The Soul of the Far East by Percival Lowell
Chapter 1. Individuality
Chapter 2. Family
Chapter 3. Adoption
Chapter 4. Language
Chapter 5. Nature and Art
Chapter 6. Art
Chapter 7. Religion
Chapter 8. Imagination
Chapter 1. Individuality.
The boyish belief that on the other side of our globe all things are
of necessity upside down is startlingly brought back to the man when
he first sets foot at Yokohama. If his initial glance does not,
to be sure, disclose the natives in the every-day feat of standing
calmly on their heads, an attitude which his youthful imagination
conceived to be a necessary consequence of their geographical position,
it does at least reveal them looking at the world as if from the
standpoint of that eccentric posture. For they seem to him to see
everything topsy-turvy. Whether it be that their antipodal situation
has affected their brains, or whether it is the mind of the observer
himself that has hitherto been wrong in undertaking to rectify the
inverted pictures presented by his retina, the result, at all events,
is undeniable. The world stands reversed, and, taking for granted
his own uprightness, the stranger unhesitatingly imputes to them an
obliquity of vision, a state of mind outwardly typified by the
cat-like obliqueness of their eyes.
If the inversion be not precisely of the kind he expected, it is
none the less striking, and impressibly more real. If personal
experience has definitely convinced him that the inhabitants of that
under side of our planet do not adhere to it head downwards, like
flies on a ceiling,--his early a priori deduction,--they still
appear quite as antipodal, mentally considered. Intellectually,
at least, their attitude sets gravity at defiance. For to the mind's
eye their world is one huge, comical antithesis of our own. What we
regard intuitively in one way from our standpoint, they as
intuitively observe in a diametrically opposite manner from theirs.
To speak backwards, write backwards, read backwards, is but the a b c
of their contrariety. The inversion extends deeper than mere modes
of expression, down into the very matter of thought. Ideas of ours
which we deemed innate find in them no home, while methods which
strike us as preposterously unnatural appear to be their birthright.
From the standing of a wet umbrella on its handle instead of its
head to dry to the striking of a match away in place of toward one,
there seems to be no action of our daily lives, however trivial,
but finds with them its appropriate reaction--equal but opposite.
Indeed, to one anxious of conforming to the manners and customs of
the country, the only road to right lies in following unswervingly
that course which his inherited instincts assure him to be wrong.
Yet these people are human beings; with all their eccentricities
they are men. Physically we cannot but be cognizant of the fact, nor
mentally but be conscious of it. Like us, indeed, and yet so unlike
are they that we seem, as we gaze at them, to be viewing our own
humanity in some mirth-provoking mirror of the mind,--a mirror that
shows us our own familiar thoughts, but all turned wrong side out.
Humor holds the glass, and we become the sport of our own reflections.
But is it otherwise at home? Do not our personal presentments mock
each of us individually our lives long? Who but is the daily dupe of
his dressing-glass, and complacently conceives himself to be a very
different appearing person from what he is, forgetting that his
right side has become his left, and vice versa? Yet who, when by
chance he catches sight in like manner of the face of a friend,
can keep from smiling at the caricatures which the mirror's
left-for-right reversal makes of the asymmetry of that friend's
features,--caricatures all the more grotesque for being utterly
unsuspected by their innocent original? Perhaps, could we once see
ourselves as others see us, our surprise in the case of foreign
peoples might be less pronounced.
Regarding, then, the Far Oriental as a man, and not simply as a
phenomenon, we discover in his peculiar point of view a new
importance,--the possibility of using it stereoptically. For his
mind-photograph of the world can be placed side by side with ours,
and the two pictures combined will yield results beyond what either
alone could possibly have afforded. Thus harmonized, they will help
us to realize humanity. Indeed it is only by such a combination of
two different aspects that we ever perceive substance and distinguish
reality from illusion. What our two eyes make possible for material
objects, the earth's two hemispheres may enable us to do for mental
traits. Only the superficial never changes its expression;
the appearance of the solid varies with the standpoint of the observer.
In dreamland alone does everything seem plain, and there all is
To say that the Japanese are not a savage tribe is of course
unnecessary; to repeat the remark, anything but superfluous, on the
principle that what is a matter of common notoriety is very apt to
prove a matter about which uncommonly little is known. At present
we go halfway in recognition of these people by bestowing upon them
a demi-diploma of mental development called semi-civilization,
neglecting, however, to specify in what the fractional qualification
consists. If the suggestion of a second moiety, as of something
directly complementary to them, were not indirectly complimentary to
ourselves, the expression might pass; but, as it is, the self-praise
is rather too obvious to carry conviction. For Japan's claim to
culture is not based solely upon the exports with which she
supplements our art, nor upon the paper, china, and bric-a-brac with
which she adorns our rooms; any more than Western science is
adequately represented in Japan by our popular imports there of
kerosene oil, matches, and beer. Only half civilized the Far East
presumably is, but it is so rather in an absolute than a relative
sense; in the sense of what might have been, not of what is. It is
so as compared, not with us, but with the eventual possibilities of
humanity. As yet, neither system, Western nor Eastern, is perfect
enough to serve in all things as standard for the other. The light
of truth has reached each hemisphere through the medium of its own
mental crystallization, and this has polarized it in opposite ways,
so that now the rays that are normal to the eyes of the one only
produce darkness to those of the other. For the Japanese civilization
in the sense of not being savagery is the equal of our own. It is
not in the polish that the real difference lies; it is in the
substance polished. In politeness, in delicacy, they have as a
people no peers. Art has been their mistress, though science has
never been their master. Perhaps for this very reason that art,
not science, has been the Muse they courted, the result has been all
the more widespread. For culture there is not the attainment of the
few, but the common property of the people. If the peaks of intellect
rise less eminent, the plateau of general elevation stands higher.
But little need be said to prove the civilization of a land where
ordinary tea-house girls are models of refinement, and common
coolies, when not at work, play chess for pastime.
If Japanese ways look odd at first sight, they but look more odd on
closer acquaintance. In a land where, to allow one's understanding
the freer play of indoor life, one begins, not by taking off his
hat, but by removing his boots, he gets at the very threshold a hint
that humanity is to be approached the wrong end to. When, after thus
entering a house, he tries next to gain admittance to the mind of
its occupant, the suspicion becomes a certainty. He discovers that
this people talk, so to speak, backwards; that before he can hope to
comprehend them, or make himself understood in return, he must learn
to present his thoughts arranged in inverse order from the one in
which they naturally suggest themselves to his mind. His sentences
must all be turned inside out. He finds himself lost in a labyrinth
of language. The same seems to be true of the thoughts it embodies.
The further he goes the more obscure the whole process becomes,
until, after long groping about for some means of orienting himself,
he lights at last upon the clue. This clue consists in "the survival
of the unfittest."
In the civilization of Japan we have presented to us a most
interesting case of partially arrested development; or, to speak
esoterically, we find ourselves placed face to face with a singular
example of a completed race-life. For though from our standpoint the
evolution of these people seems suddenly to have come to an end in
mid-career, looked at more intimately it shows all the signs of
having fully run its course. Development ceased, not because of
outward obstruction, but from purely intrinsic inability to go on.
The intellectual machine was not shattered; it simply ran down.
To this fact the phenomenon owes its peculiar interest. For we
behold here in the case of man the same spectacle that we see
cosmically in the case of the moon, the spectacle of a world that
has died of old age. No weak spot in their social organism
destroyed them from within; no epidemic, in the shape of foreign
hordes, fell upon them from without. For in spite of the fact that
China offers the unique example of a country that has simply lived
to be conquered, mentally her masters have invariably become her
pupils. Having ousted her from her throne as ruler, they proceeded
to sit at her feet as disciples. Thus they have rather helped than
hindered her civilization.
Whatever portion of the Far East we examine we find its mental
history to be the same story with variations. However unlike China,
Korea, and Japan are in some respects, through the careers of all
three we can trace the same life-spirit. It is the career of the
river Jordan rising like any other stream from the springs among the
mountains only to fall after a brief existence into the Dead Sea.
For their vital force had spent itself more than a millennium ago.
Already, then, their civilization had in its deeper developments
attained its stature, and has simply been perfecting itself since.
We may liken it to some stunted tree, that, finding itself prevented
from growth, bastes the more luxuriantly to put forth flowers and
fruit. For not the final but the medial processes were skipped.
In those superficial amenities with which we more particularly link
our idea of civilization, these peoples continued to grow. Their
refinement, if failing to reach our standard in certain respects,
surpasses ours considering the bare barbaric basis upon which it
rests. For it is as true of the Japanese as of the proverbial Russian,
though in a more scientific sense, that if you scratch him you will
find the ancestral Tartar. But it is no less true that the descendants
of this rude forefather have now taken on a polish of which their
own exquisite lacquer gives but a faint reflection. The surface was
perfected after the substance was formed. Our word finish, with its
double meaning, expresses both the process and the result.
There entered, to heighten the bizarre effect, a spirit common in
minds that lack originality--the spirit of imitation. Though
consequent enough upon a want of initiative, the results of this trait
appear anything but natural to people of a more progressive past.
The proverbial collar and pair of spurs look none the less odd to
the stranger for being a mental instead of a bodily habit. Something
akin to such a case of unnatural selection has there taken place.
The orderly procedure of natural evolution was disastrously
supplemented by man. For the fact that in the growth of their tree
of knowledge the branches developed out of all proportion to the
trunk is due to a practice of culture-grafting.
From before the time when they began to leave records of their
actions the Japanese have been a nation of importers, not of
merchandise, but of ideas. They have invariably shown the most
advanced free-trade spirit in preferring to take somebody else's
ready-made articles rather than to try to produce any brand-new
conceptions themselves. They continue to follow the same line of life.
A hearty appreciation of the things of others is still one of their
most winning traits. What they took they grafted bodily upon their
ancestral tree, which in consequence came to present a most
unnaturally diversified appearance. For though not unlike other
nations in wishing to borrow, if their zeal in the matter was
slightly excessive, they were peculiar in that they never assimilated
what they took. They simply inserted it upon the already existing
growth. There it remained, and throve, and blossomed, nourished by
that indigenous Japanese sap, taste. But like grafts generally,
the foreign boughs were not much modified by their new life-blood,
nor was the tree in its turn at all affected by them. Connected with
it only as separable parts of its structure, the cuttings might have
been lopped off again without influencing perceptibly the condition
of the foster-parent stem. The grafts in time grew to be great
branches, but the trunk remained through it all the trunk of a
sapling. In other words, the nation grew up to man's estate, keeping
the mind of its childhood.
What is thus true of the Japanese is true likewise of the Koreans
and of the Chinese. The three peoples, indeed, form so many links in
one long chain of borrowing. China took from India, then Korea
copied China, and lastly Japan imitated Korea. In this simple manner
they successively became possessed of a civilization which originally
was not the property of any one of them. In the eagerness they all
evinced in purloining what was not theirs, and in the perfect
content with which they then proceeded to enjoy what they had taken,
they remind us forcibly of that happy-go-lucky class in the
community which prefers to live on questionable loans rather than
work itself for a living. Like those same individuals, whatever
interest the Far Eastern people may succeed in raising now, Nature
will in the end make them pay dearly for their lack of principal.
The Far Eastern civilization resembles, in fact, more a mechanical
mixture of social elements than a well differentiated chemical
compound. For in spite of the great variety of ingredients thrown
into its caldron of destiny, as no affinity existed between them, no
combination resulted. The power to fuse was wanting. Capability to
evolve anything is not one of the marked characteristics of the Far
East. Indeed, the tendency to spontaneous variation, Nature's mode
of making experiments, would seem there to have been an enterprising
faculty that was exhausted early. Sleepy, no doubt, from having got
up betimes with the dawn, these dwellers in the far lands of the
morning began to look upon their day as already well spent before
they had reached its noon. They grew old young, and have remained
much the same age ever since. What they were centuries ago, that at
bottom they are to-day. Take away the European influence of the
last twenty years, and each man might almost be his own
great-grandfather. In race characteristics he is yet essentially
the same. The traits that distinguished these peoples in the past
have been gradually extinguishing them ever since. Of these traits,
stagnating influences upon their career, perhaps the most important
is the great quality of impersonality.
If we take, through the earth's temperate zone, a belt of country
whose northern and southern edges are determined by certain limiting
isotherms, not more than half the width of the zone apart, we shall
find that we have included in a relatively small extent of surface
almost all the nations of note in the world, past or present.
Now if we examine this belt, and compare the different parts of it
with one another, we shall be struck by a remarkable fact.
The peoples inhabiting it grow steadily more personal as we go west.
So unmistakable is this gradation of spirit, that one is tempted to
ascribe it to cosmic rather than to human causes. It is as marked
as the change in color of the human complexion observable along any
meridian, which ranges from black at the equator to blonde toward
the pole. In like manner, the sense of self grows more intense as
we follow in the wake of the setting sun, and fades steadily as we
advance into the dawn. America, Europe, the Levant, India, Japan,
each is less personal than the one before. We stand at the nearer
end of the scale, the Far Orientals at the other. If with us the I
seems to be of the very essence of the soul, then the soul of the
Far East may be said to be Impersonality.
Curious as this characteristic is as a fact, it is even more
interesting as a factor. For what it betokens of these peoples in
particular may suggest much about man generally. It may mark a
stride in theory, if a standstill in practice. Possibly it may help
us to some understanding of ourselves. Not that it promises much aid
to vexed metaphysical questions, but as a study in sociology it may
not prove so vain.
And for a thing which is always with us, its discussion may be said
to be peculiarly opportune just now. For it lies at the bottom of
the most pressing questions of the day. Of the two great problems
that stare the Western world in the face at the present moment, both
turn to it for solution. Agnosticism, the foreboding silence of
those who think, socialism, communism, and nihilism, the petulant
cry of those who do not, alike depend ultimately for the right to be
upon the truth or the falsity of the sense of self.
For if there be no such actual thing as individuality, if the
feeling we call by that name be naught but the transient illusion
the Buddhists would have us believe it, any faith founded upon it as
basis vanishes as does the picture in a revolving kaleidoscope,--
less enduring even than the flitting phantasmagoria of a dream.
If the ego be but the passing shadow of the material brain, at the
disintegration of the gray matter what will become of us? Shall we
simply lapse into an indistinguishable part of the vast universe
that compasses us round? At the thought we seem to stand straining
our gaze, on the shore of the great sea of knowledge, only to watch
the fog roll in, and hide from our view even those headlands of hope
that, like beseeching hands, stretch out into the deep.
So more materially. If individuality be a delusion of the mind, what
motive potent enough to excite endeavor in the breast of an ordinary
mortal remains? Philosophers, indeed, might still work for the
advancement of mankind, but mankind itself would not continue long
to labor energetically for what should profit only the common weal.
Take away the stimulus of individuality, and action is paralyzed at
once. For with most men the promptings of personal advantage only
afford sufficient incentive to effort. Destroy this force, then any
consideration due it lapses, and socialism is not only justified,
it is raised instantly into an axiom of life. The community, in that
case, becomes itself the unit, the indivisible atom of existence.
Socialism, then communism, then nihilism, follow in inevitable
sequence. That even the Far Oriental, with all his numbing
impersonality, has not touched this goal may at least suggest that
individuality is a fact.
But first, what do we know about its existence ourselves?
Very early in the course of every thoughtful childhood an event
takes place, by the side of which, to the child himself, all other
events sink into insignificance. It is not one that is recognized
and chronicled by the world, for it is wholly unconnected with
action. No one but the child is aware of its occurrence, and he
never speaks of it to others. Yet to that child it marks an epoch.
So intensely individual does it seem that the boy is afraid to avow
it, while in reality so universal is it that probably no human being
has escaped its influence. Though subjective purely, it has more
vividness than any external event; and though strictly intrinsic to
life, it is more startling than any accident of fate or fortune.
This experience of the boy's, at once so singular and yet so general,
is nothing less than the sudden revelation to him one day of the
fact of his own personality.
Somewhere about the time when sensation is giving place to
sensitiveness as the great self-educator, and the knowledge gained
by the five bodily senses is being fused into the wisdom of that
mental one we call common sense, the boy makes a discovery akin to
the act of waking up. All at once he becomes conscious of himself;
and the consciousness has about it a touch of the uncanny. Hitherto
he has been aware only of matter; he now first realizes mind.
Unwarned, unprepared, he is suddenly ushered before being, and
stands awe-struck in the presence of--himself.
If the introduction to his own identity was startling, there is
nothing reassuring in the feeling that this strange acquaintanceship
must last. For continue it does. It becomes an unsought intimacy he
cannot shake off. Like to his own shadow he cannot escape it.
To himself a man cannot but be at home. For years this alter ego
haunts him, for he imagines it an idiosyncrasy of his own, a morbid
peculiarity he dare not confide to any one, for fear of being
thought a fool. Not till long afterwards, when he has learned to
live as a matter of course with his ever-present ghost, does he
discover that others have had like familiars themselves.
Sometimes this dawn of consciousness is preceded by a long twilight
of soul-awakening; but sometimes, upon more sensitive and subtler
natures, the light breaks with all the suddenness of a sunrise at
the equator, revealing to the mind's eye an unsuspected world of
self within. But in whatever way we may awake to it, the sense of
personality, when first realized, appears already, like the fabled
Goddess of Wisdom, full grown in the brain. From the moment when we
first remember ourselves we seem to be as old as we ever seem to
others afterwards to become. We grow, indeed, in knowledge, in
wisdom, in experience, as our years increase, but deep down in our
heart of hearts we are still essentially the same. To be sure,
people pay us more deference than they did, which suggests a doubt
at times whether we may not have changed; small boys of a succeeding
generation treat us with a respect that causes us inwardly to smile,
as we think how little we differ from them, if they but knew it.
For at bottom we are not conscious of change from that morning, long
ago, when first we realized ourselves. We feel just as young now as
we felt old then. We are but amused at the world's discrimination
where we can detect no difference.
Every human being has been thus "twice born": once as matter, once
as mind. Nor is this second birth the birthright only of mankind.
All the higher animals probably, possibly even the lower too, have
experienced some such realization of individual identity. However
that may be, certainly to all races of men has come this revelation;
only the degree in which they have felt its force has differed
immensely. It is one thing to the apathetic, fatalistic Turk, and
quite another matter to an energetic, nervous American. Facts,
fancies, faiths, all show how wide is the variance in feelings.
With them no introspective [greek]cnzhi seauton overexcites the
consciousness of self. But with us; as with those of old possessed
of devils, it comes to startle and stays to distress. Too apt is it
to prove an ever-present, undesirable double. Too often does it
play the part of uninvited spectre at the feast, whose presence no
one save its unfortunate victim suspects. The haunting horror of
his own identity is to natures far less eccentric than Kenelm
Chillingly's only too common a curse. To this companionship,
paradoxical though it sound, is principally due the peculiar
loneliness of childhood. For nothing is so isolating as a
persistent idea which one dares not confide.
And yet,--stranger paradox still,--was there ever any one
willing to exchange his personality for another's? Who can imagine
foregoing his own self? Nay, do we not cling even to its outward
appearance? Is there a man so poor in all that man holds dear that
he does not keenly resent being accidentally mistaken for his
neighbor? Surely there must be something more than mirage in this
deep-implanted, widespread instinct of human race.
But however strong the conviction now of one's individuality, is
there aught to assure him of its continuance beyond the confines of
its present life? Will it awake on death's morrow and know itself,
or will it, like the body that gave it lodgment, disintegrate again
into indistinguishable spirit dust? Close upon the heels of the
existing consciousness of self treads the shadow-like doubt of its
hereafter. Will analogy help to answer the grewsome riddle of the
Sphinx? Are the laws we have learned to be true for matter true also
for mind? Matter we now know is indestructible; yet the form of it
with which we once were so fondly familiar vanishes never to return.
Is a like fate to be the lot of the soul? That mind should be
capable of annihilation is as inconceivable as that matter should
cease to be. Surely the spirit we feel existing round about us on
every side now has been from ever, and will be for ever to come.
But that portion of it which we each know as self, is it not like to a
drop of rain seen in its falling through the air? Indistinguishable
the particle was in the cloud whence it came; indistinguishable it
will become again in the ocean whither it is bound. Its personality
is but its passing phase from a vast impersonal on the one hand to
an equally vast impersonal on the other. Thus seers preached in the
past; so modem science is hinting to-day. With us the idea seems the
bitter fruit of material philosophy; by them it was looked upon as
the fairest flower of their faith. What is dreaded now as the
impious suggestion of the godless four thousand years ago was
reverenced as a sacred tenet of religion.
Shorter even than his short threescore years and ten is that soul's
life of which man is directly cognizant. Bounded by two seemingly
impersonal states is the personal consciousness of which he is made
aware: the one the infantile existence that precedes his boyish
discovery, the other the gloom that grows with years,--two twilights
that fringe the two borders of his day. But with the Far Oriental,
life is all twilight. For in Japan and China both states are found
together. There, side by side with the present unconsciousness of
the babe exists the belief in a coming unconsciousness for the man.
So inseparably blended are the two that the known truth of the one
seems, for that very bond, to carry with it the credentials of the
other. Can it be that the personal, progressive West is wrong, and
the impersonal, impassive East right? Surely not. Is the other side
of the world in advance of us in mind-development, even as it
precedes us in the time of day; or just as our noon is its night,
may it not be far in our rear? Is not its seeming wisdom rather the
precociousness of what is destined never to go far?
Brought suddenly upon such a civilization, after the blankness of a
long ocean voyage, one is reminded instinctively of the feelings of
that bewildered individual who, after a dinner at which he had
eventually ceased to be himself, was by way of pleasantry left out
overnight in a graveyard, on their way home, by his humorously
inclined companions; and who, on awaking alone, in a still dubious
condition, looked around him in surprise, rubbed his eyes two or
three times to no purpose, and finally muttered in a tone of
awe-struck conviction, "Well, either I'm the first to rise, or I'm a
long way behind time!"
Whether their failure to follow the natural course of evolution
results in bringing them in at the death just the same or not, these
people are now, at any rate, stationary not very far from the point
at which we all set out. They are still in that childish state of
development before self-consciousness has spoiled the sweet
simplicity of nature. An impersonal race seems never to have fully
Partly for its own sake, partly for ours, this most distinctive
feature of the Far East, its marked impersonality, is well worthy
particular attention; for while it collaterally suggests pregnant
thoughts about ourselves, it directly underlies the deeper oddities
of a civilization which is the modern eighth wonder of the world.
We shall see this as we look at what these people are, at what they
were, and at what they hope to become; not historically, but
psychologically, as one might perceive, were he but wise enough, in
an acorn, besides the nut itself, two oaks, that one from which it
fell, and that other which from it will rise. These three states,
which we may call its potential past, present, and future, may be
observed and studied in three special outgrowths of a race's
character: in its language, in its every-day thoughts, and in its
religion. For in the language of a people we find embalmed the
spirit of its past; in its every-day thoughts, be they of arts or
sciences, is wrapped up its present life; in its religion lie
enfolded its dreamings of a future. From out each of these three
subjects in the Far East impersonality stares us in the face.
Upon this quality as a foundation rests the Far Oriental character.
It is individually rather than nationally that I propose to scan it
now. It is the action of a particle in the wave of world-development
I would watch, rather than the propagation of the wave itself.
Inferences about the movement of the whole will follow of themselves
a knowledge of the motion of its parts.
But before we attack the subject esoterically, let us look a moment
at the man as he appears in his relation to the community. Such a
glance will suggest the peculiar atmosphere of impersonality that
pervades the people.
However lacking in cleverness, in merit, or in imagination a man may
be, there are in our Western world, if his existence there be so
much as noticed at all, three occasions on which he appears in print.
His birth, his marriage, and his death are all duly chronicled in
type, perhaps as sufficiently typical of the general unimportance of
his life. Mention of one's birth, it is true, is an aristocratic
privilege, confined to the world of English society. In democratic
America, no doubt because all men there are supposed to be born free
and equal, we ignore the first event, and mention only the last two
episodes, about which our national astuteness asserts no such
Accepting our newspaper record as a fair enough summary of the
biography of an average man, let us look at these three momentous
occasions in the career of a Far Oriental.
Chapter 2. Family.
In the first place, then, the poor little Japanese baby is ushered
into this world in a sadly impersonal manner, for he is not even
accorded the distinction of a birthday. He is permitted instead
only the much less special honor of a birth-year. Not that he
begins his separate existence otherwise than is the custom of
mortals generally, at a definite instant of time, but that very
little subsequent notice is ever taken of the fact. On the contrary,
from the moment he makes his appearance he is spoken of as a year
old, and this same age he continues to be considered in most simple
ease of calculation, till the beginning of the next calendar year.
When that epoch of general rejoicing arrives, he is credited with
another year himself. So is everybody else. New Year's day is a
common birthday for the community, a sort of impersonal anniversary
for his whole world. A like reckoning is followed in China and
Korea. Upon the disadvantages of being considered from one's birth
up at least one year and possibly two older than one really is,
it lies beyond our present purpose to expatiate. It is quite evident
that woman has had no voice in the framing of such a chronology.
