A Shijing fragment

28 February 2012

It is very frustrating when something in the collection defies all attempts to catalogue it, especially when it is probably unique. This morning I dealt rather unsatisfactorily with a Shijing 詩經 fragment, and after quite some work, could only establish the following:

詩經 殘卷六第七~二十葉
明萬曆中(?)書坊刊本
精裝(原線裝)1冊 ; 15 x 15公分
Sinica 122

It is part of the Daya 大雅 section, with some of the banxin 版心 bearing the title Shijing 詩經, some Daya 大雅, and some both: 詩經大雅. The fascicle is square, like the so-called “sleeve” editions (xiuzhenben 袖珍本) that were made to smuggle into examination cells, but seemingly not quite small enough for that purpose. However, faint traces of vermilion punctuation indicate that the book has indeed been used for study.

I suppose it was printed sometime during the Wanli period; it was certainly brought to Europe in the 17th century, and might even be one of the very earliest imports by the Dutch East India Company. An inscription tells of its immediate provenance:

Almae Matri Academiae Oxoniensi Nathaniel Palmer de Fairfeild [sic] in Comitatu Somerset, Armiger, D.D.

Arch.C.33. Liber sinicus.

Nathaniel Palmer was born in Fairfield in Somerset in 1660, and died in 1718. He was educated at Winchester and Trinity College, having matriculated on 22 March 1678 at the age of 17. He was a Member of Parliament.

This chronology makes it possible that the book came to the Library before Shen Fuzong’s visit in 1687, and the leaves are bound in a style characteristic of that time. However, it lacks the inscriptions by Shen Fuzong and Thomas Hyde (Bodley’s Librarian) on all the Chinese books that Shen Fuzong examined, nor is it in the list of these which Hyde compiled and recorded with their shelfmarks at the back of what is now MS Sloane 853 in the British Library. So it must have arrived after 1687.

The main part of the inscription may be in the hand of the donor, but the shelfmark is in the hand of Thomas Hyde (and I’m grateful to Will Poole for confirming this), who left office in 1701 and died in 1703. So we have a 13-year window in which the book came to the Bodleian, and can confidently count it among our remarkable corpus of 17th century Chinese accessions.

It is possible that other parts of this book are elsewhere in Europe, and it would be fortunate indeed if the first or last sections could be found, or at least a juan beginning, so that we could identify the edition properly.

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