ページの画像
PDF

covering the shallowness of their meaning with the froth of their discourse In the Danes this is not a trick of book making; it proceeds from their love of method. One melancholy reflection arises upon perusing this interesting volume. The Feroese, inhabiting a group of rocky islands in a bleak and ungenial climate, and earning great part of their food by the perilous occupations of fishing and fowling, are an inoffensive and good people. In the happier regions of Polynesia and of the sugar islands, where earth almost spontaneously gives its fruit, and man has no other business than that of enjoyment, we behold vices and atrocities disgraceful to human nature. Let it not be supposed that we impute this difference to the effect of climate. God forbid . Of all sophists, those who pretend to regulate morality by degrees of latitude, are the most pernicious. The crimes of the Polynesians are easily accounted for, without arraigning Providence. They are savages; instruct them and convert them, establish among them a

good government and a good church discipline, and their depravity will be remedied. The crimes of the Creoles are of a deeper die, for ignorance cannot be pleaded in extenuation. The cause is to be found in the existence of slavery; and the inevitable demoralization which this accursed practice produces, is not checked by any due system of religious instruction. Let those who doubt the efficacy of education and religion, look at what Scotland is, and recollect what it was two centuries ago. At present the Scotch are, beyond all doubt, a peaceable, orderly, and moral nation; two centuries ago they were as turbulent, ferocious, and brutal as the wild Irish are now. The Feroe islands also invite us, to a nearer comparison. There are no feudal oppressions; no sore grievances, and sorer vexations to deaden the hopes, check the industry, and prevent the improvement of the people. Can we say this of the Scotch islands : This is a question which we shall soon take occasion to examine.

FROM THE QUARTERLY REVIEW.

The Conquest of the Miao-tsé, an Imperial Poem, by Kien-Lung, entitled, A Choral Song of Harmony for the first Part of Spring. By Stephen Weston, F. R. S. S. A

From the Chinese, 8vo. pp. 58. 1810.

LITTLE did we imagine, when, on a recent occasion,” we were enumerating the many, and almost insurmountable difficulties, which opposed themselves to the student of the Chinese language, that our attention would so speedily be recalled to the subject, by the appearance of the translation of another Chinese work; small, indeed, in point of bulk, and trifling in comparative im

portance, but more difficult, inasmuch as poetry, in proportion as it becomes more concise and condensed, is more intricate and obscure, than plain prose. Such, however, is the fact. Mr. Weston, a gentleman not altogether unskilled in Asiatick lore, nor wholly untried, it seems, in Chinese literature,f has boldly soared into the metaphorical regions of oriental poetry, and visited the

* See Select Reviews. p. 22 of the present volume. t Mr. Weston informs usin his preface, that in 1809, he published the translation of a poem of 133 characters, called Ley-tang, by Kien-Lung.

unfrequented abode of the Chinese muses. Nay more, with a hardihood which evinces a consciousness of his own powers, he has even ventured to leap at once into the poetical saddle of the great Kien-Lung, Tawhang-tee, Tien-sha; the Son of Heaven, and the invincible ruler of all that is great and valuable under Heaven.

“He who mounts a tiger,” says a Chinese proverb, “will find it no easy matter to alight.” But what is a tiger, when compared with the animal which Mr. Weston has ventured to bestride : “a scaly dragon of cerulean hue,” [p. 51] a monster with five claws,” and a fiery tail, more dreadful to behold than that celestial scorpion which so fatally alarmed the adventurous son of Merops. Our author has luckily, however, dismounted in safety from his dragon; but, after having thus excited our fears, he must pardon us, if we caution him strongly against relying too much on his good fortune, and trusting himself again to the doubtful docility of a creature, to whose motions and paces he has not been accustomed, and with

whose spirit and temper he cannot

possibly be acquainted.—Wate, cave!

To be serious; we do not think that Mr. Weston has exercised much judgmeut in the choice of a subject for the employment of his talents; or that the result of his labours will prove eminently useful to the general cause of literature, At the same time, we rejoice that so extraordinary, but apparently repulsive, a language, has attracted the notice of this ingenious and persevering soholar; though we cannot recommend him, in the very outset of his studies, to engage with Chinese poetry, still less with poetry which bears the credit of being the production of an imperial brain, Great monarchs may be expected

to take great liberties, and not always readily to submit to those fixed and ordinary rules by which the mass of mankind is governed, as well in literary as in political comImunitles. In our review of the Leu-Lee,”

