Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

You now, therefore, perceive that I have some new observation, they have heard it before, pinch intentions of leaving this country; and yet my de-them in argument, and they reply with a sneer. signed departure fills me with reluctance and re- Yet, how trifling soever these little arts may apgret. Though the friendships of travellers are pear, they answer one valuable purpose, of gaining generally more transient than vernal snows, still I the practisers the esteem they wish for. The feel an uneasiness at breaking the connexions I bounds of a man's knowledge are easily concealed, have formed since my arrival; particularly I shall if he has but prudence; but all can readily see and have no small pain in leaving my usual companion, admire a gilt library, a set of long nails, a silver guide, and instructor. standish, or a well-combed whisker, who are incapable of distinguishing a dunce.

own.

I shall wait for the arrival of my son before I set out. He shall be my companion in every intended When Father Matthew, the first European journey for the future; in his company I can sup-missionary, entered China, the court was informed, port the fatigues of the way with redoubled ardour, that he possessed great skill in astronomy; he was pleased at once with conveying instruction and ex-therefore sent for, and examined. The established acting obedience. Adieu. 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 The missionary, 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, OUR scholars in China have a most profound" shall a barbarian without nails pretend to vie veneration for forms. A first-rate beauty never with men in astronomy, who have made it the studied the decorums of dress with more assiduity; study of their lives; with men who know half of they may properly enough be said to be clothed with the knowable characters of words, who wear sciwisdom from head to foot; they have their philo-entifical caps and slippers, and who have gone sophical caps, and philosophical whiskers; their through every literary degree with applause?" They philosophical slippers, and philosophical fans; there accepted the challenge, confident of success. The is even a philosophical standard for measuring the eclipse began: the Chinese produced a most splennails; and yet, with all this seeming wisdom, they did apparatus, and were fifteen minutes wrong; are often found to be mere empty pretenders. the missionary, with a single instrument, was exact

A philosophical beau is not so frequent in En-to a second. This was convincing; but the court rope; yet I am told that such characters are found astronomers were not to be convinced; instead of here. I mean such as punctually support all the acknowledging their error, they assured the emdecorums of learning, without being really very peror that their calculations were certainly exact, profound, or naturally possessed of a fine under-but that the stranger without nails had actually standing who labour hard to obtain the titular bewitched the moon. "Well, then," cries the honours attending literary merit, who flatter others good emperor smiling at their ignorance, "you in order to be flattered in turn, and only study to shall still continue to be servants of the moon; but be thought students, I constitute this man her controller."

LETTER CIV.

From Lien Chi Altangi to Fum Hoam, First President of the
Ceremonial Academy at Pekin, in China.

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 always 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 a high price, because too dull or useless to become common by the ordinary methods of publication. Such men are generally candidates for admit- is cultivated, these formalities begin to disappear tance into literary clubs, academies, and institu- The ermined cowl, the solemn beard, and sweeptions, where they regularly meet to give and receive ing train, are laid aside; philosophers dress, and a little instruction, and a great deal of praise. In talk, and think, like other men; and lamb-skin conversation they never betray ignorance, because dressers, and cap-makers, and tail-carriers now shey never seem to receive information, Offer a deplore a literary age.

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 Præclarissimi, their Accuratissimi and Minutissimi. A round cap entitles one student to argue, and a square cap permits another to teach, while a cap with a tassel almost sanctifies the head it happens to cover. But where true knowledge

For my own part, my friend, I have seen enough! Some men have a manner of describing, which of presuming ignorance never to venerate wisdom only wraps the subject in more than former obscu but where it actually appears. I have received rity; thus I was unable, with all my companion's literary titles and distinctions myself; and, by the volubility, to form a distinct idea of the intended quantity of my own wisdom, know how very little procession. I was certain that the inauguration of wisdom they can confer. Adieu. a king should be conducted with solemnity and religious awe; and I could not be persuaded, that there was much solemnity in this description. "If this be true," cried I to myself, "the people of Europe surely have a strange manner of mixing solemn and fantastic images together; pictures at

LETTER CV.

From the Same.

