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the ties between the father and the son among us of China are much more closely drawn than with you of Europe.
The remittances sent me from Argun to Moscow came in safety. I cannot sufficiently admire that spirit of honesty, which prevails through the whole country of Siberia : perhaps the savages of that desolate region are the only untutored people of the globe that cultivate the moral virtues, even without knowing that their actions merit praise. I have been told surprising things of their goodness, benevolence, and generosity; and the uninterrupted commerce between China and Russia serves as a collateral confirmation.
Let us, says the Chinese law-giver, admire the rude virtues of the ignorant, but rather imitate the deličate morals of the polite. In the country where I reside, though honesty and benevolence be not so congenial ; yet art supplies the place of Nature. Though here every vice is carried to excess; yet every virtue is practised also with unexampled superiority. A city like this is the soil for great virtues and great vices; the villain can soon improve here in the deepest mys. teries of deceiving ; and the practical philosopher can every day meet new incitements to mend his honest intentions. There are no pleasures, sensual or sentimental, which this city does not produce ; yet I know not how, I could not be content to reside here for life. There is something so seducing in that spot in which we first had existence, that nothing but it can please ; whatever vicissitudes we experience in life, however we toil, or wheresoever we wander, our fatigued wishes still recur to home for tranquillity; we long to die in that spot which gave us birth, and in that pleasing expectation opiate every calamity.
You now therefore perceive that I have some in
tentions of leaving this country; and yet my designed departure fills me with reluctance and regret. Though the friendships of travellers are generally more transient than vernal snows, still I feel an uneasiness at breaking the connexions I have formed since my arrival ; particularly I shall have no small pain in leaving my usual companion, guide, and instructor.
I shall wait for the arrival of my son before I set out. He shall be my companion in every intended journey for the future ; in his company I can support the fatigues of the way with redoubled ardour, pleased at once with conveying instruction, and exacting obedience.
From Lien Chi Altangi to Fum Hoam, first President of
the Ceremonial Academy at Pekin, in China.
OUR scholars in China have a most profound veneration for forms. A first-rate beauty never studied the decorums of dress with more assiduity; they may properly enough be said to be clothed with wisdom from head to foot; they have their philosophical caps and philosophical whiskers, their philosophical slippers and philosophical fans; there is even a philosophical standard for measuring the nails; and yet
with all this seeming wisdom, they are often found to be mere empty pretenders.
A philosophical beau is not so frequent in Europe ; yet I am told that such characters are found here. I mean such as punctually support all the decorums of learning, without being really very profound, or na. turally possessed of a fine understanding ; who labour hard to obtain the titular honours attending literary merit, who flatter others, in order to be fattered in turn; and only study to be thought students.
A character of this kind generally receives company
in his study, in all the pensive formality of slippers, night-gown, and easy chair. The table is covered with a large book which is alway kept open, and never read ; his solitary hours being dedicated to dozing, mending pens, feeling his pulse, peeping through the microscope, and sometimes reading amusing books, which he condemns in company. His library is preserved with the most religious neatness; and is generally a repository of scarce books, which bear an high price, because too dull or useless to become common by the ordinary methods of publication.
Such men are generally candidates for admittance into literary clubs, academies, and institutions, where they regularly meet to give and receive a little instruction and a great deal of praise. In conversation they never betray ignorance, because they never seem to receive information. Offer a new observation, they have heard it before ; pinch them in an argument, and they reply with a sneer.
Yet how trifling soever these little arts may appear, they answer one valuable purpose, of gaining the practisers the esteem they wish for. The bounds of a man's knowledge are easily concealed, if he has but prudence ; but all can readily see and admire a gilt library, a set of long pails, a silver standish, or a well-combed whisker, who are incapable of distinguishing a dunce.
When Father Matthew, the first European missioner, entered China, the court was informed that he possessed great skill in astronomy; he was there
fore sent for, and examined. The established astronomers of state undertook this task; and made their report to the emperor that his skill was but very superficial, and no way comparable to their own. The missioner, however, appealed from their judgment to experience, and challenged them to calculate an eclipse of the moon that was to happen a few nights following. “ What,” said some, “ shall a Barbarian 6 without nails pretend to vie with men in astronomy, “ who have made it the study of their lives, with men “ who know half the knowable characters of words, “ who wear scientifical caps and slippers, and who “ have gone through every literary degree with applause ?” They accepted the challenge, confident of
The eclipse began ; the Chinese produced a most splendid apparatus, and were fifteen minutes wrong ; the missioner with a single instrument was exact to a second. This was convincing ; but the court astronomers were not to be convinced ;, instead of acknowledging their error, they assured the emperor that their calculations were certainly exact, but that the stranger without nails had actually bewitched the
Well then, cries the good emperor, smiling at their ignorance, you shall still continue to be servants of the moon; but I constitute this man her controller.
China is thus replete with men, whose only pretensions to knowledge arise from external circumstances; and in Europe every country abounds with them in proportion to its ignorance. Spain and Flanders, who are behind the rest of Europe in learning at least three centuries, have twenty literary titles and marks of distinction unknown in France or England : they have their Clarissimi and Preclarissimi, their Ac. curatissimi and Minutissimi; a round cap entitles one student to argue, and a square cap permits another te
teach ; while a cap with a tassel almost sanctifies the head it happens to cover. But where true knowledge is cultivated, these formalities begin to disappear ; the ermined cowl, the solemn beard, and sweeping train, are laid aside ; philosophers dress and talk and think like other men ; and lamb-skin dressers and capmakers, and tail-carriers, now deplore a literary.
For my own part, my friend, I have seen enough of presuming ignorance, never to venerate wisdom but where it actually appears.
I have received literary
titles and distinctions myself; and, by the quantity of my own wisdom, know how very little wisdom they can confer.
From Lien Chi Altangi to Fum Hoam, first President
of the Ceremonial Academy at Pekin, in China.
The time for the young King's coronation approaches; the great and the little world look forward with impatience. A knight from the country who has brought up his family to see and be seen on this occasion, has taken all the lower part of the house where I lodge. His wife is laying in a large quantity of silks, which the mercer tells her are to be fashionable next season ; and Miss, her daughter, has actually had her ears bored previously to the ceremony. In all this bustle of preparation I am considered as mere lumber, and have been shoved up two stories higher, to make room for others my landlady seems perfectly convinced are my betters; but whom before me she is contented with only calling very good company.