John Lord.

Beacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents online

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defence. Toward his friends and relatives he was the embodiment of
watchful care and generosity. His private benefactions were for his
means large, and were given with a whole-hearted generosity which must
have added much to the love and esteem in which the recipients regarded
him. His public benefactions were also notable, and during the later
years of his life he gave away regularly no inconsiderable share of his
income. Though gifted with reasonable prudence, he had no conception of
the "business sense," and no capacity as a money-getter. After acquiring
by his inventions and enterprise a modest competence, he devoted himself
almost entirely to work less directly related to a financial return, and
lived comfortably upon the principal which his earlier efforts
had provided.

Ericsson had absolute faith in himself and in his mission to render
available the energies of nature for the uses of humanity and
civilization. His character was framed about the central idea of
fidelity to this mission. He was dogmatic and optimistic as regards his
own work; he had a contemptuous indifference to the work of others, and
a disregard of the help which he might derive from a closer study of
such work. He trained himself, body, mind, and affections, solely with
reference to his mission, and allowed no interference with it. He was
the embodiment of physical and mental vigor, prodigious industry,
continuity of purpose, indomitable courage, capacity for great
concentration of mind, and oblivion to all distracting surroundings.
With such characteristics, combined with the rare endowment of mental
capacity and insight regarding the principles of engineering science,
small wonder is it that his life was one so rich in results. It could
not have been otherwise, and the results simply came as a consequence
of the combination of the characteristics of the man and the
surroundings in which he was placed.

The question as to how much more or how much better he might have done
had he possessed more faith in the work of others and a willingness to
be guided in some measure by their experience is of course idle.
Ericsson was a combination of certain capacities and characteristics; a
combination of other capacities and characteristics would not have been
Ericsson, and any discussion of such a supposition is therefore aside
from the purpose of this sketch.

John Ericsson lived in a period of rapid engineering development and
change. Old ideals were passing away, and the heritage which the
Nineteenth Century was able to pass on to the Twentieth was in
preparation. In this preparation Ericsson bore a large and most
important part. So long as ships traverse the seas, Ericsson's name will
be remembered for his work in connection with the introduction of the
screw-propeller. So long as the memory of naval warfare endures,
Ericsson's name will be remembered for the part which he bore in the
transition from wood to iron, from unarmored ships to turrets and armor,
from scattered to concentrated energy of gun-fire, and for his general
share in the developments which have led to the ideal of a battleship
prevailing at the opening of the Twentieth century. For these and for
many other achievements he will be remembered, and his life and works
should serve as a constant stimulus to those upon whom the engineering
work of the present age has fallen, to see that with equal fidelity they
live up to the possibilities of their endowments and opportunities, and
serve with like fervency and zeal the needs of the age in which they
are placed.


Contributions to the Centennial Exhibition: Ericsson, John.

The Life of John Ericsson: Church, W.C.

History of the Steam Engine: Thurston, R.H.

Steam Navy of the United States: Bennett, Frank M.

Who invented the Screw Propeller?: Nicol, James.

The Naval and Mail Steamers of the United States: Stuart, Charles B.

A Chronological History of the Origin and Development of Steam
Navigation: Preble, Rear Admiral G.H.

A Treatise on the Screw Propeller, Screw Vessels, and Screw Engine as
adapted for Purposes of Peace and War: Bourne, John.






Five years ago Earl Li was at the head of the "Tsungli Yamen," or
Foreign Office in Peking. The present writer, having known him long and
intimately, called one morning to request a letter of recommendation to
aid in raising money for an International Institute projected by the
Rev. Dr. Reid. "He's got one letter; why does he want another?" asked
Li, in a tone of mingled surprise and irritation. "True," said I, "but
that is from the Tsungli Yamen. Nobody in America knows anything about
the Yamen. What he wants is a personal letter from you; because the only
Chinese name besides Confucius that is known outside of China is Li
Hung Chang."

"I'll give it! I'll give it!" he exclaimed, smiling from ear to ear at the
thought of his world-wide reputation.

This was taking him on his weak side; but it was fact, not flattery.

