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.
Page  89


From the same.

THE letter which came by the way of Smyrna, and which you sent me unopened, was from my son. As I have permitted you to take copies of all those I send to China, you might have made no ceremony in opening those directed to me. Either in joy or sorrow, my friend should participate in my feelings. It would give pleasure to see a good man pleased at my success; it would give almost equal pleasure to see him simpa∣thise at my disappointment.

Every account I receive from the east seems to come loaded with some new affliction. My wife and daughter were taken from me, and yet I sustained the loss with intrepidity; my son is made a slave among barbarians, which was the only blow that could have reached my heart: yes, I will indulge the transports of nature for a little, in order to shew I can overcome them in the end. True magnanimity consists not in NEVER falling, but in RISING every time we fall.

When our mighty emperor had published his dis∣pleasure at my departure, and seized upon all that was mine, my son was privately secreted from his resent∣ment. Under the protection and guardianship of Fum Hoam, the best and the wisest of all the inhabitants of China; he was for some time instructed in the learning of the missionaries, and the wisdom of the east. But hearing of my adventures, and incited by filial piety, he was resolved to follow my fortunes, and share my distress.

Page  90 He passed the confines of China in disguise; hired himself as a camel-driver to a caravan that was crossing the desarts of Thibet, and was within one day's jour∣ney of the river Laur, which divides that country from India; when a body of wandering Tartars falling un∣expectedly upon the caravan, plundered it, and made those who escaped their first fury slaves. By those he was led into the extensive and desolate regions that border on the shores of the Aral lake.

Here he lived by hunting; and was obliged to sup∣ply every day a certain proportion of the spoil to regale his savage masters; his learning, his virtues, and even his beauty were qualifications that no way served to re∣commend him; they knew no merit but that of pro∣viding large quantities of milk and raw flesh; and were sensible of no happiness but that of rioting on the un∣dressed meal.

Some merchants from Mesched, however, coming to trade with the Tartars, for slaves, he was sold among the number, and led into the kingdom of Persia, where he is now detained. He is there obliged to watch the looks of a voluptuous and cruel master, a man fond of pleasure yet incapable of refinement, whom many years service in war has taught pride, but not bravery.

That treasure which I still kept within my bosom, my child, my all that was left to me, is now a slave.* Good heavens, why was this! why have I been intro∣duced into this mortal apartment, to be a spectator of my own misfortunes, and the misfortunes of my fellow Page  91 creatures! wherever I turn, what a labyrinth of doubt, error, and disappointment appears: why was I brought into being; for what purposes made; from whence have I come; whither stray'd; or to what regions am I hastening? Reason cannot resolve. It lends a ray to shew the horrors of my prison, but not a light to guide me to escape them. Ye boasted revelations of the earth, how little do you aid the enquiry.

How am I surprized at the inconsistency of the ma∣gi; their two principles of good and evil affright me. The Indian who bathes his visage in urine, and calls it piety, strikes me with astonishment. The christian who believes in three gods is highly absurd. The Jews who pretend that deity is pleased with the effusion of blood, are not less displeasing. I am equally surprized that ra∣tional beings can come from the extremities of the earth, in order to kiss a stone, or scatter pebbles. How con∣trary to reason are those; and yet all pretend to teach me to be happy.

Surely all men are blind and ignorant of truth. Man∣kind wanders, unknowing his way from morning till the evening. Where shall we turn after happiness; or is it wisest to desist from the pursuit? Like reptiles in a corner of some stupendous palace, we peep from our holes; look about us, wonder at all we see, but are ignorant of the great architect's design: O for a revela∣tion of himself, for a plan of his universal system: O for the reasons of our creation; or why we were created to be thus unhappy. If we are to experience no other fe∣licity but what this life affords, then are we miserable indeed. If we are born only to look about us, repine and die; then has heaven been guilty of injustice. If Page  92 this life terminates my existence, I despise the blessings of providence, and the wisdom of the giver. If this life be my all, let the following epitaph be written on the tomb of Altangi. By my father's crimes I received this. By my own crimes I bequeath it to posterity!