« НазадПродовжити »
come, said he, to join company with you in your walk: you may as well converse with a Ghost, as stand dreaming of the dead. I dare say you have been wishing that these stones could speak and tell their tale: or that some record were sculptured upon them, though it were as unintelligible as the hieroglyphics, or as an Ogham inscription.
My ghostly friend, I replied, they tell me something to the purport of our last discourse. Here upon ground where the Druids have certainly held their assemblies, and where, not improbably, human sacrifices have been offered up, you will find it difficult to maintain that the improvement of the world has not been unequivocal, and very great.
SIR THOMAS MORE.
Make the most of your vantage ground! My position is, that this improvement is not general; that while some parts of the earth are progressive in civilization, others have been retrograde; and that even where improvement appears the greatest, it is partial. For example; with all the meliorations which have taken place in England, since these stones were set up, (and you will not suppose that I who laid down my life for a religious principle, would undervalue the most important of all advantages,)...do you believe that they have extended to all classes? Look at the question well. Consider
fellow-countrymen, both in their physical and intellectual relations; and tell me whether a large portion of the community are in a happier or more hopeful condition at this time, than their forefathers were when Cæsar set foot upon the island ?
If it be your aim to prove that the savage state is preferable to the social, I am perhaps the very last person upon whom any arguments to that end could produce the slightest effect. That notion never for a moment deluded me: not even in the ignorance and presumptuousness of youth, when first I perused Rousseau, and was unwilling to feel that a writer whose passionate eloquence I felt and admired so truly, could be erroneous in any of his opinions. But now, in the evening of life, when I know upon what foundation my principles rest, and when the direction of one peculiar course of study has made it necessary for me to learn every thing which books could teach concerning savage life, the proposition appears to me one of the most untenable that ever was advanced by a perverse or a paradoxical intellect.
SIR THOMAS MORE.
I advanced no such paradox, and you have answered me too hastily. The Britons were not savages when the Romans invaded and improved them. They were already far advanced in the barbarous stage of society, having the use of metals, domestic cattle, wheeled carriages, and money, a settled government, and a regular priesthood, who were connected with their fellow Druids on the continent, and who were not ignorant of letters. ...Understand me! I admit that improvements of the utmost value have been made, in the most important concerns: but I deny that the melioration has been general; and insist, on the contrary, that a considerable portion of the people are in a state, which, as relates to their physical condition, is greatly worsened, and, as touching their intellectual nature, is assuredly not improved. Look, for example, at the great mass of your populace in town and country, ..a tremendous proportion of the whole community! Are their bodily wants better, or more easily supplied? Are they subject to fewer calamities? Are they happier in childhood, youth and manhood, and more comfortably or carefully provided for in old age, than when the land was uninclosed, and half covered with woods? With regard to their moral and intellectual capacity, you well know how little of the light of knowledge and of revelation has reached them. They are still in darkness, and in the shadow of death!
I perceive your drift; and perceive also that when we understand each other, there is likely to be little difference between us. And I beseech you, do not suppose that I am disputing for the sake of disputation; with that pernicious habit I was never infected, and I have seen too. many mournful proofs of its perilous consequences. Toward any person it is injudicious and offensive; toward you it would be irreverent. Your position is undeniable. Were society to be stationary at its present point, the bulk of the people would, on the whole, have lost rather than gained by the alterations which have taken place during the last thousand years. Yet this must be remembered, that in common with all ranks they are exempted from those dreadful visitations of war, pestilence, and famine, by which these kingdoms were so frequently afflicted of old.
The countenance of my companion changed upon this, to an expression of judicial severity which struck me with awe. Exempted from these visitations! he exclaimed; Mortal man! creature of a day, what art thou, that thou shouldst presume upon any such exemption? Is it from a trust in your own deserts, or a reliance upon the forbearance and long-suffering of the Almighty, that this vain confidence arises?
I was silent.
My friend, he resumed, in a milder tone, but with a melancholy manner, your own individual health and happiness are scarcely more precarious than this fancied security. By the mercy of God, twice during the short space of your life, England has been spared from the horrors of invasion, which might with ease have been effected during the American war, when the enemy's fleet swept the channel, and insulted your very ports, and which was more than once seriously intended during the late long contest. The invaders would indeed have found their graves in that soil which they came to subdue: but before they could have been overcome, the atrocious threat of Buonaparte's General might have been in great part realized, that though he could not answer for effecting the conquest of England, he would engage to destroy its prosperity for a century to come. You have