The average Far Oriental, indeed, talks as much to no purpose as his Western cousin, only in his chit-chat politeness replaces personalities. With him, self is suppressed, and an ever-present regard for others is substituted in its stead.
A lack of personality is, as we have seen, the occasion of this courtesy; it is also its cause.
That politeness should be one of the most marked results of impersonality may appear surprising, yet a slight examination will show it to be a fact. Looked at a posteriori, we find that where the one trait exists the other is most developed, while an absence of the second seems to prevent the full growth of the first. This is true both in general and in detail. Courtesy increases, as we travel eastward round the world, coincidently with a decrease in the sense of self. Asia is more courteous than Europe, Europe than America. Particular races show the same concomitance of characteristics. France, the most impersonal nation of Europe, is at the same time the most polite.
Considered a priori, the connection between the two is not far to seek. Impersonality, by lessening the interest in one's self, induces one to take an interest in others. Introspection tends to make of man a solitary animal, the absence of it a social one. The more impersonal the people, the more will the community supplant the individual in the popular estimation. The type becomes the interesting thing to man, as it always is to nature. Then, as the social desires develop, politeness, being the means to their enjoyment, develops also.
A second omission in Japanese etymology is that of gender. That words should be credited with sex is a verbal anthropomorphism that would seem to a Japanese exquisitely grotesque, if so be that it did not strike him as actually immodest. For the absence of gender is simply symptomatic of a much more vital failing, a disregard of sex. Originally, as their language bears witness, the Japanese showed a childish reluctance to recognizing sex at all. Usually a single sexless term was held sufficient for a given species, and did duty collectively for both sexes. Only where a consideration of sex thrust itself upon them, beyond the possibility of evasion, did they employ for the male and the female distinctive expressions. The more intimate the relation of the object to man, the more imperative the discriminating name. Hence human beings possessed a fair number of such special appellatives; for a man is a palpably different sort of person from his grandmother, and a mother-in-law from a wife. But it is noteworthy that the artificial affinities of society were as carefully differentiated as the distinctions due to sex, while ancestral relationships were deemed more important than either.
Animals, though treated individually most humanely, are vouchsafed but scant recognition on the score of sex. With them, both sexes share one common name, and commonly, indeed, this answers quite well enough. In those few instances where sex enters into the question in a manner not to be ignored, particles denoting "male" or "female" are prefixed to the general term. How comparatively rare is the need of such specification can be seen from the way in which, with us, in many species, the name of one sex alone does duty indifferently for both. That of the male is the one usually selected, as in the case of the dog or horse. If, however, it be the female with which man has most to do, she is allowed to bestow her name upon her male partner. Examples of the latter description occur in the use of "cows" for "cattle," and "hens" for "fowls." A Japanese can say only "fowl," defined, if absolutely necessary, as "he-fowl" or "she-fowl."
Now such a slighting of one of the most potent springs of human action, sex, with all that the idea involves, is not due to a pronounced misogynism on the part of these people, but to a much more effective neglect, a great underlying impersonality. Indifference to woman is but included in a much more general indifference to mankind. The fact becomes all the more evident when we descend from sex to gender. That Father Ocean does not, in their verbal imagery, embrace Mother Earth, with that subtle suggestion of humanity which in Aryan speech the gender of the nouns hints without expressing, is not due to any lack of poesy in the Far Oriental speaker, but to the essential impersonality of his mind, embodied now in the very character of the words he uses. A Japanese noun is a crystallized concept, handed down unchanged from the childhood of the Japanese race. So primitive a conception does it represent that it is neither a total nor a partial symbol, but rather the outcome of a first vague generality. The word "man," for instance, means to them not one man, still less mankind, but that indefinite idea which struggles for embodiment in the utterance of the infant. It represents not a person, but a thing, a material fact quite innocent of gender. This early state of semi-consciousness the Japanese never outgrew. The world continued to present itself to their minds as a collection of things. Nor did their subsequent Chinese education change their view. Buddhism simply infused all things with the one universal spirit.
As to inanimate objects, the idea of supposing sex where there is not even life is altogether too fanciful a notion for the Far Eastern mind.
Impersonality first fashioned the nouns, and then the nouns, by their very impersonality, helped keep impersonal the thought and fettered fancy. All those temptings to poesy which to the Aryan imagination lie latent in the sex with which his forefathers humanized their words, never stir the Tartar nor the Chinese soul. They feel the poetry of nature as much as, indeed much more than, we; but it is a poetry unassociated with man. And this, too, curiously enough, in spite of the fact that to explain the cosmos the Chinamen invented, or perhaps only adapted, a singularly sexual philosophy. For possibly, like some other portions of their intellectual wealth, they stole it from India. The Chinese conception of the origin of the world is based on the idea of sex. According to their notions the earth was begotten. It is true that with them the cosmos started in an abstract something, which self-produced two great principles; but this pair once obtained, matters proceeded after the analogy of mankind. The two principles at work were themselves abstract enough to have satisfied the most unimpassioned of philosophers. They were simply a positive essence and a negative one, correlated to sunshine and shadow, but also correlated to male and female forces. Through their mutual action were born the earth and the air and the water; from these, in turn, was begotten man. The cosmical modus operandi was not creative nor evolutionary, but sexual. The whole scheme suggests an attempt to wed abstract philosophy with primitive concrete mythology.
The same sexuality distinguishes the Japanese demonology. Here the physical replaces the philosophical; instead of principles we find allegorical personages, but they show just the same pleasing propensity to appear in pairs.
This attributing of sexes to the cosmos is not in the least incompatible with an uninterested disregard of sex where it really exists. It is one thing to admit the fact as a general law of the universe, and quite another to dwell upon it as an important factor in every-day affairs.
How slight is the Tartar tendency to personification can be seen from a glance at these same Japanese gods. They are a combination of defunct ancestors and deified natural phenomena. The evolving of the first half required little imagination, for fate furnished the material ready made; while in conjuring up the second moiety, the spirit-evokers showed even less originality. Their results were neither winsome nor sublime. The gods whom they created they invested with very ordinary humanity, the usual endowment of aboriginal deity, together with the customary superhuman strength. If these demigods differed from others of their class, it was only in being more commonplace, and in not meddling much with man. Even such personification of natural forces, simple enough to be self-suggested, quickly disappeared. The various awe-compelling phenomena soon ceased to have any connection with the anthropomorphic noumena they had begotten. For instance, the sun-goddess, we are informed, was one day lured out of a cavern, where she was sulking in consequence of the provoking behavior of her younger brother, by her curiosity at the sight of her own face in a mirror, ingeniously placed before the entrance for the purpose. But no Japanese would dream now of casting any such reflections, however flattering, upon the face of the orb of day. The sun has become not only quite sexless to him, but as devoid of personality as it is to any Western materialist. Lesser deities suffered a like unsubstantial transformation. The thunder-god, with his belt of drums, upon which he beats a devil's tattoo until he is black in the face, is no longer even indirectly associated with the storm. As for dryads and nymphs, the beautiful creatures never inhabited Eastern Asia. Anthropoid foxes and raccoons, wholly lacking in those engaging qualities that beget love, and through love remembrance, take their place. Even Benten, the naturalized Venus, who, like her Hellenic sister, is said to have risen from the sea, is a person quite incapable of inspiring a reckless infatuation.
Utterly unlike was this pantheon to the pantheon of the Greeks, the personifying tendency of whose Aryan mind was forever peopling nature with half-human inhabitants. Under its quickening fancy the very clods grew sentient. Dumb earth awoke at the call of its desire, and the beings its own poesy had begotten made merry companionship for man. Then a change crept over the face of things. Faith began to flicker, for want of facts to feed its flame. Little by little the fires of devotion burnt themselves out. At last great Pan died. The body of the old belief was consumed. But though it perished, its ashes preserved its form, an unsubstantial presentment of the past, to crumble in a twinkling at the touch of science, but keeping yet to the poet's eye the lifelike semblance of what once had been. The dead gods still live in our language and our art. Even to-day the earth about us seems semiconscious to the soul, for the memories they have left.
But with the Far Oriental the exorcising feeling was fear. He never fell in love with his own mythological creations, and so he never embalmed their memories. They were to him but explanations of facts, and had no claims upon his fancy. His ideal world remained as utterly impersonal as if it had never been born.
