Page images
PDF
EPUB

paring, even at the present moment, the several countries of the earth that are nominally under what are called Christian Governments, you will find that where the Bible is still withheld from the inspection of the people at large, and where even the few who are permitted to read it are obliged to shape their faith according to the dictates of their spiritual teachers, as is especially the case in Spain and Portugal, bigotry and ignorance still prevail; while in those countries in which the Scriptures are most freely circulated, and where religious liberty is most extensively enjoyed, as is the case in England and America, there the very opposite picture is presented, and there freedom, intelligence, morality, and happiness, are the fruits which it produces. But let me pass to the condition of that portion of the globe which I have been more especially called upon to describe.

The first of the eastern countries which it was my lot to visit, as a traveller, was Egypt; and it was, of course, impossible for me to tread the banks of the Nile, from among the bulrushes of which Moses was taken up by the daughter of Pharaoh,—to traverse the land of Goshen, or cross the Red Sea to the Desert of Wandering,—to behold the stupendous monuments, in the erection of which, it is at least probable, that the enslaved and captive. Israelites were employed-and not to feel an additional interest in every thing connected with its Scriptural history, or to be indifferent to the state and condition of the people among whom those Scriptures were still held in esteem. The government of that country, as you are aware, is in the hands of Mohammedans, by whom Christianity is rejected, and its professors subjected to disabilities and oppressions. Accordingly, the circulation of the Scriptures is extremely limited in Egypt. Nevertheless, inasmuch as there are still a number of professing Christians, of the several sects denomidated as Greeks, Armenians, Copts, Nestorians, Maronites, &c. having religious establishments and places of worship in Egypt, the introduction of the Scriptures among them might not be a work of difficulty, and from them it might the more readily pass into the hands of those who would be otherwise inaccessible ; while in consequence of the degraded and corrupt state of the Christians themselves, it may be said that the Scriptures, if presented in a language in which they could be familiarly read, would be likely to effect as great a change among them as among those who profess not their faith; for scarcely any thing can be conceived more remote from the simple purity of Christianity, than the rites, ceremonies, and dogmas designated by that name in the East.

The countries that I next visited, and which may well be associated together on this occasion as one, namely, Palestine and Mesopotamia, possessed a still stronger Scriptural interest than even Egypt; for, while gazing on the walls and towers of Jerusalem,_crossing the brook Kedron by the Pool of Siloam,—treading the Mount of Olives, and entering Bethany and Bethpage, Bethlehem and Nazareth,

—who could be indifferent to the Sacred Volume that recorded all the events of which these spots were the scenes and witnesses ?-If I bathed myself in the waters of the Jordan, or lingered on the shores of the Dead Sea,-if I hung with delight on the glorious prospects from Lebanon, or reposed among the bowers of Damascus,-in short, whatever path my footsteps traced, whether it led me through the ruins of Tyre and Sidon, or the fields and vallies of remoter solitudes, every rock and every eminence, every brook and every rivulet, had its own especial history, and roused up a thousand Scriptural associations. Yet here, too, as in Egypt, the government is in the hands of Mohammedans; and though there are not wanting professing Christians in considerable number and variety, both as residents and as pilgrims, yet the Scriptures are so little known and understood among them, and so little vigilance is exercised by those whose duty it is to be always active in the cause, that they correspond exactly with the description given by the prophet, when he speaks of the shepherds that sleep” while the fold is in danger, and the “ watchmen who slumber" while the citadel is invaded.

In Mesopotamia, the darkness is even greater still. At Ur of the Chaldees, the birth-place of Abraham, and over all the country beyond the great river Euhprates, Christianity is less and less to be found, even in name, and still more remote from its original purity in character; so much so, that there is one sect who consider themselves to be in some degree Christians, as they profess to follow a gospel of St. John ; but their claim to that appellation may be judged from the fact of their actually paying divine honours to Satan, and quoting å passage of this gospel in their defence. The awful ruins of Nineveh and Babylon stand upon the banks of their respective streams, the Tigris and Euphrates, in all the silent gloom of utter desolation; and traversing their vast remains with the Scriptural descriptions of their grandeur fresh in my recollection, it was impossible not to feel all the sadness which characterized the captive Israelites of old, when, instead of singing the songs of Zion as in happier days--they hung their harps upon the willows, and sat themselves down by the waters of Babylon and wept.

