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Transcendentalists > Others in the Circle > William Henry Channing > Symphony

Channing: Symphony

To Live Content With Small Means ... This is My Symphony

This short quotation from William Henry Channing has continued in popularity since its inclusion in a Brisbane editorial about 1920.  Arthur Brisbane follows the quotation with his own interpretation of the words, and then with a short biographical sketch about William Henry Channing.

Who was William Henry Channing? His father, Francis Dana Channing, was a brother of William Ellery Channing; his mother, Susan Higginson Channing, was a sister of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Francis Dana Channing died when William Henry Channing was quite young, and Susan Higginson Channing raised him alone.


"William Henry Channing's Symphony"
by Arthur Brisbane
(an editorial from the Hearst Newspapers, ca. 1920)

THE THOUGHT--

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common--this is my symphony.

WILLIAM HENRY CHANNING.

TO LIVE CONTENT WITH SMALL MEANS.

This means to realize to the full the possibilities of life. Contentment means ABSENCE OF WORRY. It is only when free from worry that the brain can act normally, up to its highest standard. The man content with small means does his best work, devotes his energies to that which is worth while, and not to acquiring that which has no value.

TO SEEK ELEGANCE RATHER THAN LUXURY.

The difference between elegance and luxury is the difference between the thin, graceful deer, browsing on the scanty but sufficient forest pasture, and the fat swine revelling in plentiful garbage.

REFINEMENT RATHER THAN FASHION.

The difference between refinement and fashion is the difference between brains and clothing, the difference between an Emerson or a Huxley and a Beau Brummel or other worthless but elaborately decked carcass.

TO BE WORTHY, NOT RESPECTABLE.

In other words, to be like Henry George, and not like the owner of a trust.

WEALTHY, NOT RICH.

The man who has a good wife and good children, enough to take care of them, but not enough to spoil them, is WEALTHY. He is happier than the man who is RICH enough to be worried, rich enough to make it certain that his children will be ruined by extravagance, and perhaps live to be ashamed of him.

TO LISTEN TO STARS AND BIRDS, BABES AND SAGES, WITH OPEN HEART.

This means to enjoy the noblest gifts that God has given to man. He is happy who takes more pleasure in a beautiful sunset than in the sight of a flunky with powdered hair, artificial calves and lofty manners, handing him something indigestible on a plate of gold.

TO STUDY HARD; TO THINK QUIETLY, ACT FRANKLY, TALK GENTLY.

To exercise in this way the brain that is given to us is to lead the life of a MAN, a life of self-control, a life that is worth while, that leads to something and helps forward the improvement of the race.

In the words which we have quoted at the top of this column William Henry Channing has given a recipe for wise living. ----

WHO WAS CHANNING?

He was a good man, and a wise man. He was one of the most eloquent clergymen ever born in this country, and as sincere a friend of individual man and of the race in general as ever lived.

He was an enthusiast and an optimist--admirable combination.

He was born in 1810, and died in 1884. His biography has been written by Octavius B. Frothingham.

Channing saw the world through generous, charitable eyes.

He was an ardent admirer of Charles Fourier, and appreciated the philosophy and social law-giving of that gigantic intellect.

The quotation we print above is an index to his whole character, just as one flower tells the story of the beautiful garden in which it grew.

Channing, unlike many sayers of fine things, was personally as fine as the things he said. He was worthy even of his own best thoughts, and that can be said for few fine thinkers.

Admire him. Read some of his sermons and other writings if you have the chance.


Source: "William Henry Channing's Symphony" by Arthur Brisbane (an editorial from the Hearst Newspapers, ca. 1920)

 


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