The same impersonality reappears in the matter of number. Grammatically, number with them is unrecognized. There exist no such things as plural forms. This singularity would be only too welcome to the foreign student, were it not that in avoiding the frying-pan the Tartars fell into the fire. For what they invented in place of a plural was quite as difficult to memorize, and even more cumbrous to express. Instead of inflecting the noun and then prefixing a number, they keep the noun unchanged and add two numerals; thus at times actually employing more words to express the objects than there are objects to express. One of these numerals is a simple number; the other is what is known as an auxiliary numeral, a word as singular in form as in function. Thus, for instance, "two men" become amplified verbally into "man two individual," or, as the Chinaman puts it, in pidgin English, "two piecey man." For in this respect Chinese resembles Japanese, though in very little else, and pidgin English is nothing but the literal translation of the Chinese idiom into Anglo-Saxon words. The necessity for such elaborate qualification arises from the excessive simplicity of the Japanese nouns. As we have seen, the noun is so indefinite a generality that simply to multiply it by a number cannot possibly produce any definite result. No exact counterpart of these nouns exists in English, but some idea of the impossibility of the process may be got from our word "cattle," which, prolific though it may prove in fact, remains obstinately incapable of verbal multiplication. All Japanese nouns being of this indefinite description, all require auxiliary numerals. But as each one has its own appropriate numeral, about which a mistake is unpardonable, it takes some little study merely to master the etiquette of these handles to the names of things.
Nouns are not inflected, their cases being expressed by postpositions, which, as the name implies, follow, in becoming Japanese inversion, instead of preceding the word they affect. To make up, nevertheless, for any lack of perplexity due to an absence of inflections, adjectives, en revanche, are most elaborately conjugated. Their protean shapes are as long as they are numerous, representing not only times, but conditions. There are, for instance, the root form, the adverbial form, the indefinite form, the attributive form, and the conclusive form, the two last being conjugated through all the various voices, moods, and tenses, to say nothing of all the potential forms. As one change is superposed on another, the adjective ends by becoming three or four times its original length. The fact is, the adjective is either adjective, adverb, or verb, according to occasion. In the root form it also helps to make nouns; so that it is even more generally useful than as a journalistic epithet with us. As a verb, it does duty as predicate and copula combined. For such an unnecessary part of speech as a real copula does not exist in Japanese. In spite of the shock to the prejudices of the old school of logicians, it must be confessed that the Tartars get on very well without any such couplings to their trains of thought. But then we should remember that in their sentences the cart is always put before the horse, and so needs only to be pushed, not pulled along.
The want of a copula is another instance of the primitive character of the tongue. It has its counterpart in our own baby-talk, where a quality is predicated of a thing simply by placing the adjective in apposition with the noun.
That the Japanese word which is commonly translated "is" is in no sense a copula, but an ordinary intransitive verb, referring to a natural state, and not to a logical condition, is evident in two ways. In the first place, it is never used to predicate a quality directly. A Japanese does not say, "The scenery is fine," but simply, "Scenery, fine." Secondly, wherever this verb is indirectly employed in such a manner, it is followed, not by an adjective, but by an adverb. Not "She is beautiful," but "She exists beautifully," would be the Japanese way of expressing his admiration. What looks at first, therefore, like a copula turns out to be merely an impersonal intransitive verb.
A negative noun is, of course, an impossibility in any language, just as a negative substantive, another name for the same thing, is a direct contradiction in terms. No matter how negative the idea to be given, it must be conveyed by a positive expression. Even a void is grammatically quite full of meaning, although unhappily empty in fact. So much is common to all tongues, but Japanese carries its positivism yet further. Not only has it no negative nouns, it has not even any negative pronouns nor pronominal adjectives,—those convenient keepers of places for the absent. "None" and "nothing" are unknown words in its vocabulary, because the ideas they represent are not founded on observed facts, but upon metaphysical abstractions. Such terms are human-born, not earth-begotten concepts, and so to the Far Oriental, who looks at things from the point of view of nature, not of man, negation takes another form. Usually it is introduced by the verbs, because the verbs, for the most part, relate to human actions, and it is man, not nature, who is responsible for the omission in question. After all, it does seem more fitting to say, "I am ignorant of everything," than "I know nothing." It is indeed you who are wanting, not the thing.
The question of verbs leads us to another matter bearing on the subject of impersonality; namely, the arrangement of the words in a Japanese sentence. The Tartar mode of grammatical construction is very nearly the inverse of our own. The fundamental rule of Japanese syntax is, that qualifying words precede the words they qualify; that is, an idea is elaborately modified before it is so much as expressed. This practice places the hearer at some awkward preliminary disadvantage, inasmuch as the story is nearly over before he has any notion what it is all about; but really it puts the speaker to much more trouble, for he is obliged to fashion his whole sentence complete in his brain before he starts to speak. This is largely in consequence of two omissions in Tartar etymology. There are in Japanese no relative pronouns and no temporal conjunctions; conjunctions, that is, for connecting consecutive events. The want of these words precludes the admission of afterthoughts. Postscripts in speech are impossible. The functions of relatives are performed by position, explanatory or continuative clauses being made to precede directly the word they affect. Ludicrous anachronisms, not unlike those experienced by Alice in her looking-glass journey, are occasioned by this practice. For example, "The merry monarch who ended by falling a victim to profound melancholia" becomes "To profound melancholia a victim by falling ended merry monarch," and the sympathetic hearer weeps first and laughs afterward, when chronologically he should be doing precisely the opposite.
A like inversion of the natural order of things results from the absence of temporal conjunctions. In Japanese, though nouns can be added, actions cannot; you can say "hat and coat," but not "dressed and came." Conjunctions are used only for space, never for time. Objects that exist together can be joined in speech, but it is not allowable thus to connect consecutive events. "Having dressed, came" is the Japanese idiom. To speak otherwise would be to violate the unities. For a Japanese sentence is a single rounded whole, not a bunch of facts loosely tied together. It is as much a unit in its composition as a novel or a drama is with us. Such artistic periods, however, are anything but convenient. In their nicely contrived involution they strikingly resemble those curious nests of Chinese boxes, where entire shells lie closely packed one within another,—a very marvel of ingenious and perfectly unnecessary construction. One must be antipodally comprehensive to entertain the idea; as it is, the idea entertains us.
On the same general plan, the nouns precede the verbs in the sentence, and are in every way the more important parts of speech. The consequence is that in ordinary conversation the verbs come so late in the day that they not infrequently get left out altogether. For the Japanese are much given to docking their phrases, a custom the Germans might do well to adopt. Now, nouns denote facts, while verbs express action, and action, as considered in human speech, is mostly of human origin. In this precedence accorded the impersonal element in language over the personal, we observe again the comparative importance assigned the two. In Japanese estimation, the first place belongs to nature, the second only to man.
As if to mark beyond a doubt the insignificance of the part man plays in their thought, sentences are usually subjectless. Although it is a common practice to begin a phrase with the central word of the idea, isolated from what follows by the emphasizing particle "wa" (which means "as to," the French "quant a"), the word thus singled out for distinction is far more likely to be the object of the sentence than its subject. The habit is analogous to the use of our phrase "speaking of,"—that is, simply an emphatic mode of introducing a fresh thought; only that with them, the practice being the rule and not the exception, no correspondingly abrupt effect is produced by it. Ousted thus from the post of honor, the subject is not even permitted the second place. Indeed, it usually fails to put in an appearance anywhere. You may search through sentence after sentence without meeting with the slightest suggestion of such a thing. When so unusual an anomaly as a motive cause is directly adduced, it owes its mention, not to the fact of being the subject, but because for other reasons it happens to be the important word of the thought. The truth is, the Japanese conception of events is only very vaguely subjective. An action is looked upon more as happening than as being performed, as impersonally rather than personally produced. The idea is due, however, to anything but philosophic profundity. It springs from the most superficial of childish conceptions. For the Japanese mind is quite the reverse of abstract. Its consideration of things is concrete to a primitive degree. The language reflects the fact. The few abstract ideas these people now possess are not represented, for the most part, by pure Japanese, but by imported Chinese expressions. The islanders got such general notions from their foreign education, and they imported idea and word at the same time.
Summing up, as it were, in propria persona the impersonality of Japanese speech, the word for "man," "hito," is identical with, and probably originally the same word as "hito," the numeral "one;" a noun and a numeral, from which Aryan languages have coined the only impersonal pronoun they possess. On the one hand, we have the German "mann;" on the other, the French "on". While as if to give the official seal to the oneness of man with the universe, the word mono, thing, is applied, without the faintest implication of insult, to men.
