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The Chinese airs are almost invariably sung in slow movements, generally in a plaintive and querulous tone, and are mostly accompanied with a guittar of four strings. Doctor Burney imagines that these melodies bear a strong analogy to the old Scottish tunes; indeed he considers their whole scale to be Scottish; and, though he does not say in express terms, that either of those nations is indebted to ancient Greece for its melody, however strong the resemblance in all three; yet, contrary to the opinion of the abbé Roussier, he infers, that they ought all to be considered as original and natural musick. The Chinese are wholly ignorant of counterpoint or playing in parts; sometimes, indeed, an instrument will take the upper or lower octave, which gives an appearance of harmony; but they have no feeling of that union of parts, which, while each keeps its own and proper melody, are so blended together as to produce one whole and perfect concord. In short, the Chinese seem utterly incapable of producing any thing that deserves the name of musick. The studied gravity of their manners, and their unsocial habits, are most unfavourable to the cultivation of this elegant art, which cannot be expected to arrive, even at mediocrity, among a people so little acquainted with the muses, a people whom the loves, and the graces have not yet condescended to WIS1t. Yet, so excessively conceited are the Chinese in their opinions, respecting their own excellence, that they affect to ascribe, to the powers of their numbers, and to their musick, effects not less extraordinary than those said to have been produced by the lyres of Orpheus and Amphion. The Book of Odes frequently inculcates the doctrine, that, so long as the institutes of the empire continue to be respected, and musick to be cultivated, China will
remain a mighty and invincible nation. “Would you conquer your enemies,” says one of the emperour's, “diffuse among them tender songs, set to voluptuous melodies, which will soften their hearts and enervate their bodies; after this, send them pienty of women, and your conquest will be complete.” This is precisely Voltaire's plan for subduing the Caraibs of St. Vincent; a plan which he probably derived from the passage we have quoted; for he has few claims to originality, or invention. In the same strain of extravagance Père Amiot has composed a large quarto volume, on the excellence of Chinese musick; though it appears, by his own confession, that he knew very little about the matter, “In order,” he says, “to obtain the true dimensions of every tone, and the exact measure of the intervals which constitute them, they have submitted to the most painful operations of geometry, to calculations the most tedious and disgusting in the science of numbers;” not one word of which, we are convinced, has the least foundation in truth. It is remarkable that, in this low state of poetry and musick, there should be found a singular coincidence in the construction and conduct of the Chinese drama and the Italian opera. In both, the dialogue is delivered in a sort of whining and querulous recitative, not exactly monotonous, though seldom rising or sinking through the interval of a third from the general tone. The Chinese recitative is also accompanied with instrumental musick, and the pauses are filled up with a most horrible crash of gongs, drums, trumpets, rattles, and cymbals, a practice, which, we are sorry to say, seems of late years to have been followed by many European composers. In the Chinese drama, too, the more violent passions are invariably recited in song; and the catastrophe generally is the last paroxysm of a despairing lover, or the nervous agitation of a criminal going to the gallows. Our knowledge, however, of the real state of the Chinese stage is very imperfect. Of their select pieces, said to be chiefly the production of the 14th century, and consisting of one hundred historical plays, one only has made its appearance in a European dress, and the fidelity of the translation is, with reason, more than suspected. Those wretched performances, usually exhibited before Europeans at Canton, may probably be considered by this conceited people as suited to the taste and capacity of the audience. Any degree of impertinence may be expected from a people who have the arrogance to proclaim the most civilized nations of the earth possessed only of one eye, while heaven in its bounty has furnished the Chinese with two, and left the rest of the world in total darkness. The language of these scenick representations is, in general, grossly indecent, and it is always set off, in the action, by gestures so appropriate, that even the rough and unpolished sailor has sometimes been compelled to leave the theatre in disgust. After what we have stated on the subject of Chinese musick, we may be allowed to express our doubts as to the legitimacy of the title which Mr. Weston has thought proper to place at the head of his poem. He calls it “.4 Choral Song of Harmony,” but as their musick does not admit of that union of sounds which constitutes harmony, they consequently cannot have any such word to express it in their language. It is rather a simple song of melody, consisting of thirty stanzas, which may be considered as a succession of bulletins, composed and set to musick by Kien-Lung, probably to beguile the time, during the progress of a five year's campaign. Each stanza has four columns of seven characters or syllables, making
in the whole 840 characters. Not having the text before us, we are unable to say what number of different characters it may contain, but we scruple not to give our opinion, that if they amount to 100, Mr. Weston has taken too much trouble in turning over the leaves of his Chinese dictionary that number of times, in order to pick out the doubtful sense, and, after all, to adopt perhaps a different one from that in which Kien-Lung employed them. While we applaud that indefatigable pursuit of knowledge which actuates Mr. Weston, and the fruits of which are apparent in the catalogue of his works, inserted at the end of this little volume, we cannot but earnestly repeat our advice to him, by all means to abandon Chinese poetry, we had almost said Chinese literature, but for the unwillingness we feel to repress the laudable curiosity of so venerable a tyro. We shall, therefore, suggest that there is not wanting in this country a variety of Chinese books in prose, the contents of which would be acceptable, if rendered into our language; and it is a new field, whose cultivation would, we will venture to say, amply compensate all the labour and attention which he might be required to bestow upon it.
