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 XXVI.

To the same.

AS there appeared something reluctantly good in the character of my companion, I must own it surprized me what could be his motives for thus con∣cealing virtues which others take such pains to display. I was unable to repress my desire of knowing the his∣tory of a man who thus seemed to act under continual restraint, and whose benevolence was rather the effect of appetite than reason.

It was not however till after repeated solicitations he thought proper to gratify my curiosity. "If you are fond, says he, of hearing hair breadth'scapes, my history must certainly please; for I have been for twenty years upon the very verge of starving, with∣out ever being starved."

"My father, the younger son of a good family, was possessed of a small living in the church. His edu∣cation was above his fortune, and his generosity Page  110 greater than his education. Poor as he was, he had his flatterers still poorer than himself; for every din∣ner he gave them, they returned him an equivalent in praise; and this was all he wanted; the same am∣bition that actuates a monarch at the head of an army, influenced my father at the head of his table: he told the story of the ivy-tree, and that was laughed at; he repeated the jest of the two scholars and one pair of breeches, and the company laughed at that; but the story of Taffy in the sedan chair was sure to set the table in a roar; thus his pleasure encreased; in proportion to the pleasure he gave; he loved all the world, and he fancied all the world loved him."

"As his fortune was but small, he lived up to the very extent of it; he had no intentions of leaving his children money, for that was dross; he was re∣solved they should have learning; for learning, he used to observe, was better than silver or gold. For this purpose he undertook to instruct us himself; and took as much pains to form our morals, as to im∣prove our understanding. We were told that uni∣versal benevolence was what first cemented society; we were taught to consider all the wants of mankind as our own; to regard the human face divine with affection and esteem; he wound us up to be mere ma∣chines of pity, and rendered us incapable of with∣standing the slightest impulse made either by real or fictitious distress; in a word, we were perfectly in∣structed in the art of giving away thousands, be∣fore we were taught the more necessary qualifica∣tions of getting a farthing."

Page  111 "I cannot avoid imagining, that, thus refined by his lessons out of all my suspicion, and divested of even all the little cunning which nature had given me, I resembled, upon my first entrance into the busy and insidious world, one of those gladiators who were ex∣posed without armour in the amphitheatre at Rome. My father, however, who had only seen the world on one side, seemed to triumph in my superior dis∣cernment; though my whole stock of wisdom con∣sisted in being able to talk like himself upon subjects that once were useful, because they were then topics of the busy world; but that now were utterly useless, because connected with the busy world no longer."

"The first opportunity he had of finding his ex∣pectations disappointed, was at the very middling figure I made in the university: he had flattered himself that he should soon see me rising into the foremost rank in literary reputation, but was mor∣tified to find me utterly unnoticed and unknown. His disappointment might have been partly ascribed to his having over-rated my talents, and partly to my dislike of mathematical reasonings at a time, when my imagination and memory yet unsatisfied, were more eager after new objects, than desirous of reasoning upon those I knew. This did not, however, please my tutors, who observed, indeed, that I was a little dull; but at the same time allowed that I seemed to be very good natured, and had no harm in me."

"After I had resided at college seven years, my father died, and left me—his blessing. Thus shoved Page  112 from shore without ill nature to protect, or cunning to guide, or proper stores to subsist me in so dan∣gerous a voyage, I was obliged to embark in the wide world at twenty-one. But in order to settle in life, my friends advised (for they always advise when they begin to despise us) they advised me, I say, to go into orders."

"To be obliged to wear a long wig, when I liked a short one, or a black coat when I generally dressed in brown, I thought was such a restraint upon my liberty, that I absolutely rejected the proposal. A priest in England is not the same mortified creature with a bonze in China; with us, not he that fasts best, but eats best, is reckoned the best liver; yet I rejected a life of luxury, indolence and ease, from no other consideration but that boyish one of dress. So that my friends were now perfectly satisfied I was undone, and yet they thought it a pity for one who had not the least harm in him, and was so very good natured."

"Poverty naturally begets dependance, and I was admitted as flatterer to a great man. At first I was surprised, that the situation of a flatterer at a great man's table could be thought disagreeable; there was no great trouble in listening attentively when his lordship spoke, and laughing when he looked round for applause. This even good man∣ners might have obliged me to perform. I found, however, too soon, that his lordship was a greater dunce than myself; and from that very moment my power of flattery was at an end. I now rather aimed at setting him right than at receiving his ab∣surdities Page  113 with submission: to flatter those we do not know is an easy task; but to flatter our inti∣mate acquaintances, all whose foibles are strongly in our eye, is drudgery insupportable. Every time I now opened my lips in praise, my falshood went to my conscience; his lordship soon perceived me to be unfit for service; I was therefore discharged; my patron at the same time being graciously pleased to observe, that he believed I was tolerably good∣natured and had not the least harm in me."

