Page images



§ 1.--THE BIRTH AND ITS WONDERS. It is not difficult to defend the thesis that great men have been born to all nations, precisely at the hour when the people, through their previous efforts to make progress, were prepared to receive them-men who were competent to the task of laying the foundation stone of national life. With them lay the secret of unity ; in them was vested the gift of life. Some nations, as China, with Confucius; Arabia, with Mahomet; England, with Cromwell; and France, with Napoleon, have been wise enough to accept the proffered aid, through which they lived to reap the great reward. Others rejected their great men, and, as the fruit of rejection, ruin stalked over their empires. When Cassio and Brutus resolved to assassinate Cæsar, they viewed themselves as noble patriots, about to deliver their country from the disgrace of having a monarch. But Cæsar was more than a monarch, in the ordinary sense. He was the one great citizen, who comprehended the actual condition of Rome. Had he lived, a new era had been inaugurated, and the Empire would not have sunk beneath the assaults of barbarian invaders. The conqueror of Gaul had learnt more in his travels than the philosophy of Rome could teach, but it was not to be reduced to practice ; the dagger's point is not turned aside by the greatness and wisdom of its victim, and when fools wield such weapons injury alights upon their betters. These patriots acted much the same as the savages, who murdered a surgeon because he was about to amputate a mortified limb, but the sad side of the matter was that they did not heal the limb by getting rid of the surgeon.

China wisely accepted the great man whom the good Shang-te had given ---yet not immediately, and not without a struggle. He was allowed to teach in various districts without molestation, sometimes even with reward, and so got the seed sown, from whence sprang the ultimate unity of that nation. Great need there was for his coming, for, without him there had been little peace and no progress for the Chinese nation. Sad, disrupted, and contentious was the land when he was born, and it seemed that no mere human power could establish the necessary harmony. But what no humau arm could accomplish, what defied alike the statesman's craft, the power of the sword, and the authority of kings, was effected through the agency of thought and moral teaching. In the earliest days the Empire had been one; but mere kingship and authority could not combine and hold together many millions of men, who were spread over a great surface. Unity of thought, unity of custom, are far more powerful to that end than all the systems and swords statesmen have employed. These were absent, and thus there was

no grand national unity; hence the provinces fell asunder. The Emperor enjoyed an empty title, for his territory was smaller than that of many who, in theory, were his subordinates. Like the old Emperors of Germany, he wore a title which gave him neither wealth, power, nor authority. With the petty princes lay the real authority, and not unfrequently it was in battle array against the liege lord and master. Thus, when Confucius was born, the future of his country appeared even darker than the day, when the English had encamped upon the walls of Pekin, and the Emperor was compelled to fly before the barbarians.

Confucius supplied what was wanting to reconstitute the Empire, a

[ocr errors]

moral system, and standard customs; and to this hour his system stands. He is to the Chinese what Christ is to the Europeans ; not, indeed, as a Mediator or a Saviour, but a centre round which they revolve, and from whence they derive their theories of life and duty. For even the Taou and Buddhist sects are deeply indebted to the Confucian system-a system they do not venture to deny, but propose to supplement. They “supply deficiencies' and perfect the work of the admitted hero of the nation, for it were not safe in China either to deny or revile him. His descendants are the honourable of the land. The Chinese pay no respect to the accident of birth ; they hold that a man is worthy or worthless according to what he thinks and does, without reference to how, when, or in what condition he was born; but an exception is made in favour of the descendants of Confucius, who are esteemed as in some degree superior to other Chinamen. The heads of the family are nobles, and all the descendants receive some pecuniary aid from the government. They wear a peculiar dress, and thus are known to their countrymen wherever they go. Still they are not treated as in any sense holier or wiser than others; they are not supposed to possess powers that are denied unto others, and are only distinguished from the remainder of the nation because of the general desire to hold the teacher's memory in honour. In nearly every village, or in all towns down to the third class, temples are erected to the honour of Confucius, on which his name is carved in immense letters. It is stated that 1560 of these temples exist in the country, and that 65,000 animals, hogs and rabbits, are slaughtered in them, and offered as sacrifices every year. On his birthday, the people go with their offerings up to the temple ; some carry rice, some sugar-cane, others sweetmeats, and these are placed before the tablet with an abundance of thanks; they thank him for the example he set to China, and especially for the doctrines he taught, but there are no prayers. Some of our missionaries, who are incapable of drawing the line between returning thanks and praying, for guidance or aid, who believe all addresses of humanity to the spirit-world to be prayers, have represented that the Chinese worship Confucius as a god, but they who understand the wide difference between thanks and solicitation will judge them more fairly.

