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Chinese than that of medicine, yet there is none in which their knowledge is so contemptible. There is not a physician among them who knows anything of the internal structure of the human body. They determine the nature of all diseases by feeling the pulse, and the most usual cure for any topical affection is searing the parts affected with a hot iron. The foolish belief of an elixir vitæ is predominant in China, and is a great object of the researches of their physicians.
The abilities of the Chinese in the arts have been no less vaunted than their progress in the sciences; and we are assured by their panegyrists, that what have been esteemed the most important discoveries of the moderns, have been possessed by them from time immemorial. "The know
ledge of gunpowder," says M. de Voltaire, "they have possessed beyond all memory. They invented the art of printing in the time of Julius Cæsar; and glass they have manufactured for above two thousand years." If it is asked, What is the authority for all these assertions? the answer isThe Chinese Annals. If it is inquired, How these annals are authenticated? the answer isBy astronomical observations. What is the force of this ultimate proof we have already seen. Yet, on the supposition of these facts being true, perhaps the severest satire on the knowledge of the Chinese in the arts is to allow that they have possessed these discoveries from time immemorial, and then to inquire to what degree of perfection they have carried them. The discovery of gunpowder, either in Europe or in China, must have been accidental. The Europeans, immediately upon
this discovery, improved it to the most astonishing purposes, and produced with it the most powerful effects. The Chinese are said to have possessed this discovery for thousands of years-from time immemorial-yet could find no other use for it than to compose artificial fireworks. The use of fire-arms the Chinese learned from the Portuguese, and the form of their muskets is at this day precisely the same that it was in Europe three hundred years ago.
The art of printing is an invention little more than three centuries old in Europe, yet some of those books, which were printed within twenty years of the discovery, display a degree of beauty and accuracy little inferior to the best specimens of modern typography. The Chinese are said to have possessed the knowledge of printing from the time of Julius Cæsar; but at this day they know not the use of moveable types; they print from blocks of wood, in which the characters are cut in the manner of sculpture. In this way the materials of a very small book are large enough to occupy a house; and such is the length of time requisite for so laborious a work as the printing of a book, that it seldom happens that the author of a moderate volume lives to see its publication.
The polarity of the loadstone is not a very ancient discovery in Europe; we find it but obscurely hinted at in some of the works of the twelfth century, yet it was not long known before it was applied to the noblest and most important purposes; and navigation undergoing at once the most rapid improvement, an intercourse began to be established between the remotest quarters of
the globe. Upon the first visits of the Portuguese and Spaniards to China, this vain and superficial people, whose character it is to maintain a stupid indifference to all foreign improvements, and either to undervalue them or pretend that they are already acquainted with them, informed the Europeans that they were no strangers to the compass, but that they found no use for it.
Glass the Chinese are said have manufactured for two thousand years; and perhaps the assertion, though incapable of proof, may be true, as it is difficult to suppose that the same people who have long practised the making of porcelain should have been ignorant of the manufacture of glass; but one fact is certain, it was not till the seventeenth century that they attained the art of making it transparent, and even at this day it is in that respect infinitely inferior to that which is made in Europe.
There is great reason to presume that the Chinese have long practised the art of painting; yet, instead of a liberal art, it has ever been with them a mere mechanic drudgery. Their paintings, with a splendour of colouring, and the most minute accuracy of pencilling, have neither grace, beauty, nor justness of proportion. They have not the smallest notion of perspective. Instead of a gracefulness of attitude, the taste of the Chinese painter delights itself with the expression of distortion and deformity. Let us here remark the contrast between these Asiatics and the Grecian artists. In the images of the gods, which it is to be presumed men would always choose to picture according to their most exalted ideas of beauty
and majesty, the Greeks have given a character and expression noble almost beyond imagination. The idols of the Chinese are deformed, hideous, and disgusting beyond measure.
The architecture of the Chinese has the quality of lightness united with strength, and a great deal of variety; but it is possessed neither of the elegance and beauty of the Grecian, nor of the majesty of the Gothic.
Among the most remarkable of the works of architecture in China is the great wall built to protect the empire against the inroads of the Tartars. It extends five hundred leagues, and is fortyfive feet in height and eighteen in thickness—a most singular monument both of human industry and of human folly. The Tartars, against whom it was meant as a defence, found China equally accessible as before its formation. They were not at pains to attack and make a breach in this rampart, which, from the impossibility of defending such a stretch of fortification, must have been exceedingly easy-they had only to travel a little to the eastward, to about forty degrees of latitude, where China was totally defenceless. Marco Polo, the Venetian, went, with a troop of Tartars, to Pekin, in the thirteenth century, and returned into Italy, where he died, without ever having heard mention of this great wall; which circumstance has even induced a suspicion that this immense structure has been built since his time*.
Among the few arts which the Chinese must
*This suspicion, however, is without foundation. It is known, with considerable certainty, that the wall of China was
be allowed to have carried to a high pitch of excellence is that of gardening. That beautiful method of embellishing or adorning, without confining or destroying nature, which is but very lately introduced into the gardens of England, was certainly borrowed from the practice of the Chinese. Even to the end of the seventeenth century, there prevailed in our gardens a formal and insipid regularity; and in the gardens of the continent of France, of Italy, and of Holland, there was not till very lately the smallest trace of that simple and picturesque beauty, which results from the natural diversity of hill and dale, or the judicious intermixture of lawn, of shade, of water, and of rock; yet the Chinese have long understood this happy embellishment of nature. If we may believe Sir William Chambers, who has written on this subject a very ingenious and amusing dissertation, the gardening of the Chinese is a science which proposes for its object, not only to amuse the eye, but to interest the passions.
Another art which the Europeans must not only allow the Chinese to have invented, but to
built in the third century before the Christian era.--Duhalde, tome ii. p. 45; De Guignes, tome ii. p. 59; Gibbon's Decline and Fall, &c., chap. xxvi. Marco Polo did not pass through Tartary to Pekin; but after having followed the usual track of the caravans as far to the eastward from Europe as Samarcand and Cashgar, he bent his course to the south-east, across the Ganges, to Bengal, and keeping to the southward of the Thibet mountains, reached the Chinese province of Shensee, passing thence to the capital, without interfering with the line of the great wall.-Staunton's Account of the Embassy to China, 1793, vol. ii. p. 185.