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What is our modern civilization,-its tendency and destiny, its dangers and hopes ? Has it done its best, exhausted its power, and is it unrobing for a final repose ? Must it be with this as it has been with all former civilizations ? Shall its history
“Be but the same rehearsal of the past,
First Freedom and then Glory-when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption-barbarism at last ? " We propose to state some of the considerations which have conducted us to the belief that these questions must receive different and more encouraging answers than the tones of impatience and despondency in which they are so often asked, would seem to anticipate. It will be scarcely necessary to inform the reader that we do not use the term civilization, in this paper, in its restricted and perhaps more correct sense, as applying to the culture and refinement of the few, but in its enlarged and popular signification, as including the culture, education and condition of the many.
The skeptics in regard to this civilization may be divi. ded into two classes; one composed of men who, like the Rev. Dr. Lord of Dartmouth College, believe the world
to be wholly unsound, that its tendencies are not only wrong, and wrong in part through the influence of Christianity, but that the entire body of humanity is hopelessly incurable, suffering from an immedicable wound; and who therefore, naturally enough, shelter themselves under old abuses, and defend slavery as an institution founded in religion, both natural and revealed. The other is made up of those who, while believing that civilization has done all that it can accomplish for mankind, that it has reached its highest point and is rapidly passing to an end, yet hold that there may be a total remodelling of society, a re-construction of it in its whole texture and formation, on principles transcending, if not ignoring, those upon which it is now founded, and through which humanity may be saved and advanced. i If it be true, that what we call modern civilization has passed its culminating point, there may be reason enough for us to examine the speculations of those who, despairing in the present and actual, have yet trust in the future and possible. But it is important to inquire whether these persons are right in their premises. Is it indeed true, as they, in common with those who have faith neither in the present nor future, allege, that the power of civilization is exhausted ? This it will be readily perceived they must make out before they can call upon the world to throw away what it has, and what has already done so much for man. The affirmative is on the philosophers. They cannol dispossess the tenant until they show a better title. Wise men will say, we will hold on to what we have, do our best with it-shape, guide, control it as well as we can, develope its capabilities, and strive for the highest perfection it can aid us to attain, unless we are sure that its power and spirit, its life and soul are gone.
Now, are we quite prepared to cast off the old and be on with the new ? Are we certain that civilization can go no further ? When, if ever, did it pass its meridian ? Let us see. Was it at the commencement of the eighteenth century-or, to extend our inquiries to a time which no one will regard as not sufficiently remote, was it at the middle of the seventeenth century? At both of these periods wars were more frequent ihan now; the masses were in no respect 80 well conditioned as they have been since, whether in
houses, food and raiment, or in respect of personal liberty and safety; they were not so well educated, nor had they the advantages of religious and moral culture which those of later times have enjoyed; crimes were at the same time more frequent and more severely punished; there was a coarseness in the manners and literature of the times, to which our age, thanks to something, is a stranger. Can it be true that civilization has been at a stand-still or worse since the age of Charles II. and Louis XIV.?
Was it at the beginning of the nineteenth century ? Think what true progress has been made since that time, progress in the pbysical, intellectual, moral and religious worlds. Then we had no steamboats ascending rivers against wind and tide, braving the ocean, and, we may say, bridging it so as to bring countries the most remote into the same neighborhood; no railroads, “ modern 'acts of the apostles' of civilization," as they have been called, reticulating nations and continents, and conferring upon the world a new force practically equivalent to half the physical power it possessed before; no telegraph speeding words round the earth “in less than forty seconds; " no daguerreotype staying the light and constraining the sun in a new service of art; no way to procure a comfortable wardrobe for a month's labor. Never was there a time when for the hands of the laboring man there were such returns as now; never were the means of liv. ing, of education and improvement so great as at this moment. Within the last fifty years the doctors of our bodies have learnt many things valuable for the relief and cure of the ills to which flesh is heir. Nor have the doctors of souls been idle. Have they presented no new truths, or old ones newly discovered ? Have they thrown aside no old falsehoods and formulas? Is the spirit of the pulpit worse than it was less like Christ's, more like Satan's ? Is the heart approached at rarer intervals than before, and are the examples and doctrines of the Saviour urged less frequently and forcibly, with less of the power and feeling that reach the heart and influence for good the life? Where will you look for sermons on toleration, kindness and charity like those old teachings which are the model-to the nineteenth or to the previous centuries ? Where, if not in our own era, may be found religion in
omfortable war her service of as he light and co
daily life, incarnated, swelling forth in wholesome and needful reforms, temperance reforms, prison reforms, in institutions for charitable and benevolent purposes, for dis. seminating the gospel, sending the Bible to the ends of the earth,-in asylums, schools, retreats for the unfortunate, the weak, and the wicked ? And there is the greatest doctor of all, as he doubtless thinks, who has in charge our legal rights, and especially, and in a two-fold sense, our purses--what of him? Has he done nothing with the body of the laws ? Call from their dusty alcoves the largest hearts that beat in the eighteenth century, the Mar. quis Beccaria and Montesque, and ask them if our juris. prudence, “the spirit of our laws,” show civilization to be on the decline, and man's condition retrograding, or falling into the yellow leaf of decay; and if not satisfied with the responses of these, speak to England's Somers, to France's D’Augesseau. But to compare the state of the laws with what it was fifty years ago, there is not one capital offence where there were ten, not one sentence to the dungeon where there were twenty, and yet life is more safe, property more secure, and crime less common; the rules of evidence are more liberal, of construction less arbitrary, and tempered more and more with an enlight. ened, and, we may say, a divine equity.
Now we desire to ask, are not these things true, and are they not all true ? Have they not been wrought under our civilization, and are they not at this moment carrying it forward ? Are not physical aids, comforts, expedients, helps, whatever in short multiplies the means of living, a more human, if we may so speak, morality, a more practical religion, a more equitable jurisprudence, at once the children, the witnesses, and the instrumentali. ties of a continued and continuing civilization ?
We are aware that it is frequently asserted that crime is on the increase. We do not believe it. That there is, for instance, more crime in the United States among twentyfive millions of people than there was fifty years ago among five, we do not doubt; and that there are offences and vices peculiar to our position and referrible to our progress in material things, may be conceded. Yet, whether we examine the statistics of crime, or note the standards of right and wrong, at different periods, we are persuaded