« السابقةمتابعة »
It were more meet for me to pardon it
And Nala bode a month; then bid adieu
Then Pushkara smiled falsely on his brother,
Have thought of you, and looked for your return.
He thought to shear his head off in his wrath;
So then they played, and Nala won the game.
PERSONS, who are in the habit of respondence with
speculating upon moral subjects are often taunted with the uselessness of their pursuits. They are told that moral theories are mere exercises of ingenuity; that for practical purposes every ordinary person is able to solve them for himself, and that there is no real difficulty in discovering what our duty is in given circumstances, whatever may be the difficulty of doing it when it is discovered. Those who speak thus derive a great advantage in common cases from the fact that there is a sufficient degree of consent on most of the moral problems which commonly arise, to enable them to appeal with considerable plausibility to the common sense and conscience of mankind. If, for instance, you ask why it is wrong to torture a man for theft, but right to imprison him? why it is right to hang a murderer, and wrong to burn him alive? why people ought to keep their word and respect the property of their neighbours? you are generally met with an appeal to the instincts of humanity. So, if you ask why a man who burns and destroys the private property of an enemy on shore is considered blameable, whilst precisely the same conduct on sea is considered praiseworthy? why we may sell warlike stores to belligerents, but may not fit out ships for their use? or the like, the answer is that such is the law of nations. If you go further, and ask what the law of nations is, and why it ought to be obeyed? you learn that the law of nations is contained in the writings of certain well-known authors; and that as a fact all the nations of Europe do act as if it were a real law, and did bind their conduct; and this is often called the common sense or common feeling or instinct of mankind. In short, on inquiry into any department of human conduct, the assertion that there are rules by which that conduct ought to be governed; that these rules are notorious, and may be ultimately referred to their cor
some internal standard, is constantly put forward by a large proportion of those who discuss such matters; and it is an all but invariable practice to accompany this by a more or less indignant protest against those who try to go further back, and venture to criticize the ultimate standard itself, or to resolve it into something more intelligible.
In this, as in all other such controversies, there is no test so good as the practical application of rival theories to actual facts. Men may talk for ever about intuitive morals, and the laws of nature and nations on the one hand, and the principles of utility on the other, without coming to any result at all, or at least without coming to any result of which it is possible to say more than that it is or is not consistent with the premises from which the persons who maintain it originally set out. When rival principles are applied to specific facts, we are able -not perhaps to say which is true and which false, for in order to do that we must be provided with a common test of truth, but to say which squares most nearly with the maxims and principles of conduct on which we generally act.
Few cases could afford a better opportunity for the application of this process than the case of Japan. Within the last three years we have brought that country to the verge of revolution and civil war. We have forced it, for our convenience, to renounce a course of policy deliberately chosen and pursued for nearly two centuries; and we have set on fire, accidentally or otherwise, a town with upwards of 100,000 inhabitants, in the process of punishing the Government for the murder of one of our subjects. These are all acts which have a tremendous moral significance, and the application to them of our common rules of morality, cannot fail to throw some degree of light upon the true nature and value of those rules. In order to make the attempt to do so, it will
be necessary, in the first place, to enter upon some account of the facts, which, fortunately for the present purpose, lie within a manageable compass.
