« ZurückWeiter »
rence of paganism, protesting that they thought it a most melancholy thing to see millions of the human race ignorant of the true God, and a hideous thing to see them prostrating themselves before idols, and practising, as a religion, many ridiculous and cruel and abominable rites; and that therefore they entertained, and should ever entertain, an earnest wish that this horrid mass of combined delusion and depravity could be immediately annihilated. And then, after duly avowing these proper sentiments, they might have proceeded to say, that, notwithstanding such a view of heathenism, they must take leave to think that it is no business of ours to attempt the rescue of any of our foreign subjects from such a condition; that in the East we ought to keep strictly to our vocation of conquest and commerce; that any attempt to introduce the true religion, though by persuasion alone, might possibly irritate the pagans, and render them less submissive subjects; and that religious considerations are, systematically, to be sacrificed to political
Now this we should call irreligion. We should hold it a virtual renunciation of Christianity to maintain, that any interest can be involved in our connexion with foreign subjects, for the sake of which it can be lawful to repel from them the proselyting approaches of that religion; and a virtual renunciation of faith in a Supreme Governor to believe, that a sincere and peaceful endeavour to promote his cause can ever, while his superintendence continues in the creation, be found contrary to sound policy. But the persons who obtained a momentary notoriety in the late controversy, were not content with any such irreligion as this. It should be distinctly recorded, as it may possibly be a fact worth knowing long after their pamphlets and names have perished, that they have not only represented that the effort to supplant paganism by peaceful Christian instruction may be politically mischievous, and insisted that to political considerations all others are without hesitation to be sacrificed, but shown an explicit partiality to the paganism itself. In speaking of its fables, institutions, and ministers, they have carefully employed a language not only of forbearance of “abuse,” as they call it, but of marked veneration; and they have been violently angry that the friends of Christianity should assume the truth of that religion in terms, implying that all other religions are therefore necessarily false. They have been quite furious when the zealous Christians in the East have applied, and have been justified by their friends at home in applying, to superstitious notions and idolatrous rites, the identical language applied to them in the Bible, or language of identical import. Every expression of hatred to the whole, or the particular parts, of the Indian pantheon and its rituals,-a kind of expression in which the Christians had imagined they might innocently and consistently indulge, —was received by their opponents as an affront to a respected friend, which they were bound to resent for him, and which they would have been glad to be able also to punish. If they have now and then made some pretension of faith in the Christian religion, it is so much the worse thus to have added hypocrisy to impiety; and it was also extremely foolish, for whom was it intended to delude into good opinion or co-operation ? No other persons in the nation, assuredly, besides these gentlemen, would have thought it worth one paragraph or sentence of simulation to gain the good opinion of those whose understandings could give credit to professions of attachment to Christianity ridiculously speckling a general language of defensive respect for idolatry. As no credit can be sincerely given to such professions, we disapprove of any of the advocates of religion pretending, for the sake of politeness, to give it. Let men be plainly taken for what the general tenor of their performances evinces them to be; and let the fact go down formally recorded to posterity, that, at the beginning of this century, a set of men in this country, some of whose names were avowed, and others more prudently concealed, obtruded on the public, in a large quantity of transitory writing, a systematically supported exhibition of respect for the vilest paganism, and of abusive anger in its defence. It will not be true, if it should be said they inade this exhibition only in necessary enforcement of their argument of the impolicy and danger of irritating the minds of our pagan subjects. They might, as we have said, have urged that argument to its utmost length, without one word of favour to the heathen superstitions ; and, therefore, the favour and defensive partiality shown to those superstitions was the willing and gratuitous tribute of depraved feeling. This direct homage to paganism itself, abstractedly from all consideration of policy in our management of pagans, appears to us the distinguishing circumstance, on account of which, chiefly, the recent paroxysm of enmity to religion merits a more marked record than those ordinary manifestations of it, in which it is perfectly common to misrepresent religion and true policy as incompatible, and insist that the former must be sacrificed.
