Confucius

, or Con-Fu-Tsee, the celebrated Chinese philosopher, was born in the kingdom of Lou, which is at present the province of Chan Long, in the 2 1 st year of the reign of Ling van, the 23d emperor of the race of Tcheou, 551 years B. C. He was contemporary with Pythagoras, and a little before Socrates. He was but three years old when he lost his father Tcho leang he, who had enjoyed the highest offices of the kingdom of Long; but left no other inheritance to his son, except the honour of descending from Ti ye, the 27th emperor of the second race of the Chang. His mother, whose name wasChing, and who sprung originally from the illustrious family of the Yen, | lived twenty-one years after the death of her husband, Confucius did not grow in knowledge by degrees, as children ordinarily do, but seemed to arrive at reason and the perfect use of his faculties almost from his infancy. Taking no delight in amusements proper for his age, he had a grave and serious deportment, which gained him respect, and was joined with an appearance of unexampled artd exalted piety. He honoured his relations; he endeavoured in all things to imitate his grandfather, who was then alive in China, and a most holy man: and it was observable, that he never ate any thing but he prostrated himself upon the ground, and offered it first to the supreme Lord of heaven. One day, while he was a child, he heard his grandfather fetch, a deep sigh; and going up to him with many bowings and much reverence, “May I presume,” says he, “without losing the respect I owe you, to inquire into the occasion of your grief? perhaps you fear that your posterity should degenerate from your virtue, and dishonour you by their vices.” “What put this thought into your head,” says Coum-tse to him, “and where have you learnt to speak after this manner?” “From yourself,” replied Confucius: “I attend diligently to you every time you speak; and I have often heard you say, that a son r who does not by his virtue support thfe glory of his ancestors, does not deserve to bear their name.” After his grandfather’s death he applied himself to Tcem-se, a celebrated doctor of his time; and, under the direction of so great a master, soon made a surprising progress in antiquity, which he considered as the source from whence all genuine knowledge was to be drawn. This love for the ancients very nearly cost him his life when he was not more than sixteen years of age. Falling into discourse one day about the Chinese books with a person of high quality, who thought them obscure, and not worth the pains of searching into, “The books you despise,” says Confucius, “are full of profound knowledge, which is not to be attained but by the wise and learned: and the people would think cheaply of them, could they comprehend them of themselves. This subordination of spirits, by which the ignorant are dependent upon the knowing, is very useful, and even necessary in society. Were all families equally rich and equally powerful, there could not subsist any form of government; but there would happen a yet stranger disorder, if mankind were all equally knowing, | viz. every one would be for governing, and none would think themselves obliged to obey. Some time ago,” added Confucius, “an ordinary fellow made the same observation to me about the books as you have done, and from such a one indeed nothing better could be expected: but I wonder that you, a doctor, should thus be found speaking like one of the lowest of the people.” This rebuke had indeed the good effect of silencing the mandarin, and bringing him to a better opinion of the learning of his country; yet vexed him so at the same time, as it came from almost a boy, that he would have revenged it by violence, if he had not been prevented.

At the age of nineteen he took a wife, who brought him a son, called Pe yu. This son died at fifty, but left behind him a son called Tsou-tse, who, in imitation of his grandfather, applied himself entirely to the study of wisdom, and by his merit arrived to the highest offices of the empire. Confucius was content with his wife only, so long as she lived with him; and never kept any concubines, as the custom of his country would have allowed him to have done, because he thought it contrary to the law of nature. He divorced her, however, after some time, and for no other reason, say the Chinese,‘ but that he might be free from all incumbrances and connexions, and at liberty to propagate his philosophy throughout the empire. In his twenty-third year, when he had gained a considerable knowledge of antiquity, and acquainted himself with the laws and customs of his country, he began to project a scheme of general reformation. All the petty kingdoms of the empire now depend upon the emperor; but then every province was a distinct kingdom, which had its particular laws, and was governed by a prince of its own. Hence it often happened that the imperial authority was not sufficient to keep them within the bounds of their duty and allegiance, and a taste for luxury, the love of pleasure, and a general dissolution of manners, prevailed in all those little courts.

