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from strangers, and totally employed in procuring the conveniences of life; either without books, or, like some of the Mahometan countries, with very few: men thus busied and unlearned, having only such words as common use requiros, would perhaps long continue to express the same notions by the same signs. Butno such constancy can be expected in a people, polished by arts, and classed by subordination, where one partofthe community is sustained and accommodated by the labour of the other. Those who have much leisure to think, will always be enlarging the stock of ideas; and every increase of knowledge, whether real or fancied, will produce new words, or combination of sounds. When the mind is unchained from necessity, it will range after convenience; when it is left at large in the field of speculation, it will shift opinions; as any custom is disused the words that expressed it must perish with it: as any opinion grows popular, it will innovate speech in the same proportion as it alters practice."
With such arguments in our favour, we are therefore earnestly inclined to believe, that the constancy with which the Chinese have preserved their language from innovation, and given it an unalterable durability, is to be ascribed, rather to the tyrannical disposition of the govornment, and the inflexibility of their customs, than to a great antiquity of its origin; and that though it possesses some of the features of a universal character, it is too unwieldy for the quick advancement, or abstruse investigation of science, as the length of time necessary to its acquirement hinders the one, and its extreme ambiguity effectually prevents the lat
And notwithstanding the pertinacious adherence of the Chinese to whatever they adopt, the learned in their correspondence, have been compelled to alter the form of the letters, to diminsh the labour of writing, and omitting many others to lessen its inconvenience, and this in so great a degree, as to confound its identity, to those not intimately versed in the language.*
In every nation distinguished for its attainments in literature, a taste for reading and science has been common among thepeople; new efforts have been incited by competition and jealousy, and learn
* Barrow, Page 167.
ing not suffered to languish for want of inquirers after truth. It was this thirst after knowledge, and a power of discrimination, augmented by practice, that elevated the Athenian people to be the highest of the literary Repuèlic; and enabled them to conquer the hearts of their enemies by the fire and eloquence of their poets, when the valour of their arms restrained by the shackles of slavery: and it is a truth attested by the experience of ages, that the growth of genius and learning, will ever be in proportion to the degree of civil liberty and freedom of discussion allowed to the people, and the means they might have, for the facile acquirement of the language. That the Chinese are debarred from the first by the nature of their political institutions, the writers on their government, most partial to their customs, and prepossessed extravagantly in their favour, have unwillingly acknowledged;* and that the genius of their language does not admit of the latter, is evinced, by the difficulty of its attainment, even by those who exclusively addict themselves to study and erudition; and such cannot obtain a competent knowledge of it, in a shorter period than twenty years, hence the extreme ignorance and superstition of the people, the limited knowledge of the literati, and the unimproved state of the arts.
To account for the origin of this isolated people, much learning has been displayed, and ingenuity exerted; but happily for philosophy, the former was confined in its researches to reason, while the latter degenerated to absurdity. Here it shall only be considered, as it conduces to elicit some light on the probable antiquity of the people of the eastern hemisphere; and though the fables which their vanity induced them to foist into their tended history, has imposed a false antiquity on the credulous curiosity of Europeans, whose avidity for whatever is novel, has not seldom perverted their judgments; yet I hazard the asseveration, that upon a philosophical investigation of their claims, they will be discovered to be founded, rather on the vain fancy of the sovereign and his courtiers than the undisputed veracity of
* P. Du Halde's History of China, compiled from the accounts of the Jesuits and Missionaries.
† Mr. Barrow's China p. 177.
historical facts. In proof of this, we need only advert to the absolute control of the emperor, which gives him the power, as his vanity suggests the inclination, to stifle the recital of such incidents, as would either detract from his reputed wisdom, or asperse his immaculate virtue; and consequently contradict, what their religion obviously implies, that the prince is indued with the attributes of divinity, and invested with power, which deserves implicit obedience. And that the execution of so unreasonable a command would encounter no impediment in its course, is sufficiently exhibited in the disposition of courtiers and the people; the dread of punishment and degradation impelling the former to falsify, what the awe and superstition of the latter, would compel them to believe. And that the above account is not a bare supposition, invented for the support of a favourite hypothesis, is abundantly evinced, in the fabrication of the fable, in the history of She-whang-te.* who to augment his own glory and reputation, is said to have issued an edict, commanding on pain of death, the destruction of all books, except those that related to physic and architecture.t That such an event ever happened to the Chinese we utterly disbelieve, because in the first place, the same pretended history of She-ovhang-te relates, that previous to this act, he had caused to be erected one of the most stupen. dous works in the whole empire, and sufficient in their estimation to have immortalized his memory. How contradictory and absurd, then do these actions appear; as if in one moment he would have endeavoured to immortalize himself, by the greatest effort of human wisdom, and in the next to have perpetrated the blackest action of a tyrant: to endear the hearts of unborn generations to him on one day, and on the next to entail on his memory, the execrations of the world, to the latest time? And in the second place, it is unworthy the slightest credit, because it is in perfect consistence with the politic deception of the Sacred Mountain, in the province of Fo-kien; and the doctrine inculcated by the great philosopher Confucius, that the souls of the departed, will embody themselves to partake of
* Du Halde, page 340, vol. 1. † 237 years before Christ. # Du Halde, vol. 1. p. 340.
