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Modes Of Salutation, And Amicable Ceremonies, Observed In Various Nations
by [?]

In a word, there is not a nation, observes the humorous Montaigne, even to the people who when they salute turn their backs on their friends, but that can be justified in their customs.

The negroes are lovers of ludicrous actions, and hence all their ceremonies seem farcical. The greater part pull the fingers till they crack. Snelgrave gives an odd representation of the embassy which the king of Dahomy sent to him. The ceremonies of salutation consisted in the most ridiculous contortions. When two negro monarchs visit, they embrace in snapping three times the middle finger.

Barbarous nations frequently imprint on their salutations the dispositions of their character. When the inhabitants of Carmena (says Athenaeus) would show a peculiar mark of esteem, they breathed a vein, and presented for the beverage of their friend the flowing blood. The Franks tore the hair from their head, and presented it to the person they saluted. The slave cut his hair, and offered it to his master.

The Chinese are singularly affected in their personal civilities. They even calculate the number of their reverences. These are the most remarkable postures. The men move their hands in an affectionate manner, while they are joined together on the breast, and bow their head a little. If they respect a person, they raise their hands joined, and then lower them to the earth in bending the body. If two persons meet after a long separation, they both fall on their knees and bend the face to the earth, and this ceremony they repeat two or three times. Surely we may differ here with the sentiment of Montaigne, and confess this ceremony to be ridiculous. It arises from their national affectation. They substitute artificial ceremonies for natural actions.

Their expressions mean as little as their ceremonies. If a Chinese is asked how he finds himself in health, he answers, Very well; thanks to your abundant felicity. If they would tell a man that he looks well, they say, Prosperity is painted on your face: or, Your air announces your happiness.

If you render them any service, they say, My thanks shall be immortal. If you praise them, they answer, How shall I dare to persuade myself of what you say of me? If you dine with them, they tell you at parting, We have not treated you with sufficient distinction. The various titles they invent for each other it would be impossible to translate.

It is to be observed that all these answers are prescribed by the Chinese ritual, or Academy of Compliments. There, are determined the number of bows: the expressions to be employed; the genuflexions, and the inclinations which are to be made to the right or left hand; the salutations of the master before the chair where the stranger is to be seated, for he salutes it most profoundly, and wipes the dust away with the skirts of his robe; all these and other things are noticed, even to the silent gestures by which you are entreated to enter the house. The lower class of people are equally nice in these punctilios; and ambassadors pass forty days in practising them before they are enabled to appear at court. A tribunal of ceremonies has been erected; and every day very odd decrees are issued, to which the Chinese most religiously submit.

The marks of honour are frequently arbitrary; to be seated with us is a mark of repose and familiarity; to stand up, that of respect. There are countries, however, in which princes will only be addressed by persons who are seated, and it is considered as a favour to be permitted to stand in their presence. This custom prevails in despotic countries; a despot cannot suffer without disgust the elevated figure of his subjects; he is pleased to bend their bodies with their genius; his presence must lay those who behold him prostrate on the earth; he desires no eagerness, no attention; he would only inspire terror.