Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

The present progressive state of civilization in the christian world will probably be admitted by correct observers as an unquestionable truth. There is, I know, a party in Europe, which maintains precisely the contrary assertion, which continually affirms that society is on the eve of dissolution, and Europe about to plunge again into a bottomless gulf of general barbarism and anarchy. But this difference of opinion, like most others, will be found, upon examination, to be wholly verbal. The party that hold these ideas mean, by society, the antiquated forms and establishments, which have come down from former ages, have already been greatly modified in most parts of Europe, and are disappearing very fast in all. That society, taking the word in this sense, is on the brink of dissolution, is so far from being inconsistent with the supposition of the progress of civilization, that, in the opinion of those who believe in this progress, it is one of the proofs and necessary consequences of its reality. And while the party in question express their apprehensions of the approach of barbarism and anarchy, they only intimate, in different language, the probability of the same events, which are denominated by others the removal of political abuses and the introduction of improved forms of government. There is, therefore, in reality, no contrariety of opinion in regard to facts; but only an opposition of feeling respecting the character of the same supposed facts, according as their operation upon the interest of different persons or parties is favourable or unfavourable.

In fact, the present progressive state of civilization is so far from being doubtful, that the most superficial view of the actual condition of the christian world must satisfy an observer, that it is now in the midst of a most remarkable crisis of social development, somewhat analogous to that, which occurs in the human body at the period of life, when it passes from infancy to manhood. The commencement of this crisis may be dated from the revival of intellectual activity in Europe three or four centuries ago, and the discovery of the passage by sea to the East Indies and of our western world, which were among the first consequences of this revival, and which, in their turn, tended materially to assist and promote it. Since that time there have been a continual and constantly increasing action and reaction of these two powerful causes. The increasing movement of intellect in every direction, that held out a prospect of advantage, led to the immediate exploration and settlement of the new found countries; and this system of colonization, as it acquired consistency and extension, afforded in its turn a strong encouragement to the progress of industry at home. New settlements are necessarily agricultural, and their first and most lucrative commerce is to exchange their superfluous produce for the manufactures of older countries. It is in a great measure to the effect of this action and reaction, that we must attribute the remarkable progress of industry, wealth, and

, knowledge in every part of Europe, during the period in question ; and we find accordingly, that the countries, which have shewn the greatest activity in the system of colonization, are also those, which had shared most largely in this prosperity, as Holland, France, and especially England. Spain and Portugal, it is true, did not derive the same advantages from their vast colonial empire, in consequence of excessive misgovernment at home. The demand from the Spanish colonies for European articles stimulated the industry of every country in Europe, Spain only excepted, which served as a channel to convey the products of the rest of Europe to America, and the treasures of Peru and Mexico to the rest of Europe.

If, however, in general, the advance of civilization in Europe has been owing in a great measure to the effects of the system of colonization, we may conclude with assurance, that as long as colonization continues to extend itself, the civilization of Europe and the christian world will also continue in a proportionally progressive state.

Now it is obvious enough, that colonization, instead of being stationary or in the decline, has been extending itself within the last fifty years more rapidly than at any preceding period, and is at this present moment far more active than it ever was before. Since the first discovery of the passage to India and the new world, and the consequences that immediately followed, no incident had occurred in the progress of colonization, so important as the emancipation of the United States of America ; and the reaction of this glorious event upon the prosperity of Europe has been favourable, in proportion to its importance. England, the country that resisted it so obstinately, and consented to it at last with such reluctance, has realized, in the emancipation of her colonies, the mines of wealth, for which the first settlers explored them in vain. At the present moment, another attempt, parallel in character, but of still more imposing magnitude, is rapidly approaching to a successful termination ; and the vast regions of Spanish and Portuguese America must inevitably, in the course of a short period, present the spectacle of eight or ten new-born nations, ready to enter upon a rapid march of prosperity, under the auspices of independence. The reaction of this

1

prodigious consummation, upon the prosperity and civilization of Europe and America, will be still greater than that of our emancipation, in consequence of the superior amount of population and extent of territory affected by it. In the mean time, colonization, though not advancing by such convulsive bounds, as in America, is far from being inactive in Asia and Africa. The British empire in India is extending itself every day, by fair means and foul, over countries before unknown to Europe, even by name; and has lately pushed its advanced posts

; up to China on one side, and to Persia on the other. The ambition, which leads to this extension, and the cruelty, which is too often employed to effect it, however fit subjects in themselves for reprobation and abhorrence, are instruments in the hands of Providence for imparting to these countries a higher degree of civilization and a better condition of society, than they now enjoy. The European settlements at the Cape of Good Hope, and on the western coast of Africa, are continually advancing into the interior of that continent. Meanwhile, another train of operations, different in its character and immediate objects, but leading essentially to the same results, has also assumed of late an extraordinary activity and development, I mean the effort to propagate the christian religion by means of

« PredošláPokračovať »