The subject of Kien-Lung's poem is, “ The Conquest of the Miaotsä,” or the mountaineers who border on the western provinces of China, particularly on those of Setehuen and Koei-tcheou, which borders, however, by a trifling geographical errour, occasioned, it would seem, by a laudable desire to correct a supposed mistake of sir George Staunton [note, p. 4] Mr. Weston has unluckily placed in “ Hou-nan, in the very heart of China.” The miao-fee mentioned by sir George Staunton were a set of rebellious subjects in Hou-man; the Miao-tsä were an independent horde on the borders of China; so little reliance is to be placed on Chinese
monosyllables written in any of the European letters. The history of these hordes of independent people is briefly as follows: About the beginning of the reign of Kien-Lung the Miao-tsä had occasioned very serious alarm to the neighbouring provinces by their incursions and depredations. A large army was, in consequence, sent against them; but the Chinese general was baffled in all his attempts to subdue them, ultimately defeated, and, as a matter of course, recalled to the capital, where he lost his head. The of. ficer who succeeded to the command, instead of carrying on a destructive war with these hardy mountaineers, sent presents to their chiefs, and thus contrived to keep them in order, while the court of Pekin was easily persuaded that the Miao-tse had submitted to the arms of the emperour, and acknowledged his authority. This state of tranquillity, however, was but of short duration. These restless tribes once more sallied forth, and a favourite general, at the head of 120,000 men, was sent to reduce them to submis
sion. Ignorant, however, of the nature of the country, as well as of the temper of the enemy, he pushed through the narrow defiles of the mountains, and so entangled his army among the woods and fastnesses, that the greater part of it was either cut off by the natives, or perished for want of supplies. At length, however, a general was selected, who, after a five years’ campaign, was fortunate enough to succeed in reducing the tribe Miao-tsä, bordering on Se-tchuen, to do homage to the emperour of China; and this event is the ground work of the “Imperial Poem by KienLung, entitled, a Choral Song of Harmony for the first Part of the Spring.”
One of the thirty stanzas (and we shall take the first of them) will be quite sufficient for us to transcribe as a specimen of Kien-Lung’s poetical powers, and of Mr. Weston's metaphrastick translation, which, by the way, is the only sort of translation that can convey a just idea of the original: o
** JVierz se tehong tSeoo ge to hoo shee Twenty four middle 8th month night 1st to 3d watch time JMou-lan ing lee tee hong kee Mou-lan camp banner letter brought red flag with two dragons Pen lai poo 7m.0 wouen koon patt Principal made strange how could I believe army reward Shoo powei kin siau voaem Kien-tehée Proclaim early morning night like see.”
To which stanza, with the help of a few “winged words,” and other auxiliaries, Mr. Weston has contrived to give the following meaning:
“It was on the twenty fourth of the eighth moon, between the second and third watch, in the middle of the night, in the camp of JMou-lan, that they came to tell me of the arrival of a messenger from the army with a red flag. How could I believe that this night I should see the certain sign of victory, and have so early an occasion of proclaiming the glory and reward of my army.”
Our readers will not thank us for
like wild geese before them,” [p. 44] his troops are to receive the rewards of their toils; “ the robe of peace with its scaly dragons of cerulean hue,” is assigned to the general; and “baldricks, that stream like the belt of the heavens,” are to be distributed among his officers. In a verbal translation from a language like that of China, it would be idle to look for elegance of expression, strength of diction, or powers of versification; a language so remarkably scanty in words cannot possess any of these qualities; but it is sufficiently copious to express both feeling and sentiment, and very capable of conveying, by its compound characters, new and striking images; yet, if Mr. Weston's translation be correct, as we make no doubt it is, nothing of the kind appears in the whole poem. It is true the emperour utters something like a moral feeling, where he says, “ that he has now sent the ox to graze, and the horse to his stable, as it was ever his pure intention,” [p. 44.] At the same time, this apparent mildness of disposition is destroyed by the ferocious delight he seems to anticipate in the execution of the rebel, or rather hostile chiefs, who, under promise of pardon, had been allured to Pekin [p. 48.] The few images which he introduces, and the comparisons he makes use of, bear no stamp of an imperial origin. In his Ode on Tea, we have heard him talk of boiling water long enough to turn lobsters red; here he says, “ the blast of his artillery choaked up the embrazures of their fortresses, as the breath of a fish is stopped when thrown into a cauldron of boiling water” [p.33] In fact, Kien-Lung, like the eating heroes of the Iliad, seems to have had a taste of culinary matters, and could probably have served up a fiershetual chine as dexterously as Agamemnon himself. In another place he tells us that the enemy, “like flies of a larger size, preys upon men.” [p.
