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Prinsep's Narrative of the Political and Military Transactions of British
White's Considerations on the State of British India, &c.
FOR JULY, 1824.
Art. I. Tableaux de L'Histoire Philosophique du Christianisme, ou 'Etudes de Philosophie Religieuse. Par Charles Coquerel. 18mo. Paris. 1823.
THAT very frequent phrase, the dark ages, which we
have heard and used so often from the time of our earliest initiation into history, has become, perhaps, in most minds, surrounded with images of physical obscurity. Even among our maturer thoughts, there may remain an indistinct impression that, during the period usually so designated, there was stretched over the nations a constant shroud of wintry vapours, reaching from the flats of Holland to the steppes of the Crimea, and from the stormy bay of Biscay to the frozen gulf of Finland. And a momentary effort of reason may be required before we can persuade ourselves, that, in those days of intellectual dimness, when men seemed to dream, rather than to think, when the lamp of Science had gone out in the sepulchre of Truth, and when the spider wrought her web from year to year without disturbance over the records of mind,-that in those days, as in these, placid lakes reflected bright blue skies, and dashing streams sparkled in the rays of an unclouded sun. And it may be supposed, that a similar prejudice of the imagination insensibly influences the notions we form of the present state of the moral world. Thus, for example, while we see that our days are made glad by brilliant suns, we do not readily believe, that the times we live in will be spoken of by posterity as times of darkness. This sort of illusive association in the mind between material images and abstract facts, may make us hesitate for a moment 'to admit, that this vaunted nineteenth century is, throughout the continent of: Europe, as well as over the neighbouring divisions of the globe, as dark an age as any that have preceded it.
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If, indeed, surprising improvements in all the arts of life,if the din of machinery in every town,-if steam-engines, and fast colours in printed cottons,-if the glitter of cast-iron cutlery, and well elaborated chemicals, and hard roads, and gas-lights, and Congreve rockets, fill up all that should belong to our notion of an enlightened age, then, truly, the present is not a dark age. But if we must chiefly regard the condition of human nature in its highest interests, and if we believe that wherever the light of the Christian Revelation does not shine, there, there is no true light; if we must grant, that the superstitious mummeries of devout ignorance are ill exchanged for the same mummeries employed to cover the hypocrisy of atheism-then we must acknowledge that, from one extremity of Europe to the other, the nineteenth century is as dark as was the thirteenth. Let the facts of the case be severally examined and compared, and we believe it will become apparent, that no exaggeration is contained in this assertion;-the sum of such a comparison being, that the religious opinions of the European nations are not less grossly or childishly erroneous, than were the opinions of their ancestors five hundred years ago; and, that the state of feeling towards religion throughout these countries, is even less favourable and more offensively profane now, than it was then. It is true, that a door of hope for the Continental nations has been opened of late; but the ray of light that rests upon it, too much dazzles the eyes of British Christians, and too much diverts their attention from the far-stretching gloom around. A general expectation seems to be entertained, that this darkness will neither go on to thicken, nor be of long continuance ; but this expectation must be acknowledged to rest upon a vague anticipation of some sudden and almost supernatural changes, to be effected by an extraordinary interference from above, rather than upon any assignable and adequate grounds of common probability.
But let us for a moment compare the circumstances of the present times, with those of the age that preceded the Reformation. In that age, there were, no doubt, to be found, the" faithful" seven thousand,"-scattered, divided, and unknown to the world, and to each other; but there no where existed numerous and tolerated societies of the true worshippers of God. The same, and nothing more, may be said of this age. P.
In that age, philosophic minds looked with a melancholy' dissatisfaction upon the corruptions of the existing religious system. But the same class of persons in this age, instead of a melancholy dissatisfaction, regard the very same system with the contempt of an indurated and universal scepticism, that sinks them in moral worth far beneath its deluded votaries.
