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pense labour by any accession of knowledge. Mr. Barrow, who has observed the manners, and recorded the peculiarities of the Chinese, with a precision implying a spirit of true philosophy, has in attempting to account for the original of this primitive people, run into idle and futile conjectures, without reflecting, that the investigations of the philososopher must always terminate in principles insoluble, and phenomena beyond the reach of finite ingenuity to resolve. He however appears to have no inclination to be inferior to other philosophers, in learned absurdity, and unfathomable penetration; and accordingly with the utmost facility of supposition, he brings the Ark, and the whole family of Noah from mount Ararat in Armenia, to the bleak mountains of Tartary, inhabited by the Eleuths; and leaves Noah and his descendants to wander thence through the perishing regions of Kamtschatha, to people America; and through the immeasurable extent of country, which lies between Tartary and the remote nations of Europe: thereby throwing as much obstruction in the way of those philosophers, who shall attempt to account for the original of the American aborigines, as he has so easily cleared from his own path. Nor were these puerilities easy to be avoided on so dark a subject, where the indistinct and glimmering beams elicited by the inquirer, tend rather to perplex than instruct; to show the magnitude of his difficulties, without giving him the means to remove or lessen them.
From the annals of the Chinese, it is almost impossible to guess the period to which we should refer the commencement of their existence as a nation; so blended with childish fables, and ridiculous events, is their whole history; and so confused and contradictory is their boasted chronology. Who would believe, for instance that there ever existed such a being as Fo-hi, the first emperor, when they read that he was called the Son of Heaven, because he invented the eight Koua, or symbols of three lines each, and taught the people how to apply these characters, in which his laws were written; and to give the greater force to which, “he declared that he had seen them traced upon the back of a dragon-horse, which rose from the bottom of a lake; he called it a dragon-horse, because it had the shape of a horse, and the scales and wings of a dragon.” And that with
no more than these eight general symbols, he should create a mandarin, called the flying-dragon to compose BOOKS; a hiddendragon, to make the calendar; and a resident dragon to take the superintendance of the buildings. The third emperor, Hoangti was likewise a son of Heaven, having been delivered on a mountain by his mother, when she was much disordered by the sudden percussion of Thunder. Of a like complexion is most part of their history; and at what period the first seven Emperors reigned, cannot be ascertained, their chronology not being intelligible till the time of Yao, the eighth prince, from which the most vehement advocates of their antiquity date their epocha; being about 2200 years antecedent to the birth of Christ, in their chronology.* Allowing then the accuracy of this era, of which many reasonable doubts are entertained, we shall find them only coetaneous to the Assyrians, whose empire was founded 2204 years before Christ; and of the same age with the Egyptians, who like them absurdly conceited that their origin was lost in the mist of infinite ages, and as they could not penetrate its obscurity, they reasonably determined to fix its duration, at twenty thousand years; reasonably I say, in comparison to the Chinese whose historians are not satisfied with a shorter period, than a million of millions of years!
There are however, many forcible arguments in favour of the conclusion, that the Chinese are posterior in age to both the Assyrians and the Egyptians, and that their origin cannot be fixed so early as the reign of Yao. In the History of every people, we perceive distinctly, a considerable void between their first settlements, and the invention of the arts and sciences; and instead of rising to perfection in the course of one reign, we find them to have been polished by successive generations, and refined by laborious investigation, and continued experience. This is the method of Nature, exemplified successively in the Assyrians, and the Egyptians, the two first nations of the world eminent in science, down to the Greeks, and Romans, and lastly in Modern Europe. But we in vain seek for similitude in the Chinese, to other beings; and consequently discover them, to be possessed of more knowledge, endued with superior sagacity, and withal sunk in the greatest barbarity, in the reign of the first emperor Fo-HI, than they have been since able to acquire; and could not degenerate into the same barbarism because they have never been refined. Although they ascribe to Fo-Hi the invention of astronomy, and the discovery of the calendar, which knowledge was so greatly improved by Hoang-ti, the third emperor, that he was capable of predicting the changes of the weather, and the temperature of the atmosphere.* Yet notwithstanding this divine perfection, in the first three reigns of their history, before other nations would have emerged from the obscurity of ignorance, we perceive their chronology confused and erroneous, in the middle of the seventeenth century, being destitute of even the first principles of astronomy, and as unable to calculate an almanac, as to foretel an eclipse.f Their extreme ignorance of geography, implies their want of astronomical knowledge, as it is hardly to be imagined, that a nation versed in the latter, would consider the earth square, and their own empire the middle space, like those people who supposed that the sun made his course from east to west in the day; and when the veil of night concealed his resplendent rays, returned the same way to the east, to be ready to perform his diurnal peregrination the next morning!
