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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Life Hereafter

By William Ellery Channing (1780–1842)

[Letter to Miss Olney. 1829.—From Memoir of W. E. Channing. By W. H. Channing. 1848.]

THE IDEA of death as separating us from the outward universe, and shutting us up in our own minds, seems to me quite the reverse of the truth. Revelation speaks very distinctly of another organization which we are to receive hereafter, and which I consider as a means of communication with all God’s works. This doctrine seems to me very rational. There is a progression in every part of nature, and to suppose the mind to emerge from its present connection with gross matter to a purely spiritual existence is to imagine a violent transition, quite irreconcilable with this great principle. Death is not to separate the mind from matter, but, in the case of the virtuous, is to raise it from its present subjection to matter to a glorious triumph over it. I confess, I cannot think without depression of breaking all my ties to the material universe. When I think of its infinite extent, of the countless worlds which astronomy discloses to me, I feel that material nature, including all the beings connected with it, must offer infinite food for the mind, unbounded and inexhaustible discoveries of God. Then I find, that, just as fast as my mind unfolds, my delight in the universe increases; new correspondences are revealed between the inward and the outward world; a diviner light beams from the creation; a more thrilling voice comes from it. I cannot endure the thought of being severed from this harmonious and glorious universe. I expect death to multiply my connections with it, and to enlarge my knowledge of and power over it.

Your friend would limit us to purely moral pleasures after death. Why so? One of the great excellences of moral good is, that it aids us to enjoy all other good. The most perfect man is not he who confines himself to purely moral gratifications, but he who has a moral energy through which all things are received and enjoyed by him in a wise order and in just proportions. Other gratifications, thus controlled, become moral. In another world, our pleasures are to be diversified and multiplied. The outward creation—if on such a subject I may be allowed to speculate—will minister an increasing variety of exquisite sensations, of which sight and hearing are but types.