My companion, who mistook my silence, during this interval of reflection, for the rapture of as

THE time for the young king's coronation ap-once replete with burlesque and the sublime. At proaches. The great and the little world look a time when the king enters into the most solemn forward with impatience. A knight from the compact with his people, nothing surely should be country, who has brought up his family to see and admitted to diminish from the real majesty of the be seen on this occasion, has taken all the lower ceremony. A ludicrous image, brought in at such part of the house where I lodge. His wife is lay-a time, throws an air of ridicule upon the whole. ing in a large quantity of silks, which the mercer It someway resembles a picture I have seen, detells her are to be fashionable next season; and signed by Albert Durer, where, amidst all the somiss, her daughter, has actually had her ears bored lemnity of that awful scene, a deity judging, and a previous to the ceremony. In all this bustle of trembling world awaiting the decree, he has intropreparation I am considered as mere lumber, and duced a merry mortal trundling a scolding wife to have been shoved up two stories higher, to make hell in a wheel-barrow." room for others my landlady seems perfectly convinced are my betters, but whom, before me, she is contented with only calling very good company. tonishment, proceeded to describe those frivolous The little beau, who has now forced himself into parts of the show that most struck his imaginamy intimacy, was yesterday giving me a most mi- tion; and to assure me, that if I stayed in this nute detail of the intended procession. All men country some months longer, I should see fine are eloquent upon their favourite topic: and this things. "For my own part," continued he, “I seemed peculiarly adapted to the size and turn of know already of fifteen suits of clothes, that would his understanding. His whole mind was blazoned stand on one end with gold lace, all designed to be over with a variety of glittering images; coronets, first shown there; and as for diamonds, rubies, escutcheons, lace, fringe, tassals, stones, bugles, emeralds, and pearls, we shall see them as thick as and spun glass. "Here," cried he, "Garter is to brass nails in a sedan chair. And then we are walk; and there Rouge Dragon marches with the all to walk so majestically thus; this foot always escutcheons on his back. Here Clarencieux moves behind the foot before. ' ne ladies are to fling forward; and there Blue Mantle disdains to be nosegays; the court poets to scatter verses: the left behind. Here the alderman march two and spectators are to be all in full dress: Mrs. Tibbs two; and there the undaunted champion of Eng-in a new sack, ruffles, and frenched hair: look land, no way terrified at the very numerous ap- where you will, one thing finer than another; pearance of gentlemen and ladies, rides forward in Mrs. Tibbs courtesies to the duchess; her grace complete armour, and with an intrepid air, throws returns the compliment with a bow. 'Largess,' down his glove. Ah!" continued he, "should any cries the herald. 'Make room,' cries the gentlebe so hardy as to take up that fatal glove, and so man usher. 'Knock him down,' cries the guard, accept the challenge, we should see fine sport; the Ah!" continued he, amazed at his own description, champion would show him no mercy; he would what an astonishing scene of grandeur can art soon teach him all his passes with a witness. How-produce from the smallest circumstance, when it ever, I am afraid we shall have none willing to try thus actually turns to wonder one man putting on it with him upon the approaching occasion, for another man's hat!” two reasons; first, because his antagonist would I now found his mind was entirely set upon the stand a chance of being killed in the single combat; fopperies of the pageant, and quite regardless of the and, secondly, because if he escapes the champion's real meaning of such costly preparations. "Paarm, he would certainly be hanged for treason. geants," says Bacon, "are pretty things; but we No, no; I fancy none will be so hardy as to dis- should rather study to make them elegant than expute it with a champion like him inured to arms; pensive." Processions, cavalcades, and all that and we shall probably see him prancing unmolest-fund of gay frippery, furnished out by tailors, bar ed away, holding his bridle thus in one hand, and bers, and tirewomen, mechanically influence the brandishing his dram-cup in the other." mind into veneration. An emperor in his night

[ocr errors]

cap would not meet with half the respect of an em- the moon, at which Fum Hoam himself presided peror with a glittering crown. Politics resemble in person. Adieu. religion; attempting to divest either of ceremony is the most certain method of bringing either into contempt. The weak must have their inducements to admiration as well as the wise; and it is the business of a sensible government to impress all ranks with a sense of subordination, whether this be effected by a diamond buckle, or a virtuous edict, a sumptuary law, or a glass necklace.

