Page images
PDF
EPUB

neither savages nor philosophers; but, having been partially enlightened by a preparatory revelation of their own, they had completely made up their minds against the reception of every other, and while they beheld and owned that miracles were actually wrought amongst them, eluded the obvious conclusion by ascribing them to the operation of demons. This is the only satisfactory account which can be given of their conduct collectively and as a people. But to all these are to be added particular and professional causes of obduracy and unbelief. The pride of rank, the administration of the laws as vested in themselves, distance from places of vulyar resort, disdain of popular rumours, jealousy of imposture in an age abounding with impostors--all these reasons and more would operate upon the higher orders of the Jews to prevent them from becoming eye-witnesses of deeds however remarkable, such as reported to be performed by a poor itinerant. Their example, authority, and persuasion, would operate in the same direction upon their numerous dependents ; and if we take into the account the vast majority of every people, which from infancy, sickness, decrepitude, and domestic engagements must ever be prevented from going abroad in search of extraordinary spectacles, it will follow that a very small proportion of the Jewish nation were actual spectators of our Saviour's miracles, or rather of any single miracle. Thousands, we know, were occasionally assembled, but what are thousands even repeatedly collected on various occasions, compared with the millions which, within forty years from the death of Christ, that devoted country could afford for slaughter? But it is to these alone,—the actual spectators of any single miracle, that the argument applies. The question therefore is—why were not their prejudices at least universally overcome? Narrowed to such a point, the question is certainly important. An analysis of the probable dispositions of these witnesses will lead to a conclusion not widely different from the fact. First, then, out of this mingled mass are to be extracted the real believers in Christ, who, convinced by what they saw and heard, boldly avowed their persuasion and suffered for it. Now these are the only witnesses for the reality of the gospel miracles, properly so called. The evidence was overbearing-evidence presented to their senses—to the senses of numbers at the same time, and received at the peril of their reputation, and their lives. The next place must be assigned to a class, in all probability very numerous, consisting of the timid, the interested, and the worldly-minded, who saw, believed, and dissembled their belief. Another belongs to those who admitted the truth of the facts but ascribed them to the operation of demons. The last and lowest is to be given to an idle and brutal rabble, such as any wonderful vu 2

story

story will always assemble in countries more civilized than Judea, who beheld the miracles of Jesus as they would have regarded the tricks of a juggler, with stupid and momentary astonishment, leading to no conclusion, or rather to no reflection. Such, then, is the value of this boasted argument from the general incredulity of the Jewish people. Another observation on this subject, though not quite original, has been well and forcibly urged by our author, we mean, the absence of all contrary evidence. The circumstances of the gospel miracles were left by their first relators in no convenient generalities. Time, place, concomitant, preceding and subsequent facts are commonly given; and, when these miracles were confidently appealed to as notorious and recent, the governing powers of the country had it in their option to call for the appearance and take the examination of multitudes known to have been present at the places and times assigned, who had not embraced the doctrine of Jesus. This was the only rational method which could have been devised for crushing a successful and spreading imposture, but it was never resorted to, and the total absence of any negative testimony on the subject amounts to positive proof of general and contemporary acquiescence in the truth of the miracles alleged to have been wrought by Jesus.

Let it not be said that this conduct was owing to neglect and contempt: long before the apprehension of Christ all the passions and prejudices of the higher orders were evidently excited to the highest pitch against his person and doctrine; they were acute, politic, and vindictive--they hated and feared the new doctrine in equal proportions, but, excepting their wicked subormation in order to contradict the fact of the Resurrection, they felt themselves compelled to leave the evidence from miracles wholly unassailed.

With much to praise, and, excepting a single defect, not much to censure, in the work before us, we earnesily recommend an attentive perusal of its contents to those for whose benefit it seems to have been intended, the infidel sçavans of the author's own country.

On the internal evidences of Christianity they want nothing but a spirit of attentive and impartial inquiry into its beneficial tendency and effects, to enable them to judge for themselves.

On the external testimony, to which Dr. Chalmers has applied the whole force of his understanding, they will find a great deal which uninquiring prejudice may contemn, but which no powers of reasoning with which they are gifted will be able to confute. The general credibility of human testimony must be shaken in order to shake the credibility of the Gospel miracles. Let the intrinsic excellence of this religion dispose them to apply to its proofs the same calm and philosophical process of the understanding, which they are in the habit of applying to every other remarkable phenomenon, and we have little doubt of the result: but should it unfortunately happen that they, or any of them, should rise up from a careful perusal of the work before us without that conviction which, as we think, it might have brought to their minds, let them not impute their disappointment to the subject or to the evidence. As an advocate for the truth of the Christian revelatioix Dr. Chalmers cannot be placed in the first class. With all his demands for a spirit of severe ratiocination on the subject, he is himself no severe reasoner. His style, too diffuse and declamatory, is perceptibly tinctured by those habits of extemporaneous eloquence, which in his own church accomplish the speaker, while they often spoil the writer. Many strong and striking things indeed are said, but in a manner too desultory to produce the full effect to which they are entitled, and in an order too irregular and inconsequent to concentrate all the rays of light in one focus. There are also many important omissions, the subject of prophecy in particular—but above all, we desiderate in the close of his book a clear and forcible summing up of the whole evidence, so as to bring it at once before the wavering and half-convinced mind, and by its irresistible effect to fix it in belief. But to these philosophers it is probably unknown (we fear it is but imperfectly known to our author himself) that the present and the last generation have produced from the English school of theology more than one work on the same important subject, by masters at once of reason and of style, accomplished in the laws of evidence, and skilled in all the art of lucid order and arrangement. To these we confidently remit the unconvinced and unsatisfied readers of Dr. Chalmers, and if, after having taken up the works of Lyttleton and Jenyns, of Powell and Paley, they feel a disposition to lay them by half read, either their heads or their hearts must be in fault, they must be incapable of conviction on the most momentous of all subjects, or they must dread it; and they have reason to apprehend that the Being whom they do not choose to retain in their knowledge, hath given them a strong delusion if not that they should believe a lie,' what is at least equally pernicious, that they should disbelieve the truth.