Such, then, is the mould into which, as children, these people learn to cast their thought. What an influence it must exert upon their subsequent views of life we have but to ask of our own memories to know. With each one of us, if we are to advance beyond the steps of the last generation, there comes a time when our growing ideas refuse any longer to fit the childish grooves in which we were taught to let them run. How great the wrench is when this supreme moment arrives we have all felt too keenly ever to forget. We hesitate, we delay, to abandon the beliefs which, dating from the dawn of our being, seem to us even as a part of our very selves. From the religion of our mother to the birth of our boyish first love, all our early associations send down roots so deep that long after our minds have outgrown them our hearts refuse to give them up. Even when reason conquers at last, sentiment still throbs at the voids they necessarily have left.
In the Far East, this fondness for the old is further consecrated by religion. The worship of ancestors sets its seal upon the traditions of the past, to break which were impious as well as sad. The golden age, that time when each man himself was young, has lingered on in the lands where it is always morning, and where man has never passed to his prosaic noon. Befitting the place is the mind we find there. As its language so clearly shows, it still is in that early impersonal state to which we all awake first before we become aware of that something we later know so well as self.
Particularly potent with these people is their language, for a reason that also lends it additional interest to us,—because it is their own. Among the mass of foreign thought the Japanese imitativeness has caused the nation to adopt, here is one thing which is indigenous. Half of the present speech, it is true, is of Chinese importation, but conservatism has kept the other half pure. From what it reveals we can see how each man starts to-day with the same impersonal outlook upon life the race had reached centuries ago, and which it has since kept unchanged. The man's mind has done likewise.
 Professor Basil Hall Chamberlain: The Japanese Language.
Chapter 5. Nature and Art.
We have seen how impersonal is the form which Far Eastern thought assumes when it crystallizes into words. Let us turn now to a consideration of the thoughts themselves before they are thus stereotyped for transmission to others, and scan them as they find expression unconsciously in the man's doings, or seek it consciously in his deeds.
To the Far Oriental there is one subject which so permeates and pervades his whole being as to be to him, not so much a conscious matter of thought as an unconscious mode of thinking. For it is a thing which shapes all his thoughts instead of constituting the substance of one particular set of them. That subject is art. To it he is born as to a birthright. Artistic perception is with him an instinct to which he intuitively conforms, and for which he inherits the skill of countless generations. From the tips of his fingers to the tips of his toes, in whose use he is surprisingly proficient, he is the artist all over. Admirable, however, as is his manual dexterity, his mental altitude is still more to be admired; for it is artistic to perfection. His perception of beauty is as keen as his comprehension of the cosmos is crude; for while with science he has not even a speaking acquaintance, with art he is on terms of the most affectionate intimacy.
To the whole Far Eastern world science is a stranger. Such nescience is patent even in matters seemingly scientific. For although the Chinese civilization, even in the so-called modern inventions, was already old while ours lay still in the cradle, it was to no scientific spirit that its discoveries were due. Notwithstanding the fact that Cathay was the happy possessor of gunpowder, movable type, and the compass before such things were dreamt of in Europe, she owed them to no knowledge of physics, chemistry, or mechanics. It was as arts, not as sciences, they were invented. And it speaks volumes for her civilization that she burnt her powder for fireworks, not for firearms. To the West alone belongs the credit of manufacturing that article for the sake of killing people instead of merely killing time.
The scientific is not the Far Oriental point of view. To wish to know the reasons of things, that irrepressible yearning of the Western spirit, is no characteristic of the Chinaman's mind, nor is it a Tartar trait. Metaphysics, a species of speculation that has usually proved peculiarly attractive to mankind, probably from its not requiring any scientific capital whatever, would seem the most likely place to seek it. But upon such matters he has expended no imagination of his own, having quietly taken on trust from India what he now professes. As for science proper, it has reached at his hands only the quasimorphologic stage; that is, it consists of catalogues concocted according to the ingenuity of the individual and resembles the real thing about as much as a haphazard arrangement of human bones might be expected to resemble a man. Not only is the spirit of the subject left out altogether, but the mere outward semblance is misleading. For pseudo-scientific collections of facts which never rise to be classifications of phenomena forms to his idea the acme of erudition. His mathematics, for example, consists of a set of empiric rules, of which no explanation is ever vouchsafed the taught for the simple reason that it is quite unknown to the teacher. It is not even easy to decide how much of what there is is Jesuitical. Of more recent sciences he has still less notion, particularly of the natural ones. Physics, chemistry, geology, and the like are matters that have never entered his head. Even in studies more immediately connected with obvious everyday life, such as language, history, customs, it is truly remarkable how little he possesses the power of generalization and inference. His elaborate lists of facts are imposing typographically, but are not even formally important, while his reasoning about them is as exquisite a bit of scientific satire as could well be imagined.
But with the arts it is quite another matter. While you will search in vain, in his civilization, for explanations of even the most simple of nature's laws, you will meet at every turn with devices for the beautifying of life, which may stand not unworthily beside the products of nature's own skill. Whatever these people fashion, from the toy of an hour to the triumphs of all time, is touched by a taste unknown elsewhere. To stroll down the Broadway of Tokio of an evening is a liberal education in everyday art. As you enter it there opens out in front of you a fairy-like vista of illumination. Two long lines of gayly lighted shops, stretching off into the distance, look out across two equally endless rows of torch-lit booths, the decorous yellow gleam of the one contrasting strangely with the demoniacal red flare of the other. This perspective of pleasure fulfils its promise. As your feet follow your eyes you find yourself in a veritable shoppers' paradise, the galaxy of twinkle resolving into worlds of delight. Nor do you long remain a mere spectator; for the shops open their arms to you. No cold glass reveals their charms only to shut you off. Their wares lie invitingly exposed to the public, seeming to you already half your own. At the very first you come to you stop involuntarily, lost in admiration over what you take to be bric-a-brac. It is only afterwards you learn that the object of your ecstasy was the commonest of kitchen crockery. Next door you halt again, this time in front of some leathern pocket-books, stamped with designs in color to tempt you instantly to empty your wallet for more new ones than you will ever have the means to fill. If you do succeed in tearing yourself away purse-whole, it is only to fall a victim to some painted fans of so exquisite a make and decoration that escape short of possession is impossible. Opposed as stubbornly as you may be to idle purchase at home, here you will find yourself the prey of an acute case of shopping fever before you know it. Nor will it be much consolation subsequently to discover that you have squandered your patrimony upon the most ordinary articles of every-day use. If in despair you turn for refuge to the booths, you will but have delivered yourself into the embrace of still more irresistible fascinations. For the nocturnal squatters are there for the express purpose of catching the susceptible. The shops were modestly attractive from their nature, but the booths deliberately make eyes at you, and with telling effect. The very atmosphere is bewitching. The lurid smurkiness of the torches lends an appropriate weirdness to the figure of the uncouthly clad pedlar who, with the politeness of the arch-fiend himself, displays to an eager group the fatal fascinations of some new conceit. Here the latest thing in inventions, a gutta-percha rat, which, for reasons best known to the vender, scampers about squeaking with a mimicry to shame the original, holds an admiring crowd spellbound with mingled trepidation and delight. There a native zoetrope, indefatigable round of pleasure, whose top fashioned after the type of a turbine wheel enables a candle at the centre ingeniously to supply both illumination and motive power at the same time, affords to as many as can find room on its circumference a peep at the composite antics of a consecutively pictured monkey in the act of jumping a box. Beyond this "wheel of life" lies spread out on a mat a most happy family of curios, the whole of which you are quite prepared to purchase en bloc. While a little farther on stands a flower show which seems to be coyly beckoning to you as the blossoms nod their heads to an imperceptible breeze. So one attraction fairly jostles its neighbor for recognition from the gay thousands that like yourself stroll past in holiday delight. Chattering children in brilliant colors, voluble women and talkative men in quieter but no less picturesque costumes, stream on in kaleidoscopic continuity. And you, carried along by the current, wander thus for miles with the tide of pleasure-seekers, till, late at night, when at last you turn reluctantly homeward, you feel as one does when wakened from some too delightful dream.