The day of his death is also observed through China. The Emperor, with his Court, visits the temple on that day with offerings; throughout the provinces the head man of the district imitates the Emperor, and sets an example to the people. So, too, each full and new moon sees the people entering the Confucian temples, but on these occasions rather for general worship than for special offering. It is to be remembered, too, that in none of these temples are there any statues of the sage. No likeness or image of him is erected, only a tablet, upon which is written, “Seat of the soul of the most renowned teacher of antiquity,” and it is before such a tablet in all the temples that the offerings are made. Why they abstain from raising other monuments, why they do not set up Confucian statues, we know not—they raise up the statues of his twelve apostles sometimes in the temples, but the master has no more than the simple tablet. Probably they conceive that in his case simplicity is most to be preferred, as in the dress of their Emperor. When an audience is given, the Officers of State, the Visiting Mandarins, and all who take part in the ceremony, are arrayed in splendid dresses, and the whole scene literally blazes with gold and jewelery, but the Emperor wears nothing of the kind, he appears dressed in plain brown silk without ornament, wearing a black cap, with a single pearl in front; and the people declare that the son of Heaven is best arrayed in simple robes, ornaments being wholly superfluous. But whether this be the correct explanation or otherwise, it is certain that, although no statues are erected to his honour, there is no name so deeply revered in China as that of Confucius. Nor, indeed, is his name confined to the land of his birth.

Fortunately, the facts of this man's life are numerous and well preserved; and when we compare the various ancient writings in which he is spoken of, our sense of security in relying upon the popular biographies is increased by the harmony of all the reports. He was born in the petty kingdom of Loo, which is now known as the province of Shantung, in the year 551 B.C., 83 before Socrates, and 123 before Plato. He was not presumed to be, as some have declared, the son of a virgin, although there is somewhat connected with the matter that would appear to justify such a conclusion. His father, Shuhleang-ho, was twice married, and by his first wife had nine daughters and one son, who was sadly deformed. He had grown old, and all his children had attained maturity, when his wife died and plunged the family into great distress. After the usual days of mourning had elapsed, the aged and infirm widower proposed to Yang-ho, the chief of Yew, to marry one-either one- -of the said chief's three daughters. As in duty bound, he immediately made the proposal known, for the widower was a magistrate and a man of importance. He seems to have had no idea of decieving or coercing his daughters, for he told them that the would-be bridegroom was of " low stature, a bad figure,

a severe temper, known to be impatient of contradiction, and very old.” These were not exactly the kind of points likely to interest young ladies, or make them anxious to secure the prize. The two elder daughters answered not, but seemed by silence to decline the offer ; the youngest and most beautiful made answer that she was ready and willing to marry the old man. Yew-she, now became an object of derision to her elder sisters, who jeeringly inqnired, if she hoped miracles would be wrought in order that she should have a son to honour her memory and offer the ancestral sacrifices ? The marriage was completed, and immediately after the bride obtained permission to make a journey to Ne-Kew, the grand mountain, on whose head sacrifices were offered. She went and fervently addressed herself, like the Hebrew Hannah, to the Giver of Life, praying that a son should be given in answer to her petitions. Ten months afterwards Confucius was born, and was looked upon as, under these circumstances, the gift of Heaven; but neither by himself, or by his followers, was it ever taught either that he was an incarnate deity, or that his birth was in any way dependent upon Heaven's action, as was taught of Fo-hi, Taou-keun, and other kings and teachers.

But, as in the case of other remarkable men, his birth is said to have been attended by many very remarkable occurrences. * Two dragons were ' long seen to hover over the couch of his mother,' which indicated that the child would become mighty on the earth. The “ Ke-lin' (an allegorical animal which no one has ever attempted to describe) 'appeared at the entrance to 'the house in which he was born,' and its appearance was assumed 'to indi'cate good and honour to the new born.' This reminds us of the strange monster recorded in Eastern Christian histories as having appeared in the Nile when Mahomet was born, only in his case the appearance betokened evil to the community. But we are told that 'soft, sweet music filled the air in and around the house of birth.' The spirits were delighted that the child was born, for now'humanity would be taught its duties, and evil would no longer rule,' so they made music to float around and ravish the souls of

[ocr errors]

the listeners. To complete the wonders, characters appeared upon his

breast, to set forth that he would be a king without throne or kingdom.' About this latter fact, however, there is no little difference of opinion. Some of the learned state the matter as just given, but others declare that there was only an appearance' of characters upon his breast, none of which were clear enough to be read. Still they bring in the prophecy of kingship, by setting forth that the Fung-whang, an allegorical animal, appeared before the house, and thus foretold that the new-born would be a king without possessing a throne. Possibly our readers will find it quite as easy to accept one version as the other, or easier still to reject them both. We allude to these statements not as wishing to beget a belief in their truth, but merely to show how prone humanity is to surround its heroes with miraculous events, and even to this hour nineteen of every twenty Chinamen believe the story to be literally true. In addition, they believe that five celestial sages who had been warned of the wonderful birth, presented themselves at the house, and predicted the things Confucius would afterwards accomplish. It is said in some free-thinking book, that these sages were led by a very bright star, but we have not met with any Chinese authority for the statement, nor do we believe that any such exists.

