From Lien Chi Altangi to Hingpo, a slave in Persia*.
YOUR last letters betray a mind seemingly fond of wisdom, yet tempested by a thousand va∣rious passions. You would fondly persuade me that my former lessons still influence your conduct, and yet your mind seems not less enslaved than your body. Knowledge, wisdom, erudition, arts and elegance what are they, but the mere trappings of the mind, if they do not serve to encrease the happiness of the possessor? A mind rightly instituted in the school of philosophy, acquires at once the stability of the oak, and the flexi∣bility of the osier. The truest manner of lessening our agonies, is to shrink from their pressure; is to confess that we feel them.
The fortitude of European sages is but a dream; for where lies the merit in being insensible to the strokes of fortune, or in dissembling our sensibility; if we are insensible, that arises only from an happy constitution; that is a blessing previously granted by heaven, and which no art can procure, no institutions improve.
If we dissemble our feelings, we only artificially en∣deavour to persuade others that we enjoy privileges which we actually do not possess. Thus while we en∣deavour to appear happy, we feel at once all the pangs Page 207 of internal misery, and all the self-reproaching consci∣ousness of endeavouring to deceive.
I know but of two sects of philosophers in the world that have endeavoured to inculcate that fortitude is but an imaginary virtue; I mean the followers of Con∣fucius, and those who profess the doctrines of Christ. All other sects teach pride under misfortunes; they alone teach humility. Night, says our Chinese philo∣sopher, not more surely follows day, than groans and tears grow out of pain; when misfortunes, therefore, oppress, when tyrants threaten, it is our interest, it is our duty, to fly even to dissipation forsupport, to seek redress from friendship, to seek redress from that best of friends who loved us into being.
Philosophers, my son, have long declaimed against the passions, as being the source of all our mise∣ries; they are the source of all our misfortunes I own; but they are the source of our pleasures too: and every endeavour of our lives, and all the instituti∣ons of philosophy, should tend to this, not to dissem∣ble an absence of passion, but to repel those which lead to vice, by those which direct to virtue.
The soul may be compared to a field of battle, where two armies are ready every moment to encounter; not a single vice but has a more powerful opponent; and not one virtue but may be over-borne by a combina∣tion of vices. Reason guides the bands of either host, nor can it subdue one passion but by the assistance of another. Thus, as a bark on every side beset with storms, enjoys a state of rest, so does the mind, when influenced by a just equipoise of the passions, enjoy tranquillity.
Page 208 I have used such means as my little fortune would admit to procure your freedom. I have lately written to the governor of Argun to pay your ransom, though at the expence of all the wealth I brought with me from China. If we become poor we shall at least have the pleasure of bearing poverty together; for what is fa∣tigue or famine, when weighed against friendship and freedom.