Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/March 1899/The Evolution of Colonies: Social Evolution VII

Popular Science Monthly Volume 54 March 1899  (1899) 
The Evolution of Colonies: Social Evolution VII by James Collier




MARCH, 1899.




PERHAPS there is no civilized institution to which man has accommodated himself with so ill a grace as monogamy. Hardly a perversion of it has ever existed but may still be found. Polygamy is widely spread in the most advanced communities; temporary polyandrous ménages à trois are known to exist elsewhere than among the Nairs and Tibetans and ancient Britons; the matriarchate in one shape or another may be detected well outside the sixty peoples among whom Mr. Tylor has discovered it; and marriage by free choice is far from having superseded marriage by capture or by purchase. It is the less surprising that abnormal or ancient forms of the union should have been revived in colonies. In this relationship, as in most others, the colonist, like the sperm cell after its junction with the germ cell, sinks at once to a lower level, and the race has to begin life over again. The fall is inevitable. The earliest immigrants are all of them men. Everywhere finding indigenes in the newly settled country, they can usually count on the complaisance or the submissiveness of the tribesmen. Native women have a strange fascination for civilized men, even for those who have been intimate with the European aristocracies and have belonged to them. Adventurous Castins might find their account in a relationship that was in perfect keeping with the wild life they led. It is more strange that, enslaved by an appetite which sometimes rose to a collective if seldom to a personal passion, educated men, with a scientific or a public career flung open to them at their option, able men who have written the best books about the races they knew only too well, men of great position whose heroic deeds and winning manners made them adored by women of their own race, should have spoiled their prime, or inextricably entangled themselves, or wrecked their own roof-tree and incurred lifelong desertion by the wife of their youth. The bluest blood of Spain was not contaminated by an alliance with the Incas, but just ten years ago the direct line of an ancient English earldom was extinguished among the Kaffirs. The truth seems to be that while a woman will not as a rule accept a man who is her inferior in rank or refinement, a man easily contents himself for the time with almost any female. The Bantu woman and the Australian zubra are not alluring, but they have never lacked suitors. Colonial women shrink (or profess to shrink) from the Chinaman; all colors—black, brown, red, and yellow—seem to be alike to the undiscriminating male appetite. Yet it has its preferences. The high official who stands unmoved before the cloudy attractions of the Zulu, surrenders at discretion to the soft-voiced, dark-eyed, plump-limbed daughters of Maoriland. In the last case a perverse theory (of the future amalgamation of the races) may have been "the light that led astray"; it certainly was used to justify their acts to the consciences of the doers. Romance had its share: Browning's Waring (who was premier as well as poet) threw a poetic glamour over the miscegenation, as another hiinister found in the race the Ossianesque attributes of his own Highlanders. It sometimes, even now, rises into passion: the colonial schoolmaster who marries a native girl will declare that his is a love match. But the chief reason at all times was "the custom of the country." "It was the regular thing," remarked an old legislator, looking ruefully back on his past. Nor is it to be harshly censured. Corresponding to the Roman slave-concubinage which Cato Major did not disdain to practice, it repeated a stage in the history of the mother country when the invading Angles allied themselves (as anthropology abundantly proves) with the native Britons. While making a kind of atonement to the indigenes, it was a solatium to the pioneer colonists for a life of hardship and privation. A higher grade was the concubinage of convictism, which was with women of the same race and was capable of rising into normal marriage. In the early days of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land it seems to have been almost universal, and it lasted for many years. Not one in ten of the officials lived with his legally married wife. In the latter colony it was suppressed by the governor, who ordered them to marry the women by whom they had families. In the former, if Dr. Lang's account of his exertions is accepted, it was put down by the exposure of guilty parties. It was accompanied by other features of a low social state. The public and private sale of wives was not infrequent. The colonial equivalent for a wife, in the currency of those days, was sometimes four gallons of rum, or five pounds sterling and a gallon, or twenty sheep and a gallon; one woman was sold for fifty sheep.

Around gold and silver mining encampments nondescript relationships of a slightly higher order arise. They are with free women, though the women are apt to be of the same class as Bret Harte's Duchess of Poker Flat, answering to the Doll Tearsheets of hardly more civilized communities. They often issue in marriage. In mining townships, and even in colonial towns, professional men are to be found married to unpresentable women.

