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any other people, if we ignore what they regard as splendid master pieces of literature.
“But what do I care whether the Master would or would not sit on the mat when it was not straight, or whether he was or was not fond of ginger, or whether (as in Bret Harte's version of the Confucian Analects) he once went in when it rained? The Doctrine of the Mean, too, on a near view, appears to be compounded, although in somewhat unequal proportions, of the Inconsequential, the Incomprehensible, and the Preposterous. What do I care for the Mean? Furthermore, (unless the Ch'un Chiu is to be accepted as an ideal History-as per the dictum of Mr. Samuel Johnson [Oriental Religions—China-Chapter on History)—what is it but a record, lifeless and wearisome, in the narrative style of 'Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Reuben,' resembling the tale of the plunder of the Egyptian granary: ‘And then another pigeon took out another grain, and then another pigeon took out another grain, a. t. a. p. t. o. a. g.,' and so on. Also that Peach Tree, which is forever waving at us from the Book of Odes-—it is a Fatigue and an Impertinence. And the Book of Changes! Let a note of exclamation stand in place of a predicate."
What you say, kind friend, may for ought we know, have within it some grains of sense-it is not for us to say how much. Still, granting that culinary details as to ginger, and bed-room gossip about mats, are not to your taste, that the History is jejune, the Changes a
continent of mud,' the unattainable Mean, and the flickering Peach Tree alike uninteresting-is it not necessary to ascertain these facts at first hand, that we may be said really to know them at all? And if, in the process of verification, some of the alleged facts should prove to be not so wholly unquestionable as we had supposed, we shall be the gainers by the difference. At all events, to understand the Chinese, we must first take our stand at the Chinese point of view. This, at least, is the way in which the Sinologues-whose chief joy it is said to be to bring forth some fresh decoctions of old Chinese roots, who have learned everything and forgotten nothing, the terror and the despair of everyone but Sinologues, and not infrequently the “pet aversion" of one another, this is the way in which they will answer you. After all, the most convincing motive for patient study of the Chinese classics is not that we may dig thence the pure gold which the Chinese suppose to be there embedded-much of which, however, to us appears only as oroide, or brass, or pewter, or even wood, hay, and stubble, but that we may, if possible, definitely ascertain what it is that the Chinese esteem pure gold. The end in view is not what
the classics may contain for us, but the knowledge of what they contain for the Chinese.
The Proverbs and Common Sayings of the Chinese, are regarded by many students of the language, with a species of good-natured contempt. They would no more waste their time in the investigation of such objects, than they would devote a summer to catching a hogshead of angle-worms, or baking a winter's supply of mud-pies. This view may be due in part to an inaccurate idea of what is connoted in the words "Chinese Proverbs and Common Sayings," and in part to the absence of any idea whatever on the subject. The Chinese language is a wide field-far too wide for any one man-and there is much of which any single individual will be, and must be, forever ignorant. The same considerations, however, which lead to the study of the Classics with a view to a comprehension of their effect on the Chinese mind, must inevitably conduct us by a similar process to an examination of the Chinese proverbial philosophy. Not more sure is it that a certain aspect of the Chinese mind is represented in the Classical writings, than that other, and polyhedral aspects of the same mind are represented in their popular proverbs. Of no people, perhaps, is this more emphatically true than of the Chinese. To the strong bias toward proverbial expression common in all Oriental lands, the Chinese add certain special characteristics of their own. The nature of their language, especially its capacity for epigram and antithesis, the wonderful body of ancient literature which has preserved and unified the written character and idiom, the vast stretches of history through which the nation has flourished, its present extent and comparative homogeneity-these peculiarities of China give to its proverbial sayings an interest and importance which is unique.
In his volume On the Lessons of Proverbs, Archbishop Trench has well vindicated their importance, in words which deserve considerate attention :
"The fact that they please the people, and have pleased them for ages-that they possess so vigorous a principle of life as to have maintained their ground, ever new and ever young, through all the centuries of a nation's existence-nay, that many of them have pleased not one nation only, but many, so that they have made themselves a home in the most different lands-and further, that they have, not a few of them, come down to us from remotest antiquity, borne safely upon the waters of that great stream of time, which has swallowed so much beneath its wavesall this, I think, may well make us pause should we be tempted to turn away from them with anything of indifference or disdain.
"And then, further, there is this to be considered, that some of the greatest poets, the profoundest philosophers, the most learned scholars, the most genial writers in every kind, have delighted in them, have made large and frequent use of them, have bestowed infinite labor on the
gathering and elucidating of them. In a fastidious age, indeed, and one of false refinement, they may go nearly or quite out of use among the socalled upper classes. No gentleman, says Lord Chesterfield, or No man of fashion,' as I think is his exact word, 'ever uses a proverb.' And with how fine a touch of nature Shakspeare makes Coriolanus, the man who with all his greatness is entirely devoid of all sympathy for the people, to utter his scorn of them in scorn of their proverbs, and of their frequent employment of these:
"But that they have always been dear to the true intellectual aristocracy of a nation, there is abundant evidence to prove. Take but these three names in evidence, which, though few, are in themselves a host. Aristotle made a collection of proverbs; nor did he count that he was herein doing aught unworthy of his great reputation; however some of his adversaries may have made this a charge against him. He is said to have been the first who did so, though many afterwards followed in the same path. Shakspeare loves them so well, that besides often citing them, and innumerable covert allusions, rapid side glances at them, which we are in danger of missing unless at home in the proverbs of England, several of his plays, as Measure for Measure,' All's well that ends well,' have popular proverbs for their titles. And Cervantes, a name only inferior to Shakspeare, has not left us in doubt in respect of the affection with which he regarded them. Every reader of Don Quixote' will remember his squire, who sometimes can not open his mouth but there drop from it almost as many proverbs as words. I might name others who held the proverb in honor-men who, though they may not attain to these first three, are yet deservedly accounted great; as Plantus, the most genial of Latin poets; Rabelais, and Montaigue, the two most original of French authors; and how often Fuller, whom Coleridge has styled the wittiest of writers, justifies this praise in his witty employment of some old proverb; nor can any thoroughly understand and enjoy 'Hudibras,' no one but will miss a multitude of its keenest allusions, who is not thoroughly familiar with the proverbial literature of England."