* Du Halde, 1, p. 282
The searching eye of the curious traveller in perambulating the unbounded plains of China, explores in vain to discover the monuments of th at antiquity, which their tradition records, and their superstition magnifies; he can discern no venerable remnant of former grandeur, to awaken his sympathy, or excite his admiration; no memorial of the illustrious dead, recals the wisdom of the sage to his remembrance; and no field made saa cred by the conquest of liberty inspires his breast with patriotism: the only monument to verify their past existence, is in the tyranny of the government, the degradation of the people, and the inveteracy of their customs. The sepulchral monuments of their sovereigns, being badly constructed with wood, have per'ished with the bodies which they enclosed, and no vestige remains of their ineffectual ostentation: and even the walls, the
* Du Halde, 1, p. 275. † This subject will be discusssed more particularly in another Essay on the Chinese Sciences and Arts:
only durable works to be perceived, are rather to be admired as the stupendous effects of a fearful disposition, than as exhibiting scientific notions of architecture, or displaying a refined taste. Their productions exhibit both the ingenuity of civilization, and the rudeness of barbarity; and though they disprovei their high antiquity, show them at least, not to be destitute of genius; which however seems to have exerted its power only when impelled by necessity, their mental subjection begetting incapacity, and unwillingness for the spontaneous exercise of their faculties.
NOTE. In thus endeavouring to demonstrate that the Chinese are posterior in antiquity to the ancient Assyrians and Egyptians many arguments are neces. sarily grounded on questions, which will hereafter be discussed and evinced, and the reader is desired to suspend his judgment, till the whole is terminated. In subsequent essays, we shall review respectively, the arts and sciences; the morals; the manners, and habits; the religion and the political state, of this extraordinary people; and thence induce, the degree of importance they hold in the civilized world, and their claims to the title of a wise people.
(To be continued.)
CRITICISM FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
There is no propensity of the human mind more inveterate, or, at the same time, more alive to reproof, than an itch for writing poetry. While the youthful candidate for the bays of Parnassus trembles at the anticipation of criticism, and is chilled to the heart by the least token of disapprobation, he is seldom prevented from persevering by the most decided warnings of disappointment and failure. He shrinks from the opinion that would arrest his career, but seldom suffers it to turn him from his course.
It is remarkable, that whatever turn genius may take, when matured and guided by education and experience, it generally first displays itself in writing verses. Many men
who have afterwards distinguished themselves in various departments of literature and science, have given the first indication of superior mind in attempts at poetry. Such efforts evidence habits of study and reflection; a desire of distinction and an ardency of brain that most frequently lead the possessor to some seat of honor in society.
Permit me to introduce, with these observations, a short notice of a Poem, published in your last number, entitled “ORLANDO,” said to be the production of a youth not yet seventeen years
In the lives of poets there are not wanting many bright examples of amazing precocity of genius; which have rendered school boy verses no longer an object of wonder, except to papas and mammas. Indeed most of our poets have given pretty unequivocal proofs of the “ fine frenzy," at a very early age.
What have we a right to expect from a young poet, and what ought we, in candour and kindness, to èxcuse? We should expect much irregularity and wildness; an inattention to the chastened rules of composition; extravagant figures expressed in turgid language, and many harsh and bad lines. And we should excuse all these faults, if they are the honest product of the pen that claims them, and are accompanied with occasional testimonials of those original and inventive powers which are the attributes of true genius. But if a young man (or woman) shall mistake a fondness for reading poetry for the power of creating it; and, after having stuffed his memory with the spoils of industry, shall cast them out half digested and deformed, as the productions of his own brain, he acquires no right to the indula gence which is due to the fair and legitimate candidate.
I would not absolutely discourage your correspondent's young friend, or apply to him the whole force and extent of these remarks; but it may not be unuseful to him and his partial friends to make a fair estimate of his claims to the meed of poesy, so far as they depend upon the specimen now before us. There are undoubtedly some passages in Orlando; which testify genius; but, in general, this production bears witness more to an attentive perusal of other poets, or rather of another poet, than to any powers of original invention. The plan, machinery, and metre of Orlando, were, evidently supplied by Dr. Beattie's ce