This interval of reflection only gave my companion spirits to begin his description afresh; and, as a greater inducement to raise my curiosity, he informed me of the vast sums that were given by the spectators for places. "That the ceremony ever, is almost discontinued, and nothing but verses must be fine," cries he, "is very evident from the alone are now lavished on such occasions; an ob fine price that is paid for seeing it. Several ladies lation which they suppose may be interred with nave assured me, they would willingly part with the dead, without any injury to the living. one eye rather than be prevented from looking on with the other. Come, come," continues he, "I have a friend, who, for my sake, will supply us with places at the most reasonable rates; I'll take care you shall not be imposed upon; and he will inform you of the use, finery, rapture, splendour, and enchantment of the whole ceremony, better

than I."

LETTER CVI.

From the Same.

It was formerly the custom here, when men of distinction died, for their surviving acquaintance tó throw each a slight present into the grave. Several things of little value were made use of for that purpose; perfumes, relics, spices, bitter herbs, camomile, wormwood, and verses. This custom, how

Upon the death of the great, therefore, the poets and undertakers are sure of employment. While one provides the long cloak, black staff, and mourning coach, the other produces the pastoral or elegy, the monody or apotheosis. The nobility need be under no apprehensions, but die as fast as they think proper, the poet and undertaker are ready to supply them; these can find metaphorical tears and family escutcheons at half an hour's warning; and

Follies often repeated lose their absurdity, and assume the appearance of reason. His arguments when the one has soberly laid the body in the grave, were so often and so strongly enforced, that I had the other is ready to fix it figuratively among the actually some thoughts of becoming a spectator. stars.

We accordingly went together to bespeak a place; | There are several ways of being poetically sor but guess my surprise, when the man demanded rowful on such occasions. The bard is now some a purse of gold for a single seat! I could hardly pensive youth of science, who sits deploring among believe him serious upon making the demand.— the tombs; again, he is Thyrsis complaining in a "Prithee, friend," cried I, "after I have paid twen- circle of harmless sheep. Now Britannia sits upon ty pounds for sitting here an hour or two, can I her own shore, and gives a loose to maternal tenbring a part of the coronation back?" No, sir."—derness; at another time, Parnassus, even the "How long can I live upon it, after I have come mountain Parnassus, gives way to sorrow, and is away?"-"Not long, sir."-" Can a coronation bathed in tears of distress.

clothe, feed, or fatten me?"-"Sir," replied the But the most usual manner is thus: Damon man, "you seem to be under a mistake; all that meets Menalcas, who has got a most gloomy counyou can bring away is the pleasure of having it to tenance. The shepherd asks his friend, whence say, that you saw the coronation."-" Blast me!" that look of distress? to which the other replies, cries Tibbs, "if that be all, there is no need of pay- that Pollio is no more. "If that be the case then," ing for that, since I am resolved to have that pleasure, whether I am there or no!"

cries Damon, "let us retire to yonder bower at some distance off, where the cypress and the jessamine I am conscious, my friend, that this is but a very add fragrance to the breeze; and let us weep alterconfused description of the intended ceremony. nately for Pollio, the friend of shepherds, and the You may object, that I neither settle rank, pre-patron of every muse."—" Ah," returns his fellow cedency, nor place; that I seem ignorant whether shepherd, "what think you rather of that grotto Gules walks before or behind Garter; that I have by the fountain side! the murmuring stream will neither mentioned the dimensions of a lord's cap, help to assist our complaints, and a nightingale on nor measured the length of a lady's tail. I know a neighbouring tree will join her voice to the conyour delight is in minute description; and this I cert!" When the place is thus settled, they begin: am unhappily disqualified from furnishing; yet, the brook stands still to hear their lamentations; upon the whole, I fancy it will be no way compa- the cows forget to graze; and the very tigers start rable to the magnificence of our late emperor from the forest with sympathetic concern. By the Whangti's procession, when he was married to tombs of our ancestors! my dear Fum, I am quite

unaffected in all this distress: the whole is liquid From a knowledge of this disposition, there are solaudanum to my spirits; and a tiger of common veral here, who make it their business to frame new sensibility has twenty times more tenderness than I. reports at every convenient interval, all tending to

