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CITIZEN OF THE WORLD.
WILLIAM OWEN MITCHELL
FROM LIEN'CHI ALTANGI, TO FUM HOAM, FIRST
IN every letter I expect accounts of some new revolu. tions in China, fome strange occurrence in ftate, or disa : : after among my private acquaintance. I open every pacquet with tremulous expeétations, and am agreeably disappointed, when I find my friends and my country continuing in felicity. I wander, but they are at reft ; ; they suffer few changes but what pass in my own resta .. less imagination; it is only the rapidity of my own mo.. tion gives an imaginary swiftness to objects which are in . fome measure immoveable.
Yet, believe me, my friend, that even China itself is , imperceptibly degenerating from her ancient greatness;... her laws are now more venal, and her merchants are more deceitful than formerly; the very arts and sciences ?
have run to decay. Observe the carvings on our ancient bridges; figures that add grace even to nature. There is not an artist now in all the empire that can imitate their beauty. Our manufactures in porcelain too, are inferior to what we once were famous for ; and even Eu. rope now begins to excel us. There was a time when China was the receptacle of strangers, when all were welcome, who either came to improve the state, or admire its greatness! now the empire is shut up from every foreign improvement; and the very inhabitants discourage each other from prosecuting their own internal advantages.
Whence this degeneracy in a state so little subjeet to external revolutions ! How happens it that China, which is now more powerful than ever, which is less subject to foreign invasions, and even assisted in some discoveries, by her connections with Europe : whence comes it, I say, that the empire is thus declining so fast into barbarity.
This decay is surely from nature, and not the result of voluntary degeneracy. In a period of two or three thousand years, she seems at proper intervals, to produce great minds, with an effort resembling that which introduces the vicissitudes of seasons. They rise up at once, continue for an age, enlighten the world, fall like ripened corn, and mankind again gradually relapse into pristine barbarity. We little ones look around, are amazed at the decline, seek after the causes of this invisible decay, attribute to want of encouragement what really proceeds from want of power, are astonished to find every art and every science in the decline, not considering that autumn is over, and fatigued nature begins to repose for some succeedings efforts.
Some periods have been remarkable for the production of men of extraordinary stature ; others for producing fome particular animals in great abundance; some for excessive plenty; and others again for seemingly causeless famine. Nature, which shews herself so very diffe. rent in her visible productions, must surely differ also from herself in the production of minds; and while she astonishes one age with the strength and ftature of a Milo or Maximin, may bless another with the wisdom of a Plato, or the goodness of an Antonine.
Let us not then attribute to accident the falling off of évery nation, but to the natural revolution of things. Often in the darkest ages there has appeared some one man of surprising abilities, who, with all his understanding, failed to bring his barbarous age into refinement; all mankind seem to sleep, till nature gives the general call, and then the whole world seemed at once roused at the voice; science triumphed in every country, and the brightness of a single genius seemed loft in a galaxy of contiguous glory:
Thus the enlightened periods in every age have been universal. At the time when first China began to emerge from barbarity, the western world was equally rising intö refinement; when we had our Yau; they had their Sefoftris. In succeeding ages, Confucius and Pythagoras feem born nearly together; and a train of philosophers then sprung up as well in Greece as in China. The pe. riod of renewed barbarity begun to have an universal spread much about the same time, and continued for se. veral centuries, till in the year of the Christian æra 1400, the emperor Yonglo arose, to revive the learning of the east: while about the same time, the Medicean family
laboured in Italy, to raise infant genius from the cradle : thus we see politeness spreading over every part of the world in one age, and barbarity succeeding in another; at one period, a blaze of light diffusing itself over the whole world, and at another, all mankind wrapped up in the profoundeft ignorance.
Such has been the situation of things in times past; and such, probably, it will ever be. China, I have ob ferved, has evidently begun to degenerate from its former politeness; and were the learning of the Europeans, at present candidly considered, the decline would per. haps appear already to have taken place. We should find among the natives of the west, the study of morality difplaced for mathematical disquisition, or metaphysical subtilties; we should find learning begin to separate from the useful duties and concerns of life; while none ventured to aspire after that character, but they who know much more than is truly amusing or ufeful. We hould find every great attempt fuppressed by prudence, and the rapturous sublimity in writing, cooled by a cautious fear of offence. We should find few of those daring spirits, who bravely venture to be wrong, and who are willing to hazard much for the sake of great acquisitions. Providence has indulged the world with a period of almost four hundred years refinement; does it not now by degrees. fink us into our former ignorance, leaving us only the love of wisdom, while it deprives us of its advantages. Adieu !
TROM THE SAME.
1 HE princes of Europe have found out a manner of rewarding their subjects who have behaved well, by presenting them with about two yards of blue ribbon, which is worn about the shoulder. They who are honoured with this mark of distinction, are called knights, and the king himsef is always the head of the order. This is a very frugal method of recompensing the most important services; and it is very fortunate for kings that their subjects are satisfied with such trifling rewards. Should a nobleman happen to lose his leg in a battle, the king prea sents him with two yards of ribbon, and he is paid for the loss of his limb. Should an ambassador spend all his paternal fortune in supporting the honour of his country abroad, the king presents him with two yards of ribbon, which is to be considered as an equivalent to his estate. In short, while an European king has a yard of blue or green ribbon left, he need be under no apprehensions of wanting statesmen, generals, and soldiers.
I cannot sufficiently admire those kingdoms, in which men with large patrimonial estates, are willing thus to undergo real hardships for empty favours. A person, already possessed of a competent fortune, who undertakes to enter the career of ambition, feels many real inconveniencies from his station, while it procures him no real happiness that he was not possessed of before. He could eat, drink, and sleep, before he became a courtier, as well, perhaps better, than when invested with his authority.