One would hardly imagine that man had either, so astronomic is the
system. A communistic age is however but an unavoidable detail of
the general scheme whose most suggestive feature consists in the
subordination of the actual birthday of the individual to the
fictitious birthday of the community. For it is not so much the
want of commemoration shown the subject as the character of the
commemoration which is significant. Some slight notice is indeed
paid to birthdays during early childhood, but even then their
observance is quite secondary in importance to that of the great
impersonal anniversaries of the third day of the third moon and the
fifth day of the fifth moon. These two occasions celebrated the
coming of humanity into the world with an impersonality worthy of
the French revolutionary calendar. The first of them is called the
festival of girls, and commemorates the birth of girls generally,
the advent of the universal feminine, as one may say. The second is
a corresponding anniversary for boys. Owing to its sex, the latter
is the greater event of the two, and in consequence of its most
conspicuous feature is styled the festival of fishes. The fishes
are hollow paper images of the "tai" from four to six feet in length,
tied to the top of a long pole planted in the ground and tipped with
a gilded ball. Holes in the paper at the mouth and the tail enable
the wind to inflate the body so that it floats about horizontally,
swaying hither and thither, and tugging at the line after the manner
of a living thing. The fish are emblems of good luck, and are set
up in the courtyard of every house where a son has been born during
the year. On this auspicious day Tokio is suddenly transformed into
eighty square miles of aquarium.
For any more personal purpose New Year's day eclipses all particular
anniversaries. Then everybody congratulates everybody else upon
everything in general, and incidentally upon being alive. Such
substitution of an abstract for a concrete birthday, although
exceedingly convenient for others, must at least conduce to
self-forgetfulness on the part of its proper possessor, and tend
inevitably to merge the identity of the individual in that of the
It fares hardly better with the Far Oriental in the matter of marriage.
Although he is, as we might think, the person most interested in the
result, he is permitted no say in the affair whatever. In fact,
it is not his affair at all, but his father's. His hand is simply
made a cat's-paw of. The matter is entirely a business transaction,
entered into by the parent and conducted through regular marriage
brokers. In it he plays only the part of a marionette. His revenge
for being thus bartered out of what might be the better half of his
life, he takes eventually on the next succeeding generation.
His death may be said to be the most important act of his whole life.
For then only can his personal existence be properly considered to
begin. By it he joins the great company of ancestors who are to
these people of almost more consequence than living folk, and of
much more individual distinction. Particularly is this the case in
China and Korea, but the same respect, though in a somewhat less
rigid form, is paid the dead in Japan. Then at last the individual
receives that recognition which was denied him in the flesh.
In Japan a mortuary tablet is set up to him in the house and duly
worshipped; on the continent the ancestors are given a dwelling of
their own, and even more devotedly reverenced. But in both places
the cult is anything but funereal. For the ancestral tombs are
temples and pleasure pavilions at the same time, consecrated not
simply to rites and ceremonies, but to family gatherings and general
jollification. And the fortunate defunct must feel, if he is still
half as sentient as his dutiful descendants suppose, that his
earthly life, like other approved comedies, has ended well.
Important, however, as these critical points in his career may be
reckoned by his relatives, they are scarcely calculated to prove
equally epochal to the man himself. In a community where next to no
note is ever taken of the anniversary of his birth, some doubt as to
the special significance of that red-letter day may not unnaturally
creep into his own mind. While in regard to his death, although it
may be highly flattering for him to know that he will certainly
become somebody when he shall have ceased, practically, to be anybody,
such tardy recognition is scarcely timely enough to be properly
appreciated. Human nature is so earth-tied, after all, that a
post-mundane existence is very apt to seem immaterial as well as be so.
With the old familiar landmarks of life obliterated in this
wholesale manner, it is to be doubted whether one of us, placed in
the midst of such a civilization, would know himself. He certainly
would derive but scanty satisfaction from the recognition if he did.
Even Nirvana might seem a happy limbo by comparison. With a communal,
not to say a cosmic, birthday, and a conventional wife, he might
well deem his separate existence the shadow of a shade and embrace
Buddhism from mere force of circumstances.
Further investigation would not shake his opinion. For a far-oriental
career is thoroughly in keeping with these, its typical turning-points.
From one end of its course to the other it is painfully impersonal.
In its regular routine as in its more salient junctures, life
presents itself to these races a totally different affair from what
it seems to us. The cause lies in what is taken to be the basis of
socio-biology, if one may so express it.
In the Far East the social unit, the ultimate molecule of existence,
is not the individual, but the family.
We occidentals think we value family. We even parade our
pretensions so prominently as sometimes to tread on other people's
prejudices of a like nature. Yet we scarcely seem to appreciate the
inheritance. For with a logic which does us questionable credit, we
are proud of our ancestors in direct proportion to their remoteness
from ourselves, thus permitting Democracy to revenge its
insignificance by smiling at our self-imposed satire. To esteem a
man in inverse ratio to the amount of remarkable blood he has
inherited is, to say the least, bathetic. Others, again, make
themselves objectionable by preferring their immediate relatives to
all less connected companions, and cling to their cousins so closely
that affection often culminates in matrimony, nature's remonstrances
notwithstanding. But with all the pride or pleasure which we take
in the members of our particular clan, our satisfaction really
springs from viewing them on an autocentric theory of the social
system. In our own eyes we are the star about which, as in Joseph's
dream, our relatives revolve and upon which they help to shed an
added lustre. Our Ptolemaic theory of society is necessitated by our
tenacity to the personal standpoint. This fixed idea of ours causes
all else seemingly to rotate about it. Such an egoistic conception
is quite foreign to our longitudinal antipodes. However much
appearances may agree, the fundamental principles upon which family
consideration is based are widely different in the two hemispheres.
For the far-eastern social universe turns on a patricentric pivot.
Upon the conception of the family as the social and political unit
depends the whole constitution of China. The same theory somewhat
modified constitutes the life-principle of Korea, of Japan, and of
their less advanced cousins who fill the vast centre of the Asiatic
continent. From the emperor on his throne to the common coolie in
his hovel it is the idea of kinship that knits the entire body
politic together. The Empire is one great family; the family is a
The one developed out of the other. The patriarchal is, as is well
known, probably the oldest political system in the world. All
nations may be said to have experienced such a paternal government,
but most nations outgrew it.
Now the interesting fact about the yellow branch of the human race is,
not that they had so juvenile a constitution, but that they have it;
that it has persisted practically unchanged from prehistoric ages.
It is certainly surprising in this kaleidoscopic world whose pattern
is constantly changing as time merges one combination of its
elements into another, that on the other side of the globe this set
should have remained the same. Yet in spite of the lapse of years,
in spite of the altered conditions of existence, in spite of an
immense advance in civilization, such a primitive state of society
has continued there to the present day, in all its essentials what
it was when as nomads the race forefathers wandered peacefully or
otherwise over the plains of Central Asia. The principle helped
them to expand; it has simply cramped them ever since. For, instead
of dissolving like other antiquated views, it has become, what it
was bound to become if it continued to last, crystallized into an
institution. It had practically reached this condition when it
received a theoretical, not to say a theological recognition which
gave it mundane immortality. A couple of millenniums ago Confucius
consecrated filial duty by making it the basis of the Chinese moral
code. His hand was the finishing touch of fossilification.
For since the sage set his seal upon the system no one has so much
as dreamt of changing it. The idea of confuting Confucius would be
an act of impiety such as no Chinaman could possibly commit. Not
that the inadmissibility of argument is due really to the authority
of the philosopher, but that it lies ingrained in the character of
the people. Indeed the genius of the one may be said to have
consisted in divining the genius of the other. Confucius formulated
the prevailing practice, and in so doing helped to make it perpetual.
He gave expression to the national feeling, and like expressions,
generally his, served to stamp the idea all the more indelibly upon
the national consciousness.
In this manner the family from a natural relation grew into a highly
unnatural social anachronism. The loose ties of a roving life
became fetters of a fixed conventionality. Bonds originally of
mutual advantage hardened into restrictions by which the young were
hopelessly tethered to the old. Midway in its course the race
undertook to turn round and face backwards, as it journeyed on.
Its subsequent advance could be nothing but slow.
The head of a family is so now in something of a corporeal sense.
From him emanate all its actions; to him are responsible all its parts.
Any other member of it is as incapable of individual expression as
is the hand, or the foot, or the eye of man. Indeed, Confucian
doctors of divinity might appropriately administer psychically to
the egoistic the rebuke of the Western physician to the too
self-analytic youth who, finding that, after eating, his digestion
failed to give him what he considered its proper sensations, had
come to consult the doctor as to how it ought to feel. "Feel! young
man," he was answered, "you ought not to be aware that you have a
digestion." So with them, a normally constituted son knows not what
it is to possess a spontaneity of his own. Indeed, this very word
"own," which so long ago in our own tongue took to itself the symbol
of possession, well exemplifies his dependent state. China furnishes
the most conspicuous instance of the want of individual rights.
A Chinese son cannot properly be said to own anything. The title to
the land he tills is vested absolutely in the family, of which he is
an undivided thirtieth, or what-not. Even the administration of the
property is not his, but resides in the family, represented by its
head. The outward symbols of ownership testify to the fact.
The bourns that mark the boundaries of the fields bear the names of
families, not of individuals. The family, as such, is the proprietor,
and its lands are cultivated and enjoyed in common by all the
constituents of the clan. In the tenure of its real estate, the
Chinese family much resembles the Russian Mir. But so far as his
personal state is concerned, the Chinese son outslaves the Slav.
For he lives at home, under the immediate control of the paternal
will--in the most complete of serfdoms, a filial one. Even existence
becomes a communal affair. From the family mansion, or set of
mansions, in which all its members dwell, to the family mausoleum,
to which they will all eventually be borne, a man makes his life
journey in strict company with his kin.
A man's life is thus but an undivisible fraction of the family life.
How essentially so will appear from the following slight sketch of it.
To begin at the beginning, his birth is a very important event--for
the household, at which no one fails to rejoice except the new-comer.
He cries. The general joy, however, depends somewhat upon his sex.
If the baby chances to be a boy, everybody is immensely pleased; if
a girl, there is considerably less effusion shown. In the latter
case the more impulsive relatives are unmistakably sorry; the more
philosophic evidently hope for better luck next time. Both kinds
make very pretty speeches, which not even the speakers believe, for
in the babe lottery the family is considered to have drawn a blank.
A delight so engendered proves how little of the personal, even in
prospective, attaches to its object. The reason for the invidious
distinction in the matter of sex lies of course in an inordinate
desire for the perpetuation of the family line. The unfortunate
infant is regarded merely in the light of a possible progenitor.
A boy is already potentially a father; whereas a girl, if she marry
at all, is bound to marry out of her own family into another, and is
relatively lost. The full force of the deprivation is, however,
to some degree tempered by the almost infinite possibilities of
adoption. Daughters are, therefore, not utterly unmitigable evils.
From the privacy of the domestic circle, the infant's entrance into
public life is performed pick-a-back. Strapped securely to the
shoulders of a slightly older sister, out he goes, consigned to the
tender mercies of a being who is scarcely more than a baby herself.
The diminutiveness of the nurse-perambulators is the most surprising
part of the performance. The tiniest of tots may be seen thus
toddling round with burdens half their own size. Like the dot upon
the little i, the baby's head seems a natural part of their childish
An economy of the kind in the matter of nurses is highly suggestive.
That it should be practicable thus to entrust one infant to another
proves the precociousness of children. But this surprising maturity
of the young implies by a law too well known to need explanation,
the consequent immaturity of the race. That which has less to grow
up to, naturally grows up to its limit sooner. It may even be
questioned whether it does not do so with the more haste; on the
same principle that a runner who has less distance to travel not
only accomplishes his course quicker, but moves with relatively
greater speed, or as a small planet grows old not simply sooner, but
comparatively faster than a larger one. Jupiter is still in his
fiery youth, while the moon is senile in decrepid old age, and yet
his separate existence began long before hers. Either hypothesis
will explain the abnormally early development of the Chinese race,
and its subsequent career of inactivity. Meanwhile the youthful
nurse, in blissful ignorance of the evidence which her present
precocity affords against her future possibilities, pursues her
sports with intermittent attention to her charge, whose poor little
head lolls about, now on one side and now on the other, in a most
distressingly loose manner, an uninterested spectator of the
As soon as the babe gets a trifle bigger he ceases to be ministered
to and begins his long course of ministering to others. His home
life consists of attentive subordination. The relation his
obedience bears to that of children elsewhere is paralleled perhaps
sufficiently by the comparative importance attached to precepts on
the subject in the respective moral codes. The commandment "honor
thy father" forms a tithe of the Mosaic law, while the same
injunction constitutes at least one half of the Confucian precepts.
To the Chinese child all the parental commands are not simply law to
the letter, they are to be anticipated in the spirit. To do what he
is told is but the merest fraction of his duty; theoretically his
only thought is how to serve his sire. The pious Aeneas escaping
from Troy exemplifies his conduct when it comes to a question of
domestic precedence,--whose first care, it will be remembered, was
for his father, his next for his son, and his last for his wife.
He lost his wife, it may be noted in passing. Filial piety is the
greatest of Chinese virtues. Indeed, an undutiful son is a
monstrosity, a case of moral deformity. It could now hardly be
otherwise. For a father sums up in propria persona a whole pedigree
of patriarchs whose superimposed weight of authority is practically
divine. This condition of servitude is never outgrown by the
individual, as it has never been outgrown by the race.
Our boy now begins to go to school; to a day school, it need hardly
be specified, for a boarding school would be entirely out of keeping
with the family life. Here, he is given the "Trimetrical Classic"
to start on, that he may learn the characters by heart, picking up
incidentally what ideas he may. This book is followed by the
"Century of Surnames," a catalogue of all the clan names in China,
studied like the last for the sake of the characters, although the
suggestion of the importance of the family contained in it is
probably not lost upon his youthful mind. Next comes the "Thousand
Character Classic," a wonderful epic as a feat of skill, for of the
thousand characters which it contains not a single one is repeated,
an absence of tautology not properly appreciated by the enforced
reader. Reminiscences of our own school days vividly depict the
consequent disgust, instead of admiration, of the boy. Three more
books succeed these first volumes, differing from one another in
form, but in substance singularly alike, treating, as they all do,
of history and ethics combined. For tales and morals are
inseparably associated by pious antiquity. Indeed, the past would
seem to have lived with special reference to the edification of the
future. Chinamen were abnormally virtuous in those golden days,
barring the few unfortunates whom fate needed as warning examples of
depravity for succeeding ages. Except for the fact that instruction
as to a future life forms no part of the curriculum, a far-eastern
education may be said to consist of Sunday-school every day in the
week. For no occasion is lost by the erudite authors, even in the
most worldly portions of their work, for preaching a slight homily
on the subject in hand. The dictum of Dionysius of Halicarnassus
that "history is philosophy teaching by example" would seem there to
have become modified into "history is filiosophy teaching by
example." For in the instructive anecdotes every other form of merit
is depicted as second to that of being a dutiful son. To the
practice of that supreme virtue all other considerations are
sacrificed. The student's aim is thus kept single. At every turn
of the leaves, paragons of filial piety shame the youthful reader to
the pitch of emulation by the epitaphic records of their deeds.
Portraits of the past, possibly colored, present that estimable
trait in so exalted a type that to any less filial a people they
would simply deter competition. Yet the boy implicitly believes and
no doubt resolves to rival what he reads. A specimen or two will
amply suggest the rest. In one tale the hero is held up to the
unqualified admiration of posterity for having starved to death his
son, in an extreme case of family destitution, for the sake of
providing food enough for his aged father. In another he
unhesitatingly divorces his wife for having dared to poke fun, in
the shape of bodkins, at some wooden effigies of his parents which
he had had set up in the house for daily devotional contemplation.
Finally another paragon actually sells himself in perpetuity as a
slave that he may thus procure the wherewithal to bury with due
honor his anything but worthy progenitor, who had first cheated his
neighbors and then squandered his ill-gotten gains in riotous living.
Of these tales, as of certain questionable novels in a slightly
different line, the eventual moral is considered quite competent to
redeem the general immorality of the plot.
Along such a curriculum the youthful Chinaman is made to run.
A very similar system prevails in Japan, the difference between the
two consisting in quantity rather than quality. The books in the
two cases are much the same, and the amount read differs surprisingly
little when we consider that in the one case it is his own classics
the student is reading, in the other the Chinaman's.
If he belong to the middle class, as soon as his schooling is over
he is set to learn his father's trade. To undertake to learn any
trade but his father's would strike the family as simply preposterous.
Why should he adopt another line of business? And, if he did, what
other business should he adopt? Is his father's occupation not
already there, a part of the existing order of things; and is he not
the son of his father and heir therefore of the paternal skill?
Not that such inherited aptness is recognized scientifically; it is
simply taken for granted instinctively. It is but a halfhearted
intuition, however, for the possibility of an inheritance from the
mother's side is as out of the question as if her severance from her
own family had an ex post facto effect. As for his individual
predilection in the matter, nature has considerately conformed to
custom by giving him none. He becomes a cabinet-maker, for instance,
because his ancestors always have been cabinet-makers. He inherits
the family business as a necessary part of the family name. He is
born to his trade, not naturally selected because of his fitness for it.
But he usually is amply qualified for the position, for generations
of practice, if only on one side of the house, accumulate a vast
deal of technical skill. The result of this system of clan guilds
in all branches of industry is sufficiently noticeable. The almost
infinite superiority of Japanese artisans over their European
fellow-craftsmen is world-known. On the other hand the tendency of
the occupation in the abstract to swallow up the individual in the
concrete is as evident to theory as it is patent in practice.
Eventually the man is lost in the manner. The very names of trades
express the fact. The Japanese word for cabinet-maker, for example,
means literally cutting-thing-house, and is now applied as
distinctively to the man as to his shop. Nominally as well as
practically the youthful Japanese artisan makes his introduction to
the world, much after the manner of the hero of Lecocq's comic
opera, the son of the house of Marasquin et Cie.
If instead of belonging to the lower middle class our typical youth
be born of bluer blood, or if he be filled with the same desires as
if he were so descended, he becomes a student. Having failed to
discover in the school-room the futility of his country's
self-vaunted learning, he proceeds to devote his life to its
pursuit. With an application which is eminently praiseworthy, even
if its object be not, he sets to work to steep himself in the
classics till he can perceive no merit in anything else. As might
be suspected, he ends by discovering in the sayings of the past more
meaning than the simple past ever dreamed of putting there.
He becomes more Confucian than Confucius. Indeed, it is fortunate
for the reputation of the sage that he cannot return to earth, for
he might disagree to his detriment with his own commentators.
Such is the state of things in China and Korea. Learning, however,
is not dependent solely on individual interest for its wonderfully
flourishing condition in the Middle Kingdom, for the government
abets the practice to its utmost. It is itself the supreme sanction,
for its posts are the prizes of proficiency. Through the study of
the classics lies the only entrance to political power. To become a
mandarin one must have passed a series of competitive examinations
on these very subjects, and competition in this impersonal field is
most keen. For while popular enthusiasm for philosophy for
philosophy's sake might, among any people, eventually show symptoms
of fatigue, it is not likely to flag where the outcome of it is so
substantial. Erudition carries there all earthly emoluments in its
train. For the man who can write the most scholastic essay on the
classics is forthwith permitted to amass much honor and more wealth
by wronging his less accomplished fellow-citizens. China is a
student's paradise where the possession of learning is instantly
convertible into unlimited pelf.
In Japan the study of the classics was never pursued professionally.
It was, however, prosecuted with much zeal en amateur. The Chinese
bureaucratic system has been wanting. For in spite of her students,
until within thirty years Japan slumbered still in the Knight-time
of the Middle Ages, and so long as a man carried about with him
continually two beautiful swords he felt it incumbent upon him to
use them. The happy days of knight-errantry have passed. These
same cavaliers of Samurai are now thankful to police the streets in
spectacles necessitated by the too diligent study of German text,
and arrest chance disturbers of the public peace for a miserably
small salary per month.
Our youth has now reached the flowering season of life, that brief
May time when the whole world takes on the rose-tint, and when by
all dramatic laws he ought to fall in love. He does nothing of the
kind. Sad to say, he is a stranger to the feeling. Love, as we
understand the word, is a thing unknown to the Far East;
fortunately, indeed, for the possession there of the tender passion
would be worse than useless. Its indulgence would work no end of
disturbance to the community at large, beside entailing much misery
upon its individual victim. Its exercise would probably be classed
with kleptomania and other like excesses of purely personal
consideration. The community could never permit the practice, for
it strikes at the very root of their whole social system.
The immense loss in happiness to these people in consequence of the
omission by the too parsimonious Fates of that thread, which, with
us, spins the whole of woman's web of life, and at least weaves the
warp of man's, is but incidental to the present subject; the effect
of the loss upon the individuality of the person himself is what
concerns us now.
If there is one moment in a man's life when his interest for the
world at large pales before the engrossing character of his own
emotions, it is assuredly when that man first falls in love.
Then, if never before, the world within excludes the world without.
For of all our human passions none is so isolating as the tenderest.
To shut that one other being in, we must of necessity shut all the
rest of mankind out; and we do so with a reckless trust in our own
self-sufficiency which has about it a touch of the sublime.
The other millions are as though they were not, and we two are alone
in the earth, which suddenly seems to have grown unprecedentedly
beautiful. Indeed, it only needs such judicious depopulation to
make of any spot an Eden. Perhaps the early Jewish myth-makers had
some such thought in mind when they wrote their idyl of the cosmogony.
The human traits are true to-day. Then at last our souls throw
aside their conventional wrappings to stand revealed as they really
are. Certain of comprehension, the thoughts we have never dared
breathe to any one before, find a tongue for her who seems
fore-destined to understand. The long-closed floodgates of feeling
are thrown wide, and our personality, pent up from the time of its
inception for very mistrust, sweeps forth in one uncontrollable
rush. For then the most reticent becomes confiding; the most
self-contained expands. Then every detail of our past lives assumes
an importance which even we had not divined. To her we tell them
all,--our boyish beliefs, our youthful fancies, the foolish with
the fine, the witty with the wise, the little with the great.
Nothing then seems quite unworthy, as nothing seems quite worthy
enough. Flowers and weeds that we plucked upon our pathway, we heap
them in her lap, certain that even the poorest will not be tossed
aside. Small wonder that we bring as many as we may when she bends
her head so lovingly to each.
As our past rises in reminiscence with all its oldtime reality, no
less clearly does our future stand out to us in mirage. What we
would be seems as realizable as what we were. Seen by another
beside ourselves, our castles in the air take on something of the
substance of stereoscopic sight. Our airiest fancies seem solid
facts for their reality to her, and gilded by lovelight, they
glitter and sparkle like a true palace of the East. For once all is
possible; nothing lies beyond our reach. And as we talk, and she
listens, we two seem to be floating off into an empyrean of our own
like the summer clouds above our heads, as they sail dreamily on
into the far-away depths of the unfathomable sky.
It would be more than mortal not to believe in ourselves when
another believes so absolutely in us. Our most secret thoughts are
no longer things to be ashamed of, for she has sanctioned them.
Whatever doubt may have shadowed us as to our own imaginings
disappears before the smile of her appreciation. That her
appreciation may be prejudiced is not a possibility we think of
then. She understands us, or seems to do so to our own better
understanding of ourselves. Happy the man who is thus understood!
Happy even he who imagines that he is, because of her eager wish to
comprehend; fortunate, indeed, if in this one respect he never comes
to see too clearly.
No such blissful infatuation falls to the lot of the Far Oriental.
He never is the dupe of his own desire, the willing victim of his
self-illusion. He is never tempted to reveal himself, and by thus
revealing, realize. No loving appreciation urges him on toward the
attainment of his own ideal. That incitement to be what he would
seem to be, to become what she deems becoming, he fails to feel.
Custom has so far fettered fancy that even the wish to communicate
has vanished. He has now nothing to tell; she needs no ear to hear.
For she is not his love; she is only his wife,--what is left of a
romance when the romance is left out. Worse still, she never was
anything else. He has not so much as a memory of her, for he did
not marry her for love; he may not love of his own accord, nor for
the matter of that does he wish to do so. If by some mischance he
should so far forget to forget himself, it were much better for him
had he not done so, for the choice of a bride is not his, nor of a
bridegroom hers. Marriage to a Far Oriental is the most important
mercantile transaction of his whole life. It is, therefore, far too
weighty a matter to be entrusted to his youthful indiscretion; for
although the person herself is of lamentably little account in the
bargain, the character of her worldly circumstances is most material
to it. So she is contracted for with the same care one would
exercise in the choice of any staple business commodity.