"Disappointed in ambition I had recourse to love. A young lady who lived with her aunt, and was possessed of a very pretty fortune, in her own dispo∣sal, had given me, as I fancied, some reasons to ex∣pect success. The symptoms by which I was guided were striking; she had always laughed with me at her aukward acquaintance, and at her aunt among the number; she always observed, that a man of sense would make a better husband than a fool, and I as constantly applied the observation in my own favour. She continually talked in my com∣pany of friendship and the beauties of the mind, and spoke of Mr. Shrimp my rival's high-heel'd shoes with detestation. These were circumstances which I thought strongly in my favour; so after resolving and re-resolving, I had courage enough to tell her my mind. Miss heard my proposal with serenity, seeming at the same time to study the figures of her fan. Out at last it came. There was but one small objection to complete our happiness, which was no more than—that she was married three months be∣fore to Mr. Shrimp with high-heeled shoes! By way of consolation however she observed, that tho' Page  114 I was disappointed in her, my addresses to her aunt would probably kindle her into sensibility; as the old lady always allowed me to be very good na∣tured, and not to have the least share of harm in me."

"Yet still I had friends, numerous friends, and to them I was resolved to apply. O friendship! thou fond soother of the human breast, to thee we fly in every calamity; to thee the wretched seek for suc∣cour; on thee the care tired son of misery fondly re∣lies; from thy kind assistance the unfortunate al∣ways hopes relief, and may be ever sure of—dis∣appointment! my first application was to a city scrivener, who had frequently offered to lend me money when he knew I did not want it. I informed him that now was the time to put his friendship to the test; that I wanted to borrow a couple of hundreds for a certain occasion, and was resolved to take it up from him. And pray, Sir, cried my friend, do you want all this money? Indeed I never wanted it more, returned I. I am sorry for that, cries the scrivener, with all my heart; for they who want money when they come to borrow, will always want money when they should come to pay."

"From him I flew with indignation to one of the best friends I had in the world, and made the same request. Indeed, Mr. Drybone, cries my friend, I always thought it would come to this. You know, sir, I would not advise you but for your own good; but your conduct has hitherto been ridiculous in the highest degree, and some of your acquaintance always thought you a very silly fellow; let me see, you want two Page  115 hundred pounds; do you want only two hundred, sir, exactly? To confess a truth, returned I, I shall want three hundred; but then I have another friend from whom I can borrow the rest. Why then, replied my friend, if you would take my ad∣vice; and you know I should not presume to advise you but for your own good, I would recommend it to you to borrow the whole sum from that other friend; and then one note will serve for all, you know."

"Poverty now began to come fast upon me, yet instead of growing more provident or cautious as I grew poor, I became every day more indolent and simple. A friend was arrested for fifty pounds, I was unable to extricate him except by becoming his bail. When at liberty he fled from his creditors, and left me to take his place. In prison I expected greater satisfactions than I had enjoyed at large. I hoped to converse with men in this new world simple and believing like myself, but I found them as cunning and as cautious as those in the world I had left behind. They spunged upon my money whilst it lasted, borrowed my coals and never paid them, and cheated me when I played at cribbage. All this was done because they believed me to be very good∣natured, and knew that I had no harm in me."

"Upon my first entrance into this mansion, which is to some the abode of despair, I felt no sensations different from these I experienced abroad. I was now on one side the door, and those who were un∣confined were on the other; this was all the dif∣ference between us. At first indeed I felt some un∣easiness, Page  116 in considering how I should be able to pro∣vide this week for the wants of the week ensuing; but after some time, if I found myself sure of eating one day, I never troubled my head how I was to be supplied another I seized every precarious meal with the utmost good humour, indulged no rants of spleen at my situation, never called down heaven and all the stars to behold me dining upon an half∣penny-worth of radishes; my very companions were taught to believe that I liked sallad better than mutton. I contented myself with thinking, that all my life I should either eat white bread or brown; considered that all that happened was best, laughed when I was not in pain, took the world 〈◊〉 it went, and read Tacitus often, for want of more books and company."

"How long I might have continued in this torpid state of simplicity I cannot tell, had I not been rouzed by seeing an old acquaintance, whom I knew to be a prudent blockhead preferred to a place in the go∣vernment. I now found that I had pursued a wrong track, and that the true way of being able to relieve others, was first to aim at independence myself. My immediate care, therefore, was to leave my pre∣sent habitation, and make an entire reformation in my conduct and behaviour. For a free, open, undesigning deportment, I put on that of closeness, prudence and oeconomy. One of the most heroic actions I ever performed, and for which I shall praise myself as long as I live, was the refusing half a crown to an old acquaintance, at the time when he wanted Page  117 it, and I had it to spare; for this alone I deserve to be decreed an ovation."

"I now therefore pursued a course of uninterrupted frugality, seldom wanted a dinner, and was conse∣quently invited to twenty. I soon began to get the character of a saving hunks that had money; and insensibly grew into esteem. Neighbours have ask'd my advice in the disposal of their daughters, and I have always taken care not to give any. I have con∣tracted a friendship with an alderman, only by ob∣serving, that if we take a farthing from a thousand pound it will be a thousand pound no longer. I have been invited to a pawnbroker's table by pretend∣ing to hate gravy; and am now actually upon treaty of marriage with a rich widow, for only having observed that the bread was rising. If ever I am asked a question whether I know it or not, instead of answering, I only smile and look wise. If a charity is proposed, I go about with the hat, but put no∣thing in myself. If a wretch solicits my pity, I ob∣serve that the world is filled with impostors, and take a certain method of not being deceived by never relieving. In short, I now find the truest way of finding esteem even from the indigent, is to give away nothing, and thus have much in our power to give."