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A LETTER FROM CHINA.
This jeu d'esprit was first published in The Repository for May, 1788. A correspondent, who was for several years personally and intimately acquainted with Dr. Franklin, writes to me; “ He was very fond of reading about China, and told me, that if he were a young man he should like to go to China." In the form of a pretended narrative of a sailor, he has embodied in the following letter some of his knowledge derived from books, with fanciful descriptions of his own. In a few passages his peculiar manner of thought and style is very apparent. — EDITOR.
Lisbon, May 5, 1784.
AGREEABLE to your desire, I have examined the sailor more particularly, and shall now give you the circumstances of his story, with all the observations he made in the country, concerning which you are so curious. He appears a more intelligent fellow than seamen in general. He says that he belonged to the Resolution, an English ship, one of those that made the last voyage with Captain Cook. That on their return, being at Macao, he and a comrade of his were over-persuaded by a Portuguese captain, who spoke English and Chinese, to desert, in order to go with him in a brigantine to the northwestern coast of America, to purchase sea-beaver skins from the savages, by which they hoped to make fortunes. That accordingly they took a boat belonging to the ship, got ashore in the night, turned the boat adrift, and were hid by the Portuguese captain till the Resolution was gone. That this was in January, 1780, and that in April following they sailed from Macao, intending to go first to a place he calls Nooky-Bay, in latitude 50. That
they had twenty-five men, with eight guns and small arms for their defence, and a quantity of iron ware, cutlery, with European and Chinese toys, for trade. That about the beginning of May, in a dark night, the captain being sick in his cabin, they were surprised and suddenly boarded by two boats full of armed men, to the number of forty, who took possession of the brig, no resistance being made. That these strangers altered her course, and stood, as he saw by the compass, to the northwest; that the next day the captain understood by a Chinese among them, that they were Curry" Ladrones, or pirates; that they had been cruising on the coast of China, and had lost their vessel on a reef the night before; and it was explained to the captain, that if he and his people would work the ship, and fight upon occasion, they should be well used, and have a share of plunder, or otherwise be thrown overboard. That all consented, and three days after they saw land, and coasted it northward; that they took two Chinese junks, who were sent away steering northeast, eight men being put into each, and some of the Chinese taken out. That the brig went on to the northward for four days after, without taking any thing; but running too near the coast in chase of another Chinese, they stuck fast on a shoal in a falling tide; that they hoped to get off by the night flood, but were mistaken, and the next morning were surrounded by a great many armed boats and vessels, which the chased vessel, which got in, had probably occasioned to come out against them. That at first they beat off those vessels, but, reinforcements coming, they saw it impossible to escape, and submitted, and were all brought on shore and committed to prison.
* Perhaps Corea.
That a few days after they were taken out and examined, and, the Portuguese captain making it appear that he and his people were prisoners to the Ladrones, they were recommitted, and the Ladrones all beheaded. That the brig, being got off, was, after some time, as he understood, by an order from court, restored to the Portuguese captain, who went away in her with all his people, except this relator and a Portuguese lad, who, being both ill of the flux, and likely to die, were left behind in prison. What became of the brig afterwards, he never heard. That they were well attended in their sickness, and soon recovered, but were not set at liberty. That the prison was a very clean, airy place, consisting of several courts and ranges of building, the whole securely walled and guarded, and governed with great order. That every body was obliged to work; but his work was not hard, it was weaving rushes upon hoops for the bottom of chairs, and they had some small pay for them, which, added to the prison allowance of rice and chong, was more than a sufficiency; and he thinks there are no such comfortable prisons in England, at least among those he had been acquainted with. That he applied himself to learn the Chinese language, and succeeded so far at last as to understand and make himself understood in common matters. That some of the most orderly prisoners were allowed to assist the neighbouring country people in time of harvest, under the care of overseers. That he and his companion were from time to time made to expect that orders would come from court for their release; but he supposes they were quite forgotten. They had written frequently to the Popish missionaries at Pekin, requesting their solicitations, but received no answer; and perhaps the prison-keeper, who had a profit on their labor, never sent their letters.
That after more than a year's confinement, being in the country at a harvest, he accidentally cut his foot very badly, and was left behind at a farmer's house to be cured; the farmer undertaking to return him to prison when recovered. That he got into favor in the family; that he taught the farmer's wife to make soap, which he understood, it being his father's trade. That he had himself been apprentice to a shoemaker before he took to the sea; and, finding some leather in the house, he made himself, with such tools as he could get or make, a large shoe for his lame foot. That the farmer admired the shoe much above the Chinese shoes, and requested a pair for himself. That he accordingly made shoes for the farmer, his wife, two sons, and a daughter. That he was obliged first to make the lasts for all of them; and that it is not true that the feet of Chinese women are less than those of English women. That, these shoes being admired, many inhabitants of the neighbouring village desired to have of them; so he was kept constantly at work, the farmer finding the leather, selling the shoes, and allowing him some share of the profit, by which he got about an ounce of silver per week, all money being weighed there. That the Chinese tan their leather with oaken chips, saw-dust, and shavings, which are saved by the carpenters for the farmers, who boil them, and steep their hides in the warm liquor, so that it is sooner fit for use. That the farmer's wife began to get money by selling soap, and they proposed to obtain his liberty, and keep him in the family, by giving him their daughter, when a little older, for a wife, with a piece of land; and he believes they did prevail with the jailor, by presents, to connive at his stay, on pretence of his lameness.
He liked their way of living, except their sometimes eating dog's flesh. Their pork was excellent; the rice, dressed various ways, all very good, and the chong he grew fond of, and learnt to make it. They put kidney beans in soak for twenty-four hours, then grind them in a hand-mill, pouring in water from time to time to wash the meal from between the stones, which falls into a tub covered with a coarse cloth that lets the meal and water pass through, retaining only the skins of the beans; that a very small quantity of alum, or some sort of salt, put into it, makes the meal settle to the bottom, when they pour off the water. That it is eaten various ways, by all sorts of people, with milk, with meat, as thickening in broth, &c. That they used also to put a little alum in their river water when foul, to clear it for use, and by that means made it as clear as rock water, the dirt all settling. Their house was near a great river, but he does not remember its name. That he lived in this family about a year, but did not get the daughter, her grandfather refusing his consent to her marriage with a stranger.
That they have a sort of religion, with priests and churches, but do not keep Sunday, nor go to church, being very heathenish. That in every house there is a little idol, to which they give thanks, make presents, and show respect in harvest time, but very little at other times; and, inquiring of his master why they did not go to church to pray, as we do in Europe, he was answered, they paid the priests to pray for them, that they might stay at home and mind their business; and that it would be a folly to pay others for praying, and then go and do the praying themselves; and that the more work they did while the priests prayed, the better able they were to pay them well for praying.
That they have horses, but not many; the breed small, but strong; kept chiefly for war, and not used