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A SECULAR VIEW OF THE SOCIAL INFLUENCES OF
By Hon. Caleb Cushing, Member of Congress, Newburyport, Mass.
If the social condition of the family of nations to which the United States belong, be compared with that of other political communities, past or present, having pretensions to be ranked as civilized, ours will be found distinguished by some all-important peculiarities. That of ancient Egypt, of Greece, of Rome, --with its extraordinary advancement in the fine arts, and in liberal knowledge whether of abstract philosophy or of government, an advancement scarcely yet surpassed in modern times,
-wanted the elementary ingredient of Christianity, which, it would seem, has done and is doing so much more than any other single agent for the refinement and cultivation of the human race. It was deficient, also, in another great instrument of civilization, the peculiar boast of the nations of modern Christendom, namely, the social influence and authority, and the singular dignity of character, of the female sex. For though polygamy, the great source of degradation in Asiatic countries, did not obtain among the Greeks and Romans, yet cultivated, intellectual, and accomplished woman played but a casual, and that no honorable, part, in polished Aitica or Ionia ; nor, in the economy of Roman society, though more considered than at Athens, did women of ingenuous rank and pursuits occupy the position assigned to them by the loyalty and attachment of the stronger sex in modern Europe and America. And these, the two most distinctive features of modern society, are intimately associated one with the other.
Indeed, wherever the religion of the Gospel has gone, it appears to have carried with it more or less of the blessings of cultivated life; among the barbarian conquerors of the Roman Empire, in America, in Asia and Africa of our own day, in the
* This Article is the substance of a Discourse delivered by the author at Providence, R. I. Sept. 1838, before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Brown University.
Australian and Pacific Islands. And in so many rich and fertile regions of Asia and Africa, once replete with a refined population and studded with splendid cities, barbarism and social debasement have spread like a pestilence over the land, in proportion as the institutions of Christianity have given place to the forced establishment of a hostile faith. Such and such things, at any rate, are found coëxisting together. Are they to be regarded as cause and effect respectively, or as the joint effects of other causes ?-Let us commence with a more careful inspection of the facts, and proceed afterwards to the deduction of conclusions and principles.
Our religion, our learning, our liberal knowledge, the essence of whatever is purely intellectual in our social condition, as distinguished from government and manners, springs from that auspicious region of the Mediterranean Sea, so long the seat of empire and of art. How much is there in the round of that glorious water, how much even in the wrecks of what has been, for the traveller to visit and contemplate and study, if he would enter into the true spirit of our own institutions ! First, he might pause upon that Arabic race, which occupies the northern belt of Africa, and its continuous range along the shore of Asia. Here he should consider the remains of the Phænician power, whether in Syria or Africa, from Sidon of the one hand to Cartbage of the other, the wings as it were, or outposts, of that antique civilization, whereof the Nile was the abode. In the narrow valley of the Nile, shut in by the sands of the desert or its eternal walls of sienite, he will inspect the mysterious pyramids, the colossal statues and sphinxes and temples, the innumerable depositories of the living dead, the half deciphered hieroglyphics upon a world of monuments, which bear witness to bim of the departed glories of ancient Egypt. Among the hills of Palestine, he makes his pilgrimage to the cradle of Christianity, and to
- “Siloa's brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God.” Turning thence, he will arrive at the shores of Greece, her islespangled seas, her vallies of the vine and the olive, her ruined temples and her thousand remembrances of liberty and of learning, that land of the memory, not long, perhaps, to be desecrated by the presence of Tartar invaders. Proceeding along, he will come to Italy resting upon Germany and France, with so
many relics of the old civilization mingled and combined with the marks of the new, and inhabited by races the result of the union of the northern barbarians with the people of the Roman Empire. There, if he see much to remind him of the power and refinement of old Rome, as the language spoken, the monuments of art, and even the very municipal laws of the Republic now in full force on every side, he will perceive, also, that the tribes of the North, in their commingling with the conquered inhabitants of Italy and Gaul, brought with them, and infused into the blended mass, their own great peculiar sentiment, that restless love of personal freedom, wbich has changed the face of Europe. Thence he may repair to the Spanish Peninsula, to see like monuments of the past, similar general characteristics in the forms of religion or government and the social habits of the people, modified, however, by the effects of Moorish domination and the near proximity of Africa. Planted on the very Pillars of Hercules he will find the foot-print of the Island-Queen,—their everlasting rock marvellously quarried by her into a fortress bristling with cannon,—and learn of the refinements of civilization extended, at length, to the Ultima Thule; whence, reaching forth upon the broad Atlantic, he may descry
the star of empire? bending its course westward to these remote regions of the New World.