But though I could never weep with the com-denounce ruin both on their contemporaries and plaining shepherd, yet I am sometimes induced to their posterity. This denunciation is eagerly caught pity the poet, whose trade is thus to make demi- up by the public: away they fling to propagate the gods and heroes for a dinner. There is not in na- distress; sell out at one place, buy in at another, ture a more dismal figure than a man who sits grumble at their governors, shout in mobs, and down to premeditated flattery: every stanza he when they have thus for some time behaved like writes tacitly reproaches the meanness of his oc- fools, sit down coolly to argue and talk wisdom, to cupation, till at last his stupidity becomes more puzzle each other with syllogism, and prepare for stupid, and his dulness more diminutive. the next report that prevails, which is always attended with the same success.

Thus are they ever rising above one report, only

I am amazed, therefore, that none have yet found out the secret of flattering the worthless, and yet of preserving a safe conscience. I have often to sink into another. They resemble a dog in a wished for some method, by which a man might do well, pawing to get free. When he has raised his himself and his deceased patron justice, without upper parts above water, and every spectator imabeing under the hateful reproach of self-conviction. gines him disengaged, his lower parts drag him After long lucubration, I have hit upon such an down again, and sink him to the nose; he makes expedient: and send you the specimen of a poem new efforts to emerge, and every effort increasing upon the decease of a great man, in which the flat- his weakness, only tends to sink him the deeper. tery is perfectly fine, and yet the poet perfectly in

nocent.

There are some here who, 1 am told, make a tolerable subsistence by the credulity of their countrymen. As they find the people fond of blood, wounds, and death, they contrive political ruins suited to every month in the year. This month the people are to be eaten up by the French in flatbottomed boats; the next, by the soldiers designed to beat the French back. Now the people are going to jump down the gulf of luxury; and now nothing but a herring subscription can fish them up again. Time passes on; the report proves false; new circumstances produce new changes; but the people never change, they are persevering in folly.

In other countries, those boding politicians would be left to fret over their own schemes alone, and grow splenetic without hopes of infecting others: but England seems to be the very region where spleen delights to dwell; a man not only can give an unbounded scope to the disorder in himself, but may, if he pleases, propagate it over the whole kingdom, with a certainty of success. He has only to cry out that the government, the government is all wrong; that their schemes are leading to ruin; that Britons are no more;-every good member of the commonwealth thinks it his duty, in such a case, to deplore the universal decadence with sympathetic sorrow, and, by fancying the constitution in a decay, absolutely to impair its vigour.

LETTER CVII.

This people would laugh at my simplicity, should I advise them to be less sanguine in harbouring gloomy predictions, and examine coolly before they attempted to complain. I have just heard a story, which, though transacted in a pri

From the Same.

It is the most usual method in every report, first vate family, serves very well to describe the behato examine its probability, and then act as the con-viour of the whole nation, in cases of threatened juncture may require. The English, however, calamity. As there are public, so there are privats exert a different spirit in such circumstances; they incendiaries here. One of the last, either for the first act, and, when too late, begin to examine, amusement of his friends, or to divert a fit of the

ON THE DEATH OF THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

Ye muses, pour the pitying tear
For Pollio snatch'd away:
O, had he lived another year,—
He had not died to-day.

O, were he born to bless mankind
In virtuous times of yore,
Heroes themselves had fallen behind,-
Whene'er he went before.

How sad the groves and plains appear,
And sympathetic sheep:
Even pitying hills would drop a tear,—
If hills could learn to weep.

His bounty in exalted strain

Each bard may well display
Since none implored relief in vain,—
That went relieved away.

And hark! I hear the tuneful throng
His obsequies forbid :

He still shall live, shall live as long-
As ever dead man did.

