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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
William Ellery Channing (1780–1842)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
DR. CHANNING, the recognized leader although not the originator of the Unitarian movement in this country, was a man of singular spirituality, sweetness of disposition, purity of life, and nobility of character. He was thought by some to be austere and cold in temperament, and timid in action; but this was rather a misconception of a life given to conscientious study, and an effort to allow due weight to opposing arguments. He was not liable to be swept from his moorings by momentary enthusiasm. As a writer he was clear and direct, admirably perspicuous in style, without great ornament, much addicted to short and simple sentences, though singularly enough an admirer of those which were long and involved. A critic in Fraser’s Magazine wrote of him:—“Channing is unquestionably the first writer of the age. From his writings may be extracted some of the richest poetry and richest conceptions, clothed in language—unfortunately for our literature—too little studied in the day in which we live.”  1
  He was of “blue blood,”—the grandson of William Ellery, one of the signers of the Declaration,—and was born at Newport, Rhode Island, April 7th, 1780. He was graduated at Harvard College with high honors in 1798, and first thought of studying medicine, but was inclined to the direction of the ministry. He became a private tutor in Richmond, Virginia, where he learned to detest slavery. Here he laid the seeds of subsequent physical troubles by imprudent indulgence in asceticism, in a desire to avoid effeminacy. He entered upon the study of theology, which he continued in Cambridge; he was ordained in 1803, and soon became pastor of the Federal Street Church in Boston, in charge of which society he passed his ministerial life. In the following year he was associated with Buckminster and others in the liberal Congregational movement, and this led him into a position of controversy with his orthodox brethren,—one he cordially disliked. But he could not refrain from preaching the doctrines of the dignity of human nature, the supremacy of reason, and religious freedom, of whose truth he was profoundly assured.  2
  It has been truly said that Channing was too much a lover of free thought, and too desirous to hold only what he thought to be true, to allow himself to be bound by any party ties. “I wish,” he himself said, “to regard myself as belonging not to a sect but to the community of free minds, of lovers of truth and followers of Christ, both on earth and in heaven. I desire to escape the narrow walls of a particular church, and to stand under the open sky in the broad light, looking far and wide, seeing with my own eyes, hearing with my own ears, and following Truth meekly but resolutely, however arduous or solitary be the path in which she leads.”  3
  He was greatly interested in temperance, in the anti-slavery movement, in the elevation of the laboring classes, and other social reforms; and after 1824, when Dr. Gannett became associate pastor, he gave much time to work in these directions. His death occurred at Bennington, Vermont, April 2d, 1842. His literary achievements are mainly or wholly in the line of his work,—sermons, addresses, and essays; but they were prepared with scrupulous care, and have the quality naturally to be expected from a man of broad and catholic spirit, wide interests, and strong love of literature. His works, in six volumes, are issued by the American Unitarian Association, which also publishes a ‘Memorial’ by his nephew, William Henry Channing, in three volumes.  4
 
 
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