The particular sample is not vital to the trade, but the grade of
goods is. She is selected much as the bride of the Vicar of Wakefield
chose her wedding-gown, only that the one was at least cut to suit,
while the other is not. It is certainly easier, if less fitting,
to get a wife as some people do clothes, not to their own order,
but ready made; all the more reason when the bargain is for one's son,
not one's self. So the Far East, which looks at the thing from a
strictly paternal standpoint and ignores such trifles as personal
preferences, takes its boy to the broker's and fits him out.
That the object of such parental care does not end by murdering his
unfortunate spouse or making way with himself suggests how dead
already is that individuality which we deem to be of the very essence
of the thing.
Marriage is thus a species of investment contracted by the existing
family for the sake of the prospective one, the actual participants
being only lay figures in the affair. Sometimes the father decides
the matter himself; sometimes he or the relative who stands in loco
parentis calls for a plebiscit on the subject; for such an extension
of the suffrage has gradually crept even into patriarchal
institutions. The family then assemble, sit in solemn conclave on
the question, and decide it by vote. Of course the interested
parties are not asked their opinion, as it might be prejudiced.
The result of the conference must be highly gratifying. To have
one's wife chosen for one by vote of one's relatives cannot but be
satisfactory--to the electors. The outcome of this ballot, like
that of universal suffrage elsewhere, is at the best unobjectionable
mediocrity. Somehow such a result does not seem quite to fulfil
one's ideal of a wife. It is true that the upper classes of
impersonal France practise this method of marital selection, their
conseils de famille furnishing in some sort a parallel. But, as is
well known, matrimony among these same upper classes is largely form
devoid of substance. It begins impressively with a dual ceremony,
the civil contract, which amounts to a contract of civility between
the parties, and a religious rite to render the same perpetual,
and there it is too apt to end.
So much for the immediate influence on the man; the eventual effect
on the race remains to be considered. Now, if the first result be
anything, the second must in the end be everything. For however
trifling it be in the individual instance, it goes on accumulating
with each successive generation, like compound interest.
The choosing of a wife by family suffrage is not simply an exponent
of the impersonal state of things, it is a power toward bringing
such a state of things about. A hermit seldom develops to his full
possibilities, and the domestic variety is no exception to the rule.
A man who is linked to some one that toward him remains a cipher
lacks surroundings inciting to psychological growth, nor is he more
favorably circumstanced because all his ancestors have been
As if to make assurance doubly sure, natural selection here steps in
to further the process. To prove this with all the rigidity of
demonstration desirable is in the present state of erotics beyond
our power. Until our family trees give us something more than mere
skeletons of dead branches, we must perforce continue ignorant of
the science of grafts. For the nonce we must be content to
generalize from our own premises, only rising above them
sufficiently to get a bird's-eye view of our neighbor's estates.
Such a survey has at least one advantage: the whole field of view
appears perfectly plain.
Surveying the subject, then, from this ego-altruistic position,
we can perceive why matrimony, as we practise it, should result in
increasing the personality of our race: for the reason namely that
psychical similarity determines the selection. At first sight,
indeed, such a natural affinity would seem to have little or nothing
to do with marriage. As far as outsiders are capable of judging,
unlikes appear to fancy one another quite as gratuitously as do
likes. Connubial couples are often anything but twin souls. Yet our
own dual use of the word "like" bears historic witness to the
contrary. For in this expression we have a record from early Gothic
times that men liked others for being like themselves. Since then,
our feelings have not changed materially, although our mode of
showing them is slightly less intense. In those simple days
stranger and enemy were synonymous terms, and their objects were
received in a corresponding spirit. In our present refined
civilization we hurl epithets instead of spears, and content
ourselves with branding as heterodox the opinions of another which
do not happen to coincide with our own. The instinct of
self-development naturally begets this self-sided view. We
insensibly find those persons congenial whose ideas resemble ours,
and gravitate to them, as leaves on a pond do to one another, nearer
and nearer till they touch. Is it likely, then, that in the most
important case of all the rule should suddenly cease to hold? Is it
to be presumed that even Socrates chose Xantippe for her remarkable
contrariety to himself?
Mere physical attraction is another matter. Corporeally considered,
men not infrequently fall in love with their opposites, the
phenomenally tall with the painfully short, the unnecessarily stout
with the distressingly slender. But even such inartistic
juxtapositions are much less common than we are apt at times to
think. For it must never be forgotten that the exceptional
character of the phenomena renders them conspicuous, the customary
more consorted combinations failing to excite attention.
Besides, there exists a reason for physical incongruity which does
not hold psychically. Nature sanctions the one while she
discountenances the other. Instead of the forethought she once
bestowed upon the body, it receives at her hands now but the
scantiest attention. Its development has ceased to be an object
with her. For some time past almost all her care has been devoted
to the evolution of the soul. The consequence is that physically
man is much less specialized than many other animals. In other
words, he is bodily less advanced in the race for competitive
extermination. He belongs to an antiquated, inefficient type of
mammal. His organism is still of the jack-of-all-trades pattern,
such as prevailed generally in the more youthful stages of organic
life--one not specially suited to any particular pursuit. Were it
not for his cerebral convolutions he could not compete for an
instant in the struggle for existence, and even the monkey would
reign in his stead. But brain is more effective than biceps, and a
being who can kill his opponent farther off than he can see him
evidently needs no great excellence of body to survive his foe.
The field of competition has thus been transferred from matter to
mind, but the fight has lost none of its keenness in consequence.
With the same zeal with which advantageous anatomical variations
were seized upon and perpetuated, psychical ones are now grasped and
rendered hereditary. Now if opposites were to fancy and wed one
another, such fortunate improvements would soon be lost. They would
be scattered over the community at large even it they escaped entire
neutralization. To prevent so disastrous a result nature implants a
desire for resemblance, which desire man instinctively acts upon.
Complete compatibility of temperament is of course a thing not to be
expected nor indeed to be desired, since it would defeat its own end
by allowing no room for variation. A fairly broad basis of agreement,
however, exists even when least suspected. This common ground of
content consists of those qualities held to be most essential by the
individuals concerned, although not necessarily so appearing to
other people. Sometimes, indeed, these qualities are still in the
larvae state of desires. They are none the less potent upon the
man's personality on that account, for the wish is always father to
its own fulfilment.
The want of conjugal resemblance not only works mediately on the
child, it works mutually on the parents; for companionship, as is
well recognized, tends to similarity. Now companionship is the last
thing to be looked for in a far-eastern couple. Where custom
requires a wife to follow dutifully in the wake of her husband,
whenever the two go out together, there is small opportunity for
intercourse by the way, even were there the slightest inclination to
it, which there is not. The appearance of the pair on an excursion
is a walking satire on sociability, for the comicality of the
connection is quite unperceived by the performers. In the privacy
of the domestic circle the separation, if less humorous, is no less
complete. Each lives in a world of his own, largely separate in
fact in China and Korea, and none the less in fancy in Japan.
On the continent a friend of the husband would see little or nothing
of the wife, and even in Japan he would meet her much as we meet an
upper servant in a friend's house. Such a semi-attached
relationship does not conduce to much mutual understanding.
The remainder of our hero's uneventful existence calls for no
particular comment. As soon as he has children borne him he is
raised ipso facto from the position of a common soldier to that of
a subordinate officer in the family ranks. But his opportunities
for the expression of individuality are not one whit increased.
He has simply advanced a peg in a regular hierarchy of subjection.
From being looked after himself he proceeds to look after others.
Such is the extent of the change. Even should he chance to be the
eldest son of the eldest son, and thus eventually end by becoming
the head of the family, he cannot consistently consider himself.
There is absolutely no place in his social cosmos for so particular
a thing as the ego.
With a certain grim humor suggestive of metaphysics, it may be said
of his whole life that it is nothing but a relative affair after
Chapter 3. Adoption.
But one may go a step farther in this matter of the family, and by
so doing fare still worse with respect to individuality. There are
certain customs in vogue among these peoples which would seem to
indicate that even so generic a thing as the family is too personal
to serve them for ultimate social atom, and that in fact it is only
the idea of the family that is really important, a case of
abstraction of an abstract. These suggestive customs are the
far-eastern practices of adoption and abdication.
Adoption, with us, is a kind of domestic luxury, akin to the keeping
of any other pets, such as lap-dogs and canaries. It is a species
of self-indulgence which those who can afford it give themselves
when fortune has proved unpropitious, an artificial method of
counteracting the inequalities of fate. That such is the plain
unglamoured view of the procedure is shown by the age at which the
object is adopted. Usually the future son or daughter enters the
adoptive household as an infant, intentionally so on the part of the
would-be parents. His ignorance of a previous relationship largely
increases his relative value; for the possibility of his making
comparisons in his own mind between a former state of existence and
the present one unfavorable to the latter is not pleasant for the
adopters to contemplate. He is therefore acquired young. The
amusement derived from his company is thus seen to be distinctly
paramount to all other considerations. No one cares so heartily to
own a dog which has been the property of another; a fortiori of a
child. It is clearly, then, not as a necessity that the babe is
adopted. If such were the case, if like the ancient Romans all a
man wanted was the continuance of the family line, he would
naturally wait until the last practicable moment; for he would thus
save both care and expense. In the Far East adoption is quite a
different affair. There it is a genealogical necessity--like having
a father or mother. It is, indeed, of almost more importance.
For the great desideratum to these peoples is not ancestors but
descendants. Pedigrees in the land of the universal opposite are not
matters of bequest but of posthumous reversion. A man is not
beholden to the past, he looks forward to the future for inherited
honors. No fame attaches to him for having had an illustrious
grandfather. On the contrary, it is the illustrious grandson who
reflects some of his own greatness back upon his grandfather. If a
man therefore fail to attain eminence himself, he always has another
chance in his descendants; for he will of necessity be ennobled
through the merits of those who succeed him. Such is the immemorial
law of the land. Fame is retroactive. This admirable system has
only one objection: it is posthumous in its effect. An ambitious
man who unfortunately lacks ability himself has to wait too long for
vicarious recognition. The objection is like that incident to the
making of a country seat out of a treeless plain by planting the
same with saplings. About the time the trees begin to be worth
having the proprietary landscape-gardener dies of old age. However,
as custom permits a Far Oriental no ancestral growth of timber,
he is obliged to lay the seeds of his own family trees. Natural
offspring are on the whole easier to get, and more satisfactory when
got. Hence the haste with which these peoples rush into matrimony.
If in despite of his precipitation fate perversely refuse to grant
him children, he must endeavor to make good the omission by
artificial means. He proceeds to adopt somebody. True to instinct,
he chooses from preference a collateral relative. In some far-eastern
lands he must so restrict himself by law. In Korea, for instance,
he can only adopt an agnate and one of a lower generation than his own.
But in Japan his choice is not so limited. In so praiseworthy an
act as the perpetuation of his unimportant family line, it is deemed
unwise in that progressive land to hinder him from unconsciously
bettering it by the way. He is consequently permitted to adopt
anybody. As people are by no means averse to being adopted, the
power to adopt whom he will gives him more voice in the matter of
his unnatural offspring than he ever had in the selection of a more
The adopted changes his name, of course, to take that of the family
he enters. As he is very frequently grown up and extensively known
at the time the adoption takes place, his change of cognomen
occasions at first some slight confusion among his acquaintance.
This would be no worse, however, than the change with us from the
maid to the matron, and intercourse would soon proceed smoothly
again if people would only rest content with one such domestic
migration. But they do not. The fatal facility of the process
tempts them to repeat it. The result is bewildering: a people as
nomadic now in the property of their persons as their forefathers
were in their real estate. A man adopts another to-day to unadopt
him to-morrow and replace him by somebody else the day after.
So profoundly unimportant to them is their social identity, that they
bandy it about with almost farcical freedom. Perhaps it is fitting
that there should be some slight preparation in this world for a
future transmigration of souls. Still one fails to conceive that
the practice can be devoid of disadvantages even to its beneficiaries.
To foreigners it proves disastrously perplexing. For if you chance
upon a man whom you have not met for some time, you can never be
quite sure how to accost him. If you begin, "Well met, Green, how
goes it?" as likely as not he replies, "Finely. But I am no longer
Green; I have become Brown. I was adopted last month by my maternal
grandfather." You of course apologize for your unfortunate mistake,
carefully note his change of hue for a future occasion, and behold,
on meeting him the next time you find he has turned Black. Such a
chameleon-like cognomen is very unsettling to your idea of his
identity, and can hardly prove reassuring to his own. The only
persons who reap any benefit from the doubt are those, with us
unhappy, individuals who possess the futile faculty of remembering
faces without recalling their accompanying names.
Girls, as a rule, are not adopted, being valueless genealogically.
A niece or grandniece to whom one has taken a great fancy might of
course be adopted there as elsewhere, but it would be distinctly out
of the every-day run, as she could never be included in the
household on strict business principles.
The practice of adopting is not confined to childless couples.
Others may find themselves in quite as unfortunate a predicament.
A man may be the father of a large and thriving family and yet be as
destitute patriarchally as if he had not a child to his name.
His offspring may be of the wrong sex; they may all be girls.
In this untoward event the father has something more on his hands
than merely a houseful of daughters to dispose of. In addition to
securing sons-in-law, he must, unless he would have his ancestral
line become extinct, provide himself with a son. The simplest
procedure in such a case is to combine relationships in a single
individual, and the most self-evident person to select for the dual
capacity is the husband of the eldest daughter. This is the course
pursued. Some worthy young man is secured as spouse for the senior
sister; he is at the same time formally taken in as a son by the
family whose cognomen he assumes, and eventually becomes the head of
the house. Strange to say, this vista of gradually unfolding honors
does not seem to prove inviting. Perhaps the new-comer objects to
marrying the whole family, a prejudice not without parallel
elsewhere. Certainly the opportunity is not appreciated. Indeed,
to "go out as a son-in-law," as the Japanese idiom hath it, is
considered demeaning to the matrimonial domestic. Like other
household help he wears too patently the badge of servitude.
"If you have three koku of rice to your name, don't do it," is the
advice of the local proverb--a proverb whose warning against
marrying for money is the more suggestive for being launched in a
land where marrying for love is beyond the pale of respectability.
To barter one's name in this mercenary manner is looked upon as
derogatory to one's self-respect, although, as we have seen, to part
with it for any less direct remuneration is not attended with the
slightest loss of personal prestige. As practically the unfortunate
had none to lose in either event, it would seem to be a case of
taking away from a man that which he hath not. So contumacious a
thing is custom. It is indeed lucky that popular prejudice
interposes some limit to this fictitious method of acquiring
children. A trifling predilection for the real thing in sonships is
absolutely vital, even to the continuance of the artificial variety.
For if one generation ever went in exclusively for adoption, there
would be no subsequent generation to adopt.
As it to give the finishing touch to so conventional a system of
society, a man can leave it under certain circumstances with even
greater ease than he entered it. He can become as good as dead
without the necessity of making way with himself. Theoretically, he
can cease to live while still practically existing; for it is always
open to the head of a family to abdicate.
The word abdicate has to our ears a certain regal sound.
We instinctively associate the act with a king. Even the more
democratic expression resign suggests at once an office of public or
quasi public character. To talk of abdicating one's private
relationships sounds absurd; one might as well talk of electing his
parents, it would seem to us. Such misunderstanding of far-eastern
social possibilities comes from our having indulged in digressions
from our more simple nomadic habits. If in imagination we will
return to our ancestral muttons and the then existing order of
things, the idea will not strike us as so strange; for in those
early bucolic days every father was a king. Family economics were
the only political questions in existence then. The clan was the
unit. Domestic disputes were state disturbances, and clan-claims
the only kind of international quarrels. The patriarch was both
father to his people and king.
As time widened the family circle it eventually reached a point
where cohesion ceased to be possible. The centrifugal tendency
could no longer be controlled by the centripetal force. It split up
into separate bodies, each of them a family by itself. In their
turn these again divided, and so the process went on. This
principle has worked universally, the only difference in its action
among different races being the greater or less degree of the
evolving motion. With us the social system has been turning more
and more rapidly with time. In the Far East its force, instead of
increasing, would seem to have decreased, enabling the nebula of its
original condition to keep together as a single mass, so that to-day
a whole nation, resembling a nebula indeed in homogeneity, is swayed
by a single patriarchal principle. Here, on the contrary, so rapid
has the motion become that even brethren find themselves scattered
to the four winds.
An Occidental father and an Oriental head of a family are no longer
really correlative terms. The latter more closely resembles a king
in his duties, responsibilities, and functions generally. Now, in
the Middle Ages in Europe, when a king grew tired of affairs of
state, he abdicated. So in the Far East, when the head of a family
has had enough of active life, he abdicates, and his eldest son
reigns in his stead.
From that moment he ceases to belong to the body politic in any
active sense. Not that he is no longer a member of society nor
unamenable to its general laws, but that he has become a respectable
declasse, as it were. He has entered, so to speak, the social
nirvana, a not unfitting first step, as he regards it, toward
entering the eventual nirvana beyond. Such abdication now takes
place without particular cause. After a certain time of life, and
long before a man grows old, it is the fashion thus to make one's bow.
Chapter 4. Language.
A man's personal equation, as astronomers call the effect of his
individuality, is kin, for all its complexity, to those simple
algebraical problems which so puzzled us at school. To solve either
we must begin by knowing the values of the constants that enter into
its expression. Upon the a b c's of the one, as upon those of the
other, depend the possibilities of the individual x.
Now the constants in any man's equation are the qualities that he
has inherited from the past. What a man does follows from what he
is, which in turn is mostly dependent upon what his ancestors have
been; and of all the links in the long chain of mind-evolution, few
are more important and more suggestive than language. Actions may
at the moment speak louder than words, but methods of expression
have as tell-tale a tongue for bygone times as ways of doing things.
If it should ever fall to my lot to have to settle that exceedingly
vexed Eastern question,--not the emancipation of ancient Greece from
the bondage of the modern Turk, but the emancipation of the modern
college student from the bond of ancient Greek,--I should propose,
as a solution of the dilemma, the addition of a course in Japanese
to the college list of required studies. It might look, I admit,
like begging the question for the sake of giving its answer, but the
answer, I think, would justify itself.
It is from no desire to parade a fresh hobby-horse upon the
university curriculum that I offer the suggestion, but because I
believe that a study of the Japanese language would prove the most
valuable of ponies in the academic pursuit of philology. In the
matter of literature, indeed, we should not be adding very much to
our existing store, but we should gain an insight into the genesis
of speech that would put us at least one step nearer to being
present at the beginnings of human conversation. As it is now, our
linguistic learning is with most of us limited to a knowledge of
Aryan tongues, and in consequence we not only fall into the mistake
of thinking our way the only way, which is bad enough, but, what is
far worse, by not perceiving the other possible paths we quite fail
to appreciate the advantages or disadvantages of following our own.
We are the blind votaries of a species of ancestral language-worship,
which, with all its erudition, tends to narrow our linguistic scope.
A study of Japanese would free us from the fetters of any such
family infatuation. The inviolable rules and regulations of our
mother-tongue would be found to be of relative application only.
For we should discover that speech is a much less categorical matter
than we had been led to suppose. We should actually come to doubt
the fundamental necessity of some of our most sacred grammatical
constructions; and even our reverenced Latin grammars would lose
that air of awful absoluteness which so impressed us in boyhood.
An encouraging estimate of a certain missionary puts the amount of
study needed by the Western student for the learning of Japanese as
sufficient, if expended nearer home, to equip him with any three
modern European languages. It is certainly true that a completely
strange vocabulary, an utter inversion of grammar, and an elaborate
system of honorifics combine to render its acquisition anything but
easy. In its fundamental principles, however, it is alluringly
In the first place, the Japanese language is pleasingly destitute of
personal pronouns. Not only is the obnoxious "I" conspicuous only
by its absence; the objectionable antagonistic "you" is also
entirely suppressed, while the intrusive "he" is evidently too much
of a third person to be wanted. Such invidious distinctions of
identity apparently never thrust their presence upon the simple
early Tartar minds. I, you, and he, not being differences due to
nature, demanded, to their thinking, no recognition of man.
There is about this vagueness of expression a freedom not without its
charm. It is certainly delightful to be able to speak of yourself
as if you were somebody else, choosing mentally for the occasion any
one you may happen to fancy, or, it you prefer, the possibility of
soaring boldly forth into the realms of the unconditioned.
To us, at first sight, however, such a lack of specification appears
wofully incompatible with any intelligible transmission of ideas.
So communistic a want of discrimination between the meum and the
tuum--to say nothing of the claims of a possible third party--would
seem to be as fatal to the interchange of thoughts as it proves
destructive to the trafficking in commodities. Such, nevertheless,
is not the result. On the contrary, Japanese is as easy and as
certain of comprehension as is English. On ninety occasions out of
a hundred, the context at once makes clear the person meant.
In the very few really ambiguous cases, or those in which, for the
sake of emphasis, a pronoun is wanted, certain consecrated
expressions are introduced for the purpose. For eventually the more
complex social relations of increasing civilization compelled some
sort of distant recognition. Accordingly, compromises with
objectionable personality were effected by circumlocutions promoted
to a pronoun's office, becoming thus pro-pronouns, as it were.
Very noncommittal expressions they are, most of them, such as:
"the augustness," meaning you; "that honorable side," or
"that corner," denoting some third person, the exact term employed
in any given instance scrupulously betokening the relative respect
in which the individual spoken of is held; while with a candor, an
indefiniteness, or a humility worthy so polite a people, the I is
known as "selfishness," or "a certain person," or "the clumsy one."
Pronominal adjectives are manufactured in the same way.
"The stupid father," "the awkward son," "the broken-down firm," are
"mine." Were they "yours," they would instantly become "the august,
venerable father," "the honorable son," "the exalted firm." 
Even these lame substitutes for pronouns are paraded as sparingly as
possible. To the Western student, who brings to the subject a brain
throbbing with personality, hunting in a Japanese sentence for
personal references is dishearteningly like "searching in the dark
for a black hat which is n't there;" for the brevet pronouns are
commonly not on duty. To employ them with the reckless prodigality
that characterizes our conversation would strike the Tartar mind
like interspersing his talk with unmeaning italics. He would regard
such discourse much as we do those effusive epistles of a certain
type of young woman to her most intimate girl friends, in which
every other word is emphatically underlined.
For the most part, the absolutely necessary personal references are
introduced by honorifics; that is, by honorary or humble expressions.
Such is a portion of the latter's duty. They do a great deal of
unnecessary work besides.
These honorifics are, taken as a whole, one of the most interesting
peculiarities of Japanese, as also of Korean, just as, taken in
detail, they are one of its most dangerous pitfalls. For silence is
indeed golden compared with the chagrin of discovering that a speech
which you had meant for a compliment was, in fact, an insult, or the
vexation of learning that you have been industriously treating your
servant with the deference due a superior,--two catastrophes sure to
follow the attempts of even the most cautious of beginners.
The language is so thoroughly imbued with the honorific spirit that
the exposure of truth in all its naked simplicity is highly improper.
Every idea requires to be more or less clothed in courtesy before it
is presentable; and the garb demanded by etiquette is complex beyond
conception. To begin with, there are certain preliminary particles
which are simply honorific, serving no other purpose whatsoever.
In addition to these there are for every action a small infinity of
verbs, each sacred to a different degree of respect. For instance,
to our verb "to give" corresponds a complete social scale of
Japanese verbs, each conveying the idea a shade more politely than
its predecessor; only the very lowest meaning anything so plebeian as
simply "to give." Sets of laudatory or depreciatory adjectives are
employed in the same way. Lastly, the word for "is," which strictly
means "exists," expresses this existence under three different
forms,--in a matter-of-fact, a flowing, or an inflated style;
the solid, liquid, and gaseous states of conversation, so to speak,
to suit the person addressed. But three forms being far too few for
the needs of so elaborate a politeness, these are supplemented by
many interpolated grades.
Terms of respect are applied not only to those mortals who are held
in estimation higher than their fellows, but to all men
indiscriminately as well. The grammatical attitude of the
individual toward the speaker is of as much importance as his social
standing, I being beneath contempt, and you above criticism.
Honorifics are used not only on all possible occasions for courtesy,
but at times, it would seem, upon impossible ones; for in some
instances the most subtle diagnosis fails to reveal in them a
relevancy to anybody. That the commonest objects should bear titles
because of their connection with some particular person is
comprehensible, but what excuse can be made for a phrase like the
following, "It respectfully does that the august seat exists," all
of which simply means "is," and may be applied to anything, being
the common word--in Japanese it is all one word now--for that
apparently simple idea. It would seem a sad waste of valuable
material. The real reason why so much distinguished consideration
is shown the article in question lies in the fact that it is treated
as existing with reference to the person addressed, and therefore
becomes ipso facto august.
Here is a still subtler example. You are, we will suppose, at a
tea-house, and you wish for sugar. The following almost stereotyped
conversation is pretty sure to take place. I translate it literally,
simply prefacing that every tea-house girl, usually in the first
blush of youth, is generically addressed as "elder sister,"--
another honorific, at least so considered in Japan.
You clap your hands. (Enter tea-house maiden.)
You. Hai, elder sister, augustly exists there sugar?
