Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

which the superstitious writers of the Middle Ages are said to have derived from Tartarus; their fears suggesting an origin so formidable. Other races, like the Malays, rise to a certain point in semi-civilization, then pause, and then decline, as if the limited capacity of the race for elevation were exhausted. In still other races the tendency to rise has been so weak, that the contact and example of civilized races have produced first despair, next debasement, then extinction. Some of the American tribes are instances of this kind; Eliot's Bible, which no one now can read, testifies of an extinct tribe and a lost language. We therefore state our conclusion thus, that civilization is the product of the best races in the best circumstances. As in every acorn there lives a possible oak, a tendency to expand into the monarch of the forest, though only a few acorns, comparatively, grow into actual oaks, so in human nature there is everywhere a tendency upward, yet only here and there, where all things in man and around him are favorable, does he germinate and bloom into civilization.

A different class of writers, fixing their attention too exclusively on the stationary and retrograde races, limited also by the requirements of their theology, have concluded that the tendency of man is not upward, but downward, to degradation and ruin. To account for civilization these writers bring in miraculous and supernatural agencies, and introduce logical methods which strike at the root of all science. Their logic would prove, that because ninety-nine acorns out of a hundred decay and perish, therefore the tendency of acorns is downward and oaks are supernatural.*

* One of the best writers of this school, Dr. Bushnell, in his “Nature and the Supernatural," makes his definition of the supernatural so broad as to include in it man, and all his voluntary doings, consequently, as we suppose, all civilization. Nothing is gained to his argument by this peculiar use of language, though in the confusion thus occasioned there may sometimes be a seeming help to his theory. He says, “All God's works, even such as are most distinctly supernatural, are determined by fixed laws.” (p. 270.) From this, taken in conjunction with facts of history and observation universally admitted, it follows that there is a tendency of some sort (call it natural or supernatural), according to fixed laws, upward ; and so disputes about human development and regeneration become in a great measure verbal, or rather they tend toward ultimate harmony. He also says, “Pantheism has a great truth, and is even wanted as a balance of rectification to the common error which places God afar off, outside of his works.” (p. 30.) True; yet one of the faults of the book is precisely this, that it labors frequently (not always) to place God outside of his works, to unspiritualize Nature, to make it “a machine compounded of wheels," "a realm played upon by forces of mischief,” — thus robbing the material universe of its charm, a pervading Deity. Sometimes, and particularly in the last chapter but one, he sinks into conclusions — the natural fruit of all such theories — which seem to have been rather startling even to himself, for he frankly declares, “I do not seem to be as positive and full in the faith on this subject as I ought to be." (p. 491.) Notwithstanding these defects, the considerate reader will be thankful for this remarkable volume. Its very errors will be a serviceable passport to introduce its truths to a wide circle of minds that would reject the truths if they came alone. We say this by the way, in anticipation of yet more complete review of it.

If we seem to be approaching Asiatic civilization slowly, it should be remembered that the subject is a broad one, leading us necessarily over almost the whole field of human development, though we aim to be as general and brief as consists with definite thought. Our attention will soon be directed chiefly to the civilizations of the Chinese, the Hindus, and the Mohammedans; the other civilizations of Asia - Assyrian, Persian, Phænician, Hebrew — having directed their currents, in great measure, westward, to swell that vast stream of human improvement which it is our privilege to call our own, under the designation of European civilization. To this last, in its various steps of progress and change, it will be necessary to refer, from time to time, as a standard of measurement. For in order clearly to understand either of the four great civilizations which now fill the world, we need to understand all, — sufficiently, at least, to be able to compare them together and measure them by each other; and not only so, but we should understand the civilizations that have passed away. It will be seen that we are using the term civilization, without attempting a definition, in its broad and popular sense, as including every form of improvement, individual or social, physical or intellectual, religious or scientific.

