« PreviousContinue »
BY THE AUTHOR OF CHIVALRY AND THE CRUSADES.'
CIVILIZATION is to Society, or to masses of men, what Education is to the individual. The History of Civilization is no other than the history of God's providence over our race. A brief consideration of some of the processes and instruments ordained by that Providence for developing the various capacities of the human soul, may be perhaps both useful and interesting.
And, in pursuance of our theme, we may note first, the singular fact, that the original impulse to the Civilization of any given Community comes ever from abroad. History furnishes, to our knowledge, no authenticated instance of a Society within whose own bosom sprung up the incentive and the system of means, whereby it was borne onward to the triumphs and blessings of a fully civilized state.
This point is illustrated by the most familiar passages of History. Our earliest knowledge of Greece, the primal source of illumination to the Modern World, shows it peopled by roving savages, without culture, refinement, or art. With the immigration of Egyptian and Phoenician colonists, bearing with them letters and other appliances of cultivation, broke the morning of that splendid day, than which no brighter has hitherto shone on the world.
Rome, too, for centuries after she had sitten unchallenged on her seven hills, remained in a condition hardly beyond barbarism. Military Glory was the engrossing passion, and the almost sole occupations were War, and Agriculture in its rudest form. With the conquest of Carthage and Greece, and of Syria and lesser Asia, colonies of Greece, Navigation and Commerce, as also the Science, Literature, and General Culture of the Greeks, were introduced to the knowledge, and engaged the interest, of the Romans, and hence sprang the august Civilization of the Mistress of the World. Note again Europe in the fifth century. Celts and Goths, Scythians, Sarmatians, and Britons, who shall conjecture how many ages these barbarous races had lived on, without making a single advance toward the melioration of their rude Estate? But, with the overthrow of the Roman Empire in the West, by their undisciplined yet resistless vigor, some light was, of
necessity, flung abroad into the circumambient darkness. At first, indeed, the darkness comprehended it not,' but with the lapse of time gradually came understanding and appreciation. So that, in truth, from this chance-dropped and unpromising germ, issued the stately and far-spreading growth of Modern European Civilization.
So stands, then, the testimony of Ancient History, concerning the point in discussion. We behold Civilization issuing from the far-off, unknown Orient, introduced by Egyptian and Phoenician immigrants into Greece, and there coming to perfection; from Greece glancing upon and brightening through Rome; from Rome received into the bosom of a wide extended barbarism, and there drawing effectual furtherance from a new Power, a Religion from the Jordan's banks, and finally resulting in that manifold and affluent Civilization, wherein our lot is cast.
The same conclusion is enforced by contemporary History. The North American Savages have been known to Europeans for more than two centuries. And yet the tribes left to themselves, have not, in two hundred years, advanced one step in improvement beyond the contemporaries of Raleigh and the Pilgrims. Not one scientific or literary production; not a single invention or discovery in even the practical appliances of life; not an iota of mitigation in the ferocity of their principles and customs, have appeared among them during those two centuries, which have witnessed, in close proximity to them, a little one become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation,' and innumerable square miles of wilderness transformed into a fruitful garden, by the intelligent industry of the European race. How and why is this? Planted amid natural scenery, which in sublimity and loveliness Earth elsewhere can hardly match; with stupendous mountains, Arcadian vallies, and boundless prairies encircling them; with rivers like flowing lakes, and lakes like inland oceans spread out before them; with primeval forests, whose giant growths shame the pigmy products of Europe, wooing them from their deep-voiced shades, and the azure of Italian skies unrolled above them, studded with stars no whit less bright than those which gem the brow of Oriental night; how have men, with all man's faculties and feelings, acted upon by all these extraordinary outward incentives, still continued, from generation to generation, enveloped in the gloom of primitive ignorance and barbarism? Simply from the action of the law under consideration, that the original impulse to a people's civilization must come from abroad. The fierce and irreconcilable antipathy of the red man to the white, has precluded the former from the operation of this law in his favor, and hence, according to our theory, the melancholy result we have described.
Finally, the Bedouin Arabs go to illustrate the same point. It was predicted of them, before the birth of Ishmael their progenitor, that they should be 'wild men, their hand against every man, and every man's hand against them.' The prophecy has been verified to the letter. Four thousand years have rolled away; nations have been born, have filled out their date, and been reft of their national existence; empires and dynasties have risen and flourished, and declined and passed away; and still the sons of Ishmael have survived and do survive, a distinct, peculiar, unconquered race, perpetu
ally attacking and attacked by all people else; the very same uncultivated, barbarous, robber tribe, that they were twenty centuries before the advent of Christ. The explanation of their state, upon our theory, is easy enough. At odds with all the world, they, of course, shut out all humanizing influences from abroad; and so long as they persist in repelling all foreign impulses to improvement, they must needs continue, even as now, uncivilized and barbarian.
