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Essays: English and American. rn The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

William Ellery Channing

On the Elevation of the Laboring Classes: Introductory Remarks

THE FOLLOWING lectures were prepared for two meetings of mechanics, one of them consisting of apprentices, the other of adults. For want of strength they were delivered only to the former, though, in preparing them, I had kept the latter also in view. “The Mechanic Apprentices’ Library Association,” at whose request the lectures are published, is an institution of much promise, not only furnishing a considerable means of intellectual improvement, but increasing the self-respect and conducing to the moral safety of the members.

When I entered on this task, I thought of preparing only one lecture of the usual length. But I soon found that I could not do justice to my views in so narrow a compass. I therefore determined to write at large, and to communicate through the press the results of my labor, if they should be thought worthy of publication. With this purpose, I introduced topics which I did not deliver, and which I thought might be usefully presented to some who might not hear me. I make this statement to prevent the objection, that the lectures are not, in all things, adapted to those to whom they were delivered. Whilst written chiefly for a class, they were also intended for the community.

As the same general subject is discussed in these lectures as in the “Lecture on Self-Culture,” published last winter, there will, of course, be found in them that coincidence of thoughts which always takes place in the writings of a man who has the inculcation of certain great principles much at heart. Still, the point of view, the mode of discussion, and the choice of topics, differ much in the two productions; so that my state of mind would be given very imperfectly were the present lectures withheld.

This is, probably, the last opportunity I shall have for communicating with the laboring classes through the press. I may, therefore, be allowed to express my earnest wishes for their happiness, and my strong hope that they will justify the confidence of their friends, and will prove by their example the possibility of joining with labor all the improvements which do honor to our nature.—W. E. C., Boston, February 11, 1840.