It is strange that a book which won such wide popularity during the latter half of the eighteenth century should be now forgotten. Discovered in Lhasa, translated by an unknown author, and dedicated by him to the Earl of Chesterfield, the Economy of Human Life made its first appearance here in the year 1751. Little is known of its origin, but such particulars as have come to light are set forth in the letters, addressed by the translator to his distinguished patron, which form an introduction to the text.
But though its history is obscure, its merit is obvious. When first produced, it had a ready sale, passing through several issues in the year of publication, and attaining by the year 1812 its fiftieth edition. Then it dropped out of notice. It had been translated into French, German, Italian, and Welsh; it has been paraphrased in verse, and illustrated in various styles and by distinguished artists. A book with such a record deserves to live; and in the hope than interest in it may revive this new edition is now prepared.
What especially marks the work is its sanity. Simple, exact, concise, virile, its rules of life are distinguished more particularly by the moderation with which they are expressed. They appear less than other collections of precepts to have been influenced by the surroundings of the author and the conditions of the times in which he wrote. There is detachment in this philosopher, a point of view separate and removed from the objects of his vision, and an ability to make allowance for the personal equation and the disturbing elements of time and place, that give his book a fundamental value.
It would be presumptuous to contend that the work presents the whole wisdom of life, for the considerations involved in such a question demand an intellectual range exceeding human limits; but at the same time it has the merit of a comprehensive plan. Unlike the Proverbs of Solomon, which are fragmentary, the Economy of Life displays a method in arrangement, an organic system and connection in its design; and through its several parts the lifeblood of our thought flows without hindrance or confusion. A galaxy of jewels of the mind, in some cases polished to the utmost brilliancy, they excite our admiration not only by reason of their separate intrinsic worth, but on account of their relative perfection, forming as they do particles in a beautiful mosaic of thought.
In our age, when so much is sacrificed to a depraved utilitarianism, we need such books as this to remind us of what is true and wholesome in life, and to lay bare to our view the springs of health. The complexity of modern times tends to hide from us the plain truths of nature, until we have come to find in the simplicity of a question the chief cause of its obscurity.
The work, it will be seen, comes from an age when the quest of knowledge was identical with the cultivation of virtue; when the utilitarian view of science was subordinate to the moral, and Nature was studied as affording the student a knowledge of the Creator, and an appreciation of the part he was designed to play in the scheme of Creation. The attenuation of morals to which the division of labour has given rise, the tendency of every profession to develop its particular code, render such book as the Economy of Lie the subject of private study rather of public application. War is war, was the sanction of the old world, and business is business is the sanction of the new; and from each are excluded those sentimental considerations that spring from the common moral standard. The old world was distinguished by the absence of pity in the exercise of brute force; the new world is distinguished by the absence of pity in the exercise of intellectual force. The disposition of man has not changed only his field of conflict.
We cannot, therefore, expect that these precepts sublime though they are, can serve to mitigate the rigours of public life. The ethics of Christianity itself are not suffered to do this. But we may hope that, as the message of Christ has ever been a standing private solace, so this ancient treasury of thought may help to inspire and refinement, strive to combat in themselves that process of deterioration to which our conditions of life expose us.
This edition is prepared on a careful comparison with the First, and only such departures from the original text of the translation have been admitted as in later editions appear more strictly to observe the simple style the translator avowedly sought to adopt.
Bow down your heads unto the dust, O ye inhabi- tants of earth! be silent, and receive, with reverence, instruction from on high.
Wheresoever the sun doth shine, wheresoever the wind doth blow, wheresoever there is an ear to hear, and a mind to conceive; there let the pre- cepts of life be made known, let the maxim of truth be honoured and obeyed.
All things proceed from God. His power is unbounded; his wisdom is from eternity; and his goodness endureth for ever.
He sitteth on his throne in the centre; and the breath of his mouth giveth life to the world. He toucheth the stars with his finger, and they run their course rejoicing.
On the wings of the wind he walketh abroad, and performeth his will through all the regions of unlimited space.
Order and grace and beauty spring from his hand.
The voice of wisdom speaketh in all his works; but the human understanding comprehendeth it not.
The shadow of knowledge passeth over the mind of man as a dream; he seeth as in the dark; he reasoneth and is deceived.
But the wisdom of God is as the light of heaven; he reasoneth not; his mind is the fountain of truth. Justice and mercy wait before his throne; benevolence and love enlighten his countenance for ever.
Who is like unto the Lord in glory? Who in power shall contend with the Almighty? Hath he any equal in wisdom? Can any in goodness be compared unto him?
He it is, O man, who hath created thee; thy station on earth is fixed by his appointment; the powers of thy mind are the gifts of his goodness; the wonders of thy frame are the work of his hand. Hear, then, his voice, for it is gracious; and he that obeyeth shall establish his soul in peace.
DOUGLAS M. GANE
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The spirit of virtue and morality which breathes in this ancient piece of Eastern instruction, its force and conciseness, and the hopes that it may do good, have prevailed with the person to whom it was sent to communicate to the public what was translated only for his particular amusement. There are some reasons which at present make it proper to conceal, not only his own name, but the name of his correspondent, who has now resided in China several years, and been engaged in a business very different from that of collecting literary curiosities. These reasons will not subsist long; and as he seems to intimate a design, on his return to England, of publishing an entire translation of Cao-tsou's whole Journey, the public will then, in all probability, have an opportunity of being satisfied concerning any particulars which they may be curious to know.
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