Art. VIII.-1. Journal of the Proceedings of the late Embussy

to China; comprising a correct Narrative of the Public Travisactions of the Embussy, of the Voyage to and from China, and of the Journey from the Mouth of the Pei-to the Return to Canton, &c. Illustrated by Maps and Drawings. By Henry Ellis, Third Commissioner of the Embassy. 4to. pp. 526. London. 1817.

H 3

2. Nur

2. Narrative of a Voyage in His Majesty's late Ship Alceste to

the Yellow Sea, along the Coast of Corea and through its numerous hitherto undiscovered Islands to the Island of Lewchea, with an Account of her Shipwreck in the Straits of Gaspar. By John M'Leod, Surgeon of the Alceste. 8vo. pp. 284.

London. 1817. IT T was said 'i'th' olden time,' (and the saying is not much the

worse for the wear,) that the race is not always to the swift;'— and, indeed, of all swift-paced animals, an author is not the least likely to break down, if pushed beyond his speed. Mr. Ellis has certainly taken the lead of about half a dozen competitors, who are said to have started along with bim; but he may not, for all this, win the prize, though he has the advantage in starting, To speak plainly, we are of opinion that his book betrays too great haste; and are led to regret that he should not bave taken more time, as well as counsel, before he published. Had this been done, we are pretty certain that he would not only have lopped off many redundancies, but have expunged some strange words, and still stranger figures of speech : we should not then have heard of the repose of putrifying garlic on a much worn blanket;' nor of throwing a vacant countenance into laughter, by the 'expounded radiance of silliness ;'-—nor of comparing a muddy river to “hasty-pudding,' which is not a very happy similitude, nor one, in fact, which Mr. Ellis had an interest in suggesting. These, and other phrases of the same kind, are not only examples of bad taste, but exhibit a degree of levity not altogether suited to the high official situation held by the writer.* Mr. Ellis had a model before him in Sir George Staunton's ' Authentic Accoumt' of the former embassy; or, if he thought that was drawn up in too grave and sustained a style to be used in a diary, there was that excellent book, The Travels of John Bell of Antermony,' the best model perhaps for travel-writing in the English language.t The discussions too with the Chinese government are given so much in detail as to divest them of all dignity, and to place the parties concerned in rather a disparaging if not a ludicrous point of view. A diplomatist is invested with a trust which he is bound to deposit in those hands from which he originally received it; he is not at liberty to lay before the public the details of his official employment; much less heedlessly to fling over them a cast of undue contempt.-— With these drawbacks, which a conscientious discharge of our duty to the public has compelled us to notice, we have no hesitation in pronouncing the volume before us a valuable and interesting work. And one advantage, certainly, may be derived from Mr. Ellis's frankness. The paltry intrigues of this oriental negociation (thus unreservedly laid open) afford a practical illustration of the childish vanity, the insolence, the meanness, and the unblushing falsehood of the court of China; and they display, in its true light, the moral and political character of this government of sages, which Voltaire and his followers conspired to hold up as a pattern for all governments to follow, and an example for the general admiration of mankind.

given He was secretary of embassy and third con missioner. Sir George Staunton was second commissioner, and to succeed, on the death or absence of the ambassador, as first commissioner, Mr. Ellis's dormant commission of minister plenipotentiary being merely provided for securing the delivery of the Regent's letter.

+ The history of this book is somewhat curious, and not generally known. For many years after Mr. Bell returned from his travels he used to amuse his friends with accounts of what he had seen, refreshing his recollection from a simple diary of occurrences and observations. The Earl Granville, then president of the Council, on hearing some of his adventures, prevailed on him to throw his notes together into the form of a narrative, which, when dore, pleased him so much that he sent the manuscript to Doctor Robertson, with a particular request that he would revise and put it in a fit state for the press. The literary avocations of the Scottish historian at that time not allowing him to under take the task, he recommended Mr, Barroi, a professor in the University of Aberdeen; and on this gentleman consulting Doctor Robertson as to the style and the book of travels which he would recommend hisn to adopt for his guide, the historian replied, ' Take Gulliver's Travels for your model, and you cannot go wrong.' He did so, and · Bell's Travels' has all the simplicity of Gulliver, with the advantage which truth always carries over fiction. * No. XXXII. pp. 419, 413. н н4

Mr. Ellis's volume contains, in the form of a diary, an account of the transactions of the British embassy with the court of Pekin ; a narrative of occurrences in a journey of thirieen or fourteen bundred miles through the heart of the Chinese empire; and a clear and, we doubt not, an accurate description of the various objects which presented themselves on the route. It is true that all which can be seen from the grand canal, and which is the usual track from Pekin to Canton, is now nearly as well known as the road froin London to Edinburgh; and although the route of the present embassy deviated from that of Lord Macartney in taking the course of the great river, the Yang-tse-kiang, for two hundred and eighty iniles, which afforded an opportunity of viewing the ancient capital of Nankin, and the fine scenery in the neighbourhood of the Po-yang lake, yet that sameness, which is characteristic of China, seems every where to have occurred in the constant repetition of the same kind of objects.

In a former Number* we traced the progress of the embassy to its embarkation on the barges of the Pei-ho; and formed a tolerable guess at the scenes which had been acted at the celestial residence;' this we were enabled to do (for we make no presensions to the gift of second sight) partly from some little knowledge of the

Chinese

« PreviousContinue »