In passing from thence into Persia, there was not much improvement, although there å ray of hope had begun to illumine the general darkness. In every part of that country, the European character is so highly respected, that almost any measure coming from Europeans, and Englishten especially, would be sure to meet with less resistance than in any other part of the Mohammedan world. While Persia is, therefore, quite as destitute as all the other countries of Asia, in a moral and religious sense, it appears to me that it offers a less obstructed channel for the introduction of a great change in this particular respect, than any other of the surrounding states. I may add to this general assertion a fact which came under my own personal observation, and which tends to shew what might be done in Persia by judicious men and judicious measures. The Rev. Henry Martyn, whose name must be familiar to most of you, and whose character stands high wherever his name is known, was in Persia, just previous to the period of my passing through that country; and at Shiraz, I met with several Mollahs, or teachers of the Mohammedan faith, from whom I learnt that Mr. Martyn's life and conversation had produced the most surprising effect in softening tlie usual hostility between Mohammedans and Christians; that the most learned Muftis had conversed freely with him, on points of faith and doctrine, and that they had come to the conclus sion, that there were not such insuperable barriers between them as they had at first conceived. Such a step as this is most important, because from the moment those who are in error can be brought to listen

patiently to the truth, hopes may be entertained of its final triumph; for, as Milton has beautifully observed,

though all the winds of doctrine were let loose upon the earth, so truth be among them, we need not fear. Let her and falsehood grapple: who ever knew her put to the worst, in a free and open encounter ?”

From Persia I proceeded to India, and there I remained as a resident for several years. It might be expected, that in a country so long under our dominion as that has been, the same backwardness with respect to the spread of truth and sound religion would not have been observed ; but I regret to say, that while in India, the reign of superstition is more widely spread, and more terrible in its degrading effects, than in any of the countries I have yet mentioned; the obstacles thrown in the way of those who are impatient to substitute a better order of things, are quite as great as in either of them. Let me mention only one or two of the revolting practices which their superstition engendered, and still upholds, and you will then see what a vast field a hundred millions of beings, so immersed in darkness, must afford for British benevolence and Christian reformation.

The most popularly known of these Indian rites, is that of the burning of Hindoo widows on the funeral piles of their husbands. To such a frightful extent is this carried, that, in the course of ten years, according to a parliamentary report made on this subject, nearly seven thousand Indian widows were burnt alive ! Even if the practice were undoubtedly enjoined by their sacred books, and were always performed voluntarily, there is something, in it so revolting, to humanity, that it ought not to be permitted ; but it rests upon very doubtful authority, even in their own writings, one of the most learned of their Brahmins having written several works to shew, that the practice is at least but optional, and of comparatively recent date ; and in by far the greater number of cases, it is not voluntary, the parties being drugged with opiates, deluded by priests, and terrified by threats, into compliance. In addition to this, they are frequently bound down with cords and ligatures to the funeral pile, so that their escape would be impossible, however much they might desire it; and in those few instances in which the parties have been left unbound, and have leaped off the pile as soon as the flames begun to envelop their slender frames, they have been most inhumanly seized by the fanatic by-standers, and Aung back again into the flames, with their scorched and mangled limbs dropping off from their bodies, thus expiring amidst the most horrid and protracted tortures that the human imagination can conceive! And all this uuder the sanction, by the authority, and with the countenance and protection, of a Government calling itself Christian !--that of the East India Company.

What appears to me to add greatly to the horror of this diabolical sacrifice, is the consideration that it puts out of existeoce those who are the most worthy to live; as, whatever there may be of voluntary submission to this rite on the part of those who are its victims, must spring from one of these motives : either, first, the devotional motive, or a willingness to offer up life, and all that can endear it, rather than forfeit the hope of future happiness, or incur the displeasure of the Supreme Being-which, though their faith be grounded in error, they may most sincerely believe, and act upon in the way they think most conducive to that end ; or, secondly, the domestic motive, an extreme attachment to the object of their affections, and an unwillingness to survive him who was not merely their husband and protector, but their best and only friend; or, thirdly, the social motive, or an abhorrence of living in a society without a full participation in its honours and enjoyments, and an unwillingness to have their lives prolonged, if they could only live as outcasts, repudiated by their relatives and families, and despised even by strangers as well as friends. These appear to me to be the only conceivable motives of such a submission to suffering on the part of the unfortunate, but still amiable and interesting, widow of the East. And yet, surely, these are motives which do them honour, and which prove what excellent materials must exist in a society capable of producing such instances of self-devotion, for the construction of a better and happier community. For who is there among us that does not honour, with the highest distinction, the female penitent and devotee, who, rather than do that which should forfeit her the hope of heaven, would sacrifice her life, and all that she held at her disposal ? Who is there among us that does not equally honour with our sympathy and our admiration, the young and affectionate widow, whose sorrow at the death of her husband and lord so surpasses all ordinary bounds, as to evince itself in paroxysms of grief that drive the unhappy victim sometimes on the verge of insanity, and leave her in such a state as will permit her to see nothing but perpetual gloom in the prospect of the future, so that if the sublime faith of Christianity had not taught her that self-destruction was a crime againsť the awful majesty of the Creator, she would be as much disposed as the Indian widow to sink at once into the grave that seems about to close upon the remains of all that the earth held dear in her estimation ? Who, I may also ask, can there be among us, who does not equally honour the female, be she virgin, wife, or widow, whose strongest feeling, next to devotion, is her love of an unsullied reputation, who could not bear the thought of sustaining existence otherwise than honourably, and who would rather die a thousand deaths, than live to have the finger of scorn pointed at her as one who had outlived her untainted name? And shall all these be deemed virtues in Britain, and vices in Hindostan ? It is impossible. The motive is in both cases equally honourable ; and the misdirection of that motive in the case of the Indian widows, appears to me only to strengthen their claims on our sympathy and commisseration, as, where so good a soil exists, the seed cannot be sown in vain,