The T. H. M. The honorable sugar, augustly is it?
You. So, augustly.
The T. H. M. He (indescribable expression of assent).
(Exit tea-house maiden to fetch the sugar.)
Now, the "augustlies" go almost without saying, but why is the sugar
honorable? Simply because it is eventually going to be offered to
you. But she would have spoken of it by precisely the same
respectful title, if she had been obliged to inform you that there
was none, in which case it never could have become yours. Such is
politeness. We may note, in passing, that all her remarks and all
yours, barring your initial question, meant absolutely nothing.
She understood you perfectly from the first, and you knew she did;
but then, if all of us were to say only what were necessary, the
delightful art of conversation would soon be nothing but a science.
The average Far Oriental, indeed, talks as much to no purpose as his
Western cousin, only in his chit-chat politeness replaces
personalities. With him, self is suppressed, and an ever-present
regard for others is substituted in its stead.
A lack of personality is, as we have seen, the occasion of this
courtesy; it is also its cause.
That politeness should be one of the most marked results of
impersonality may appear surprising, yet a slight examination will
show it to be a fact. Looked at a posteriori, we find that where
the one trait exists the other is most developed, while an absence
of the second seems to prevent the full growth of the first.
This is true both in general and in detail. Courtesy increases, as
we travel eastward round the world, coincidently with a decrease in
the sense of self. Asia is more courteous than Europe, Europe than
America. Particular races show the same concomitance of
characteristics. France, the most impersonal nation of Europe, is at
the same time the most polite.
Considered a priori, the connection between the two is not far to
seek. Impersonality, by lessening the interest in one's self,
induces one to take an interest in others. Introspection tends to
make of man a solitary animal, the absence of it a social one.
The more impersonal the people, the more will the community supplant
the individual in the popular estimation. The type becomes the
interesting thing to man, as it always is to nature. Then, as the
social desires develop, politeness, being the means to their
enjoyment, develops also.
A second omission in Japanese etymology is that of gender. That
words should be credited with sex is a verbal anthropomorphism that
would seem to a Japanese exquisitely grotesque, if so be that it did
not strike him as actually immodest. For the absence of gender is
simply symptomatic of a much more vital failing, a disregard of sex.
Originally, as their language bears witness, the Japanese showed a
childish reluctance to recognizing sex at all. Usually a single
sexless term was held sufficient for a given species, and did duty
collectively for both sexes. Only where a consideration of sex
thrust itself upon them, beyond the possibility of evasion, did they
employ for the male and the female distinctive expressions. The
more intimate the relation of the object to man, the more imperative
the discriminating name. Hence human beings possessed a fair number
of such special appellatives; for a man is a palpably different sort
of person from his grandmother, and a mother-in-law from a wife.
But it is noteworthy that the artificial affinities of society were
as carefully differentiated as the distinctions due to sex, while
ancestral relationships were deemed more important than either.
Animals, though treated individually most humanely, are vouchsafed
but scant recognition on the score of sex. With them, both sexes
share one common name, and commonly, indeed, this answers quite well
enough. In those few instances where sex enters into the question
in a manner not to be ignored, particles denoting "male" or "female"
are prefixed to the general term. How comparatively rare is the need
of such specification can be seen from the way in which, with us,
in many species, the name of one sex alone does duty indifferently
for both. That of the male is the one usually selected, as in the
case of the dog or horse. If, however, it be the female with which
man has most to do, she is allowed to bestow her name upon her male
partner. Examples of the latter description occur in the use of
"cows" for "cattle," and "hens" for "fowls." A Japanese can say only
"fowl," defined, if absolutely necessary, as "he-fowl" or "she-fowl."
Now such a slighting of one of the most potent springs of human
action, sex, with all that the idea involves, is not due to a
pronounced misogynism on the part of these people, but to a much
more effective neglect, a great underlying impersonality.
Indifference to woman is but included in a much more general
indifference to mankind. The fact becomes all the more evident when
we descend from sex to gender. That Father Ocean does not, in their
verbal imagery, embrace Mother Earth, with that subtle suggestion of
humanity which in Aryan speech the gender of the nouns hints without
expressing, is not due to any lack of poesy in the Far Oriental
speaker, but to the essential impersonality of his mind, embodied
now in the very character of the words he uses. A Japanese noun is
a crystallized concept, handed down unchanged from the childhood of
the Japanese race. So primitive a conception does it represent that
it is neither a total nor a partial symbol, but rather the outcome
of a first vague generality. The word "man," for instance, means to
them not one man, still less mankind, but that indefinite idea which
struggles for embodiment in the utterance of the infant.
It represents not a person, but a thing, a material fact quite
innocent of gender. This early state of semi-consciousness the
Japanese never outgrew. The world continued to present itself to
their minds as a collection of things. Nor did their subsequent
Chinese education change their view. Buddhism simply infused all
things with the one universal spirit.
As to inanimate objects, the idea of supposing sex where there is
not even life is altogether too fanciful a notion for the Far
Impersonality first fashioned the nouns, and then the nouns, by
their very impersonality, helped keep impersonal the thought and
fettered fancy. All those temptings to poesy which to the Aryan
imagination lie latent in the sex with which his forefathers
humanized their words, never stir the Tartar nor the Chinese soul.
They feel the poetry of nature as much as, indeed much more than,
we; but it is a poetry unassociated with man. And this, too,
curiously enough, in spite of the fact that to explain the cosmos
the Chinamen invented, or perhaps only adapted, a singularly sexual
philosophy. For possibly, like some other portions of their
intellectual wealth, they stole it from India. The Chinese
conception of the origin of the world is based on the idea of sex.
According to their notions the earth was begotten. It is true that
with them the cosmos started in an abstract something, which
self-produced two great principles; but this pair once obtained,
matters proceeded after the analogy of mankind. The two principles
at work were themselves abstract enough to have satisfied the most
unimpassioned of philosophers. They were simply a positive essence
and a negative one, correlated to sunshine and shadow, but also
correlated to male and female forces. Through their mutual action
were born the earth and the air and the water; from these, in turn,
was begotten man. The cosmical modus operandi was not creative nor
evolutionary, but sexual. The whole scheme suggests an attempt to
wed abstract philosophy with primitive concrete mythology.
The same sexuality distinguishes the Japanese demonology. Here the
physical replaces the philosophical; instead of principles we find
allegorical personages, but they show just the same pleasing
propensity to appear in pairs.
This attributing of sexes to the cosmos is not in the least
incompatible with an uninterested disregard of sex where it really
exists. It is one thing to admit the fact as a general law of the
universe, and quite another to dwell upon it as an important factor
in every-day affairs.
How slight is the Tartar tendency to personification can be seen
from a glance at these same Japanese gods. They are a combination
of defunct ancestors and deified natural phenomena. The evolving of
the first half required little imagination, for fate furnished the
material ready made; while in conjuring up the second moiety, the
spirit-evokers showed even less originality. Their results were
neither winsome nor sublime. The gods whom they created they
invested with very ordinary humanity, the usual endowment of
aboriginal deity, together with the customary superhuman strength.
If these demigods differed from others of their class, it was only
in being more commonplace, and in not meddling much with man.
Even such personification of natural forces, simple enough to be
self-suggested, quickly disappeared. The various awe-compelling
phenomena soon ceased to have any connection with the
anthropomorphic noumena they had begotten. For instance, the
sun-goddess, we are informed, was one day lured out of a cavern,
where she was sulking in consequence of the provoking behavior of
her younger brother, by her curiosity at the sight of her own face
in a mirror, ingeniously placed before the entrance for the purpose.
But no Japanese would dream now of casting any such reflections,
however flattering, upon the face of the orb of day. The sun has
become not only quite sexless to him, but as devoid of personality
as it is to any Western materialist. Lesser deities suffered a like
unsubstantial transformation. The thunder-god, with his belt of
drums, upon which he beats a devil's tattoo until he is black in the
face, is no longer even indirectly associated with the storm.
As for dryads and nymphs, the beautiful creatures never inhabited
Eastern Asia. Anthropoid foxes and raccoons, wholly lacking in
those engaging qualities that beget love, and through love
remembrance, take their place. Even Benten, the naturalized Venus,
who, like her Hellenic sister, is said to have risen from the sea,
is a person quite incapable of inspiring a reckless infatuation.
Utterly unlike was this pantheon to the pantheon of the Greeks,
the personifying tendency of whose Aryan mind was forever peopling
nature with half-human inhabitants. Under its quickening fancy the
very clods grew sentient. Dumb earth awoke at the call of its
desire, and the beings its own poesy had begotten made merry
companionship for man. Then a change crept over the face of things.
Faith began to flicker, for want of facts to feed its flame. Little
by little the fires of devotion burnt themselves out. At last great
Pan died. The body of the old belief was consumed. But though it
perished, its ashes preserved its form, an unsubstantial presentment
of the past, to crumble in a twinkling at the touch of science, but
keeping yet to the poet's eye the lifelike semblance of what once
had been. The dead gods still live in our language and our art.
Even to-day the earth about us seems semiconscious to the soul,
for the memories they have left.
But with the Far Oriental the exorcising feeling was fear. He never
fell in love with his own mythological creations, and so he never
embalmed their memories. They were to him but explanations of
facts, and had no claims upon his fancy. His ideal world remained
as utterly impersonal as if it had never been born.
The same impersonality reappears in the matter of number.
Grammatically, number with them is unrecognized. There exist no
such things as plural forms. This singularity would be only too
welcome to the foreign student, were it not that in avoiding the
frying-pan the Tartars fell into the fire. For what they invented
in place of a plural was quite as difficult to memorize, and even
more cumbrous to express. Instead of inflecting the noun and then
prefixing a number, they keep the noun unchanged and add two
numerals; thus at times actually employing more words to express the
objects than there are objects to express. One of these numerals is
a simple number; the other is what is known as an auxiliary numeral,
a word as singular in form as in function. Thus, for instance,
"two men" become amplified verbally into "man two individual," or,
as the Chinaman puts it, in pidgin English, "two piecey man." For in
this respect Chinese resembles Japanese, though in very little else,
and pidgin English is nothing but the literal translation of the
Chinese idiom into Anglo-Saxon words. The necessity for such
elaborate qualification arises from the excessive simplicity of the
Japanese nouns. As we have seen, the noun is so indefinite a
generality that simply to multiply it by a number cannot possibly
produce any definite result. No exact counterpart of these nouns
exists in English, but some idea of the impossibility of the process
may be got from our word "cattle," which, prolific though it may
prove in fact, remains obstinately incapable of verbal multiplication.
All Japanese nouns being of this indefinite description, all require
auxiliary numerals. But as each one has its own appropriate numeral,
about which a mistake is unpardonable, it takes some little study
merely to master the etiquette of these handles to the names of
Nouns are not inflected, their cases being expressed by postpositions,
which, as the name implies, follow, in becoming Japanese inversion,
instead of preceding the word they affect. To make up, nevertheless,
for any lack of perplexity due to an absence of inflections,
adjectives, en revanche, are most elaborately conjugated. Their
protean shapes are as long as they are numerous, representing not
only times, but conditions. There are, for instance, the root form,
the adverbial form, the indefinite form, the attributive form, and
the conclusive form, the two last being conjugated through all the
various voices, moods, and tenses, to say nothing of all the
potential forms. As one change is superposed on another, the
adjective ends by becoming three or four times its original length.
The fact is, the adjective is either adjective, adverb, or verb,
according to occasion. In the root form it also helps to make
nouns; so that it is even more generally useful than as a
journalistic epithet with us. As a verb, it does duty as predicate
and copula combined. For such an unnecessary part of speech as a
real copula does not exist in Japanese. In spite of the shock to
the prejudices of the old school of logicians, it must be confessed
that the Tartars get on very well without any such couplings to
their trains of thought. But then we should remember that in their
sentences the cart is always put before the horse, and so needs only
to be pushed, not pulled along.
The want of a copula is another instance of the primitive character
of the tongue. It has its counterpart in our own baby-talk, where a
quality is predicated of a thing simply by placing the adjective in
apposition with the noun.
That the Japanese word which is commonly translated "is" is in no
sense a copula, but an ordinary intransitive verb, referring to a
natural state, and not to a logical condition, is evident in two
ways. In the first place, it is never used to predicate a quality
directly. A Japanese does not say, "The scenery is fine," but
simply, "Scenery, fine." Secondly, wherever this verb is indirectly
employed in such a manner, it is followed, not by an adjective, but
by an adverb. Not "She is beautiful, but "She exists beautifully,"
would be the Japanese way of expressing his admiration. What looks
at first, therefore, like a copula turns out to be merely an
impersonal intransitive verb.
A negative noun is, of course, an impossibility in any language,
just as a negative substantive, another name for the same thing, is
a direct contradiction in terms. No matter how negative the idea to
be given, it must be conveyed by a positive expression. Even a void
is grammatically quite full of meaning, although unhappily empty in
fact. So much is common to all tongues, but Japanese carries its
positivism yet further. Not only has it no negative nouns, it has
not even any negative pronouns nor pronominal adjectives,-- those
convenient keepers of places for the absent. "None" and "nothing"
are unknown words in its vocabulary, because the ideas they
represent are not founded on observed facts, but upon metaphysical
abstractions. Such terms are human-born, not earth-begotten
concepts, and so to the Far Oriental, who looks at things from the
point of view of nature, not of man, negation takes another form.
Usually it is introduced by the verbs, because the verbs, for the
most part, relate to human actions, and it is man, not nature, who
is responsible for the omission in question. After all, it does
seem more fitting to say, "I am ignorant of everything," than
"I know nothing." It is indeed you who are wanting, not the thing.
The question of verbs leads us to another matter bearing on the
subject of impersonality; namely, the arrangement of the words in a
Japanese sentence. The Tartar mode of grammatical construction is
very nearly the inverse of our own. The fundamental rule of
Japanese syntax is, that qualifying words precede the words they
qualify; that is, an idea is elaborately modified before it is so
much as expressed. This practice places the hearer at some awkward
preliminary disadvantage, inasmuch as the story is nearly over
before he has any notion what it is all about; but really it puts
the speaker to much more trouble, for he is obliged to fashion his
whole sentence complete in his brain before he starts to speak.
This is largely in consequence of two omissions in Tartar etymology.
There are in Japanese no relative pronouns and no temporal
conjunctions; conjunctions, that is, for connecting consecutive
events. The want of these words precludes the admission of
afterthoughts. Postscripts in speech are impossible. The functions
of relatives are performed by position, explanatory or continuative
clauses being made to precede directly the word they affect.
Ludicrous anachronisms, not unlike those experienced by Alice in her
looking-glass journey, are occasioned by this practice. For example,
"The merry monarch who ended by falling a victim to profound
melancholia" becomes "To profound melancholia a victim by falling
ended merry monarch," and the sympathetic hearer weeps first and
laughs afterward, when chronologically he should be doing precisely
A like inversion of the natural order of things results from the
absence of temporal conjunctions. In Japanese, though nouns can
be added, actions cannot; you can say "hat and coat," but not
"dressed and came." Conjunctions are used only for space, never
for time. Objects that exist together can be joined in speech,
but it is not allowable thus to connect consecutive events.
"Having dressed, came" is the Japanese idiom. To speak otherwise
would be to violate the unities. For a Japanese sentence is a
single rounded whole, not a bunch of facts loosely tied together.
It is as much a unit in its composition as a novel or a drama is
with us. Such artistic periods, however, are anything but
convenient. In their nicely contrived involution they strikingly
resemble those curious nests of Chinese boxes, where entire shells
lie closely packed one within another,--a very marvel of ingenious
and perfectly unnecessary construction. One must be antipodally
comprehensive to entertain the idea; as it is, the idea entertains us.
On the same general plan, the nouns precede the verbs in the
sentence, and are in every way the more important parts of speech.
The consequence is that in ordinary conversation the verbs come so
late in the day that they not infrequently get left out altogether.
For the Japanese are much given to docking their phrases, a custom
the Germans might do well to adopt. Now, nouns denote facts, while
verbs express action, and action, as considered in human speech, is
mostly of human origin. In this precedence accorded the impersonal
element in language over the personal, we observe again the
comparative importance assigned the two. In Japanese estimation,
the first place belongs to nature, the second only to man.
As if to mark beyond a doubt the insignificance of the part man
plays in their thought, sentences are usually subjectless. Although
it is a common practice to begin a phrase with the central word of
the idea, isolated from what follows by the emphasizing particle
"wa" (which means "as to," the French "quant a"), the word thus
singled out for distinction is far more likely to be the object of
the sentence than its subject. The habit is analogous to the use of
our phrase "speaking of,"--that is, simply an emphatic mode of
introducing a fresh thought; only that with them, the practice being
the rule and not the exception, no correspondingly abrupt effect is
produced by it. Ousted thus from the post of honor, the subject is
not even permitted the second place. Indeed, it usually fails to
put in an appearance anywhere. You may search through sentence
after sentence without meeting with the slightest suggestion of such
a thing. When so unusual an anomaly as a motive cause is directly
adduced, it owes its mention, not to the fact of being the subject,
but because for other reasons it happens to be the important word of
the thought. The truth is, the Japanese conception of events is
only very vaguely subjective. An action is looked upon more as
happening than as being performed, as impersonally rather than
personally produced. The idea is due, however, to anything but
philosophic profundity. It springs from the most superficial of
childish conceptions. For the Japanese mind is quite the reverse of
abstract. Its consideration of things is concrete to a primitive
degree. The language reflects the fact. The few abstract ideas
these people now possess are not represented, for the most part, by
pure Japanese, but by imported Chinese expressions. The islanders
got such general notions from their foreign education, and they
imported idea and word at the same time.
Summing up, as it were, in propria persona the impersonality of
Japanese speech, the word for "man," "hito," is identical with,
and probably originally the same word as "hito," the numeral "one;"
a noun and a numeral, from which Aryan languages have coined the only
impersonal pronoun they possess. On the one hand, we have the
German "mann;" on the other, the French "on". While as if to give
the official seal to the oneness of man with the universe, the word
mono, thing, is applied, without the faintest implication of insult,
Such, then, is the mould into which, as children, these people learn
to cast their thought. What an influence it must exert upon their
subsequent views of life we have but to ask of our own memories to
know. With each one of us, if we are to advance beyond the steps of
the last generation, there comes a time when our growing ideas
refuse any longer to fit the childish grooves in which we were
taught to let them run. How great the wrench is when this supreme
moment arrives we have all felt too keenly ever to forget. We
hesitate, we delay, to abandon the beliefs which, dating from the
dawn of our being, seem to us even as a part of our very selves.
From the religion of our mother to the birth of our boyish first
love, all our early associations send down roots so deep that long
after our minds have outgrown them our hearts refuse to give them
up. Even when reason conquers at last, sentiment still throbs at
the voids they necessarily have left.
In the Far East, this fondness for the old is further consecrated by
religion. The worship of ancestors sets its seal upon the
traditions of the past, to break which were impious as well as sad.
The golden age, that time when each man himself was young, has
lingered on in the lands where it is always morning, and where man
has never passed to his prosaic noon. Befitting the place is the
mind we find there. As its language so clearly shows, it still is in
that early impersonal state to which we all awake first before we
become aware of that something we later know so well as self.
Particularly potent with these people is their language, for a
reason that also lends it additional interest to us,--because it is
their own. Among the mass of foreign thought the Japanese
imitativeness has caused the nation to adopt, here is one thing
which is indigenous. Half of the present speech, it is true, is of
Chinese importation, but conservatism has kept the other half pure.
From what it reveals we can see how each man starts to-day with the
same impersonal outlook upon life the race had reached centuries
ago, and which it has since kept unchanged. The man's mind has done
Footnote to Chapter 4
 Professor Basil Hall Chamberlain: The Japanese Language.
Chapter 5. Nature and Art.
We have seen how impersonal is the form which Far Eastern thought
assumes when it crystallizes into words. Let us turn now to a
consideration of the thoughts themselves before they are thus
stereotyped for transmission to others, and scan them as they find
expression unconsciously in the man's doings, or seek it consciously
in his deeds.
To the Far Oriental there is one subject which so permeates and
pervades his whole being as to be to him, not so much a conscious
matter of thought as an unconscious mode of thinking. For it is a
thing which shapes all his thoughts instead of constituting the
substance of one particular set of them. That subject is art.
To it he is born as to a birthright. Artistic perception is with
him an instinct to which he intuitively conforms, and for which he
inherits the skill of countless generations. From the tips of his
fingers to the tips of his toes, in whose use he is surprisingly
proficient, he is the artist all over. Admirable, however, as is
his manual dexterity, his mental altitude is still more to be
admired; for it is artistic to perfection. His perception of beauty
is as keen as his comprehension of the cosmos is crude; for while
with science he has not even a speaking acquaintance, with art he is
on terms of the most affectionate intimacy.
To the whole Far Eastern world science is a stranger. Such nescience
is patent even in matters seemingly scientific. For although the
Chinese civilization, even in the so-called modern inventions,
was already old while ours lay still in the cradle, it was to no
scientific spirit that its discoveries were due. Notwithstanding
the fact that Cathay was the happy possessor of gunpowder, movable
type, and the compass before such things were dreamt of in Europe,
she owed them to no knowledge of physics, chemistry, or mechanics.
It was as arts, not as sciences, they were invented. And it speaks
volumes for her civilization that she burnt her powder for fireworks,
not for firearms. To the West alone belongs the credit of
manufacturing that article for the sake of killing people instead
of merely killing time.
The scientific is not the Far Oriental point of view. To wish to
know the reasons of things, that irrepressible yearning of the
Western spirit, is no characteristic of the Chinaman's mind, nor is
it a Tartar trait. Metaphysics, a species of speculation that has
usually proved peculiarly attractive to mankind, probably from its
not requiring any scientific capital whatever, would seem the most
likely place to seek it. But upon such matters he has expended no
imagination of his own, having quietly taken on trust from India
what he now professes. As for science proper, it has reached at his
hands only the quasimorphologic stage; that is, it consists of
catalogues concocted according to the ingenuity of the individual
and resembles the real thing about as much as a haphazard
arrangement of human bones might be expected to resemble a man.
Not only is the spirit of the subject left out altogether, but the
mere outward semblance is misleading. For pseudo-scientific
collections of facts which never rise to be classifications of
phenomena forms to his idea the acme of erudition. His mathematics,
for example, consists of a set of empiric rules, of which no
explanation is ever vouchsafed the taught for the simple reason that
it is quite unknown to the teacher. It is not even easy to decide
how much of what there is is Jesuitical. Of more recent sciences he
has still less notion, particularly of the natural ones. Physics,
chemistry, geology, and the like are matters that have never entered
his head. Even in studies more immediately connected with obvious
everyday life, such as language, history, customs, it is truly
remarkable how little he possesses the power of generalization and
inference. His elaborate lists of facts are imposing typographically,
but are not even formally important, while his reasoning about them
is as exquisite a bit of scientific satire as could well be
But with the arts it is quite another matter. While you will search
in vain, in his civilization, for explanations of even the most
simple of nature's laws, you will meet at every turn with devices
for the beautifying of life, which may stand not unworthily beside
the products of nature's own skill. Whatever these people fashion,
from the toy of an hour to the triumphs of all time, is touched by a
taste unknown elsewhere. To stroll down the Broadway of Tokio of an
evening is a liberal education in everyday art. As you enter it
there opens out in front of you a fairy-like vista of illumination.
Two long lines of gayly lighted shops, stretching off into the
distance, look out across two equally endless rows of torch-lit
booths, the decorous yellow gleam of the one contrasting strangely
with the demoniacal red flare of the other. This perspective of
pleasure fulfils its promise. As your feet follow your eyes you
find yourself in a veritable shoppers' paradise, the galaxy of
twinkle resolving into worlds of delight. Nor do you long remain a
mere spectator; for the shops open their arms to you. No cold glass
reveals their charms only to shut you off. Their wares lie
invitingly exposed to the public, seeming to you already half your
own. At the very first you come to you stop involuntarily, lost in
admiration over what you take to be bric-a-brac. It is only
afterwards you learn that the object of your ecstasy was the
commonest of kitchen crockery. Next door you halt again, this time
in front of some leathern pocket-books, stamped with designs in
color to tempt you instantly to empty your wallet for more new ones
than you will ever have the means to fill. If you do succeed in
tearing yourself away purse-whole, it is only to fall a victim to
some painted fans of so exquisite a make and decoration that escape
short of possession is impossible. Opposed as stubbornly as you may
be to idle purchase at home, here you will find yourself the prey of
an acute case of shopping fever before you know it. Nor will it be
much consolation subsequently to discover that you have squandered
your patrimony upon the most ordinary articles of every-day use.
If in despair you turn for refuge to the booths, you will but have
delivered yourself into the embrace of still more irresistible
fascinations. For the nocturnal squatters are there for the express
purpose of catching the susceptible. The shops were modestly
attractive from their nature, but the booths deliberately make eyes
at you, and with telling effect. The very atmosphere is bewitching.
