, in modern days, so many cases of wilted and feeble and sickly children, or of remarkable and wonderful children, who grow up, by this forced and hot-bed action of the brain, to be prodigies by their second or third year, and die by the next! And by the continuance of this neglect, as we ourselves go on in life, by ignorance and heedlessness of physiology, by the neglect of water in its purity, and of air in its freshness and abundance, and of exercise in its vigor and regularity—from stooping with the shoulders till the lungs from very friction might well become diseased—from eating at all times, and all things, and almost in all quantities—from these things is it not that there are so many cases of nervous and hypochondriac disease, and spinal and consumptive affections, and ruined