Or instead of night, suppose it day and the place a temple. With those who are entering you enter too through the outer gateway into the courtyard. At the farther end rises a building the like of which for richness of effect you have probably never beheld or even imagined. In front of you a flight of white stone steps leads up to a terrace whose parapet, also of stone, is diapered for half its height and open latticework the rest. This piazza gives entrance to a building or set of buildings whose every detail challenges the eye. Twelve pillars of snow-white wood sheathed in part with bronze, arranged in four rows, make, as it were, the bones of the structure. The space between the centre columns lies open. The other triplets are webbed in the middle and connected, on the sides and front, by grilles of wood and bronze forming on the outside a couple of embrasures on either hand the entrance in which stand the guardian Nio, two colossal demons, Gog and Magog. Instead of capitals, a frieze bristling with Chinese lions protects the top of the pillars. Above this in place of entablature rises tier upon tier of decoration, each tier projecting beyond the one beneath, and the topmost of all terminating in a balcony which encircles the whole second story. The parapet of this balcony is one mass of ornament, and its cornice another row of lions, brown instead of white. The second story is no less crowded with carving. Twelve pillars make its ribs, the spaces between being filled with elaborate woodwork, while on top rest more friezes, more cornices, clustered with excrescences of all colors and kinds, and guarded by lions innumerable. To begin to tell the details of so multi-faceted a gem were artistically impossible. It is a jewel of a thousand rays, yet whose beauties blend into one as the prismatic tints combine to white. And then, after the first dazzle of admiration, when the spirit of curiosity urges you to penetrate the centre aisle, lo and behold it is but a gate! The dupe of unexpected splendor, you have been paying court to the means of approach. It is only a portal after all. For as you pass through, you catch a glimpse of a building beyond more gorgeous still. Like in general to the first, unlike it in detail, resembling it only as the mistress may the maid. But who shall convince of charm by enumerating the features of a face! From the tiles of its terrace to the encrusted gables that drape it as with some rich bejewelled mantle falling about it in the most graceful of folds, it is the very eastern princess of a building standing in the majesty of her court to give you audience.
A pebbly path, a low flight of stone steps, a pause to leave your shoes without the sill, and you tread in the twilight of reverence upon the moss-like mats within. The richness of its outer ornament, so impressive at first, is, you discover, but prelude to the lavish luxury of its interior. Lacquer, bronze, pigments, deck its ceiling and its sides in such profusion that it seems to you as if art had expanded, in the congenial atmosphere, into a tropical luxuriance of decoration, and grew here as naturally on temples as in the jungle creepers do on trees. Yet all is but setting to what the place contains; objects of bigotry and virtue that appeal to the artistic as much as to the religious instincts of the devout. More sacred still are the things treasured in the sanctum of the priests. There you will find gems of art for whose sake only the most abnormal impersonality can prevent you from breaking the tenth commandment. Of the value set upon them you can form a distant approximation from the exceeding richness and the amazing number of the silk cloths and lacquered boxes in which they are so religiously kept. As you gaze thus, amid the soul-satisfying repose of the spot, at some masterpiece from the brush of Motonobu, you find yourself wondering, in a fanciful sort of way, whether Buddhist contemplation is not after all only another name for the contemplation of the beautiful, since devotees to the one are ex officio such votaries of the other.
Dissimilar as are these two glimpses of Japanese existence, in one point the bustling street and the hushed temple are alike,—in the nameless grace that beautifies both.
This spirit is even more remarkable for its all-pervasiveness than for its inherent excellence. Both objectively and subjectively its catholicity is remarkable. It imbues everything, and affects everybody. So universally is it applied to the daily affairs of life that there may be said to be no mechanical arts in Japan simply because all such have been raised to the position of fine arts. The lowest artisan is essentially an artist. Modern French nomenclature on the subject, in spite of the satire to which the more prosaic Anglo-Saxon has subjected it, is peculiarly applicable there. To call a Japanese cook, for instance, an artist would be but the barest acknowledgment of fact, for Japanese food is far more beautiful to look at than agreeable to eat; while Tokio tailors are certainly masters of drapery, if they are sublimely oblivious to the natural modelings of the male or female form.
On the other hand, art is sown, like the use of tobacco, broadcast among the people. It is the birthright of the Far East, the talent it never hides. Throughout the length and breadth of the land, and from the highest prince to the humblest peasant, art reigns supreme.
Now such a prevalence of artistic feeling implies of itself impersonality in the people. At first sight it might seem as if science did the same, and that in this respect the one hemisphere offset the other, and that consequently both should be equally impersonal. But in the first place, our masses are not imbued with the scientific spirit, as theirs are with artistic sensibility. Who would expect of a mason an impersonal interest in the principles of the arch, or of a plumber a non-financial devotion to hydraulics? Certainly one would be wrong in crediting the masses in general or European waiters in particular with much abstract love of mathematics, for example. In the second place, there is an essential difference in the attitude of the two subjects upon personality. Emotionally, science appeals to nobody, art to everybody. Now the emotions constitute the larger part of that complex bundle of ideas which we know as self. A thought which is not tinged to some extent with feeling is not only not personal; properly speaking, it is not even distinctively human, but cosmical. In its lofty superiority to man, science is unpersonal rather than impersonal. Art, on the other hand, is a familiar spirit. Through the windows of the senses she finds her way into the very soul of man, and makes for herself a home there. But it is to his humanity, not to his individuality, that she whispers, for she speaks in that universal tongue which all can understand.
Examples are not wanting to substantiate theory. It is no mere coincidence that the two most impersonal nations of Europe and Asia respectively, the French and the Japanese, are at the same time the most artistic. Even politeness, which, as we have seen, distinguishes both, is itself but a form of art,—the social art of living agreeably with one's fellows.
This impersonality comes out with all the more prominence when we pass from the consideration of art in itself to the spirit which actuates that art, and especially when we compare their spirit with our own. The mainsprings of Far Eastern art may be said to be three: Nature, Religion, and Humor. Incongruous collection that they are, all three witness to the same trait. For the first typifies concrete impersonality, the second abstract impersonality, while the province of the last is to ridicule personality generally. Of the trio the first is altogether the most important. Indeed, to a Far Oriental, so fundamental a part of himself is his love of Nature that before we view its mirrored image it will be well to look the emotion itself in the face. The Far Oriental lives in a long day-dream of beauty. He muses rather than reasons, and all musing, so the word itself confesses, springs from the inspiration of a Muse. But this Muse appears not to him, as to the Greeks, after the fashion of a woman, nor even more prosaically after the likeness of a man. Unnatural though it seem to us, his inspiration seeks no human symbol. His Muse is not kin to mankind. She is too impersonal for any personification, for she is Nature.
That poet whose name carries with it a certain presumption of infallibility has told us that "the proper study of mankind is man;" and if material advancement in consequence be any criterion of the fitness of a particular mental pursuit, events have assuredly justified the saying. Indeed, the Levant has helped antithetically to preach the same lesson, in showing us by its own fatal example that the improper study of mankind is woman, and that they who but follow the fair will inevitably degenerate.
The Far Oriental knows nothing of either study, and cares less. The delight of self-exploration, or the possibly even greater delight of losing one's self in trying to fathom femininity, is a sensation equally foreign to his temperament. Neither the remarkable persistence of one's own characteristics, not infrequently matter of deep regret to their possessor, nor the charmingly unaccountable variability of the fairer sex, at times quite as annoying, is a phenomenon sufficient to stir his curiosity. Accepting, as he does, the existing state of things more as a material fact than as a phase in a gradual process of development, he regards humanity as but a small part of the great natural world, instead of considering it the crowning glory of the whole. He recognizes man merely as a fraction of the universe,—one might almost say as a vulgar fraction of it, considering the low regard in which he is held,—and accords him his proportionate share of attention, and no more.
In his thought, nature is not accessory to man. Worthy M. Perichon, of prosaic, not to say philistinic fame, had, as we remember, his travels immortalized in a painting where a colossal Perichon in front almost completely eclipsed a tiny Mont Blanc behind. A Far Oriental thinks poetry, which may possibly account for the fact that in his mind-pictures the relative importance of man and mountain stands reversed. "The matchless Fuji," first of motifs in his art, admits no pilgrim as its peer.
