« PreviousContinue »
THE CHINESE COLLECTION.
Fancy to yourself, standing by the wayside at Hyde Park Corner, within a bow shot of Apsleyhouse, a showy Chinese pagoda, of two stories, with green roofs, edged with vermilion, and supported by vermilion pillars, bearing on its front a hieroglyphical inscription, signifying “ten thousand Chinese things.” You enter the pagoda by a flight of steps to a vestibule, and then ascend a larger flight, after which, pursuing your course along the lobby, you soon find yourself in a goodly apartment of a novel kind, more than two hundred feet long, broad enough and high enough to form a most agreeable promenade.
Your attention is arrested by three richly gilt colossal and imposing idol figures, representing “the three precious Buddhas," or, “past, present, and to come.” Bewildered by the novelty, lightness, beauty, richness, and elegance of the numberless objects which meet your gaze, you sit down to compose yourself, anticipating, with restless pleasure, the rich treat that awaits you.
comes confusedly to your memory all that you know of China, not unmingled with
shame that you know so little, and recollect even that little so imperfectly. You have heard China called the “celestial empire,” and understand that it has many more than three hundred millions of inhabitants. You have marvelled at the strange figures painted on tea chests, and watched the nodding mandarins in the shop of the grocer. You have seen Chinese puzzles, and ivory toys, with drawings on rice paper : birds, and flowers, and representations of gathering the leaves from the tea plant. The names Whampoa, Macao, , Pekin, and Canton, are familiar to you.
You are not ignorant that a great wall was built by the people to keep out the Tartars; and that Confu- . cius was a fainous Chinese philosopher. You have seen a great deal in the newspapers about Hong merchants, war junks, and the taking of Chusan, Ningpo, and Chinhae, and have even read Barrow's China, and the accounts of Lord Macartney's and Lord Amherst's embassies. Having summoned all this information to your aid, together with what you have read of missionary efforts, you prepare, book in hand, to make the grand tour of the Chinese Collection.
It is a favourite plan with me, when gazing on a spectacle, before describing its details, to notice the effect of the whole. I like to know what impression is made by a first general glance, and to ask myself, What is it that I prominently see? and what is it that I particularly feel? Let me
try to give you my first general impression of this collection.
Imagine yourself to be iu St. George's Chapel, at Windsor, or rather, perhaps, in that of Ilenry vii., in Westminster Abbey, gazing on the elaborate roof, the painted windows, the carved stalls, and the pendant banners, that give a gloomy glory to that goodly temple. And now imagine that the wand of a magician has been waved, suddenly altering the character of the place, changing the elaborate roof into a fair ceiling, hung with ornaments of diversified colours; the painted
windows into costly screens; the ornamented stalls . into slabs, with Chinese inscriptions; and the
hanging banners into huge, highly decorated lanterns of white and green, and vermilion and gold; thus, at once, transforming solemn, sepulchral pomp and gloomy glory, into attractive beauty and lightsome gaiety. If you can fancy this, you will have before you something like the very scene on which I am now gazing.
Having made a few general inquiries of the proprietor of the Collection, who happens at the moment to be present, and taken a glance at the whole, I must now enter a little more into detail. The three large idols are imposing things to gaze on, being richly gilt with the finest leaf gold; but when the thought that three hundred and sixty millions of people, bowing down to such things, comes across the mind, “how is the gold become
dim! how is the most fine gold changed !” The large and elegant screens, at either end of the apartment, the profusion of splendid lanterns, with the abundance of costly porcelain, impart a character as pleasing as it is uncommon.
The grave-looking mandarin of the first class, in his state robes, stiff with embroidery, and enormous head necklace; the other mandarins and secretary, are altogether unlike what we see among us. They appear to be engaged in sober trifling, and leave not on the mind a very favourable impression of their intellect and influence; but this, perhaps, is mainly owing to the apparent apathy, occasioned by want of motion, and the little expression in the figures. The maxim conveyed in the silk scroll on the wall is very appropriate : "A nation depends on faithful ministers for its tranquillity."
The mandarins are the real nobility, or aristocracy, of China ; for the princes, relations of the emperor, have little influence. The number of mandarins on the civil list of the empire is not less than fourteen thousand. The nominal rank of mandarin may be bought; and one of the Hong merchants is said to have purchased his at the price of one hundred thousand dollars.
The priest of Foh, or Buddhu, in his yellow canonicals, the priest of Taou, in full dress, with the gentleman, an odd-looking one, certainly, in mourning of coarse sackcloth, are not likely to be
passed by unheeded ; neither will the Chinese soldier, in huge blue nankeen trowsers, nor the Tartar archer, be altogether disregarded.
Judging by externals, the Chinese empire must have a paternal government ; for the emperor is called the father of the nation ; the viceroy is the father of his satrapy, or district ; the mandarin is the father of the city he governs ; the military officer who commands, is the father of his soldiers; and when an emperor dies, his hundreds of millions of subjects mourn for him, just as children do for a deceased parent. The principal religion of China is Buddhism, or Boodhism. No sabbath is observed by the Chinese. Not fewer than fifteen hundred temples are dedicated to Confucius, and more than sixty thousand pigs and rabbits are sacrificed every year to his memory. The standing army of the “ celestial empire” has been stated at seven hundred thousand men.
The literary coterie, in their summer dresses, with a mandarin of the fourth class, in his chocolate habit, and cap with red fringe; the Chinese ladies of rank, using the fan, preparing to smoke, and playing the guitar ; and the mother and boy of the middle class, afford striking contrasts in occupation and dress. According to our European impressions of beauty, the Chinese ladies, with all their rouge and flowers, their “ tiny feet,” “ willow waists,” and eyes like “silver seas,” are far from being beautiful ; yet if it be