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 XXXVI.

From the same.

I Begin to have doubts whether wisdom be alone suf∣ficient to make us happy. Whether every step we make in refinement is not an inlet into new disquie∣tudes. A mind too vigorous and active, serves only to Page  158 consume the body to which it is joined, as the richest jewels are soonest found to wear their settings.

When we rise in knowledge as the prospect widens, the objects of our regard become more obscure, and the unlettered peasant, whose views are only directed to the narrow sphere around him, beholds nature with a finer relish, and tastes her blessings with a keener appetite than the philosopher, whose mind attempts to grasp an universal system.

As I was some days ago pursuing this subject among a circle of my fellow slaves, an ancient Guebre of the number, equally remarkable for his piety and wisdom, seemed touched with my conversation, and desired to il∣lustrate what I had been saying with an allegory taken from the Zendavesta of Zoroaster; by this we shall be taught, says he, that they who travel in pursuit of wis∣dom, walk only in a circle; and after all their labour, at last return to their pristine ignorance; and in this also we shall see that enthusiastic confidence, or unsa∣tisfying doubts terminate all our enquiries.

In early times, before myriads of nations covered the earth, the whole human race lived together in one val∣ley. The simple inhabitants, surrounded on every side by lofty mountains, knew no other world but the little spot to which they were confined. They fancied the heavens bent down to meet the mountain tops, and formed an impenetrable wall to surround them. None had ever yet ventured to climb the steepy cliff, in or∣der to explore those regions that lay beyond it; they knew the nature of the skies only from a tradition, which mentioned their being made of adamant; tradi∣tions make up the reasonings of the simple, and serve to silence every enquiry.

Page  159 In this sequestered vale, bless'd with all the sponta∣neous productions of nature, the honey'd blossom, the refreshing breeze, the gliding brook, and golden fruitage, the simple inhabitants seemed happy in themselves, in each other; they desired no greater pleasures, for they knew of none greater; ambition, pride and envy, were vices unknown among them; and from this peculiar simplicity of its possessors, the country was called the valley of ignorance.

At length, however, an unhappy youth more aspir∣ring than the rest undertook to climb the mountain's side, and examine the summits which were hitherto deemed inaccessible. The inhabitants from below, gazed with wonder at his intrepidity, some applauded his courage, others censured his folly, still however he proceeded towards the place where the earth and hea∣vens seemed to unite, and at length arrived at the wish'd for height with extreme labour and assiduity.

His first surprize was to find the skies, not as he ex∣pected within his reach, but still as far off as before; his amazement encreased when he saw a wide extended region lying on the opposite side of the mountain, but it rose to astonishment when he beheld a country at a distance, more beautiful and alluring than even that he had just left behind.

As he continued to gaze with wonder, a genius, with a look of infinite modesty, approaching, offered to be his guide and instructor. The distant country which you so much admire, says the Angelic being, is called the Land of Certainty, in that charming retreat, senti∣ment contributes to refine every sensual banquet; the inhabitants are blessed with every solid enjoyment, and Page  160 still more blessed in a perfect consciousness of their own felicity: ignorance in that country is wholly unknown, all there is satisfaction without allay, for every plea∣sure first undergoes the examination of reason. As for me I am called the genius of Demonstration, and am stationed here in order to conduct every adventurer to that land of happiness thro' those intervening regions you see over-hung with fogs and darkness, and horrid with forests, cataracts, caverns, and various other shapes of danger. But follow me, and in time I may lead you to that distant desirable land of tranquillity.

The intrepid traveller immediately put himself under the direction of the genius, and both journeying on to∣gether with a slow but agreeable pace, deceived the tediousness of the way by conversation. The begin∣ning of the journey seemed to promise true satisfaction, but as they proceeded forward, the skies became more gloomy and the way more intricate, they often inad∣vertently approached the brow of some frightful pre∣cipice, or the brink of a torrent, and were obliged to measure back their former way; the gloom encreasing as they proceeded, their pace became more slow; they paused at every step, frequently stumbled, and their distrust and timidity encreased. The genius of Demon∣stration, now, therefore advised his pupil to grope upon hands and feet, as a method though more slow, yet less liable to error.

