Imágenes de páginas

press, its

types, which he says can be done at one-third of the expense it would cost in China with wooden blocks. The superior beauty of the character is indisputable, and it is said to unite, with cheapness and beauty," that great desideratum in Chinese printing, the facility of correcting the revision to any extent whatever, and even with greater ease than in the Roman character. A set of these metal types, he tells us, will throw off 50,000 copies, whereas a few thousands will efface the characters cut on a wooden block; and he reckons that six thousand of these moveable metal types will supply the place of half a million immoveable ones : and that if ten thousand copies of the Scriptures, including paper and printing, should cost, by using wooden blocks, 15,0001.--the same number, if printed with metal types, would only cost 50001. This discovery will prove of infinite importance to the Chinese, if their pride will only suffer them to adopt it; for we believe there is no nation on earth, not even our own, in which printing is carried to so great an extent as in China. It is indeed the only nation in the Eastern world (except Japan) where the art has been in use. A complete history of the Chinese

progress and its effects, would be a curious document; but this being hopeless, even a brief view of it may not be uninteresting to our readers.

If we believe the Chinese historians and philologists, and they are unanimous on this point, the early records of the empire were kept by means of knotted cords ; and the fact is sufficiently reinarkable, that four or five thousand years subsequent to the romana tic period at which their use is supposed to have ceased, a nation should be discovered, on a different continent and on the opposite side of the globe, who had no other means of registering eventsthan by their quippus, or knotted cords. These cords in China were succeeded by the combinations of straight lines called the Kua of Fo-hi, which no one now is hardy enough to affect to un. derstand. Next appears the minister of Hoang-tee with a set of characters, the idea of which he is said to have taken from the prints of birds' feet, on the sand; then follows a long series of names who improve upon the birds' feet, by hints furnished by the lines on the back of a tortoise, by the roots, branches, and leaves of trees, by the windings of worms, snakes, &c.; all of which may probably be resolved into this simple fact, that the original Chinese characters were rude representations of the objects of sense.

• About the year of the world 2900," says Mr. Morrison, a person named Paou-she formed a work called Luh-shoo, which he taught to his pupils. He is considered the Father of Letters, and his work has been a standard to which all future ages have referred. It is there affirmed that, originally, nine-tenths of the characters were hieroglyphic; but that, being abbreviated for the sake of convenience, or added to, for the sake

of appearance, the true and original form was gradually lost. In proof of characters being at first a representation of the thing signified, a few instances are adduced, as jih, the sun,' now written


yué,' the moon,' now


a horse,' now

A.D H. Mshan, “ a hill, now

22.5 , Dmuh, “ the eye,' now 月

# 70chay, ' a cart $ et mus, - water; now

kur 耳


a boat,' now

or carriage,' now

urh, the ear,


and so of others.' - Introduction, p. 2.

At what period the Chinese made use of pure hieroglyphics, if that ever was the case, does not appear; but the Seal-character, which seems to be the first stage from hieroglyphic to symbolic writing, is said to have been employed down to the reign of Seuenwang, about 800 years before the Christian era. In the time of Confucius, about 300 years later, it is supposed that the characters were much simplified by reducing the number of strokes; but this is collected merely from the circumstance of finding certain characters engraven on bells, tripods, and ancient vases, supposed to be in use at that time; for no trace of any kind of manuscript is even pretended to have been found anterior to the age of Confucius; and it is extremely hypothetical whether any written characters of this celebrated philosopher survived the Christian era.

We need not here repeat the fable of Che-whang-ti burning all the books in the empire, and the singular manner in which the works of Confucius are said to have been recovered, and which the reader will find detailed at some length at pp. 343–4 of our Twenty-second Number. But what are we to think of this legend of the burning and recovering of Chinese books, nearly thirteen centuries before the art of printing was known in that country? May it not have been fabricated by Chinese vanity, as an apology for not being able to support their lofty pretensions to a high antiquity, by any authenticated records ? Some pretend that they owe the preservation of their characters chiefly to the engravings on seals and stones, to inscriptions cut into slips of bamboo, and to the painted and yarnished tablets which adorn their rooms, and the halls of their ancestors ; and that from these a sort of mixed history of conjecture and tradition was compiled. They also state, that under the dynasty of the first Han, and about 150 years before Christ, the study of letters met with great encouragement, and that all the characters and writings of every description were collected together, and formed into a kind of dictionary, of which numerous manuscript copies were made and distributed over the empire. It appears, indeed, that shortly after this period, the priests of Budh and Bramah found their way into China, introduced their writings and their religion, and were so acceptable to the court, that at various times, down to the tenth century, the history of China makes mention of priests being sent into India and Thibet to collect and introduce books.

The first classification and arrangement of characters into the form of a Thesaurus or Dictionary, and the mode of ascertaining their respective sounds and significations, was not, by Kang-hi's account, before the time of the latter Han, about the year 200 of the Christian era. It was this arrangement that first brought this symbolical language into general use, and deprived the learned of the advantage resulting from the use of a sort of cabalistical character not possessed by the vulgar. The written language, imperfect as it was, being now reduced to some certain standard, became intelligible ; it was taught in schools ; the lowest of the people acquired a knowledge of it; and in those days of ignorance, knowledge was the road to preferment: the man who in China could • read like a clerk' obtained something beyond even what the benefit of clergy conferred in England-wealth, power, and consequence in the state.