49] We are not aware that any of our travellers have noticed these anthropophagous flies. Mr. Weston, perhaps, may have made some little mistake, and given the literal for the metaphorical sense. It is possible, however, that although these similies savour a little of the vulgar to us, they may, to a native, partake of the sublime and beautiful. They are at least imperial, and that consideration is quite enough to give them currency among the Chinese.
We would just hint to Mr. Weston, that it is by no means necessary a book on a particular subject should be eked out with “ shreds and patches” which have no relation whatever to it. We would not have recommended, for instance, that an imperial poem on a military campaign, should be prefaced with a shopkeeper's card, stating the price of his silks, nor with a translation of the common inscription on the small tablets of China ink. Nor can we conceive that his book would have suffered materially had he omitted the appendix of one page, purporting to give a list of “certain words in the Euroflean languages that bear an accidental resemblance to the names of Chinese characters, both in sound and sense;” more especially as out of the twelve words in the Euroflean languages of which it is composed, five of them are stated to be Persian and Arabick. We are also much at a loss to discover, under another part of the appendix, entitled: “A specimen of modern Chinese characters that have some likeness to the things they stand for,” what possible degree of similitude
there can exist between the charac
ter Kien (compounded of the character woman thrice repeated) and its signification adultery, and holding communication with the enemy. This, it may be recollected, is one of those compound characters, concerning which, in our review of the “penal code,” we confessed our inability to trace the connexion between the component parts of the character and its signification. Mr. Weston, however, finds no difficulty, but boldly asserts “ that kien, three women [neul , means adultery, and communication with the enemy; because he who has to do with three women, to one of whom he is married, communicates with the enemies of his wife.” This explanation may, perhaps, be satisfactory to Mr. Weston, though it is rather beyond our comprehension. Perhaps, however, it may be as he says in Furope, but “they order these things better” in Asia. In this delightful region of the world, where there is no such thing as love, and consequently none of the tormenting pangs of jealousy, the first, or equal wife, contrives to be comfortable enough with all the inferiour wives whom her good husband may think
proper to introduce into his household establishment. The Chinese, indeed, have a common maxim, that “three wives are more easily managed than two. We would just observe, that in this list of modern characters, we verily believe, not one of them to be less than two thousand years old; many of them probably date their origin from the foundation of the empire. The signature of Confucius, for instance, which is one of them, must have been in use since the fifth century before the Christian era. We notice these little lapses and inconsistencies merely as the effect of carelessness and hasty composition; which, however, both for the sake of the reputation of the author, as well as for the prevention of erroneous impressions on the reader, should be avoided as much as possible.
FROM THE EDINBURGH REVIEW.
A Comparative View of the Plans of Education, as detailed in the Publications of Dr. Bell and Mr. Lancaster. The Second Edition. With Remarks on Dr. Bell’s “Madras School;” and Hints to the Managers and Committees of Charity and Sunday Schools, on the practicability of extending such Institutions upon Mr. Lancaster’s Plan. By
Joseph Fox. 8vo. pp. 76. London. 1809."
Instructions for forming and conducting a Society for the Education of the Children of the labouring Classes of the People, according to the general Principles of the Lancastrian or British Plan. Second Edition, with considerable Additions. 8vo. pp.
30. London. 1810.*
The New School; being an Attempt to illustrate its Principles, Details, and Advantages. By Sir Thomas Bernard, Bart. Third Edition. 8vo, pp. 111. London. 1810.t
THESE tracts relate to one of the most interesting and momentous subjects which have ever attracted the notice of those whose stations or whose virtues, give them an influence over the lot of their fellow creatures. A method has been devised, and, after various improve
ments, seems now to be brought very near to perfection, by which the blessings of education may be extended to persons in the lower ranks of society, at a price within the reach of all but the poorest, and to them also, with a very moderate assistance from their happier brethren; by which the
* The two first mentioned works are printed at Mr. Lancaster’s press; an establishment, the profits of which are devoted to the promotion of his system.
f This tract is published for and by the Society for bettering the condition of the
poor; of which Mr. (now sir T.) Bernard has long been a most active and distinguish
Vol. v. 2 P