« ForrigeFortsæt »
the practice to the present day. Confucius, however, was not satisfied with a splendid ceremony, which might be forgotten before the “funeral baked meats' were cold. He inculcated the necessity of repeating acts of homage and respect at stated times, either at the grave, or in a part of the dwelling-house consecrated for the purpose. Hence the 'hall of ancestors' and anniversary feasts of the dead which now distinguish China as a nation, and in which, unfortunately, the Confucian testimonials of affection and respect have degenerated into idolatrous worship. Delighted at the success of his experiment, Confucius shut himself up in his house, to pass in solitude the three years of mourning for his mother. · This period of retirement was not lost to philosophy, for he devoted the whole of it to study. He reflected deeply on the eternal laws of morality, traced them to their source, imbued his mind with a sense of the duties which they impose indiscriminately on all men, and determined to make them the immutable rules of all his actions. Renouncing the repose, fortune, and honours to which his birth and talents entitled him to aspire, he magnanimously resolved to devote his life to the instruction of his countrymen. He undertook to revive amongst them respect and attachment to those ancient rites and usages, with the performance of which, in his view, all social and political virtues were connected. Not .content with explaining to all classes of his fellow-citizens the invariable precepts of morality, he proposed to found a school, and train up disciples to aid him in disseminating his doctrines through all parts of the empire, and to continue to teach them after his death. He further intended to compose a series of books which should serve as depositories for his maxims, and hand down his doctrines to after-ages, in the same form in which he had himself promulgated them.
At this time the most eminent of his contemporaries in philosophy was Laou-tze, who was born B.C. 604, and enjoyed a great reputation. He was the prince of the doctrine of the Taou;' a word which, according to some, means Reason, and to others, Knowledge, and bears a certain resemblance to the contemporaneous Logos of the Platonic school. His father and mother were poor peasants, the former seventy and the latter fifty years of age at the time of his birth, which tradition ascribes to the agency of a falling star. However this may be, the expectant mother seems to have forsaken or been thrust forth from her dwelling; and while wandering in the fields, when the critical time arrived she lay down beneath & pear-tree, and there the wonderful child was born. The Book of Reason and Virtue,' the gospel of the Taou, has never been translated; and it is so obscure, both in style and matter, as to be imperfectly known even to Chinese scholars. The general account of it, however, is, that it presents a scheme of morals of too transcendental and mystical a character to be of any practical use. Laou-tze, during the greater part of his life, was a visionary recluse, wrapped up in metaphysical speculations, and treating with contempt the things of the external world. The darkness of his thoughts was made still deeper by an extraordinary compression of style; and hence the dreamers of succeeding times found in his writings a warrant for their wildest imaginations. He was a believer in the original goodness of human nature, and ascribed its vitiation to the circumstances by which men are surrounded in the world. Above all things, therefore, he insisted
upon the importance of self-knowledge and self-subjection; holding that. he alone is truly enlightened who knows himself, and he alone truly powerful who is able to conquer himself. It is difficult in the present state of our acquaintance with the ‘Book of Reason and Virtue' to understand how it could have been made the foundation for a system of demonologybut so it is: the sect of the Taou are the demon-worshippers of China. 'If we imagine,' says a recent writer, 'the hermits and other ascetics of the earlier ages of Christianity bringing with them into the desert, together with their ignorant superstitions and fevered imaginations, the pure morality of the Gospel, we shall be able to form some idea of the disciples of Laou-tze. The national love of order had originated, from an early period, a classification of the spirits which haunt and infest the material world; and this philosopher, or more probably his disciples, is supposed to have been the first who systematised the whole, beginning with the doctrine of the Divine Logos. These spirits are said to have been originally men; but in the pantheism which runs through the whole of Chinese faith, it would be equally proper to say that men were originally these spirits. Some are lords and rulers of the upper world; some are genii and hobgoblins, wandering among groves and caverns; and some are demons of the abyss, whose business on earth is mischief, and whose fate is hell and torment. Laou-tze gave himself out to be one of the genii who preside over the destinies of men; and he is still supposed by his worshippers to be engaged in this supreme office. His followers were retired and studious men. They were the high chemists of China, who supposed that the process of analysis would discover something more than physical elements; and, believing in the spiritual world, they invested with mystic qualities the world of matter, and devoted their lives to the search after the elixir of immortality and the philosopher's stone. They were originally virtuous recluses, and by means of their ignorant experiments acquired eventually some knowledge of medicine; but the body, as might be expected, was at all times vitiated by quacks and intriguers; and as their doctrines came but little home to the common business and bosoms of men, they could not make any permanent head against the more practical Confucians.
