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 unsubstantial.
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 modern 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 grown up.
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 effacing equality.
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 community.
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 little empire.
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 ego.
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 proceedings.
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 similarly circumscribed.
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 all.
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 natural one.
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 simple.
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.