The Chinese seem not to be quite clear themselves at what particular period the art of printing was invented. Mr. Morrison says it was introduced to the notice of government by a minister of state called Fang-taou, who lived at the commencement of the dynasty Lung, about the middle of the tenth century; that the first essay was the impression on paper from a stone tablet by a press, which left the ground of the paper black, while the shape of the indented characters remained white; and that the type-cutters now adore Fang-taou as their patron deity, in the same way as the learned pay adoration to Confucius. Du Halde, and his servile copyist Grozier, assign no specific date to the invention of printing, but merely say it was practised in China from time immemorial, which is saying nothing. It is not improbable, that the ancient seals of the emperors were used for making impressions, and that they left the ground black: such impressions are very common in all the Chinese books which treat of the ancient characters. There is no doubt, however, that during the tenth century dictiona. ries were compiled and printed without number-some arranged according to the import of the characters, some by the final sounds, and others reduced to the system which now universally prevails of arranging them under the tse-poo, master or governing characters, or as Europeans sometimes call them, though perhaps not very correctly, elementary characters, or keys, or radicals. Originally these characters appear to have had the name of shoo-moo, the eyes of the book," which, considered as mere indices, is no bad name. The combination of these 214 keys gave rise to an infinite number of new characters, which are, in fact, like the combinations of our alphabet, inexhaustible. There is reason to believe, however, that instead of the number actually in use amounting, as stated by some of the Jesuits, to 80,000, the largest collection ever made is that in the Grand Dictionary,' amounting to 60,000; but the number in Kang-hi's Dictionary amounts to little more than half of that which is stated by the missionaries. Mr. Morrison says it is about 40,000; but Doctor Marshman, after 'repeatedly examining every page,' states it to be as under: Characters in the body of the work

31,214 Added by the compilers, principally obsolete, 6,423 New characters not before classed

1,653 Characters without names of meaning


[ocr errors]




Total 43,496 and he adds, that the real significant characters of the language cannot be estimated at more than thirty thousand. By the indefatigable labour of this respectable missionary, we obtain another curious fact,—that all the works of Confucius, which


be sidered to comprise all that was known at the renewal of literature under the Han, as above-mentioned, contain scarcely three thousand different characters.

The rapid multiplication of characters, and a more clear and comprehensive arrangement of them in the dictionaries, could not fail to enlarge the stock of books, the printing of which does not in the worst of times seem to have met with any direct discouragement from the government. The power of the press could not, however, long remain unfelt, nor the liberty of printing be left without some fixed regulations established by law. It is remarkable enough that in one of the most arbitrary governments that we are acquainted with, it should be tolerated at all. Mr. Morrison, in his introduction, quotes the following curious passage from a Chinese author.

• When letters were invented, the heavens, the earth, and the Gods, were all agitated. The inhabitants of Hades wept at night, and the heavens, as an expression of joy, rained down ripe grain. From the invention of letters the machinations of the human heart began to operate ; stories false and erroneous daily increased ; litigations and imprisonments sprung; hence also spacious and artful language, which causes so much confusion in the world. It was on these accounts the shades of the departed wept at night. But from this invention of letters polite intercourse and music proceeded; reason and justice were made manifest; the relations of social life were illustrated; and laws became fixed. Governors bad a rule to refer to; scholars had authorities to venerate ; and hence the heavens, delighted, rained down ripe grain. The classical scholar, the historian, the mathematician, the astronomer, none of them can do without letters: were there not letters to afford proof of passing events the shades might weep at noon day, and the heavens rain down blood.'

The mixture of good and evil to which the 'invention of letters' has given rise, has left a balance, in the opinion of the Chinese, preponderating in favour of the former. Their press, like our own, is free and unfettered as to any previous license or restrictions; and the laws by which it is regulated are rather remedial than preventive; but wo be to him who transgresses those laws, and who is convicted of having offended them! 'Nice and minute as the distinctions are in the Chinese code, between the degrees of crime and the corresponding scale of punishment, the laws regarding the press are still vague and undefined. The Leu-lee says,

• Whoever is guilty of editing wicked and corrupt books, with the view of misleading the people ; and whoever attempts to excite sedition by letters or hand-bills, shall suffer death by being beheaded; the principals shall be executed immediately after conviction, but the accessaries shall be reserved for execution at the usual season ;' and 'all persons who are convicted of printing, distributing, or singing in the streets, such disorderly and seditious compositions, shall be punishable as accessaries.'

These laws regarding the press are not a dead letter: numerous instances of their application are on record, and made public by an authority not to be questioned. In

In the year 1777 there appeared in the Pekin Gazette the trial and condemnation of an author charged with the crime of high treason; a man of letters, says Père Amiot, who lived a retired life in Kiang-si; loin des emplois et de la cour, il s'amusoit à penser et à écrire. On information being laid against him, his books were all seized, and, with himself, carried up to the capital, where he was tried by a court composed of the princes of the blood, the ministers, and mandarins of the first rank. The indictment contained four counts. 1. That he had published an abridgment of the Great Dictionary of Kang-hi, (the very book Mr. Morrison is translating,) in which he had the effrontery to contradict certain passages of this respectable and authentic book. 2. That in the preface of this abridgment

« AnteriorContinuar »