Page images

been put down, as for instance by Bentley; they could not meet malevolent and ignorant misrepresentations of Sacred history by plain and popular expositions of the genuine Sacred writings, still less by the vernacular Bible itself, for which they had not prepared the mind—nay, rather, had overlaid and choked the innate feeling which would have yearned towards it: they wrote nothing which could be read, published nothing which obtained circulation; they continued to compile and to study folios, when Europe was ruled by pamphlets and tales. They could not perceive that mankind had outgrown their trammels; and, without strength or pliancy to forge new ones, they went on riveting and hammering at the old broken links. On one memorable occasion they attempted to advance with the tide; but so awkwardly, as to earn ridicule for the uncouthness of the effort, rather than admiration for its courage. What must have been the effect of the famous Preface to Newton's Principia, on the religious, on the irreligious-on those especially who were wavering in their allegiance to the faith? To the former class the acknowledgment that the new astronomy, though of undeniable truth, was irreconcilable with the decrees, or at least with the established notions of the Church, must have been a stunning shock; among the others it could not but deepen or strengthen contempt for a faith which refused to harmonize with that truth which it dared not deny. We have always thought it singularly fortunate that this question arose in England at a time when our Bibliolatry had not attained its height. No sooner had Bentley from the post, then authoritative, of the pulpit in the University of Cambridge, and in his Boyle Lectures, showed the perfect harmony of the Newtonian Astronomy with a sound interpretation of the Bible, than men acquiesced in the rational theory that the Scriptures, unless intended to reveal astronomical as well as moral and religious truth, could not but speak the popular language, and dwell on the apparent phenomena of the universe in terms consistent with those appearances.

But while in Europe Jesuitism, unprogressive, antiquated, smitten with a mortal lethargy, retained any hold on the human mind only by the prestige of position, an all-embracing organization, and a yet unextinguished zeal for proselytism among the rising youth :-in its proper sphere — in more remote regions—it was still alive and expansive. It was still the unrivalled missionary; it was winning tribes, if not nations, to Christianity and to civilization.

In the East, indeed, the romance of its missions had passed away with Xavier and his immediate followers. In all that world their success had ceased to be brilliant, and their proceedings became more and more questionable. The muchadmired Chinese had become more and more blind and obdurate to the teachings of Christianity: still, however, they fully appreciated European knowledge — they retained the Jesuits in high honour as scientific instructors, while they treated them with secret or with open contempt as preachers of religion. In other parts of the East the fatal quarrels between the Protestant and the Roman Catholic, and the still fiercer collisions between the different orders of the Roman Catholic missionaries, had darkened the once promising prospects of Christianity. The Jesuits were accused of carrying their flexible principle of accommodation to such an extent, that instead of converting idolators to the faith, they had themselves embraced idolatry. Europe had rung with reclamations against their overweening arrogance, their subtle intrigues, their base compliances. The work of the Capucin friar Norbert, which embodied all these charges, had made a strong impression at Rome. They had been condemned by more than one Pope; but, at that distance, while they still professed their profound, unresisting, passive obedience to the See of Rome, they delayed, they contested, they sent back remonstrances; they complained of being condemned on unfair, partial, and hostile statements; appealed to the Pope against the Pope; disregarded mandates, eluded bulls; did everything but obey. The Cardinal Tournon was sent out to

make inquiries, and with summary powers of decision on the spot ;-they harassed him to death.