In colonies of regular foundation normal marriages are contracted under difficulties. Few women at first go out, the emigrants intending to return when they have made their fortune. Women have accordingly to be sent. In the seventeenth century a number of girls of good repute were persuaded to emigrate to Virginia, a subscription being raised to defray the cost. In the following century wives were sent to settlers in French Louisiana on the same plan. To French Canada women were dispatched by shiploads. They were selected (according to Parkman) as butchers choose cattle: the plumpest were preferred, because they could stand the winter best and would stay at home. In Virginia women were offered for sale to eager colonists, who willingly paid one hundred pounds of tobacco for one, or as much as one hundred and fifty pounds for a very pretty girl; a debt incurred for the purchase of a wife being considered a debt of honor. In the early days of Canterbury, New Zealand, when a consignment of servant girls arrived, young farmers would ride over the Port hills and carry them off, though in the style rather of young Lochinvar than of the Sabine rape. Settlers have often requested the agent general for the colony or the mayor of their native town to send them out a wife. Wives so easily acquired are apt to be lightly parted with, and within the last few years, in colonial villages, amicable exchanges have been effected—one woman going with her children to the house of another man, whose wife and children made a reciprocal migration. Facts such as these (which might readily be multiplied) show how easily so-called civilized man sloughs off the conventions of ages and sinks to a primitive level. They soon disappear, however, and social colonial conditions rapidly assimilate themselves to those of the mother country. In most young colonies marriage is universal and it is early. After a few days' acquaintance couples rashly engage themselves, in utter ignorance of one another's character or of their own, and a precipitate marriage follows, with such results as might be expected. Statistics show that the age of marriage on the part of women is steadily rising. In the early days of each colony a girl was deemed passée if she did not get married before she was twenty-one. In the decade that ended the first century of New South Wales the proportion of married women under that age fell from 28.17 to 23.55 per cent; in less prosperous Victoria, after only half a century, it fell from 21 to 17.4; in New Zealand there was a big drop from 29.4 to 19.7. The proportion of married women under twenty-five has also seriously declined. The decrease is noticeably correspondent with the increased number of young women who are gaining their own livelihood—largely as teachers and typewriters. On these lines the colonies are following the lead of the mother country. Long engagements, followed by late marriages with fewer children, take the place of short engagements with hasty marriages and larger families. Female celibacy is no longer dishonorable, and women are beginning to understand that they may be far happier single and self-supporting. The quality of marriage improves with its rarity. When an Australian M. A. marries an M. A., or the most brilliant of New Zealand professors marries one of his most distinguished students, we feel, as when a Dilke marries a Pattison, that the ideal of the union has been realized.

The growth of the colonial house follows the development of the family and repeats the history of the race. The immigrant procures his abode, as he afterward buys his clothes, ready made. The ancient troglodyte lives to-day in the Derbyshire cave dweller; the original Romanist settlers of Maryland were driven to take refuge in cave houses in Virginia; and the New Zealand hermit, like "great Pasan's son" at Lemnos, "weeps o'er his wound" of the heart in a cave by the resounding sea. Where they can not be found ready dug they can be excavated, as they were by some early Pennsylvania colonists. Others in Virginia, New York, and New England found it easier to dig holes in the ground, thus imitating the Germans of Tacitus, whose winter residences are also repeated in those basements which form the wholesome abode of the London domestic servant. The wattle-and-daub house of the Anglo-Saxon villager has been everywhere reproduced in the colonies, and may still be abundantly found.

