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 III.

From Lien Chi Altangi, to the care of Fipsihi, resident in Moscow; to be forwarded by the Russian caravan to Fum Hoam, first president of the ceremonial aca∣demy at Pekin in China.

THINK not, O thou guide of my youth, that absence can impair my respect, or interposing trackless desarts blot your reverend figure from my me∣mory. The farther I travel I feel the pain of separa∣tion with stronger force, those ties that bind me to my native country, and you, are still unbroken. By every remove, I only drag a greater length of chain.

Page  12 Could I find aught worth transmitting from so re∣mote a region as this to which I have wandered, I should gladly send it; but instead of this, you must be contented with a renewal of my former professions, and an imperfect account of a people with whom I am as yet but superficially acquainted. The remarks of a man who has been but three days in the country can only be those obvious circumstances which force themselves upon the imagination: I consider myself here as a newly created Being introduced into a new world; every object strikes with wonder and surprise. The imagination still unsated, seems the only active prin∣ciple of the mind. The most trifling occurrences give pleasure, till the gloss of novelty is worn away. When I have ceased to wonder, I may possibly grow wise; I may then call the reasoning principle to my aid, and compare those objects with each other, which were be∣fore examined without reflection.

Behold me then in London, gazing at the strangers, and they at me; it seems they find somewhat absurd in my figure; and had I been never from home it is pos∣sible I might find an infinite fund of ridicule in theirs; but by long travelling I am taught to laugh at folly alone, and to find nothing truly ridiculous but villainy and vice.

When I had just quitted my native country, and crossed the Chinese wall, I fancied every deviation from the customs and manners of China was a departing from nature: I smiled at the blue lips and red foreheads of the Tonguese; and could hardly contain when I saw the Daures dress their heads with horns. The Ostiacs powdered with red earth; and the Calmuck beauties tricked out in all the finery of sheep-skin appeared Page  13 highly ridiculous; but I soon perceived that the ridi∣cule lay not in them but in me; that I falsely con∣demned others of absurdity; because they happened to differ from a standard originally founded in prejudice or partiality.

I find no pleasure therefore in taxing the English with departing from nature in their external appearance, which is all I yet know of their character: it is possible they only endeavour to improve her simple plan, since every extravagance in dress proceeds from a desire of becoming more beautiful than nature made us: and this is so harmless a vanity, that I not only pardon but approve it: A desire to be more excellent than others is what actually makes us so, and as thousands find a livelihood in society by such appetites, none but the gnorant inveigh against them.

You are not insensible, most reverend Fum Hoam, what numberless trades, even among the Chinese, sub∣sist by the harmless pride of each other. Your nose∣borers, feet swathers, tooth-stainers, eye-brow pluckers, would all want bread, should their neighbours want vanity. These vanities, however, employ much fewer hands in China than in England; and a fine gentleman, or a fine lady here, dressed up in the fashion, seems scarcely to have a single limb that does not suffer some distortions from art.

To make a fine gentleman, several trades are re∣quired, but chiefly a barber: you have undoubtedly heard of the Jewish champion whose strength lay in his hair: one would think that the English were for placing all wisdom there: To appear wise, nothing Page  14 more is requisite here than for a man to borrow hair from the heads of all his neighbours, and clap it like a bush on his own: the distributors of law and physic stick on such quantities, that it is almost impossible, even in idea, to distinguish between the head and the hair.

Those whom I have now been describing, affect the gravity of the lion: those I am going to describe more resemble the pert vivacity of smaller animals. The barber, who is still master of the ceremonies, cuts their hair close to the crown; and then with a composition of meal and hog's lard, plasters the whole in such a man∣ner, as to make it impossible to distinguish whether the patient wears a cap or a plaister; but to make the picture more perfectly striking, conceive the tail of some beast, a greyhound's tail, or a pig's tail for instance, appended to the back of the head, and reaching down to that place where tails in other animals are generally seen to begin; thus betailed and bepowdered, the man of taste fancies he improves in beauty, dresses up his hard-featured face in smiles, and attempts to look hi∣deously tender. Thus equipped, he is qualified to make love, and hopes for success more from the powder on the outside of his head, than the sentiments within.

Yet when I consider what sort of a creature the fine lady is, to whom he is supposed to pay his addresses, it is not strange to find him thus equipped in order to please. She is herself every whit as ond of powder, and •…ils, and hog's lard as he: to speak my secret sen∣timents, most reverend Fum, the ladies here are hor∣ridly ugly; I can hardly endure the sight of them; they no way resemble the beauties of China: the Eu∣ropeans have a quite different idea of beauty from us; Page  15 when I reflect on the small footed perfections of an Eastern beauty, how is it possible I should have eye for a woman whose feet are ten inches long. I shall never forget the beauties of my native city of Nangfew. How very broad their faces; how very short their no∣ses; how very little their eyes; how very thin their lips; how very black their teeth; the snow on the tops of Bao is not fairer than their cheeks; and their eye-brows are small as the line by the pencil of Quamsi. Here a lady with such perfections would be fright∣ful; Dutch and Chinese beauties indeed have some re∣semblance, but English women are entirely different; red cheeks, big eyes, and teeth of a most odious white∣ness, are not only seen here, but wished for; and then they have such masculine feet, as actually serve some for walking!

Yet uncivil as nature has been, they seem resolved to outdo her in unkindness; they use white powder, blue powder, and black powder for their hair, and a red powder for the face on some particular occasions.

They like to have the face of various colours, as among the Tartars of Koreki, frequently sticking on, with spittle, little black patches on every part of it, except on the tip of the nose, which I have never seen with a patch. You'll have a better idea of their man∣ner of placing these spots, when I have finish'd a map of an English face patch'd up to the fashion, which shall shortly be sent to encrease your curious collection of paintings, medals, and monsters.

But what surprizes more than all the rest, is, what I have just now been credibly informed by one of this country; "Most ladies here, says he, have two faces; Page  16 one face to sleep in, and another to shew in company: the first is generally reserved for the husband and family at home, the other put on to please strangers abroad; the family face is often indifferent enough, but the out-door one looks omething better; this is always made at the toilet, where the looking-glass, and toad-eater sit in council and settle the complexion of the day.

I can't ascertain the truth of this remark; however, it is actually certain, that they wear more cloaths within doors than without; and I have seen a lady who seem'd to shudder at a breeze in her own appartment, appear half naked in the streets.

Farewell.