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CITIZEN OF THE WORLD;
FROM A CHINESE PHILOSOPHER
RESIDING IN LONDON,
TO HIS FRIENDS IN THE EAST.
The schoolmen had formerly a very exact way of computing th: abilities of their saints or authors. Escobar, for instance, was said to have learning as five, genius as four, and gravity as seven. Caramuel was greater than he. His learning was as eight, his genius as six, and his gravity as thirteen. Were I to estimate the merits of our Chinese philosopher by the same scale, I would not hesitate to state his genius still higher; but as to his learning and gravity, these, I think, might safely be marked as nine hundred and ninety-nine, within one degree of absolute frigidity.
Yet, upon his first appearance here, many were angry not to find him as ignorant as a Tripoline ambassador or an envoy from Mujac. They were surprised to find a man born so far from London, that school of prudence and wisdom, endued even with a moderate capacity. They expressed the same surprise at his knowledge that the Chinese do at ours.
How comes it,” said they,“that the Europeans, so remote from China, think with so much justice and precision? They have never read our books, they scarcely know even our letters, and yet they talk and reason just as we do." The truth is, the Chinese and we are pretty much alike. Different degrees of refinement, and not of distance, mark the distinctions among mankind. Savages of the most opposite climates have all but one character of im
* Le Comte, vol. i., p. 210.
providence and rapacity; and tutored nations, however separate, make use of the very same methods to procure refined enjoyment.
The distinctions of polite nations are few; but such as are peculiar to the Chinese appear in every page of the following correspondence. The metaphors and allusions are all drawn from the East. Their formality our author carefully preserves. Many of their favourite tenets in morals are illustrated. The Chinese are always concise, so is he; simple, so is he. The Chinese are grave and sententious, so is he. But in one particular the resemblance is peculiarly striking : the Chinese are often dull, and so is he. Nor has my assistance been wanting: We are told in an old romance of a certain knight-errant and his horse who contracted an intimate friendship. The horse most usually bore the knight; but, in cases of extraordinary despatch, the knight returned the favour, and carried his horse. Thus, in the intimacy between my author and me, he has usually given me a lift of his Eastern sublimity, and I have sometimes given him a return of my colloquial ease.
Yet it appears strange, in this season of panegyric, when scarce an author passes unpraised either by his friends or himself, that such merit as our philosopher's should be forgotten. While the epithets of ingenious, copious, elaborate, and refined are lavished among the mob, like medals at a coronation, the lucky prizes fall on every side, but not one on him. I could on this occasion make myself melancholy, by considering the capriciousness of public taste or the mutability of fortune; but, during this fit of morality, lest my reader should sleep, I'll take a nap myself, and, when I awake, tell him my dream.
I imagined the Thames was frozen over, and I stood by its side. Several booths were erected upon the ice, and I was told by one of the spectators that Fashion Fair was going to begin. He added, that every author who would carry his works there might probably find a very good reception. I was resolved, however, to observe the humours of the place, in safety from the shore, sensible that ice was at best precarious, and having been always a little cowardly in my sleep.
Several of my acquaintance seemed much more hardy than 1, and went over the ice with intrepidity. Some carried their works to the fair on sledges, some on carts, and those which were more voluminous were conveyed in wagons. Their temerity astonished me. I knew their cargoes were heavy, and expected every moment they would have gone to the bottom. They all entered the fair, however, in safety, and each soon after returned, to my great surprise, highly satisfied with his entertainment, and the bargains he had brought away.
The success of such numbers at last began to operate upon me. If these, cried I, meet with favour and safety, some luck may, perhaps, for once attend the unfortunate. I am resolved to make a new adventure. The furniture, frippery, and fireworks of China have long been fashionably bought up. I'll try the fair with a small cargo of Chinese morality. If the Chinese have contributed to vitiate our taste, I'll try how far they can help to improve our understanding. But, as others have driven into the market in wagons, I'll cautiously begin by venturing with a wheelbarrow. Thus resolved, I baled up my goods and fairly ventured; when, upon just entering the fair, I fancied the ice, that had supported a hundred wagons before, cracked under me, and wheelbarrow and all went to the bottom.
Upon awaking from my revery with the fright, I could not help wishing that the pains taken in giving this correspondence an English dress had been employed in contriving new political systems, or new plots for farces. I might then have taken my station in the world either as a poet or a philosopher, and