James Legge, Missionary and Scholar
Chapter XIV. Later Years in England
Before Dr Legge left China he
wrote to a friend 'If I am spared to return to England in 1873, it
will be with the thought that I have done my work in my day and generation.
Not that I will surrender myself to idleness, but whatever I do need only be
done on the impulse of my own will.
He little foresaw an Oxford
Professorship and his work in regard to the Sacred Books of the East.
From Dollar in Scotland,
where he lived for a year with his family after his return from China, he
moved to London, and in 1875 received the distinction of being the first
recipient of the Julien Prize. Stanislas Julien, who filled the Chair of
Chinese at the University in Paris, instituted, shortly before his death, an
annual prize of 1500 francs to be awarded to him who should have published
the most valuable work on Chinese literature. The first award was adjudged
by the 'Acadiene des Inscriptions et des Belles Lettres' to Dr Legge for his
Chinese Classics. In commenting on this the Pall Mall Gazette observed—
'While our interests in the East, and more particularly in China, exceed in
value those of all other European states put together, we have done less for
the cultivation of Oriental languages and literature than either France or
Germany. It is scarcely intelligible even, from a commercial point of view,
that with a Chinese trade of over forty millions sterling, we have done
little or nothing in this direction. Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and St
Petersburg have all professorships and schools for the study of Chinese, but
neither of our great Universities has ever given any encouragement to
Chinese scholars. We are glad to learn that at last efforts are being made
to remove this national reproach by the institution of a Professorship of
Chinese in the University of Oxford. It is proposed that the first
nomination to the Chair should be conferred on Dr Legge.'
As far as can be ascertained,
it seems probable that the idea of the Chinese Chair arose in 1875, in the
first place on the suggestion of a Chinese gentleman to Mr Alfred Howell, a
friend of Dr Legge's. Mr Howell wrote, several years later: 'It was one of
the greatest privileges of my life to be a small cog-wheel to set that
unique piece of machinery at work.' Another friend, Mr J. B. Taylor, entered
with enthusiasm into the scheme, and laboured hard for its promotion. Some
China merchants thereupon formed a Committee, its object being to found a
Chinese Professorship at the University of Oxford. The Chairman was Sir
Rutherford Alcock, K.C.B., late Envoy Extraordinary and Minister
Plenipotentiary in China, and the Committee included Sir John Davies, Bart,
K.C.B., late Governor of Hong Kong and Chief Superintendent of Trade in
China, Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Shadwell, K.C.B., W. T. Mercer, Esq., late
Colonial Secretary and Acting Governor, Hong Kong, Charles Winchester, Esq.,
late H.M. Consul, China, and Charge d'Affaires in Japan, the Venerable
Archdeacon Gray, and several influential merchants. Mr Howell and Mr Taylor
acted as secretaries, and spared themselves neither time nor trouble.
The Committee raised a sum of
£3000 by public subscription towards the endowment of the Chair; the
University responded liberally to the proposal; Corpus Christi College in
especial was forward in aiding the constitution of the Chair, and appointed
Dr Legge a Fellow. The first nomination was vested in the Committee, which
unanimously proposed Dr Legge, and thus in 1876 Dr Legge settled in Oxford
as Professor of Chinese, which position he held until his death in 1897. In
his Inaugural Lecture, which was delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre on
October 27, 1876, he gave reasons for the institution of the Chair, 'reasons
springing from our relations with China, political, religious and
commercial, and reasons springing from the functions of a University in the
pursuit of truth and the work of education.'
Henceforth, with the
exception of two tours in Scotland, in addition to a visit, in 1884, to the
tercentenary celebrations of the University of Edinburgh, when the degree of
LL.D. was conferred upon him, and two journeys on the Continent, once to
attend the Oriental Congress in 1878 at Florence, and again in 1881, when he
visited Bonn and Homburg and went up the Rhine, he worked at home at Oxford,
save for short visits to friends in London and other places; for these last
twenty-one years of his life were years of work. One habit he maintained
almost to his death, a habit which was the cause of no little astonishment
among his friends. He habitually rose about 3 a.m., and worked at his desk
for five hours, while the rest of the household slept. Soon after his
arrival, the lighted study attracted the night-policeman to the house,
'fearful lest, at so suspicious an hour, mischief in some dishonest form or
other was afoot' A letter, dated 3 A.M., January 2, 1878, has been
'My dear Nephew,
'A happy new year to you.