'Like the state religionists, they worship idols representing the innumerable spirits which haunt the world; but their priests are not merely enthusiasts, but being without any general allowance, and depending solely upon the people, they work upon their fears as well as hopes, and, by means of animal magnetism and other mystic secrets, pass frequently for soothsayers and magicians.
At present they have a high priest who never dies, possessing the same kind of immortality as the Lama of Thibet; and who presides over deities and devils alike. He grants patents for worship, and defines the jurisdiction of the new gods; and, like his inferior clergy, derives a revenue from the sale of amulets to preserve men from the influence of the demons.'
The chief of the new sect, it may be supposed, was curious to see his great rival; and we may mention here, although interrupting the chronology,
a highly characteristic interview which took place between them when Laou-tze was in his eighty-seventh and Confucius in his thirty-fifth year. The latter philosopher appeared in all the pomp of office, with a tribe of followers behind him; and the old ascetic began his discourse by
reproaching him with his vanity and worldly-mindedness. "The wise man,' he said, 'loves obscurity; and so far from courting employments, he shuns them. He studies the times : if they be favourable, he speaks ; if corrupt, he yields to the storm. He who is truly virtuous makes no parade of his virtue : he does not proclaim to all the world that he is a sage. This is all I have to say to you: make the best of it you can.' Confucius listened in respectful silence; and his replies afterwards to the eager questions of his disciples were brief and obscure. “I know the habits of birds, beasts, and fishes,' he said ; 'but as to the dragon'-the type of the celestial genii—'I cannot understand how he can raise himself into the heavens.'
When Confucius determined to supersede the dreams of the mystics and solitaries by a practical system of morals, he at first, after his three years' mourning were expired, shut himself up to study and meditate. His professed object was to acquire the wisdom of the ancients ;' but we entertain a strong suspicion that his famous golden age of virtue, under the rule of the early kings, was merely a figment of his own, invented by way of obtaining a warrant for his maxims which should pass unquestioned with a people so devoted as the Chinese to antiquity and the authority of
However this may be, when his studies or his meditations were over, he determined to travel, and correct the lessons of wisdom by those of experience and observation. He visited the state of Kin, where he perfected himself in music, and then traversed Tse and Wei. He returned to Tse in the employment of the prince, as a public reformer ; but his efforts, though continued for a year, do not appear to have been attended with any beneficial result. He was now invited to the imperial court, where he remained for several months, inspecting the historical records, and lamenting the degeneracy of the time. It was while here he visited Laou - tze at Seih -tae. He at length returned to Loo, where disciples began to flock to him in such great numbers, that in a short space of time they amounted, it is said, to three thousand, of whom five hundred were mandarins, holding the highest offices in that and the neighbouring states. Some extravagant fictions have been related of the school of Confucius. It has been said that all his followers formed a society, among whom a community of goods was established; and that, in order to detach their minds from the affairs of the world, they appointed one of their number to purchase their food and clothing, and to manage their funds for the good of the whole association. Nothing of this has any foundation.
Confucius, like Socrates, seems to have wished to fit men for conducting themselves honourably and usefully in those stations which the public good required that they should fill. His disciples were for the most part men of full age, who lived in their own families, and followed their separate pursuits, resorting to him to propose their doubts, or to collect his opinions and instruction, and oftentimes accompanying him in the different journeys which he thought fit to undertake. He divided his scholars into four classes : to the first he taught morals ; to the second, rhetoric; to the third, politics; and to the fourth, the perfection of their style in written compositions. The first was the necessary introduction to the others. Confucius was well aware, that without a distinct perception of moral excellence there was no such thing as good taste in eloquence or in writing, nor any practical skill to be attained in the direction of political affairs. He therefore directed his first care to the formation of the mind for the attainment of this perception; and in order to do so he taught that it was necessary to clear the intellect from those mists and obscurities which prevent its distinguishing truth from falsehood. These, he said, arise from vices early sown, or springing up in the heart, which it must therefore be our primary care to eradicate; as the good husbandman begins by rooting out weeds and noxious plants before he commits to the earth the hope of a future harvest.