Confucius, wisely persuaded that the people could never be happy under such circumstances, resolved to preach up a severe morality; and, accordingly, he began to enforce temperance, justice, and other virtues, to inspire a contempt of riches and outward pomp, to excite to magnanimity and a greatness of soul, which should make men ipcapable of dissimulation and insincerity; and used all | the means he could think of to redeem his countrymen from a life of pleasure to a life of reason. In this pursuit, his extensive knowledge and great wisdom soon made him known, and his integrity and the splendour of his virtues made him beloved. Kings were governed by his counsels, and the people reverenced him as a saint. He was offered several high offices in the magistracy, which he sometimes accepted, but always with a view of reforming a currupt state, and amending mankind; and never failed to resign those offices, as soon as he perceived that he could be no longer useful. On one occasion he was raised to a considerable place of trust in the kingdom of Lou, his own native country: before he had exercised his charge about three months, the court and provinces, through his counsels and management, became quite altered. He corrected many frauds and abuses in traffic, and reduced the weights and measures to their proper standard. He inculcated fidelity and candour amongst the men, and exhorted the women to chastity and a simplicity of manners. By such methods he wrought a general reformation, and established every where such concord and unanimity, that the whole kingdom seemed as if it were but one great family. This, however, instead of exciting the example, provoked the jealousy of the neighbouring princes, who fancied that a king, under the counsels of such a man as Confucius, would quickly render himself too powerful; since nothing can make a state flourish more than good order among the members, and an exact observance of its laws. Alarmed at this, the king of Tsi assembled his ministers to consider of putting a stop to the career of this new government; and, after some deliberations, the following expedient was resolved upon. They got together a great number of young girls of extraordinary beauty, who had been instructed from their infancy in singing and dancing, and were perfectly mistresses of all those charms and accomplishments which might please and captivate the heart. These, under the pretext of an embassy, they presented to the king of Lou, and to the grandees of his court. The present was joyfully received, and had its desired effect. The arts of good government were immediately neglected, and nothing was thought of but inventing new pleasures for the entertainment of the fair strangers. In short, nothing was regarded for some months but feasting, dancing, shows, &c. and the court | was entirely dissolved in luxury and pleasure. Confucius had foreseen all this, and endeavoured to prevent it by advising the refusal of the pressnt; and he now laboured to take off the delusion they were fallen into, and to bring them back to reason and their duty. But all his endeavours proved ineffectual, and the severity of the philosopher was obliged to give way to the overbearing fashion of the court. Upon this he immediately quitted his employment, exiling himself at the same time from his native country, to try if he could find in other kingdoms, minds and dispositions more fit to relish and pursue his maxims.

He passed through the kingdoms of Tsi, Guci, and Tson, but met with insurmountable difficulties every where, as at that time, rebellion, wars, and tumults, raged throughout the empire, and men had no time to listen to his philosophy, and were in themselves ambitious, avaricious, and voluptuous. Hence he often met with ill treatment and reproachful language, and it is said that conspiracies were formed against his life: to which may be added, that his neglect of his own interests had reduced him to the extremest poverty. Some philosophers among his contemporaries were so affected with the state of public affairs, that they had rusticated themselves into the mountains and deserts, as the only places where happiness could be found; and would have persuaded Confucius to have followed them. But, “I am a man,” says Confucius, “and cannot exclude myself from the society of men, and consort with beasts. Bad as the times are, I shall do all I can to recall men to virtue: for in virtue are all things, and if mankind would but once embrace it, and submit themselves to its discipline and laws, they would not want me or any body else to instruct them. It is the duty of a good man, first to perfect himself, and then to perfect others. Human nature,” said he, “came to us from heaven pure and perfect; but in process of time, ignorance, the passions, and evil examples have corrupted it. All consists in restoring it to its primitive beauty; and to be perfect, we must re-ascend to that point from which we have fallen. Obey heaven, and follow the orders of him who governs it. Love your neighbour as yourself. Let your reason, and not your senses, be the rule of your conduct: for reason will teach you to think wisely, to speak prudently, and to behave yourself worthily upon all occasions.| Confucius in the mean time, though he had withdrawn himself from kings and palaces, did not cease to travel about and do what good he could among the people, and among mankind in general. He had often in his mouth the maxims and examples of their ancient heroes, Yao, Chun, Yu, Tischin tang, &c. who were thought to be revived in the person of this great man; and hence he proselyted great numbers, who were inviolably attached to his person. He is said to have had at least 3000 followers, 72 of whom were distinguished above the rest by their superior attainments, and ten above them all by their comprehensive view and perfect knowledge of his whole philosophy and doctrines. He divided his disciples into four classes, who applied themselves to cultivate and propagate his philosophy, each according to his particular distinction. The first class were to improve their minds by meditation, and to purify their hearts by virtue: The second were to cultivate the arts of reasoning justly, and of composing elegant and persuasive discourses: The study of the third class was, to learn the rules of good government, to give an idea of it to the mandarins, and to enable them to fill the public offices with honour t The last class were concerned ip delivering the principles of morality in a concise and polished style to the people; and these chosen disciples were the flower of Confucius’s school.