[ocr errors]

spleen, lately sent a threatening letter to a worthy |tives of commerce or piety; and their accounts are family in my neighbourhood, to this effect:- such as might reasonably be expected from men of "SIR,-Knowing you to be very rich, and find- very narrow or very prejudiced education, the dicing myself to be very poor, I think proper to inform tates of superstition or the result of ignorance. Is you, that I have learned the secret of poisoning it not surprising, that in such a variety of advenman, woman, and child, without danger of detec- turers, not one single philosopher should be found? tion. Don't be uneasy, sir, you may take your for as to the travels of Gemelli, the learned are choice of being poisoned in a fortnight, or poisoned long agreed that the whole is but an imposture. in a month, or poisoned in six weeks: you shall There is scarcely any country, how rude or unhave full time to settle all your affairs. Though I cultivated soever, where the inhabitants are not am poor, I love to do things like a gentleman. possessed of some peculiar secrets either in nature But, sir, you must die; I have determined it within or art, which might be transplanted with success. my own breast that you must die. Blood, sir, In Siberian Tartary, for instance, the natives exblood is my trade; so I could wish you would this tract a strong spirit from milk, which is a secret day six weeks take leave of your friends, wife, and probably unknown to the chemists of Europe. In family, for I can not possibly allow you longer time. the most savage parts of India, they are possessed To convince you more certainly of the power of of the secret of dyeing vegetable substances scarlet; my art, by which you may know I speak truth, and of refining lead into a metal, which, for hardtake this letter; when you have read it, tear off the ness and colour, is little inferior to silver: not one seal, fold it up, and give it to your favourite Dutch of which secrets but would, in Europe, make a mastiff that sits by the fire; he will swallow it, sir, man's fortune. The power of the Asiatics in prolike a buttered toast: in three hours four minutes ducing winds, or bringing down rain, the Europeafter he has eaten it, he will attempt to bite off his ans are apt to treat as fabulous, because they have own tongue, and half an hour after burst asunder no instances of the like nature among themselves; in twenty pieces. Blood, blood, blood! So no but they would have treated the secrets of gunmore at present from, sir, your most obedient, powder, and the mariner's compass, in the same most devoted humble servant to command, till manner, had they been told the Chinese used such death." arts before the invention was common with themselves at home.

You may easily imagine the consternation into which this letter threw the whole good-natured family. The poor man to whom it was addressed was the more surprised, as not knowing how he could merit such inveterate malice. All the friends of the family were convened; it was universally agreed that it was a most terrible affair, and that the government should be solicited to offer a reward and a pardon: a fellow of this kind would go on poisoning family after family; and it was impossible to say where the destruction would end. In pursuance of these determinations, the govern- the superstitious and the mercenary, what might ment was applied to; strict search was made after not mankind expect! How would he enlighten the incendiary, but all in vain. At last, therefore, the regions to which he travelled! and what a they recollected that the experiment was not yet variety of knowledge and useful improvement tried upon the dog; the Dutch mastiff was brought would he not bring back in exchange! up, and placed in the midst of the friends and relations, the seal was torn off, the packet folded up with care, and soon they found, to the great surprise of all—that the dog would not eat the letter. Adieu.

Of all the English philosophers, I most reverence Bacon, that great and hardy genius! he it is who allows of secrets yet unknown; who, undaunted by the seeming difficulties that oppose, prompts human curiosity to examine every part of nature, and even exhorts man to try, whether he can not subject the tempest, the thunder, and even earthquakes, to human control! O, did a man of his daring spirit, of his genius, penetration, and learning, travel to those conntries which have been visited only by

There is, probably, no country so barbarous, that would not disclose all it knew, if it received from the traveller equivalent information; and I am apt to think, that a person who was ready to give more knowledge than he received, would be welcome wherever he came. All his care in travelling should only be to suit his intellectual banquet to the people with whom he conversed; he should not attempt to teach the unlettered Tartar astronomy, nor yet instruct the polite Chinese in the ruder arts of subsistence. He should endeavour to im

LETTER CVIII.

From the Same.

I HAVE frequently been amazed at the ignorance prove the barbarian in the secrets of living com of almost all the European travellers who have fortably; and the inhabitant of a more refined penetrated any considerable way eastward into country in the speculative pleasures of science, Asia. They have been influenced either by mo- How much more nobly would a philosopher thus

« VorigeDoorgaan »