This residence at Loo was an important time for Confucius and for the Chinese world. Here the philosopher revelled in music, which was not to him, as he declares, a passing recreation, which gratifies the ear without leaving a trace upon the mind, but the originator of distinct images and ideas, which remained after the sounds had ceased. He was likewise a mighty hunter, for which he found warrant in ancient prescription—the chase having been inculcated under the early kings as a duty, and enforced by legal penalties. During the same period he worked industriously—often night and day—upon the historical works, wearing out by frequent use no less than three sets of the bamboo bundles, which were then the form of Chinese volumes. He abridged the 'She-king and the 'Shoo-king,' and restored the ‘Yeh-king' from the obscurity into which it had sunk, and by his comments placed it in that supremacy to which it was entitled both by its purity and wisdom. He had accepted a petty magistracy, which, on an unworthy change of magistrates, he threw up in disgust; and at length he determined to resume his travels.
He first proceeded to Chen, where his reception was indifferent; and he then revisited, with better success, the state of Tze. Here the prince, surrounded with all the pomp and circumstance of royalty, received the philosopher as his superior, and would insist upon his taking precedence, urging that a 'sage is higher than a king.' Confucius, however, though not questioning so reasonable a proposition, was the last man in China to submit to so unheard of a solecism in ceremony; and he flatly refused to indulge his majesty. He was made one of the ministers, however, but kept his appointment only for a short time. The intrigues of the court were too strong for his wisdom, and our philosopher returned again to his
The reputation of Confucius was now so widely spread that the king of Loo offered him no longer an inferior magistracy, but the post of' governor of the people in the capital. Confucius, in this office, testified in a remarkable manner his great abilities, so that even in a few months the change in public morals excited the astonishment of the king. He was now ordered into the royal presence, and invested with the dignity of Sze-kaon, which placed him at the head of the magistracy, both civil and criminal, throughout the kingdom, and conferred upon him an authority only second to that of the king himself. In this high office he commenced his career by an act—which indeed he had informed the king, previously to his investiture, was a stern necessity of the time-of surprising vigour and daring, the public execution of one of the chief ministers, whose villanies had been the principal cause of the evils which afflicted the kingdom. This proceeding terrified the king, and astounded even the disciples of the philosopher:
but the event shewed he was right in his calculation—that such a criminal might have adherents while he was in life and in power, but could have no friends to deplore or avenge him. The execution was conducted with all the terrors of the law, and the inexorable magistrate attended in person, and ordered the exposure of the body for three days.
During the administration of Confucius the affairs of the kingdom flourished; and at one time he had the satisfaction of preserving his prince from a snare set for him by a rival king of Tze. The latter, however, at length succeeded in counteracting the effect of the philosopher's counsels, and in a way highly characteristic of such courts. He selected eighty beautiful young ladies, accomplished singers and dancers, and sent this formidable host against the refined court of Loo; where they were not only able to resist the powerful impression of the Confucian precepts, and the general example of the whole kingdom, but to dislodge the philosopher from his stronghold, to overturn the edifice of morality which he had constructed, and to drive him in utter despair from the scene of his most splendid triumph. The most beautiful and accomplished of these females fastened on the king, while the others, in the regular gradation of their charms, attached themselves to the grandees in proportion to their rank. The result was such as we believe never happened in any other country from a sudden importation of ladies - namely, that from an extraordinary austerity of morals the whole nation was at once dissolved in luxury and pleasure; the business of the state stood still; the courtiers occupied themselves only in feasting, dancing, shows, and dissipation; and the shopkeepers consoled themselves for the wickedness of their superiors by cutting off part of their reformed measures, filing down their weights, and making one scale an ounce heavier than the other.
Confucius, who had first protested against admitting into the kingdom the insidious visitors, employed his eloquence for some time after their arrival in endeavouring to persuade the old grandees to have nothing to do with these lovely foreigners; but his harangues, which a few weeks before had been omnipotent against the charms of the women of Loo, were wholly ineffectual against those of the Tzean ladies. Vexed, therefore, as a philosopher naturally would be at such a discovery, he soon resigned in disgust, and went abroad in search of disciples less vacillating than his countrymen of Loo.
He now tried several of the Chinese states, one after another, but in vain. All were satisfied with their anarchy and demoralisation; and the answer of the king of Wei to the more refined nobles, who besought him to give employment to the wandering sage, may be taken as characteristic of the whole. We are now quiet,' said he; but if the philosopher of Loo once gets a finger in the government, under the plausible pretext of reform, all will be thrown into confusion. I am old: I do not love change: let things go on as usual: my successor can do as he pleases.' Confucius passed on his way, consoling himself with the idea, that the wise man is everywhere at home-the whole earth is his.' But each home was turbulent and as hostile as the last. Sometimes the people received his doctrines with acclamation ; but this only drew upon him the persecution of the authorities, and occasionally the meetings of his followers were dis