A Farewell to Ma Junze of Dongyang
In my adolescence I was fond of reading. My family being poor, I had no access to books, which I had to borrow from bibliophiles, taking whole passages down before I returned them on the appointed date. Although the frigid weather caused the inkstone to be crusted with ice and made my fingers unable to bend or stretch, I could not afford to be slow. Having copied what I needed, I sent the books back to the owner, not daring to delay a single day. Thus many gentlemen were glad to lend me books, and I was fortunate enough to read over piles of them.
After I had come of age, I worshipped all the more the teachings of sages. As I feared lest I should be out of contact with great masters and notables, I had to walk a hundred li in order to seek instructions in the scriptures from an eminent local scholar. Since he possessed good virtues and enjoyed high prestige, his room was filled with pupils, before whom he never relaxed a little his severe countenance. I stood there, waiting upon him patiently. When it was the right moment, I made bold to ask him some questions to solve my puzzles and elucidate the reasons, bowing to him all the time with great attention. Or I might be given a reproval, then I became even more deferential and more submissive, not daring to utter a single word to contradict him. Only when he was good-humoured again, did I continue to ask him. Thus, stupid as I was, I gained eventually some learning.
The day when I first went to school, I, burdened with my suitcase and dragging my feet, trudged into unfrequented mountains and valleys, braving the vehement winter gale and crunching through snow several feet deep, unaware that my legs had become chapped. When I arrived at our inn, my limbs were numbed and stiff, and it was a long time before I was warmed up with the help of a servant, who gave me hot water to drink and tucked me in with a quilt. The innkeeper offered me only two meals a day, without any dainty food. My fellow students lodging in the same inn were all dressed in silk and satin, wearing hats decorated with tassels of precious stones and girded with sashes of white jade hung with swords on the left and sachets on the right, looking as bright as fairies, while I, in striking contrast, was clothed in an outworn padded robe and a shabby dress. Living among them, I was not in the least envious of their foppery. Because I was contented with the happiness of learning and was unconscious of my inferiority to others in terms of physical gratification. Such was my diligence and hardship. Although I am now stricken in years and have few achievements, I am fortunate enough to place myself in the ranks of gentlemen, bask in the grace of the Sovereign, attach myself to the retinue of nobility and wait upon the Emperor in the capacity of counselor. The whole nation also designs to blaze my name. How much more exalted must be people who are more talented than I?
Now you young scholars studying at the Imperial College are granted stipends by the government and provided with fur coats and summer wears by your parents, free of cold and starvation. Now you are living in grand memories, reading books and intoning poems, saved the trouble of shuttling over a long distance. Now you have experts and doctors as your teachers, with no questions unanswered and no requests denied. All indispensable books are collected here at your disposal, and you need not copy them as I did to borrow them from others. If there be young men who are wanting in accomplishments of learning our virtues, it must be either owing to their inferior gifts or to their lack of the same application as I had in my youth. Who but they themselves are to blame?
Ma Junze of Dongyang has studied at the Imperial College for two years and has been highly appreciated by his fellow-students for his good character. As I have been staying in the capital, he has paid me a visit by virtue of his being a junior townsman of mine and presented me with a long epistle which is distinguished by a fluent and lucid style. His discussions and arguments with me also revealed his elegance of speech and gentility of manner. By his own account, in his adolescence he devoted himself to learning with great assiduity, and might be regarded as a good learner. On the occasion of his homecoming, I set forth to him the hardships of learning. To say that I encourage my townsmen to study hard is to help me make clear my sincere wish to them. To slander me that I try to humble them by flaunting my dignified position proves indeed a failure to understand me!