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. XLVII.

From Lien Chi Altangi to ***** merchant in Amsterdam.

HAPPENING some days ago to call at a pain∣ter's to amuse my self in examining some pictures (I had no design to buy) it surprised me to see a young Prince in the working room, dressed in a painter's apron, and assiduously learning the trade. We instantly re∣membered to have seen each other; and, after the usual compliments, I stood by while he continued to paint on. As every thing done by the rich is praised, as princes here, as well as in China, are never without followers, three or four persons, who had the appear∣ance of gentlemen, were placed behind to comfort and applaud him at every stroke.

Need I tell, that it struck me with very disagree∣able sensations to see a youth who, by his station in life, had it in his power to be useful to thousands, thus let∣ting his mind run to waste upon canvas, at the same time fancying himself improving in taste, and filling his rank with proper decorum.

Page  209 As seeing an error, and attempting to redress it, are only one and the same with me, I took occasion, upon his lordship's desiring my opinion of a Chinese scroll, intended for the frame of a picture, to assure him, that a mandarine of China thought a minute acquaintance with such mechanical trifles below his dignity.

This reply raised the indignation of some, and the contempt of others: I could hear the names of Vandal, Goth, taste, polite arts, delicacy, and fire, repeated in tones of ridicule or resentment. But considering that it was vain to argue against people who had so much to say, without contradicting them, I begged leave to repeat a fairy tale. This request redoubled their laughter; but not easily abashed at the rallery of boys, I persisted, observing that it would set the absur∣dity of placing our affections upon trifles, in the strongest point of view, and adding that it was hoped the moral would compensate for its stupidity. For heaven's sake, cried the great man, washing his brush in water, let us have no morality at present; if we must have a story let it be without any moral. I pre∣tended not to hear; and while he handled the brush, proceeded as follows.

IN the Kingdom of Bonbobbin, which, by the Chi∣nese annal, appears to have flourished twenty thousand years ago, there reigned a prince, endowed with every accomplishment which generally distin∣guishes the sons of kings. His beauty was brighter than the sun. The sun, to which he was nearly re∣lated, would sometimes stop his course in order to look down and admire him.

Page  210 His mind was not less perfect than his body: he knew all things without having ever read; philosophers, poets, and historians, submitted their works to his de∣cision; and so penetrating was he, that he could tell the merit of a book by looking on the cover. He made epic poems, tragedies, and pastorals, with surprising facility; song, epigram, or rebus, was all one to him, tho' it is observed, he could never finish an acrostic. In short, the fairy, who presided at his birth, had endow∣ed him with almost every perfection, or what was just the same, his subjects were ready to acknowledge he possessed them all; and, for his own part, he knew nothing to the contrary. A prince so accomplished, received a name suitable to his merit; and he was called Bonbenin bonbobbin bonbobbinet, which signifies Enlightener of the Sun.

As he was very powerful, and yet unmarried, all the neighbouring kings earnestly sought his alliance. Each sent his daughter, dressed out in the most mag∣nificent manner, and with the most sumptuous retinue imaginable, in order to allure the prince: so that at one time there were seen at his court not less than se∣ven hundred foreign princesses of exquisite sentiment and beauty, each alone sufficient to make seven hun∣dred ordinary men happy.

Distracted in such a variety, the generous Bonben∣nin, had he not been obliged by the laws of the empire to make choice of one, would very willingly have mar∣ried them all, for none understood gallantry better. He spent numberless hours of solicitude in endeavour∣ing to determine whom he should chuse; one lady was possessed of every perfection, but he disliked her eye∣brows; Page  211 another was brighter than the morning star, but he disapproved her fong whang; a third did not lay white enough on her cheek; and a fourth did not sufficiently blacken her nails. At last after numberless disappointments on the one side and the other, he made choice of the incomparable Nanhoa, queen of the scar∣let dragons.

The preparations for the royal nuptials, or the envy of the disappointed ladies, needs no description; both the one and the other were as great as they could be; the beautiful princess was conducted amidst admiring multitudes to the royal couch, where after being di∣vested of every encumbering ornament, she was placed, in expectance of the youthful bridegroom, who did not keep her long in expectation. He came more chearful than the morning, and printing on her lips a burning kiss, the attendants took this as a proper signal to withdraw.

Perhaps I ought to have mentioned in the beginning that, among several other qualifications, the prince was fond of collecting and breeding mice, which being an harmless pastime, none of his counsellors thought proper to dissuade him from: he therefore kept a great variety of these pretty little animals in the most beau∣tiful cages enriched with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and other precious stones: thus he innocently spent four hours each day, in comtemplating their in∣nocent little pastimes.

But to proceed, the Prince and Princess were now in bed; one with all the love and expectation, the other with all the modesty and fear, which is natural to sup∣pose, both willing, yet afraid to begin; when the Page  212 Prince happening to look towards the outside of the bed, perceived one of the most beautiful animals in the world, a white mouse with green eyes, playing about the floor, and performing an hundred pretty tricks. He was already master of blue mice, red mice, and even white mice with yellow eyes; but a white mouse with green eyes, was what he long endeavoured to pos∣sess: wherefore leaping from bed with the utmost im∣patience and agility, the youthful Prince attempted to seize the little charmer, but it was fled in a moment; for alas! the mouse was sent by a discontented Princess, and was itself a fairy.

It is impossible to describe the agony of the Prince upon this occasion. He sought round and round every part of the room even the bed where the Princess lay was not exempt from the enquiry: he turned the Prin∣cess on one side and t'other, stripped her quite naked, but no mouse was to be found; the Princess herself was kind enough to assist, but still to no purpose.

Alas, cryed the young Prince in an agony, how un∣happy am I to be thus disappointed; never sure was so beautiful an animal seen, I would give half my king∣dom and my princess, to him that would find it. The Princess though not much pleased with the latter part of his offer, endeavoured to comfort him as well as she could; she let him know that he had an hundred mice already, which ought to be at least sufficient to satisfy any philosopher like him. Tho' none of them had green eyes, yet he should learn to thank heaven that they had eyes. She told him, (for she was a profound mo∣ralist) that incurable evils must be born, and that use∣less lamentations were vain, and that man was born to Page  213 misfortunes; she even entreated him to return to bed, and she would endeavour to lull him on her bosom to repose; but still the Prince continued inconsolable; and regarding her with a stern air, for which his family was remarkable, he vowed never to sleep in the royal palace, or indulge himself in the innocent pleasures of matrimony, till he had found the white mouse with the green eyes.

Prythee, Col. Leech, cried his Lordship, interrupt∣ing me, how do you like that nose; don't you think there is something of the manner of Rembrandt in it? A prince in all this agony for a white mouse, O ridicu∣lous! Don't you think, Major Vampyre, that eye∣brow stippled very prettily? but pray what are the green eyes to the purpose, except to amuse children? I would give a thousand guineas to lay on the colour∣ing of this cheek more smoothly. But I ask pardon, pray, Sir, proceed.