Fair highlight from Kagerou Bunko


`A Grammar of the Chinese Language`
By the Rev. Robert Morrison

Serampore, India: Printed at the Mission-Press, 1815.

First edition. vi, [2], 280 p. 28.3 x 22.5 cm. Presumed original binding, re-backed, some wormholing, a little chipping/wear to extremities, and general faint stains. Repairs to endpaper gutters by ex-owner. Ex-ownership signatures, a little soiling, and a 3.5 cm tear to title. Slight crack to gutter of errata. Occasional interesting marginal notes, mostly in pencil (`Mr. Chang says many mistakes in this`), minor marks and browning to contents, a little chipping to extremities. A clear and bright printing, and one of only 500 copies of the first edition printed in 1815 at the Serampore Mission Press. Printed using fine Chinese and English movable metal type cut by missionary and printer John Lawson. Preface dated April 2, 1811.

A first edition of the first book in English written on Chinese grammar, by Robert Morrison (1782-1834), the first Protestant missionary to China. Morrison, considered largely responsible for introducing Western printing with movable metal type to China, is perhaps best known today for his Chinese translations of the Bible and his comprehensive Chinese dictionary. His lesser-known `Grammar` was written to help Westerners (and more specifically, missionaries) with the basics of Chinese. Published slightly before his dictionary, in 500 copies, it is considered to this day `an important work in the history of missionary activity in China` [Ma, 2015].

Morrison purportedly started work on his `Grammar` in 1807, and completed the manuscript in 1811, sending it off to Joshua Marshman at the Serampore Mission Press in India for printing soon afterwards. After a miscellany of dubious delays and a four year wait on Morrison`s part, it was finally printed in 1815, a year after Marshman had printed his own grammar book (`Elements of Chinese Grammar`) on the same press –making Morrison`s grammar the first written book on Chinese grammar in English, but not the first published.

Whether Marshman copied Morrison`s work or not remains a highly contended issue amongst scholars of missionary history and the Chinese language, many of whom share the view that `it is very hard to believe that Marshman had not consulted Morrison's manuscript during the period of about a year before his book was published` [Su, 1996]. Morrison, justifiably, was furious that after waiting four years for his book to be printed, Marshman, to whom he had sent his manuscript and who ran the press, had decided to publish his own book on the same topic first. In a letter to the directors of the press Morrison complained that Marshman`s text was `a Grammar, compiled chiefly from mine, which [Marshman] kept lying by him in MS. whilst he took the substance of it, dressed it up, with other examples, and a few alterations, and gave it to the world as his own` [Su, 1996]. Nevertheless Morrison`s `Grammar`, covering verbs, nouns, numbers, pronouns, syntax, provincial dialects, etc., was a hit, and was considered by his contemporaries `a valuable work short and comprehensive` [Lowndes, 1834].

US$12,000 / HK$93,870

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