Зображення сторінки

considerable difference in the latitude, so nearly allied are the climates of the two groups in some essential features, that a question arises how the near agreement in the conditions of vegetation is to be accounted for? The isothermal lines and the marine influences to which each belt of narrow islands is subject may go far to explain the resemblance in plants, and the power of transferring a considerable majority of the beautiful flowers and shrubs which are peculiar to Japan to our shores. In consequence of the narrowness of the islands, seldom presenting a width of more than a hundred miles, the vegetation may be considered wholly marine, and hence the plants which flourish there are peculiarly adapted for introduction into the southern and western districts of our sea-girt isles that have a mild climate and humid atmosphere. These facts, authenticated by contributors to the Gardener's Magazine,' indicate marvellous likeness in the midst of considerable diversity of outward form and volcanic soil. It strikes the imagination the more forcibly that this analogy is not without its counterpart in the social and political world. The contrasts and dissimilarities of course are many.) (Of different race, faith, language, and traditions, the Japanese are placed as far apart, to all appearance, from ourselves as the actual space which separates the two countries. And yet if these two peoples of the rising and setting sun were brought in close comparison--not in the nineteenth, but in the tenth or twelfth centuries—numerous points of resemblance might be traced in their social, economic, and political institutions. In the feudal framework of our early government, the fiefs and military service, the knights in armour, with their pendants, cognizances, and men-at-arms; the monarchical form of authority, the cloisters and convents, the commercial guilds, and relations of classes towards each other, urban and rural, with serfdom and bondage to the soil, --in all these things there may be traced a parallelism of form which it is impossible to mark without interest, in countries utterly unknown to each other-and much too widely separated, before the discovery of America and the passage round the Cape, for any kind of communication to have taken place, if even their mutual existence had been suspected on either side. It is true that caravans from Europe traversed the whole breadth of Asia at an earlier period; and Marco Polo, in the thirteenth century, had already roused the curiosity of his countrymen and the learned of other nations by the information he was able to give of an Eastern country called Zipangri, and of the great wealth of the island, particularly in gold and pearls, and the multitude of smaller islands which encompassed it. From him his half-doubting audience, Genoese and Venetians, who gave him the sobriquet of • Marco Millione,' undoubtedly derived their first knowledge of the existence of Japan. And it is one of the strange links in the chain of historical events, and the seemingly accidental connexion between cause and effect, that beyond all doubt it was the account brought to Europe by Marco Polo, at the close of the thirteenth century, which stimulated the imagination of Columbus in the fifteenth, and led him to the discovery, not of Japan, but of a new world in America, while searching for Zipangri. These are among the curiosities, not of literature but of history, and suggest many reflections as to the true nature of the laws and influences which govern the sequence and order of events.

When three Portuguese adventurers of doubtful antecedents, with Mendez Pinto among the number, made their appearance in the Japanese waters, in the middle of the sixteenth century, under the guidance of the Chinese captain of a corsair junk, they were the first representatives of Europe and a Western race who had ever reached those shores. Of Coreans, Chinese, Malays, and Siamese Japan had gained some knowledge, but it had never seen or heard of a Western race. What the Japanese were at that date as a nation, unspoiled by any foreign contact or influence, Mendez Pinto has himself related in the narrative of his own adventures, piratical and commercial--for they partook of both, as was the manner of the times. We are told that the Japanese, though vigilant and on their guard, manifested no reluctance to admit the strangers. , This, which was the beginning of European intercourse and trade, carries us back to the year 1543. We get glimpses of the state of the country and people throughout the succeeding century from navigators John Adams, the English pilot, not to be forgotten-English, Dutch, and Portuguese; and from missionaries, chiefly Portuguese and Spanish, with some Italians. But our most reliable data were supplied in the following century by Kæmpfer-physician, naturalist, philosopher, and the most painstaking and conscientious of chroniclers. When he came on the scene, in the suite of his Dutch trading patrons, in 1692, no foreigners were allowed free access to any port in Japan. All except the Dutch had been expelled, and these were only admitted to an island-prison at Decima, in Nagasaki harbour -spread out like a fan, and specially created for their safe custody by the most jealous and watchful of guardians.

We need not here go into the oft-told story, how little more than a century sufficed to convert the original friendly feeling and courtesy of the Japanese, rulers and people, towards their foreign visitors into one of implacable hatred mingled with a fierce spirit of religious intolerance. The first act of the drama had closed, after a civil and religious war, with the fall of Simabara, the last stronghold in the possession of the Christians, and the extermination of every man, woman, and child within its walls, or anywhere to be found, acknowledging the symbol of the Cross. An edict prohibiting, under penalty of death, the landing of any foreigner, except a few Dutch at Nagasaki,—sternly executed throughout the following centuries,-- was the end of this first chapter. There is something very sad in this blurred and blotted page of Japanese history and of their first relations with the European race. What it might have been under other conditions, and if it had pleased Providence to send to their shores wise and honest men, imbued with Christian principles and moderate of counsel, instead of filibusters and overreaching traders on the one side, with fiery zealots and ultramontane priests and missionaries on the other-Jesuits and Dominicans grasping at both temporal power and spiritual supremacy-and the conversion of the heathen, chiefly as the means to such ends—who can say? But it was otherwise ordered, and we will not waste time in further speculation as to what might have been-Of 'all sad words of tongue or pen’ still the saddest. But if we would understand the future into which we are about to look, or even the present startling changes--of which the work now before us, and the Embassy of which it treats, are not the least wonderful evidences—we must not take leave of the past without a clear grasp of its leading features, and the legacy it bequeathed to all succeeding generations. History, in spite of all that may be said to the contrary, has a tendency to repeat itself. China only a century later furnished a remarkable instance, for precisely the same drama, with all its tragic incidents and crowning catastrophe, was enacted there-only over a wider field and on a larger scale.