Let us dwell a moment on a single one of this bright succession of splendid objects. Follow me to imperial Rome,-to so much of her, at least, as pestilence, and war, and domestic rapacity, and the elements, and civil rage, have spared to modern times. Pause amid the chaos of ruins, which two thousand years have heaped together on the site of the inistress of Italy, the queen of Europe, the conqueress of the world.—The ' lone mother of dead empires,
“The Niobe of nations! There she stands,
Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe !" Time has been, that her senators were princes of the earth; that pleading nations came to receive dispensation of justice at the hand of her magistrates ; that her consuls placed their feet on the necks of great monarchs; that, like a spendthrift's patrimony turned into jewels and lavished upon a wanton, the riches of the world were poured into her lap ; that the industry and art of the whole universe were taxed to pamper her profusion, to adorn her palaces, to amuse her populace ; that earth, and sea,
and sky, the elements, and all created things, seeined to be chained as tributaries to the triumphal car of Rome.
Would you apprehend the perfection of art lavished in her decoration ? Look, then, at the scattered remains of her magnificence, the fragments of her basilica and arches, the mutilated statues and columns, or here and there a solitary tomb or lemple left standing unbarmed by time, and in its matchless beauty and glory. Would you appreciate, in a glance, the splendor and wealth of the old imperial city ? Enter the Coliseum ; and,-as the moon-light bathes in radiance its deep masses towering before you like some stupendous cyclopean* fabric of the extinct race of giants, or of the genii of oriental fable,summon up to the mind's view that vast amphitheatre in the days of its pride, filled with near a hundred thousand spectalors, with the blood of thousands of victims flooding its arena at a siogle festival, and captive warriors fighting, not in mimic battle, for the entertainment of the degenerate subjects of the Cæsars.
Those the ages of her greatness and her crime have passed away; and the structure of power, wbich generation after generation had bled and toiled and suffered to rear, bas, like the marble monuments of its presence, crumbled into the dust. But not with the downfall of the empire of its arms did Rome cease to be potent; for religion gave to her a dominion over the minds of inen only secondary in force to the allegiance she once claimed of their persons; and when the deluge of barbaric invasion had swept across the land, as its waters subsided, Christianity, like the missionary dove of the ark, Aew forth over the waste a blessed harbinger of hope, recalling science and art once again to the genial shores of their own Italy.
Suppose, then, that we stand near by the bank of the famed Tiber, in the precincts of the seven-billed city, and on the brow of the Vatican, where papal magnificence has built up an assemblage of palaces and churches, in themselves alone equal in extent to the capital of a great kingdom. It is the site of Nero's amphitheatre. You emerge from a labyrinth of narrow avenues, to enter upon a noble square, with its beautiful fountains throwing up their sparkling jets to the sun-beam, and its antique Egyptian obelisk, covered with mysterious inscriptions,
- “Vos et cyclopea saxa Experti." -Aen. i, 201.
if unexplained, yet eloquent to the eye, to the memory, to the imagination, like a spirit from the Nile, rising up from the slumber of ages, to address you in the sacred tongue of the Pharaohs. But lift your eye to that colossal basilic of St. Peter's, its enormous front,--the elliptic colonnades, the galleries, arcades, pilasters, statues, lavished upon its exterior in stintless prodigality, -and above all its cupola soaring over the subject city, the crowning ornament, the diadem, the pontifical tiara as it were, appropriate for the capital of Christendom.
Ascend the marble steps, pass the vestibule and its equestrian statues, enter this richest and proudest of the temples of religion, reared to the humble fisherman of Galilee. Is it not grand, magnificent, overpowering, sublime ?— Your footstep is unconsciously arrested, the heart almost ceases to beat, as you gaze upward and onward, in mute admiration of the splendor and immensity of the long-drawn aisles, the gorgeous altars and chapels, the colossal statues, the columns of marble and bronze, the beautiful pictures, the gilded vault, and above all that inimitable dome, the miracle and masterpiece of human art, the classic Pantheon hoisted up and poised in mid-air by the genius of Buonarroti. As you continue to gaze around, the sense of awe, of stupor, of self-debasing littleness, which first fills the soul, yields to a loftier sentiment of stupendous grandeur, of vastness that dilates rather than humbles the beholder, of elevation of spirit suited to the majesty and power of the scene. In a word, while you admire this monument of papal pride, you realize the lofty aims and outreaching spirit of those fathers of the Roman Church, who, by thus appealing to the imagination and the senses, led captivity captive, and conquered the rude conquerors of Europe.
If the place and the spectacle have not yet had their full effect on the mind, view them in the midst of the imposing ceremonies of Holy Week. Join yourself to the crowds of the peasantry or populace of Rome, and of strangers of all civilized nations ; rove in weary wonder through the thousand balls and chambers of the Vatican palace, with its libraries, its galleries of painting and sculpture, its rich collections in every various form of human genius ; go to the Sistine Chapel, with the sublime figures of Michel-Angiolo's Last Judgment looking down upon you in the gathering gloom of twilight, and listen to the invisible choir, chanting in darkness the sad and solemn straips of the Miserere; and then repair once more to St. Peter's, no