If the occupation of caves and the burrowing of holes suggests man's distant affinity to the carnivora and lower quadrupeds, his simian origin is confirmed by the use he makes of the tree. In the infant city of Philadelphia there were "few mansions but hollow trees." A rude form of tent is the next stage, the canvas consisting (as may still be seen among the poorer campers-out) of clothes or rags. Then, as in the early days of Sydney, the tents were covered in with bushes and thatched over. Next (as may to-day be observed in the neighborhood of Coolgardie) a framework of branches is employed to support the canvas, and the tent is converted into a cabin. A stride toward the house is taken when the branches are replaced by a regular woodwork, with doors and windows; the envelope being still sometimes canvas, which is soon replaced by corrugated iron. The Brazilian country house where Darwin lodged sixty years ago was built of upright posts with interwoven boughs. Another line of development starts from the trunk of the tree. The early American colonists made bark wigwams. The Australian pastoralist "erected a temporary house, generally of large sheets of bark, in the first instance." In countries where the winter is more severe or the bark less substantial, the backwoodsman builds, as the early colonist built, a rude cabin of round logs. Then the logs are hewn, or they are split or sawn into planks, and built into the weatherboard houses still common in the rural parts of Australia, and general even in New Zealand towns. In their earliest stages they are still without a floor and are roofed with thatch or shingle. Towns often thus remain like early Sydney, "a mere assemblage of paltry erections intermediate between the hut and the house." The architecture is of the simplest. A "butt" and a "ben," with a "lean-to," form the prevailing type. As the family grows or its wealth increases, new portions are added, till many colonial houses look for all the world as if they had "come out in penny numbers." Even with a few stately structures—luxurious mansions, extensive government offices, Gothic parliamentary buildings—a wooden city has an indefinable meanness of appearance. It is improved out of existence by the dread agency of fire. Like Charles's London, New Orleans and many another colonial town have thus had an Augustan renewal. Houses are now built of brick, stone, or concrete; tile, slate, and iron replaced thatch and shingle; two stories were ventured on; chimneys were smaller but safer. They became susceptible of architecture: Spanish features were introduced into those of New Orleans; the more northern colonies copied the English country house, with modifications to suit the hotter or colder climate; and in New South Wales a taste for mansion-building came into vogue along with splendid equipages, liveried servants, and pedigrees. Such houses were at first arranged in all degrees of irregularity and confusion. The street is a modern invention. The cows returning from pasture laid out Boston, and the bullock teams climbing up from the harbor charted Sydney. Towns in manufactured colonies, as Savannah, Augusta, most South American cities, Christchurch and Invercargill in New Zealand, were planned before settlement and have their streets at right angles.

A hundred years ago Talleyrand, exiled in the United States, described the journey from one of these cities to the interior as successively exhibiting all past stages of the human habitation from the mansion to the tent, and just a century later one of Talleyrand's countrymen, M. Pierre Leroy-Beaulieu, traveling in the reverse direction, from "the bush" to Coolgardie, witnessed the gradual transformation of the tent into the two-storied hotel. A great part of the history of the race in the matter of habitations is thus museumed in the space of a few miles.

If the temple rises out of the tomb, is modeled on that, and remains to the last pre-eminently a place of sacrifice, the church is an enlarged dwelling house. It is the house of the god, as the fetichist called it—the house of God, as we still reverently call it; and in Romanist countries to this day it is in a manner the abode of two divine personages, who figure as dizened and painted dolls that are named respectively God and the Mother of God! Both lines of development are rapidly recapitulated in colonies. The temple appears as the cathedral, which has modest beginnings, but gradually assumes the architecture and proportions of Gothic cathedrals, losing relation to the primary wants of the worshipers—comfort and audibility—ministering mainly to their higher needs, and if used for preaching at all, reserved for such occasional and sensational pulpit oratory a? that of Dominican monks like Lacordaire at Notre Dame in Paris, or of a Protestant Dominican like the late Canon Liddon at St. Paul's in London. The church, chapel, or meeting house may be found in colonial villages in its most rudimentary form, scarcely distinguishable in style from a dwelling house. According to the sect it belongs to, it develops in one of two opposite directions. The age of cathedrals is past, even in Roman Catholic countries, but the tendency of Anglican and allied churches is to simulate the old cathedral; high ritualistic sections mimic the gorgeous Madeleine. The more liberal denominations, on the other hand, develop downward; the colonial Baptist tabernacle is on the lines of Spurgeon's great building at Newington, but the ancient pulpit is widened into a platform and the seats slope upward as in a concert hall; it is a mere auditorium, in which the preacher is all. The development in this direction finds its extreme in the secularist hall, which is a mere concert room, with a piano in place of an organ. The ceremonial development is on the same lines—toward the gradual adoption of ancient rites by the older churches, toward more freedom in the younger sects. Many a colonial clergyman has wrecked himself or his congregation through too much ritualism; a few have injured themselves through an excess of liberalism.