The lurid smurkiness of the torches lends an appropriate weirdness
to the figure of the uncouthly clad pedlar who, with the politeness
of the arch-fiend himself, displays to an eager group the fatal
fascinations of some new conceit. Here the latest thing in
inventions, a gutta-percha rat, which, for reasons best known to the
vender, scampers about squeaking with a mimicry to shame the
original, holds an admiring crowd spellbound with mingled
trepidation and delight. There a native zoetrope, indefatigable
round of pleasure, whose top fashioned after the type of a turbine
wheel enables a candle at the centre ingeniously to supply both
illumination and motive power at the same time, affords to as many
as can find room on its circumference a peep at the composite antics
of a consecutively pictured monkey in the act of jumping a box.
Beyond this "wheel of life" lies spread out on a mat a most happy
family of curios, the whole of which you are quite prepared to
purchase en bloc. While a little farther on stands a flower show
which seems to be coyly beckoning to you as the blossoms nod their
heads to an imperceptible breeze. So one attraction fairly jostles
its neighbor for recognition from the gay thousands that like
yourself stroll past in holiday delight. Chattering children in
brilliant colors, voluble women and talkative men in quieter but no
less picturesque costumes, stream on in kaleidoscopic continuity.
And you, carried along by the current, wander thus for miles with
the tide of pleasure-seekers, till, late at night, when at last you
turn reluctantly homeward, you feel as one does when wakened from
some too delightful dream.
Or instead of night, suppose it day and the place a temple. With
those who are entering you enter too through the outer gateway into
the courtyard. At the farther end rises a building the like of
which for richness of effect you have probably never beheld or even
imagined. In front of you a flight of white stone steps leads up to
a terrace whose parapet, also of stone, is diapered for half its
height and open latticework the rest. This piazza gives entrance to
a building or set of buildings whose every detail challenges the eye.
Twelve pillars of snow-white wood sheathed in part with bronze,
arranged in four rows, make, as it were, the bones of the structure.
The space between the centre columns lies open. The other triplets
are webbed in the middle and connected, on the sides and front, by
grilles of wood and bronze forming on the outside a couple of
embrasures on either hand the entrance in which stand the guardian
Nio, two colossal demons, Gog and Magog. Instead of capitals ,a
frieze bristling with Chinese lions protects the top of the pillars.
Above this in place of entablature rises tier upon tier of decoration,
each tier projecting beyond the one beneath, and the topmost of all
terminating in a balcony which encircles the whole second story.
The parapet of this balcony is one mass of ornament, and its cornice
another row of lions, brown instead of white. The second story is
no less crowded with carving. Twelve pillars make its ribs, the
spaces between being filled with elaborate woodwork, while on top
rest more friezes, more cornices, clustered with excrescences of all
colors and kinds, and guarded by lions innumerable. To begin to tell
the details of so multi-faceted a gem were artistically impossible.
It is a jewel of a thousand rays, yet whose beauties blend into one
as the prismatic tints combine to white. And then, after the first
dazzle of admiration, when the spirit of curiosity urges you to
penetrate the centre aisle, lo and behold it is but a gate! The dupe
of unexpected splendor, you have been paying court to the means of
approach. It is only a portal after all. For as you pass through,
you catch a glimpse of a building beyond more gorgeous still.
Like in general to the first, unlike it in detail, resembling it
only as the mistress may the maid. But who shall convince of charm
by enumerating the features of a face! From the tiles of its terrace
to the encrusted gables that drape it as with some rich bejewelled
mantle falling about it in the most graceful of folds, it is the
very eastern princess of a building standing in the majesty of her
court to give you audience.
A pebbly path, a low flight of stone steps, a pause to leave your
shoes without the sill, and you tread in the twilight of reverence
upon the moss-like mats within. The richness of its outer ornament,
so impressive at first, is, you discover, but prelude to the lavish
luxury of its interior. Lacquer, bronze, pigments, deck its ceiling
and its sides in such profusion that it seems to you as if art had
expanded, in the congenial atmosphere, into a tropical luxuriance of
decoration, and grew here as naturally on temples as in the jungle
creepers do on trees. Yet all is but setting to what the place
contains; objects of bigotry and virtue that appeal to the artistic
as much as to the religious instincts of the devout. More sacred
still are the things treasured in the sanctum of the priests. There
you will find gems of art for whose sake only the most abnormal
impersonality can prevent you from breaking the tenth commandment.
Of the value set upon them you can form a distant approximation from
the exceeding richness and the amazing number of the silk cloths and
lacquered boxes in which they are so religiously kept. As you gaze
thus, amid the soul-satisfying repose of the spot, at some
masterpiece from the brush of Motonobu, you find yourself wondering,
in a fanciful sort of way, whether Buddhist contemplation is not
after all only another name for the contemplation of the beautiful,
since devotees to the one are ex officio such votaries of the other.
Dissimilar as are these two glimpses of Japanese existence, in one
point the bustling street and the hushed temple are alike,--in the
nameless grace that beautifies both.
This spirit is even more remarkable for its all-pervasiveness than
for its inherent excellence. Both objectively and subjectively its
catholicity is remarkable. It imbues everything, and affects
everybody. So universally is it applied to the daily affairs of
life that there may be said to be no mechanical arts in Japan simply
because all such have been raised to the position of fine arts. The
lowest artisan is essentially an artist. Modern French nomenclature
on the subject, in spite of the satire to which the more prosaic
Anglo-Saxon has subjected it, is peculiarly applicable there.
To call a Japanese cook, for instance, an artist would be but the
barest acknowledgment of fact, for Japanese food is far more
beautiful to look at than agreeable to eat; while Tokio tailors are
certainly masters of drapery, if they are sublimely oblivious to the
natural modelings of the male or female form.
On the other hand, art is sown, like the use of tobacco, broadcast
among the people. It is the birthright of the Far East, the talent
it never hides. Throughout the length and breadth of the land, and
from the highest prince to the humblest peasant, art reigns supreme.
Now such a prevalence of artistic feeling implies of itself
impersonality in the people. At first sight it might seem as if
science did the same, and that in this respect the one hemisphere
offset the other, and that consequently both should be equally
impersonal. But in the first place, our masses are not imbued with
the scientific spirit, as theirs are with artistic sensibility.
Who would expect of a mason an impersonal interest in the principles
of the arch, or of a plumber a non-financial devotion to hydraulics?
Certainly one would be wrong in crediting the masses in general or
European waiters in particular with much abstract love of mathematics,
for example. In the second place, there is an essential difference
in the attitude of the two subjects upon personality. Emotionally,
science appeals to nobody, art to everybody. Now the emotions
constitute the larger part of that complex bundle of ideas which we
know as self. A thought which is not tinged to some extent with
feeling is not only not personal; properly speaking, it is not even
distinctively human, but cosmical. In its lofty superiority to man,
science is unpersonal rather than impersonal. Art, on the other hand,
is a familiar spirit. Through the windows of the senses she finds
her way into the very soul of man, and makes for herself a home there.
But it is to his humanity, not to his individuality, that she
whispers, for she speaks in that universal tongue which all can
Examples are not wanting to substantiate theory. It is no mere
coincidence that the two most impersonal nations of Europe and Asia
respectively, the French and the Japanese, are at the same time the
most artistic. Even politeness, which, as we have seen,
distinguishes both, is itself but a form of art,--the social art of
living agreeably with one's fellows.
This impersonality comes out with all the more prominence when we
pass from the consideration of art in itself to the spirit which
actuates that art, and especially when we compare their spirit with
our own. The mainsprings of Far Eastern art may be said to be
three: Nature, Religion, and Humor. Incongruous collection that
they are, all three witness to the same trait. For the first
typifies concrete impersonality, the second abstract impersonality,
while the province of the last is to ridicule personality generally.
Of the trio the first is altogether the most important. Indeed, to
a Far Oriental, so fundamental a part of himself is his love of
Nature that before we view its mirrored image it will be well to
look the emotion itself in the face. The Far Oriental lives in a
long day-dream of beauty. He muses rather than reasons, and all
musing, so the word itself confesses, springs from the inspiration
of a Muse. But this Muse appears not to him, as to the Greeks,
after the fashion of a woman, nor even more prosaically after the
likeness of a man. Unnatural though it seem to us, his inspiration
seeks no human symbol. His Muse is not kin to mankind. She is too
impersonal for any personification, for she is Nature.
That poet whose name carries with it a certain presumption of
infallibility has told us that "the proper study of mankind is man;"
and if material advancement in consequence be any criterion of the
fitness of a particular mental pursuit, events have assuredly
justified the saying. Indeed, the Levant has helped antithetically
to preach the same lesson, in showing us by its own fatal example
that the improper study of mankind is woman, and that they who but
follow the fair will inevitably degenerate.
The Far Oriental knows nothing of either study, and cares less.
The delight of self-exploration, or the possibly even greater delight
of losing one's self in trying to fathom femininity, is a sensation
equally foreign to his temperament. Neither the remarkable
persistence of one's own characteristics, not infrequently matter of
deep regret to their possessor, nor the charmingly unaccountable
variability of the fairer sex, at times quite as annoying, is a
phenomenon sufficient to stir his curiosity. Accepting, as he does,
the existing state of things more as a material fact than as a phase
in a gradual process of development, he regards humanity as but a
small part of the great natural world, instead of considering it the
crowning glory of the whole. He recognizes man merely as a fraction
of the universe,--one might almost say as a vulgar fraction of it,
considering the low regard in which he is held,--and accords him his
proportionate share of attention, and no more.
In his thought, nature is not accessory to man. Worthy M. Perichon,
of prosaic, not to say philistinic fame, had, as we remember, his
travels immortalized in a painting where a colossal Perichon in
front almost completely eclipsed a tiny Mont Blanc behind. A Far
Oriental thinks poetry, which may possibly account for the fact that
in his mind-pictures the relative importance of man and mountain
stands reversed. "The matchless Fuji," first of motifs in his art,
admits no pilgrim as its peer.
Nor is it to woman that turn his thoughts. Mother Earth is fairer,
in his eyes, than are any of her daughters. To her is given the
heart that should be theirs. The Far Eastern love of Nature amounts
almost to a passion. To the study of her ever varying moods her
Japanese admirer brings an impersonal adoration that combines oddly
the aestheticism of a poet with the asceticism of a recluse. Not
that he worships in secret, however. His passion is too genuine
either to find disguise or seek display. With us, unfortunately,
the love of Nature is apt to be considered a mental extravagance
peculiar to poets, excusable in exact ratio to the ability to give
it expression. For an ordinary mortal to feel a fondness for Mother
Earth is a kind of folly, to be carefully concealed from his
fellows. A sort of shamefacedness prevents him from avowing it,
as a boy at boarding-school hides his homesickness, or a lad his love.
He shrinks from appearing less pachydermatous than the rest.
Or else he flies to the other extreme, and affects the odd; pretends,
poses, parades, and at last succeeds half in duping himself, half in
deceiving other people. But with Far Orientals the case is
different. Their love has all the unostentatious assurance of what
has received the sanction of public opinion. Nor is it still at
that doubtful, hesitating stage when, by the instrumentality of a
third, its soul-harmony can suddenly be changed from the jubilant
major key into the despairing minor. No trace of sadness tinges his
delight. He has long since passed this melancholy phase of erotic
misery, if so be that the course of his true love did not always run
smooth, and is now well on in matrimonial bliss. The very look of
the land is enough to betray the fact. In Japan the landscape has
an air of domesticity about it, patent even to the most casual
observer. Wherever the Japanese has come in contact with the country
he has made her unmistakably his own. He has touched her to caress,
not injure, and it seems as if Nature accepted his fondness as a
matter of course, and yielded him a wifely submission in return.
His garden is more human, even, than his house. Not only is
everything exquisitely in keeping with man, but natural features are
actually changed, plastic to the imprint of their lord and master's
mind. Bushes, shrubs, trees, forget to follow their original intent,
and grow as he wills them to; now expanding in wanton luxuriance,
now contracting into dwarf designs of their former selves, all to
obey his caprice and please his eye. Even stubborn rocks lose their
wildness, and come to seem a part of the almost sentient life around
them. If the description of such dutifulness seems fanciful, the
thing itself surpasses all supposition. Hedges and shrubbery,
clipped into the most fantastic shapes, accept the suggestion of the
pruning-knife as if man's wishes were their own whims. Manikin
maples, Tom Thumb trees, a foot high and thirty years old, with all
the gnarls and knots and knuckles of their fellows of the forest,
grow in his parterres, their native vitality not a whit diminished.
And they are not regarded as monstrosities but only as the most
natural of artificialities; for they are a part of a horticultural
whole. To walk into a Japanese garden is like wandering of a sudden
into one of those strange worlds we see reflected in the polished
surface of a concave mirror, where all but the observer himself is
transformed into a fantastic miniature of the reality. In that
quaint fairyland diminutive rivers flow gracefully under tiny trees,
past mole-hill mountains, till they fall at last into lilliputian
lakes, almost smothered for the flowers that grow upon their banks;
while in the extreme distance of a couple of rods the cone of a Fuji
ten feet high looks approvingly down upon a scene which would be
nationally incomplete without it.
But besides the delights of domesticity which the Japanese enjoys
daily in Nature's company, he has his acces de tendresse, too.
When he feels thus specially stirred, he invites a chosen few
of his friends, equally infatuated, and together they repair to some
spot noted for its scenery. It may be a waterfall, or some dreamy
pond overhung by trees, or the distant glimpse of a mountain peak
framed in picture-wise between the nearer hills; or, at their
appropriate seasons, the blossoming of the many tree flowers, which
in eastern Asia are beautiful beyond description. For he
appreciates not only places, but times. One spot is to be seen at
sunrise, another by moonlight; one to be visited in the spring-time,
another in the fall. But wherever or whenever it be, a tea-house,
placed to command the best view of the sight, stands ready to
receive him. For nature's beauties are too well recognized to
remain the exclusive property of the first chance lover. People
flock to view nature as we do to see a play, and privacy is as
impossible as it is unsought. Indeed, the aversion to publicity is
simply a result of the sense of self, and therefore necessarily not
a feature of so impersonal a civilization. Aesthetic guidebooks
are written for the nature-enamoured, descriptive of these views
which the Japanese translator quaintly calls "Sceneries," and which
visitors come not only from near but from far to gaze upon. In
front of the tea-house proper are rows of summer pavilions, in one
of which the party make themselves at home, while gentle little
tea-house girls toddle forth to serve them the invariable
preliminary tea and confections. Each man then produces from up his
sleeve, or from out his girdle, paper, ink, and brush, and proceeds
to compose a poem on the beauty of the spot and the feelings it
calls up, which he subsequently reads to his admiring companions.
Hot sake is next served, which is to them what beer is to a German
or absinthe to a blouse; and there they sit, sip, and poetize,
passing their couplets, as they do their cups, in honor to one
another. At last, after drinking in an hour or two of scenery and
sake combined, the symposium of poets breaks up.
Sometimes, instead of a company of friends, a man will take his
family, wife, babies, and all, on such an outing, but the details of
his holiday are much the same as before. For the scenery is still
the centre of attraction, and in the attendant creature comforts Far
Eastern etiquette permits an equal enjoyment to man, woman, and
This love of nature is quite irrespective of social condition.
All classes feel its force, and freely indulge the feeling. Poor as
well as rich, low as well as high, contrive to gratify their poetic
instincts for natural scenery. As for flowers, especially tree
flowers, or those of the larger plants, like the lotus or the iris,
the Japanese appreciation of their beauty is as phenomenal as is
that beauty itself. Those who can afford the luxury possess the
shrubs in private; those who cannot, feast their eyes on the public
specimens. From a sprig in a vase to a park planted on purpose,
there is no part of them too small or too great to be excluded from
Far Oriental affection. And of the two "drawing-rooms" of the Mikado
held every year, in April and November, both are garden-parties:
the one given at the time and with the title of "the cherry blossoms,"
and the other of "the chrysanthemum."
These same tree flowers deserve more than a passing notice, not
simply because of their amazing beauty, which would arrest attention
anywhere, but for the national attitude toward them. For no better
example of the Japanese passion for nature could well be cited.
If the anniversaries of people are slightingly treated in the land
of the sunrise, the same cannot be said of plants. The yearly
birthdays of the vegetable world are observed with more than botanic
enthusiasm. The regard in which they are held is truly emotional,
and it not actually individual in its object, at least personal to
the species. Each kind of tree as its season brings it into flower
is made the occasion of a festival. For the beauty of the
blossoming receives the tribute of a national admiration.
From peers to populace mankind turns out to witness it. Nor are
these occasions few. Spring in the Far East is one long chain of
flower fetes, and as spring begins by the end of January and lasts
till the middle of June, opportunities for appreciating each in turn
are not half spoiled by a common contemporaneousness. People have
not only occasion but time to admire. Indeed, spring itself is
suitably respected by being dated conformably to fact. Far Orientals
begin their year when Nature begins hers, instead of starting
anachronously as we do in the very middle of the dead season, much
as our colleges hold their commencements, on the last in place at on
the first day of the academic term. So previous has the haste of
Western civilization become. The result is that our rejoicing
partakes of the incongruity of humor. The new year exists only in
name. In the Far East, on the other band, the calendar is made to
fit the time. Men begin to reckon their year some three weeks later
than the Western world, just as the plum-tree opens its pink white
petals, as it were, in rosy reflection of the snow that lies yet
upon the ground. But the coldness of the weather does not in the
least deter people from thronging the spot in which the trees grow,
where they spend hours in admiration, and end by pinning appropriate
poems on the twigs for later comers to peruse. Fleeting as the
flowers are in fact, they live forever in fancy. For they
constitute one of the commonest motifs of both painting and poetry.
A branch just breaking into bloom seen against the sunrise sky, or a
bough bending its blossoms to the bosom of a stream, is subject
enough for their greatest masters, who thus wed, as it were,
two arts in one,--the spirit of poesy with pictorial form.
This plum-tree is but a blossom. Precocious harbinger of a host
of flowers, its gay heralding over, it vanishes not to be recalled,
for it bears no edible fruit.
The next event in the series might fairly be called phenomenal.
Early in April takes place what is perhaps as superb a sight as
anything in this world, the blossoming of the cherry-trees. Indeed,
it is not easy to do the thing justice in description. If the plum
invited admiration, the cherry commands it; for to see the sakura in
flower for the first time is to experience a new sensation.
Familiar as a man may be with cherry blossoms at home, the sight
there bursts upon him with the dazzling effect of a revelation.
Such is the profusion of flowers that the tree seems to have turned
into a living mass of rosy light. No leaves break the brilliance.
The snowy-pink petals drape the branches entirely, yet so
delicately, one deems it all a veil donned for the tree's nuptials
with the spring. For nothing could more completely personify the
spirit of the spring-time. You can almost fancy it some dryad
decked for her bridal, in maidenly day-dreaming too lovely to last.
For like the plum the cherry fails in its fruit to fulfil the
promise of its flower.
It would be strange indeed if so much beauty received no recognition,
but it is even more strange that recognition should be so complete
and so universal as it is. Appreciation is not confined to the
cultivated few; it is shown quite as enthusiastically by the masses.
The popularity of the plants is all-embracing. The common people
are as sensitive to their beauty as are the upper classes. Private
gratification, roseate as it is, pales beside the public delight.
Indeed, not content with what revelation Nature makes of herself of
her own accord, man has multiplied her manifestations. Spots
suitable to their growth have been peopled by him with trees.
Sometimes they stand in groups like star-clusters, as in Oji,
crowning a hill; sometimes, as at Mukojima, they line an avenue for
miles, dividing the blue river on the one hand from the blue-green
rice-fields on the other,--a floral milky way of light. But
wherever the trees may be, there at their flowering season are to be
found throngs of admirers. For in crowds people go out to see the
sight, multitudes streaming incessantly to and fro beneath their
blossoms as the time of day determines the turn of the human tide.
To the Occidental stranger such a gathering suggests some social
loadstone; but none exists. In the cherry-trees alone lies the
For one week out of the fifty-two the cherry-tree stands thus
glorified, a vision of beauty prolonged somewhat by the want of
synchronousness of the different kinds. Then the petals fall.
What was a nuptial veil becomes a winding-sheet, covering the sod as
with winter's winding-sheet of snow, destined itself to disappear,
and the tree is nothing but a common cherry-tree once more.
But flowers are by no means over because the cherry blossoms are
past. A brief space, and the same crowds that flocked to the cherry
turn to the wistaria. Gardens are devoted to the plants, and the
populace greatly given to the gardens. There they go to sit and
gaze at the grape-like clusters of pale purple flowers that hang
more than a cubit long over the wooden trellis, and grow daily down
toward their own reflections in the pond beneath, vying with one
another in Narcissus-like endeavor. And the people, as they sip
their tea on the veranda opposite, behold a doubled delight, the
flower itself and its mirrored image stretching to kiss.
After the wistaria comes the tree-peony, and then the iris, with its
trefoil flowers broader than a man may span, and at all colors under
the sky. To one who has seen the great Japanese fleur-de-lis,
France looks ludicrously infelicitous in her choice of emblem.
But the list grows too long, limited as it is only by its own annual
repetition. We have as yet reached but the first week in June; the
summer and autumn are still to come, the first bringing the lotus
for its crown, and the second the chrysanthemum. And lazily grand
the lotus is, itself the embodiment of the spirit of the drowsy
August air, the very essence of Buddha-like repose. The castle
moats are its special domain, which in this its flowering season it
wrests wholly from their more proper occupant--the water. A dense
growth of leather-like leaves, above which rise in majestic isolation
the solitary flowers, encircles the outer rampart, shutting the
castle in as it might be the palace of the Sleeping Beauty. In the
delightful dreaminess that creeps over one as he stands thus before
some old daimyo's former abode in the heart of Japan, he forgets all
his metaphysical difficulties about Nirvana, for he fancies he has
found it, one long Lotus afternoon.
And then last, but in some sort first, since it has been taken for
the imperial insignia, comes the chrysanthemum. The symmetry of its
shape well fits it to symbolize the completeness of perfection which
the Mikado, the son of heaven, mundanely represents. It typifies,
too, the fullness of the year; for it marks, as it were, the golden
wedding of the spring, the reminiscence in November of the nuptials
of the May. Its own color, however, is not confined to gold.
It may be of almost any hue and within the general limits of a circle
of any form. Now it is a chariot wheel with petals for spokes; now
a ball of fire with lambent tongues of flame; while another kind
seems the button of some natural legion of honor, and still another
a pin-wheel in Nature's own day-fireworks.
Admired as a thing of beauty for its own sake, it is also used
merely as a material for artistic effects; for among the quaintest
of such conceits are the Japanese Jarley chrysanthemum works. Every
November in the florists' gardens that share the temple grounds at
Asakusa may be seen groups of historical and mythological figures
composed entirely of chrysanthemum flowers. These effigies are quite
worthy of comparison with their London cousins, being sufficiently
life-like to terrify children and startle anybody. To come suddenly,
on turning a corner, upon a colossal warrior, deterrently uncouth
and frightfully battle-clad, in the act of dispatching a fallen foe,
is a sensation not instantly dispelled by the fact that he is made
of flowers. The practice, at least, bears witness to an artistic
ingenuity of no mean merit, and to a horticulture ably carried on,
if somewhat eccentrically applied.
From the passing of the chrysanthemum dates the dead season.
But it is suitably short-lived. Sometimes as early as November,
the plum-tree is already blossoming again.
Even from so imperfectly gathered a garland it will be seen that the
Japanese do not lack for opportunities to admire, nor do they turn
coldly away from what they are given. Indeed, they may be said to
live in a chronic state of flower-fever; but in spite of the vast
amount of admiration which they bestow on plants, it is not so much
the quantity of that admiration as the quality of it which is
remarkable. The intense appreciation shown the subject by the Far
Oriental is something whose very character seems strange to us, and
when in addition we consider that it permeates the entire people
from the commonest coolie to the most aesthetic courtier, it becomes
to our comprehension a state of things little short of inexplicable.
To call it artistic sensibility is to use too limited a term, for it
pervades the entire people; rather is it a sixth sense of a natural,
because national description; for the trait differs from our
corresponding feeling in degree, and especially in universality
enough to merit the distinction. Their care for tree flowers is not
confined to a cultivation, it is a cult. It approaches to a sort of
natural nature-worship, an adoration in which nothing is personified.
For the emotion aroused in the Far Oriental is just as truly an
emotion as it was to the Greek; but whereas the Greek personified
its object, the Japanese admires that object for what it is.
To think of the cherry-tree, for instance, as a woman, would be to
his mind a conception transcending even the limits of the ludicrous.
Chapter 6. Art.
