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Present signification de termined.
want of clothing, may, to an European eye, have the appearance of barbarians; yet their national temper and manners, upon the whole, are exemplarily mild, inoffensive, and obliging.
The term then, it is presumed, is, in this discussion, to be taken in its philosophical acceptation, denoting the improvement of man, considered as a member of human society, a subject of human government. It supposes him to enjoy the full benefit of those political arrangements, of which his circumstances will admit; and, of course, to possess all that happiness of condition, and refinement of manners, and excellence of character, which, in his situation, he may attain. In this reference the prescribed subject becomes a question of the most interesting moment. How that placid people, whose condition has been hitherto so depressed, may be raised, in the scale of nations and in the lot of humanity, as high in all respects as the advantages of their situation, improved by British talent and influence, will admit, seems to be the spirit and object of the proposed inquiry.
Civilisation is either absolute or comparative. By absolute civilisation we understand the utmost improvement, of which mankind, in their social state, are susceptible. This
Distinctions on this subject.
is that perfectibility of human nature, by the operation of civil government, about which the philosophers and politicians of a neighbouring nation spoke so highly, concerning which they formed theories so beautiful, and the prospect of which they entertained with expectations so sanguine ; but of which that people have since set an example so inadequate, as to convince us that there is a certain corruption in human nature, a certain fatality in human affairs, which forbid the hope that this captivating prospect will soon be realised, or the object be ever attained solely by such means. The pleasing dream is dispelled. A cloud has been substituted, and embraced instead of a goddess. Comparative civilisation is all that has hitherto been accomplished ; all, it should seem, that we can ever reasonably hope to effectuate by the wisest legislative provisions alone. But even this, though not so splendid in theory, presents in fact, an object sufficiently magnificent and interesting to excite and to reward our researches. There is no nation on earth who have attained, in all respects, that height of improvement which they might reach; none, whose condition and character might not be greatly ameliorated by a wise comparison of the circumstance of other states, and a prudent adoption of whatever should appear, upon due consideration, to be of superior excellence in their schemes of policy. Thus civilisation in all might be progressive; though it should never become absolutely perfect. Mankind might still be ascending in this path of true glory; although in their civil state, they should never reach the highest point of improvement.
In attempting to promote this progress, two extremes are to be avoided. There appears on either hand a fatal rock, which it behoves the political navigator to shun with steady aim. On the one side, by grasping at too much we might lose the comfort, if not the possession, of present privilege: by holding in view a system of Utopian civilisation, a project of ideal perfection, which could never be realised, we would delude ourselves, and, by discouraging effort, even prevent the attainment of what is within our reach. On the other side, by taking our aim too low, we may not rise to that height of improvement, which, by a juster elevation, might easily have been gained. Nor must any one nation be assumed as a perfect model of civilisation. The state and character of all are mixed. In the most refined we shall detect some remnants of ancient rudeness, or some tendencies to barbarism. Among the most polished nations of Europe, customs, derived from their Gothic ancestors, still
maintain their ascendancy; and symptoms of moral, if not of political declension, are but too apparent.
While, therefore, we avail ourselves to the uttermost, of Application, the suggestions to be derived, by discriminating wisdom, to our sub
of the remark
ject. from the experience of past ages, or from the institutions of present times, let us, without either grasping at what is unattainable, or contenting ourselves with servilely copying any existing scheme of policy, inquire how the civilisation of Hindostan may be promoted in the highest practicable degree. The civilisation of a country (as has been already hinted) consists in its security under a good government; in the strength, the activity, the excellence of the social principle; in the spirit of union, of industry, and of enterprise by which its inhabitants are actuated, and the conveniencies and comforts of polished life are widely diffused; and in the enlightened, and virtuous conduct of the various classes of the community. How then, by the arrangements of civil polity, by the exertions of a wise administration, may the greatest proportion of happiness be distributed throughout this vast and populous division of the British empire? How may we raise, to the highest pitch that their genius and circumstances will allow, the excellence of human nature, and the improvement of human society, among our eastern sub
jects? How may we enable them to enjoy the full benefit of social order, and to fulfil, in the best manner, the grand purposes of the existence of man upon the earth? To the solution of these interesting problems we are to address ourselves.
One circumstance it would be improper not to notice, in our progress. By reason of a revolution, not unexampled indeed in the history of mankind, but attended in this case with circumstances of peculiarity, the civilisation of Hindostan admits of a retrospective consideration. An elegant and well-informed historian * has attempted to prove, by a long and argumentative induction of facts, that “ the inhabitants of India were not only more early civilised, but had made greater progress in civilisation than any other people.” The reason assigned for this attempt, in the close of that elaborate treatise, is both interesting to our feelings, and intimately connected with the object of this dissertation; while the accuracy of his research, the extent of his information, the correctness of his judgment, and the plausibility of his arguments, entitle his conclusions to a high degree of respect. Yet, the extraordinary refinement in civil po
Passing reference to ancient state.
* Dr Robertson, App. Hist. Disq.