What is a Chinese proverb? The Serpent knows his own hole' (EBˆNEB) therefore let us interrogate the wise Serpent. Even in proposing the question to a Chinese whose education might appear to fit him to give an intelligent reply, we are met by an uncertainty as to what to term that in regard to which we inquire. By a happy inspiration we are reminded of a Book of Proverbs, and upon investigation, it is ascertained that its translators, called the sayings of Solomon chen-yen (), that is, "warning admonitions," or "maxims." Perhaps there were never two individuals to whom the English tongue was idiomatic, who uttered so vast a number of shrewd maxims as William Penn and Benjamin Franklin. Yet but a very small percentage of the wise sayings even of Poor Richard, can fairly be termed English proverbs, and of that small percentage many were
probably only caught up and adapted by Franklin, like worn out currency reminted. Neither in English nor in Chinese does a Maxim and a Proverb necessarily connote the same thing.
The character yen () seems to be about what is required, and so indeed it would be, provided the Chinese would only employ it. It is not however colloquial, and will not, therefore, serve our turn.
The expression su-hua (), with which the Chinese are apparently content, means "Common Talk." How can any one seriously demand of a Chinese teacher a definition of "Common Talk ?" Our embrassment is not much diminished, if we vary the phrase to su-yü () and translate it "Common Sayings." The comprehensiveness of any term of this nature, is far too great for successful definition, and it is a definition of which we are in quest. The inherent difficulty in securing it is two-fold. In the first place, the Chinese language embraces within itself a great variety of what, for lack of a more suitable term, may be denominated "styles," from the high classical, to the rude village patois-from the lofty cedar of Lebanon with its head in the clouds, to the hyssop that springeth out of the lowly wall; or, to vary the figure, from the granite boulder upon the summit of the Andes, to the mixed alluvial deposit in the bed of the Amazon. And as the alluvial deposit may contain within itself some detritus of what was once solid granite, so the colloquial dialects may have here and there incorporated some fragments of the elevated and literary style.
The currency of Great Britain consists of farthings, pence, shillings and pounds sterling. All these are rightly called currency since they are in a perpetual motion throughout the island. The little street sweeper of London, who sleeps in an ash-barrel, and is constantly ordered by the metropolitan policeman to "move on," accomplishes all his limited transactions by the use of pennies. Of the existence of shilling pieces he is perfectly aware, but he seldom lays his fingers upon one. The poor South Warwickshire laborer never handles more than a few shillings at a time. Farthings, pence and shillings bound. his financial horizon, and he has perhaps never seen a guinea in his life. To the great Liverpool merchant too, shillings and pence are indispensable, yet when it comes to the actual transfer of his money, it is not pence and shillings that do the work, but £500 notes of the Bank of England. This analogy may serve as an inadequate illustration of the various styles of the Chinese language. The great banknotes represent the literary and classical (), shillings and pence the ordinary dialect-mandarin colloquial, or whatever it may be— while farthings stand for the local patois (±). Now that which is not literary is su, common or colloquial, in contradistinction to the
classical. But when it happens that the classical becomes also popularly current, what are we to call that? It is not su, for it is classical; yet it is su for it is common. No Chinese, however, would for an instant admit that anything classical can be "common or unclean." Here is our first stumbling-block, and it is one of nomenclature. In the second place, the Chinese themselves do not recognize a distinct class of expressions corresponding to what in English we designate as proverbs. By this is meant that when a Chinese gives to what we should call a "Proverb" a generic name su-hua, it is too general, and when he gives a specific name it is too particular. Unaccustomed to generalization, the general and the particular occupy no such relations to each other in the Chinese mind as in ours. Is this a Proverb (su-hua)? we inquire of the native pundit; to which he perhaps replies vaguely that it is "a ready made expression" (H). He does not mean that a proverb is not "ready made," nor that a "ready made " expression is not "common talk," but is struggling to convey the idea that the expression under discussion amounts to a Phrase, but does not fill his idea of a Proverb. Pursuing our researches, we are informed that the next expression is classical (E). By this our informant does not mean that it is not perhaps also proverbial; but the fact that it is somewhere in one of the Books, overshadows in his mind every other consideration. Again the question is raised, and this time we are informed that the expression is part of a Verse (). The teacher does not in the least mean to imply that it is not also proverbial. But the fact that a particular arrangement of "level" and "oblique" tones, and a definite rhyme, form the guiding principle in the composition, is all of which he takes account. A versified proverb is to him, not a proverb, but a verse.
To our next example the teacher replies that this is an Antithetical Couplet. By this he means that antithesis and parallelism are the ruling forces in the composition. An antithetically balanced proverb is to him, not a proverb, but a couplet (#).
Again we consult our Oracle, and again we are informed that this is an Historical Allusion (). He does not say, be it observed, whether it is or is not proverbial. That point is not in mind. An historical proverb, is to him, not a proverb, but a splinter of history.
Again we venture to inquire if we have at length found a proverb, and are told that this is nothing but a provincialism (). To the teacher's mind the proverb of merely local currency, or perhaps intelligibility, is not a proverb, but a sample of patois or colloquialism.
Once more we raise our note of interrogation, and learn-not that our saying is a proverb, but merely that it is some form of "borrow