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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 ot 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 'Philosophical,' 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 Furname 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, and to this day it is said she is " held up as a m jdel of what a mother should be." The early training of Mencius devolved upon his mother, for his father died when he was quite young. Dr. Legge says," The year of Mencius' birth was probably the 4th of the emperor Lee, B. C. 371. He lived to the age of 84, dying in the year B. c. 288, the 26th of the emperor Nan, with whom terminated the long sovereignty of the Chow dynasty. The first twenty-three years of his life thus syncronized with the last twenty-three of Plato's. Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, Demosthenes, and other great men of the West, were also his contemporaries. When we place Mencius among them, he can look them in the face. He does not need to hide a diminished head."
Some interesting anecdotes are given of his early life. His mother moved three times on his account.
"At first they lived near a cemetery, and Mencius amused himself with acting the various scenes which he witnessed at the tombs. 'This,' said the lady,' is no place for my son';— and she removed to a house in the market-place. But the change was no improvement. The boy took to playing the part of a salesman, vaunting his wares, and chaffering with customers. His mother sought a new house, and found one at last close by a public school. There her child's attention was taken with the various exercises of politeness which the scholars were taught, and he endeavoured to imitate them. The mother was satisfied. 'This,' she said, 'is the proper place for my son.'
"Han Ying relates another story of this period. Near their house was a pig-butcher's. One day Mencius asked his mother what they were killing the pigs for, and was told that it was to feed him. Her conscience immediately reproved her for the answer. She said to herself, 'While I was carrying this boy in my womb, I would not sit down if the mat was not placed square, and I ate no meat which was not cut properly; —so I taught him when he was yet unborn. And now when his intelligence is opening, I am deceiving him;—this is to teach him untruthfulness!' With this she went and bought a piece of pork in order to make good her words.
"As Mencius grew up, he was sent to school. When he returned home one day, his mother looked up from the web which she was weaving, and asked him how far he had got oil. He answered her with an air of indifference that he was doing well enough, on which she took a knife and cut through her web. The idler was alarmed, and asked what she meant, when she gave him a long lecture, showing that she had done what he was doing,—that her cutting through her web was like his neglecting his learning. The admonition, it is said, had its proper effect; the lecture did not need to be repeated."
How far Mencius was indebted to Confucius may be inferred by an expression of his. "Although I could not be a disciple of Confucius myself, I have endeavoured to cultivate my character and knowledge by means of others who were."
It would seem Mencius had tutors of a class suited to the true ardor and bent of his mind; self-improvement is the main thing. He does not indicate any special one of his teachers to whom he is indebted; he takes all possible means to cultivate his mind. Scarcely anything is told of him now till he appears before the public with his disciples.
His independent bearing towards all classes shows that he did not respect the persons of men. Dr. Legge gives two anecdotes illustrative of this.
"' When Kang of T'ang made his appearance in your school,' said the disciple Kung-too, 'it seemed proper that a polite consideration should be paid to him, and yet you did not answer him;—why was that?' Mencius replied,'I do not answer him who questions me presuming on his ability, nor him who presumes on his talents, nor him who presumes on his age, nor him who presumes on services performed to me, nor him who presumes on old acquaintance. Two of those things were chargeable on Kang of T'ang.'
"The other instance is that of Keaou of Ts'aou, who said to Mencius,'I shall be having an interview with the prince of Tsow, and can ask him to let me have a house to lodge in. I wish to remain here, and receive instruction at your gate.' 'The way of truth,' replied the philosopher, 'is like a great road. It is not difficult to know it. The evil is only that men will not seek it. Do you go home and search for it, and you will have abundance of teachers' "
Mencius' great forte was the the instruction of princes, who in his time were in need of good advice. At the age of forty years he claims to have attained " an unperturbed mind." His instructions came to be much sought for by even princes. The king of Ts'e invited him to his dominions or court, but partaking of the common awe at his fame, sent persons "to spy out whether he was like other men." Mencius could advise the king to have a heart impatient of the people's sufferings, and use his will to do it. Agriculture and education were the chief points in Mencius' methods of instruction ;— "nourishment secured both for the body and mind of every subject" was what he wished to see secured by the acts of the sovereigns. "Be strong to do good. That is all your business." He had told the prince "results are with Heaven." Mencius is so often found with kings and princes, that it would seem he felt it to be his mission to counsel such. Half measures and compromises he seemed utterly to abhor. As he never took a salary, he could hold office and still be free.
Upon the death of his excellent mother, Mencius held a splendid and costly funeral to show that "' The superior man will not for all the world be niggardly to his parents.''"
In 309 B. c. Mencius visits the court of Loo. and this is his last visit to kings. He then commends the prince by calling him "A good man," "a real man." "He allows that' he is not a man of vigour,' nor 'a man wise in council,' nor ' a man of much information,' but he says—' he is a man that loves what is good,' and ' the love of what is good is more than a