Read LETTER IV of The Mirror of Kong Ho, free online book, by Ernest Bramah, on

Venerated sire (whose genial liberality on all necessary occasions is well remembered by this person in his sacrifices, with the titles Benevolent and Open-sleeved"),

I had it in my head at one time to tell you somewhat of the Classics most reverenced in this country, of the philosophical opinions which prevail, and to enlighten you generally upon certain other subjects of distinguished eminence. As the deities arranged, however, it chanced that upon my way to a reputable quarter of the city where the actuality of these matters can be learnt with the least evasion, my footsteps were drawn aside by an incident which now permeates my truth-laden brush to the exclusion of all else.

But in the first place, if it be permitted for a thoroughly untrustworthy son to take so presumptuous a liberty with an unvaryingly sagacious father, let this one entreat you to regard everything he writes in a very wide-headed spirit of looking at the matter from all round. My former letters will have readily convinced you that much that takes place here, even among those who can afford long finger-nails, would not be tolerated in Yuen-ping, and in order to avoid the suspicion that I am suffering from a serious injury to the head, or have become a prey to a conflicting demon, it will be necessary to continue an even more highly-sustained tolerant alertness. This person himself has frequently suffered the ill effects of rashly assuming that because he is conducting the adventure in a prepossessing spirit his efforts will be honourably received, as when he courteously inquired the ages of a company of maidens into whose presence he was led, and complimented the one whom he was desirous of especially gratifying by assuring her that she had every appearance of being at least twice the nine-and-twenty years to which she modestly laid claim.

Upon another occasion I entered a barber’s stall, and finding it oppressively hot within, I commanded the attendant to carry a reclining stool into the street and there shave my lower limbs and anoint my head. As he hesitated to obey doubtless on account of the trivial labour involved I repeated my words in a tone of fuller authority, holding out the inducement of a just payment when he complied, and assuring him that he would certainly be dragged before the nearest mandarin and tortured if he held his joints stiffly. At this he evidently understood his danger, for obsequiously protesting that he was only a barber of very mean attainments, and that his deformed utensils were quite inadequate for the case, he very courteously directed me in inquire for a public chariot bound for a quarter called Colney Hatch (the place of commerce, it is reasonable to infer, of the higher class barbers), and, seating myself in it, instruct the attendant to put me down at the large gates, where they possessed every requisite appliance, and also would, if desirable, shave my head also. Here the incident assumes a more doubtful guise, for, notwithstanding the admitted politeness of the one who spoke, each of those to whom I subsequently addressed myself on the subject, presented to me a face quite devoid of encouragement. While none actually pointed out the vehicle I sought, many passed on in a state of inward contemplation without replying, and some chiefly the attendants of other chariots of a similar kind replied in what I deemed to be a spirit of elusive metaphor, as he who asserted that such a conveyance must be sought for at a point known intimately as the Aldgate Pump, whence it started daily at half-past the thirteenth gong-stroke; and another, who maintained that I had no prospect of reaching the desired spot until I secured the services of one of a class of female attendants who wear flowing blue robes in order to indicate that they are prepared to encounter and vanquish any emergency in life. To make no elaborate pretence in the matter this person may definitely admit that he never did reach the place in question, nor in spite of a diligent search in which he has encountered much obloquy has he yet found any barber sufficiently well equipped to undertake the detail.

Even more recently I suffered the unmerited rebuke of the superficial through performing an act of deferential politeness. Learning that the enlightened and magnanimous sovereign of this country was setting out on a journey I stationed myself in the forefront of those who stood before his palace, intending to watch such parts of the procession as might be fitly witnessed by one of my condition. When these had passed, and the chariot of the greatest approached, I respectfully turned my back to the road with a propitiatory gesture, as of one who did not deem himself worthy even to look upon a being of such majestic rank and acknowledged excellence. This delicate action, by some incredible process of mental obliquity, was held by those around to be a deliberate insult, if not even a preconcerted signal, of open treachery, and had not a heaven-sent breeze at that moment carried the hat of a very dignified bystander into the upper branches of an opportune tree, and successfully turned aside the attention of the assembly into a most immoderate exhibition of utter loss of gravity, I should undoubtedly have been publicly tortured, if not actually torn to pieces.

But the incident first alluded to was of an even more elaborately-contrived density than these, and some of the details are still unrolled before the keenest edge of this one’s inner perception. Nevertheless, all is now set down in unbroken exactness for your impartial judgment.