That nature, not man, is their beau ideal, the source of inspiration
to them, is evident again on looking at their art. The same spirit
that makes of them such wonderful landscape gardeners and such
wonder-full landscape gazers shows itself unmistakably in their
The current impression that Japanese pictorial ambition, and
consequent skill, is confined to the representation of birds and
flowers, though entirely erroneous as it stands, has a grain of
truth behind it. This idea is due to the attitude of the foreign
observers, and was in fact a tribute to Japanese technique rather
than an appreciation of Far Eastern artistic feeling. The truth is,
the foreigners brought to the subject their own Western criteria of
merit, and judged everything by these standards. Such works
naturally commended themselves most as had least occasion to deviate
from their canons. The simplest pictures, therefore, were
pronounced the best. Paintings of birds and flowers were thus
admitted to be fine, because their realism spoke for itself. Of the
exquisite poetic feeling of their landscape paintings the foreign
critics were not at first conscious, because it was not expressed in
terms with which they were familiar.
But first impressions, here as elsewhere, are valuable. One is very
apt to turn to them again from the reasoning of his second thoughts.
Flora and fauna are a conspicuous feature of Far Asiatic art,
because they enter as details of the subject-matter of the artist's
thoughts and day-dreams. These birds and flowers are his sujets de
genre. Where we should select a phase of human life for effective
isolation, they choose instead a bit of nature. A spray of grass or
a twig of cherry-blossoms is motif enough for them. To their
thought its beauty is amply suggestive. For to the Far Oriental all
nature is sympathetically sentient. His admiration, instead of
being centred on man, embraces the universe. His art reflects it.
Leaving out of consideration, for the moment, minor though still
important distinctions in tone, treatment, and technique, the great
fundamental difference between Western and Far Eastern art lies in
its attitude toward humanity.
With us, from the time of the Greeks to the present day, man has
been the cynosure of artistic eyes; with them he has never been
vouchsafed more than a casual, not to say a cursory glance, even
woman failing to rivet his attention. One of our own writers has
said that, without passing the bounds of due respect, a man is
permitted two looks at any woman he may meet, one to recognize, one
to admire. A Japanese ordinarily never dreams of taking but one,
--if indeed he goes so far as that,--the first. It is the omitting
to take that second look that has left him what he is. Not that
Fortune has been unpropitious; only blind. Fate has offered him
opportunity enough; too much, perhaps. For in Japan the exposure
of the female form is without a parallel in latitude. Never nude,
it is frequently naked. The result artistically is much the same,
though the cause be different. For it is a fatal mistake to suppose
the Japanese an immodest people. According to their own standards,
they are exceedingly modest. No respectable Japanese woman would,
for instance, ever for a moment turn out her toes in walking.
It is considered immodest to do so. Their code is, however, not so
whimsical as this bit of etiquette might suggest. The intent is
with them the touchstone of propriety. In their eyes a state of
nature is not a state of indecency. Whatever exposure is required
for convenience is right; whatever unnecessary, wrong. Such an
Eden-like condition of society would seem to be the very spot for a
something like the modern French school of art to have developed in.
And yet it is just that study of the nude which has from immemorial
antiquity been entirely neglected in the Far East. An ancient
Greek, to say nothing of a modern Parisian, would have shocked a
Japanese. Yet we are shocked by them. We are astounded at the
sights we see in their country villages, while they in their turn
marvel at the exhibitions they witness in our city theatres. At
their watering-places the two sexes bathe promiscuously together in
all the simplicity of nature; but for a Japanese woman to appear on
the stage in any character, however proper, would be deemed indecent.
The difference between the two hemispheres may be said to consist in
an artless liberty on the one hand, and artistic license on the
other. Their unwritten code of propriety on the subject seems to
be, "You must see, but you may not observe."
These people live more in accordance with their code of propriety
than we do with ours. All classes alike conform to it. The
adjective "respectable," used above as a distinction in speaking of
woman, was in reality superfluous, for all women there, as far as
appearance goes, are respectable. Even the most abandoned creature
does not betray her status by her behavior. The reason of this
uniformity and its psychological importance I shall discuss later.
This form of modesty, a sort of want of modesty of form, has no
connection whatever with sex. It applies with equal force to the
male figure, which is even more exposed than the female, and offers
anatomical suggestions invaluable alike to the artistic and medical
professions,--suggestions that are equally ignored by both.
The coolies are frequently possessed of physiques which would have
delighted Michael Angelo; and as for the phenomenal corpulency of
the wrestlers, it would have made of the place a very paradise for
Rubens. In regard to the doctors,--for to call them surgeons would
be to give a name to what does not exist,--a lack of scientific zeal
has been the cause of their not investigating what tempts too
seductively, we should imagine, to be ignored. Acupuncture, or the
practice of sticking long pins into any part of the patient's body
that may happen to be paining him, pretty much irrespective of
anatomical position, is the nearest approach to surgery of which
they are guilty, and proclaims of itself the in corpore vili
character of the thing operated upon.
Nor does the painter owe anything to science. He represents
humanity simply as he sees it in its every-day costume; and it
betokens the highest powers of generalized observation that he
produces the results he does. In his drawings, man is shown, not as
he might look in the primitive, or privitive, simplicity of his
ancestral Garden of Eden, but as he does look in the ordinary wear
and tear of his present garments. Civilization has furnished him
with clothes, and he prefers, when he has his picture taken, to keep
In dealing with man, the Far Oriental artist is emphatically a
realist; it is when he turns to nature that he becomes ideal.
But by ideal is not meant here conventional. That term of reproach
is a misnomer, founded upon a mistake. His idealism is simply the
outcome of his love, which, like all human love, transfigures its
object. The Far Oriental has plenty of this, which, if sometimes a
delusion, seems also second sight, but it is peculiarly impersonal.
His color-blindness to the warm, blood-red end of the spectrum of
life in no wise affects his perception of the colder beauty of the
great blues and greens of nature. To their poetry he is ever
sensitive. His appreciation of them is something phenomenal, and his
power of presentation worthy his appreciation.
A Japanese painting is a poem rather than a picture. It portrays an
emotion called up by a scene, and not the scene itself in all its
elaborate complexity. It undertakes to give only so much of it as
is vital to that particular feeling, and intentionally omits all
irrelevant details. It is the expression caught from a glimpse of
the soul of nature by the soul of man; the mirror of a mood,
passing, perhaps, in fact, but perpetuated thus to fancy. Being an
emotion, its intensity is directly proportional to the singleness
with which it possesses the thoughts. The Far Oriental fully
realizes the power of simplicity. This principle is his fundamental
canon of pictorial art. To understand his paintings, it is from
this standpoint they must be regarded; not as soulless photographs
of scenery, but as poetic presentations of the spirit of the scenes.
The very charter of painting depends upon its not giving us charts.
And if with us a long poem be a contradiction in terms, a full
picture is with them as self-condemnatory a production. From the
contemplation of such works of art as we call finished, one is apt,
after he has once appreciated Far Eastern taste, to rise with an
unpleasant feeling of satiety, as if he has eaten too much at the
Their paintings, by comparison, we call sketches. Is not our
would-be slight unwittingly the reverse? Is not a sketch, after all,
fuller of meaning, to one who knows how to read it, than a finished
affair, which is very apt to end with itself, barren of fruit?
Does not one's own imagination elude one's power to portray it? Is it
not forever flitting will-o'-the-wisp-like ahead of us just beyond
exact definition? For the soul of art lies in what art can suggest,
and nothing is half so suggestive as the half expressed, not even a
double entente. To hint a great deal by displaying a little is more
vital to effect than the cleverest representation of the whole.
The art of partially revealing is more telling, even, than the ars
celare artem. Who has not suspected through a veil a fairer face
than veil ever hid? Who has not been delightedly duped by the
semi-disclosures of a dress? The principle is just as true in any
one branch of art as it is of the attempted developments by one of
the suggestions of another. Yet who but has thus felt its force?
Who has not had a shock of day-dream desecration on chancing upon an
illustrated edition of some book whose story he had lain to heart?
Portraits of people, pictures of places, he does not know, and yet
which purport to be his! And I venture to believe that to more than
one of us the exquisite pathos of the Bride of Lammermoor is gone
when Lucia warbles her woes, be it never so entrancingly, to an
admiring house. It almost seems as if the garish publicity of using
her name for operatic title were a special intervention of the Muse,
that we might the less connect song with story,--two sensations
that, like two lights, destroy one another by mutual interference.
Against this preference shown the sketch it may be urged that to
appreciate such suggestions presupposes as much art in the public as
in the painter. But the ability to appreciate a thing when
expressed is but half that necessary to express it. Some
understanding must exist in the observer for any work to be
intelligible. It is only a question of degree. The greater the
art-sense in the person addressed, the more had better be left to it.
Now in Japan the public is singularly artistic. In fact, the
artistic appreciation of the masses there is something astonishing
to us, accustomed to our immense intellectual differences between
man and man. Sketches are thus peculiarly fitting to such a land.
Besides, there is a quiet modesty about the sketch which is itself
taking. To attempt the complete even in a fractional bit of the
cosmos, like a picture, has in it a difficulty akin to the logical
one of proving a universal negative. The possibilities of failure
are enormously increased, and failure is less forgiven for the
assumption. Art might perhaps not unwisely follow the example of
science in such matters where an exhaustive work, which takes the
better part of a lifetime to produce, is invariably entitled by its
erudite author an Elementary Treatise on the subject in hand.
To aid the effect due to simplicity of conception steps in the Far
Oriental's wonderful technique. His brush-strokes are very few in
number, but each one tells. They are laid on with a touch which is
little short of marvelous, and requires heredity to explain its
skill. For in his method there is no emending, no super-position,
no change possible. What he does is done once and for all.
The force of it grows on you as you gaze. Each stroke expresses
surprisingly much, and suggests more. Even omissions are made
significant. In his painting it is visibly true that objects can be
rendered conspicuous by their very absence. You are quite sure you
see what on scrutiny you discover to be only the illusion of
inevitable inference. The Far Oriental artist understands the power
of suggestion well; for imagination always fills in the picture
better than the brush, however perfect be its skill.
Even the neglect of certain general principles which we consider
vital to effect, such as the absence of shadows and the lack of
perspective, proves not to be of the importance we imagine.
We discover in these paintings how immaterial, artistically, was
Peter Schlimmel's sad loss, and how perfectly possible it is to
make bits of discontinuous distance take the place effectively of
Far Eastern pictures are epigrams rather than descriptions.
They present a bit of nature with the terseness of a maxim of
La Rochefoucault, and they delight as aphorisms do by their insight
and the happy conciseness of its expression. Few aphorisms are
absolutely true, but then boldness more than makes up for what they
lack in verity. So complex a subject is life that to state a truth
with all its accompanying limitations is to weaken it at once.
Exceptions, while demonstrating the rule, do not tend to emphasize it.
And though the whole truth is essential to science, such
exhaustiveness is by no means a canon of art.
Parallels are not wanting at home. What they do with space in their
paintings do we not with time in the case of our comedies, those
acted pictures of life? Should we not refuse to tolerate a play
that insisted on furnishing us with a full perspective of its
characters' past? And yet of the two, it is far perferable,
artistically, to be given too much in sequence than too much at once.
The Chinese, who put much less into a painting than what we deem
indispensable, delight in dramas that last six weeks.
To give a concluding touch of life to my necessarily skeleton-like
generalities, memory pictures me a certain painting of Okio's which
I fell in love with at first sight. It is of a sunrise on the coast
of Japan. A long line of surf is seen tumbling in to you from out a
bank of mist, just piercing which shows the blood-red disk of the
rising sun, while over the narrow strip of breaking rollers three
cranes are slowly sailing north. And that is all you see. You do
not see the shore; you do not see the main; you are looking but at
the border-land of that great unknown, the heaving ocean still
slumbering beneath its chilly coverlid of mist, out of which come
the breakers, and the sun, and the cranes.
So much for the more serious side of Japanese fancy; a look at the
lighter leads to the same conclusion.
Hand in hand with his keen poetic sensibility goes a vivid sense of
humor,--two traits that commonly, indeed, are found Maying
together over the meadows of imagination. For, as it might be put,
"The heart that is soonest awake to the flowers
Is also the first to be touched by the fun."
The Far Oriental well exemplifies this fact. His art, wherever fun
is possible, fairly bubbles over with laughter. From the oldest
masters down to Hokusai, it is constantly welling up in the drollest
conceits. It is of all descriptions, too. Now it lurks in merry
ambush, like the faint suggestion of a smile on an otherwise serious
face, so subtile that the observer is left wondering whether the
artist could have meant what seems more like one's own ingenious
discovery; now it breaks out into the broadest of grins, absurd
juxtapositions of singularly happy incongruities. For Hokusai's
caricatures and Hendschel's sketches might be twins. If there is a
difference, it lies not so much in the artist's work as in the
greater generality of its appreciation. Humor flits easily there at
the sea-level of the multitude. For the Japanese temperament is
ever on the verge of a smile which breaks out with catching naivete
at the first provocation. The language abounds in puns which are
not suffered to lie idle, and even poetry often hinges on certain
consecrated plays on words. From the very constitution of the
people there is of course nothing selfish in the national enjoyment.
A man is quite as ready to laugh at his own expense as at his
neighbor's, a courtesy which his neighbor cordially returns.
Now the ludicrous is essentially human in its application.
The principle of the synthesis of contradictories, popularly known
by the name of humor, is necessarily limited in its field to man.
For whether it have to do wholly with actions, or partly with the
words that express them, whether it be presented in the shape of a
pun or a pleasantry, it is in incongruous contrasts that its virtue
lies. It is the unexpected that provokes the smile. Now no such
incongruity exists in nature; man enjoys a monopoly of the power of
making himself ridiculous. So pleasant is pleasantry that we do
indeed cultivate it beyond its proper pale. But it is only by
personifying Nature, and gratuitously attributing to her errors of
which she is incapable, that we can make fun of her; as, for
instance, when we hold the weather up to ridicule by way of impotent
revenge. But satires upon the clown-like character of our climate,
which, after the lamest sort of a spring, somehow manages a capital
fall, would in the Far East be as out of keeping with fancy as with
fact. To a Japanese, who never personifies anything, such innocent
irony is unmeaning. Besides, it would be also untrue. For his May
carries no suggestion of unfulfilment in its name.
Those Far Eastern paintings which have to do with man fall for the
most part under one of two heads, the facetious and the historical.
The latter implies no particularly intimate concern for man in
himself, for the past has very little personality for the present.
As for the former, its attention is, if anything, derogatory to him,
for we are always shy of making fun of what we feel to be too
closely a part of ourselves. But impersonality has prevented the
Far Oriental from having much amour propre. He has no particular
aversion to caricaturing himself. Few Europeans, perhaps, would
have cared to perpetrate a self-portrait like one painted by the
potter Kinsei, which was sold me one day as an amusing tour de force
by a facetious picture-dealer. It is a composite picture of a new
kind, a Japanese variety of type face. The great potter, who was
also apparently no mean painter, has combined three aspects of
himself in a single representation. At first sight the portrait
appears to be simply a full front view of a somewhat moon-faced
citizen; but as you continue to gaze, it suddenly dawns on you that
there are two other individuals, one on either side, hob-nobbing in
profile with the first, the lines of the features being ingeniously
made to do double duty; and when this aspect of the thing has once
struck you, you cannot look at the picture without seeing all three
citizens simultaneously. The result is doubtless more effective as
a composition than flattering as a likeness.
Far Eastern sculpture, by its secondary importance among Far Eastern
arts, witnesses again to the secondary importance assigned to man at
our mental antipodes. In this art, owing to its necessary
limitations, the representation of nature in its broader sense is
impossible. For in the first place, whatever the subject, it must
be such as it is possible to present in one continuous piece;
disconnected adjuncts, as, for instance, a flock of birds flying,
which might be introduced with great effect in painting, being here
practically beyond the artist's reach. Secondly, the material being
of uniform appearance, as a rule, color, or even shading, vital
points in landscape portrayal, is out of the question, unless the
piece were subsequently painted, as in Grecian sculptures, a custom
which is not practised in China or Japan. Lastly, another fact
fatal to the representation of landscape is the size. The reduced
scale of the reproduction suggests falsity at once, a falsity whose
belittlement the mind can neither forget nor forgive. Plain
sculpture is therefore practically limited to statuary, either of
men or animals. The result is that in their art, where landscape
counts for so much, sculpture plays a very minor part. In what
little there is, Nature's place is taken by Buddha. For there are
two classes of statues, divided the one from the other by that step
which separates the sublime from the ridiculous, namely, the
colossal and the diminutive. There is no happy human mean. Of the
first kind are the beautiful bronze figures of the Buddha, like the
Kamakura Buddha, fifty feet high and ninety-seven feet round, in
whose face all that is grand and noble lies sleeping, the living
representation of Nirvana; and of the second, those odd little
ornaments known as netsuke, comical carvings for the most part,
grotesque figures of men and monkeys, saints and sinners, gods and
devils. Appealing bits of ivory, bone, or wood they are, in which
the dumb animals are as speaking likenesses as their human fellows.
The other arts show the same motif in their decorations. Pottery
and lacquer alike witness the respective positions assigned to the
serious and the comic in Far Eastern feeling.
The Far Oriental makes fun of man and makes love to Nature; and it
almost seems as if Nature heard his silent prayer, and smiled upon
him in acceptance; as if the love-light lent her face the added
beauty that it lends the maid's. For nowhere in this world,
probably, is she lovelier than in Japan: a climate of long, happy
means and short extremes, months of spring and months of autumn,
with but a few weeks of winter in between; a land of flowers, where
the lotus and the cherry, the plum and wistaria, grow wantonly side
by side; a land where the bamboo embosoms the maple, where the pine
at last has found its palm-tree, and the tropic and the temperate
zones forget their separate identity in one long self-obliterating
Chapter 7. Religion.
In regard to their religion, nations, like individuals, seem
singularly averse to practising what they have preached. Whether it
be that his self-constructed idols prove to the maker too suggestive
of his own intellectual chisel to deceive him for long, or whether
sacred soil, like less hallowed ground, becomes after a time
incapable of responding to repeated sowings of the same seed,
certain it is that in spiritual matters most peoples have grown out
of conceit with their own conceptions. An individual may cling with
a certain sentiment to the religion of his mother, but nations have
shown anything but a foolish fondness for the sacred superstitions
of their great-grandfathers. To the charm of creation succeeds
invariably the bitter-sweet after-taste of criticism, and man would
not be the progressive animal he is if he long remained in love with
his own productions.
What his future will be is too engrossing a subject, and one too
deeply shrouded in mystery, not to be constantly pictured anew.
No wonder that the consideration at that country toward which mankind
is ever being hastened should prove as absorbing to fancy as
contemplated earthly journeys proverbially are. Few people but have
laid out skeleton tours through its ideal regions, and perhaps,
as in the mapping beforehand of merely mundane travels, one element
of attraction has always consisted in the possible revision of one's
Besides, there is a fascination about the foreign merely because it
is such. Distance lends enchantment to the views of others, and
never more so than when those views are religious visions.
An enthusiast has certainly a greater chance of being taken for a
god among a people who do not know him intimately as a man. So with
his doctrines. The imported is apt to seem more important than the
home-made; as the far-off bewitches more easily than the near. But
just as castles in the air do not commonly become the property of
their builders, so mansions in the skies almost as frequently have
failed of direct inheritance. Rather strikingly has this proved the
case with what are to-day the two most powerful religions of the
world,--Buddhism and Christianity. Neither is now the belief of its
founder's people. What was Aryan-born has become Turanian-bred,
and what was Semitic by conception is at present Aryan by adoption.
The possibilities of another's hereafter look so much rosier than
the limitations of one's own present!
Few pastimes are more delightful than tossing pebbles into some
still, dark pool, and watching the ripples that rise responsive,
as they run in ever widening circles to the shore. Most of us have
felt its fascination second only to that of the dotted spiral of the
skipping-stone, a fascination not outgrown with years. There is
something singularly attractive in the subtle force that for a
moment sways each particle only to pass on to the next, a motion
mysterious in its immateriality. Some such pleasure must be theirs
who have thrown their thoughts into the hearts of men, and seen them
spread in waves of feeling, whose sphere time widens through the
world. For like the mobile water is the mind of man,--quick to
catch emotions, quick to transmit them. Of all waves of feeling,
this is not the least true of religious ones, that, starting from
their birthplace, pass out to stir others, who have but humanity in
common with those who professed them first. Like the ripples in the
pool, they leave their initial converts to sink back again into
comparative quiescence, as they advance to throw into sudden tremors
hordes of outer barbarians. In both of the great religions in
question this wave propagation has been most marked, only the
direction it took differed. Christianity went westward; Buddhism
travelled east. Proselytes in Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy find
counterparts in Eastern India, Burmah, and Thibet. Eventually the
taught surpassed their teachers both in zeal and numbers. Jerusalem
and Benares at last gave place to Rome and Lassa as sacerdotal
centres. Still the movement journeyed on. Popes and Lhamas
remained where their predecessors had founded sees, but the tide of
belief surged past them in its irresistible advance. Farther yet
from where each faith began are to be found to-day the greater part
of its adherents. The home that the Western hemisphere seems to
promise to the one, the extreme Orient affords the other. As Roman
Catholicism now looks to America for its strength, so Buddhism
to-day finds its worshippers chiefly in China and Japan.
But though the Japanese may be said to be all Buddhists, Buddhist is
by no means all that they are. At the time of their adoption of the
great Indian faith, the Japanese were already in possession of a
system of superstition which has held its own to this day. In fact,
as the state religion of the land, it has just experienced a
revival, a regalvanizing of its old-time energy, at the hands of
some of the native archaeologists. Its sacred mirror, held up to
Nature, has been burnished anew. Formerly this body of belief was
the national faith, the Mikado, the direct descendant of the early
gods, being its head on earth. His reinstatement to temporal power
formed a very fitting first step toward reinvesting the cult with
its former prestige; a curious instance, indeed, of a religious
revival due to archaeological, not to religious zeal.
This cult is the mythological inheritance of the whole eastern
seaboard of Asia, from Siam to Kamtchatka. In Japan it is called
Shintoism. The word "Shinto" means literally "the way of the gods,"
and the letter of its name is a true exponent of the spirit of the
belief. For its scriptures are rather an itinerary of the gods'
lives than a guide to that road by which man himself may attain to
immortality. Thus with a certain fitness pilgrimages are its most
noticeable rites. One cannot journey anywhere in the heart of Japan
without meeting multitudes of these pilgrims, with their neat white
leggings and their mushroom-like hats, nor rest at night at any inn
that is not hung with countless little banners of the pilgrim
associations, of which they all are members. Being a pilgrim there
is equivalent to being a tourist here, only that to the excitement
of doing the country is added a sustaining sense of the
meritoriousness of the deed. Oftener than not the objective point
of the devout is the summit of some noted mountain. For peaks are
peculiarly sacred spots in the Shinto faith. The fact is perhaps an
expression of man's instinctive desire to rise, as if the bodily act
in some wise betokened the mental action. The shrine in so exalted
a position is of the simplest: a rude hut, with or without the only
distinctive emblems of the cult, a mirror typical of the god and the
pendent gohei, or zigzag strips of paper, permanent votive offerings
of man. As for the belief itself, it is but the deification of
those natural elements which aboriginal man instinctively wonders at
or fears, the sun, the moon, the thunder, the lightning, and the
wind; all, in short, that he sees, hears, and feels, yet cannot
comprehend. He clothes his terrors with forms which resemble the
human, because he can conceive of nothing else that could cause the
unexpected. But the awful shapes he conjures up have naught in
common with himself. They are far too fearful to be followed.
Their way is the "highway of the gods," but no Jacob's ladder for
In this externality to the human lies the reason that Shintoism and
Buddhism can agree so well, and can both join with Confucianism in
helping to form that happy family of faith which is so singular a
feature of Far Eastern religious capability. It is not simply that
the two contrive to live peaceably together; they are actually both
of them implicitly believed by the same individual. Millions of
Japanese are good Buddhists and good Shintoists at the same time.
That such a combination should be possible is due to the essential
difference in the character of the two beliefs. The one is
extrinsic, the other intrinsic, in its relations to the human soul.
Shintoism tells man but little about himself and his hereafter;
Buddhism, little but about himself and what he may become. In
examining Far Eastern religion, therefore, for personality, or the
reverse, we may dismiss Shintoism as having no particular bearing
upon the subject. The only effect it has is indirect in furthering
the natural propensity of these people to an adoration of nature.
In Korea and in China, again, Confucianism is the great moral law,
as by reflection it is to a certain extent in Japan. But that in
its turn may be omitted in the present argument; inasmuch as
Confucius taught confessedly and designedly only a system of morals,
and religiously abstained from pronouncing any opinion whatever upon
the character or the career of the human soul.
Taouism, the third great religion of China, resembles Shintoism to
this extent, that it is a body of superstition, and not a form of
philosophy. It undertakes to provide nostrums for spiritual ills,
but is dumb as to the constitution of the soul for which it professes
to prescribe. Its pills are to be swallowed unquestioningly by the
patient, and are warranted to cure; and owing to the two great human
frailties, fear and credulity, its practice is very large.
Possessing, however, no philosophic diploma, it is without the pale
of the present discussion.
