a digital library of Unitarian Universalist biographies, history, books, and media
the digital library of Unitarian Universalism
Home » BIOGRAPHIES--NEW » Channing, William Ellery II (1818-1901)

Channing, William Ellery II (1818-1901)

Harvard Square Library exists solely on the basis of donations.  If you have benefitted from any of our materials, and/or if making Unitarian Universalist intellectual heritage materials widely available and free is a value to you, please donate whatever you can–every little bit helps: Donate 

William Ellery Channing II
William Ellery Channing II

Biographical Introduction

The transcendentalist poet was born in Boston, the son of Dr. Walter Channing of Harvard Medical School and nephew and namesake of the Unitarian minister. He attended Boston Latin School and the Round Hill School in Northampton before entering Harvard College in 1834 and leaving without giving notice when he decided his vocation was to be a poet.

In 1841 Channing married Ellen Fuller, the attractive younger sister of Margaret Fuller, and they lived in Concord. Emerson introduced Channing to Hawthorne and Thoreau. He also published various of his poems in The Dial. James Russell Lowell and Edgar Allen Poe both publicly scorned Channing’s early poems. Even his new intimate friend and frequent walking companion, Thoreau, called Channing’s style “sublimo-slipshod.” Nevertheless, Thoreau took Channing’s advice to “build yourself a hut.” In fact, Channing helped build the hut at Walden Pond.

The transcendental poet, however, was less helpful to his family-five children born between 1844 and 1856. Their mother died of tuberculosis. He did write for The Herald in New York City before he traveled briefly to Europe. Later in Concord he resided with a housemate, Frank Sanborn. When Channing’s twenty-year friendship ended with Thoreau’s death by tuberculosis, he honored his walking companion by helping Thoreau’s sister edit Maine Woods and Cape Cod. Moreover, he wrote the first biography: Thoreau: the Poet-Naturalist.

Other publications by Channing included Poems, Second Series (1847), The Woodsman (1849), Near Home (1858), The Wanderer (1871), Eliot (1885), and John Brown and the Heroes of Harper’s Ferry (1886).

The Poetry of William Ellery Channing II

                                       Silent and serene,
The plastic soul emancipates her kind.
She leaves the generations to their fate,
Uncompromised by grief. She cannot weep:
She sheds no tears for us. -our mother, Nature!
She is ne’er rude nor vexed, not rough or careless;
Out of temper ne’er, patient as sweet, though winds
In winter brush her leaves away, and time
To human senses breathes through frost.
My friend !
Learn, from the joy of Nature, thus to be
Not only all resigned to thy worst fears,
But, like herself, superior to them all,
Nor merely superficial in thy smiles!
And through the inmost fibres of thy heart
May goodness constant flow, and fix in that
The ever-lapsing tides, that lesser depths
Deprive of half their salience. Be, throughout,
True as the inmost 1ife that moves the world,
And in demeanor show a firm content,
Annihilating change.
Thus Henry lived,
Considerate to his kind. His love bestowed
Was not a gift in fractions, half-way done;
But with some mellow goodness, like a sun,
He shone o’er mortal hearts, and taught their buds
To blossom early, thence ripe fruit and seed.
Forbearing too much counsel, yet with blows
By pleasing reason urged, he touched their thought
As with a mild surprise, and they were good,
Even if they knew not whence that motive came;
Nor yet suspected that from Henry’s heart-
His warm, confiding heart-the impulse flowed.

Hear’st thou the sobbing breeze complain
How faint the sunbeams light the shore ?-
Thy heart, more fixed than earth or main,
Henry ! thy faithful heart is o’er.

Oh, weep not thou thus vast a soul,
Oh, do not mourn this lordly man,
As long as Walden’s waters roll,
And Concord river fills a span.

For thoughtful minds in Henry’s page
Large welcome find, and bless his verse,
Drawn from the poet’s heritage,
From wells of right and nature’s source.

Fountains of hope and faith ! inspire
Most stricken hearts to lift this cross;
His perfect trust shall keep the fire,
His glorious peace disarm the loss!

It is not far beyond the Village church,
After we pass the wood that skirts the road,
A Lake,-the blue-eyed Walden, that doth smile
Most tenderly upon its neighbor Pines,
And they as if to recompense this love,
In double beauty spread their branches forth.
This Lake had tranquil loveliness and breadth,
And of late years has added to its charms,
For one attracted to its pleasant edge,
Has built himself a little Hermitage,
Where with much piety he passes life.

More fitting place I cannot fancy now,
For such a man to let the line run off
The mortal reel, such patience hath the lake,
Such gratitude and cheer is in the Pines.
But more than either lake or forest’s depths,
This man has in himself; a tranquil man,
With sunny sides where well the fruit is ripe,
Good front, and resolute bearing to this life,
And some serener virtues, which control
This rich exterior prudence, virtues high,
That in the principles of Things are set,
Great by their nature and consigned to him,
Who, like a faithful Merchant, does account
To God for what he spends, and in what way.
Thrice happy art thou, Walden! in thyself,
Such purity is in thy limpid springs;
In those green shores which do reflect in thee,
And in this man who dwells upon thy edge,
A holy man within a Hermitage.
May all good showers fall gently into thee,
May thy surrounding forests long be spared,
And may the Dweller on thy tranquil shores,
There lead a life of deep tranquility
Pure as thy Waters, handsome as thy Shores
And with those virtues which are like the Stars.