The citizen of the world: or, letters from a Chinese philosopher, residing in London, to his friends in the east. ... [pt.1]
Goldsmith, Oliver, 1730?-1774.

LETTER X.

To the same.

I HAVE hitherto given you no account of my journey from China to Europe, of my travels through countries, where nature sports in primeval udeness, where she pours forth her wonders in soli∣tude; Page  37 countries, from whence the rigorous climate the sweeping inundation, the drifted desart, the howl∣ing forest, and mountains of immeasureable height ba∣nish the husbandman, and spread extensive desolation; countries where the brown Tartar wanders for a pre∣carious subsistence, with an heart that never felt pity, himself more hideous than the wilderness he makes.

You will easily conceive the fatigue of crossing vast tracts of land, either desolate, or still more dangerous by its inhabitants. The retreat of men, who seem driven from society, in order to make war upon all the human race; nominally professing a subjection to Mos∣covy or China, but without any resemblance to the countries on which they depend.

After I had crossed the great wail, the first objects that presented were the remains of desolated cities, and all the magnificence of venerable ruin. There were to be seen temples of beautiful structure, statues wrought by the hand of a master, and around a coun∣try of luxuriant plenty; but not one single inhabitant to reap the bounties of nature. These were prospects that might humble the Pride of kings, and repress hu∣man vanity. I asked my guide the cause of such deso∣lation. These countries, says he, were once the do∣minions of a Tartar prince; and these ruins the seat of arts, elegance, and ease. This prince waged an unsuccessful war with one of the emperors of China; he was conquered, his cities plundered, and all his sub∣jects carried into captivity. Such are the effects of the ambition of Kings! Ten Dervises, say the Indian pro∣verb, shall sleep in peace upon a single carpet, while two kings shall quarrel though they have kingdoms to Page  38 divide them. Sure, my friend, the cruelty and the pride of man have made more desarts than nature ever made! she is kind, but man is ungrateful!

Proceeding in my journey through this pensive scene of desolated beauty, in a few days I arrived among the Daures, a nation still dependant on China. Xaixigar is their principal city, which, compared with those of Europe, scarely deserves the name. The governors and other officers, who are sent yearly from Pekin, abuse their authority, and often take the wives and daughters of the Inhabitants to themselves. The Daures accustomed to base submission, feel no resentment at those injuries, or stifle what they feel. Custom and necessity teach even barbarians the same art of dissimu∣lation that ambition and intrigue inspire in the breasts of the polite. Upon beholding such unlicensed stretches of power, alas, thought I, how little does our wise and good emperor know of those intolerable exactions! these provinces are too distant for complaint, and too insignificant to expect redress. The more distant the government, the honester should be the governor to whom it is entrusted; for hope of impunity is a strong inducement to violation.

The religion of the Daures is more absurd than even that of the sectaries of Fohi. How would you be surprized, O sage disciple and follower of Confu∣cius! you who believe one eternal intelligent cause of all, should you be present at the barbarous ceremonies of this infatuated people. How would you deplore the blindness and folly of mankind. His boasted rea∣son seems only to light him astray, and brutal instinct more regularly points out the path to happiness. Could you think it? they adore a wicked divinity; they fear Page  39 him and they worship him; they imagine him a ma∣licious being, ready to injure and ready to be appeased. The men and women assemble at midnight in a hut, which serves for a temple. A priest stretches himself on the ground, and all the people pour forth the most horrid cries, while drums and timbrels swell the infer∣nal concert. After this dissonance, miscalled music, has continued about two hours, the priest rises from the ground, assumes an air of inspiration, grows big with the inspiring daemon, and pretends to a skill in futurity.

In every country, my friend, the bonzes, the drachmans, and the priests deceive the people; all re∣formations begin from the laity; the priests point us out the way to heaven with their fingers, but stand still themselves, nor seem to travel towards the country in view.

The customs of this people correspond to their re∣ligion; they keep their dead for three days on the same bed where the person died; after which they bury him in a grave moderately deep, but with the head still uncovered. Here for several days they present him different sorts of meats; which, when they per∣ceive he does not consume, they fill up the grave, and desist from desiring him to eat for the future. How, how can mankind be guilty of such strange absurdity, to entreat a dead body already putrid to partake of the banquet? Where, I again repeat it, is human reason; not only some men, but whole nations, seem divested of its illumination. Here we observe a whole country adoring a divinity through fear, and attempting to feed Page  40 the dead. These are their most serious and religious occupations: are these men rational, or are not the apes of Borneo more wise?

Certain I am, O thou instructor of my youth! that without philosophers, without some few virtuous men, who seem to be of a different nature from the rest of mankind, without such as these the worship of a wicked divinity would surely be established over every part of the earth. Fear guides more to their duty than grati∣tude: for one man who is virtuous from the love of virtue; from the obligation which he thinks he lies un∣der to the giver of all; there are ten thousand who are good only from their apprehensions of punishment. Could these last be persuaded, as the Epicureans were, that heaven had no thunders in store for the villain, they would no longer continue to acknowledge subordination, or thank that being who gave them ex∣istence.

Adieu.