He sent 600 of his disciples into different parts of the empire, to reform the manners of the people; and, not satisfied with, benefiting his own country only, he made frequent resolutions to pass the seas, and propagate his doctrine to the farthest parts of the world. Hardly any thing can be added to the purity of his morality. He seems rather to speak like a doctor of a revealed law, than a man who had no light but what the law of nature afforded him, and he taught as forcibly by example as by precept. In short, his gravity and sobriety, his rigorous abstinence, his contempt of riches, and what are commonly called the goods of this life, his continual attention and watchfulness pver his actions, and, above all, that modesty and humility which are npt to be found among the Grecian sages; all these would almost tempt one to believe that he wa.s not a mere philosopher formed by reason only, but a man raised up for the reformation of the world, and to check that torrent of idolatry and superstition which was about to overspread that particular part of it. He is said to have lived | secretly three years, and to have spent the latter part of his life in sorrow. A few days before his last illness, he told his disciples with tears in his eyes, that he was overcome with grief at the sight of the disorders which prevailed in the empire: “The mountain,” said he, “is fallen, the high machine is demolished, and the sages are all fled/’ His meaning was, that the edifice of perfection, which he had endeavoured to raise, was entirely overthrown. He began to languish from that time; and the 7th day before his death,” the kings,“said he,” reject my maxims; and since I am no longer useful on the earth, I may as well leave it.“After these words he fell into a lethargy, and at the end of seven days expired in the arms of his disciples, in his seventy-third year. Upon the first hearing of his death, Ngai cong, who then reigned in the kingdom of Lou, could not refrain from tears:” The Tien is not satisfied with me,“cried he,” since it has taken away Confucius.“Confucius was lamented by the whole empire, which from that moment began to honour him as a saint. Kings have built palaces for him in all the provinces, whither the learned go at certain times to pay him homage. There are to be seen upon several edifices, raised in honour of him, inscriptions in large characters,” To the great master.“” To the head doctor.“” To the saint.“” To the teacher of emperors and kings." They built his sepulchre near the 'city Kio fou, on the banks of the river Su, where he was wont to assemble his disciples; and they have since inclosed it with walls, which look like a small city to this very day.

Confucius did not trust altogether to the memory of his disciples for the preservation of his philosophy; but composed several books: and though these books were greatly admired for the doctrines they contained, and the fine principles of morality they taught, yet such was the unparalleled modesty of this philosopher, that he ingenuously ponfessed, that the doctrine was not his own, but was much more ancient; and that he had done nothing more than collect it from those wise legislators Yao and Chun, who lived 1500 years before him. These books are held in the liighest esteem and veneration, because they contain all that he had collected relating to the ancient laws, which are looked upon as the most perfect rule of government. The number of these classical and canonical books, for so it seems they are called, is four. The first is entitled “Ta | Hio, the Grand Science, or the School of the Adults.” It is this that beginners ought to study first, as the porch of the temple of wisdom and virtue. It treats of the care we ought to take in governing ourselves, that we may be able afterwards to govern others: and of perseverance in the chief good, which, according to him, is nothing but a conformity of our actions to right reason. It was chiefly designed for princes and grandees, who ought to govern their people wisely. “The whole science of princes,” says Confucius, “consists in cultivating and perfecting the reasonable nature they have received from Tien, and in restoring that light and primitive clearness of judgment, which has been weakened and obscured by various passions, that it may be afterwards in a capacity to labour the perfections of others. To succeed then,” says he, “we should begin within ourselves; and to this end it is necessary to have an insight into the nature of things, and to gain the knowledge of good and evil; to determine the will toward a love of this good, and an hatred of this evil: to preserve integrity of heart, and to regulate the manners according to reason. When a man has thus renewed himself, there will be less difficulty in renewing others: and by this means concord and union reign in families, kingdoms are governed according to the laws, and the whole empire enjoys peace and tranquillity.

