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 XLI.

From Fum Hoam, to Lien Chi Altangi, the discontented wanderer, by the way of Moscow.

MUST I ever continue to condemn thy perse∣verence, and blame that curiosity, which de∣stroys thy happiness! What yet untasted banquet, what luxury yet unknown, has rewarded thy painful adventures! Name a pleasure which thy native country could not amply procure; frame a wish that might not have been satisfied in China! Why then such toil, and such danger, in pursuit of raptures within your reach at home.

The Europeans, you will say, excel us in sciences and in arts; those sciences which bound the aspiring wish, and those arts which tend to gratify even unre∣strained desire. They may perhaps outdo us in the arts of building ships, casting cannons or measuring mountains, but are they superior in the greatest of all arts, the art of governing kingdoms and ourselves?

When I compare the history of China with that of Europe, how do I exult in being a native of that king∣dom which derives its original from the sun. Upon opening the Chinese history, I there behold an antient Page  181 extended empire, established by laws which nature and reason seem to have dictated. The duty of children to their parents, a duty which nature implants in every breast, forms the strength of that government which has subsisted for time immemorial. Filial obedience is the first and greatest requisite of a state; by this we be∣come good subjects to our emperors, capable of be∣having with just subordination to our superiors, and grateful dependants on heaven; by this we become fonder of marriage, in order to be capable of exacting obedience from others in our turn: by this we become good magistrates; for early submission is the truest lesson to those who would learn to rule. By this the whole state may be said to resemble one family, of which the Emperor is the protector, father, and friend.

In this happy region, sequestered from the rest of mankind, I see a succession of princes who in general considered themselves as the fathers of their people; a race of philosophers who bravely combated idolatry, prejudice, and tyranny, at the expence of their private happiness and immediate reputation. Whenever an usurper or a tyrant intruded into the administration, how have all the good and great been united against him? Can European history produce an instance like that of the twelve mandarines, who all resolved to ap∣prize the vicious emperor Tisiang of the irregularity of his conduct. He who first undertook the dange∣rous task was cut in two by the emperor's order [gap: ] ▪ the second was ordered to be tormented, and then put to a cruel death; the third undertook the task with intrepidity, and was instantly stabbed by the tyrant's Page  182 hand: in this manner they all suffered except one. But net to be turned from his purpose, the brave sur∣vivor entering the palace with the instruments of tor∣ture in his hand. Here, cried he, addressing himself to the throne, here, O Tisiang, are the marks your faithful subjects receive for their loyalty; I am wearied with serving a tyrant, and now come for my reward. The emperor, struck with his intrepidity, instantly forgave the boldness of his conduct, and reformed his own. What European annals can boast! of a tyrant thus reclaimed to lenity.

When five brethren had set upon the great emperor Ginsong alone; with his sabre he slew four of them; he was struggling with the fifth, when his guards coming up were going to cut the conspirator into a thousand pieces. No, no, cried the emperor, with a calm and placid countenance, of all his brothers he is the only one remaining, at least let one of the family be suffered to live, that his aged parents may have some body left to feed and comfort them.

When Haitong, the last emperor of the house of Ming, saw himself besieged in his own city by the usurper, he was resolved to issue from his palace with six hundred of his guards, and give the enemy battle; but they forsook him. Being thus without hopes, and chusing death rather than to fall alive into the hands of a rebel, he retired to his garden, conducting his little daughter, an only child in his hand. There, in a private arbour unsheathing his sword, he stabbed the young innocent to the heart, and then dispatching himself, left the following words written with his blood on the border of his vest. Forsaken by my subjects,Page  183abandoned by my friends, use my body as you will, but spare, O spare my people.

An empire which has thus continued invariably the same for such a long succession of ages, which though at last, conquered by the Tartars, still preserves its antient laws and learning; and may more properly be said to annex the dominions of Tartary to its empire, than to admit a foreign conqueror; an empire as large as Europe, governed by one law, acknowledging sub∣jection to one prince, and experiencing but one revo∣lution of any continuance in the space of four thousand years; this is something so peculiarly great, that I am naturally led to despise all other nations on the compa∣rison. Here we see no religious persecutions, no en∣mity between mankind, for difference in opinion. The disciples of Lao Kium, the idolatrous sectaries of Fohi, and the philosophical children of Confucius, only strive to shew by their actions the truth of their doctrines.

Now turn from this happy peaceful scene to Europe the theatre of intrigue, avarice and ambition. How many revolutions does it not experience in the compass even of one age; and to what do these re∣volutions tend but the destruction of thousands. Every great event is replete with some new calamity. The seasons of serenity are passed over in silence, their histories seem to speak only of the storm.

There we see the Romans extending their power over barbarous nations, and in turn becoming a prey to those whom they had conquered. We see those barbarians, when become christians, engaged in con∣tinual wars with the followers of Mahomet; or more Page  184 dreadful still, destroying each other. We see councils in the earlier ages authorizing every iniquity; crusades spreading desolation in the country let, as well as that to be conquered. Excommunications freeing subjects from natural allegiance, and persuading to sedition; blood flowing in the fields and on scaffolds; tortures used as arguments to convince the recusant; to heigh∣ten the horror of the piece, behold it shaded with wars, rebellions, treasons, plots, politicks, and poison!

And what advantage has any country of Europe obtained from such calamities? Scarce any. Their dissentions for more than a thousand years have served to make each other unhappy, but have enriched none. All the great nations still nearly preserve their antient limits; none have been able to subdue the other, and so terminate the dispute. France, in spite of the conquests of Edward the third, and Henry the fifth, notwithstanding the efforts of Charles the fifth and Philip the second, still remains within its antient limits. Spain, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, the states of the north, are nearly still the same. What effect then has the blood of so many thousands, the destruction of so many cities, produced? Nothing neither great or considerable. The christian princes have lost indeed much from the enemies of christendom, but they have gained nothing from each other. Their princes, be∣cause they preferred ambition to justice, deserve the character of enemies to mankind; and their priests by neglecting morality for opinion, have mistaken the in∣terests of society.

On whatever side we regard the history of Europe, we shall perceive it to be a tissue of crimes, follies and Page  185 misfortunes, of politics without design, and wars with∣out consequence; in this long list of human infirmity, a great character or a shining virtue may sometimes happen to arise, as we often meet a cottage or a culti∣vated spot, in the most hideous wilderness. But for an Alfred, an Alphonso, a Frederic, or one Alexander III. we meet a thousand princes who have disgraced humanity.