The demon-worship of Korea is a mild form of the same thing with the
hierarchy left out, every man there being his own spiritual adviser.
An ordinary Korean is born with an innate belief in malevolent
spirits, whom he accordingly propitiates from time to time. One of
nobler birth propitiates only the spirits of his own ancestors.
We come, then, by a process of elimination to a consideration of
Buddhism, the great philosophic faith of the whole Far East.
Not uncommonly in the courtyard of a Japanese temple, in the solemn
half-light of the sombre firs, there stands a large stone basin, cut
from a single block, and filled to the brim with water. The trees,
the basin, and a few stone lanterns--so called from their form, and
not their function, for they have votive pebbles where we should
look for wicks--are the sole occupants of the place. Sheltered from
the wind, withdrawn from sound, and only piously approached by man,
this antechamber of the god seems the very abode of silence and rest.
It might be Nirvana itself, human entrance to an immortality like
the god's within, so peaceful, so pervasive is its calm; and in its
midst is the moss-covered monolith, holding in its embrace the
little imprisoned pool of water. So still is the spot and so clear
the liquid that you know the one only as the reflection of the other.
Mirrored in its glassy surface appears everything around it.
As you peer in, far down you see a tiny bit of sky, as deep as the
blue is high above, across which slowly sail the passing clouds;
then nearer stand the trees, arching overhead, as if bending to
catch glimpses of themselves in that other world below; and then,
Emblem of the spirit of man is this little pool to Far Oriental eyes.
Subtile as the soul is the incomprehensible water; so responsive to
light that it remains itself invisible; so clear that it seems
illusion! Though portrayer so perfect of forms about it, all we know
of the thing itself is that it is. Through none of the five senses
do we perceive it. Neither sight, nor hearing, nor taste, nor smell,
nor touch can tell us it exists; we feel it to be by the muscular
sense alone, that blind and dumb analogue for the body of what
consciousness is for the soul. Only when disturbed, troubled, does
the water itself become visible, and then it is but the surface that
we see. So to the Far Oriental this still little lake typifies the
soul, the eventual purification of his own; a something lost in
reflection, self-effaced, only the alter ego of the outer world.
For contemplation, not action, is the Far Oriental's ideal of life.
The repose of self-adjustment like that to which our whole solar
system is slowly tending as its death,--this to him appears, though
from no scientific deduction, the end of all existence. So he sits
and ponders, abstractly, vaguely, upon everything in general,
--synonym, alas, to man's finite mind, for nothing in particular,--
till even the sense of self seems to vanish, and through the
mist-like portal of unconsciousness he floats out into the vast
indistinguishable sameness of Nirvana's sea.
At first sight Buddhism is much more like Christianity than those of
us who stay at home and speculate upon it commonly appreciate. As a
system of philosophy it sounds exceedingly foreign, but it looks
unexpectedly familiar as a faith. Indeed, the one religion might
well pass for the counterfeit presentment of the other. The
resemblance so struck the early Catholic missionaries that they felt
obliged to explain the remarkable similarity between the two.
With them ingenuous surprise instantly begot ingenious sophistry.
Externally, the likeness was so exact that at first they could not
bring themselves to believe that the Buddhist ceremonials had not
been filched bodily from the practices of the true faith. Finding,
however, that no known human agency had acted in the matter, they
bethought them of introducing, to account for things, a deus ex
machina in the shape of the devil. They were so pleased with this
solution of the difficulty that they imparted it at once with much
pride to the natives. You have indeed got, they graciously if
somewhat gratuitously informed them, the outward semblance of the
true faith, but you are in fact the miserable victims of an impious
fraud. Satan has stolen the insignia of divinity, and is now
masquerading before you as the deity; your god is really our devil,
--a recognition of antipodal inversion truly worthy the Jesuitical
Perhaps it is not matter for great surprise that they converted but
few of their hearers. The suggestion was hardly so diplomatic as
might have been expected from so generally astute a body; for it
could not make much difference what the all-presiding deity was
called, if his actions were the same, since his motives were beyond
human observation. Besides, the bare idea of a foreign bogus was
not very terrifying. The Chinese possessed too many familiar devils
of their own. But there was another and a much deeper reason, which
we shall come to later, why Christianity made but little headway in
the Far East.
But it is by no means in externals only that the two religions are
alike. If the first glance at them awakens that peculiar sensation
which most of us have felt at some time or other, a sense of having
seen all this before, further scrutiny reveals a deeper agreement
than merely in appearances.
In passing from the surface into the substance, it may be mentioned
incidentally that the codes of morality of the two are about on a
level. I say incidentally, for so far as its practice, certainly,
is concerned, it not its preaching, morality has no more intimate
connection with religion than it has with art or politics. If we
doubt this, we have but to examine the facts. Are the most religious
peoples the most moral? It needs no prolonged investigation to
convince us that they are not. If proof of the want of a bond were
required, the matter of truth-telling might be adduced in point.
As this is a subject upon which a slight misconception exists in the
minds of some evangelically persuaded persons, and because, what is
more generally relevant, the presence of this quality, honesty in
word and deed, has more than almost any other one characteristic
helped to put us in the van of the world's advance to-day, it may
not unfittingly be cited here.
The argument in the case may be put thus. Have specially religions
races been proportionally truth-telling ones? If not, has there been
any other cause at work in the development of mankind tending to
increase veracity? The answer to the first question has all the
simplicity of a plain negative. No such pleasing concomitance of
characteristics is observable to-day, or has been presented in the
past. Permitting, however, the dead past to bury its shortcomings
in oblivion, let us look at the world as we find it. We observe,
then, that the religious spirit is quite as strong in Asia as it is
in Europe; if anything, that at the present time it is rather
stronger. The average Brahman, Mahometan, or Buddhist is quite as
devout as the ordinary Roman Catholic or Presbyterian. If he is
somewhat less given to propagandism, he is not a whit less regardful
of his own salvation. Yet throughout the Orient truth is a thing
unknown, lies of courtesy being de rigueur and lies of convenience
de raison; while with us, fortunately, mendacity is generally
discredited. But we need not travel so far for proof. The same is
evident in less antipodal relations. Have the least religious
nations of Europe been any less truthful than the most bigoted? Was
fanatic Spain remarkable for veracity? Was Loyola a gentleman whose
assertions carried conviction other than to the stake? Were the
eminently mundane burghers whom he persecuted noted for a pious
superiority to fact? Or, to narrow the field still further, and scan
the circle of one's own acquaintance, are the most believing
individuals among them worthy of the most belief? Assuredly not.
We come, then, to the second point. Has there been any influence at
work to differentiate us in this respect from Far Orientals?
There has. Two separate causes, in fact, have conduced to the same
result. The one is the development of physical science; the other,
the extension of trade. The sole object of science being to
discover truth, truth-telling is a necessity of its existence.
Professionally, scientists are obliged to be truthful. Aliter of a
So long as science was of the closet, its influence upon mankind
generally was indirect and slight; but so soon as it proceeded to
stalk into the street and earn its own living, its veracious
character began to tell. When out of its theories sprang inventions
and discoveries that revolutionized every-day affairs and changed
the very face of things, society insensibly caught its spirit.
Man awoke to the inestimable value of exactness. From scientists
proper, the spirit filtered down through every stratum of education,
till to-day the average man is born exact to a degree which his
forefathers never dreamed of becoming. To-day, as a rule, the more
intelligent the individual, the more truthful he is, because the
more innately exact in thought, and thence in word and action.
With us, to lie is a sign of a want of cleverness, not of an excess
The second cause, the extension of trade, has inculcated the same
regard for veracity through the pocket. For with the increase of
business transactions in both time and space, the telling of the
truth has become a financial necessity. Without it, trade would
come to a standstill at once. Our whole mercantile system, a modern
piece of mechanism unknown to the East till we imported it thither,
turns on an implicit belief in the word of one's neighbor. Our
legal safeguards would snap like red tape were the great bond of
mutual trust once broken. Western civilization has to be truthful,
And now for the spirits of the two beliefs.
The soul of any religion realizes in one respect the Brahman idea of
the individual soul of man, namely, that it exists much after the
manner of an onion, in many concentric envelopes. Man, they tell us,
is composed not of a single body simply, but of several layers of body,
each shell as it were respectively inclosing another. The outermost
is the merely material body, of which we are so directly cognizant.
This encases a second, more spiritual, but yet not wholly free from
earthly affinities. This contains another, still more refined; till
finally, inside of all is that immaterial something which they
conceive to constitute the soul. This eventual residuum exemplifies
the Franciscan notion of pure substance, for it is a thing
delightfully devoid of any attributes whatever.
We may, perhaps, not be aware of the existence of such an elaborate
set of encasings to our own heart of hearts, nor of a something so
very indefinite within, but the most casual glance at any religion
will reveal its truth as regards the soul of a belief. We recognize
the fact outwardly in the buildings erected to celebrate its worship.
Not among the Jews alone was the holy of holies kept veiled, to
temper the divine radiance to man's benighted understanding. Nor is
the chancel-rail of Christianity the sole survivor of the more
exclusive barriers of olden times, even in the Western world.
In the Ear East, where difficulty of access is deemed indispensable
to dignity, the material approaches are still manifold and imposing.
Court within court, building after building, isolate the shrine
itself from the profane familiarity of the passers-by. But though
the material encasings vary in number and in exclusiveness,
according to the temperament of the particular race concerned, the
mental envelopes exist, and must exist, in both hemispheres alike,
so long as society resembles the crust of the earth on which it
dwells,--a crust composed of strata that grow denser as one
descends. What is clear to those on top seems obscure to those
below; what are weighty arguments to the second have no force at all
upon the first. There must necessarily be grades of elevation in
individual beliefs, suited to the needs and cravings of each
individual soul. A creed that fills the shallow with satisfaction
leaves but an aching void in the deep. It is not of the slightest
consequence how the belief starts; differentiated it is bound to
become. The higher minds alone can rest content with abstract
imaginings; the lower must have concrete realities on which to pin
their faith. With them, inevitably, ideals degenerate into idols.
In all religions this unavoidable debasement has taken place.
The Roman Catholic who prays to a wooden image of Christ is not one
whit less idolatrous than the Buddhist who worships a bronze statue
of Amida Butzu. All that the common people are capable of seeing is
the soul-envelope, for the soul itself they are unable to
appreciate. Spiritually they are undiscerning, because
imaginatively they are blind.
Now the grosser soul-envelopes of the two great European and Asiatic
faiths, though differing in detail, are in general parallel in
structure. Each boasts its full complement of saints, whose
congruent catalogues are equally wearisome in length. Each tells
its circle of beads to help it keep count of similarly endless
prayers. For in both, in the popular estimation, quantity is more
effective to salvation than quality. In both the believer
practically pictures his heaven for himself, while in each his hell,
with a vividness that does like credit to its religious imagination,
is painted for him by those of the cult who are themselves confident
of escaping it. Into the lap of each mother church the pious
believer drops his little votive offering with the same affectionate
zeal, and in Asia, as in Europe, the mites of the many make the
might of the mass.
But behind all this is the religion of the few,--of those to whom
sensuous forms cannot suffice to represent super-sensuous cravings;
whose god is something more than an anthropomorphic creation; to
whom worship means not the cramping of the body, but the expansion
of the soul.
The rays of the truth, like the rays of the sun, which universally
seems to have been man's first adoration, have two properties
equally inherent in their essence, warmth and light. And as for the
life of all things on this globe both attributes of sunshine are
necessary, so to the development of that something which constitutes
the ego both qualities of the truth are vital. We sometimes speak
of character as if it were a thing wholly apart from mind; but, in
fact, the two things are so interwoven that to perceive the right
course is the strongest possible of incentives to pursue it. In the
end the two are one. Now, while clearness of head is all-important,
kindness of heart is none the less so. The first, perhaps, is more
needed in our communings with ourselves, the second in our commerce
with others. For, dark and dense bodies that we are, we can radiate
affection much more effectively than we can reflect views.
That Christianity is a religion of love needs no mention; that
Buddhism is equally such is perhaps not so generally appreciated.
But just as the gospel of the disciple who loved and was loved the
most begins its story by telling us of the Light that came into the
world, so none the less surely could the Light of Asia but be also
its warmth. Half of the teachings of Buddhism are spent in
inculcating charity. Not only to men is man enjoined to show
kindliness, but to all other animals as well. The people practise
what their scriptures preach. The effect indirectly on the
condition of the brutes is almost as marked as its more direct
effect on the character of mankind. In heart, at least, Buddhism
and Christianity are very close.
But here the two paths to a something beyond an earthly life
diverge. Up to this point the two religions are alike, but from
this point on they are so utterly unlike that the very similarity of
all that went before only suffices to make of the second the weird,
life-counterfeiting shadow of the first. As in a silhouette,
externally the contours are all there, but within is one vast blank.
In relation to one's neighbor the two beliefs are kin, but as
regards one's self, as far apart as the West is from the East.
For here, at this idea of self, we are suddenly aware of standing on
the brink of a fathomless abyss, gazing giddily down into that great
gulf which divides Buddhism from Christianity. We cannot see the
bottom. It is a separation more profound than death; it seems to
necessitate annihilation. To cross it we must bury in its depths
all we know as ourselves.
Christianity is a personal religion; Buddhism, an impersonal one.
In this fundamental difference lies the world-wide opposition of the
two beliefs. Christianity tells us to purify ourselves that we may
enjoy countless aeons of that bettered self hereafter; Buddhism
would have us purify ourselves that we may lose all sense of self
For all that it preaches the essential vileness of the natural man,
Christianity is a gospel of optimism. While it affirms that at
present you are bad, it also affirms that this depravity is no
intrinsic part of yourself. It unquestioningly asserts that it is
something foreign to your true being. It even believes that in a
more or less spiritual manner your very body will survive.
It essentially clings to the ego. What it inculcates is really
present endeavor sanctioned by the prospect of future bliss.
It tacitly takes for granted the desirability of personal existence,
and promises the certainty of personal immortality,--a terror to
evildoers, and a sustaining sense of coming unalloyed happiness to
the good. Through and through its teachings runs the feeling of the
fullness of life, that desire which will not die, that wish of the
soul which beats its wings against its earthly casement in its
longing for expansion beyond the narrow confines of threescore years
Buddhism, on the contrary, is the cri du coeur of pessimism.
This life, it says, is but a chain of sorrows. To multiply days is
only to multiply evil. These desires that urge us on are really
cause of all our woe. We think they are ourselves. We are
mistaken. They are all illusion, and we are victims of a mirage.
This personality, this sense of self, is a cruel deception and a
snare. Realize once the true soul behind it, devoid of attributes,
therefore without this capacity for suffering, an indivisible part
of the great impersonal soul of nature: then, and then only, will
you have found happiness in the blissful quiescence of Nirvana.
With a certain poetic fitness, misery and impersonality were both
present in the occasion that gave the belief birth. Many have
turned to the consolations of religion by reason of their own
wretchedness; Gautama sought its help touched by the woes of others
whom, in his own happy life journey, he chanced one day to come
across. Shocked by the sight of human disease, old age, and death,
sad facts to which hitherto he had been sedulously kept a stranger,
he renounced the world that he might find for it an escape from its
ills. But bliss, as he conceived it, lay not in wanting to be
something he was not, but in actual want of being. His quest for
mankind was immunity from suffering, not the active enjoyment of
life. In this negative way of looking at happiness, he acted in
strict conformity with the spirit of his world. For the doctrine of
pessimism had already been preached. It underlay the whole Brahman
philosophy, and everybody believed it implicitly. Already the East
looked at this life as an evil, and had affirmed for the individual
spirit extinction to be happier than existence. The wish for an end
to the ego, the hope to be eventually nothing, Gautama accepted for
a truism as undeniably as the Brahmans did. What he pronounced
false was the Brahman prospectus of the way to reach this desirable
impersonal state. Their road, be said, could not possibly land the
traveller where it professed, since it began wrong, and ended
nowhere. The way, he asserted, is within a man. He has but to
realize the truth, and from that moment he will see his goal and the
road that leads there. There is no panacea for human ills, of
external application. The Brahman homoeopathic treatment of sin is
folly. The slaughtering of men and bulls cannot possibly bring life
to the soul. To mortify the body for the sins of the flesh is
palpably futile, for in desire alone lies all the ill. Quench the
desire, and the deeds will die of inanition. Man himself is sole
cause of his own misery. Get rid, then, said the Buddha, of these
passions, these strivings for the sake of self, that hold the true
soul a prisoner. They have to do with things which we know are
transitory: how can they be immortal themselves? We recognize them
as subject to our will; they are, then, not the I.
As a man, he taught, becomes conscious that he himself is something
distinct from his body, so, if he reflect and ponder, he will come
to see that in like manner his appetites, ambitions, hopes, are
really extrinsic to the spirit proper. Neither heart nor head is
truly the man, for he is conscious of something that stands behind
both. Behind desire, behind even the will, lies the soul, the same
for all men, one with the soul of the universe. When he has once
realized this eternal truth, the man has entered Nirvana. For
Nirvana is not an absorption of the individual soul into the soul of
all things, since the one has always been a part of the other.
Still less is it utter annihilation. It is simply the recognition
of the eternal oneness of the two, back through an everlasting past
on through an everlasting future.
Such is the belief which the Japanese adopted, and which they
profess to-day. Such to them is to be the dawn of death's
to-morrow; a blessed impersonal immortality, in which all sense of
self, illusion that it is, shall itself have ceased to be; a long
dreamless sleep, a beatified rest, which no awakening shall ever
Among such a people personal Christianity converts but few.
They accept our material civilization, but they reject our creeds.
To preach a prolongation of life appears to them like preaching an
extension of sorrow. At most, Christianity succeeds only in making
them doubters of what lies beyond this life. But though professing
agnosticism while they live, they turn, when the shadows of death's
night come on, to the bosom of that faith which teaches that,
whatever may have been one's earthly share of happiness,
"'tis something better not to be."
Strange it seems at first that those who have looked so long to the
rising sun for inspiration should be they who live only in a sort of
lethargy of life, while those who for so many centuries have turned
their faces steadily to the fading glory of the sunset should be the
ones who have embodied the spirit of progress of the world. Perhaps
the light, by its very rising, checks the desire to pursue; in its
setting it lures one on to follow.
Though this religion of impersonality is not their child, it is
their choice. They embraced it with the rest that India taught
them, centuries ago. But though just as eager to learn of us now as
of India then, Christianity fails to commend itself. This is not
due to the fact that the Buddhist missionaries came by invitation,
and ours do not. Nor is it due to any want of personal character in
these latter, but simply to an excess of it in their doctrines.
For to-day the Far East is even more impersonal in its religion than
are those from whom that religion originally came. India has
returned again to its worship of Brahma, which, though impersonal
enough, is less so than is the gospel of Gautama. For it is
passively instead of actively impersonal.
Buddhism bears to Brahmanism something like the relation that
Protestantism does to Roman Catholicism. Both bishops and Brahmans
undertake to save all who shall blindly commit themselves to
professional guidance, while Buddhists and Protestants alike believe
that a man's salvation must be brought about by the action of the
man himself. The result is, that in the matter of individuality the
two reformed beliefs are further apart than those against which they
severally protested. For by the change the personal became more
personal, and the impersonal more impersonal than before.
The Protestant, from having tamely allowed himself to be led, began
to take a lively interest in his own self-improvement; while the
Buddhist, from a former apathetic acquiescence in the doctrine of
the universally illusive, set to work energetically towards
self-extinction. Curious labor for a mind, that of devoting all its
strength to the thinking itself out of existence! Not content with
being born impersonal, a Far Oriental is constantly striving to make
himself more so.
We have seen, then, how in trying to understand these peoples we are
brought face to face with impersonality in each of those three
expressions of the human soul, speech, thought, yearning. We have
looked at them first from a social standpoint. We have seen how
singularly little regard is paid the individual from his birth to
his death. How he lives his life long the slave of patriarchal
customs of so puerile a tendency as to be practically impossible to
a people really grown up. How he practises a wholesale system of
adoption sufficient of itself to destroy any surviving regard for
the ego his other relations might have left. How in his daily life
he gives the minimum of thought to the bettering himself in any
worldly sense, and the maximum of polite consideration to his
neighbor. How, in short, he acts toward himself as much as possible
as if he were another, and to that other as if he were himself.
Then, not content with standing stranger like upon the threshold,
we have sought to see the soul of their civilization in its intrinsic
manifestations. We have pushed our inquiry, as it were, one step
nearer its home. And the same trait that was apparent
sociologically has been exposed in this our antipodal phase of
psychical research. We have seen how impersonal is his language, the
principal medium of communication between one soul and another; how
impersonal are the communings of his soul with itself. How the man
turns to nature instead of to his fellowman in silent sympathy.
And how, when he speculates upon his coming castles in the air, his
most roseate desire is to be but an indistinguishable particle of
the sunset clouds and vanish invisible as they into the starry
stillness of all-embracing space.
Now what does this strange impersonality betoken? Why are these
peoples so different from us in this most fundamental of
considerations to any people, the consideration of themselves?
The answer leads to some interesting conclusions.
Chapter 8. Imagination.
If, as is the case with the moon, the earth, as she travelled round
her orbit turned always the same face inward, we might expect to
find, between the thoughts of that hemisphere which looked
continually to the sun, and those of the other peering eternally out
at the stars, some such difference as actually exists between
ourselves and our longitudinal antipodes. For our conception of the
cosmos is of a sunlit world throbbing with life, while their Nirvana
finds not unfit expression in the still, cold, fathomless awe of the
midnight sky. That we cannot thus directly account for the
difference in local coloring serves but to make that difference of
more human interest. The dissimilarity between the Western and the
Far Eastern attitude of mind has in it something beyond the effect
of environment. For it points to the importance of the part which
the principle of individuality plays in the great drama daily
enacting before our eyes, and which we know as evolution. It shows,
as I shall hope to prove, that individuality bears the same relation
to the development of mind that the differentiation of species does
to the evolution of organic life: that the degree of individualization
of a people is the self-recorded measure of its place in the great
march of mind.
All life, whether organic or inorganic, consists, as we know, in a
change from a state of simple homogeneity to one of complex
heterogeneity. The process is apparently the same in a nebula or a
brachiopod, although much more intricate in the latter. The
immediate force which works this change, the life principle of
things, is, in the case of organic beings, a subtle something which
we call spontaneous variation. What this mysterious impulse may be
is beyond our present powers of recognition. As yet, the ultimates
of all things lie hidden in the womb of the vast unknown. But just
as in the case of a man we can tell what organs are vital, though we
are ignorant what the vital spark may be, so in our great cosmical
laws we can say in what their power resides, though we know not
really what they are. Whether mind be but a sublimated form of
matter, or, what amounts to the same thing, matter a menial kind of
mind, or whether, which seems less likely, it be a something
incomparable with substance, of one thing we are sure, the same laws
of heredity govern both. In each a like chain of continuity leads
from the present to the dim past, a connecting clue which we can
follow backward in imagination. Now what spontaneous variation is
to the material organism, imagination, apparently, is to the mental
one. Just as spontaneous variation is constantly pushing the animal
or the plant to push out, as a vine its tendrils, in all directions,
while natural conditions are as constantly exercising over it a sort
of unconscious pruning power, so imagination is ever at work urging
man's mind out and on, while the sentiment of the community,
commonly called common sense, which simply means the point already
reached by the average, is as steadily tending to keep it at its own
level. The environment helps, in the one case as in the other,
to the shaping of the development. Purely physical in the first,
it is both physical and psychical in the second, the two reacting on
each other. But in either case it is only a constraining condition,
not the divine impulse itself. Precisely, then, as in the organism,
this subtle spirit checked in one direction finds a way to advance
in another, and produces in consequence among an originally similar
set of bodies a gradual separation into species which grow wider
with time, so in brain evolution a like force for like reasons tends
inevitably to an ever-increasing individualization.
Now what evidence have we that this analogy holds? Let us look at
the facts, first as they present themselves subjectively.
The instinct of self-preservation, that guardian angel so persistent
to appear when needed, owes its summons to another instinct no less
strong, which we may call the instinct of individuality; for with
the same innate tenacity with which we severally cling to life do we
hold to the idea of our own identity. It is not for the philosophic
desire of preserving a very small fraction of humanity at large that
we take such pains to avoid destruction; it is that we insensibly
regard death as threatening to the continuance of the ego, in spite
of the theories of a future life which we have so elaborately
developed. Indeed, the psychical shrinking is really the
quintessence of the physical fear. We cleave to the abstract idea
closer even than to its concrete embodiment. Sooner would we forego
this earthly existence than surrender that something we know as
self. For sufficient cause we can imagine courting death; we cannot
conceive of so much as exchanging our individuality for another's,
still less of abandoning it altogether; for gradually a man, as he
grows older, comes to regard his body as, after all, separable from
himself. It is the soul's covering, rendered indispensable by the
climatic conditions of our present existence, one without which we
could no longer continue to live here. To forego it does not
necessarily negative, so far as we yet know, the possibility of
living elsewhere. Some more congenial tropic may be the wandering
spirit's fate. But to part with the sense of self seems to be like
taking an eternal farewell of the soul. The Western mind shrinks
before the bare idea of such a thought.
