Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune, 1844-1846

By Judith Mattson Bean; Joel Myerson | Go to book overview

The Celestial Empire

During a late visit to Boston, I visited with great pleasure the Chinese Museum which has been opened there, and which will be seen to still greater advantage in New-York next Summer, because there will be more room to display to advantage its rich contents.

There was great pleasure in surveying there, if merely on account of their splendor and elegance, which, though fantastic according to our tastes, presented an obvious standard of its own by which to prize it. The rich dresses of the imperial court, the magnificent jars, the largest worth three hundred dollars, and looking as if it was worth much more, the present-boxes and ivory work, the elegant interiors of the home and counting-room—all these gave pleasure by their perfection, each in its kind.

But the chief impression was of that unity of existence, so opposite to the European, and, for a change, so pleasant from its repose and gilded lightness. Their imperial majesties do really seem so “perfectly serene” that we fancy we might become so, under their sway, if not “thoroughly virtuous,” as they profess to be. Entirely a new mood would be ours, as we should sup in one of those pleasure boats by the light of those fanciful lanterns, or listen to the tinkling of those Pagoda bells.

The highest conventional refinement of a certain kind is apparent in all that belongs to the Chinese. The inviolability of custom has not made their life heavy but shaped it to the utmost adroitness for their own purposes. We are now somewhat familiar with their literature, and we see pervading it a poetry subtle and aromatic, like the odors of their appropriate beverage. Like that, too, it is all domestic—never wild. The social genius, fluttering on the wings of compliment, pervades every thing Chinese. Society has molded them body and soul, the youngest children are more social and Chinese than human, and we doubt not the infant, with its first cry, shows its capacity for self-command and obeisance to superiors.

Their great man, Confucius, expresses this social genius in its most perfect

-259-

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