Over forty years ago Li's rising star first came to view in connection
with operations against the rebels in the vicinity of Shanghai, and from
that day to this, every war, domestic or foreign, has served to raise it
higher and make it shine the brighter. It reached its zenith in 1901,
when after settling terms of peace with several foreign powers he passed
off the stage at the ripe age of fourscore. What better type to set
forth his age and nation than the man who, through a long career of
unexampled activity, won for himself a triple crown of literary,
military, and civil honors? In physique he was a noble specimen of his
race, over six feet in height, and in his earlier years uncommonly
handsome. The first half of his existence was passed in comparative
obscurity at Hofei in Anhui, a region remote from contact with
foreign nations.

It was there his character was formed, on native models; there he
carried off the higher prizes of the literary arena; and there he became
fitted for the role of China's typical statesman.

His career in outline may be stated in a few words. His native province
being overrun by rebels, he passed from the school-room to the camp, and
got his earliest lessons in the military art under the leadership of the
eminent viceroy Tseng Ko Fan. The neighboring province of Kiangsu
falling into the hands of rebel hordes a few years later, he won renown
by recapturing its principal cities, by the aid of such men as the
American Ward and the English Gordon. His success as a general made him
governor of Kiangsu, and his success as governor raised him to the rank
of viceroy, holding for many years a post at one or other of the foci of
foreign trade north or south.

Beyond the borders of China he was twice sent on special embassies, and
once he made the tour of the globe; but his most brilliant achievement
was in twice making peace on honorable terms, when his country was lying
prostrate before a victorious enemy.

It remains to expand this incomparable catalogue; but to make
intelligible that remarkable series of events in which he bore such a
conspicuous part, we must first invite our readers to accompany us in a
historical retrospect in which we shall point out the opening and growth
of foreign intercourse.



Of the nature of that intercourse in its earlier period, there exists a
monument that speaks volumes. That is no other than the Great Wall;
which, hugest of the works of man, stretches along the northern frontier
of China proper for one thousand five hundred miles from the sea to the
desert of Gobi. Erected 255 B.C. it shows that even at that early date
the enemies most dreaded by the Chinese were on the north. Yet how
signally it failed to effect its purpose! For since that epoch the
provinces of Northern China have passed no fewer than seven centuries
under Tartar sway. Two Tartar dynasties have succeeded in subjugating
the whole empire, and they have transmitted beyond the seas a reputation
which quite eclipses the fame of China's ancient sovereigns.

In fact, that which first made China known to the western world was its
conquest by the Mongols in the thirteenth century. Barbarous nomads,
with longing eyes forever directed to the sunny plains of the south,
they also conquered India, bringing under their sceptre the two richest
regions of the globe. Of Genghis and Kubla, it may be asserted that they
realized a more extended dominion than Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon
ever dreamed of. But

"Extended empire, like expanded gold,
Exchanges solid strength for feeble splendor."

Their tenure of China was of short duration, - less than a century. In
India, however, their successors, the great Moguls, continued to
maintain a semblance of sovereignty even down to our own times, when
they were wiped from the blackboard for having taken part in the
Sepoy mutiny.

Liberal beyond precedent, Kubla Khan encouraged the establishment of a
Christian bishopric, in which John de Monte Corvino was the first
representative of the Holy See. He also welcomed those adventurous
Italians, the Polos, and sought to make use of them to open
communication with Europe. Yet we cannot forbear to express a doubt,
whether, aside from the Christian religion, Europe in that age had much
in the way of civilization to impart to China.