The country which by a strange caprice we call Japan-a name which appears to be one entirely of our own invention-is not altogether unlike our own country. It is of somewhat similar dimensions; and, as far as our vague information goes, the population cannot be very different. It was first brought into relations with Western Europe by the Portuguese, in the middle of the sixteenth century; and for about a hundred years the intercourse between the Japanese and the outer world was constant and friendly. The Roman Catholic missions founded by Xavier did much towards the conversion of the population. Intermarriages took place between the Japanese and the Portuguese; and it seemed highly probable that the whole population would become Christian. If this had occurred, it would have been nearly if not quite the only instance of such an event on a large scale, since the conversion of the northern tribes after the fall
of the Roman empire. This, however, was not to be. The claims of the clergy to spiritual authority were considered by the king, whom we call the Tycoon, incompatible with his own supremacy; a fierce civil war against such of the Daimios or half independent princes as had adopted Christianity, and an unsparing persecution of the Christians took place, and ended in the expulsion of all foreigners whatever from the island, and the enactment of a law forbidding all intercourse whatever, even in what might be considered cases of necessity, with foreigners of all descriptions. The Dutch, of whom a small number were permitted to remain in what was really an imprisonment at the factory of Decima; and the Chinese who appear to have been allowed to carry on a certain degree of commercial intercourse with their neighbours on somewhat similar terms, were the only exceptions. Till the American mission in 1854, which
produced a treaty not of commerce but of friendship, nothing whatever was known in Europe of Japan, except what was reported by officers— generally speaking, physicians of the factory at Decima. Their opportunities of getting information were extremely small, as they never saw anything of the country except in an annual journey to the capital, which was made under the most stringent precautions against observation on the part of the travellers, and attended with the grossest indignities. Since 1854 several of the leading powers of Europe have made treaties of commerce with Japan. The Russians and Dutch made such treaties in 1857, and the Americans, English, and French, in July and August 1858. Under these treaties representatives of the various treaty powers have lived at Yeddo, and consuls have been stationed at the other ports opened to trade. Our own representative, Sir Rutherford Alcock, went there in 1859, and has lately published an account of the observations which he made during his three years' residence. His work and the various parliamentary papers published on the subject form the materials of the present article.
Sir Rutherford Alcock's book is not a satisfactory one. It is diffuse and lengthy, and is made up to its present size by interminable dissertations on all sorts of topics very slightly connected with Japan. It is the work of a man whose time hung heavy on his hands, and who appears to have passed away great part of it in recording minutely not only the incidents but the feelings and opinions of every part of his residence. It is, however, fair to say that it is also the work of a person who was constantly on the look out for information, and who had sedulously used opportunities superior probably to those which have fallen to any other European, except his diplomatic colleagues, of studying the country in which he lived. The parliamentary papers consist partly of despatches from Lord Elgin relating to the signature of the treaty, and partly of despatches by Sir R.
Alcock and Colonel Neale, the chargé d'affaires, who acted in his absence, in reference to the different transactions which took place between our countrymen and the Japanese, in consequence of the relations established under the provisions of the treaty. In order to bring out the true nature of the questions at issue between the Japanese and ourselves, we will begin by giving the salient points of the information collected by Sir R. Alcock as to their institutions, character, and state of society, and will then describe the transactions which have taken place between them and our own country
The most striking fact about Japan is the scantiness of our information on it. Not only have we no acquaintance with Japanese literature, but we can hardly be said to know whether such a thing exists; indeed Sir R. Alcock implies that no Englishman is really well acquainted with the language. His first employment on taking possession of his official residence, was to obtain this necessary knowledge; and he succeeded, after nearly two years' labour, in compiling a grammar. It Imust have been a most serious undertaking, as far at least as the written language is concerned, for the spoken language is easier. There are three systems of writing, namely, Chinese characters, which have a special meaning in Japanese, and two Japanese alphabets; but there are many different ways of writing the Chinese characters, which are used sometimes ideographically and sometimes phonetically; and all the different modes of writing are occasionally jumbled up together in the same document. The Japanese alphabets are easier. It appears, however, that it is nearly impossible to make much of Japanese without bringing to the study a previous knowledge of Chinese. The language when learnt has many peculiarities; the most striking of which is what Sir R. Alcock calls its microscopic character-that is, its tendency to introduce endless and perfectly useless distinctions upon every conceivable subject. Thus there are
as many forms of numerals as there are classes of things, to be enumerated; and as we talk of a pound of butter, a stone of meat, a tod of wool, and a pocket of hops, they have one word for five fishes, another for five birds, hares, or rabbits, another for five ships, and another for five trees or sticks. Their classes of numerals, we are told,' would fill a volume in themselves.'
