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GENERAL REMARKS ON THE PAST AND PRESENT CONDITION OF
Principles of a higher Knowledge discoverable among Natives
of South Sea—To be particularly traced in their religious
Various Opinions as to the Effect of Mis-
On the Physical Aspect of the South Sea Islands, and the
supposed Origin of their Inhabitants.
Introductory Remarks on the Extent and Importance of the
Subject—The geographical Position of the Islands to be de-
Until very lately the islands of the Great Southern
weary sailor, whose eye was fatigued with the monotonous view of the vast deep, or who might be threatened with the diseases incident to a long voyage in a tropical climate. But as yet, the narrative of adventure in those distant waters served only, like the Arabian tales, to regale the imagination, by exhibiting pictures of a natural magnificence not witnessed in colder regions, and of a childish simplicity in the unsophisticated tribes by whom the several groups were inhabited. It was not till a period comparatively recent that the philosopher was invited to contemplate human nature at one of the most interesting epochs of its history ; that the attention of the statesman was drawn to a rising commonwealth on the high way between the African continent and the western shores of America ; or that the christian world was cheered with the prospect of a new province being added to the peaceful dominions of the church.
In no point of view, indeed, is this subject more interesting to the philanthropist than as it illustrates the benign effects of true religion on the mind of man, even in his rudest state, and when still surrounded by the strongest inducements to evil. The rapid improvement which, in the Sandwich, the Friendly, and the Society Islands, has followed the labours of missionary zeal, is not less gratifying as a reward for past exertions than when regarded as an encouragement to future endeav
In those remote establishments the savage has been seen to rise, as it were by a single effort, from the lowest condition in which human nature is ever found, to the erect posture of a civilized being; from the worship of the most contemptible idols to a veneration of the true God; and from habits of the grossest barbarism to the pursuit of rational knowledge and the love of refined enjoyment.
About twenty years had elapsed from the time that Columbus discovered America, when Vasco Nunez de Balboa beheld from a mountain in the isthmus of Darien the immense expanse of the ocean spreading out before him towards the noonday sun.
He was not aware that
his eyes were then directed to a sea which stretches round the whole circumference of the globe, and contains, between the Cape of Good Hope and the shores whereon he stood, a multitude of islands, some of them equal to the mightiest kingdoms of the Old World, and one at least not inferior in extent to the whole of Europe. In truth, no scene could be more magnificent, whether as it respected the actual vision, or as it afforded scope to the fancy of an aspiring voyager. The various regions which lie scattered over its bosom possess all the advantages of a rich soil and a genial atmosphere, displaying at once the full beauty of spring combined with the luxuriance of autumn. Tufted groves mingle their foliage with the brilliant enamel of the meadows; while a perfume of exquisite sweetness embalms the air, which is constantly refreshed by delightful breezes from the ocean. The spontaneous productions of the earth exempt the inhabitants from all painful labour ; the bread-tree yields a plentiful supply of food without demanding any severe return of care or toil; and the surrounding waters, rendered smooth by coral reefs, offer a great variety of fish, which can be obtained by means so simple as to resemble sport rather than an irksome drudgery.
It will nevertheless be acknowledged that, without the hand of man, the finest scenes of nature are imperfect. Even under the most propitious climates, and with the richest mould, if mind has not been exerted to improve or direct their energies, the result is unsatisfactory; often offensive to the eye and disappointing to the hopes. Wherever the human being, the lord of this portion of creation, has neglected to interpose his industry, the vegetable and animal tribes remain destitute of the excellence which they are capable of attaining ; they even languish and decay though enjoying every physical advantage. In most parts of the world unvisited by the arts of civilized life, impenetrable woods cover the surface; the trees are seen mutilated by the storm, or rotting on the ground; the fertile plain is encumbered with noxious weeds, or soaked with stagnant water; and every thing that seems to grow is suffocated by an exuberant vegetation.
But as soon as the colonist from an enlightened country appears in such desolate regions, he eradicates the useless plants, and supplies their place with others fitted to give nourishment to himself and to the domestic animals whose service he employs. By removing all that is broken down and decayed, he relieves the air from putrefying effluvia; by opening a passage for the motionless waters, he gives to them an increasing limpidity, rendering them beneficial to all the tenants of his new abode ; while the earth by receiving the kindly influence of the atmosphere becomes dry, and has its face soon covered with a lively verdure. The rays of the vertical sun no sooner begin to parch the surface of his field or vineyard, than he diffuses over them the refreshing water of the passing brook, and preserves the powers of vegetation. How beautiful and beneficent does nature become when improved by the industry of man, and what happy changes are produced by the arts of civilized life! The contrast now stated still meets the eye of the mariner, according as he happens to visit the wilds of New Zealand, or to approach the gentler shores of Otaheite, the fairest isle in the South Sea.*
These remarks will receive a striking illustration from comparing the present state of even that oceanic paradise, which owes so much to nature, with its condition as we find it described by the early navigators. The neat cottages which now display their white walls through the beautiful shrubberies wherewith they are surrounded ; the ornamented gardens formed by the missionaries, who have also conveyed to them the finest fruits of Europe ; and the regular fields which stretch along the valleys, protected by hedges or painted palisades, appear to the greatest advantage when seen in connexion with the wild scenery of the mountains and
Buffon, Première Vue de la Nature. Forster's Observations made during a Voyage round the World (4to, Lond. 1778),