CHAPTER XX. THOUGHTS ON THE HISTORY OF NEW ZEALAND.
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THOUGHTS ON THE HISTORY OF NEW ZEALAND.
1. Importance of small matters in history.
MATTERS, which seem of the most trifling moment, assume, with lapse of time, an importance and a significance which becomes the stranger the more it is considered. Every man has, at some time or other, stopped in his way to wonder at the chapter of accidents which brought him to a certain position. But his wonder grows into admiration on discovering, as he cannot fail to do, that nothing, of all that conducted him, was an accident; or rather, retaining the word accident if you will, he begins to understand that accidents are only the outward expressions of an inward destiny, which is always one and the same. For the life of every man, and every nation, is a doom that never could be altered. The dying penitent retains in the depths of his soul whatever of the libertine he ever really possessed.
In the history of "beginnings," especially, are
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minute accounts and descriptions valuable for instruction, and powerful to awaken passions. So dear are they to the nations, that, if wanting, their place must be supplied by legends and mythical stories, for society loves to provide itself with illustrations--of its childish adventures, of its early struggles, and of the strange romances which ushered in maturity; nor does this desire lessen when it has achieved real greatness. There is surely some double charm about the spring, when viewed from summer or autumn; its own and another--not its own, but reflected from the coming winter.
Again, as minute touches, graceful or tender, or even ludicrous, illustrate a pure reality, so also to relieve the intense melancholy (I might say the weird-like, enchanted gloom) of all history, they are invaluable.
For the melancholy of History is like that caused by the aspect of the ocean, or a great landscape, or a great city. It raises the most touching questions, which no mortal can answer. "We keep asking and praying, Good God, what is all this for? Why so many heavings and sinkings in that which seemed so calm a long way off; so much fraud and violence; such insight, such blindness; such deep sorrow, such abandoned levity; such ludicrous nonsense, mixed up with such ghostly horrors, as if they were part and parcel of each other? Punch may be pitched upon a miser's tombstone--a death-sentence may be folded up in a joke.
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In short, if a history is to be intelligible and lifelike, or even bearable, it must abound in small traits and passages of natural character and adventure.
"Representative Men" are, for this reason, invaluable; for that a nation may think in the head of one great man, its master and servant at once, and act with his hand, none can deny without denying the divine right of all government. Their recorded doings, sayings, and even looks are always acceptable to their countrymen. And there are little events, and small facts, and traditional notices which go directly to the heart of a people. The great masterpiece of Thucydides is full of such. Two of the most wonderful Hebrew books, the books of Joshua and Judges, are full of incidental antiquarian research, often strangely, and as if by chance, introduced. For the same reason, the chapter on the state of England, previous to the Revolution, is more eagerly read than any other part of Macaulay's History.
In the valley we think that the brook might have been easily turned by a bank and a ditch. Afterwards looking down from the high lands, we are aware that it always returns to its course, that nothing could have prevented it from falling into the river almost at the very place which we thought had been accidentally chosen. The lines of the country show us this at a glance. After such a glimpse of facts in the history of any great nation, or remarkable
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enterprise, it is natural that a weight of care, accompanied by a willingness to leave things as far as possible alone,--and yet, a regret that it is so,--should overcast the most active minds. We sit down despairing; confessing, that to effect anything real is beyond our power. We are ready to call on the clouds to come down and make all fade away. Then, to refresh our fainting spirits, the genius of little things re-enters. We revive, to feel that "Life's little items make the sum of Life;" that as, in every organised living creature, each part exists for the whole being, and the whole being for each of the parts, so each link in the chain of cause and effect exists for the whole series, which is not itself if the smallest real link be wanting. Nature fights against indifference. Everything (she asserts) has its value, and the smallest incidents their place.
Thus, we recover our feelings of the dignity and influence of particular actions, and of small things generally. True, there is an everlasting contradiction about the world, if we choose to despond; but we revive; we revive with a cry of delight at the perception of the world's order, harmony, and beauty, unity, and its wonderful variety.