Nor is it to woman that turn his thoughts. Mother Earth is fairer, in his eyes, than are any of her daughters. To her is given the heart that should be theirs. The Far Eastern love of Nature amounts almost to a passion. To the study of her ever varying moods her Japanese admirer brings an impersonal adoration that combines oddly the aestheticism of a poet with the asceticism of a recluse. Not that he worships in secret, however. His passion is too genuine either to find disguise or seek display. With us, unfortunately, the love of Nature is apt to be considered a mental extravagance peculiar to poets, excusable in exact ratio to the ability to give it expression. For an ordinary mortal to feel a fondness for Mother Earth is a kind of folly, to be carefully concealed from his fellows. A sort of shamefacedness prevents him from avowing it, as a boy at boarding-school hides his homesickness, or a lad his love. He shrinks from appearing less pachydermatous than the rest. Or else he flies to the other extreme, and affects the odd; pretends, poses, parades, and at last succeeds half in duping himself, half in deceiving other people. But with Far Orientals the case is different. Their love has all the unostentatious assurance of what has received the sanction of public opinion. Nor is it still at that doubtful, hesitating stage when, by the instrumentality of a third, its soul-harmony can suddenly be changed from the jubilant major key into the despairing minor. No trace of sadness tinges his delight. He has long since passed this melancholy phase of erotic misery, if so be that the course of his true love did not always run smooth, and is now well on in matrimonial bliss. The very look of the land is enough to betray the fact. In Japan the landscape has an air of domesticity about it, patent even to the most casual observer. Wherever the Japanese has come in contact with the country he has made her unmistakably his own. He has touched her to caress, not injure, and it seems as if Nature accepted his fondness as a matter of course, and yielded him a wifely submission in return. His garden is more human, even, than his house. Not only is everything exquisitely in keeping with man, but natural features are actually changed, plastic to the imprint of their lord and master's mind. Bushes, shrubs, trees, forget to follow their original intent, and grow as he wills them to; now expanding in wanton luxuriance, now contracting into dwarf designs of their former selves, all to obey his caprice and please his eye. Even stubborn rocks lose their wildness, and come to seem a part of the almost sentient life around them. If the description of such dutifulness seems fanciful, the thing itself surpasses all supposition. Hedges and shrubbery, clipped into the most fantastic shapes, accept the suggestion of the pruning-knife as if man's wishes were their own whims. Manikin maples, Tom Thumb trees, a foot high and thirty years old, with all the gnarls and knots and knuckles of their fellows of the forest, grow in his parterres, their native vitality not a whit diminished. And they are not regarded as monstrosities but only as the most natural of artificialities; for they are a part of a horticultural whole. To walk into a Japanese garden is like wandering of a sudden into one of those strange worlds we see reflected in the polished surface of a concave mirror, where all but the observer himself is transformed into a fantastic miniature of the reality. In that quaint fairyland diminutive rivers flow gracefully under tiny trees, past mole-hill mountains, till they fall at last into lilliputian lakes, almost smothered for the flowers that grow upon their banks; while in the extreme distance of a couple of rods the cone of a Fuji ten feet high looks approvingly down upon a scene which would be nationally incomplete without it.
But besides the delights of domesticity which the Japanese enjoys daily in Nature's company, he has his acces de tendresse, too. When he feels thus specially stirred, he invites a chosen few of his friends, equally infatuated, and together they repair to some spot noted for its scenery. It may be a waterfall, or some dreamy pond overhung by trees, or the distant glimpse of a mountain peak framed in picture-wise between the nearer hills; or, at their appropriate seasons, the blossoming of the many tree flowers, which in eastern Asia are beautiful beyond description. For he appreciates not only places, but times. One spot is to be seen at sunrise, another by moonlight; one to be visited in the spring-time, another in the fall. But wherever or whenever it be, a tea-house, placed to command the best view of the sight, stands ready to receive him. For nature's beauties are too well recognized to remain the exclusive property of the first chance lover. People flock to view nature as we do to see a play, and privacy is as impossible as it is unsought. Indeed, the aversion to publicity is simply a result of the sense of self, and therefore necessarily not a feature of so impersonal a civilization. Aesthetic guidebooks are written for the nature-enamoured, descriptive of these views which the Japanese translator quaintly calls "Sceneries," and which visitors come not only from near but from far to gaze upon. In front of the tea-house proper are rows of summer pavilions, in one of which the party make themselves at home, while gentle little tea-house girls toddle forth to serve them the invariable preliminary tea and confections. Each man then produces from up his sleeve, or from out his girdle, paper, ink, and brush, and proceeds to compose a poem on the beauty of the spot and the feelings it calls up, which he subsequently reads to his admiring companions. Hot sake is next served, which is to them what beer is to a German or absinthe to a blouse; and there they sit, sip, and poetize, passing their couplets, as they do their cups, in honor to one another. At last, after drinking in an hour or two of scenery and sake combined, the symposium of poets breaks up.
Sometimes, instead of a company of friends, a man will take his family, wife, babies, and all, on such an outing, but the details of his holiday are much the same as before. For the scenery is still the centre of attraction, and in the attendant creature comforts Far Eastern etiquette permits an equal enjoyment to man, woman, and child.
This love of nature is quite irrespective of social condition. All classes feel its force, and freely indulge the feeling. Poor as well as rich, low as well as high, contrive to gratify their poetic instincts for natural scenery. As for flowers, especially tree flowers, or those of the larger plants, like the lotus or the iris, the Japanese appreciation of their beauty is as phenomenal as is that beauty itself. Those who can afford the luxury possess the shrubs in private; those who cannot, feast their eyes on the public specimens. From a sprig in a vase to a park planted on purpose, there is no part of them too small or too great to be excluded from Far Oriental affection. And of the two "drawing-rooms" of the Mikado held every year, in April and November, both are garden-parties: the one given at the time and with the title of "the cherry blossoms," and the other of "the chrysanthemum."
These same tree flowers deserve more than a passing notice, not simply because of their amazing beauty, which would arrest attention anywhere, but for the national attitude toward them. For no better example of the Japanese passion for nature could well be cited. If the anniversaries of people are slightingly treated in the land of the sunrise, the same cannot be said of plants. The yearly birthdays of the vegetable world are observed with more than botanic enthusiasm. The regard in which they are held is truly emotional, and it not actually individual in its object, at least personal to the species. Each kind of tree as its season brings it into flower is made the occasion of a festival. For the beauty of the blossoming receives the tribute of a national admiration. From peers to populace mankind turns out to witness it. Nor are these occasions few. Spring in the Far East is one long chain of flower fetes, and as spring begins by the end of January and lasts till the middle of June, opportunities for appreciating each in turn are not half spoiled by a common contemporaneousness. People have not only occasion but time to admire. Indeed, spring itself is suitably respected by being dated conformably to fact. Far Orientals begin their year when Nature begins hers, instead of starting anachronously as we do in the very middle of the dead season, much as our colleges hold their commencements, on the last in place at on the first day of the academic term. So previous has the haste of Western civilization become. The result is that our rejoicing partakes of the incongruity of humor. The new year exists only in name. In the Far East, on the other band, the calendar is made to fit the time. Men begin to reckon their year some three weeks later than the Western world, just as the plum-tree opens its pink white petals, as it were, in rosy reflection of the snow that lies yet upon the ground. But the coldness of the weather does not in the least deter people from thronging the spot in which the trees grow, where they spend hours in admiration, and end by pinning appropriate poems on the twigs for later comers to peruse. Fleeting as the flowers are in fact, they live forever in fancy. For they constitute one of the commonest motifs of both painting and poetry. A branch just breaking into bloom seen against the sunrise sky, or a bough bending its blossoms to the bosom of a stream, is subject enough for their greatest masters, who thus wed, as it were, two arts in one,—the spirit of poesy with pictorial form. This plum-tree is but a blossom. Precocious harbinger of a host of flowers, its gay heralding over, it vanishes not to be recalled, for it bears no edible fruit.
The next event in the series might fairly be called phenomenal. Early in April takes place what is perhaps as superb a sight as anything in this world, the blossoming of the cherry-trees. Indeed, it is not easy to do the thing justice in description. If the plum invited admiration, the cherry commands it; for to see the sakura in flower for the first time is to experience a new sensation. Familiar as a man may be with cherry blossoms at home, the sight there bursts upon him with the dazzling effect of a revelation. Such is the profusion of flowers that the tree seems to have turned into a living mass of rosy light. No leaves break the brilliance. The snowy-pink petals drape the branches entirely, yet so delicately, one deems it all a veil donned for the tree's nuptials with the spring. For nothing could more completely personify the spirit of the spring-time. You can almost fancy it some dryad decked for her bridal, in maidenly day-dreaming too lovely to last. For like the plum the cherry fails in its fruit to fulfil the promise of its flower.
It would be strange indeed if so much beauty received no recognition, but it is even more strange that recognition should be so complete and so universal as it is. Appreciation is not confined to the cultivated few; it is shown quite as enthusiastically by the masses. The popularity of the plants is all-embracing. The common people are as sensitive to their beauty as are the upper classes. Private gratification, roseate as it is, pales beside the public delight. Indeed, not content with what revelation Nature makes of herself of her own accord, man has multiplied her manifestations. Spots suitable to their growth have been peopled by him with trees. Sometimes they stand in groups like star-clusters, as in Oji, crowning a hill; sometimes, as at Mukojima, they line an avenue for miles, dividing the blue river on the one hand from the blue-green rice-fields on the other,—a floral milky way of light. But wherever the trees may be, there at their flowering season are to be found throngs of admirers. For in crowds people go out to see the sight, multitudes streaming incessantly to and fro beneath their blossoms as the time of day determines the turn of the human tide. To the Occidental stranger such a gathering suggests some social loadstone; but none exists. In the cherry-trees alone lies the attraction.
