“Our Present and Our Future” –Erudite Reflections on Ceylon’s Situation in 1850


“But where the stirring crowd, the voice of strife,

The glow of action, and the thrill of life?”

It may not perhaps be altogether useless to ask, How many of our countrymen have reflected seriously upon their condition and their prospects? How many have cast a thought beyond the events of yesterday or the business of to-day? We fear, not many. We are too content to move in the same mechanical circle of samenesses to-day as yesterday, to square our ideas with those of other men, to believe and to speak according to dictates; that we should entertain the remotest idea of comparing our Past with our Present, so as to arrive at a probable conception of the Future. Our life-time passes with the dreamy knowledge that we are, and but little beyond that. But What may we be? What ought we to be? Are questions which are never engendered in our minds. For any one original thought on the subject which may exist, we may be dwelling in Fairyland.

A succession of European conquests have left us when they receded, upon the beach of barbarism which they invaded. Like the sea weed of our simile, are we to be constantly unsettled? Whether Europe in hr conquests sets knowingly almost the fulfillment of a mission to enlighten; or whether the conquests of her statesmen are guided by fate and a destiny above their understanding and control; it is evident such conquests must leave behind them a mixture of races. Now to the statesman this question is always a delicate one, What is to be done with this body? Are they to be gradually undermined as so much drift weed between the wave of conquest or civilization and the land to be subdued? Or, are they to be left to themselves, uncared for, untended, and given over to a slow extinction in consequence of degeneracy? The latter seems to be especially our doom; the question evidently having been laid aside as impracticable and not admitting of solution – nor can we wonder at this irresolution, for to choose between the two were to give both up in despair. To the sensible and sensitive mind, there cannot be a fair and humane decision between the two alternatives. Upon this weak decision. We have been left to ourselves in a great measure, and have partly begun to care for ourselves, in a moral light, not physically – physically we have been convinced, we degenerate, and perhaps a few more centuries of intermarriages amongst ourselves will leave us extinct. Physically degenerate, we say, because intellectually and morally we feel that we are an improvement upon the two last generations.

But only two questions have been discussed – let us then proceed to state the remaining one. Why should not we be properly educated, and properly trained, as the missionaries of civilization to those of our countrymen o the unmixed stock, who would otherwise have to wait till pure European zeal reclaims them from intellectual darkness. Is not the apathy of the purely Singhalese character a great obstacle to Christianity, and the fervent zeal and devotedness to Buddhism? Has this question never struck the Missionary mind? We can solve the problem which we have stated. It is because there is no similarity of habits and predilections between the missionary and the convert. It is only in Church, and on devotional occasions that there is anything like an acknowledgement of the sameness of the destiny of both; out of church, the missionary in every case seems painfully alive to the conventional usages of society, and to the vast difference in their relative stations. Quick as lightning the idea enters the mind that a similarity of destiny cannot await those, between whom such a dissimilarity of conditions exists here. The keystone of the arch is thus removed, and if a relapse be not the sure result an indifference most undoubtedly is. No; in our belief civilization is the best forerunner to Christianity; an opinion which we share in common, we believe, with the Rajah Brook of Borneo. Let the worldly condition of those whom it is intended to convert to Christianity be cared after, let their minds be cultivated, and as a natural consequence they will assume that faith of their benefactors, no less from a feeling of gratitude; than from a belief in the superior simplicity, and sublimity, and truth, upon investigation. In this work of civilization, we are evidently pointed out by nature as the pioneers. It is we that must undergo the heat and the labour of the day, and in the end receive a rich reward, the enlightened of those who would otherwise have remained sometime longer in darkness, and the moral improvement of our countrymen who are ignored on many subjects and men who are ignorant on many subjects and therefore likely to be misled on all. Let us therefore set about the work of self improvement first, and if we do so with the intent to improve our fellow-countrymen, not only will the task be lightened, but the reward will be far greater in the approval of a clear conscience, than the greatest outward happiness can possibly bestow. Our mixture of blood will then no longer be pointed at and remarked as a personal degradation (a practice but too common once, but now rapidly getting into disuse) but will form a text to the comment, “That if Europe in her conquests has left vice in nearly every shape behind her, if her inroads have inoculated Asia with madness and delirium, she has still produced an active and stirring spirit which refuses to be still, until its mental, moral and social improvement has been set in a fair way of obtaining success. She has introduced the worst and most degrading type of vice, but she has also introduced such high models of virtue and perseverance, that she may fairly be said to have introduced a new Element into the native character. The mixture of Races which her conquests have produced have given birth to a race of Men who are indefatigable in their efforts to enlighten where European zeal cannot yet penetrate, whose constant aim is to come up to the models of European Virtue and Talent which they have had opportunities of having spoken of, and which they have studied in books; and whose feeling of attachment to their native land is so great as to show a certain nobility and delicacy of conception, which cannot rest and will not be curbed, until her beautiful hills contain the Truth, and her lowest vales have had some idea of Purity and of Sentiment. They have spent much time and pains to improve themselves, and they will never rest until their less informed countrymen can also drink of the same intellectual fount.” Is such to be the language of the future historian of Ceylon? Or is this a dream in which much pleasure has entered, but alas also much that can never be fulfilled? Did we say never? We recall the word. It can, it must, it will be fulfilled. We must revise much of what is past, and form certain and distinct plans for the future. We should not be eternally content to remain stationary, but must know that “Onward” is the cry of Nations at the present moment. The Past cannot interest us now, hardly ought the present, it is the Future we ought to cope with in anticipation, it is with what we “may be” that we should commune, until something serious and practicable has resulted. Away with dreams, let us wake to realities in which we ought to be actors, or whether actors or not, we must be sufferers and sensibly retrograde. There is no necessity to wait for opportunity. We should make opportunities for ourselves. Then, and not till then, will some current of life be seen under the stagnant and quiet mass, not till then will our apathy be removed, and our efforts towards self-civilization, and the improvement of our countrymen be recognized as genuine marks of life, and intellectual health; and lastly, only then will our condition be so unlike Palmyra, the city of the Silent Waste, that the Poet’s appeal will be inapplicable-

“But where the stirring crowd, the voice of strife,

“The glow of action, and the thrill of life.”

      ***** *****


1 This item is from the journal Young Ceylon, July 1850, vol I: 6, pp.119-20.

2 —  Could this be a ploy by C.A. Lorenz? The article on “The Ceylonese” in the same number was signed “L” and is known to be his. It would be in line with his mischievous nature to break up his initials in this style.

Charles Ambrose Lorenz

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