IT is not much that need to be said by way of preface to this volume. Few will begin to read it who will not soon find that it is not a book to be laid down when it has been commenced. It is, indeed, a notable record of a very peculiar form of our common humanity. The character of the Sandwich Islanders is, in many respects, one of those clearly marked developments of national life on which we always gaze with peculiar interest, from the distinctness with which we trace the lines of dissimilarity to ourselves, even whilst we feel everywhere present the great underlying basis of our essential brotherhood.
There is about these islanders a remarkable union of the attractiveness of childhood with the strength of maturity. And this union of diverse elements in their nature has embodied itself strikingly in their institutions, and fixed in their history. In this they greatly resemble the Coral Islands of their own seas, [ix/x] which combine in such picturesque unity the conditions of freshness and perfection. But as yesterday, the secret labours of a million of animalculæ deposited that coral reef to chafe the blue waters, and then let them sleep in the still lagoon. Then some volcanic eruption cast up far above the ocean plain the mountain which startles the eye with its abrupt suddenness of elevation--and, now, the palm-tree, and the cocoa-nut, and the sandal-wood, and all the prodigality of tropical nature, are clothing every spot of the well-watered island with fertility and grace.
This volume will conduct the reader through the great national changes which, in our own age, have passed over the critical youth of this people. Some of its scenes can hardly be equaled elsewhere. The rapid development of true principles of commerce; the struggle for independence; the passage from barbarity to a great degree of refinement; the ripening of such a character as that of the present king--all of these are transacted with a strange singularity of event, in the most glowing colours before our eyes. But perhaps of all others the religious history of the people is the strangest. The sudden abandonment of their whole heathen mythology--not for the verities of a sounder faith, but from the very weariness of the intolerable and degrading burden of heathendom itself,--and the entire destruction of their idols, stand almost alone in the history [x/xi] of man. Most strange is it to contrast this with the long remaining fears of their old idols and love for their old idolatry, which in the apostolic epistles we trace as clinging to and haunting the earliest converts to Christianity. It is not a little remarkable, too, that in this sudden and entire deliverance of the people from the meshes of their old superstition, the leading instrument should be a woman -- a Queen-mother, strengthening the halting hands of the young and trembling king, to break the bondage under which he groaned, but before the threats of which he quailed.
Nor is this the only instance of the sort. It would be difficult to find in any history the record of a nobler act of faithful courage than that of the descent of another noble woman in the very crater of the volcano, in order to convince her countrymen that they might fearlessly brave the supposed deadly indignation of the evil god to whom tradition had assigned the crater as a home, and of whose wrath it had taught the islanders to believe that the destroying eruptions were the manifested consequence.
All of this, moreover, has at this time a special interest for us. The Royal Family of these island have long sought to cultivate an English alliance; but it has been reserved for the present enlightened king to seek it in a way in which it can be most certainly secured -- by planting among his people, with all the [xi/xii] advantages which can be derived from his own adhesion to it, a branch of our Reformed Church. At his desire, and with the concurrence of our Queen, a Bishop of our nation has been consecrated at Lambeth, to bear the precious seed to the distant island for adoption. To him is to be committed the training of the future heir to the throne. For the Bishop's coming the public reception of the young prince into the Church has been postponed; whilst to mark our gracious Queen's interest in the movement, SHE, even in this day of her sorrow, has consented to be sponsor to the royal youth, and sends out sponsorial gifts befitting England's Queen, as pledges of the reality of her interest in the religious act in which, though absent, she is to partake.
May it please God greatly to bless and prosper this new undertaking of our Sovereign and Her nation's church. In venturing on it we are but paying the debt which in virtue of our own Christianity and our own national prosperity we owe to less favoured tribes of men. It is surely specially appropriate that such gifts as these, -- the high gifts of the doctrine and perfect organization of the Church of Christ, which have built up her own liberties and greatness, should be imparted by the Ocean Queen to her sister islands. Our relation, too, to New Zealand adds greatly to the interest in this undertaking. From the New Zealand church, our own Bishop Patteson -- clarum et venerabile nomen -- is making his way of [xii/xiii] blessing northward through the Melanesian group. Southward, on his way of benediction, may the Bishop of Honolulu speed, until the two advancing currents of the living waters of the living Gospel of our Lord knit in one long grasp the hands of the two Island-Prelates; and they kneel together on the shore of some jointly conquered island, to exclaim in grateful adoration, THIS HATH GOD DONE!
May 24, 1862.