In that age, the frivolous made a jest only of the absurdities: under which the substance of religion was concealed. But in this age, the frivolous make a jest of the essential principles of religion under every form. In that age, the manners of the people were generally licentious, yet, the great truth of a judgement to come held its place in their fears; and, in the day of their calamity, they returned to the faith, and paid it the homage of their terrors, their penitence, and their alms. But in this age, the manners of the people are not less generally licentious; and this licentiousness has broken the bands of all fear, as well as cast away the cords of affection; and the profane spirit holds out to the last in its defiance of God and of his laws. In that age, an adulterons hierarchy seemed to have filled up the measure of its sins,-to have reached the last state of profligacy, of ignorance, of arrogance, of violent tyranny; so that an intelligent observer might with cone fidence have predicted, that the first ray of the long obstructed light from Heaven that should break through, would dissipate the delusion, and consume the corruption,-never again to return upon earth. But in this age, men have had exposed fully before their eyes, the cheat and the wrong; they have been invited, by often repeated opportunities, to rid themselves of the degrading yoke; yet, they have wittingly sought again the darkness,-have consented to the oppression,-covenanted afresh with the corruption, and after having deliberately looked the hideous evil in the face, they now yield themselves again to its arms. The demon has been expelled, and has returned; and truly, the last state of the possessed is than the first,
A distinction must always be made, and borne in mind, between those isolated facts which Christian charity delights to hear of, to seek for, and to believe in,-even where the evidence of their existence cannot be found, and those more general facts which are matters of common observation, and in relation to which it would a mere weakness of mind to close our eyes, because the spectacle is painful or fearful. Thus, for example, much scattered evidence may be gathered, from which it may be hoped, that, in every country of Europe, there is a considerable and an increasing number of individuals who hold, love, and obey the word of God. This agreeable hope being admitted, we must then turn to that state of things which is obtruded upon the notice of every one who sets his foot upon any part of the continent. And these obvious and unquestionable facts will force upon us the sad conviction, that, if we put out of the question the existence of certain usages, and the occurrence of certain phrases,-carrying with them
no moral influence,-Europe is not effectively more chris tianised than Asia.
The prejudices of education and habit do, indeed, strongly incline us good Christians to think, that a Cathedral, with a cross on its summit, is a more Christian-like looking building than a Mosque surmounted with a crescent. And it is hard for us to allow, that those who repeat prayers under the segment of a circle, can be as good men as those who count beads under a transverse rectangle. But unquestionable testimony compels us to confess, that the one mathematical figure is nearly as favourable to morals as the other. Nor do we think it could be maintained, that the people of Lisbon, of Grenada, of Naples, or of Moscow, stand higher on the scale of any one of the substantial virtues, than the people of Ispahan, of Aleppo, or even, if we pass beyond the light of the crescent, of Pekin or of Meaco.
Which of the continents-Europe or Asia, promises to be the first subjugated by the religion of the Bible, is a question it would be presumptuous to speculate upon. But it can hardly be affirmed that, on the ground of ordinary probabilities, the one division of mankind is greatly in advance of the other. Perhaps, the actual triumph of truth in both, will be accomplished by means that shall prevent and surprise all human calculations. In the mean time, the duty of those to whom are committed the oracles of God, is matter of no question or doubt. And if, during a hundred years to come, the mass of mankind should continue, as they are now, under the black darkness of foolish and cruel errors, the faithful few would not be a whit discharged from the obligation of this duty by the small success of their long continued efforts.
In regard to the principal means by which we must hope and labour to reclaim our brethren from the various error of their ways, no question can be raised. To send the Bible through every open channel, and by every worthy method, to all who will receive it, is plainly this principal means. Yet are there some auxiliary measures, that may deserve consideration. The Writer before us gives hints of this kind, to which we shall presently advert.
It is a principle which might almost be affirmed as universally true, that great changes in the moral condition of mankind, have not been produced by human agencies designedly directed towards the accomplishment of those specific changes. Even if some apparent exceptions to this principle were granted to be indeed exceptions, it would still appear generally to have pleased Him who governs the world, when he leaves men, with all their petty force, to urge on the