The last volumes of Wilkes’s Narrative have reached us now, and, though like the first they are written in too prolix a style, and show the writer without high qualifications for such a task, they are upon ground so much less familiar that they are far more interesting than the first. The work really contains many facts of value. The illustrations, too, are many, and sufficient to impart a lively idea of the scenes and people. Thus, apart from the practical results attained, the nation has derived from this great national enterprise sufficient food for its intelligence to stimulate the desire for a series of such.
Slight is the intercourse held by the voyager with the South Sea Islanders, his narrative is always more prized by us than those of the missionary and traders, who, though they have better opportunity for full and candid observation, rarely use it so well, because their minds are biased towards their special objects. It is deeply interesting to us to know how much and how little God has accomplished for the various nations of the larger portion of the earth, before they are brought into contact with the civilization of Europe and the Christian religion. To suppose it so little as most people do, is to impugn the justice of Providence. We see not how any one can contentedly think that such vast multitudes of living souls have been left for thousands of years without manifold and great means of instruction and happiness. To appreciate justly how far these have availed them, to know how far they are competent to receive new benefits, is essential to the philanthropist as a means of benefitting them, no less than it is important to the philosopher who wishes to see the universe as God made it, not as some men think he ought to have made it.
The want of correct knowledge and a fair appreciation of the cultivated man as he stands is a cause why even the good and generous to aid him, and contact with Europe has proved so generally more of a curse than a blessing. It is easy enough to see why our Red man, to whom the White extends the Bible or crucifix with one hand and the rum-bottle with the other, should look upon Jesus as only one more Manitou, and learn nothing from his precepts or the civilization connected with them. The Hindoo, the South American Indian, who knew their teachers first as powerful robbers, and found themselves called upon to yield to violence, not only their property, personal freedom, and peace, but also the convictions and ideas that had been rooted and growing in their race for ages, could not be other thus degraded and stupefied by a change effected through such violence and convulsion. But not only those who came with fire and sword, crying “Believe or die,” “understand or we will scourge you” —“understand and we will only plunder and tyrannize over you;” not only these ignorant despots, self-deceiving robbers, have failed to benefit the people they dared esteem more savage than themselves, but the good and generous have failed from want of patience and an expanded intelligence.—Would you speak to a man, first learn his language! Would you have the tree grow, learn the nature of the soil and climate in which you plant it! Better days are coming, we do hope, as to these matters, days in which the new shall be harmonized with the old, rather than violently rent asunder from it, when progress shall be accomplished by gentle evolution, as the stem of the plant grows up, rather than with the blasting of rocks and blindness or death of miners.
The knowledge which can lead to such results must be collected, as all true knowledge is, from the love of it. In the healthy state of the mind, the state of elastic youth, which would be perpetual in the mind if It were nobly disciplined and animated by immortal hopes, it likes to learn just how the facts are, seeking truth for its own sake, not doubting that the design and cause will be made clear in time. A mind in such a state will find many facts ready for its use in these volumes relative to the South Sea Islanders and other objects of interest.*
“United States Exploring Expedition.” New-York Daily Tribune, 28 June 1845, p. 1.