The diary of an emigrant passenger of 1840-50 to New Zealand; the log of the ship that he sailed in; its cargo, size, and fittings; the scenes and sensations at first landing; meet-
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ings of colonists, their opinions, prospects and plans; a sketch of the tents they built, of their first church, of the town as it was at the end of its first or second year; a map to show where the first fields were made; the aspect of the wild country, and of the wild people that dwelt there; the dealings and bargains of the white folks with them; their customs, language, and their fears; accounts of quarrels and little wars; anecdotes of the first magistrate or founder; lists of market prices; shreds of old newspapers; articles and correspondence; speculations; protests; beginnings of legislation, enactments, and changes; notices of the introduction of sheep and cattle; of trade and taxation; import and export tables;--all these will be read with avidity, and invested with importance by the New Zealander of the year 2000; little as they command attention now. And the more particular such accounts are, probably the more interesting they will be to the third or fourth generation. It is the duty of those who have been actively engaged in such scenes to set them clearly and truly down in black and white. Let the first citizens of a new country collect and arrange the materials of their own history. In want of this, many curious experiences, and adventures worthy of note, are utterly forgotten and perish, or are only remembered in some mythic form by the sons' sons of him who encountered them. The Paston Papers; Antony Wood; Chaucer; Izaak
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Walton; Hudibras; abounding as they do in trifles, are the great materials of English history.
Let me then, again, press upon any one who has seen and taken a lively part in the foundation of any settlement, has engaged in Maori wars, early road-makings and clearings; who felt the first earthquake; who heard the Waiarau massacre told by an eyewitness; who has surveyed extensively, and perhaps noted down his impressions in a journal,--to take heed that these opportunities of giving instruction and amusement at once to his children and grandchildren are not foolishly lost.
2. Records of youth-time; an antidote against despondency.
Perhaps a very powerful reason why the historical memorials of the youth-time of a great nation touch us of these later times, with so keen a delight, is a melancholy consciousness that we can contemplate youth in traditional abstraction only--for to feel it and enjoy it in itself is for the aged European nations long ago impossible. Hence, too, the love of colonies. In these we fondly hope to realise that abstract, that fabulous chronicle of the past, a new life upon earth, a new creature. Vainly. Our children are born as old as we are.
But in what consists that deep and dire regret, that strange Nemesis which almost always falls upon those who have long studied history; which especially exercised such a terrible influence upon Niebuhr; which was plain enough, too, in the grand Pagan world? Everyone may find it in Tacitus, and it is discernible in
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Thucydides. Is there not something more in it than a strong sense of particular national decay? Is it not a dirge upon humanity? Even the hopeful and imaginative mind of Goethe became overcast and anxious, when he suffered himself to speculate upon the prospects of mankind. I conceive that there are two main sources for this despondency of experienced and wise men.
3. Two sources of despondency.
First, an intimate acquaintance with the great truths of the history of man; such an acquaintance as books alone cannot give. Goethe, in the conversation to which I have alluded, tells us openly that man's load of misery grows upon him as he advances; that the work of destruction becomes every day more necessary as a work of pity; that the time is coming, when God will no longer be able to find pleasure in his creation, or even to bear with man. But in his moments of darkness and distress, he ever betook himself to nature for consolation. Thus he always managed to emerge safely from the dark hour, by becoming an individual again, and could make his own case out, by reflecting that if he owed Nature a death, according to her laws, she by the same laws was bound to give him a new life and body, to replace the old one, because he had always worked as hard as he could, &c. This was his own inward witness. But in the English mind, the contemplation of nature as a source of consolation can scarcely be said to exist. The
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religious broodings of our mind turn it into doubt and even bitterness.
For nature becomes a second and a distinct cause of melancholy in our very best men. Bishop Butler in his reflections on the world, as a state of moral discipline, after confessing that this process of discipline was to the vast majority a signal failure, goes on to illustrate and confirm (and thereby he supposes to diminish) the difficulty, by reminding us how terribly nature fails.
"For," says he, "of the numerous seeds of vegetables and bodies of animals, which are adapted and put in the way to improve to such a point or state of natural maturity and perfection, we do not see perhaps, that one in a million actually does. Far the greatest part of them decay before they are improved to it, and appear to be absolutely destroyed. Yet no one who does not deny all final causes will deny that those seeds and bodies which do attain to that point of maturity and perfection answer the end for which they were really designed by nature, and therefore that nature designed them for such perfection. And I cannot forbear adding, though it is not to the present purpose, that the appearance of such an amazing waste in nature, with respect to these seeds and bodies by foreign causes, is to us as, unaccountable as, what is much more terrible, the present and future ruin of so many moral agents by themselves, i.e. by vice."