Three of the native dynasties, which preceded the Mongol conquest, made
themselves famous by advancing the interests of civilization. The house
of Han (B.C. 202-A.D. 221) restored the sacred books, which the builder
of the Great Wall had destroyed in order to obliterate all traces of
feudalism and make the people submit to a centralized government. Even
down to the present day, the Chinese are proud to describe themselves as
"sons of Han." The house of Tang, A.D. 618-908, is noted above all for
the literary style of its prose-writers and the genius of its poets. In
South China the people are fond of calling themselves "sons of Tang."
The house of Sung, A.D. 970-1127, shows a galaxy of philosophers and
scholars, whose expositions and speculations are accepted as the
standard of orthodoxy. More acute reasoners it would be difficult to
find in any country; and in the line of erudition they have never been

It is reported that in 643 the Emperor Theodosius sent an envoy to
China with presents of rubies and emeralds. Nestorian missionaries also
presented themselves at court. The Emperor received them with respect,
heard them recite the articles of their creed, and ordered a temple to
be erected for them at his capital. This was in the palmy period of the
Tangs, when the frontiers of the Empire had been pushed to the borders
of the Caspian Sea.

If China in part or in whole was sometimes conquered by Tartars, it is
only fair to state that the greatest of the native sovereigns more than
once reduced the extramural Tartars to subjection. Between the two races
there existed an almost unceasing conflict, which had the effect of
civilizing the one and of preventing the other from lapsing
into lethargy.

About B.C. 100, Su Wu, one of China's famous diplomatists, was sent on
an embassy to the Grand Khan of Tartary. An ode, which he addressed to
his wife on the eve of his perilous expedition, speaks alike for the
domestic affections of the Chinese and for their ancient
literary culture.

"Twin trees whose boughs together twine,
Two birds that guard one nest,
We'll soon be far asunder torn
As sunrise from the west.

"Hearts knit in childhood's innocence,
Long bound in Hymen's ties,
One goes to distant battlefields,
One sits at home and sighs.

"Like carrier dove, though seas divide,
I'll seek my lonely mate;
But if afar I find a grave,
You'll mourn my hapless fate.

"To us the future's all unknown;
In memory seek relief.
Come, touch the chords you know so well,
And let them soothe our grief."



In 1388 the Mongols were expelled. The Christian bishopric was swept
away, and left no trace; but a book of the younger Polo, describing the
wealth of China, gave rise to marvellous results. Together with the
magnetic needle, which originated in China, it led to centuries of
effort to open a way by sea to that far-off fairyland. It was from Marco
Polo that Columbus derived his inspiration to seek a short road to the
far East by steering to the West, - finding a new world athwart his
pathway. It was the same needle, if not the same book, that impelled
Vasco da Gama to push his way across the Indian Ocean, after the Cape of
Good Hope had been doubled by Bartholomew Diaz. A century later the same
book led Henry Hudson to search for some inlet or strait that might
open a way to China, when, instead of it, he discovered the port of
New York.

The mariner's compass, which wrought this revolution on the map of the
world, is only one of many discoveries made by the ancient Chinese,
which, unfruitful in their native land, have, after a change of climate,
transformed the face of the globe.

The polarity of the loadstone was observed in China over a thousand
years before the Christian era. One of their emperors, it is said,
provided certain foreign ambassadors with "south-pointing chariots," so
that they might not go astray on their way home. To this day the
magnetic needle in China continues to be called by a name which means
that it points to the south. It heads a long list of contraries in the
notions of the Chinese as compared with our own, such, for example, as
beginning to read at the back of a book; placing the seat of honor on
the left hand; keeping to the left in passing on the street, with many
others, so numerous as to suggest that the same law that placed their
feet opposite to ours must have turned their heads the other way. To the
Chinese the "south-pointing needle" continued to be a mere plaything to
be seen every day in the sedan chair of a mandarin, or in wheeled
vehicles. If employed on the water, it was only used in
coasting voyages.

So with gunpowder, of which the Arabs were transmitters, not inventors.
In other lands it revolutionized the art of war, clothing their people
with irresistible might, while in its native home it remained
undeveloped and served chiefly for fireworks. Have we not seen, even in
this our day, the rank and file of the Chinese army equipped with bows
and arrows? The few who were provided with firearms, for want of
gunlocks, had to set them off by a slow-match of burning tow; and
cannon, meant to guard the mouth of the Peiho, were trained on the
channel and fixed on immovable frames.

