Lond. From Lien Cbi Altangi to ****, Merchant in Amsterdam.
Friend of my heart,
MAY the wings of peace rest upon thy dwelling, and the shield of conscience preserve thee from vice and misery: for all thy favours accept my grati∣tude and esteem, the only tributes a poor philosophic wanderer can return; sure fortune is resolved to make me unhappy, when she gives others a power of testify∣ing their friendship by actions, and leaves me only words to express the sincerity of mine.
I am perfectly sensible of the delicacy by which you endeavour to lessen your own merit and my obligations. By calling your late instances of friendship only a return 〈◊〉 former favours, you would induce me to impute to your justice what I owe to your generosity.
The services I did you at Canton, justice, huma∣nity, and my office bade me perform; those you have done me since my arrival at Amsterdam, no laws obli∣ged you to, no justice required, even half your favours would have been greater than my most sanguine ex∣pectations.
The sum of money therefore which you privately conveyed into my baggage, when I was leaving Hol∣land, Page 9 and which I was ignorant of till my arrival in London, I must beg leave to return. You have been bred a merchant, and l a scholar; You consequently love money better than I. You can find pleasure in superfluity, I am perfectly contented with what is suf∣ficient; take therefore what is yours, it may give you some pleasure, even though you have no occasion to use it; my happiness it cannot improve, for I have already all that I want.
My passage by sea from Rotterdam to England, was more painful to me than all the journies I ever made on land. I have traversed the immeasurable wilds of Mo∣gul Tartary; felt all the rigours of Siberian skies; I have had my repose an hundred times disturbed by in∣vading savages, and have seen without shrinking the desart sands rise like a troubled ocean all around me; against these calamities I was armed with resolution; but in my passage to England, though nothing occurred that gave the mariners any uneasiness, yet to one who was never at sea before, all was a subject of astonish∣ment and terror. To find the land disappear, to see our ship mount the waves quick as an arrow from the Tartar bow, to hear the wind howling through the cordage, to feel a sickness which depresses even the spi∣rits of the brave; these were unexpected distresses, and consequently assaulted me unprepared to receive them.
You men of Europe think nothing of a voyage by sea. With us of China, a man who has been from sight of land is regarded upon his return with admira∣tion. I have known some provinces where there is not even a name for the ocean. What a strange people therefore am I got amongst, who have founded an Page 10 empire on this unstable element, who build cities upon billows that rise higher than the mountains of Tiparta∣la, and make the deep more formidable than the wild∣est tempest.
Such accounts as these, I must confess, were my first motives for seeing England. These induced me to un∣dertake a journey of seven hundred painful days, in order to examine into opulence, buildings, sciences, arts and manufactures on the spot. Judge then how great is my disappointment on entering London, to see no signs of that opulence so much talked of abroad? wherever I turn, I am presented with a gloomy so∣lemnity in the houses, the streets and the inhabitants; none of that beautiful gilding which makes a priacipal ornament in Chinese architecture. The streets of Nan∣kin are sometimes strewed with gold-leaf; very diffe∣rent are those of London: in the midst of their pave∣ments, a great lazy puddle moves muddily along; heavy laden machines with wheels of unweildy thickness crowd up every passage; so that a stranger, instead of finding time for observation, is often happy if he has time to escape from being crushed to pieces.
The houses borrow very few ornaments from archi∣tecture; their chief decoration seems to be a paltry piece of painting, hung out at the doors or windows, at once a proof of their indigence and vanity. Their vanity, in each having one of those pictures exposed to public view; and their indigence, in being unable to get them better painted. In this respect, the fancy of their painters is also deplorable. Could you believe it? I have seen five black lions and three blue boars in less than a circuit of half a mile; and yet you know that animals of these colours are no where to be found ex∣cept in the wild imaginations of Europe.
Page 11 From these circumstances in their buildings, and from the dismal look of the inhabitants, I am induced to conclude that the nation is actually poor; and that like the Persians, they make a splendid figure every where but at home. The proverb of Xixofou is, that a man's riches may be seen in his eyes; if we judge of the English by this rule, there is not a poorer nation un∣der the sun.
I have been here but two day, so will not be hasty in my decisions; such letters as I shall write to Fipsihi in Moscow, I beg you'll endeavour to forward with all diligence; I shall send them open, in order that you may take copies or translations, as you are equally ver∣sed in the Dutch and Chinese languages. Dear friend, think of my absence with regret, as I sincerely regret yours; even while I write, I lament our separation.