A few years after Mendez Pinto first led the way to Japan, Francis Xavier, fired by the accounts he received from a Japanese noble who had fled his country to Goa, landed with a fresh relay of missionaries and merchants, and we are told :

On arriving at Bungo they were received with open arms, and not the slightest opposition was made to the introduction of either trade or religion. No system of exclusion then existed ; and such was the

[ocr errors]

spirit of toleration that the Government made no objection to the open preaching of Christianity. Indeed, the Portuguese were freely permitted to go where they pleased in the empire, and to travel from one end of it to the other. The people freely bought the goods of the traders, and listened gladly to the teaching of the missionaries.' And it is added that

* If the feudal princes were ever at any time ready to quarrel with the merchant, it was because he would not come to their ports.'

Subsequently a Japanese embassy composed of three princes was sent to Pope Gregory XVIII. with letters and valuable presents. Their reception at Rome was not only magnificent, but their whole progress through Spain and Italy was one continued ovation. A nation of thirty millions of civilised and • intelligent people had been won from the heathen!'

Now, as then, a Japanese embassy has been despatched to Europe, consisting of ministers and nobles—the most distinguished of their statesmen. Now again, after an interval of three centuries, we hear of joy and greeting, though the brazen-tongued plaudits come to us across the Atlantic this time. The shouts of rejoicing for a Japanese embassy proceed from the continent of a new world, not mapped in the chart when Japan sent her first envoys, and from the throats of a nation not then in existence. The times and the circumstances are different, and yet the burden seems like that of an old song--the same, with scarcely a variation in words or notes. A nation of thirty millions of an intelligent

• people has been won’-once more we are told—to civilisa• tion and the brotherhood of nations,' instead of from the • heathen.' This latter variation alone marks the difference. Perhaps in this nineteenth century we do not feel so sure about conquests from the heathen--perhaps also are more careless about them. The writers of the earlier period tell us :

• Great indeed was the joy and triumph, for this was the culminating point of the Church's success.' While a later commentator adds :

* And in that same hour, while the artillery of San Angelo was thundering a welcome to the Japanese Ambassadors, whose progress through Italy had been one continued ovation, an edict had gone forth from the Kubosama, the Sovereign Lord of Japan, banishing all Catholic missionaries, ordering all crosses to be thrown down, and all churches to be razed to the ground.'

Absit omen! Let us hope that we shall not have another such striking example of the instability of human affairs, nor see cause, some fifty years hence, to doubt the value of these



sudden conquests of Western civilisation, and the celebration of the banns between an ancient Eastern race and the newest of Western nationalities. We trust that the experience of the past has done its proper work, and need not be repeated. So without misgiving let us welcome the news received by the last mail

of an edict repealing all prohibitions and penalties against the Christian religion, and proclaiming religious toleration in the widest sense. Among the many bewildering changes and reversals of national policy which the last few years have witnessed, this is the most unexpected. It is not many months ago since we heard that a great persecution of Christians had been begun. Then later came the intelligence that the Buddhist religion had been separated from the State, and disestablished. Disestablishment is apparently finding favour at opposite extremities of the globe, and commends itself to the rulers of the East as well as to those of the West. But what most tends to throw doubt on the stability of such changes, if not on the sincerity of those who adopt the measures in Japan, is the apparent contradiction in the grounds assigned for the two measures. The dises tablishment of the Buddhist religion or Church-if it may be so spoken of—had for its alleged ground the determination to return to the ancient faith of their ancestors the Sinto religion derived from their own gods,-whereas the Buddhist religion, borrowed from the Chinese, was essentially foreign though it had been established in the country for more than twelve centuries. The Christian religion, on the other hand, is to be tolerated, though admittedly foreign. The first act appears to have been a concession to the national feeling of the old Nipon party, which is still strong, and hates all innovations and foreign inventions. The second must have been to conciliate the foreigner. How are these two opposite courses to be explained ?

For the explanation of this enigma and many others which the recent history of Japan and its very impulsive people present in these later days we turned to Mr. Lanman's book with some eagerness ; nor have we been wholly disappointed in the result. It does supply a great deal of curious matter, not quite on the surface but easily extracted by the aid of some previous knowledge of the past and present state of Japan. It is not always easy to say what is native and what is foreign in this volume, either in the speeches made by Japanese or the essays by Japanese students. Yet what the reader most desires is to separate the pure metal from the American gilding and varnish, somewhat freely used by the compiler. In the account

« НазадПродовжити »