For one week out of the fifty-two the cherry-tree stands thus glorified, a vision of beauty prolonged somewhat by the want of synchronousness of the different kinds. Then the petals fall. What was a nuptial veil becomes a winding-sheet, covering the sod as with winter's winding-sheet of snow, destined itself to disappear, and the tree is nothing but a common cherry-tree once more.
But flowers are by no means over because the cherry blossoms are past. A brief space, and the same crowds that flocked to the cherry turn to the wistaria. Gardens are devoted to the plants, and the populace greatly given to the gardens. There they go to sit and gaze at the grape-like clusters of pale purple flowers that hang more than a cubit long over the wooden trellis, and grow daily down toward their own reflections in the pond beneath, vying with one another in Narcissus-like endeavor. And the people, as they sip their tea on the veranda opposite, behold a doubled delight, the flower itself and its mirrored image stretching to kiss.
After the wistaria comes the tree-peony, and then the iris, with its trefoil flowers broader than a man may span, and at all colors under the sky. To one who has seen the great Japanese fleur-de-lis, France looks ludicrously infelicitous in her choice of emblem.
But the list grows too long, limited as it is only by its own annual repetition. We have as yet reached but the first week in June; the summer and autumn are still to come, the first bringing the lotus for its crown, and the second the chrysanthemum. And lazily grand the lotus is, itself the embodiment of the spirit of the drowsy August air, the very essence of Buddha-like repose. The castle moats are its special domain, which in this its flowering season it wrests wholly from their more proper occupant—the water. A dense growth of leather-like leaves, above which rise in majestic isolation the solitary flowers, encircles the outer rampart, shutting the castle in as it might be the palace of the Sleeping Beauty. In the delightful dreaminess that creeps over one as he stands thus before some old daimyo's former abode in the heart of Japan, he forgets all his metaphysical difficulties about Nirvana, for he fancies he has found it, one long Lotus afternoon.
And then last, but in some sort first, since it has been taken for the imperial insignia, comes the chrysanthemum. The symmetry of its shape well fits it to symbolize the completeness of perfection which the Mikado, the son of heaven, mundanely represents. It typifies, too, the fullness of the year; for it marks, as it were, the golden wedding of the spring, the reminiscence in November of the nuptials of the May. Its own color, however, is not confined to gold. It may be of almost any hue and within the general limits of a circle of any form. Now it is a chariot wheel with petals for spokes; now a ball of fire with lambent tongues of flame; while another kind seems the button of some natural legion of honor, and still another a pin-wheel in Nature's own day-fireworks.
Admired as a thing of beauty for its own sake, it is also used merely as a material for artistic effects; for among the quaintest of such conceits are the Japanese Jarley chrysanthemum works. Every November in the florists' gardens that share the temple grounds at Asakusa may be seen groups of historical and mythological figures composed entirely of chrysanthemum flowers. These effigies are quite worthy of comparison with their London cousins, being sufficiently life-like to terrify children and startle anybody. To come suddenly, on turning a corner, upon a colossal warrior, deterrently uncouth and frightfully battle-clad, in the act of dispatching a fallen foe, is a sensation not instantly dispelled by the fact that he is made of flowers. The practice, at least, bears witness to an artistic ingenuity of no mean merit, and to a horticulture ably carried on, if somewhat eccentrically applied.
From the passing of the chrysanthemum dates the dead season. But it is suitably short-lived. Sometimes as early as November, the plum-tree is already blossoming again.
Even from so imperfectly gathered a garland it will be seen that the Japanese do not lack for opportunities to admire, nor do they turn coldly away from what they are given. Indeed, they may be said to live in a chronic state of flower-fever; but in spite of the vast amount of admiration which they bestow on plants, it is not so much the quantity of that admiration as the quality of it which is remarkable. The intense appreciation shown the subject by the Far Oriental is something whose very character seems strange to us, and when in addition we consider that it permeates the entire people from the commonest coolie to the most aesthetic courtier, it becomes to our comprehension a state of things little short of inexplicable. To call it artistic sensibility is to use too limited a term, for it pervades the entire people; rather is it a sixth sense of a natural, because national description; for the trait differs from our corresponding feeling in degree, and especially in universality enough to merit the distinction. Their care for tree flowers is not confined to a cultivation, it is a cult. It approaches to a sort of natural nature-worship, an adoration in which nothing is personified. For the emotion aroused in the Far Oriental is just as truly an emotion as it was to the Greek; but whereas the Greek personified its object, the Japanese admires that object for what it is. To think of the cherry-tree, for instance, as a woman, would be to his mind a conception transcending even the limits of the ludicrous.
Chapter 6. Art.
That nature, not man, is their beau ideal, the source of inspiration to them, is evident again on looking at their art. The same spirit that makes of them such wonderful landscape gardeners and such wonder-full landscape gazers shows itself unmistakably in their paintings.
The current impression that Japanese pictorial ambition, and consequent skill, is confined to the representation of birds and flowers, though entirely erroneous as it stands, has a grain of truth behind it. This idea is due to the attitude of the foreign observers, and was in fact a tribute to Japanese technique rather than an appreciation of Far Eastern artistic feeling. The truth is, the foreigners brought to the subject their own Western criteria of merit, and judged everything by these standards. Such works naturally commended themselves most as had least occasion to deviate from their canons. The simplest pictures, therefore, were pronounced the best. Paintings of birds and flowers were thus admitted to be fine, because their realism spoke for itself. Of the exquisite poetic feeling of their landscape paintings the foreign critics were not at first conscious, because it was not expressed in terms with which they were familiar.
But first impressions, here as elsewhere, are valuable. One is very apt to turn to them again from the reasoning of his second thoughts. Flora and fauna are a conspicuous feature of Far Asiatic art, because they enter as details of the subject-matter of the artist's thoughts and day-dreams. These birds and flowers are his sujets de genre. Where we should select a phase of human life for effective isolation, they choose instead a bit of nature. A spray of grass or a twig of cherry-blossoms is motif enough for them. To their thought its beauty is amply suggestive. For to the Far Oriental all nature is sympathetically sentient. His admiration, instead of being centred on man, embraces the universe. His art reflects it.
Leaving out of consideration, for the moment, minor though still important distinctions in tone, treatment, and technique, the great fundamental difference between Western and Far Eastern art lies in its attitude toward humanity.
With us, from the time of the Greeks to the present day, man has been the cynosure of artistic eyes; with them he has never been vouchsafed more than a casual, not to say a cursory glance, even woman failing to rivet his attention. One of our own writers has said that, without passing the bounds of due respect, a man is permitted two looks at any woman he may meet, one to recognize, one to admire. A Japanese ordinarily never dreams of taking but one,—if indeed he goes so far as that,—the first. It is the omitting to take that second look that has left him what he is. Not that Fortune has been unpropitious; only blind. Fate has offered him opportunity enough; too much, perhaps. For in Japan the exposure of the female form is without a parallel in latitude. Never nude, it is frequently naked. The result artistically is much the same, though the cause be different. For it is a fatal mistake to suppose the Japanese an immodest people. According to their own standards, they are exceedingly modest. No respectable Japanese woman would, for instance, ever for a moment turn out her toes in walking. It is considered immodest to do so. Their code is, however, not so whimsical as this bit of etiquette might suggest. The intent is with them the touchstone of propriety. In their eyes a state of nature is not a state of indecency. Whatever exposure is required for convenience is right; whatever unnecessary, wrong. Such an Eden-like condition of society would seem to be the very spot for a something like the modern French school of art to have developed in. And yet it is just that study of the nude which has from immemorial antiquity been entirely neglected in the Far East. An ancient Greek, to say nothing of a modern Parisian, would have shocked a Japanese. Yet we are shocked by them. We are astounded at the sights we see in their country villages, while they in their turn marvel at the exhibitions they witness in our city theatres. At their watering-places the two sexes bathe promiscuously together in all the simplicity of nature; but for a Japanese woman to appear on the stage in any character, however proper, would be deemed indecent. The difference between the two hemispheres may be said to consist in an artless liberty on the one hand, and artistic license on the other. Their unwritten code of propriety on the subject seems to be, "You must see, but you may not observe."
