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 LVI.

To the same.

AS the man in black takes every opportunity of introducing me to such company as may serve to indulge my speculative temper, or gratify my curi∣osity; I was by his influence lately invited to a visita∣tion dinner. To understand this term, you must know, that it was formerly the custom here for the principal priests to go about the country once a year, and examine upon the spot whether those of subordi∣nate orders did their duty, or were qualified for the task; whether their temples were kept in proper re∣pair, or the laity pleased with their administration.

Though a visitation of this nature was very useful, yet it was found to be extremely trouble ome, and for many reasons utterly inconvenient; for as the principal priests were obliged to attend at court, in order to so∣licit preferment, it was impossible they could at the same time attend in the country, which was quite out of the road to promotion: if we add to this the gout, which has been time immemorial a clerical disorder Page  252 here, together with the bad wine, and ill dressed pro∣visions that must infallibly be served up by the way, it was not strange that the custom has been long discon∣tinued. At present, therefore, every head of the church, instead of going about to visit his priests, is satisfied if his priests come in a body once a year to visit him; by this means the duty of half a year is dispatch∣ed in a day. When assembled, he asks each in his turn how they have behaved, and are liked; upon which, those who have neglected their duty, or are disagree∣able to their congregation, no doubt accuse themselves, and tell him all their faults; for which, he reprimands them most severely.

The thoughts of being introduced into a company of philosophers and learned men, (for as such I con∣ceived them) gave me no small pleasure; I expected our entertainment would resemble those sentimental banquets so finely described by Xenophon and Plato; I was hoping some Socrates would be brought in from the door, in order to harangue upon divine love; but as for eating and drinking I had prepared myself to be disappointed in that particular. I was apprized, that fasting and temperance were tenets strongly recom∣mended to the professors of Christianity; and I had seen the frugality and mortification of the priests of the east: so that I expected an entertainment where we should have much reasoning, and little meat.

Upon being introduced, I confess I found no great signs of mortification in the faces or persons of the com∣pany. However, I imputed their florid looks to tem∣perance, and their corpulency to a sedentary way of living. I saw several preparations indeed for dinner, but none for philosophy. The company seemed to Page  253 gaze upon the table with silent expectation; but this I easily excused. Men of wisdom, thought I, are ever slow of speech; they deliver nothing unadvisedly. Si∣lence, says Confucius, is a friend that will never be∣tray. They are now probably inventing maxims, or hard sayings, for their mutual instruction, when some one shall think proper to begin.

My curiosity was now wrought up to the highest pitch; I impatiently looked round to see if any were going to interrupt the mighty pause; when, at last, one of the company declared, that there was a sow in his neighbourhood that farrowed fifteen pigs at a litter. This I thought a very preposterous beginning: but just as another was going to second the remark, dinner was served, which interrupted the conversation for that time.

The appearance of dinner, which consisted of a va∣riety of dishes, seemed to diffuse new chearfulness upon every face; so that I now expected the philosophical conversation to begin, as they improved in good hu∣mour. The principal priest, however, opened his mouth, with only observing, that the venison had not been kept enough, though he had given strict orders for having it killed ten days before. I fear, continued he, it will be found to want the true beathy flavour; you will find nothing of the original wildness in it. A priest, who sate next him, having smelt it and wiped his nose: "Ah, my good lord, cries he, you are too modest, it is perfectly fine; every body knows that no body understands keeping venison with your Lordship." "Ay, and partridges too, interrupted another; I never find them right any where else." His Lord∣ship was going to reply, when a third took off the Page  254 attention of the company, by recommending the pig as inimitable. "I fancy, my Lord, continues he, it has been smothered in its own blood." "If it has been smothered in its blood, cried a facetious member, help∣ing himself, we'll now smother it in egg sauce." This poignant piece of humour produced a long loud laugh, which the facetious brother observing, and now that he was in luck, willing to second his blow, assured the company he would tell them a good story about that: "As good a story, cries he, bursting into a violent fit of laughter himself, as ever you heard in your lives; there was a farmer of my parish, who used to sup upon wild ducks and flummery; so this farmer—Doctor Marrowfat, cries his Lordship, interrupting him, give me leave to drink your health—so being fond of wild ducks and flummery—Doctor, adds a gentleman who sate next him, let me advise you to a wing of this turkey;—so this farmer being fond—Hob nob, Doctor, which do you chuse, white or red?—So being fond of wild ducks and flummery;—take care of your band, Sir, it may dip in the gravy. The Doctor, now look∣ing round, found not a single eye disposed to listen; wherefore calling for a glass of wine, he gulped down the disappointment and the tale in a bumper.

The conversation now began to be little more than a rhapsody of exclamations; as each had pretty well satisfied his own appetite, he now found sufficient time to press others. Excellent, the very thing; let me recommend the pig, do but taste the bacon; never eat a better thing in my life; exquisite, delicious. This edifying discourse continued thro' three courses, which lasted as many hours, till every one of the com∣pany were unable to swallow or utter any thing more.

Page  255 It is very natural for men who are abridged in one excess, to break into some other. The clergy here, particularly those who are advanced in years, think if they are abstemious with regard to women and wine, they may indulge their other appetites without censure. Thus some are found to rise in the morning only to a consultation with their cook about dinner, and when that has been swallowed, make no other use of their faculties (if they have any) but to ruminate on the suc∣ceeding meal.

A debauch in wine is even more pardonable than this, since one glass insensibly leads on to another, and instead of sateing whets the appetite. The progressive steps to it are chearful and seducing; the grave are animated, the melancholy relieved, and there is even classic authority to countenance the excess. But in eating after nature is once satisfied, every additional morsel brings stupidity and distempers with it, and as one of their own poets expresses it,

The soul subsides, and wickedly inclines,
To seem but mortal, even in sound divines.

Let me suppose, after such a meal as this I have been describing, while all the company are sitting in lethargic silence round the table, grunting under a load of soup, pig, pork, and bacon; let me suppose, I say, some hungry beggar, with looks of want, peeping through one of the windows, and thus addressing the assembly, Prithee, pluck those napkins from your chins; after nature is satisfied all that you 〈◊〉 extraordinary is my property, and I claim it as mine. It was given you in order to relieve me, and not to oppress yourselves. How can they comfort or instruct others who can scarce feel their own existence, except from the unsavoury re∣turnsPage  256of an ill digested meal. But though neither you nor the cushions you sit upon will hear me, yet the world regards the excesses of its teachers with a pry∣ing eye, and notes their conduct with double severity. I know no other answer any one of the company could make to such an expostulation, but this: "Friend, you talk of our losing a character, and being disliked by the world; well, and supposing all this to be true, what then! who cares for the world? We'll preach for the world, and the world shall pay us for preach∣ing, whether we like each other or not."