poems, indeed, there are a few pieces which are true love songs, and express a high appreciation of the virtue of their subjects; but there are many more which tell a different tale. The intrigues, quarrels, murders and grossnesses that grew out of this social condition it is difficult to conceive, and would be impossible to detail. Thirdly, we must take into account the absence of strong and definite religious beliefs, properly so called, which has always been a characteristic of the Chinese people. We are little troubled, of course, with heresies, and are not shocked by the outbreaks of theological zeal; but where thought as well as action does not reach beyond the limits of earth and time, we do not find man in his best estate. We miss the graces and consolations of faith; we have human efforts and ambitions, but they are unimpregnated with divine impulses and heavenly aspirings.
Confucius appeared, according to Mencius, one of his most distinguished followers (371–288 B.C.), at a crisis in the nation’s history. “The world,” he says, “had fallen into decay, and right principles had disappeared. History
of his life.Perverse discourses and oppressive deeds were waxen rife. Ministers murdered their rulers and sons their fathers. Confucius was frightened by what he saw,—and he undertook the work of reformation.” The sage was born, according to the historian Sze-ma Chien, in the year 550 B.C.; according to Kung-yang and Kuh-liang, two earlier commentators on his Annals of Lu, in 551; but all three agree in the month and day assigned to his birth, which took place in winter. His clan name was K‛ung, and Confucius is merely the latinized form of K‛ung Fu-tze, meaning “the philosopher or master K‛ung.” He was a native of the state of Lu, a part of the modern Shan-tung, embracing the present department of Yen-chow and other portions of the province. Lu had a great name among the other states of Chow, its marquises being descended from the duke of Chow, the legislator and consolidator of the dynasty which had been founded by his father and brother, the famous kings Wan and Wu. Confucius’s own ancestry is traced up, through the sovereigns of the previous dynasty of Shang, to Hwang-ti, whose figure looms out through the mists of fable in prehistoric times. A scion of the house of Shang, the surname of which was Tze, was invested by King Wu-Wang with the dukedom of Sung in the present province of Ho-nan. There, in the Tze line, towards the end of the 8th century B.C., we find a K‛ung Kia, whose posterity, according to the rules for the dropping of surnames, became the K‛ung clan. He was a high officer of loyalty and probity, and unfortunately for himself had a wife of extraordinary beauty. Hwa Tuh, another high officer of the duchy, that he might get this lady into his possession, brought about the death of K‛ung Kia, and was carrying his prize in a carriage to his own palace, when she strangled herself on the way. The K‛ung family, however, became reduced, and by-and-by its chief representative moved from Sung to Lu, where in the early part of the 6th century we meet with Shuh-liang Heih, the father of Confucius, as commandant of the district of Tsow, and an officer renowned for his feats of strength and daring.
There was thus no grander lineage in China than that of Confucius; and on all his progenitors, since the throne of Shang passed from their line, with perhaps one exception, he could look back with complacency. He was the son of Heih’s old age. That officer, when over seventy years, and having already nine daughters and one son, because that son was a cripple, sought an alliance with a gentleman of the Yen clan, who had three daughters. The father submitted to them Heih’s application, saying that, though he was old and austere, he was of most illustrious descent, and they need have no misgivings about him. Ching-tsai, the youngest of the three, observed that it was for their father to decide in the case. “You shall marry him then,” said the father, and accordingly she became the bride of the old man, and in the next year the mother of the sage. It is one of the undesigned coincidences which confirm the credibility of Confucius’s history, that his favourite disciple was a scion of the Yen clan.
Heih died in the child’s third year, leaving his family in straitened circumstances. Long afterwards, when Confucius was complimented on his acquaintance with many arts, he accounted for it on the ground of the poverty of his youth, which obliged him to acquire a knowledge of matters belonging to a mean condition. When he was five or six, people took notice of his fondness for playing with his companions at setting out sacrifices, and at postures of ceremony. He tells us himself that at fifteen his mind was set on learning; and at nineteen, according to the ancient and modern practice in China in regard to early unions, he was married,—his wife being from his ancestral state of Sung. A son, the only one, so far as we know, that he ever had, was born in the following year; but he had subsequently two daughters. Immediately after his marriage we find him employed under the chief of the Ki clan to whose jurisdiction the district of Tsow belonged, first as keeper of stores, and then as superintendent of parks and herds. Mencius says that he undertook such mean offices because of his poverty, and distinguished himself by the efficiency with which he discharged them, without any attempt to become rich.
In his twenty-second year Confucius commenced his labours as a teacher. He did so at first, probably, in a humble way; but a school, not of boys to be taught the elements of learning, but of young and inquiring spirits who wished to be instructed in the principles of right conduct and government, gradually gathered round him. He accepted the substantial aid of his disciples; but he rejected none who could give him even the smallest fee, and he would retain none who did not show earnestness and capacity. “When I have presented,” he said, “one corner of a subject, and the pupil cannot of himself make out the other three, I do not repeat my lesson.” Two years after, his mother died, and he buried her in the same grave with his father. Some idea of what his future life was likely to be was already present to his mind. It was not the custom of antiquity to raise any tumulus over graves, but Confucius resolved to innovate in the matter. He would be travelling, he said, to all quarters of the kingdom, and must therefore have a mound by which to recognize his parents' resting-place. He returned home from the interment alone, having left his disciples to complete this work. They were long in rejoining him, and had then to tell him that they had been detained by a heavy fall of rain, which threw down the first product of their labour. He burst into tears, and exclaimed, “Ah! they did not raise mounds over their graves in antiquity.” His affection for the memory of his mother and dissatisfaction with his own innovation on ancient customs thus blended together; and we can sympathize with his tears. For the regular period of 27 months, commonly spoken of as three years, he observed all the rules of mourning. When they were over he allowed five more days to elapse before he would take his lute, of which he had been devotedly fond, in his hands. He played, but when he tried to sing to the accompaniment of the instrument, his feelings overcame him.
For some years after this our information about Confucius is scanty. Hints, indeed, occur of his devotion to the study of music and of ancient history; and we can perceive that his character was more and more appreciated by the principal men of Lu. He had passed his thirtieth year when, as he tells us, “he stood firm” in his convictions on all the subjects to the learning of which he had bent his mind fifteen years before. In 517 B.C. two scions of one of the principal houses in Lu joined the company of his disciples in consequence of the dying command of its chief; and being furnished with the means by the marquis of the state, he made a visit with them to the capital of the kingdom. There he examined the treasures of the royal library, and studied the music which was found in its highest style at the court. There, too, according to Sze-ma Ch‛ien, he had several interviews with Lao-tsze, the father of Taoism. It is characteristic of the two men that the latter, a transcendental dreamer, appears to have thought little of his visitor, while Confucius, an inquiring thinker, was profoundly impressed with him.
On his return to Lu, in the same year, that state fell into great