The second classical or canonical book is called “Tchong Yong, or the Immutable Mean;” and treats of the mean which ought to be observed in all things. Tchong signifies meanS) and by Yong is understood that which is constant, eternal, immutable. He undertakes to prove, that every wise man, and chiefly those who have the care of governing the world, should follow this mean, which is the essence of virtue. He enters upon his subject by defining human nature, and its passions; then he brings several examples of virtue and piety, as fortitude, prudence, and filial duty, which are proposed as so many patterns to be imitated in keeping this mean. In the next place he shews, that this mean, and the practice of it, is the right and true path which a wise man should pursue, in order to attain the highest pitch of virtue. The third book, “Yun Lu, or the Book of Maxims,” is a collection of sententious and moral discourses, and is divided into 20 articles, containing only questions, answers, and sayings of Confucius and his disciples, On virtue, good works, and the art of | governing well; the tenth article excepted, in which the disciples of Confucius particularly describe the outward deportment of their master. There are some maxims and moral sentences in this collection, equal to those of the seven wise men of Greece, which have always been so much admired. The fourth book gives an idea of a perfect government it is called “Meng Tsee, or the Book of Mentius;” because, though numbered among the classical and canonical books, it is more properly the work of his disciple Mentius. To these four books they add two others, which have almost an equal reputation; the first is called “Hiao King,” that is, “of Filial Reverence,” and contains the answers which Confucius made to his disciple Tseng, concerning the respect which is due to parents. The second is called “Sias Hio,” that is, “the Science, or the School of Children;” which is a collection of sentences and examples taken from ancient and modern authors. They who would have a perfect knowledge of all these works, will find it in the Latin translation of father Noel, one of the most ancient missionaries of China, which was printed at Prague in 1711.

We must not conclude our account of this celebrated philosopher, without mentioning one most remarkable particular relating to him, which is this; viz. that in spite of all the pains he had taken to establish pure religion and sound morality in the empire, he was nevertheless the innocent occasion of their corruption. There goes a tradition in China, that when Confucius was complimented upon the excellency of his philosophy, and his own conformity thereto, he modestly declined the honour that was done him, and said, that “he greatly fell short of the most perfect degree of virtue, but that in the west the most holy was to be found.” Most of the missionaries who relate this are firmly persuaded that Confucius foresaw the coming of the Messiah, and meant to predict it in this short sentence; but whether he did or not, it is certain that it has always made a very strong impression upon the learned in China: and the emperor Mimti, who reigned 65 years after the birth of Christ, was so touched with this saying of Confucius, together with a dream, in which he saw the image of a holy person coming from the west, that he fitted out a fleet, with orders to sail till they had found him, and to bring back at least his image and his writings. The persons sent upon this expedition, not daring to | venture farther, went a-shore upon a little island not far from the Red Sea, where they found the statue of Fohi, who had infected the Indies with his doctrines 500 years before the birth of Confucius. This they carried back to China, together with the metempsychosis, and the other reveries of this Indian philosopher. The disciples of Confucius at first oppossed these newly imported doctrines with all the vigour imaginable; inveighing vehemently against Mimti, who introduced them, and denouncing the judgment of heaven on such emperors as should support them. But all their endeavours were vain; the torrent bore hard against them, and the pure religion and sound morality of Confucius were soon corrupted, and in a manner overwhelmed, by the prevailing idolatries and superstitions which were introduced with the idol Fohi.

By his sage counsels, says Brucker, his moral doctrine, and his exemplary conduct, Confucius obtained an immortal name, as the reformer of his country. After his death, his name was held in the highest veneration; and his doctrine is still regarded, among the Chinese, as the basis of all moral and political wisdom. His family enjoys by inheritance the honourable title and office of Mandarins and religious honours are paid to his memory. It is nevertheless asserted by the missionaries of the Franciscan and Dominican orders, that Confucius was either wholly unacquainted with, or purposely "neglected, the doctrine of a future life, and that in his moral system he paid little regard to religion. 1

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Preceding editions of this Dictionary, principally from Du Halde, Le Compte, and the Ancient and Modem Universal History. Brucker. —Moreri.