Friday, June 5, 2009

Bret Harte - Wan Lee, The Pagan

As I opened Hop Sing's letter, there fluttered to the ground a square strip of yellow paper covered with hieroglyphics, which, at first glance, I innocently took to be the label from a pack of Chinese fire-crackers. But the same envelope also contained a smaller strip of rice-paper, with two Chinese characters traced in India ink, that I at once knew to be Hop Sing's visiting-card. The whole, as afterwards literally translated, ran as follows:--

"To the stranger the gates of my house are not closed: the rice-jar is on the left, and the sweetmeats on the right, as you enter.
Two sayings of the Master:--
Hospitality is the virtue of the son and the wisdom of the ancestor.
The Superior man is light hearted after the crop-gathering: he makes a festival.
When the stranger is in your melon-patch, observe him not too closely: inattention is often the highest form of civility.
Happiness, Peace, and Prosperity.


Admirable, certainly, as was this morality and proverbial wisdom, and although this last axiom was very characteristic of my friend Hop Sing, who was that most sombre of all humorists, a Chinese philosopher, I must confess, that, even after a very free translation, I was at a loss to make any immediate application of the message. Luckily I discovered a third enclosure in the shape of a little note in English, and Hop Sing's own commercial hand. It ran thus:--

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Book Choice: The Luck Of Roaring Camp And Other Tales: With Condensed Novels, Spanish And American Legends And Earlier Papers (1896)

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