We encounter a serious difficulty in the want of a definite standard by which to measure and appreciate other and very different races and civilizations. The traveller, or merchant, or missionary, who carries with him only his European or American scale to apply to Asiatics, gives us a report as incorrect as it is honest. Everything he sees is distorted by his point of view, even if not by his prejudices also. And when we come to read the report, we add our own prejudices and ignorances to distort the view still more. At the best, and when on the spot as travellers to see with our own eyes, we are beset with obstacles to clear vision. Our position is like that of the rich man's son, when attempting to compare his own attainments and dignity with those of the toiling multitudes around him; his palace, his pictures, his horses, his whims, his fastidiousness, blind him, so that he cannot see the dignity and wisdom, and even refinement, that are living in the poorest streets and on the coarsest fare. Many a traveller, looking on the poverty of the Hindus and Arabs, their simple habits, their cheap and often scanty covering, turns away, sad or sneering, according as his way may be, and asks if civilization can do without forks and stockings, and even go barefoot; forgetting that Socrates, the grand old Greek, went barefoot, and in a climate requiring shoes and stockings much more than Southern Asia. As to forks, it is only a few centuries since the Italians invented them; Dante, Cicero, Pericles, even Alcibiades, cynosure of delicate eyes, having eaten with their fingers: forks had not reached England when Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, and were only beginning to come in when Bacon published the Great Instauration ; so that high intellectual development and refined fingers had a fair start together. It was then or a little earlier that our Europeanism fairly began. Before, we were, like the Asiatics, civilized, but not yet enlightened. As one of the best ways of curing the rich young man of his conceit is to direct his attention backward to his honored father and grandfather, whose toil and penury accumulated the advantages he misunderstands, so it is a good way to cure ourselves of our European conceit, to go back to the fifteenth century, when Europe had scarcely reached the highest Asiatic standard, and then still further back, to the tenth century, when Europe was so decidedly below Asia. So low indeed had Europe then sunk, that it is a wonder how we ever came up out of so great barbarism and superstition. Of Asiatics it should be remembered that they have never known any great retrograde movement like our “ Dark Ages"; the Chinese and Hindus once civilized having always remained civilized. We are too forgetful of our own history, our haltings and backslidings. A little looking back upon our course, so marked by barbarisms, delusions, cruelties, inquisitions, slavery, ought to shame us out of the folly of despising Asiatics because we happen for the present to have outmarched them. Only a hundred years ago, Scotland, one of the glories of our modern world, “was a poor and haggard country”; “ without roads”; wheat almost unknown; “ manure, when used, carried to the field on the back of the crofter's wife"; one coach only to London, starting once a month, “and the journey occupying from fifteen to eighteen days”; Sir Walter Scott knowing “a man who remembered the London post-bag, which contained the letters of all England to all Scotland, arriving in Edinburgh with only one letter."* If the progress of Scotland in a hundred years has been prodigious, Asiatic history has at least one passage that is more than a match for it. In the seventh century, unlettered Arabs, half unconsciously, formed the plan of launching upon the world a manlier religion than that mixture of Judaism and Paganism which then was struggling doubtfully, almost hopelessly, under the name of Christianity, but with too little as yet of the spirit of Christ to rescue and reconstruct the wrecked and sinking fragments of the old civilizations. In seventy years they achieved, though with sublime one-sidedness, their great work,- greater than anything done by Alexander or Cæsar or Napoleon, - and then went on to build up a civilization almost rivalling that of the Greeks. For five hundred years they took their turn of being the foremost people of the world. They were the teachers of Europe when we most needed instruction. They stimulated us by their antagonism, as well as by their example. Wise helpers in peace, high-minded enemies in war, they fought and taught us till they made men of us. They

The more intense and decided advocates of the downward theory paint a most repulsive picture of human tendency and destiny. Their very light is darkness. Even what they call Christianity is an eclipse; and civilization is the penumbra of mitigated gloom, surrounding their circle of deeper darkness, escape out of their sanctuary into what they call the world being relief. Such a system has one advantage, - all changes are for the better.

* London Quarterly Review for October, 1858, Art. IV. p. 231.

relumed our lamp when it was going utterly out. We went to that strange school, the Crusades, superstitious and fanatical, and came back wiser and calmer, with heroism not extinguished, but rationalized and ennobled. We owe them a debt which most of our historians (Sismondi is an exception*) are slow to acknowledge.

Perhaps the best common ground to start from in our comparisons of Asia with Europe, is that of the fourteenth century, when Europeans, Arabians, Persians, Hindus, and Chinese were all at nearly the same stage of advancement. And to get a tolerably clear idea of the common people of the fourteenth century, we have but to consider that the common people of Naples and of modern Greece will represent them sufficiently well. The Neapolitans and Greeks are abundantly provided with that duplicity toward superiors and toward foreigners, which is so annoying to Europeans in Asia, particularly to honest and truth-telling Englishmen, who in their impatience and disgust, not to say proud insularity, overlook the fact that lying and cheating are the developments of certain stages of immature and arrested civilization, and a compensating protection against the insolence and blundering injustice we are so apt to mete out to inferiors. Besides, we see but one side, and the worst side, of Greeks, Hindoos, and Chinese, and can find the same or similar vices elsewhere, in past and present, by a little searching and a good deal of candor. In all countries and ages, the educated and rich, while overrating the knowledge and goodness of their country and their church, are too ready to underrate the virtue and capacity of the poor and ignorant, when of another race, or another language, or another religion, or another color. A portion of the present peasantry of even France, England, and Germany, differ but little from the same class as they were four or five hundred years ago. The French habitans of Canada are a similar specimen, nearer to us and well deserving our study, which, if unprejudiced, will bring to light, in the midst of great ignorance and superstition, virtues and capabilities we little suspected. Our knowledge of the small intellectual class in Asia and Europe in past times, and in

* Also Heeren.

« ElőzőTovább »