The clinging to one's own identity, then, is now an instinct,
whatever it may originally have been. It is a something we
inherited from our ancestors and which we shall transmit more or
less modified to our descendants. How far back this consciousness
has been felt passes the possibilities of history to determine,
since the recording of it necessarily followed the fact. All we
know is that its mention is coeval with chronicle, and its origin
lost in allegory. The Bible, one of the oldest written records in
the world, begins with a bit of mythology of a very significant
kind. When the Jews undertook to trace back their family tree to an
idyllic garden of Eden, they mentioned as growing there beside the
tree of life, another tree called the tree of knowledge. Of what
character this knowledge was is inferable from the sudden
self-consciousness that followed the partaking of it. So that if
we please we may attribute directly to Eve's indiscretion the many
evils of our morbid self-consciousness of the present day.
But without indulging in unchivalrous reflections we may draw
certain morals from it of both immediate and ultimate applicability.
To begin with, it is a most salutary warning to the introspective,
and in the second place it is a striking instance of a myth which is
not a sun myth; for it is essentially of human regard, an attempt on
man's part to explain that most peculiar attribute of his
constitution, the all-possessing sense of self. It looks certainly
as if he was not over-proud of his person that he should have deemed
its recognition occasion for the primal curse, and among early races
the person is for a good deal of the personality. What he lamented
was not life but the unavoidable exertion necessary to getting his
daily bread, for the question whether life were worth while was as
futile then as now, and as inconceivable really as 4-dimensional
We are then conscious of individuality as a force within ourselves.
But our knowledge by no means ends there; for we are aware of it in
the case of others as well.
About certain people there exists a subtle something which leaves
its impress indelibly upon the consciousness of all who come in
contact with them. This something is a power, but a power of so
indefinable a description that we beg definition by calling it
simply the personality of the man. It is not a matter of subsequent
reasoning, but of direct perception. We feel it. Sometimes it
charms us; sometimes it repels. But we can no more be oblivious to
it than we can to the temperature of the air. Its possessor has but
to enter the room, and insensibly we are conscious of a presence.
It is as if we had suddenly been placed in the field of a magnetic
On the other hand there are people who produce no effect upon us
whatever. They come and go with a like indifference. They are as
unimportant psychically as if they were any other portion of the
furniture. They never stir us. We might live with them for fifty
years and be hardly able to tell, for any influence upon ourselves,
whether they existed or not. They remind us of that neutral drab
which certain religious sects assume to show their own irrelevancy
to the world. They are often most estimable folk, but they are no
more capable of inspiring a strong emotion than the other kind are
incapable of doing so. And we say the difference is due to the
personality or want of personality of the man. Now, in what does
this so-called personality consist? Not in bodily presence simply,
for men quite destitute of it possess the force in question; not in
character only, for we often disapprove of a character whose
attraction we are powerless to resist; not in intellect alone, for
men more rational fail of stirring us as these unconsciously do.
In what, then? In life itself; not that modicum of it, indeed,
which suffices simply to keep the machine moving, but in the life
principle, the power which causes psychical change; which makes the
individual something distinct from all other individuals, a being
capable of proving sufficient, if need be, unto himself; which shows
itself, in short, as individuality. This is not a mere restatement
of the case, for individuality is an objective fact capable of being
treated by physical science. And as we know much more at present
about physical facts than we do of psychological problems, we may be
able to arrive the sooner at solution.
Individuality, personality, and the sense of self are only three
different aspects of one and the same thing. They are so many
various views of the soul according as we regard it from an
intrinsic, an altruistic, or an egoistic standpoint. For by
individuality is not meant simply the isolation in a corporeal
casing of a small portion of the universal soul of mankind. So far
as mind goes, this would not be individuality at all, but the
reverse. By individuality we mean that bundle of ideas, thoughts,
and daydreams which constitute our separate identity, and by virtue
of which we feel each one of us at home within himself. Now man in
his mind-development is bound to become more and more distinct from
his neighbor. We can hardly conceive a progress so uniform as not
to necessitate this. It would be contrary to all we know of natural
law, besides contradicting daily experience. For each successive
generation bears unmistakable testimony to the fact. Children of
the same parents are never exactly like either their parents or one
another, and they often differ amazingly from both. In such
instances they revert to type, as we say; but inasmuch as the race
is steadily advancing in development, such reversion must resemble
that of an estate which has been greatly improved since its previous
possession. The appearance of the quality is really the sprouting
of a seed whose original germ was in some sense coeval with the
beginning of things. This mind-seed takes root in some cases and
not in others, according to the soil it finds. And as certain
traits develop and others do not, one man turns out very differently
from his neighbor. Such inevitable distinction implies furthermore
that the man shall be sensible of it. Consciousness is the
necessary attribute of mental action. Not only is it the sole way
we have of knowing mind; without it there would be no mind to know.
Not to be conscious of one's self is, mentally speaking, not to be.
This complex entity, this little cosmos of a world, the "I," has for
its very law of existence self-consciousness, while personality is
the effect it produces upon the consciousness of others.
But we may push our inquiry a step further, and find in imagination
the cause of this strange force. For imagination, or the
image-making faculty, may in a certain sense be said to be the
creator of the world within. The separate senses furnish it with
material, but to it alone is due the building of our castles, on
premises of fact or in the air. For there is no impassable gulf
between the two. Coleridge's distinction that imagination drew
possible pictures and fancy impossible ones, is itself, except as a
classification, an impossible distinction to draw; for it is only
the inconceivable that can never be. All else is purely a matter of
relation. We may instance dreams which are usually considered to
rank among the most fanciful creations of the mind. Who has not in
his dreams fallen repeatedly from giddy heights and invariably
escaped unhurt? If he had attempted the feat in his waking moments
he would assuredly have been dashed to pieces at the bottom. And so
we say the thing is impossible. But is it? Only under the relative
conditions of his mass and the earth's. If the world he happens to
inhabit were not its present size, but the size of one of the tinier
asteroids, no such disastrous results would follow a chance misstep.
He could there walk off precipices when too closely pursued by bears
--if I remember rightly the usual childish cause of the same--
with perfect impunity. The bear could do likewise, unfortunately.
We should have arrived at our conclusion even quicker had we
decreased the size both of the man and his world. He would not then
have had to tumble actually so far, and would therefore have arrived
yet more gently at the foot. This turns out, then, to be a mere
question of size. Decrease the scale of the picture, and the
impossible becomes possible at once. All fancies are not so easily
reducible to actual facts as the one we have taken, but all,
perhaps, eventually may be explicable in the same general way. At
present we certainly cannot affirm that anything may not be thus
explained. For the actual is widening its field every day. Even in
this little world of our own we are daily discovering to be fact
what we should have thought fiction, like the sailor's mother the
tale of the flying fish. Beyond it our ken is widening still more.
Gulliver's travels may turn out truer than we think. Could we
traverse the inter-planetary ocean of ether, we might eventually
find in Jupiter the land of Lilliput or in Ceres some old-time
country of the Brobdignagians. For men constituted muscularly like
ourselves would have to be proportionately small in the big planet
and big in the small one. Still stranger things may exist around
other suns. In those bright particular stars--which the little girl
thought pinholes in the dark canopy of the sky to let the glory
beyond shine through--we are finding conditions of existence like
yet unlike those we already know. To our groping speculations of
the night they almost seem, as we gaze on them in their twinkling,
to be winking us a sort of comprehension. Conditions may exist
there under which our wildest fancies may be commonplace facts.
There may be
"Some Xanadu where Kublai can
a stately pleasure dome decree,"
and carry out his conceptions to his own disillusionment, perhaps.
For if the embodiment of a fancy, however complete, left nothing
further to be wished, imagination would have no incentive to work.
Coleridge's distinction does very well to separate, empirically,
certain kinds of imaginative concepts from certain others; but it
has no real foundation in fact. Nor presumably did he mean it to
have. But it serves, not inaptly, as a text to point out an
important scientific truth, namely, that there are not two such
qualities of the mind, but only one. For otherwise we might have
supposed the fact too evident to need mention. Imagination is the
single source of the new, the one mainspring of psychical advance;
reason, like a balance-wheel, only keeping the action regular.
For reason is but the touchstone of experience, our own, inherited,
or acquired from others. It compares what we imagine with what we
know, and gives us answer in terms of the here and the now, which
we call the actual. But the actual is really nothing but the local.
It does not mark the limits of the possible.
That imagination has been the moving spirit of the psychical world
is evident, whatever branch of human thought we are pleased to
examine. We are in the habit, in common parlance, of making a
distinction between the search after truth and the search after
beauty, calling the one science and the other art. Now while we are
not slow to impute imagination to art, we are by no means so ready
to appreciate its connection with science. Yet contrary, perhaps,
to exogeric ideas on the subject, it is science rather than art that
demands imagination of her votaries. Not that art may not involve
the quality to a high degree, but that a high degree of art is quite
compatible with a very small amount of imagination. On the one side
we may instance painting. Now painting begins its career in the
humble capacity of copyist, a pretty poor copyist at that. At first
so slight was its skill that the rudest symbols sufficed.
"This is a man" was conventionally implied by a few scratches
bearing a very distant relationship to the real thing. Gradually,
owing to human vanity and a growing taste, pictures improved.
Combinations were tried, a bit from one place with a piece from
another; a sort of mosaic requiring but a slight amount of
imagination. Not that imagination of a higher order has not been
called into play, although even now pictures are often happy
adaptations rather than creations proper. Some masters have been
imaginative; others, unfortunately for themselves and still more for
the public, have not. For that the art may attain a high degree of
excellence for itself and much distinction for its professors,
without calling in the aid of imagination, is evident enough on this
side of the globe, without travelling to the other.
Take, on the other hand, a branch of science which, to the average
layman, seems peculiarly unimaginative, the science of mathematics.
Yet at the risk of appearing to cast doubts upon the validity of its
conclusions, it might be called the most imaginative product of
human thought; for it is simply one vast imagination based upon a
few so-called axioms, which are nothing more nor less than the
results of experience. It is none the less imaginative because its
discoveries always accord subsequently with fact, since man was not
aware of them beforehand. Nor are its inevitable conclusions
inevitable to any save those possessed of the mathematician's
prophetic sight. Once discovered, it requires much less imagination
to understand them. With the light coming from in front, it is an
easy matter to see what lies behind one.
So with other fabrics of human thought, imagination has been
spinning and weaving them all. From the most concrete of inventions
to the most abstract of conceptions the same force reveals itself
upon examination; for there is no gulf between what we call practical
and what we consider theoretical. Everything abstract is ultimately
of practical use, and even the most immediately utilitarian has an
abstract principle at its core. We are too prone to regard the
present age of the world as preeminently practical, much as a
middle-aged man laments the witching fancies of his boyhood. But,
and there is more in the parallel than analogy, if the man be truly
imaginative he is none the less so at forty-five than he was at
twenty, if his imagination have taken on a more critical form;
for this latter half of the nineteenth century is perhaps the most
imaginative period the world's history has ever known. While with
one hand we are contriving means of transit for our ideas, and even
our very voices, compared to which Puck's girdle is anything but
talismanic, with the other we are stretching out to grasp the action
of mind on mind, pushing our way into the very realm of mind itself.
History tells the same story in detail; for the history of mankind,
imperfectly as we know it, discloses the fact that imagination,
and not the power of observation nor the kindred capability of
perception, has been the cause of soul-evolution.
The savage is but little of an imaginative being. We are tempted,
at times, to imagine him more so than he is, for his fanciful
folk-lore. The proof of which overestimation is that we find no
difficulty in imagining what he does, and even of imagining what he
probably imagined, and finding our suppositions verified by
discovery. Yet his powers of observation may be marvellously
developed. The North American Indian tracks his foe through the
forest by signs unrecognizable to a white man, and he reasons most
astutely upon them, and still that very man turns out to be a mere
child when put before problems a trifle out of his beaten path.
And all because his forefathers had not the power to imagine
something beyond what they actually saw. The very essence of the
force of imagination lies in its ability to change a man's habitat
for him. Without it, man would forever have remained, not a mollusk,
to be sure, but an animal simply. A plant cannot change its place,
an animal cannot alter its conditions of existence except within
very narrow bounds; man is free in the sense nothing else in the
What is true of individuals has been true of races. The most
imaginative races have proved the greatest factors in the world's
Now after this look at our own side of the world, let us turn to
the other; for it is this very psychological fact that mental
progression implies an ever-increasing individualization, and that
imagination is the force at work in the process which Far Eastern
civilization, taken in connection with our own, reveals. In doing
this, it explains incidentally its own seeming anomalies, the most
unaccountable of which, apparently, is its existence.
We have seen how impressively impersonal the Far East is. Now if
individuality be the natural measure of the height of civilization
which a nation has reached, impersonality should betoken a
relatively laggard position in the race. We ought, therefore, to
find among these people certain other characteristics corroborative
of a less advanced state of development. In the first place,
if imagination be the impulse of which increase in individuality is
the resulting motion, that quality should be at a minimum there.
The Far Orientals ought to be a particularly unimaginative set of
people. Such is precisely what they are. Their lack of imagination
is a well-recognized fact. All who have been brought in contact
with them have observed it, merchants as strikingly as students.
Indeed, the slightest intercourse with them could not fail to make
it evident. Their matter-of-fact way of looking at things is truly
distressing, coming as it does from so artistic a people.
One notices it all the more for the shock. To get a prosaic answer
from a man whose appearance and surroundings betoken better things
is not calculated to dull that answer's effect. Aston, in a
pamphlet on the Altaic tongues, cites an instance which is so much
to the point that I venture to repeat it here. He was a true
Chinaman, he says, who, when his English master asked him what he
"That orbed maiden
With white fires laden
Whom mortals call the moon,"
replied, "My thinkee all same lamp pidgin" (pidgin meaning thing in
the mongrel speech, Chinese in form and English in diction, which
goes by the name of pidgin English).
Their own tongues show the same prosaic character, picturesque as
they appear to us at first sight. That effect is due simply to the
novelty to us of their expressions. To talk of a pass as an
"up-down" has a refreshing turn to our unused ear, but it is a much
more descriptive than imaginative figure of speech. Nor is the
phrase "the being (so) is difficult," in place of "thank you,"
a surprisingly beautiful bit of imagery, delightful as it sounds for
a change. Our own tongue has, in its daily vocabulary, far more
suggestive expressions, only familiarity has rendered us callous to
their use. We employ at every instant words which, could we but
stop to think of them, would strike us as poetic in the ideas they
call up. As has been well said, they were once happy thoughts of
some bright particular genius bequeathed to posterity without so
much as an accompanying name, and which proved so popular that they
soon became but symbols themselves.
Their languages are paralleled by their whole life. A lack of any
fanciful ideas is one of the most salient traits of all Far Eastern
races, if indeed a sad dearth of anything can properly be spoken of
as salient. Indirectly their want of imagination betrays itself in
their every-day sayings and doings, and more directly in every
branch of thought. Originality is not their strong point. Their
utter ignorance of science shows this, and paradoxical as it may
seem, their art, in spite of its merit and its universality, does
the same. That art and imagination are necessarily bound together
receives no very forcible confirmation from a land where, nationally
speaking, at any rate, the first is easily first and the last easily
last, as nations go. It is to quite another quality that their
artistic excellence must be ascribed. That the Chinese and later
the Japanese have accomplished results at which the rest of the
world will yet live to marvel, is due to their--taste. But taste or
delicacy of perception has absolutely nothing to do with
imagination. That certain of the senses of Far Orientals are
wonderfully keen, as also those parts of the brain that directly
respond to them, is beyond question; but such sensitiveness does not
in the least involve the less earth-tied portions of the intellect.
A peculiar responsiveness to natural beauty, a sort of mental
agreement with its earthly environment, is a marked feature of the
Japanese mind. But appreciation, however intimate, is a very
different thing from originality. The one is commonly the handmaid
of the other, but the other by no means always accompanies the one.
So much for the cause; now for the effect which we might expect to
find if our diagnosis be correct.
If the evolving force be less active in one race than in another,
three relative results should follow. In the first place, the race
in question will at any given moment be less advanced than its
fellow; secondly, its rate of progress will be less rapid; and
lastly, its individual members will all be nearer together, just as
a stream, in falling from a cliff, starts one compact mass, then
gradually increasing in speed, divides into drops, which, growing
finer and finer and farther and farther apart, descend at last as
spray. All three of these consequences are visible in the career of
the Far Eastern peoples. The first result scarcely needs to be
proved to us, who are only too ready to believe it without proof.
It is, nevertheless, a fact. Viewed unprejudicedly, their
civilization is not so advanced a one as our own. Although they
are certainly our superiors in some very desirable particulars,
their whole scheme is distinctly more aboriginal fundamentally.
It is more finished, as far as it goes, but it does not go so far.
Less rude, it is more rudimentary. Indeed, as we have seen, its
surface-perfection really shows that nature has given less thought
to its substance. One may say of it that it is the adult form of a
lower type of mind-specification.
The second effect is scarcely less patent. How slow their progress
has been, if for centuries now it can be called progress at all, is
world-known. Chinese conservatism has passed into a proverb.
The pendulum of pulsation in the Middle Kingdom long since came to a
stop at the medial point of rest. Centre of civilization, as they
call themselves, one would imagine that their mind-machinery had got
caught on their own dead centre, and now could not be made to move.
Life, which elsewhere is a condition of unstable equilibrium, there
is of a fatally stable kind. For the Chinaman's disinclination to
progress is something more than vis inertiae; it has become an
ardent devotion to the status quo. Jostled, he at once settles back
to his previous condition again; much as more materially, after a
lifetime spent in California, at his death his body is punctiliously
embalmed and sent home across five thousand miles of sea for burial.
With the Japanese the condition of affairs is somewhat different.
Their tendency to stand still is of a purely passive kind. It is a
state of neutral equilibrium, stationary of itself but perfectly
responsive to an impulse from without. Left to their own devices,
they are conservative enough, but they instantly copy a more
advanced civilization the moment they get a chance. This proclivity
on their part is not out of keeping with our theory. On the
contrary, it is precisely what was to have been expected; for we see
the very same apparent contradiction in characters we are thrown
with every day. Imitation is the natural substitute for originality.
The less strong a man's personality the more prone is he to adopt
the ideas of others, on the same principle that a void more easily
admits a foreign body than does space that is already occupied; or
as a blank piece of paper takes a dye more brilliantly for not being
already tinted itself.
The third result, the remarkable homogeneity of the people, is not,
perhaps, so universally appreciated, but it is equally evident on
inspection, and no less weighty in proof. Indeed, the Far Eastern
state of things is a kind of charade on the word; for humanity there
is singularly uniform. The distance between the extremes of
mind-development in Japan is much less than with us. This lack of
divergence exists not simply in certain lines of thought, but in all
those characteristics by which man is parted from the brutes.
In reasoning power, in artistic sensibility, in delicacy of perception,
it is the same story. If this were simply the impression at first
sight, no deductions could be drawn from it, for an impression of
racial similarity invariably marks the first stage of acquaintance
of one people by another. Even in outward appearance it is so.
We find it at first impossible to tell the Japanese apart; they find it
equally impossible to differentiate us. But the present resemblance
is not a matter of first impressions. The fact is patent historically.
The men whom Japan reveres are much less removed from the common
herd than is the case in any Western land. And this has been so
from the earliest times. Shakspeares and Newtons have never existed
there. Japanese humanity is not the soil to grow them.
The comparative absence of genius is fully paralleled by the want of
its opposite. Not only are the paths of preeminence untrodden; the
purlieus of brutish ignorance are likewise unfrequented. On neither
side of the great medial line is the departure of individuals far or
frequent. All men there are more alike;--so much alike, indeed,
that the place would seem to offer a sort of forlorn hope for
disappointed socialists. Although religious missionaries have not
met with any marked success among the natives, this less deserving
class of enthusiastic disseminators of an all-possessing belief
might do well to attempt it. They would find there a very virgin
field of a most promisingly dead level. It is true, human
opposition would undoubtedly prevent their tilling it, but Nature,
at least, would not present quite such constitutional obstacles as
she wisely does with us.
The individual's mind is, as it were, an isolated bit of the race
mind. The same set of traits will be found in each. Mental
characteristics there are a sort of common property, of which a
certain undifferentiated portion is indiscriminately allotted to
every man at birth. One soul resembles another so much, that in
view of the patriarchal system under which they all exist, there
seems to the stranger a peculiar appropriateness in so strong a
family likeness of mind. An idea of how little one man's brain
differs from his neighbor's may be gathered from the fact, that
while a common coolie in Japan spends his spare time in playing a
chess twice as complicated as ours, the most advanced philosopher
is still on the blissfully ignorant side of the pons asinorum.
We find, then, that in all three points the Far East fulfils what
our theory demanded.
There is one more consideration worthy of notice. We said that the
environment had not been the deus ex materia in the matter; but that
the soul itself possessed the germ of its own evolution. This fact
does not, however, preclude another, that the environment has helped
in the process. Change of scene is beneficial to others besides
invalids. How stimulating to growth a different habitat can prove,
when at all favorable, is perhaps sufficiently shown in the case of
the marguerite, which, as an emigrant called white-weed, has usurped
our fields. The same has been no less true of peoples. Now these
Far Eastern peoples, in comparison with our own forefathers, have
travelled very little. A race in its travels gains two things:
first it acquires directly a great deal from both places and peoples
that it meets, and secondly it is constantly put to its own
resources in its struggle for existence, and becomes more personal
as the outcome of such strife. The changed conditions, the hostile
forces it finds, necessitate mental ingenuity to adapt them and
influence it unconsciously. To see how potent these influences
prove we have but to look at the two great branches of the Aryan
family, the one that for so long now has stayed at home, and the one
that went abroad. Destitute of stimulus from without, the Indo-Aryan
mind turned upon itself and consumed in dreamy metaphysics the
imagination which has made its cousins the leaders in the world's
progress to-day. The inevitable numbness of monotony crept over the
stay-at-homes. The deadly sameness of their surroundings produced
its unavoidable effect. The torpor of the East, like some
paralyzing poison, stole into their souls, and they fell into a
drowsy slumber only to dream in the land they had formerly wrested
from its possessors. Their birthright passed with their cousins
into the West.
In the case of the Altaic races which we are considering, cause and
effect mutually strengthened each other. That they did not travel
more is due primarily to a lack of enterprise consequent upon a lack
of imagination, and then their want of travel told upon their
imagination. They were also unfortunate in their journeying. Their
travels were prematurely brought to an end by that vast geographical
Nirvana the Pacific Ocean, the great peaceful sea as they call it
themselves. That they would have journeyed further is shown by the
way their dreams went eastward still. They themselves could not for
the preventing ocean, and the lapping of its waters proved a
One thing, I think, then, our glance at Far Eastern civilization has
more than suggested. The soul, in its progress through the world,
tends inevitably to individualization. Yet the more we perceive of
the cosmos the more do we recognize an all-pervading unity in it.
Its soul must be one, not many. The divine power that made all
things is not itself multifold. How to reconcile the
ever-increasing divergence with an eventual similarity is a problem
at present transcending our generalizations. What we know would
seem to be opposed to what we must infer. But perception of how we
shall merge the personal in the universal, though at present hidden
from sight, may sometime come to us, and the seemingly
irreconcilable will then turn out to involve no contradiction at all.
For this much is certain: grand as is the great conception of
Buddhism, majestic as is the idea of the stately rest it would lead
us to, the road here below is not one the life of the world can
follow. If earthly existence be an evil, then Buddhism will help us
ignore it; but if by an impulse we cannot explain we instinctively
crave activity of mind, then the great gospel of Gautama touches us
not; for to abandon self--egoism, that is, not selfishness is the
true vacuum which nature abhors. As for Far Orientals, they
themselves furnish proof against themselves. That impersonality is
not man's earthly goal they unwittingly bear witness; for they are
not of those who will survive. Artistic attractive people that they
are, their civilization is like their own tree flowers, beautiful
blossoms destined never to bear fruit; for whatever we may conceive
the far future of another life to be, the immediate effect of
impersonality cannot but be annihilating. If these people continue
in their old course, their earthly career is closed. Just as surely
as morning passes into afternoon, so surely are these races of the
Far East, if unchanged, destined to disappear before the advancing
nations of the West. Vanish they will off the face of the earth and
leave our planet the eventual possession of the dwellers where the
day declines. Unless their newly imported ideas really take root,
it is from this whole world that Japanese and Koreans, as well as
Chinese, will inevitably be excluded. Their Nirvana is already
being realized; already it has wrapped Far Eastern Asia in its
winding-sheet, the shroud of those whose day was but a dawn, as if
in prophetic keeping with the names they gave their homes,--the Land
of the Day's Beginning, and the Land of the Morning Calm.