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The works of Mencius follow in order of specialty those of Confucius. Back to near two centuries before our era they were known and held in high esteem by the learned; often quotations were made from them. The earliest classical works of the Chinese like those of other nations, did not escape the edicts issued for their destruction.
Dr. Legge says, “ Between Mencius and the rise of the Ts'in dynasty flourished the philosopher Seun K‘ing, of whose writings enough is still preserved to form a large volume. By many he is regarded as the ablest of all the followers of Confucius. He several times makes mention of Mencius, and one of his most important chapters,— That Human Nature is Evil,' seems to have been written expressly against Mencius' doctrine of goodness. He quotes his arguments, and endeavors to set them aside.”
This doctrine of the “ Goodness of Human Nature" had foes in those early times. Mencius seems to have luckily escaped the fury of the Ts'in dynasty. Chaou K'e, a commentator on Mencius says, “When Ts'in sought by its fires to destroy the classical books, and put the scholars to death in pits, there was an end of the school of Mencius. His Works, however, were included under the common name of PhiloBophical,' and so the tablets containing them escaped destruction.”
This writer suffered much for his erudition ; born in A. D. 108, he passed through similar trials to those of the apostles of Jesus. Early distinguishing himself for intelligence, we can see why he could marry a relative of the great scholar and statesman, Ma Yung. His independent bearing towards this and others of his wife's relatives cost him all but life. During a seven years' illness that brought him near his grave he composed his epitaph. “ Here lies a recluse of Han, by surname Chaou, and by name Kea. He had the will, but not the opportunity. Such was his fate. Alas !” He lived to suffer much, and write an important commentary on Mencius, of which he says, “ I wished to set my mind on some literary work, by which I might be assisted to the government of my thoughts, and forget the approach of old age. But the six classics had all been explained and carefully elucidated by previous scholars. Of all the orthodox school there was only Mencius, wide and deep, minute and exquisite, yet obscure at times and hard to see through, who seemed to me to deserve - to be properly ordered and digested. Upon this I brought forth whatever I had learned, collected testimonies from the classics and other books, and divided my author into chapters and sentences. My annotations are given along with the original text, and of every chapter I have separately indicated the scope. The Books I have divided into two Parts, the first and second, making in all fourteen sections.
“On the whole, with regard to my labour, I do not venture to think that it speaks the man of mark, but as a gift to the learner, it may dispel some doubts and resolve perplexities. It is not for me, however, to pronounce on its excellencies or defects. Let men of discernment who come after me observe its errors and omissions and correct them ;—that will be a good service.”
Others have followed him, even down to the present time, which shows Mencius is held in great repute by the learned of China through all ages of our era.
For the Life of Mencius I am entirely indebted to Dr. Legge. He is scarcely mentioned by any biographical work in the English language.
Like the accounts of all noted men of the early times of our world's history, Mencius had a most remarkable mother,