Upon Japanese literature Sir R. Alcock has next to nothing to say. By dint of great manoeuvring he managed to buy or get bought for him a sort of Japanese directory or red-book, from which he got amongst other things a list of the different Daimios, with an account of their revenues; but the person who got it for him committed a crime in doing so which might have cost him his life. He also mentions some popular stories of the nature of legends, and he saw one play acted. The play was grossly indecent, and the story turned upon the exploits of certain lonins, or outlaws, who to revenge the death of their master stormed his enemy's castle, put him to death, duly disembowelled themselves, and were all buried in one cemetery, and held in the highest honour ever after. These, however, are very small matters, and for the present our knowledge of Japanese thought must be put down as nothing at all. The only bit of anything like literary information which Sir R. Alcock has to give is contained in the popular picture books, which depict a variety of domestic scenes. His book is filled with engravings taken from this source, some of which are very spirited and vigorous; but they go a very little way towards making us understand the people whom they represent.
Of the religion of the Japanese we have a little and only a little more knowledge than of their literature. Like their written language, it appears to have come from China. Both Buddhism and Confucianism have been introduced into the country; Buddhism about the sixth century of our era, and Confucianism in the first. The Sintoo creed was earlier than either,
but hardly anything at all is known of it. The surprising resemblance of the Buddhist ceremonies and creed to those of the Roman Catholic Church appear to have struck Sir R. Alcock as they have struck many other observers; but it would seem from his account of the matter that it is little better than a set of idle ceremonies and puerile superstitions, and that it exercises next to no practical influence on the conduct of the population. This is the character given of Buddhism wherever it prevails. The Chinese Buddhist is merely a little more superstitious than he would be if he were not a Buddhist; and of the Japanese Sir R. Alcock observes, 'They have some but very obscure and imperfect notions of the immortality of the soul, and a future state of bliss or misery. But so far as I have seen, the educated classes scoff at all such doctrines, as fit only for the vulgar and the ignorant.' The story of the Tycoon who directed Christianity to be tolerated, as it would only raise the number of religions in Japan from thirty-five to thirty-six, looks as if there had been more activity in religious thought three hundred years ago than there is in the present day; but now at all events the population appear to have settled down into a sort of contented and narrowly limited formalism which fits in with their habits of life, and from which it would probably be exceedingly difficult to find any means of rousing them.
Of the moral condition and character of the Japanese something more definite is known than of their religious belief or their literary attainments. Tried by our standard of morals, there can be no doubt that they are a very wicked people. Their principles and practice as to the relation of the sexes is such that Sir R. Alcock declares himself unable to understand how any of the domestic virtues are possible among them. It is a common practice for women to pass their early years in professional prostitution, after which they marry without loss of character or standing. Their language and amusements are also exceed
ingly indecent. Besides this, they are inveterate liars. One of the five commandments of Buddhism is directed against this vice, but it is universally practised amongst them, and that without anything approaching to shame. They all lie, from the highest to the lowest, and when found out simply begin again unblushingly. They are also altogether indifferent to human life. The country is full of 'two-sworded men,' the retainers of the Daimios, who are ready on any and every provocation to murder any one at their masters' orders. Not only were murders repeatedly committed on foreigners, but it seems to have frequently happened that when a political personage gave offence to any party of men he was murdered on the first opportunity, the murderers for the most part being killed on the spot by the guards of the murdered man, or taking away their own lives by the process of ripping themselves up. This strange practice of committing suicide whenever an event discreditable either to the character, or even to the judgment of an official person takes place, is most characteristic. It is probably unexampled in any other part of the world. Even in China no evidence is to be found of so great a contempt for human life as it appears to indicate.
This is the bad side of the Japanese character, and certainly it is bad enough; but it is very easy to take too dark a view of the race to which it applies. The faults of the Japanese all resolve themselves into the one great fault of having too low a standard of morality. With their views as to the position of women and the obligation of truth, it would seem that it would be impossible to expect from them what we should regard as beauty of character; but their contempt of life, whilst it indicates a certain roughness and brutality, indicates also a certain sort of nobility. A man who is always ready to rip himself up on the slightest occasion, and who feels bound to do so rather than endure anything approaching to a blemish on his reputation, must