In this manner they attempted to pursue their jour∣ney for some time, when they were overtaken by ano∣ther genius, who, with a precipitate pace seem'd tra∣velling the same way. He was instantly known by the other to be the genius of Probability. He wore two Page  161 wide extended wings at his back, which incessantly waved, without increasing the rapidity of his motion; his countenance betrayed a confidence that the igno∣rant might mistake for sincerity, and he had but one eye, which was fixed in the middle of his forehead.

Servant of Hormizda, cried he, approaching the mortal pilgrim, if thou art travelling to the Land of Certainty, how is it possible to arrive there under the guidance of a genius, who proceeds forward so slowly, and is so little acquainted with the way; follow me, we shall soon perform the journey to where every plea∣sure awaits our arrival.

The peremptory tone in which this genius spoke, and the speed with which he moved forward, induced the traveller to change his conductor, and leaving his modest companion behind, he proceeded forward with his more confident director, seeming not a little pleased at the encreased velocity of his motion.

But soon he found reasons to repent. Whenever a torrent crossed their way, his guide taught him to de∣spise the obstacle by plunging him in; whenever a pre∣cipice presented, he was directed to fling himself for∣ward. Thus each moment miraculously escaping; his repeated escapes only served to encrease his guide's temerity. He led him therefore forward, amidst infi∣nite difficulties, till they arrived at the borders of an ocean which appeared unnavigable from the black mists that lay upon its surface. It's unquiet waves were of the darkest hue, and gave a lively representation of the various agitations of the human mind.

Page  162 The genius of Probability now confessed his teme∣rity, own'd his being an improper guide to the Land of Certainty, a country where no mortal had ever been permitted to arrive; but at the same time offered to supply the traveller with another conductor, who should carry him to the Land of Confidence, a region where the inhabitants lived with the utmost tranquil∣lity, and tasted almost as much satisfaction as if in the Land of Certainty. Not waiting for a reply, he stamp'd three times on the ground, and called forth the Daemon of Error, a gloomy fiend of the servants of Arimanes. The yawning earth gave up the reluctant savage, who seemed unable to bear the light of the day. His stature was enormous, his colour black and hideous, his aspect betrayed a thousand varying passi∣ons, and he spread forth pinions that were fitted for the most rapid flight. The traveller at first was shock∣ed at the spectre; but finding him obedient to supe∣rior power, he assumed his former tranquillity.

I have called you to duty, cries the genius to the daemon, to bear on your back a son of mortality over the Ocean of Doubts into the Land of Confidence: I ex∣pect you'll perform your commission with punctuality. And as for you, continued the genius, addressing the traveller, when once I have bound this fillet round your eyes, let no voice of persuasion, nor threats the most terrifying, persuade you to unbind it in order to look round; keep the fillet fast, look not at the ocean below, and you may certainly expect to arrive at a re∣gion of pleasure.

Thus saying, and the traveller's eyes being covered, the daemon muttering curses, raised him on his back, Page  163 and instantly up-borne by his strong pinions, directed his flight among the clouds. Neither the loudest thun∣der, nor the most angry tempest, could persuade the traveller to unbind his eyes. The daemon directed his flight downwards, and skimmed the surface of the ocean; a thousand voices, some with loud invective, others in the sarcastic tones of contempt, vainly endea∣voured to persuade him to look round; but he still continued to keep his eyes covered, and would in all probability have arrived at the happy land, had not flattery effected what other means could not perform. For now he heard himself welcomed on every side to the promised land, and an universal shout of joy was sent forth at his safe arrival; the wearied traveller, de∣sirous of seeing the long wished-for country, at length pulled the fillet from his eyes, and ventured to look round him. But he had unloosed the band too soon; he was not yet above half way over. The daemon, who was still hovering in the air, and had produced those sounds only in order to deceive, was now freed from his commission; wherefore throwing the asto∣nished traveller from his back, the unhappy youth fell headlong into the subjacent Ocean of Doubts, from whence he never after was seen to rise.