The art of printing was known in China five centuries before it made its
way to Europe. The Confucian classics having been engraved on stone to
secure them from being again burned up, as they had been by the builder
of the great wall, the rubbings taken from those stones were printing.
It required nothing but the substitution of wood for stone and of
_relievo_ for _intaglio_ to give that art the form it now has. The
smallest scrap of printed paper in the lining of a tea chest, or wrapped
about a roll of silk, would suffice to suggest the whole art to a mind
like that of Gutenberg. In China it never emerged from the state of wood
engraving. The "Peking Gazette," the oldest newspaper in the world, is
printed on divisible types, but they are of wood, not metal, more than
one attempt to introduce metallic types having proved unsuccessful, for
the want of that happy alloy known as type-metal. It is from us that
they have learned the art of casting type, especially that splendid
achievement, the making of stereotype plates, and, later, electrotype
plates, by the aid of electricity and acid solutions. Chemistry, from
which this beautiful art takes its rise, carries us back to China, for
it was there that alchemy had its birth, as I have elsewhere shown.[4]

[Footnote 4: "The Lore of Cathay." New York: Fleming R. Revell Co., p.

Man's first desire is long life; his second, to be rich. The Taoist
philosophy commenced with the former before the Christian era, but it
was not long in finding its way to the latter. A powerful impulse was
thus given to research in the three departments of science, - chemistry,
botany, and geography. As in the case of gunpowder, the Arabs
transmitted these discoveries to the West, and along with them the
Chinese doctrine as to the twofold objects of alchemic studies, - the
elixir of life and the philosopher's stone.

From this double root sprang the chemistry of the West, which in no mean
sense has fulfilled its promise by prolonging life and enriching
mankind. In all these the West has performed the part of a nursing
mother, but she has brought the nursling back full grown, and prepared
to repay its obligation to its true parent by effective service.

Portuguese merchants made their way to Canton early in the sixteenth
century, but it was not till the latter part of the century that
Catholic missionaries entered on their grand crusade. In 1601 the Jesuit
pioneer Matteo Ricci and his associates, impelled by religion and armed
with science, presented themselves at the court of Peking. The Chinese
had been able to reckon the length of the year with remarkable accuracy
two thousand years before the time of Christ, but their science had made
no headway. The missionaries found their calendar in a state of
confusion, vanquished the native astronomers in fair competition, and
were formally installed as keepers of the Imperial Observatory; and
these missionaries supervised the casting of the bronze instruments
which have since been taken to Berlin.

This honor they retained even after the fall of the native dynasty that
patronized them. When the Manchus effected their conquest in 1644, not
only were the Jesuit missionaries left in charge of the observatory, but
the heir apparent was placed under their instruction. Coming to the
throne in 1662, under the now illustrious title of _Kanghi_, the young
prince showed himself a generous patron as he had previously been a
respectful pupil. He was apparently not averse to the idea of his
people's adopting Christianity as their national religion, and allowed
the missionaries a free hand to plant churches throughout the vast
interior. Rarely if ever has so fine an opportunity offered for making
an easy conquest of a pagan empire. It was lost through the jealousy of
contending societies, and especially through the blunder of an
infallible Pope. The Dominicans denounced the Jesuits for tolerating the
practice of pagan rites, such as the worship of ancestors, and for
employing for God the name of a pagan deity. The name which they then
objected to was Shang-ti, Supreme Ruler, a venerable designation for the
Supreme Power found in the earliest of the Chinese canonical books, and
at this day accepted by a large proportion of Protestant missionaries.

The question as to its fitness was referred to the Emperor, who decided
in favor of the Jesuits. It was then brought before the Papal See,
condemned as idolatrous, and Tien Chu, the Lord of Heaven, adopted in
its stead. That Shang-ti, however pure in origin, had come to be applied
to a whole class of deities was perfectly true, but the name proposed in
its stead was not free from a taint of idolatry, - Tien Chu, Lord of
Heaven, being one of eight divinities, and worshipped along with Ti Chu,
Lord of Earth, Hai Chu, Lord of the Sea, etc.

