A CONVERSATION WITH A CHINESE
In the year 1723, there was a Chinese in Holland,
who was both a learned man and a merchant, two
things that ought by no means to be incompatible;
but which, thanks to the profound respect that
is shown to money, and the little regard that
the human species pay to merit, have become so
This Chinese, who spoke a little Dutch, happened
to be in a bookseller's shop at the same time
that some literati were assembled there. He
asked for a book; they offered him Universal History,
badly translated. At the title Universal History --
"How pleased am I," cried the Oriental, "to
have met with this book. I shall now see what
is said of our great empire; of a nation that
has subsisted for upwards of fifty thousand
years; of that long dynasty of emperors who
have governed us for such a number of ages.
I shall see what these Europeans think of
the religion of our literati, and of that
pure and simple worship we pay to the Supreme
Being. What a pleasure will it be for me to
find how they speak of our arts, many of
which are of a more ancient date with us
than the eras of all the kingdoms of Europe!
I fancy the author will be greatly mistaken
in relation to the war we had about twenty-two
thousand five hundred and fifty-two years
ago, with the martial people of Tonquin
and Japan, as well as the solemn embassy
that the powerful emperor of Mogulitian sent
to request a body of laws from us in the
year of the world 500000000000079123450000."
"Lord bless you," said one of the literati,
"there is hardly any mention made of that
nation in this world. The only nation considered
is that marvelous people, the Jews."
"The Jews!" said the Chinese, "those people
then must be masters of three parts of the
globe at least."
"They hope to be so some day," answered the
other; "but at present they are those pedlars
you see going about here with toys and knicknacks,
and who sometimes do us the honor to clip our
gold and silver."
"Surely you are not serious," exclaimed the
Chinese. "Could those people ever have been
in possession of a vast empire?"
Here I joined in the conversation, and told
him that for a few years they were in possession
of a small country to themselves; but that we
were not to judge of a people from the extent
of their dominions, any more than of a man by
"But does not this book take notice of some
other nations?" demanded the man of letters.
"Undoubtedly," replied a learned gentleman who
stood at my elbow; "it treats largely of a
small country about sixty leagues wide, called
Egypt, in which it is said that there is a lake
of one hundred and fifty leagues in circumference,
made by the hands of man."
"My God!" exclaimed the Chinese, "a lake of
one hundred and fifty leagues in circumference
within a spot of ground only sixty leagues wide!
This is very curious!"
"The inhabitants of that country," continued
the doctor, "were all sages."
"What happy times were those!" cried the Chinese;
"but is that all?"
"No," replied the other, "there is mention made
of those famous people the Greeks."
"Greeks! Greeks!" said the Asiatic, "who are
"Why," replied the philosopher, "they were
masters of a little province, about the two
hundredth part as large as China, but whose
fame spread over the whole world."
"Indeed!" said the Chinese, with an air of
openness and ingenuousness; "I declare I never
heard the least mention of these people, either
in the Mogul's country, in Japan, or in Great
"Oh, the barbarian! the ignorant creature!" cried
out our sage very politely. "Why then, I suppose
you know nothing of Epaminondas the Theban, nor
of the Pierian Heaven, nor the names of Achilles's
two horses, nor of Silenus's ass? You have never
heard speak of Jupiter, nor of Diogenes, nor of
Lais, nor of Cybele, nor of -- "
"I am very much afraid," said the learned Oriental,
interrupting him, "that you know nothing of
that eternally memorable adventure of the famous
Xixofon Concochigramki, nor of the masteries of
the great Fi-psi-hi-hi! But pray tell me what
other unknown things does this Universal History
Upon this my learned neighbor harangued for a
quarter of an hour together about the Roman
republic, and when he came to Julius Caesar the
Chinese stopped him, and very gravely said:
"I think I have heard of him, was he not a Turk?"
"How!" cried our sage in a fury, "don't you so
much as know the difference between Pagans,
Christians, and Mahometans? Did you never hear
of Constantine? Do you know nothing of the
history of the popes?"
"We have heard something confusedly of one
Mahomet," replied the Asiatic.
"It is surely impossible," said the other, "but
that you must have heard at least of Luther,
Zuinglius, Bellarmin, and Oecolampadius."
"I shall never remember all those names," said
the Chinese, and so saying he quitted the shop,
and went to sell a large quantity of Pekoa tea,
and fine calico, and then after purchasing what
merchandise he required, set sail for his own
country, adoring Tien, and recommending
himself to Confucius.
As to myself, the conversation I had been witness
to plainly discovered to me the nature of vain
glory; and I could not forbear exclaiming:
"Since Caesar and Jupiter are names unknown to
the finest, most ancient, most extensive, most
populous, and most civilized kingdom in the
universe, it becomes ye well, O ye rulers of
petty states! ye pulpit orators of a narrow
parish, or a little town! ye doctors of Salamanca,
or of Bourges! ye trifling authors, and ye
heavy commentators! -- it becomes you well,
indeed, to aspire to fame and immortality."