The other abominable rite of which I shall now speak (for I confine myself to the two prominent ones, although there are a hundred that might be detailed), is the pilgrimage to Juggernaut. This is the name of an idol which is worshipped at a place called Pooree, on the sea-coast of Orissa, between Madras and Bengal, and to whose shrine pilgrimages are made from different parts of India. The lives annually sacrificed to this monstrous idol surpass all creditility ; but it may be sufficient to say, that the approach to the temple is indicated, for fifty miles on all sides round, by the mangled and decaying carcases of those wbo have perished as his victims. Will it be believed that the East India Company, not content with remaining merely indifferent spectators of all these atrocities, which, of itself, would, I think, be sufficient to warrant their condemnation-absolutely make these horrid and revolting rites a source of pecuniary profit to themselves ? Nay, more; not only do they receive all the revenues arising from fees and tribute paid to the idol, themselves defraying the costs of his maintenance, providing him with meat and drink and clothing, and keeping up a brothel, or establishment of courtezans and prostitutes, for the service of the priests ! paying, therefore, the wages of sin and death, and placing the surplus among the unholy and polluted gains which swell their common treasury ; but they go farther still, and, in order to augment these gains, they have organized a body of pilgrim-hunters, under the name of Pundas and Purharees, whose especial business it is to go abroad all over the country, and traverse it in every direction, in search of pilgrims, for the purpose of bringing them in companies to Juggernaut. Lest the ordinary motive of superstition should be insufficient to induce these wretched emissaries to perform their tasks with proper zeal, the East India Company have supperadded the motive of what, in this instance, may be truly called " base lucre :" for these pilgrimhunters are actually paid, at a fixed rate per head, for every fresh victim they can bring! They accordingly extend their excursions for hundreds of miles from the bloody and revolting scene; and wherever they find a man who has a sufficient sum of money in his possession, the hard earnings, perhaps, of years of industry and frugality, they seize on him as their victim, persuade him to leave his wife and family, and go on a pilgrimage to Juggernaut. He quits his home, with the promise, perhaps, of a speedy return; but, alas! the hour for his recrossing the threshhold of his cottage never arrives. He is led, by these delusive guides, to the idol and his car. In the expense of his journey, in fees to the India Company, and in the premium, or head-money, paid to his decoyers, every farthing will be exhausted. He enters the temple, joins in the horrid din of its filthy and brutal uproar, comes out of it naked and pennyless, and, before three days are passed over his head, perishes for want, in the very precincts of the temple, where thousands are annually expended in the grossest sensualities ! and the whole plain, for fifty miles round in every direction, is literally whitened with the bones of the victims thus offered up as sacrifices to this most monstrous of all superstitions, or, should I not rather say, to its chief supporters and abettors—the bigotry and fanaticism of the Brahmins, and the heartlessness and avariciousness of the East India Company?

These things are so extraordinary, as well as so revolting, that I should have almost hesitated to put my own reputation for veracity in jeopardy, by even alluding to them at all, were I not speaking under the sanction of the highest and most unquestionable authorities. In a very copious and excellent Report of a Speech made at the East India House, only a year or two ago, by a Proprietor of East India Stock, Mr. Poynder ; in a very valuable little volume, entitled “ India's Cries to British Humanity," written by Mr. Peggs, a resident of Coventry, who resided some time in India : in a still more recent work, entitled “ Reflections on the Present State of British India,” published by Hurst, Chance, & Co. of London, in the present year, 1829; and in the various Parliamentary Papers that have been, from time to time, produced on this subject, all these facts are stated in detail, on the authority of men in the service of the East India Company itself, and in such a way as to render its accuracy and authenticity beyond all doubt.

