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A Chinaman's Marriage

The Court of Assizes at Paris has lately been occupied with the case of a Chinese gentleman, whose personal charms and literary powers make him worthy to be the compatriot of Ah-Sin, that astute Celestial. Tin-tun- ling is the name--we wish we could say, with Thackeray's F. B., "the highly respectable name"--of the Chinese who has just been acquitted on a charge of bigamy. In China, it is said that the more distinguished a man is the shorter is his title, and the name of a very victorious general is a mere click or gasp. On this principle, the trisyllabic Tin-tun-ling must have been without much honour in his own country. In Paris, however, he has learned Parisian aplomb, and when confronted with his judges and his accusers, his air, we learn, "was very calm." "His smile it was pensive and bland," like the Heathen Chinee's, and his calm confidence was justified by events. It remains to tell the short, though not very simple, tale of Tin-tun-ling. Mr. Ling was born in 1831, in the province of Chan-li. At the interesting age of eighteen, an age at which the intellect awakens and old prejudices lose their grasp, he ceased to burn gilt paper on the tombs of his ancestors; he ceased to revere their august spirits; he gave up the use of the planchette, rejected the teachings of Confucius, and, in short, became a convert to Christianity. This might be considered either as a gratifying testimony to the persuasive powers of Catholic missionaries, or as an example of the wiles of Jesuitism, if we did not know the inner history of Mr. Ling's soul, the abysmal depths of his personality. He has not, like many other modern converts, written a little book, such as "How I ceased to chinchin Joss; or, from Confucius to Christianity," but he has told Madame Judith Mendes all about it. Madame Mendes has made a name in literature, and English readers may have wondered how the daughter of the poet Theophile Gautier came to acquire the knowledge of Chinese which she has shown in her translations from that language. It now appears that she was the pupil of Tin-tun-ling, who, in a moment of expansion, confided to her that he adopted the Catholic faith that he might eat a morsel of bread. He was starving, it seems; he had eaten nothing for eight days, when he threw himself on the charity of the missionaries, and received baptism. Since Winckelmann turned renegade, and became a Roman Catholic merely that the expenses of his tour to Rome and his maintenance there might be paid, there have surely been few more mercenary converts. Tin-tun-ling was not satisfied with being christened into the Church, he was also married in Catholic rites, and here his misfortunes fairly began, and he entered on the path which has led him into difficulty and discredit.

The French, as a nation, are not remarkable for their accuracy in the use of foreign proper names, and we have a difficulty in believing that the name of Mr. Ling's first wife was really Quzia-Tom-Alacer. There is a touch of M. Hugo's famous Tom Jim Jack, the British tar, about this designation. Nevertheless, the facts are that Tin-tun-ling was wedded to Quzia, and had four children by her. After years of domestic life, on which he is said to look back but rarely and with reluctance, he got a position as secretary and shoeblack and tutor in Chinese to a M. Callery, and left the province of Chin-li for Paris. For three months this devoted man sent Quzia-Tom-Alacer small sums of money, and after that his kindness became, as Douglas Jerrold said, unremitting. Quzia heard of her lord no more till she learned that he had forgotten his marriage vow, and was, in fact, Another's. As to how Tin-tun-ling contracted a matrimonial alliance in France, the evidence is a little confusing. It seems certain that after the death of his first employer, Callery, he was in destitution; that M. Theophile Gautier, with his well-known kindness and love of curiosities, took him up, and got him lessons in Chinese, and it seems equally certain that in February, 1872, he married a certain Caroline Julie Liegeois. In the act of marriage, Tin-tun-ling described himself as a baron, which we know that he was not, for in his country he did not rejoice in buttons and other insignia of Chinese nobility. As Caroline Julie Ling (nee Liegeois) denounced her lord for bigamy in 1873, and succeeded, as has been seen, in proving that he was husband of Quzia-Tom-Alacer, it may seem likely that she found out the spurious honours of the pretended title. But whatever may be thought of the deceitful conduct of Ling, there is little doubt apparently that Caroline is really his. He stated in court that by Chinese law a husband who has not heard of his wife for three years may consider that his marriage has legally ceased to be binding. Madame Mendes proved from the volume Ta- Tsilg-Leu-Lee, the penal code of China, that Ling's law was correct. It also came out in court that Quzia-Tom-Alacer had large feet. The jury, on hearing this evidence, very naturally acquitted Tin-tun-ling, whom Madame Mendes embraced, it is said, with the natural fervour of a preserver of innocence. Whether Tin-tun-ling is now a bachelor, or whether he is irrevocably bound to Caroline Julie, is a question that seems to have occurred to no one.

The most mysterious point in this dark business is the question, How did Tin-tun-ling, who always spoke of his first marriage with terror, happen to involve himself in the difficulties of a second? Something more than the common weakness of human nature must have been at work here. Madame Mendes says, like a traitor to her sex, that Tin espoused Caroline Julie from feelings of compassion. He yielded, according to Madame Mendes, "to the entreaties of this woman." The story of M. Gustave Lafargue confirms this ungallant tale. According to M. Lafargue, Tin's bride was a governess, and an English governess, or at least one who taught English. She proposed to marry Tin, who first resisted, and then hesitated. In a matter of this kind, the man who hesitates is lost. The English governess flattered Tin's literary as well as his personal vanity. She proposed to translate the novels which Tin composes in his native tongue, and which he might expect to prove as popular in France as some other fictions of his fatherland have done in times past. So they were married. Tim, though on pleasure bent, had a frugal mind, and after a wedding-breakfast, which lasted all day, he went to a theatre to ask for two free passes. When he came back his bride was gone. He sought her with all the ardour of the bridegroom in the ballad of "The Mistletoe Bough," and with more success. Madame Ling was reading a novel at home. Mr. Carlyle has quoted Tobias Smollett as to the undesirability of giving the historical muse that latitude which is not uncommon in France, and we prefer to leave the tale of Ling's where Mr. Carlyle left that of Brynhild's wedding. {37}

{37} It is a melancholy fact that the Author has quite forgotten what did happen! Thus a narrative, probably diverting, is for ever lost, thanks to the modesty of our free Press.


Andrew Lang