The manner in which his opinions had been set aside by the Pope had no
doubt a repelling influence on the mind of the Emperor, so that if he
had ever felt inclined to embrace Christianity, he drew back in his
later years. Not only so, but he left behind him a series of Maxims in
which he censures the foreign creed and warns his people against it.
These Maxims were ordered to be read in public by mandarins, and they
continue to be recited and expounded as a sort of religious ritual. Is
it surprising that this lost opportunity was followed by a century and a
half of open persecution? That most of the churches survived, not only
attests the zeal with which the Faith had been propagated, it throws a
pleasing light on the force of the Chinese character. At the dawn of our
new epoch, there were still some half a million converts, - with here and
there a foreign Father hiding in their midst.

In bringing about this change of policy there was indeed another
influence at work. Had not the Emperor of China heard some rumors of
what was going on in the dominion of his cousin, the Great Mogul - how
the French were dispossessing the Portuguese; and how the English later
on succeeded in expelling the French? How could they doubt that a large
community of native Christians would act as an auxiliary to any foreign
invader? A suspicion of this kind had in fact sprung up under the
preceding dynasty. In consequence of it not a single seaport except
Macao was opened to foreign trade; and when foreigners went to Canton,
they were lodged in a suburb and not allowed to penetrate within the
walls of the provincial capital. Such misgivings as to the designs of
foreigners we find strikingly expressed in a book of that period called
"Strange Stories of an Idle Student."

One story is as follows: When Red-Haired Barbarians first appeared on
our coast they were not allowed to come ashore. They begged, however, to
be permitted to spread a carpet on which to dry their goods, and this
being granted, they took the carpet by its corners and stretched it so
that it covered several acres. On this, they debarked in great force
and, drawing their swords, took possession of the surrounding country.



The first great event that woke China from her dream of solitary
grandeur was the war with England, which broke out in 1839 and was
closed three years later by the Treaty of Nanking. It was not, however,
all that was needed to effect that object. It made the giant rub her
eyes and give a reluctant assent to terms imposed by superior force. But
many a rude lesson was still required before she came to perceive her
true position, as on the lower side of an inclined plane. To bring her
to this discovery four more foreign wars were to follow before the end
of the century, culminating in a siege in Peking and massacres
throughout the northern provinces which may be looked on as the fifth
act in a long and bloody tragedy.

In the last three wars Li Hung Chang was a prominent actor. In the
first two he took no part. Yet was it the shock which they gave to the
empire that drove him from a life of literary seclusion to do battle in
a more public arena.

The Opium War of 1839 is not improperly so designated, but nothing is
more erroneous than to infer that it was waged by England for the
purpose of forcing the product of her Indian poppy fields on the markets
of China. Opium was the occasion, not the cause. The cause, if we are to
put it in a single word, was the overbearing arrogance of an Oriental
despotism, which refused to recognize any equal in the family
of nations.

In the Straits settlements and in the seaports of India, Chinese
merchants had been brought under sway of the bewitching narcotic. It
found its way to their southern seaports, and without being recognized
as an article of commerce, the trade expanded with startling rapidity.
The Emperor, Tao Kwang, one of the most humane of rulers, resolved to
take measures for the suppression of the vice. He had come to the throne
in 1820; and there is a story that he was moved to action by the
untimely fate of his eldest son, who had fallen a victim to the
seductive poison.

Commissioner Lin, whom he selected to carry out his prohibitory policy,
was a fit instrument for such a master, equally virtuous in his aims
and equally tyrannical in his mode of proceeding. Arriving at Canton,
his first object was to get possession of the forbidden drug, which was
stored on ships outside the harbor. This he thought to accomplish by
surrounding the whole foreign community by soldiers and threatening them
with death if the opium was not promptly surrendered. While its owners
or their agents hesitated, Captain Elliot, the British Superintendent of
Trade, came up from Macao, and demanded to share the duress of his
nationals. He then called on them to deliver up the drug to him to be
used in the service of the Queen for the ransom of the lives of her
subjects, assuring them that they would be reimbursed from the public

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Online LibraryJohn LordBeacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents → online text (page 14 of 26)