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FROM LIEN CHI ALTANGI, TO FUM HOAM, FIRST PRESI
DENT OF THE CEREMONIAL ACADEMY AT PEKIN, IN CHINA.
The Tie of Wisdom only to make us Happy.-The Benefits of
Travelling upon the morals of a Philosopher. [The Editor thinks proper to acquaint the reader, that the great,
est part of the following letter seems to him to be little more than a rhapsody of sentences borrowed from Confucius, the Chinese philosopher.]
A wife, a daughter, carried into captivity to expiate my offence; a son, scarce yet arrived at maturity, resolving to encounter every danger in the pious pursuit of one who has undone him; these, indeed, are circumstances of distress; though my tears were more precious than the gem of Golconda, yet would they fall upon such an occasion.
But I submit to the stroke of Heaven; I hold the volume of Confucius in my hand, and, as I read, grow humble, and patient, and wise. We should feel sorrow, says he, but not sink under its oppression; the heart of a wise man should resemble a mirror, which reflects every object without being sullied by any. The wheel of fortune turns incessantly round, and who can say within himself, I shall to-day be uppermost. We should hold the immutable mean that lies between insensibility and anguish ; our attempts should be, not to extinguish nature, but to repress it; not to stand unmoved at distress, but endeavour to turn every disaster to our own advantage. Our greatest glory is, not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
I fancy myself at present, oh thou reverend disciple of Tao, more than a match for all that can happen; the chief business of my life has been to procure wiodom, and the chief object of that wisdom
was to be happy. My attendance on your lectures, my conferences with the missionaries of Europe, and all my subsequent adventures upon quitting China, were calculated to increase the sphere of my happiness, not my curiosity. Let European travellers cross seas and deserts merely to measure the height of a mountain, to describe the cataract of a river, or tell the commodities which every country may produce; merchants or geographers, perhaps, may find profit by such discoveries, but what advantage can accrue to a philosopher from such accounts, who is desirous of understanding the human heart, who seeks to know the men of every country, who desires to discover those differences which result from climate, religion, education, prejudice, and partiality ?
I should think my time very ill bestowed were the only fruits of my adventures to consist in being able to tell that a tradesman of London lives in a house three times as high as that of our great emperor ; that the ladies wear longer clothes than the men; that the priests are dressed in colours which we are taught to detest; and that their soldiers wear scarlet, which is with us the symbol of peace and innocence. How many travellers are there who confine their relations to such minute and useless particulars; for one who enters into the genius of those nations with whom he has conversed, who discloses their morals, their opinions, the ideas which they entertain of religious worship, the intrigues of their ministers, and their skill in sciences, there are twenty who only mention some idle particulars which can be of no real use to a true philosopher. All their remarks tend neither to make themselves nor others more happy; they no way contribute to control their passions, to bear adversity, to inspire true virtue, or raise a detestation of vice.
Men may be very learned, and yet very miserable; it is easy to be a deep geometrician or a sublime astronomer, but very difficult to be a good man ; I esteem, therefore, the traveller who instructs the heart, but despise him who only indulges the imagination; a man who leaves home to mend himself and others, is a philosopher; but he who goes from country to country, guided by the blind impulse of curiosity, is only a vagabond. From Zerdusht down to him of Tyanea, I honour all those great names who endeavoured to unite the world by their travels; such men grew wiser as well as better the farther they departed from home, and seemed like rivers, whose streams are not only increased, but refined as they travel from their source.
For my own part, my greatest glory is, that trav. elling has not more steeled my constitution against all the vicissitudes of climate and all the depressions of fatigue, than it has my mind against the accidents of fortune or the accesses of despair. Farewell.
TO THE SAME.
The Funeral Solemnities of the English. Their Passion for
flattering Epitaphs. The numberless ceremonies which are used here when a person is sick, appears to me so many evident marks of fear and apprehension. Ask an Englishman, however, whether he is afraid of death, and he boldly answers in the negative; but observe his behaviour in circumstances of approaching sickness, and you will find his actions give his assertions the lie.
The Chinese are very sincere in this respect; they hate to die, and they confess their terrors; a great part of their life is spent in preparing things proper for their funeral; a poor artizan will spend half his income in providing himself a tomb twenty years before he wants it, and denies himself the necessaries of life that he may be amply provided for when he shall want them no more.
But people of distinction in England really deserve pity, for they die in circumstances of the most extreme distress. It is an established rule never to let a man know that he is dying; physicians are sent for, the clergy are called, and everything passes in silent solemnity round the sick-bed. The patient is in agonies, looks round for pity; yet not a single creature will say that he is dying. If he is possessed of fortune, his relations entreat him to make his will, as it may restore the tranquillity of his mind. He is desired to undergo the rites of the church; for decency requires it. His friends take their leave because they do not care to see him in pain. In short, a hundred stratagems are used to make him do what he might have been induced to perform only by being told, “Sir, you are past all hopes, and had as good think decently of dying.”
Besides all this, the chamber is darkened, the whole house echoes to the cries of the wife, the lamentations of the children, the grief of the servants, and the sighs of friends. The bed is surrounded with priests and doctors in black, and only flambeaux emit a yellow gloom. Where is the man, how intrepid soever, that would not shrink at such a hideous solemnity ? For fear of affrighting their expiring friends, the English practise all that can fill them with terror. Strange effect of human prejudice, thus to torture merely from mistaken tenderness !
You see, my friend, what contradictions there are in the tempers of those islanders ; when prompted by ambition, revenge, or disappointment, they meet death with the utmost resolution; the very man who in his bed would have trembled at the aspect of a doctor, shall go with intrepidity to attack a bastion, or deliberately noose himself up in his garters.
The passion of the Europeans for magnificent interments is equally strong with that of the Chinese
When a tradesman dies, his frightful face is painted up by an undertaker, and placed in a proper situation to receive company : this is called lying in state. To this disagreeable spectacle all the idlers in town flock, and learn to loathe the wretched dead whom they despised when living. In this manner you see some, who would have refused a shilling to save the life of their dearest friend, bestow thousands on adorning their putrid corpse. I have been told of a fellow, who, grown rich by the price of blood, left in his will that he should lie in state; and thus unknowingly gibbeted himself into infamy, when he might have otherwise quietly retired into oblivion.
When the person is buried, the next care is on make his epitaph; they are generally reckoned best which flatter most: such relations, therefore, as have received most benefits from the defunct, discharge this friendly office, and generally flatter in proportion to their joy. When we read these monumental histories of the dead, it may be justly said that all men are equal in the dust; for they all appear equally remarkable for being the most sincere Christians, the most benevolent neighbours, and the honestest men of their time. To go through a European cemetery, one would be apt to wonder how mankind could have so basely degenerated from such excellent ancestors ; every tomb pretends to claim your reverence and regret; some are praised for piety in those inscriptions, who never entered the temple until they were dead; some are praised for being excellent poets, who were never mentioned, except for their dulness, when living; others for sublime orators, who never were noted except for their impudence; and others still for military achievements, who were never in any other skirmishes but with the watch. Some even make epitaphs for themselves, and bespeak the reader's good-will. It were indeed to be wished that every man would early learn, in this manner, to make his own; that he would draw