At the time of this exploit I had only ventured out on a few occasions, and then, save those recorded, to no considerable extent; for it had already become obvious that the enterprises in which I persistently became involved never contributed to my material prosperity, and the disappointment of finding that even when I could remember nine words of a sentence in their language none of the barbarians could understand even so much as a tenth of my own, further cast down my enthusiasm.

On the day which has been the object of this person’s narration from the first, he set out to become more fully instructed in the subjects already indicated, and proceeding in a direction of which he had no actual knowledge, he soon found himself in a populous and degraded quarter of the city. Presently, to his reasonable astonishment, he saw before him at a point where two ill-constructed thoroughfares met, a spacious and important building, many-storied in height, ornamented with a profusion of gold and crystal, marble and precious stones, and displaying from a tall pole the three-hued emblem of undeniable authority. A never-ending stream of people passed in and out by the numerous doors; the strains of expertly wielded instruments could be distinctly heard inside, and the warm odour of a most prepossessing spiced incense permeated the surroundings. “Assuredly,” thought the person who is now recording the incident, “this is one of the Temples of barbarian worship”; and to set all further doubt at rest he saw in letters of gilt splendour a variety of praiseworthy and appropriate inscriptions, among which he read and understood, “Excellent,” “Fine Old,” “Well Matured,” “Spirits only of the choicest quality within,” together with many other invocations from which he could not wrest the hidden significance, as “Old Vatted,” “Barclay’s Entire,” “An Ordinary at One,” and the like.

By this time an impressive gathering had drawn around, and from its manner of behaving conveyed the suspicion that an entertainment or manifestation of some kind was confidently awaited. To disperse so outrageous a misconception this person was on the point of withdrawing himself when he chanced to see, over the principal door of the Temple, a solid gold figure of colossal magnitude, represented as crowned with leaves and tendrils, and holding in his outstretched hands a gigantic, and doubtless symbolic, bunch of grapes. “This,” I said to myself, “is evidently the tutelary deity of the place, so displayed to receive the worship of the passer-by.” With the discovery a thought of the most irreproachable benevolence possessed me. “Why should not this person,” I reflected, “gain the unstinted approbation of those barbarians” (who by this time completely encircled me in) “by doing obeisance towards their deity, and by the same act delicately and inoffensively rebuke them for their own too-frequent intolerable attitude towards the susceptibilities of others? As an unprejudiced follower, in his own land, of the systems of Confucius, Lao-tse, and Buddha, this person already recognises the claims of seventeen thousand nine hundred and thirty-three deities of various grades, so that the addition of one more to that number can be a heresy of very trivial expiation.” Inspired by these honourable sentiments, therefore, I at once prostrated myself on the ground, and, amid a silence of really illimitable expectation, I began to kow-tow repeatedly with ceremonious precision.

At this display of charitable broadmindedness an approving shout went up on all sides. Thus encouraged I proceeded to kow-tow with even more unceasing assiduousness, and presently words of definite encouragement mingled with the shout. “Do not flag in your amiable disinterestedness, Kong Ho,” I whispered in my ear, “and out of your well-sustained endurance may perchance arise a cordial understanding, and ultimately a remunerative alliance between two distinguished nations.” Filled with this patriotic hope I did not suffer my neck to stiffen, and doubtless I would have continued the undertaking as long as the sympathetic persons who hemmed me in signified their refined approval, when suddenly the cry was raised, “Look out, here comes the coppers!”

This, O my venerable-headed father, I at once guessed to be the announcement heralding the collecting-bowl which some over-zealous bystander was preparing to pass round on my behalf, doubtless under the impression so obtuse in grasping the true relationship of events are many of the barbarians that I was a wandering monk, displaying my reverence for the purpose of mendicancy. Not wishing to profit by this offensive misapprehension, I was preparing to rise, when a hand was unceremoniously laid upon my shoulder, and turning round I saw behind me one of the official watch a class of men so powerful that at a gesture from their uplifted hands even the fiercest untamed horse will not infrequently stand upon its hind legs in mute submission.

“Early morning salutations,” I said pleasantly, though somewhat involved in speech by my exertion (for these persons are ever to be treated with discriminating courtesy). “Prosperity to your house, O energetic street-watcher, and a thousand grandsons to worship their illustrious ancestor.”

“Thanks,” he replied concisely. “I’m a single man. As yet. Now then, will you make a way there? Can you stand?”