Oh, Bishop! English to the back-bone, why is thy melancholy book placed in the hands of the young? Our greatest living poet, in the "In Memoriam," has the very same thought. He asks--
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"Are God and nature then at strife,
That nature lends such evil dreams,
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life?"
"That of fifty seeds,
She often brings but one to bear,"
he can only
"Faintly trust the larger hope."
(The melancholy of Tennyson, compared with the hypochondria of Butler, is as fifty to a million.)-------The appeal to nature, then, only makes matters worse with the English.
4. Connection between the natural, and the purely historical.
But it may be said--After all, what has nature to do with history? Everything. Nature is the alter ego of history. Everywhere interwoven, they interpret one another. Never can the historian refrain from natural investigation. On the other side, how the remotest forms of history live again under the hand of a great naturalist! What a light Humboldt throws upon history generally, even in a simple note on cereal grasses, in the "Ansichten;" and indeed throughout his works. What a positive inspiration of nature and history is not his little story "The Rhodian Genius." Never can the student of history rise into the master, without diligent inquiry at the oracle of nature. Never can the naturalist, without losing the very soul of his science, dissociate nature and man. Never can
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he forget the great question with which he starts. Is nature an appendage of man? or man of nature? Which includes the other? or what includes both?
But what an immense effect has not the very scenery of a country on its inhabitants? Has not the very change which cultivation and long prosperity have effected in this island, made the old England, the England of the Plantagenet Edwards and Henrys, a terra incognita to us, and the old English as fabulous people? I would suggest to those whose pockets are interested in furnishing dioramic instruction for the people, that the gradual changes of scenery in an English manor, as seen at a bird's-eye glance from some high hill, from the Conquest to the present time, would, if properly presented and commented upon, deserve, and, in all probability, attract attention. The people have changed with the face of the country. They have changed it, and its change has re-acted upon them in many ways. When Remigius of Lincoln, Earl Giffard, and other high commissioners appointed by the Conqueror over the great survey of the Midland Counties, went forth upon their "Inquisitio," what were the towns, and fields, and woods, and road-tracks like? Castles and monastic palaces, those great features of the mediaeval landslip, were very scarce then; churches, indeed, were numerous, but they, and almost all the buildings of that time, were low and poor; only the immediate vicinity of villages was regularly culti-
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vated. Terrible swamps, great wastes, and dense woods, dotted here and there with clearings, separated the little communities one from another. Or more than two hundred years later, when Edward the Third, with a great host drawn from various countries, marched against the Scotch? So great a multitude of wild beasts were driven before the advancing army, that on one occasion, Froissart says, they created an alarm like the attack of an enemy. Again, I say, as the country, so the people; as the people, so the country. Those vast woods are now in pasture, and heavily stocked with great tame beasts; or under the plough, tilled by costly machinery, and manured by the produce of distant lands. Instead of oaks and beeches, great cities raise their smoky chimneys to heaven: instead of cataracts and swamps, we shall find water taxed, economised, and tortured into steam: instead of the tangled incumbrances of a thickly-matted forest, we have streets and gas-lamps; and instead of the scanty sprinkling of lawless men, almost as wild as their neighbours the beasts, oppressors and oppressed, we have a countless population of agricultural and manufacturing helots. New kinds of tyranny, of suffering, and of resistance:--Cowell is the "Robin Hood" of 1854; S.G.O. is our "Friar Tuck."
5. The three stages of life.
Since man and nature; the history of the globe, and of its greatest inhabitant and governor, go hand in hand: since they reflect and interpret each other,--we very
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reasonably call them in to correct and explain one another. Taken together, they teach us, at every step, fresh lessons of Patience, Lowliness, Thrift, and Hope.