The social position of Confucius was calculated to promote his progress, for he was descended from the ancient kings. The Chinese are no lovers of the European aristocratic forms, yet they are proud of being able to trace up the Confucian line to the Emperor Hoang-hi, who governed at least 2,000 years B.C., so that the descendants of this teacher can trace an unbroken descent through nearly 4,000 years. What can our ancient families do against such a pedigree? They must hide a diminished head, for a few hundred years at most is only a temptation to ridicule when contrasted with 4,000. Yet why spend a moment trying to show the absurdity of existing forms, when, as we know, the ideas upon which they were based have been long exploded, and only wait the one puff of popular anger to remove them wholly away. Yet Confucius enjoyed advantages at starting which gave him fairer opportunities than others in a lower station could ever achieve. There is the evil, and possibly, as in this case, the good of class distinctions. It is true that genins is of no sex, class, or country, but it is also true that given a large share of genius to one man in a low condition, and a lesser measure to one in a higher social grade, the man with a lesser genius will be sure to win greater laurels. In his position he commands, not merely the means of knowledge, not merely opportunities of mingling with the wise, but also an audience ready to listen whenever he wills to speak. They are there to listen because of his position, and if he have genius he will make them assemble again, because of what he has to teach them. But the man who starts with greater genius in a lower position has first to fight a hard long battle to obtain the mental means for satisfying the cravings of his soul, and then, when this is done, he must fight long and hard to obtain the ear of the public. Let any Lord to-morrow announce that he will lecture in Exeter Hall upon Cromwell

, and we know the building would be crowded. But if others, who really comprehend the man, were to do this, then there would be hardly enough taken at the doors to pay bill-stickers. Thus the high genius, starting with low social rank, must wear away the best part of life in winning the position others with less genius enjoy at starting. This was a check to many of our best and noblest men, and hence a pleasure in recording the Confucian instance of freedom from such impediment.




Yet we are not to suppose that the life of Confucius was untinged with Sorrow, for such, in truth, was not the case. He lost his father when only three years old, and was thus left to the care of a young mother ; yet, though sorrow came, there was some compensation. The boy misses a father's care, and strength, and guidance, but there are mothers who more than compensate for what is thus lost. Mothers who can so develope native strength and attune the moral character, that when years have grown on the boy, and he takes his place amid the din of manhood's battle, he is armed at all points, and fully prepared to subdue the worst that can come. Such a mother had Confucius. She was well versed in the native tales of heroism, self-sacrifice, and grandeur of human character, and these she repeated over and over again, until the boy's mind became familiar with what was worthy, and full of hate for what was worthless and ignoble. Daily she applied herself to the task of fitting him for the pursuit of a glorious career, and when she had long been laid with the clods of the valley, her son's life bore fruit in virtue and heroism which qualified him for being a teacher of mankind.

P. W. P.


Are the Doctrines and Precepts of Christianity, as taught in the New Testament,

calculated to benefit Humanity ? Report of the Three Night's Debate at Liverpool, between “Iconoclast and the Rev. J. H. Rutherford.

London. Holyoake and Co., 147, Fleet Street. ANOTHER debate, and no satisfactory result. Here is a report of how two human beings talked at each other through three evenings, without seeming to understand what all the talk was about. The Christian disputant found it to be not incompatible with his notion of truth to assert that the past progress, and the present position of England is to be attributed to the fact that its sons have possessed a knowledge of the principles of Christianity,'to “the unrestricted possession of that Book which Wickliffe opened, and for “which Latimer and Ridley died, giving birth, as it did, to those eternal "principles of truth, justice, wisdom, and freedom, of which Milton sung, and “ for the permanent establishment of which Cromwell drew his sword."* Mr. Rutherford seems to have overlooked the awkward fact that the Royalists were as ready, and as frequent in quoting the New Testament as the Puritans were, and probably he is not aware that the majority of texts were dead against both Milton and Cromwell. They imagined themselves to be childlike, obedient Christians, but the learned Divines of the Church knew them only as “ blasphemers and revilers of God's most holy word.” Had they obeyed the injunction of Jesus, not to resist evil!' there had been no Naseby or Dunbar, and probably no "Paradise Lost.” Had they obeyed the Apostle Paul, in being obedient to those who were in authority,' then England would not this day hold up her head so proudly amid the nations. We are thankful that they knew a better Gospel, and were prepared to act out its precepts.

An armed revolution cannot find its justification in the New Testament. But when a man has made up his mind to resist wrong, to draw the sword for freedom's battle, there is no knowing how many passages, by omitting their contexts, he may adapt to his purpose. He, however, who in modern times undertakes to treat the subject as one for philosophical investigation, is not at liberty to adopt their mutilations, or to put them forth as

**** Report," p. 31

« EelmineJätka »