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CHANSON DE GESTE

that they express. The first open defence of Unitarians was not based on doctrinal differences but on the peculiar nature of the attack on them made in June 1815 by the conservatives in the columns of The Panoplist, where it was stated that Unitarians were “operating only in secret, . . . guilty of hypocritical concealment of their sentiments.” His chief objection to the doctrine of the Trinity (as stated in his sermon at the ordination of the Rev. Jared Sparks) was that it was no longer used philosophically, as showing God’s relation to the triple nature of man, but that it had lapsed into mere Tritheism. To the name “Unitarian” Channing objected strongly, thinking “unity” as abstract a word as “trinity” and as little expressing the close fatherly relation of God to man. It is to be noted that he strongly objected to the growth of “Unitarian orthodoxy” and its increasing narrowness. His views as to the divinity of Jesus were based on phrases in the Gospels which to his mind established Christ’s admission of inferiority to God the Father,—for example, “Knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father”; at the same time he regarded Christ as “the sinless and spotless son of God, distinguished from all men by that infinite peculiarity—freedom from moral evil.” He believed in the pre-existence of Jesus, and that it differed from the pre-existence of other souls in that Jesus was actually conscious of such pre-existence, and he reckoned him one with God the Father in the sense of spiritual union (and not metaphysical mystery) in the same way that Jesus bade his disciples “Be ye one, even as I am one.” Bunsen called him “the prophet in the United States for the presence of God in mankind.” Channing believed in historic Christianity and in the story of the resurrection, “a fact which comes to me with a certainty I find in few ancient histories.” He also believed in the miracles of the Gospels, but held that the Scriptures were not inspired, but merely records of inspiration, and so saw the possibility of error in the construction put upon miracles by the ignorant disciples. But in only a few instances did he refuse full credence of the plain gospel narrative of miracles. He held, however, that the miracles were facts and not “evidences” of Christianity, and he considered that belief in them followed and did not lead up to belief in Christianity. His character was absolutely averse from controversy of any sort, and in controversies into which he was forced he was free from any theological odium and continually displayed the greatest breadth and catholicity of view. The differences in New England churches he considered were largely verbal, and he said that “would Trinitarians tell us what they mean, their system would generally be found little else than a mystical form of the Unitarian doctrine.”

His opposition to Calvinism was so great that even in 1812 he declared “existence a curse” if Calvinism be true. Possibly his boldest and most elaborate defence of Unitarianism was his sermon on Unitarianism most favourable to Piety, preached in 1826, criticizing as it did the doctrine of atonement by the sacrifice of an “infinite substitute”; and the Election Sermon of 1830 was his greatest plea for spiritual and intellectual freedom.

Channing’s reputation as an author was probably based largely on his publication in The Christian Examiner of Remarks on the Character and Writings of John Milton (1826), Remarks on the Life and Character of Napoleon Bonaparte (1827–1828), and an Essay on the Character and Writings of Fénelon (1829). An Essay on Self-Culture (1838) was an address introducing the Franklin Lectures delivered in Boston September 1838. Channing was an intimate friend of Horace Mann, and his views on the education of children are stated, by no less an authority than Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, to have anticipated those of Froebel. His Complete Works have appeared in various editions (5 vols., Boston, 1841; 2 vols., London, 1865; 1 vol., New York, 1875).

Among members of his family may be mentioned his two nephews William Henry (1810–1884), son of his brother Francis Dana, and William Ellery, commonly known as Ellery (1818–1901), son of his brother Walter, a Boston physician (1786–1876). The former, whose daughter married Sir Edwin Arnold, the English poet, became a Unitarian pastor, for some time in America, and also in England, where he died; he was deeply interested in Christian Socialism, and was a constant writer, translating Jouffroy’s Ethics (1840), and assisting in editing the Memoirs of Margaret Fuller (1852); and he wrote the biography of his uncle (see O. B. Frothingham’s Memoir, 1886). Ellery Channing married Margaret Fuller’s sister (1842), and besides critical essays and poems published an intimate sketch of Thoreau in 1873.

See the Memoir by William Henry Channing (3 vols., London, 1848; republished in one volume, New York, 1880); Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Reminiscences of the Rev. William Ellery Channing, D.D. (Boston, 1880), intimate but inexact; John White Chadwick, William Ellery Channing, Minister of Religion (Boston, 1903); and William M. Salter, “Channing as a Social Reformer” (Unitarian Review, March 1888).  (R. We.) 


CHANSONS DE GESTE, the name given to the epic chronicles which take so prominent a place in the literature of France from the 11th to the 15th century. Gaston Paris defined a chanson de geste as a song the subject of which is a series of historical facts or gesta. These facts form the centre around which are grouped sets of poems, called cycles, and hence the two terms have in modern criticism become synonymous for the epic family to which the hero of the particular group or cycle belongs. The earliest chansons de geste were founded on the fusion of the Teutonic spirit, under a Roman form, into the new Christian and French civilization. It seems probable that as early as the 9th century epic poems began to be chanted by the itinerant minstrels who are known as jongleurs. It is conjectured that in a base Latin fragment of the 10th century we possess a translation of a poem on the siege of Girona. Gaston Paris dates from this lost epic the open expression of what he calls “the epic fermentation” of France. But the earliest existing chanson de geste is also by far the noblest and most famous, the Chanson de Roland; the conjectural date of the composition of this poem has been placed between the years 1066 and 1095. That the author, as has been supposed, was one of the conquerors of England, it is perhaps rash to assert, but undoubtedly the poem was composed before the First Crusade, and the writer lived at or near the sanctuary of Mont Saint-Michel. The Chanson de Roland stands at the head of modern French literature, and its solidity and grandeur give a dignity to the whole class of poetry of which it is the earliest and by far the noblest example. But it is in the crowd of looser and later poems, less fully characterized, less steeped in the individuality of their authors, that we can best study the form of the typical chanson de geste. These epics sprang from the soil of France; they were national and historical; their anonymous writers composed them spontaneously, to a common model, with little regard to the artificial niceties of style. The earlier examples, which succeed the Roland, are unlike that great work in having no plan, no system of composition. They are improvisations which wander on at their own pace, whither accident may carry them. This mass of medieval literature is monotonous, primitive and superficial. As Léon Gautier has said, in the rudimentary psychology of the chansons de geste, man is either entirely good or entirely bad. There are no fine shades, no observation of character. The language in which these poems are composed is extremely simple, without elaboration, without ornament. Everything is sacrificed to the telling of a story by a narrator of little skill, who helps himself along by means of a picturesque, but almost childish fancy, and a primitive sentiment of rhythm. Two great merits, however, all the best of these poems possess, force and lucidity; and they celebrate, what they did much to create, that unselfish elevation of temper which we call the spirit of chivalry.

Perhaps the most important cycle of chansons de geste was that which was collected around the name of Charlemagne, and was known as the Geste du roi. A group of this cycle dealt with the history of the mother of the emperor, and with Charlemagne himself down to the coming of Roland. To this group belong Bertha Greatfoot and Aspremont, both of the 12th century, and a variety of chansons dealing with the childhood of Charlemagne and of Ogier the Dane. A second group deals with the struggle