If any should now, as is natural, propound the question,' whence came the first civilized Society, and by what methods was it trained to a fitness for communicating to others an impulse to Civilization, according to the Law we have been considering, we can only reply our total ignorance. We might, indeed, conjecture, and so may others with equal probability of correctness. In truth, the same conjecture would naturally occur to all. Suffice it for us to have produced the testimony of History, so far back as its authentic records go, as to the ordinary course of Providence in the matter under discussion.
The final cause, too, of this Law of Providence were well worth our dilating on at length, did our limits permit. It resolves itself, in brief, into a call on men to help one another; to put in practice the second of the two great commandments, 'to love our neighbor as ourselves;' since it makes it depend on us whether our fellow men shall reach the elevation whereof they are capable, and leaves it at our option whether or not to confer on them the most inestimable of all earthly boons, the boon of Civilization.
But we proceed to specify other instruments and means exerting an agency in the process of human development. Among these, a prominent place is held by the wants and desires of our common nature. These all crave satisfaction, and, to obtain it, put in motion the intellect through all its departments, and so work out the development of its whole various capacities.
For example, we hunger, and lo! the fruitful and marvellous results! Agriculture springs into being, with many an auxiliary Science, and practical processes without number. Commerce soon follows, and, attended by a host of Sciences and Mechanic Arts, by itself called into life, traverses every ocean, floats over every inland lake, and threads every winding river, in quest of appliances to the primitive or the factitious demands of the appetite of hunger.
We are naked, and lo! another series of marvels! Manufactures are created, and, in their turn, require and originate for their use a thousand sciences and practical operations. The blue expanse of the air; the green abysses of the sea; the dark depths of the earth; the fervors of the tropics, the rigors of the poles, and the variable clime of the temperate zones; all are compelled to become tributary to covering the nakedness of the human body.
We lack shelter from the inclement elements, and note the results. Architecture is born, with the many knowledges and skills involved in it; and the forest lays down its antique, giant growths; the mountain opens wide its stony bosom; the earth surrenders the treasures of her secret repositories; and every kingdom of Nature brings its contributions, to furnish a shelter for man's corporeal frame.
We are social and sympathetic beings, and behold the consequences.
The mighty organization of Civil Government; the infinite multiplicity of social institutions; the conjugal, parental, and filial relations; these, and a thousand results beside, are the fruit of the one simple principle of sympathy in man.
We have imagination and taste, a love for the beautiful and sublime; and, at their bidding, a glittering and wondrous creation rises on the world. The stately and picturesque Edifice; the richlycarved and shapely Column; the Statue, seeming with its spotless white, like a spiritual body, out from which the high angelic nature gleams, even as a light shines through its enclosing vase; the Painting, which images life, but life in glorious transfiguration; Poetry, with its thoughts that breathe and words that burn,' and its numbers rolling and reverberating through the soul's depths, like the organ's tones through a minster's ailes; Music, with its mystical enchantments, prisoning the soul and lapping it in Elysium;' Romance, with its dear witcheries and irresistible fascinations; all this manifold and magnificent world is the product of the simple elements we have indicated above.
We have an instinct bidding us aspire to somewhat beyond the Present and Visible, and yearning for alliance and intercommunion with a Power less mutable and feeble, and more enduring and perfect than ourselves, and the result is Religion, with its injunctions. and interdicts, its exalting hopes and its overcoming dreads, its symbols and ceremonials, and its worship of vast variety and manifold accompaniment.
Once more: we are liable to casualty and disease. And the result is Medicine, which, for its uses, explores every kingdom of Nature, searching through sea, air, and land; analyzing all substances and revealing their most occult properties; and Surgery, which unfolds the cunning mechanism of the human frame, running the blind round of the life-current through even its scarce visible channels, and threading, one by one, those inconceivably delicate fibres, which spread their tracery through and around every portion of this fabric so fearfully and wonderfully made;' both, meanwhile, in the quest of remedial agencies, originating a thousand inventions and discoveries.
So it is, then, that our natural wants and desires, acting on the means furnished by the Creator in the worlds of matter and of thought, tend to develope man's capacities, and accomplish the work of human Civilization. And how marvellous the spectacle! Out of a few simple elements mingled in man's physical and mental structure, a result is compounded not less various and vast than Nature itself; awful in grandeur and resplendent in beauty, bearing the crown and sceptre of authentic majesty and power, even the World of Civilization! Does not Man show herein, that he was indeed, 'made in the image of God,' and that, in some humbler degree, he is like his Divine Original, a creator? Compare this earth in its primeval condition, and Man in the savage state, with the same earth when it has passed under cultivation, and the same Man in a state of high civilization, and say if a process has not here been wrought in some sort akin to that of old, which inspired 'the morning Stars to sing together, and all the Sons of God to shout for joy!'