These people live more in accordance with their code of propriety than we do with ours. All classes alike conform to it. The adjective "respectable," used above as a distinction in speaking of woman, was in reality superfluous, for all women there, as far as appearance goes, are respectable. Even the most abandoned creature does not betray her status by her behavior. The reason of this uniformity and its psychological importance I shall discuss later.
This form of modesty, a sort of want of modesty of form, has no connection whatever with sex. It applies with equal force to the male figure, which is even more exposed than the female, and offers anatomical suggestions invaluable alike to the artistic and medical professions,—suggestions that are equally ignored by both. The coolies are frequently possessed of physiques which would have delighted Michael Angelo; and as for the phenomenal corpulency of the wrestlers, it would have made of the place a very paradise for Rubens. In regard to the doctors,—for to call them surgeons would be to give a name to what does not exist,—a lack of scientific zeal has been the cause of their not investigating what tempts too seductively, we should imagine, to be ignored. Acupuncture, or the practice of sticking long pins into any part of the patient's body that may happen to be paining him, pretty much irrespective of anatomical position, is the nearest approach to surgery of which they are guilty, and proclaims of itself the in corpore vili character of the thing operated upon.
Nor does the painter owe anything to science. He represents humanity simply as he sees it in its every-day costume; and it betokens the highest powers of generalized observation that he produces the results he does. In his drawings, man is shown, not as he might look in the primitive, or privitive, simplicity of his ancestral Garden of Eden, but as he does look in the ordinary wear and tear of his present garments. Civilization has furnished him with clothes, and he prefers, when he has his picture taken, to keep them on.
In dealing with man, the Far Oriental artist is emphatically a realist; it is when he turns to nature that he becomes ideal. But by ideal is not meant here conventional. That term of reproach is a misnomer, founded upon a mistake. His idealism is simply the outcome of his love, which, like all human love, transfigures its object. The Far Oriental has plenty of this, which, if sometimes a delusion, seems also second sight, but it is peculiarly impersonal. His color-blindness to the warm, blood-red end of the spectrum of life in no wise affects his perception of the colder beauty of the great blues and greens of nature. To their poetry he is ever sensitive. His appreciation of them is something phenomenal, and his power of presentation worthy his appreciation.
A Japanese painting is a poem rather than a picture. It portrays an emotion called up by a scene, and not the scene itself in all its elaborate complexity. It undertakes to give only so much of it as is vital to that particular feeling, and intentionally omits all irrelevant details. It is the expression caught from a glimpse of the soul of nature by the soul of man; the mirror of a mood, passing, perhaps, in fact, but perpetuated thus to fancy. Being an emotion, its intensity is directly proportional to the singleness with which it possesses the thoughts. The Far Oriental fully realizes the power of simplicity. This principle is his fundamental canon of pictorial art. To understand his paintings, it is from this standpoint they must be regarded; not as soulless photographs of scenery, but as poetic presentations of the spirit of the scenes. The very charter of painting depends upon its not giving us charts. And if with us a long poem be a contradiction in terms, a full picture is with them as self-condemnatory a production. From the contemplation of such works of art as we call finished, one is apt, after he has once appreciated Far Eastern taste, to rise with an unpleasant feeling of satiety, as if he has eaten too much at the feast.
Their paintings, by comparison, we call sketches. Is not our would-be slight unwittingly the reverse? Is not a sketch, after all, fuller of meaning, to one who knows how to read it, than a finished affair, which is very apt to end with itself, barren of fruit? Does not one's own imagination elude one's power to portray it? Is it not forever flitting will-o'-the-wisp-like ahead of us just beyond exact definition? For the soul of art lies in what art can suggest, and nothing is half so suggestive as the half expressed, not even a double entente. To hint a great deal by displaying a little is more vital to effect than the cleverest representation of the whole. The art of partially revealing is more telling, even, than the ars celare artem. Who has not suspected through a veil a fairer face than veil ever hid? Who has not been delightedly duped by the semi-disclosures of a dress? The principle is just as true in any one branch of art as it is of the attempted developments by one of the suggestions of another. Yet who but has thus felt its force? Who has not had a shock of day-dream desecration on chancing upon an illustrated edition of some book whose story he had lain to heart? Portraits of people, pictures of places, he does not know, and yet which purport to be his! And I venture to believe that to more than one of us the exquisite pathos of the Bride of Lammermoor is gone when Lucia warbles her woes, be it never so entrancingly, to an admiring house. It almost seems as if the garish publicity of using her name for operatic title were a special intervention of the Muse, that we might the less connect song with story,—two sensations that, like two lights, destroy one another by mutual interference.
Against this preference shown the sketch it may be urged that to appreciate such suggestions presupposes as much art in the public as in the painter. But the ability to appreciate a thing when expressed is but half that necessary to express it. Some understanding must exist in the observer for any work to be intelligible. It is only a question of degree. The greater the art-sense in the person addressed, the more had better be left to it. Now in Japan the public is singularly artistic. In fact, the artistic appreciation of the masses there is something astonishing to us, accustomed to our immense intellectual differences between man and man. Sketches are thus peculiarly fitting to such a land.
Besides, there is a quiet modesty about the sketch which is itself taking. To attempt the complete even in a fractional bit of the cosmos, like a picture, has in it a difficulty akin to the logical one of proving a universal negative. The possibilities of failure are enormously increased, and failure is less forgiven for the assumption. Art might perhaps not unwisely follow the example of science in such matters where an exhaustive work, which takes the better part of a lifetime to produce, is invariably entitled by its erudite author an Elementary Treatise on the subject in hand.
To aid the effect due to simplicity of conception steps in the Far Oriental's wonderful technique. His brush-strokes are very few in number, but each one tells. They are laid on with a touch which is little short of marvelous, and requires heredity to explain its skill. For in his method there is no emending, no super-position, no change possible. What he does is done once and for all. The force of it grows on you as you gaze. Each stroke expresses surprisingly much, and suggests more. Even omissions are made significant. In his painting it is visibly true that objects can be rendered conspicuous by their very absence. You are quite sure you see what on scrutiny you discover to be only the illusion of inevitable inference. The Far Oriental artist understands the power of suggestion well; for imagination always fills in the picture better than the brush, however perfect be its skill.
Even the neglect of certain general principles which we consider vital to effect, such as the absence of shadows and the lack of perspective, proves not to be of the importance we imagine. We discover in these paintings how immaterial, artistically, was Peter Schlimmel's sad loss, and how perfectly possible it is to make bits of discontinuous distance take the place effectively of continuous space.
Far Eastern pictures are epigrams rather than descriptions. They present a bit of nature with the terseness of a maxim of La Rochefoucault, and they delight as aphorisms do by their insight and the happy conciseness of its expression. Few aphorisms are absolutely true, but then boldness more than makes up for what they lack in verity. So complex a subject is life that to state a truth with all its accompanying limitations is to weaken it at once. Exceptions, while demonstrating the rule, do not tend to emphasize it. And though the whole truth is essential to science, such exhaustiveness is by no means a canon of art.
Parallels are not wanting at home. What they do with space in their paintings do we not with time in the case of our comedies, those acted pictures of life? Should we not refuse to tolerate a play that insisted on furnishing us with a full perspective of its characters' past? And yet of the two, it is far perferable, artistically, to be given too much in sequence than too much at once. The Chinese, who put much less into a painting than what we deem indispensable, delight in dramas that last six weeks.
To give a concluding touch of life to my necessarily skeleton-like generalities, memory pictures me a certain painting of Okio's which I fell in love with at first sight. It is of a sunrise on the coast of Japan. A long line of surf is seen tumbling in to you from out a bank of mist, just piercing which shows the blood-red disk of the rising sun, while over the narrow strip of breaking rollers three cranes are slowly sailing north. And that is all you see. You do not see the shore; you do not see the main; you are looking but at the border-land of that great unknown, the heaving ocean still slumbering beneath its chilly coverlid of mist, out of which come the breakers, and the sun, and the cranes.
So much for the more serious side of Japanese fancy; a look at the lighter leads to the same conclusion.
Hand in hand with his keen poetic sensibility goes a vivid sense of humor,—two traits that commonly, indeed, are found Maying together over the meadows of imagination. For, as it might be put,
"The heart that is soonest awake to the flowers Is also the first to be touched by the fun."