A parallel evolution takes place in church government. Where an organized settlement is made on political principles, congregations carry their minister with them, or rather the ministers carry their congregations. Where the colony is normally founded and grows up as the mother country grew, the first ministers, like the first preachers of Christianity itself, are often laymen. In an interior county of Virginia Morris read every Lord's day to his neighbors from the writings of Luther and Bunyan, and a meeting house was at length built for him; it is a typical instance of the beginnings of most churches. The part of laymen remains long prominent in colonies. The Anglican lay reader is everywhere a feature of colonial church life. In the more flexible churches a storekeeper or retired sea captain will read Spurgeon's sermons or preach excellent sermons of his own in an Otago village or the Australian bush. Where missionaries have been sent out to convert the heathen in a country afterward colonized, many of them remain as ministers, as did Augustin and his monks in England. The Presbyterian catechist likewise becomes a settled minister. Others arrive. Men of independent character, like Dr. Lang, of Sydney, resolve not to wait for any dead man's shoes in the kirk, but sail beyond the seas to colonies where there is no minister of their own denomination. Heretics, incompatibles, men who have failed, men whose health has given way, emigrate in increasing numbers. Still, the supply is long deficient. Clergymen were scarce in New York. A bounty was offered to immigrants in Virginia. Six years after the establishment of the Church of England in North Carolina there was only one clergyman in the country. The few there are repeat the history of the first Christian bishops and the early English monks in serving a circuit of two, three, or more churches. The state comes to the rescue by providing for their support. In England contributions were at first voluntary; by the eighth century tithes were levied, folk-land was granted, and private endowments were made. Just so was the Church of England established and endowed in New York, Virginia, and North Carolina; in Maryland a poll tax of forty pounds of tobacco was levied for its support. In Connecticut and Massachusetts a church was set up in each parish on Congregationalist principles by a vote of the people, who elected the minister and voted his salary. So uncertain was the tenure that in several States even the Anglican minister was hired from year to year; and quite lately an Anglican church in a British colony engaged its incumbent, as it might have engaged its organist, for a term. In 1791 the Church of England in Canada was partially established, and its clergy endowed with grants of land. The Australasian colonies have pursued a very various policy. By the Constitution Act of 1791 one seventh of the ungranted lands in New South Wales was set apart for the support of a Protestant clergy. An attempt to endow the Anglican Church in South Australia in the early forties was defeated by a radical governor. A recrudescence of the ecclesiastical principle permitted the church settlements of Otago and Canterbury in New Zealand to appropriate a portion of the funds derived from the sale of lands for the endowment of the Presbyterian and Anglican churches respectively. So far the colonies followed, latterly with halting steps, the history of the mother country. As in political, so in ecclesiastical government, they have anticipated that history. The American state churches did not survive the Revolution. In Canada the Presbyterians and other sects successfully asserted their claims to a share in the church endowments, which between 1840 and 1853 were distributed among the municipalities, all semblance of a connection between church and state being thus destroyed. New South Wales passed through a period of religious equality with concurrent endowment of the four most numerous denominations, and a long struggle against the principle of establishment was ended in 1879, when the reserves were devoted to the purposes of education. The practice of confiscating for the church n portion of the proceeds of the land sales was gradually dropped in Otago and Canterbury, probably more for commercial reasons than in consequence of the opposition of the democratic governor aforesaid, who spoked the wheel of the South Australians. Yielding to Nonconformist pressure, the liberal Government in 1869 enforced the principle of religious equality throughout the crown colonies, which were thus, willingly or not, made to follow the lead of the movement in Ireland. The internal organization of the colonial church is also anticipative. Fifty-two years ago Sir George Grey bestowed on the Anglican Church in New Zealand, then governed by him, a constitution modeled on that of the corresponding church in the United States, as the political constitution he drafted for the colony was modeled on the Constitution of the United States; and it has been imitated in other Australasian colonies, which have thus declared themselves independent of the mother church, while the colony is still politically dependent on the mother country. In yet another point the daughters have outstripped the parent. Three Presbyterian denominations still fissure the old home of Presbyterianism; only two have ever existed in the colonies, and for thirty years these two have been one. The four chief Methodist sects in Australia are also said to be on the point of amalgamating.