But, if it fared thus with them in the oldest part of the Old World, in the New they were the harbingers, the bold and laborious pioneers of discovery; the protectors, the benefactors, the civilizers of the indigenous races. If in North America the Red man could ever have maintained a separate and independent existence; if he could have been civilized, and continued as a progressive improving being, it would have been by the Jesuits. If in those trackless wilds was found any rivalry between the different orders and their missionaries, it was the generous rivalry of religious adventure, of first exploring the primeval forest, the interminable prairie, of tracing the mighty river, of bringing new tribes into the knowledge of the White men, of winning their confidence, learning their languages, taming them, and endeavouring to impart the first principles of Christian faith by the ministrations of Christian love. Mr. Bancroft, in his history of his own country, has well told, and told with truly liberal sympathy, the history of the Jesuit missions of North America. It is impossible not to pause with admiration on such efforts, although they were in their nature desultory, and led to no permanent results. But it was far otherwise in South America: in Paraguay the Jesuits had founded those republics, those savage Utopias, the destruction of which was the crime and calamity attendant on the abolition of the Order. There they had free scope; their wisdom and benevolence, their love of rule, working on congenial elements, brought forth their fruits abundant, without exception! Among the South American Indians, child-like absolute submission was advancement, happiness, virtue; the mild unoppressive despotism a fatherly government. It would have required years, perhaps centuries, before those simple tribes had outgrown the strong yet gentle institutions under which they were content to live. We have directed attention on another occasion to the singular resemblance between the institutions of the Jesuits in Paraguay and

those of primitive Peru. In Paraguay, the Jesuits were the Manco Capacs of a poorer, more docile, more gentle, but not less happy race. Nothing could be more unjust, ungrateful, or impolitic, than the conduct of Spain and Portugal with regard to that country. By their reckless and capricious exchange of vast, and almost unknown territories, the sovereigns or their cabinets destroyed with one stroke of a pen the work of centuries; they seem not to have wasted one thought on the great experiment, which for the first time was making with any hopes of success, towards raising up in the depths of South America a race of Christian subjects, who would never have denied their allegiance to their European master. If all accusations against the Company of Jesus had been equally groundless with those adduced against them on this subject, history would fearlessly have recorded its verdict in their favour.

They were charged with breaking the rule of their Order by engaging in commerce. In other countries, and more especially in the well known case of Lavalette, there was no doubt strong foundation for the charge; but here their utmost crime could have been only the assisting those whose territory, by their well regulated system of industry, they had made productive, in exporting their surplus commodities, and exchanging them for others which they might need. They were afterwards arraigned as having stimulated resistance among the Indians, who had been transferred by a few lines of ink from one crown to another. The resistance never took place it was altogether imaginary and fabulous; and though to excite it might have been unbecoming and inconsistent in the sworn servants of passive obedience to authority civil as well as ecclesiastical, we are almost liberal enough to think that to follow such advice, if given, might have been justifiable on the part of the Indians. The whole affair is a melancholy illustration of the ignorance, supercilious arrogance, and utter disregard of the great interests of humanity, too common among the statesmen of that period. We do not indeed see why the abrogation of the Order in Europe should have inferred necessarily the destruction of their great work in South America; they might have maintained their authority there under a commission from the crown, not as a religious society, but as a kind of civil government, a local administration under certain regulations, subordinate and responsible to the mother country. The most curious part of this whole transaction is, that Pombal feared, or affected to fear, that negotiations were going on between the Jesuits and the court of London, either to declare the independence of the settlements in Paraguay under the protection of England, or to annex them to the dominions of the British crown. He speculates, in a remarkable despatch published by M. St. Priest, on the appearance of a British armament in the river Plate (in case Portugal should join France and Spain in a war with England), and seems to entertain no doubt that they would be welcomed, and received as allies, by the whole Jesuit order. Conceive at that period, some fifteen years before Lord George Gordon's riots, Jesuit republics in South America under the patronage, if not received as subjects of George III. !

But we must proceed to the fall of the Jesuits, thus inevitable in Europe, not, as we have said, from any deliberate and organized confederacy against them, but brought to an immediate crisis by accidental circumstances—the hatred of an ambitious and upstart minister in Portugal, the pretended religious scruples of a royal mistress in France, the aversion which sprung from fear in the mind of the best and most rational king that had ruled in Spain since the accession of the Bourbons—the one of that breed that had some will of his own. Their hour was come; they had fulfilled their mission; the world was far beyond them—the eighteenth century had passed its zenith, it was declining towards its awful close : that which was of the sixteenth, notwithstanding its pliancy, and power of accommodation to political and social change, was out of date. The world was utterly astonished at the ease with which it shook off the yoke of the Jesuits. There had been a vague and almost

« PreviousContinue »