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CITIZEN OF THE WORLD.
FROM LIEN CHI ALTANGI, TO FUM HOAM, FIRST
IN every letter I expect accounts of fome new revolu
tions in China, fome ftrange occurrence in ftate, or disafter among my private acquaintance. I open every pacquet with tremulous expectations, and am agreeably difappointed, when I find my friends and my country continuing in felicity. I wander, but they are at reft; they fuffer few changes but what pass in my own restlefs 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. VOL. II.
WILLIAM OWEN MITCHELL
have run to decay. Obferve 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 ftrangers, when all were welcome, who either came to improve the state, or admire its greatnefs! now the empire is fhut up from every foreign improvement; and the very inhabitants discourage each other from profecuting their own internal advantages.
Whence this degeneracy in a flate fo little fubject to external revolutions! How happens it that China, which is now more powerful than ever, which is less subject to foreign invafions, and even affifted in fome difcoveries, by her connections with Europe: whence comes it, I fay, that the empire is thus declining fo fast into barbarity.
This decay is furely from nature, and not the result of voluntary degeneracy. In a period of two or three thousand years, fhe seems at proper intervals, to produce great minds, with an effort resembling that which introduces the viciffitudes of feafons. They rife 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, feek after the causes of this invifible decay, attribute to want of encouragement what really proceeds from want of power, are astonished to find every art and every fcience in the decline, not confidering that autumn is over, and fatigued nature begins to repofe for some fucceedings efforts.
Some periods have been remarkable for the production of men of extraordinary stature; others for producing fome particular animals in great abundance; fome for exceffive plenty; and others again for feemingly causelefs famine. Nature, which fhews herself fo very different in her visible productions, must surely differ also from herself in the production of minds; and while she aftonishes one age with the ftrength and stature 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 darkeft ages there has appeared fome one man of furprifing abilities, who, with all his understanding, failed to bring his barbarous age into refinement; all mankind feem to fleep, till nature gives the general call, and then the whole world feemed at once roufed at the voice; fcience triumphed in every country, and the brightness of a single genius feemed loft in a galaxy of contiguous glory.
Thus the enlightened periods in every age have been univerfal. At the time when first China began to emerge from barbarity, the western world was equally rifing into refinement; when we had our Yau, they had their Sefoftris. In fucceeding ages, Confucius and Pythagoras feem born nearly together; and a train of philofophers then sprung up as well in Greece as in China. The period of renewed barbarity begun to have an univerfal fpread much about the fame time, and continued for fe. veral centuries, till in the year of the Chriftian æra 1400, the emperor Yonglo arose, to revive the learning of the eaft: while about the fame time, the Medicean family
laboured in Italy, to raise infant genius from the cradle : thus we fee politeness spreading over every part of the world in one age, and barbarity fucceeding in another; at one period, a blaze of light diffufing itself over the whole world, and at another, all mankind wrapped up in the profoundest ignorance.
Such has been the fituation of things in times paft; and fuch, 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 prefent candidly confidered, the decline would perhaps appear already to have taken place. We fhould find among the natives of the weft, the ftudy of morality difplaced for mathematical disquisition, or metaphyfical fubtilties; we fhould find learning begin to separate from the useful duties and concerns of life; while none ventured to afpire after that character, but they who know much more than is truly amufing or ufeful. We fhould find every great attempt fuppreffed by prudence, and the rapturous fublimity in writing, cooled by a cautious fear of offence. We fhould find few of those daring spirits, who bravely venture to be wrong, and who are willing to hazard much for the fake of great acquifitions. 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!
HE princes of Europe have found out a manner of rewarding their fubjects who have behaved well, by prefenting them with about two yards of blue ribbon, which is worn about the fhoulder. 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 recompenfing the most important fervices; and it is very fortunate for kings that their fubjects are fatisfied with fuch trifling rewards. Should a nobleman happen to lose his leg in a battle, the king prefents him with two yards of ribbon, and he is paid for the lofs of his limb. Should an ambassador spend all his paternal fortune in supporting the honour of his country abroad, the king prefents him with two yards of ribbon, which is to be confidered as an equivalent to his estate. In fhort, while an European king has a yard of blue or green ribbon left, he need be under no apprehenfions of wanting statesmen, generals, and foldiers.
I cannot fufficiently admire those kingdoms, in which men with large patrimonial estates, are willing thus to undergo real hardships for empty favours. A person, already poffeffed of a competent fortune, who undertakes to enter the career of ambition, feels many real inconveniencies from his ftation, while it procures him no real happiness that he was not poffeffed of before. He could eat, drink, and fleep, before he became a courtier, as well, perhaps better, than when invested with his authority.