The development of doctrine runs a fourth parallel to those of buildings, cult, and organization, and in a brief space it recapitulates a long history. In early colonial communities religious dogma is found in a state of "albuminous simplicity." "A healthy man," says Thoreau, "with steady employment, as wood-chopping at fifty cents a cord, and a camp in the woods, will not be a good subject for Christianity." Nor will a bush-faller, at twenty-five shillings the acre. Distant from a church and a minister, he gets out of the way of attending the rare services brought within his reach, and forgets the religion in which he was nurtured. It does not mingle with his life. He is usually married at a registrar's. His children are unbaptized. His parents die unshriven. The dull crises of his mean existence come and go, and religion stands dumb before them. The inner spiritual realities fade from his view as their outward symbols disappear, and bit by bit the whole theological vesture woven by nineteen Christian centuries drops off him like Rip Van Winkle's rotten garments when he woke from his long sleep. In the matter of religion, as in almost all else, the colonist has to begin life again poor.

As population grows and people come nearer to one another, two things happen. The churches push their skirmishers into the interior, plant stations, and have regular services. Gradually the old doctrines strike root in the new soil, and at length a creed answering to Evangelicalism is commonly held, thus repeating the first stage in the history of Christianity in Asia as in England. On the other hand, many of those whom neglect had softened into indifference or hardened into contempt assume a more decided attitude. With the spirit of independence which colonial life so readily begets, and stimulated by the skeptical literature of the day, they take ground against the renascent religion. Secularism, which denies what Evangelicalism affirms and is on a level with that, is born. It organizes itself, has halls and Sunday meetings, catechisms and children's teaching, newspapers, and a propaganda. For a while it is triumphant, openly contemptuous of the current religious mythology, and menacing toward its exponents. The Secularist leaders make their way to the bench and the legislature, the cabinet and the premiership. It is here the hitch arises. Some (by no means all) of these leaders are found to prefer power to principle, and prudently let their secularism go by the board when a wave of popular odium threatens to swamp the ship. Financial distress spreads. The movement loses éclat. As Bradlaugh's Hall of Science in London has been sold to the Salvation Army, the Freethought Hall in Sydney has been purchased by the Methodists, and in other colonial towns the cause has collapsed. But it always remains, whether patent or latent, as a needed counterpoise to the crudities of Evangelicalism, and it is the core of that increasing mass of religious indifferentism which strikes those who have been brought up in the old country. Statistics are said to prove that Australia is more addicted to church-going than England. If they prove any such thing, then statistics (as Mr. Bumble irreverently said of the British Constitution) are hasses and hidiots. You may sit down on any Sunday morning at a colonial table with a dozen highly respectable persons of both sexes and all ages, not one of whom has any thought of going to church that day. Such an experience would be impossible in England. The mistake has arisen from comparing England as a whole, which has classes below the line of church-going or indeed of civilization, with Australia as a whole, where such classes hardly exist. Compare Australia in this respect with the English middle classes, and the fallacy will be manifest.

When a colony has hived off from the parent state at a time of religious excitement, and especially when it has religion for its raison d'être, it starts fully equipped on lines of its own, the earlier naturalistic stages being dropped. English theology and Puritan religion emigrated to North America in the seventeenth century, and there for two centuries they for the most part remained. Ever since, in New England and the States of the middle belt, religion has played the same high part as it did in old England under Oliver. There has, therefore, been a theological development in the United States to which, till fifty years ago, there was no antecedent parallel in the mother country. While it has produced no theologian or pulpit orator of the first rank—no Calvin, but only Jonathan Edwards; no Bossuet or Chalmers, but only Channing and Beecher—its theological literature compares favorably with that of England during the same period, and its preachers are acknowledged to be the best in Christendom. States and colonies that have grown up more normally get at length on the same lines, and as they put on civilization the tendency is to adopt ever more of the dogmatic system long inseparable from it. By a well-understood sociological law it generates its contradictory and corrective, and there springs up a higher type of denial than secularism—what Huxley felicitously named Agnosticism—the position of those who know nothing about the matters which theological dogma defines, not the position of those who say that nothing can be known. As the Evangelical develops into the High Churchman and he into the Catholic, the Secularist refines into the Agnostic and rarefies into the Unknowabilist.