the offerings made at the sacrifices, to their memory; which should they even condescend to do, they would share the worst of the feast, for as Mr. De Pauw, observes, The visible assistants take care to have the best portion, like the Laplanders, who devour the flesh of the victims, and afterwards present the bones to the gods!
That the Chinese are not, as has been conjectured, the posterity of a colony of Egyptians, is irrefragably demonstrated by two observable facts; the total dissimilarity of their religion,* and the essential difference of their physical qualities aud constitution; the former will be shown, when we touch in another Essay on the religion of the Chinese; the other we pronounce indisputable, from the concurring authority of several intelligent travellers,t who represent them as a distinct and not a mixed race; strongly expressed in their countenance and figure, which is remarkably unlike the ancient Egyptian. Butindependent of the latter argument, which however is of considerable importance, we shall insist more emphatically on the first, as it is a truth sanctioned by the experience of mankind, that religious impressions are more permanent in their existence, and less obnoxious to be effaced, than any other sentiment of the mind, or propensity of nature. That the fervid constitutions and peculiar genius of Oriental Nations, is more favourable to the perpetuity of religious dogmas, and superstitious ceremonies, than any other human right, law, or privilege; in evidence of which I shall only adduce the history of that unfortunate people, the Jews, who in the remotest corners of the globe, to which destiny and persecution forced them, always inviolably maintained their religion, in opposition to malignity, and in total neglect of the highest indignities. In China they have preserved it as in other parts of the world, unvitiated and entire.
It is alleged by those who affirm the Chinese to be the descendants of an Egyptian colony, and who are puzzled to discover that analogy or resemblance in their religion or nature, which
* This is evinced in Mr. De Pauw's Philosophical Dissertation, to which I refer the curious reader.
† See Staunton's Embassy. Barrow's Journey, &c.
would sustain their system; that there is perceptible a perfect coincidence in many of their habits, and in some respects in their manners. And it'was thought a conclusive argument in favour of this cognation, that the people who navigate the barks on the Nile, wore round and pointed bonnets, similar to those used in China;* and that the Egyptian boats should bear some resemblance to the Chinese junks; not considering, that nations exposed to the same inconveniences, and endued with the same faculties, would naturally have recourse to the same expedients to guard against, or remedy their effects; and that the same wants would suggest similar necessaries. For we do not deny that all men are the descendents of Adam, or sprang from the same human stock; but that the Chinese are not the posterity of the Egyptians.
When a plausible hypothesis is confuted, or a pernicious system overturned by the arguments of reason, the mind instinctively expects that some thesis will be established in its stead, or an expedient proposed to remedy or meliorate the evil: but as it is easier to object than to reason, to discern folly than acquire wisdom, so it is more difficult to establish facts, than subvert fallacy. That China however was never visited by a colony from Egypt is indubitable; but that the inhabitants are of Scythian or Tartaric origin, is rendered almost certain by the perfect similitude subsisting between them, and the Man-tchoo, and other Tartar tribes, on the borders of China. In attestation of this genealogy, an ingenious philosophert adds, the strict conformity of their religion, superstitious ceremonies, and fabulous traditions. The idiocracy of the Tartars and Chinese likewise tends to strengthen this position: for it is an eminent circumstance, that the physical qualities of these people, is of itself convincing evidence of a distinct' origin from the Egyptians; and sufficient to preserve their identity unmingled with people of distant regions or opposite naturcs.
To endeavour to account for the origin of the Tartars or Scythians, would'neither throw light on the subject, nor recom
* Abbè Barthelemy.
+ M. De Pauw, vol. 2. p. 179.