Monday, February 7, 2011

happiness is a very demure lady...

The Young William Ellery Channing was decidedly...earnest (not that he ever changed.) This from Charles Brook's memoir of WEC.

"His (Channing's) own Idea of Happiness. — And indeed, in one of his letters of this first decade of his ministry, he gives an admirably discriminating definition of happiness. He describes true happiness as "the uniform serenity of a well-governed mind, of disciplined affections, of a heart steadily devoted to objects which reason and religion recommend. According to my tame imagination, Happiness is a very demure lady, almost as prim as the wives of the Pilgrims of New England. She smiles indeed, most benignantly, but very seldom laughs; she may sigh, but very seldom sobs; the tear may start in her eye, the tear of gratitude and of sympathy, but it seldom streams down the cheek. Her step is sometimes quickened, but she does not waste her spirits and strength in violent and unnatural efforts. She cultivates judgment more than fancy. She employs imagination, not to dress up airy fictions, not to throw a false, short-lived lustre over the surrounding scenery, but to array in splendor distant objects, which reason assures her are most glorious and excellent, but which, from their distance, are apt to fade away before the eye, and to lose their power over the heart."


1 comment:

David G. Markham said...

WEC certainly appears to be a disciple of Aristole and a believer in the Golden Mean. WEC does not appear to be a person of exuberance or strong passion. Rather he seems to counsel more reserve and emotional restraint. He certainly emulates the stereotype of the reserved, taciturn New Englander. Perhaps he is influenced by his Puritan ancestors.

Some cultures are more extroverted and flamboyant like the Italians and the Irish. So while WEC perhaps is more attracted to demure ladies, something also can be said for the passionate and more expressive.

The good life comes in many colors, hues, and shades. I wonder to what extent Channings ideas of happiness are culturally influenced and to what extent they are indicative of some deeper and more accurate understanding?