The Far Oriental well exemplifies this fact. His art, wherever fun is possible, fairly bubbles over with laughter. From the oldest masters down to Hokusai, it is constantly welling up in the drollest conceits. It is of all descriptions, too. Now it lurks in merry ambush, like the faint suggestion of a smile on an otherwise serious face, so subtile that the observer is left wondering whether the artist could have meant what seems more like one's own ingenious discovery; now it breaks out into the broadest of grins, absurd juxtapositions of singularly happy incongruities. For Hokusai's caricatures and Hendschel's sketches might be twins. If there is a difference, it lies not so much in the artist's work as in the greater generality of its appreciation. Humor flits easily there at the sea-level of the multitude. For the Japanese temperament is ever on the verge of a smile which breaks out with catching naivete at the first provocation. The language abounds in puns which are not suffered to lie idle, and even poetry often hinges on certain consecrated plays on words. From the very constitution of the people there is of course nothing selfish in the national enjoyment. A man is quite as ready to laugh at his own expense as at his neighbor's, a courtesy which his neighbor cordially returns.
Now the ludicrous is essentially human in its application. The principle of the synthesis of contradictories, popularly known by the name of humor, is necessarily limited in its field to man. For whether it have to do wholly with actions, or partly with the words that express them, whether it be presented in the shape of a pun or a pleasantry, it is in incongruous contrasts that its virtue lies. It is the unexpected that provokes the smile. Now no such incongruity exists in nature; man enjoys a monopoly of the power of making himself ridiculous. So pleasant is pleasantry that we do indeed cultivate it beyond its proper pale. But it is only by personifying Nature, and gratuitously attributing to her errors of which she is incapable, that we can make fun of her; as, for instance, when we hold the weather up to ridicule by way of impotent revenge. But satires upon the clown-like character of our climate, which, after the lamest sort of a spring, somehow manages a capital fall, would in the Far East be as out of keeping with fancy as with fact. To a Japanese, who never personifies anything, such innocent irony is unmeaning. Besides, it would be also untrue. For his May carries no suggestion of unfulfilment in its name.
Those Far Eastern paintings which have to do with man fall for the most part under one of two heads, the facetious and the historical. The latter implies no particularly intimate concern for man in himself, for the past has very little personality for the present. As for the former, its attention is, if anything, derogatory to him, for we are always shy of making fun of what we feel to be too closely a part of ourselves. But impersonality has prevented the Far Oriental from having much amour propre. He has no particular aversion to caricaturing himself. Few Europeans, perhaps, would have cared to perpetrate a self-portrait like one painted by the potter Kinsei, which was sold me one day as an amusing tour de force by a facetious picture-dealer. It is a composite picture of a new kind, a Japanese variety of type face. The great potter, who was also apparently no mean painter, has combined three aspects of himself in a single representation. At first sight the portrait appears to be simply a full front view of a somewhat moon-faced citizen; but as you continue to gaze, it suddenly dawns on you that there are two other individuals, one on either side, hob-nobbing in profile with the first, the lines of the features being ingeniously made to do double duty; and when this aspect of the thing has once struck you, you cannot look at the picture without seeing all three citizens simultaneously. The result is doubtless more effective as a composition than flattering as a likeness.
Far Eastern sculpture, by its secondary importance among Far Eastern arts, witnesses again to the secondary importance assigned to man at our mental antipodes. In this art, owing to its necessary limitations, the representation of nature in its broader sense is impossible. For in the first place, whatever the subject, it must be such as it is possible to present in one continuous piece; disconnected adjuncts, as, for instance, a flock of birds flying, which might be introduced with great effect in painting, being here practically beyond the artist's reach. Secondly, the material being of uniform appearance, as a rule, color, or even shading, vital points in landscape portrayal, is out of the question, unless the piece were subsequently painted, as in Grecian sculptures, a custom which is not practised in China or Japan. Lastly, another fact fatal to the representation of landscape is the size. The reduced scale of the reproduction suggests falsity at once, a falsity whose belittlement the mind can neither forget nor forgive. Plain sculpture is therefore practically limited to statuary, either of men or animals. The result is that in their art, where landscape counts for so much, sculpture plays a very minor part. In what little there is, Nature's place is taken by Buddha. For there are two classes of statues, divided the one from the other by that step which separates the sublime from the ridiculous, namely, the colossal and the diminutive. There is no happy human mean. Of the first kind are the beautiful bronze figures of the Buddha, like the Kamakura Buddha, fifty feet high and ninety-seven feet round, in whose face all that is grand and noble lies sleeping, the living representation of Nirvana; and of the second, those odd little ornaments known as netsuke, comical carvings for the most part, grotesque figures of men and monkeys, saints and sinners, gods and devils. Appealing bits of ivory, bone, or wood they are, in which the dumb animals are as speaking likenesses as their human fellows.
The other arts show the same motif in their decorations. Pottery and lacquer alike witness the respective positions assigned to the serious and the comic in Far Eastern feeling.
The Far Oriental makes fun of man and makes love to Nature; and it almost seems as if Nature heard his silent prayer, and smiled upon him in acceptance; as if the love-light lent her face the added beauty that it lends the maid's. For nowhere in this world, probably, is she lovelier than in Japan: a climate of long, happy means and short extremes, months of spring and months of autumn, with but a few weeks of winter in between; a land of flowers, where the lotus and the cherry, the plum and wistaria, grow wantonly side by side; a land where the bamboo embosoms the maple, where the pine at last has found its palm-tree, and the tropic and the temperate zones forget their separate identity in one long self-obliterating kiss.
Chapter 7. Religion.
In regard to their religion, nations, like individuals, seem singularly averse to practising what they have preached. Whether it be that his self-constructed idols prove to the maker too suggestive of his own intellectual chisel to deceive him for long, or whether sacred soil, like less hallowed ground, becomes after a time incapable of responding to repeated sowings of the same seed, certain it is that in spiritual matters most peoples have grown out of conceit with their own conceptions. An individual may cling with a certain sentiment to the religion of his mother, but nations have shown anything but a foolish fondness for the sacred superstitions of their great-grandfathers. To the charm of creation succeeds invariably the bitter-sweet after-taste of criticism, and man would not be the progressive animal he is if he long remained in love with his own productions.
What his future will be is too engrossing a subject, and one too deeply shrouded in mystery, not to be constantly pictured anew. No wonder that the consideration at that country toward which mankind is ever being hastened should prove as absorbing to fancy as contemplated earthly journeys proverbially are. Few people but have laid out skeleton tours through its ideal regions, and perhaps, as in the mapping beforehand of merely mundane travels, one element of attraction has always consisted in the possible revision of one's routes.
Besides, there is a fascination about the foreign merely because it is such. Distance lends enchantment to the views of others, and never more so than when those views are religious visions. An enthusiast has certainly a greater chance of being taken for a god among a people who do not know him intimately as a man. So with his doctrines. The imported is apt to seem more important than the home-made; as the far-off bewitches more easily than the near. But just as castles in the air do not commonly become the property of their builders, so mansions in the skies almost as frequently have failed of direct inheritance. Rather strikingly has this proved the case with what are to-day the two most powerful religions of the world,—Buddhism and Christianity. Neither is now the belief of its founder's people. What was Aryan-born has become Turanian-bred, and what was Semitic by conception is at present Aryan by adoption. The possibilities of another's hereafter look so much rosier than the limitations of one's own present!
Few pastimes are more delightful than tossing pebbles into some still, dark pool, and watching the ripples that rise responsive, as they run in ever widening circles to the shore. Most of us have felt its fascination second only to that of the dotted spiral of the skipping-stone, a fascination not outgrown with years. There is something singularly attractive in the subtle force that for a moment sways each particle only to pass on to the next, a motion mysterious in its immateriality. Some such pleasure must be theirs who have thrown their thoughts into the hearts of men, and seen them spread in waves of feeling, whose sphere time widens through the world. For like the mobile water is the mind of man,—quick to catch emotions, quick to transmit them. Of all waves of feeling, this is not the least true of religious ones, that, starting from their birthplace, pass out to stir others, who have but humanity in common with those who professed them first. Like the ripples in the pool, they leave their initial converts to sink back again into comparative quiescence, as they advance to throw into sudden tremors hordes of outer barbarians. In both of the great religions in question this wave propagation has been most marked, only the direction it took differed. Christianity went westward; Buddhism travelled east. Proselytes in Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy find counterparts in Eastern India, Burmah, and Thibet. Eventually the taught surpassed their teachers both in zeal and numbers. Jerusalem and Benares at last gave place to Rome and Lassa as sacerdotal centres. Still the movement journeyed on. Popes and Lhamas remained where their predecessors had founded sees, but the tide of belief surged past them in its irresistible advance. Farther yet from where each faith began are to be found to-day the greater part of its adherents. The home that the Western hemisphere seems to promise to the one, the extreme Orient affords the other. As Roman Catholicism now looks to America for its strength, so Buddhism to-day finds its worshippers chiefly in China and Japan.