The literature of colonies is at first theological, as the literature of all countries is at first hieratic; the priest alone can write. But it is long before the stage of original production is reached, and books have to be imported before they can be written. The daughter must go to school with the mother, who supplies her with hornbooks. The continuity of the spiritual germ-plasm is insured by the transmission of books. Rome was thus initiated by Greece in every theoretical branch of knowledge. Rome thus educated early Europe. Chests of manuscripts from Thessalonica, Byzantium, and Crete were the precursors of the Renaissance. Books brought by Benedict to England formed the first English library. So is it long with all new countries. To this day the book circulation of the United States is largely English; in contemporary colonies it is overwhelmingly English, almost wholly Spanish, exclusively French or Dutch. The second stage also repeats the literary history of the mother countries. Colonial literature is a prolongation of the parental literature and is at first commentative and imitative of that. In a school at Canterbury founded by two foreign monks English written literature took its birth. The literature of mediæval Europe was a continuation of Roman literature. This stage may last long. Seventy or eighty years after the Declaration of Independence the literature of New England was still English literature of a subtler strain—perhaps lacking the strength of the old home-brew, but with a finer flavor. Naturally, in far younger Australia even popular poetry is still imitative—the hand is that of Gordon or of Kendall, but the voice is Swinburne's. The beginnings of a truly national literature are humble. They are never scholastic, but always popular. As chapbooks, ballads, and songs were the sources of the æsthetic literature of modern Europe, the beginnings of general literature in the United States have been traced to the old almanacs which, besides medical recipes and advice to the farmer, contained some of the best productions of American authors. It is further evidence of the popular origin of native literature that some of its early specimens are works of humor. The most distinctive work of early Canadian and American authors is humorous, from Sam Slick to; but it would be rash to say who is the last avatar of the genius of humor. If an alien may say so without offense, Walt Whitman's poems, with their profound intuitions and artless metre, seem to be the start of a new æsthetic, and recall ancient Beowulf. Australian literature, after a much shorter apprenticeship, has lately, in both fiction and verse, again of a popular character, made a new departure that is instinct with life and grace and full of promise.

Literature and art have no independent value, but are merely the phonographic record of mental states, and would practically cease to exist (as they did during the middle ages) if these disappeared. The grand achievement of new, as of old, countries is man-making, and every colony creates a new variety. The chief agent is natural selection, of which the seamy side appears in vicissitudes of fortune. Here again the law prevails. These recapitulate those vicissitudes in early European societies which make picturesque the pages of Gregory of Tours. There are the same sudden rises, giddy prosperities, and inevitable falls. In the simple communities of ancient Greece the distance between antecedent and consequent was short, and the course of causation plain. Hence in myth and legend, in early historians like Herodotus, early poets like Pindar, early dramatists like Æschylus, we find a deep sense of the fateful working of the laws of life. The history of colonies is a sermon on the same text. Goodness is speedily rewarded; retribution no longer limps claudo pede, like Vulcan, but flies like Mercury with winged feet. In Europe a high-handed wrongdoer like Napoleon may pursue his career unchecked for fifteen years, or a high-handed rightdoer like Bismarck for five-and-twenty years; a would-be colonial Bismarck or Napoleon is commonly laid by the heels in the short duration of a colonial parliament. The vision of providential government, or the reign of law, in old countries is hard, because its course is long and intricate; in a colony it is so comparatively simple that all may understand it and find it (as Carlyle found it) "worthy of horror and worship." From witnessing the ending of a world Augustine constructed a theodicy, and so justified the ways of God to man. We may discover in the beginnings of a world materials for a cosmodicy which shall exhibit the self-operating justice inherent in the laws of the universe.