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FOR THE PORTFOLIO.

ON THE GENIUS OF THE CHINESE.

ESSAY II. PART I.

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The progress and advancement of a people, in the sciences and arts, it is very obvious, must either be languid and imperfect, or rapid and efficient, in proportion to the genius which inspirits their faculties to exertion, and retards or accelerates the attainment to perfection. Hence, as mind is the spring of all power, genius is the impulse which directs it to the end; and whatever object judgment may fix upon, or accident point out, for the exercise of its faculties, the perfect completion of the object will attend the energy of genius, and the failure of success, by repeated efforts, will as infallibly indicate its absence. It is by this general maxim, which is as applicable to a whole people, as to individual life, that the genius of a nation should be determined, and we shall judge of that of China, from a review of the general result of her long continued efforts, to arrive at the portals of science, and to possess a knowledge of the arts.

That the human mind is much affected by a variety of phy, sical events and circumstances, not within the possible control of the human will, is rendered too apparent by every day's occurrences, to allow of a denial; but that in every relation and aspect of life, moral and political, the energy of mind is always seen rising upon the depression of physical impediments, and triumphing by the deoppilation of inveterate opposition, must be admitted by all who regard experience more than hypothesis, and who have attended to the progressive advancement of the mind, from the earliest to the last stages of the process. Though the habitudes, modifications and affections of the minds of different nations, may vary according to variety of climate, soil, and local situation, yet if they are endued with genius, its supremacy will be forcibly exhibited in some manner, and though local peculiarities may be blended with its effects, they will not obscure its lustre, or lessen its renown. Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Rome will be immortal for their genius

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in science, and venerated to the end of time, notwithstanding the peculiarities which severally distinguished them in learning, and the many shocking enormities, which sunk them in vice. Their vices, however, are not less instructive than their erudition, as they better our morals, by salutary example, whilst their erudition improves our knowledge, by profound investigation.,

No people have a better right to originality than those of China: the identical singular characteristic which so remarkably stamps all their measures and actions, pervades their sciences and arts. The hinges on which the minds of this people wholly turn, are the prudential principles of experience and custom; which regulates the nature and extent of the philosopher's cognition, with precision equal to that, which binds the lowly méchanic to persevere in the accustomed mode of work, though a better and less laborious one, is within the reach of his own invention. It is this absurd devotion to established rules, and fixed order, in every department of life; a great dread of innovation; and an absolute rejection of every thing foreign, which perhaps gives this peculiarity to the nation; a peculiarity which though it cannot enhance the merit or value of their possessions, except in their own estimation, serves at least to prove the want of perspicacity and genius in them; and to prevent the imputation of what exclusively belongs to their own weakness, to any other people.

The mode of education prevalent now in China, and which in probability has been the same for two thousand years past, with, perhaps, some trivial additions and modifications, and for which they are rather indebted to the encroaching hand of time, than the suggestions of reason, or expediency, will be found by its features, to be the offspring of a mind, totally destitute of genius, and of a like complexion to every sister science and art. To consider this, here, may be proper before we proceed further into the subject, as it will tend to unfold the nature of various phenomenæ, and account for numerous anomalies, in their literary history. Education commences, in general, through the empire, at the ages of five and six years, in attempting to teach a knowledge of the letters, and the elementary parts of

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the language,* which may be considered the chief study of the literati as well as the people; and to obtain a perfect comprehension of which, a whole life devoted to it, would not be more than sufficient. It can scarcely be imagined that much progress can be made by children of that age in so formidable a task, and as these difficulties are augmented by factitious obstructions, the possibility of their soon surmounting them vanishes. To the prodigious number of the characters, amounting to eighty thousand,t combined with the complexness, incidental to a language wanting simplification and method, by the rules of grammatical arrangement, may be attributed in part, the difficulty of obtaining a complete comprehension of it, to which may be superadded, the extreme labour and avidity of getting by rote, so many thousand characters, and a volume of Confucius, without the least accession of knowledge or ideas. The first stage of edu- , cation terminates, when the student, having learned by rote the four books of the doctrines of Confucius, is allowed to proceed to learn the formation of the characters, by tracing the printed

* See Du Halde and Barrow, p. 174. † Barrow, Staunton. vol. 3.