“Stand?” repeated this person, at once recognising one of the important words of inner meaning concerning which he had been initiated by the versatile Quang-Tsun. “Certainly this person will not hesitate to establish his footing if the exaction is thought to be desirable. Let us, therefore, bend our steps in the direction of a tea-house of unquestionable propriety.”

“You’ve bent your steps into quite enough tea-houses, as you call them, for one day,” replied the official with evasive meaning, at the same time assisting me to rise (for it need not be denied that the restrained position had made me for the moment incapable of a self-sustaining effort). “Look what you’ve done.”

At the direction of his glance I cast my eyes along the street, east and west, and for the first time I became aware that what I had last seen as a reasonable gathering had now taken the proportions of an innumerable multitude which filled the entire space of the thoroughfare, while others covered the roofs above and protruded themselves from every available window. In our own land the interspersal of umbrellas, musical instruments, and banners, with an occasional firework, would have given a greater animation to the scene; but with this exception I have never taken part in a more impressive and well-extended procession. Even while I looked, the helmets of other official watchers appeared in the distance, as immature junks upon the storm-tossed Whang-Hai, apparently striving fruitlessly to reach us.

As I was by no means sure what attitude was expected of me, I smiled with an all-embracing approval, and signified to the one at my side, by way of passing the time pleasurably together, that the likelihood of his nimble-witted friends reaching us with unruffled garments was remote in the extreme.

“Don’t you let that worry you, Li Hung Chang,” he said, in a tone that had the appearance of being outside itself around a deeper and more bitter significance; “if we get out again with any garments at all it won’t be your fault. Why, you well, you ought to have been put on the Black List long ago, by rights.”

This, exalted one, although I have not yet been able to learn the exact dignity of it from any of the books of civil honours, is undoubtedly a mark of signal attainment, conferred upon the few for distinguishing themselves by some particular capacity; as our Double Dragon, for instance. Anxious to learn something of the privileges of the rank from one who evidently was not without influence in the bestowal, and not unwilling to show him that I was by no means of low-caste descent, I said to the official, “In his own country one of this person’s ancestors wore the Decoration of the Yellow Scabbard, which entitled him to be carried in his chair up to the gate of the Forbidden Palace before descending to touch the ground. Is this Order of the Black List of a like purport?”

“You’re right,” he said, “it is. In this country it entitles you to be carried right inside the door at Bow Street without ever touching the ground. Look out! Now we shall not

At that moment what this person at first assumed to be a floral tribute, until he saw that not only the entire plant, but the earthenware jar also were attached, struck the official upon the helmet, whereupon, drawing a concealed club, he ceased speaking.

How the entertainment was conducted to such a development this person is totally inadequate to express; but in an incredibly short space of time the scene became one of most entrancing variety. From every visible point around the air became filled with commodities which though doubtless without set intention fittingly represented the arts, manufactures, and natural history of this resourceful country, all cast in prolific abundance at the feet of the official and myself, although the greater part inevitably struck our heads and bodies before reaching them. Beyond our immediate circle, as it may be expressed, the crowd never ceased to press forward with resistless activity, and among it could be seen occasionally the official watchmen advancing self-reliantly, though frequently without helmets, and, not less often, the helmets advancing without the official watchmen. To add to the acknowledged interest, every person present was proclaiming his views freely on a diversity of subjects, and above all could be heard the clear notes of the musical instruments by which the officials sought to encourage one another in their extremity, and to deaden the cries of those whom they outclubbed.

Despite this person’s repeated protests that the distinction was too excessive, he was plucked from hand to hand irresistibly among those around, losing a portion of his ill-made attire at each step, so agreeably anxious were all to detain him. Just when the exploit seemed likely to have a disagreeable ending, however, he was thrust heavily against a door which yielded, and at once barring it behind him, he passed across the open space into which it led, along a passage between two walls, and thence through an involved labyrinth and beneath the waters of a canal into a wood of attractive seclusion. Here this person remained, spending the time in a profitable meditation, until the light withdrew and the great sky lantern had ascended. Then he cautiously crept forth, and after some further trivial episodes which chiefly concern the obstinate-headed slave guarding the outer door of a tea-house, an unintelligent maiden in the employment of one vending silk-embroidered raiment, the mercenary controller of a two-wheeled chariot and the sympathetic and opportune arrival of a person seated upon a funeral car, he succeeded in reaching the place of his abode.

With unalterable affection and a material request that an unstinted adequacy of new garments may be sent by a sure and speedy hand.

Kong Ho.