The young man starts on his pilgrimage with unbounded expectations; despising little gains; full of confidence in himself, and trust in others. The world is a flower-garden; life, a pleasure-party. A few months or years (as the case may be) bring him over to a new but equally puerile conclusion. He is now a cynic; selfish even to ostentation; a slave to vile indulgence; sneering at reliance on others; disclaiming self-respect. The world is a prison now; life a battle against itself; society a great conspiracy of rogues and dupes. Yet another year or two, and he arrives at a third condition. He becomes either utterly indifferent as to himself and wicked to his neighbours; or, by the gracious helping hand of Providence, he comes to himself in good earnest. It may be the severe warning of a friend, or the gentle love of a woman. It may be some great judgment, or some great pleasure. It may be that he becomes husband and father, or that he is bereaved of those he is beginning to love. It is, in short, the turning or returning of his soul to his duty. He now makes his choice, under the influence of deep, but not always outwardly-agitating emotion. All his thoughts are changed by this decision, and he becomes a man accordingly. The three great problems--the World--the Self--the God
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--are being written in fresh characters on his heart, which begins to grow anew within him.-- So, too, is the course of the world; and the various schools of philosophers may be interpreted according to these stages. Some exult. Some despond. Some are simply practical, possessing their souls in patience; mournful, but not without hope.
6. Scheme of a history of New Zealand.
But if any vision can lend the wing of hope to our historical reverie; can cheer our researches into the kingdom of nature; can rescue our contemplations of the human race from the depths of gloomy doubt, it is the appearance of actual youth;--of a new-born rising nation, in a newly-given land. Here we revive with a cry of delight.
This brings me at once to my conception of the arrangement of our materials for a history of New Zealand.
1. I should commence with the most careful and even the most minute description of the country itself,--as it was, as far as can be gleaned from geological research, and as it is at present, before the eye of the painter or the natural philosopher.
"It therefore is, I apprehend, our duty sedulously to collect and record facts and information in each department of science and human learning; carefully abstaining from that foolish pride, which would lead us to reject as useless all that our ignorance can neither comprehend nor make use of.
"Regarding our duties under this light, we should find that a field of vast usefulness lies open before us.
"Every creeping moss, or lofty tree, every waving fern,
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every common plant in this country, every weed that floats its tangles in the sea, is worthy of our observation and study."
These are no ordinary words. "Again," says Sir George Grey--for I am quoting his address to the members of the New Zealand Society,--
"Again, if the trees and plants of these dense and humid forests are worthy of our attention, we should also remember that there is not a bird which wings its way through them, or which, deprived of wings, stalks with strange ungainly gait about them, which does not claim our observation...................
"We, who stand in this country, occupy an historical position of extraordinary interest. Before us lies a future already brilliant with the light of a glorious morn, which we are to usher in to gladden unborn generations. Behind us, lies a night of fearful gloom, unillumed by the light of written records, of picture memorials, of aught which can give a certain idea of the past. A few stray streaks of light, in the form of tradition, of oral poetry, of carved records, are the only guides we have. And in the gloom of that night are fast fading out of view, although dim outlines of them are still visible, some of the most fearful spectres which have ever stalked amongst mankind, in the hideous shapes of idolatry, human sacrifices, and cannibalism; mixed up with which, in uncouth unison, was much of real poetry and of actual grace of fancy."
2. In every national history, between the period when Nature reigned supreme, her territory yet uninvaded by man, and that far later time when the process of civilisation was already at work, and certain facts stand out like rocks among the breakers, separating the sea and land; there is always to be found an age of actual or comparative mythology. The (to us) aboriginal race
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which has occupied New Zealand for unknown ages, and may, for anything we know to the contrary, have been expressly created for the islands in the Pacific; this race will, to the future inhabitants of New Zealand, represent the fabulous period, between night and day, the twilight of history, the border-land between the dominions of nature and man. These will for them embody "the giant brood of Phlegra," and perhaps they may remember their own immediate forefathers as "the heroic race," that fought, "mixed with auxiliar gods."
In order to realise, as far as possible, that freshness and vivid strength which constitutes the charm and the miracle of our own old European chronicles, let us make that ancient nation describe themselves, let us take down their history from their own lips. Their songs, their stories, their traditions and ceremonies, their fables, their very genealogies, given word for word, constitute the second great division of New Zealand history. And here the historian will give a real picture of savage and barbarous life. Bloody, cruel, unclean, treacherous, cowardly, full of fear and want; and yet withal, not without certain human touches of bravery, sympathy, and hope and pity. He will throw his soul into the visible half-darkness, and amid the walking shadows which stand out in dim, indistinct, but sublime relief against the ocean of night, and chaos beyond them.