# Staunton, v. 2. p. 245. Sir George Staunton seems here to have been led into a curious error, in our apprehension, as inconsistent with his usual sagacity, and quick perception, as it is repugnant to philosophy and experience. In page 245, vol. 2. he says, "The learner of the Chinese is besides not puzzled with many minute rules of grammar, conjugation, or declension. There is no necessity of distinguishing substances, adjectives, or verbs, nor any accordance of gender, number, and case in a Chinese sentence.” Hence he infers, that the attainment of the language is rendered more facile, by being destitute of grammar. Paradoxical opinions may be founded in truth, or may proceed from an affectation of superior discernment; but when they are unsustained by adequate proof, and in direct opposition to long experience, it must be allowed reasonable to withhold our assent to them. Rules of grammar may at first puzzle a learner, as the rules of any other science or art are not immediately comprehended for their utility, to a beginner, nor perhaps do they much aid his first efforts. But in every stage of his progress after the first, their great use cannot be denied: without such rules the capricious fancy of every man, would supply the place of principles founded in reason; and confusion would necessarily succeed to order; language might be taught in a sharter space of time, but would never be susceptible of the same perfection; as is evinced in that of the Chinese, which is not adapted for philosophical. and precise disquisition. Independent of which, however, does not the la. bour of storing the memory with all their characters, and a huge volume of the works of Confucius, far overbalance the supposed impediments of grammar?

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lines on transparent paper with a pencil; the excellence of which art is estimated as the highest qualification, by the literati of China.* By this process do the youth of China at sixteen, attain an empty knowledge of most of the characters of the language, being totally ignorant of their distinct meaning, and afterwards to learn which, it cannot be reasonably supposed, that less time and labour would be requisite.

It is in viewing such methods of education, and contemplating the inveteracy of fuolish prejudices, in opposition to the healthful advantages of rational system, that the reflective mind is struck with admiration, at the pretentions of a people, to philosophical learning, and high refinement, who are ignorant of the simplest facts, concerning the nature and operations of the human mind; for it cannot be imagined, that endued with this knowledge, they should have chosen a method in direct contrariety to its dictates, and which with all their ineffectual labour, still leaves them in a condition little above, in this respect, their primæval ignorance and barbarity. It is in this particular that we first perceive the systems of that driveting spirit, which incárcerates their minds to a mere detailed acquisition of unprofitable individualities, preventing them from rising to a more general and comprehensive view of human nature, and establishing a method grounded on common principles, and suited to every gradation of capacity. This would be easily effected, by merely reversing their present system. The remembrance of sounds and figures (which is the Chinese method of acquiring their language) abstracted from all sense of what they signify, is surprisingly hard; for to the natural indistinctness and faintness of the notions of sound and figure, even when their signification is understood, is to be added in this instance, the total absence of any primary idea, by which they might have some hold of the mind.

If, on the contrary, when learning the sound and figure of their characters, they were also, at the same time, to learn their meaning, the good effects resulting would be inconceivably great; the sound before indistinct and vague, would come to be so associated with the sense, and the sense so blended with the sound, that from the primary and secondary ideas, a dou

* Du Haide, p. 5.

ble hold would be given to the mind; and the consequent facility of acquisition, would at least save half of the labour and time so foolishly spent in learning sounds, to which they annex no clear notion.

The Chinese language, according to sir George Staunton, must be ill suited to philosophical disquisitions, and at best, an inconvenient instrument of accurate thought. The follow. ing is the passage from which we draw this conclusion; and as no European has so perfect a knowledge of the subject, the most unbounded reliance may be put in his relation of it. “The principal difficulty,” he says, "in the study of Chinese writings, arises from the general exclusion of the auxiliary particles of colloquial language, that fix the relation between indeclinable words, such as are all those of the Chinese writing. The judgment must be constantly exercised by the student, to supply the absence of such assistance. That judgment must be guided by attention to the manners, customs, laws, and opinions of the Chinese, and to the events and local circumstances of the country, to which the allusions of language perpetually refer." In all languages in which much latitude is allowable in the collocation and arrangement of words, and in which the association between the ideas, or words is proportionately diminished, obscurity is apt to exist;--redundance of metaphor, and remoteness of allusion, beget a similar effect.* If “to supply the absence of the auxiliary particles of colloquial language, the judgment must be constantly exercised and guided," by such a variety of remote circumstances and events, it is evident that the want of connection, proper to precise language, added to such a confusion of figurative expressions, and the greater part of those so far fetched, must not only render this language extremely obscure, but very frequently unintelligible to the learned who use it. Hence, on the above principles, so sagaciously discovered, and ably established by Mr. Hume and Dr. Carnpbell, the Chinese language must be held utterly unsuitable as an instrument of philosophy.

Though no country can be better adapted to astronomical oba servations, from the unclouded atmosphere, and serenity of the

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