we entered pretty fully into the singular nature and construction of the written character of the Chinese language, and took occasion, atthe same time, to give a slight sketch of Chinese literature. Mr. Weston’s poem affords us the opportunity of saying a few words on that particular species of arrangement and choice of characters, which, by analogy, may be denominated Chinese poetry. We say, by analogy, because, strictly speaking, according to our received notions of poetry, the Chinese language can scarcely be said to admit of any. The compositions to which Europeans have attached the name of poetry, are distinguished by the Chinese under the character, shee, a compound of yen, a word, and shee, a temple—the words of the temple; by which they probably intend to signify, that these kinds of composition are of divine origin, or designed for sacred uses; or, as yen is also to sheak, the character may allude, perhaps, to the mode of sheaking in temples; poetry having originally constituted no inconsiderable

portion of publick instruction, as

well as religious worship, among eastern nations. In China, the little that is still practised of the latter, by the priests of Fo, consists wholly of poetry, aided by musick; of short sentences chaunted with an accompaniment of bells, drums, and songl'OuS StoneS.

There are two kinds of composition in the Chinese language, which may be brought under the head of poetry; the one written, the other oral; the former addressed solely to the eye, without regard to sound,

** The dragon with five claws is the symbol of imperial sway. Those painted on silks

and pottery must have only four claws. . . . .

Vol. v. 2 P

measure, or rhyme; the latter to the eye, or to the ear, or to both. The chief exccllence of painted or eye poetry, consists in the selection of such characters, as are either capable of conveying to the mind some agreeable allusion to ancient events, some figurative or metaphorical signification, or, such as, from their component parts, may, easily be traced in the history of the idea which they are employed to represent. Such characters, indeed, to a person deprived of sight, are so many dead letters; but, on the other hand, they are capable of conveying as much pleasure to the deaf and dumb, as to others in the full possession of their faculties. Although the excellence of eye poetry, whatever it may be, depends not in any degree either on the measure of syllables, or the consonance of sounds, yet it may possess both measure and rhyme; neither of them, however, is essential to it. To reach the sublime in composition, it is required, that every character should be an allegory, including some complete and perfect idea. Thus, instead of the plain and common character for the eyes, a poet would employ another signifying living fearls, or perhaps would call them the stars of the ..forehead; for the head he would probably say, the sanctuary of reason, &c. Other allusions are employed of more obscure signification; thus the fieaceful solitude of the sage is represented by a single character, composed of a shring of water and a fleach tree, in allusion to some Chinese worthy, who, flying from the persecution of his enemies, subsisted for some time on peaches and water. Thus, also, from a story recorded of some beautiful widow having disfigured her nose to avoid a second marriage, a gay widow is designated poetically, as a lady who will not cut off her nose; and sometimes, as a lady who will not scrufile to cut off her dead husband’s nose. it is not impossible that Voltaire,

being strongly infected with the Chinese mania, and well acquainted with the communications of the Jesuit missionaries, may have engrafted this figure upon the well known story of the Ephesian matron, when he sends Azora to her husband's tomb—“pour couper le nez à Zadig.” But having, in a former number, entered fully into the nature of compound Chinese characters, we deem it unnecessary to extend our observations now on this part of the subject. The second kind of Chinese poetry, that which is meant to be “sung or said,” has not only a regulated measure, but the verses sometimes rhyme to each other, though this may be considered rather as a circumstance of accident than the result of any settled rule. Indeed an oral language, consisting entirely, as that of China does, of meagre, paronymous monosyllables (from which many letters of our alphabet are excluded) whose terminations are limited either to the vowels, the liquid l, the n, or ng, can afford but little variety of sounds, and must sometimes unavoidably run into a jingle of rhyme; while, on the other hand, it would scarcely be possible to adjust the harmonical consonance of its syllables, by any settled rules. The Chinese, however, say, and probably with truth, that, in ancient times, their verses were short and frequently in rhyme; they are so, in fact, among all nations in the dawn of civilisation, With them, metre and rhyme, or both, afford the easiest and best means of fixing events in the memory. To give more interest to verses of this kind, they were recited in a tone different from that of common conversation. Even at this day, poetry and recitative are with the Chinese inseparable. The verses of the Shee-king, collected by Confucius more than 400 years before the Christian era, are repeated in musical cadences, and, in many of the editions, the tone or note

is affixed to each character, in order to show in what manner it ought to be enunciated. Without this tone, for the gratification of the ear, or a due regard to the composition of the characters, to please the eye, the spirit of Chinese poetry must entirely evaporate, and what remains exhibit only a succession of unintelligible monosyllabick sounds. This may be sufficiently illustrated, by writing the sounds of Chinese characters in the letters of our alphabet, which, in fact, is the only way left us, to exhibit a few specimens of Chinese oral poetry. In such a shape, it is almost unnecessary to add, it is not only stripped of all its embellishments, but exposed in a state of perfect nudity. The following is part of the re

cord of an eclipse of the sun, taken from the Shee-King: o

“Ché yue, tehé kiao

Chou ge sin-mao

Ge yeou ché tehé

Ye koung tehé toheou

Peiyué eul wei

Tsé gé eul wei

Kintsé shin min

Ye koung teho ngai.”

