Of Natives and History
The people who expect the Natives to jump joyfully from the stone age to the age of the motor-cars, forget the toil and labour which our own fathers have had, to bring us all through history up to where we are.
We can make motor-cars and aeroplanes, and teach the Natives to use them. But the true love of motor-cars cannot be made, in human hearts, in the turn of a hand. It takes centuries to produce it, and it is likely that Socrates, the Crusades, and the French Revolution, have been needed in the making. We of the present day, who love our machines, cannot quite imagine how people in the old days could live without them. But we could not make the Athanasian Creed, or the technique of the Mass, or of a five-act tragedy, and perhaps not even of a sonnet. And if we had not found them there ready for our use, we should have had to do without them. Still we must imagine, since they have been made at all, that there was a time when the hearts of humanity cried out for these things, and when a deeply felt want was relieved when they were made.
Father Bernard came over on his motor bicycle one day, his bearded face all beaming with bliss and triumph, to lunch with me, and to bring me tidings of great joy. The day before, he told me, nine young Kikuyu, from the Church of Scotland Mission, had come and asked to be received into the Roman Catholic Church, because they had, upon meditation and discussions, come to hold with the doctrine of the Transubstantiation, of that Church.
All the people, whom I told of this happening, laughed at Father Bernard, and explained that the young Kikuyus had seen a chance of higher wages, or lighter work, or of getting a bicycle to ride on, at the French Mission, and had therefore invented their conversion in regard to the Transubstantiation. For we ourselves, they said, cannot understand it, and we do not even like to think about it, so that to the Kikuyu it must be altogether inadmissible. But it is not quite sure that it is so; Father Bernard knew the Kikuyus well. The minds of the young Kikuyu may now be walking on the shadowy paths of our own ancestors, whom we should not disown in their eyes, who held their ideas about the Transubstantiation very dear.
Those people of five hundred years ago, were in their day offered higher wages, and promotion, and easier terms of life, even sometimes their very lives, and to everything they preferred their conviction about the Transubstantiation. They were not offered a bicycle, but Father Bernard himself, who had got a motor bicycle, attached less value to it than to the conversion of the nine Kikuyus.
The modern white people in Africa believe in evolution and not in any sudden creative act. They might then run the Natives through a short practical lesson of history to bring them up to where we are. We took these nations over not quite forty years ago; if we compare that moment to the moment of the birth of the Lord, and allow them, to catch up with us, three years to our hundred, it will now be time to send them out Saint Francis of Assisi, and in a few years Rabelais. They would love and appreciate both better than we do, of our century. They liked Aristophanes when some years ago I tried to translate to them the dialogue between the farmer and his son, out of “The Clouds.” In twenty years they might be ready for the Encyclopaedists, and then they would come, in another ten years, to Kipling. We should let them have dreamers, philosophers and poets out, to prepare the ground for Mr. Ford.
Where shall they find us then? Shall we in the meantime have caught them by the tail and be hanging on to it, in our pursuit of some shade, some darkness, practising upon a tomtom? Will they be able to have our motor cars at cost price then, as they can now have the doctrine of the Transubstantiation?