They were loved, revered and respected throughout the whole town. The illuminating philosophers of the day had sworn to exterminate Christian knowledge, and the college of Pernambuco was doomed to founder in the general storm. To the long-lasting sorrow and disgrace of Portugal, the philosophers blinded her king and flattered her prime minister. Pombal was exactly the tool these sappers of every public and private virtue wanted. He had the naked sword of power in his own hand, and his heart was hard as flint. He struck a mortal blow and the Society of Jesus, throughout the Portuguese dominions, was no more.
One morning all the fathers of the college in Pernambuco, some of them very old and feeble, were suddenly ordered into the refectory. They had notice beforehand of the fatal storm, in pity, from the governor, but not one of them abandoned his charge. They had done their duty and had nothing to fear. They bowed with resignation to the will of Heaven. As soon as they had all reached the refectory they were there locked up, and never more did they see their rooms, their friends, their scholars, or acquaintance. In the dead of the following night a strong guard of soldiers literally drove them through the streets to the water's edge. They were then conveyed in boats aboard a ship and steered for Bahia. Those who survived the barbarous treatment they experienced from Pombal's creatures, were at last ordered to Lisbon. The college of Pernambuco was plundered, and some time after an elephant was kept there.
Thus the arbitrary hand of power, in one night, smote and swept away the sciences: to which succeeded the low vulgar buffoonery of a showman. Virgil and Cicero made way for a wild beast from Angola! and now a guard is on duty at the very gate where, in times long past, the poor were daily fed!
Trust not, kind reader, to the envious remarks which their enemies have scattered far and near; believe not the stories of those who have had a hand in the sad tragedy. Go to Brazil, and see with thine own eyes the effect of Pombal's short-sighted policy. There vice reigns triumphant and learning is at its lowest ebb. Neither is this to be wondered at. Destroy the compass, and will the vessel find her far-distant port? Will the flock keep together, and escape the wolves, after the shepherds are all slain? The Brazilians were told that public education would go on just as usual. They might have asked Government, who so able to instruct our youth as those whose knowledge is proverbial? who so fit as those who enjoy our entire confidence? who so worthy as those whose lives are irreproachable?
They soon found that those who succeeded the fathers of the Society of Jesus had neither their manner nor their abilities. They had not made the instruction of youth their particular study. Moreover, they entered on the field after a defeat where the officers had all been slain; where the plan of the campaign was lost; where all was in sorrow and dismay. No exertions of theirs could rally the dispersed, or skill prevent the fatal consequences. At the present day the seminary of Olinda, in comparison with the former Jesuits' college, is only as the waning moon's beam to the sun's meridian splendour.
When you visit the places where those learned fathers once flourished, and see with your own eyes the evils their dissolution has caused; when you hear the inhabitants telling you how good, how clever, how charitable they were; what will you think of our poet laureate for calling them, in his History of Brazil, "Missioners whose zeal the most fanatical was directed by the coolest policy"?
Was it fanatical to renounce the honours and comforts of this transitory life in order to gain eternal glory in the next, by denying themselves, and taking up the cross? Was it fanatical to preach salvation to innumerable wild hordes of Americans? to clothe the naked? to encourage the repenting sinner? to aid the dying Christian? The fathers of the Society of Jesus did all this. And for this their zeal is pronounced to be the most fanatical, directed by the coolest policy. It will puzzle many a clear brain to comprehend how it is possible, in the nature of things, that zeal the most fanatical should be directed by the coolest policy. Ah, Mr. Laureate, Mr. Laureate, that "quidlibet audendi" of yours may now and then gild the poet at the same time that it makes the historian cut a sorry figure!