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

cording to one (who seems to have read his breviary to a good purpose) if it has not exactly the fire of Pindar, and the sublimity of Homer, it may at least be classed with the psalms of David . Another tells us that the Chinese poets study nature, and may, therefore, be compared with Boileau and Horace; and a third, with great naïveté, asserts, that none of those passages of Homer, wherein the sound is meant to be “ an echo to the sense,” are surpassed by tang-tang, as an imitation of the sound of the gong. One thing at least is certain; the study of Chinese poetry, by a European, is not likely to compensate the labour which he must necessarily bestow, to acquire even a very imperfect knowledge of the plainest compositions of this kind. Among these, the imperial poems of Kien. Lung are not to be classed, if we may credit the account which Pére Amiot has given of them; namely, that, after more than thirty years application to the study of the Chinese language, in which he wrote and conversed daily, he would have found it utterly impossible to put the “Praise of Moukden” into an intelligible shape, had he not also been conversant with the Mantchoo Tartar language, by which he was enabled to compare the corresponding passages. Yet this poem, as he calis it, has neither metre nor rhyme. The Ode on Tea, from the same imperial pen, is fit only, in our plebeian judgments, to occupy a place in the Almanack des Gourmands, or Mrs. Glass's Art of Cookery; and as neither of those valuable compilations possesses, the emperour's receipt for making tea, we shall insert a translation of this culinary ode:

“Set an old three-legged teapot over a slow fire; fill it with water of melted snow; boil it just as long as is necessary to turn fish white, or lobsters red; pour it on the leaves of choice in a cup of youé. Let it remain till the vapour subsides into a thin mist, floating on the surface. Drink this precious liquor at your leisure, and thus drive away the five causes of sorrow.”

If the merit of Kien-Lung's Moukden rested on the selection of its characters, and consequently was meant for the eye. His Miao-tsé is of a different kind, and puts in its claims to gratify the ear. This is sufficiently evident, from the regular measure in which it is composed, and still unore so from the melody to which it is set, and of which Mr. Weston has endeavoured to convey some idea by affixing the monosyllables sol, fa, inc, ut, &c. to the Chinese words in each stanza.

Musick being thus the invariable.

companion of what may strictly be called oral poetry; or, in other words, all measured sentences being meant to be recited in a peculiar tone and modulation of voice, it may not be deemed irrelevant to the subject in hand, if we take a concise view of the state of the musical art as practised in China; for it can scarcely be said that in this country, musick has yet taken the shape of science or system. Like that of the Greeks, it would appear rather, as the abbé Roussier has observed, to be the remaining fragments of some complete system, now no more, belonging to a people more ancient than either of them. The ingenious Baillie was pretty much of the same opinion with regard to the remains of astronomical and mathematical science discovered among the Hindoos. Indeed, throughout the whole peninsula of India, in China, the bordering regions of Tartary, and in all the inferiour nations of Asia, so many dazzling fragments of art and of science are every where scattered around, but so distorted and disjointed, or so awkwardly put together, as to leave little doubt that there existed, at some remote period, in some of those regions, a splendid and magnificent edifice, of which these detached masses are

the venerable ruins; but of which neither the site, nor the plan, nor the elevation has yet been discovered. History affords no light to clear up this interesting subject. There is not, in all Hindoostan, a single page that deserves, the name; and, although the Chinese boast of a regular and well authenticated series of annals carried back, in an uninterrupted succession, more than 2000 years before the Christian-era, yet they are silent, or unsatisfactory, as far as regards the rise and progress of the arts and sciences. ". But to return to Chinese musick. Their gamut, or scale of musical notes, is the same natural or diatonick scale as that of the Greeks, consisting of five whole notes and . two semitones. These they distinguish by so many characters; but they have neither lines nor spaces to assist in noting down musick, nor do they employ any marks or characters to denote the time, the key, the mode of expression, &c. In point of fact, their scale for instrumental musick, and the instruments themselves, are very imperfect, and the keys so inconsistent, wandering from flats to sharps, and the contrary, that the performers are usually obliged to be directed by a small bell or cymbal. While they are thus playing, a by-stander would say that they had not the least knowledge of semitones, and, indeed, doctor Burney was of opinion, that there were no semitones in the Chinese scale. The doctor, however, would have altered his opinion, if an opportunity had been offered him of hearing a Chinese sing; he would then find him exhibiting such a display of half and intermediate tones, brought out in so drawling and drowsy a manner, as to be perfectly intolerable. In their transitions to a fourth or fifth, instead of rising or falling, as we do, to the intermediate third, they sweep through all the in

tervening whole tones, half tones,

and even quarter tones.

« 前へ次へ »