3. Hence we pass into the realm of the morning star. Another epoch opens; new forms appear upon the stage; and with the arrival of Captain
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Cook, the history of white men and their dominion commences.
The colonisation of New Zealand, strictly so called, is the third part of the history of that country, differing most materially from that which went before, and no less so from that which is about to succeed it. Not that colonisation can cease with the introduction of the fourth epoch, which has already commenced, any more than the element which gave its name to the second period, could altogether disappear on the introduction of the third.
It is not an act of termination or conclusion, so much as an act of introduction or new birth, which constitutes an historical epoch. If the chapters of the world's history were meted out merely upon the principle of extinction, forming a period or division between one epoch and another, its history would be one rather of death than of life. We desire, then, if only from the affectation of thinking that we are moving forward, or becoming young again, to compute the times and seasons of history by its births. The annalist, or chronicler of this third period, will have a most difficult and distasteful task to discharge. The first part of his chronicle will present little else than a catalogue of the injuries to which the Old nation was subjected by the coming in of the New. He must describe the astonishment and wonder, which that great manifestation of new power caused to the unthinking barbarous mind. How hospitality in the first instance, rapidly changed into distrust and hatred;
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how the morning was ushered in with clouds and storm; how the New Zealand natives were divided against themselves, by the arts and strange means of life, as well of destruction, introduced among them by the stranger; how the new element might have appeared, for a long time, a simple curse to the country.
At length a ray of comfort and of light breaks through the darkness and the tempest. The efforts of a few wise and pious men, who ventured their lives among the wild population, begin to tell. They begin to learn that it is not for evil only that the stranger has visited their coast. Not as a wonderous phenomenon only, but also as a ministering angel, has the inhabitant of the ends of the earth suddenly entered among them. He, too, brings comfort and healing on his wings, although his first arrival was fraught with tribulation. The proclamation of the British sovereignty over the islands of New Zealand, and the treaty of Waitangi, upon which it was based, open the second division of this part of the history. These, after the interval of a period of disturbance, contributed more than anything else, to settle the country; and to enable the two races to dwell together peaceably, and with mutual advantage. Henceforth, we shall find that the frowning countenance of the genius who entered in with the white man, did but veil the real purpose of his benignant mission.
Even the wars which broke out between Her Majesty's Government and some of the tribes,
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have teen productive of more good than evil. They have taught the two races to know and to respect each other. It was necessary that each should know the other's strength; that the one should be declared superior, without the absolute degradation of the other; and this is what has actually happened.
This division will also embrace an account of the regular colonisation of New Zealand--how it began; with what difficulties it was attended; how it succeeded, in spite of most entangled and perplexed management, which seemed more calculated to check than to advance its progress. The government of Sir George Grey, and the extraordinary advance in prosperity which the country has exhibited for the last few years, will form a very important part of this section.
4. The fourth division will commence with the introduction of the free constitution which has lately been conferred on New Zealand. It will be further remarkable, as indicating a very important change in the process of colonisation. Heretofore, the country was colonised by an external and altogether artificial process. From henceforth, we must look to the energy of New Zealand itself, to the advantages which it is known to possess, to its internal progress, and to the acts of its own Legislature, for a continuance of that supply of men from Great Britain, without which its resources cannot be developed. A double enfranchisement marks the commencement of the epoch which has now arrived.
It must not be supposed from these remarks,
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that I contemplate the possibility of any history of New Zealand, worthy of the name, being written in the present day, or by any one now alive. It will be written, whenever the time comes, by a New Zealander, and not by an Englishman; by a born citizen of the new nation, and not by a colonist. I am merely commenting upon the materials; I am merely endeavouring, perhaps fancifully, to distribute and arrange them, each in its own place. I seek merely to give to each occurrence, and to each description, an imaginary habitation and a name; and while I review the past, I can here indulge in such a vision of the future, as the state of Europe and our own domestic history can by no means furnish to my mind. It affords an alleviation to regret--it creates new life under the ribs of death--and energy in the place of languor.
That this is in a great measure imaginary, I well know. Whatever has been will be again. The shadow of the past is only another name for the herald of the future. Whatever slight changes may give variety to the future history of the children of men, it will be, in all its greater features, only a repetition of the past.
Woodfall and Kinder, Printers, Angel Court, Skinner Street, London.