This paroxysm being probably not apprehended at the time Mr. Pearson wrote, his work is addressed to the nation in a manner which seems to presume a general assent, or at least a prompt docility, to his reasonings. He charges the nation, indeed, with very criminal neglect; but appears confident it can only need to have its obligations plainly set before it ; little expecting that he was to be personally accused of impertinence in presuming to remind the nation and government of this branch of their duty, and of absurd fanaticism in entertaining such a notion of that duty. It is natural for a work thus written in anticipation of general accordance, to expatiate in benevolent sentiment, to be in a mild and amicable language, and to display sometimes the exultation which the Christian philanthropist feels at the view of vast prospects of human amelioration, which he trusts are just about to be realized. In addition to this, our author is a sound reasoner, a perspicuous writer, and a man of extensive knowledge.
The first part of the work is “ a brief historic view of the gospel, in different nations, since its first promulgation,” to the present times, occupying nearly seventy pages. Prefixed to this is an ingenious chart, in which the various nations of the earth are represented by distinct, parallel, horizontal spaces, divided perpendicularly by lines at equal distances to mark the centuries. A dark colour spread over any of the spaces expresses paganism, and gives place to yellow, the expression of Christianity, or red, of Mahometanism, at the periods, and in the complete or partial reception, in which those religions began, and may have continued to exist, in any of the countries. It is a pleasing and useful contrivance; and has only the defect, which the author himself regrets, of not being able to measure the whole relative proportion of extent in which the respective systems prevail, as the horizontal spaces, being all equal, do not express the smaller and greater population of the several countries. The Brief Historic View is written with animation, and with a clearness of order which required much dexterity, amidst such a multiplicity of facts, and so rapid a narration. A few slight errors will detract but little from its general merit.
Such mistakes are very insignificant, and were, no doubt, owing to the haste in which the author was under the necessity of composing his work. They make but a trifling deduction from the merit which this useful epitome derives from the combination of labour and skill. It is one part of that merit, that the brevity prescribed to the narration as a whole, is proportionably maintained in the parts, no favourite periods or events being so dilated as to reduce other large portions of the historical series to a mere catalogue of names.
Transitions very abrupt, and to very great distances, are inevitable; and in adjusting the order of narrating disconnected facts, it will not be easy to preserve, better than in this performance, those imperfect relations which may prevent an absolute confusion, even in the most dispersed narration, by still suggesting at each step, the one fact, which, rather than any other one of a multitude that are all to be noticed in their places, should immediately follow the one last recorded. No reader will expect that in such a brief review there can be room for the discussion of historical difficulties, or for making many reflections. Taken, as it is intended, for an outline of the history of Christianity, it may be very useful, both to those who have read much, and those who have read but little, of that history. On the sum of the account the author concludes by observing,
“ That the civilization of the world has kept pace with the progress of our divine religion ; that Christian nations have in every age considered it to be their duty to propagate it in unenlightened regions; that success has, for the most part, attended their endeavours, when the proper means has been taken to secure it; and that the consequences of their exertions, in proportion as they have been successful, have been uniformly beneficial to themselves, and productive of the most important blessings to the favoured objects of their benevolence."--p. 67.
The first part of the Dissertation is on the “probable design of the Divine Providence in subjecting so large
portion of Asia to the British dominion.” It begins with some instructive observations on that grand principle in the divine government of the world, by which the prevailing tenor of its dispensations is asserted to be directed to the promotion of true religion among mankind, with its infallibly attendant morals and civilization. Some of the most memorable practical illustrations of this principle recounted in a pleasing manner; followed however by the admission, that the development of this fundamental law of the divine government has been hitherto so partial, as to leave a most awful mystery still darkening the moral economy. The gloom of this mystery appears to us, on a view of the past and present state of the moral world, still greater than our author's reflections on the subject would seem to allow; so great, as very much to repress the exultation with which it is desirable to contemplate such indications as he has specified of the existence of the grand principle in question. He now approaches his subject by referring to the time, about a century since, when the first commercial grant was made to the British merchants trading to India, by a monarch of the country, and then stating the present extent of our empire there. Such an acquisition, made in so short a time, and in defiance of a powerful European competitor, he deems so extraordinary, as to