And shall the Christians and philanthropists of Britain remain silent and inactive under such a state of things as this? It would be so deep a reproach to them to suppose it, that I will not, even for a moment, entertain the bare supposition. That the existing government of India, with all its repeated professions of a readi. ness to assist in the spread of Christianity in the East, have no such wish really at heart, I could adduce a thousand proofs ; but their supporting and profiting by such a superstition as this that I have just described, will, no doubt, be deemed sufficient. Let me add to this the fact, that the largest establishment of Missionaries now in India, those at Serampore, were obliged to plant themselves in this foreign settlement, (for it belongs to the Danes,) rather than in Calcutta, or any other spot under the dominion of the English ; because, in the foreign settlement they were allowed perfect toleration, and the enjoyment of a free press; whereas, in the English settlement they could only be tolerated from day to day, with the liability to be transported at a moment's warning, without trial or hearing of any kind whatever, and for any reason or no reason, as the Government need not condescend to give any to those whom they banish ; besides being subject to a rigid censorship or control over the press, which gives to the India Company's servants the same monopoly of religion as their masters enjoy of political power and trade : which, therefore, enables them to compel every writer to shape bis opinions and expressions according to the Government standard of orthodoxy, (not allowing even Mohammed to be called a false prophet, though any Mohammedan in India may preach in any mosque of the country that Christ and his apostles were impostors): and which, if Christians should be sufficiently imbued with their Divine Master's spirit, to love truth better than falsehood, and to speak plainly and honestly, whe, ther those in authority liked such qualities or not, gives to those invested with rule in that country, power to suppress any publication they dislike ; first interrupting the public good it may be doing, and then inflicting ruin by the destruction of all the property of those who may be instrumental in doing it. The last law passed on that subject in India, the work of Mr. John Adam, during his brief and temporary rule of a few weeks only, but never yet repealed, gives the Government the power to prohibit, not merely the printing and publishing, but also the selling, distributing, or even lending for perusal, any book or paper whatever, whether printed in England or elsewhere, to which the Governor-General, in any fit of caprice or ill-humour, may happen to take a dislike!

This, Sirs, is the actual state of things in India at the present moment: and the monstrous and absurd pretence upon which it is attempted to be defended is, that if knowledge be spread among the natives of India, they will be alarmed at our intended interference with their superstitions, and this will lead them to rebel and expel us from the country. In such an assembly as this, I need hardly waste a moment in combating so monstrous and untenable a position. We all know that increased knowledge produces better and happier effects : and as to any danger to be apprehended from any reasonable, persuasive, and legislative measures, to in. terfere with the superstitions of the natives, I need only refer you to the publications I have already named, to show you that in every case in which this has yet been done (and they are numerous) the change has been effected without a murmur; and that, according to the testimony and opinions of the best informed among the civil and military servants of the East India Company, whose evidence has been given on the subject, the two revolting practices that I have already described to you, the burning of human beings alive, and the sacrifice of victims at the shrine of Juggernaut, might be as easily abolished by a mere decree embodying the wish of the Government, as was the destruction of female infants in Guzerat, and the throwing children into the Ganges at Saugur.

But I will not detain you longer than to express my hope that the earnest attention with which you have listeued to these details, may be an indication of that zeal with which you will follow up such measures as seem best to you for amending the existing state of things. In the circulation of the Scriptures where the people most need them, you are actuated by a desire to increase the temporal, and secure the eternal happiness of those to whom it is presented. In my humble, but not altogether different sphere, I am anxious to attain the same great ends, by other though not opposite means. In seeking to arouse the dormant spirit of this great and wealthy nation to a due sense of the importance of destroying the present, and substituting a better system of commercial and political government for India, I have really no personal motives whatever. I am neither a merchant, a ship: owner, nor a manufacturer ; and as to pecuniary benefit, I know, of none that I could derive from the adoption of my views respecting India to-morrow. But, as a philanthropist merely, without reference to any particular system of speculative belief, it is impossible not to feel an interest in the fate of a hundred millions of human beings, be they in what quarter of the globe they may. As a patriot, that iaterest becomes greatly increased by the consideration that these hundred millions are under British dominion. And, as a Christian, the interest rises still higher, by.con:

« PreviousContinue »