Here I am at this early hour, while all the rest of the house are, I hope,
locked in the arms of sleep. Not a sound is heard but when the hammers of St
Giles clock, near at hand, or the boom of 4 great Tom,' farther off, sends
to my ears through the still air a note of the passing of time. Yet, again,
my little girl's pet canary has been roused on his perch, and seeing the
gas-light, and myself at the table, fancies it is day, and twitters a few
notes, soon settling back to sleep. Ah, Confucius, thou wast the most "timeous"
of sages, and I am the most a untimeous 'of ordinary mortals.'
He wrote to a friend: 'Next
to Hong Kong, Oxford is the most delightful place in the world.'
After five happy years in
Oxford, during which he and Mrs Legge had greatly enjoyed the charm of the
place and its society, a lasting sorrow befel him in her removal by death.
Of the depth and tenderness of his affection for her it is not possible to
speak fully. It breathes in every letter—and they are many— which remain of
those he wrote to her. After her death he gathered her children round him to
read a letter from a friend who wrote of the 'beautiful and gentle soul' of
her who had been 'the perfection of Christian womanhood.'
He now worked harder than
ever. He had already published two small volumes, Life and Teachings of
Confucius and Life and Works of Mencius. These were, as stated by himself,
reproductions for general readers of his first two volumes of the Classics.
They contained brief explanatory notes and much of the Prolegomena, but
omitted the Chinese text and the critical matter, which was interesting and
useful only to serious students of Chinese. He had also, in 1875, produced
the She King or, The Book of Ancient Chinese Poetry, translated into English
verse. In this he was ably helped by his two nephews, the Rev. John Legge in
Australia and the Rev. James Legge. The merit of this metrical version lies
in the fact that they are 'the Chinese poems themselves in English dress,
not English poems paraphrased from them.' Therefore he largely sacrificed
beauty of diction to faithfulness of rendering. As a whole he doubted
whether the collection had been worth the trouble of versifying; some of the
poems, however, were certainly worth it. In illustration one may be quoted
(Part II., Book I., Ode VI.), an ode in praise and honour of the King. The
rendering is by John Legge.
Heaven shields and sets thee
And round thee fair has cast
Thy virtue pure.
Thus richest joy is thine;—
Increase of corn and wine,
And every gift divine,
Heaven shields and sets thee
From it thou goodness hast
Right are thy ways.
Its choicest gifts 'twill pour
That last for evermore,
Nor time exhaust the store
Through endless days.
Heaven shields and sets thee
Makes thine endeavour last,
And prosper well,
Like hills and mountains high,
Whose masses touch the sky;
Like stream aye surging by;
Thine increase swell.
With rite and auspice fair,
Thine offerings thou dost bear,
And son-like give,
The seasons round from spring,
To olden duke and king,
Whose words to thee we bring:—
'For ever live.'
The Spirits of thy dead
Pour blessings on thy head,
Thy subjects, simple, good,
Enjoy their drink and food,
Our tribes of every blood
Follow thy feet
Like moons that wax in light;
Or suns that scale the height;
Or ageless hill;
Nor change nor autumn know;
As pine and cypress grow;
The sons that from thee flow
Be lasting still.
Another poem (Part I., Book
VII., Ode VIII.) giving a pleasant incident of domestic life, and rendered
into Scotch by the same nephew, greatly pleased Dr Legge. He says: 'Nothing
could be better than the first two verses, which also are true to the
original. The third is, perhaps, better of its kind, but that kind is of
Scotland rather than of China.
It is so good, however, that
I have made no attempt to recast it.'
In 1880 he delivered in the
Presbyterian College, Guilford Street, London, four lectures on Confucianism
and Taoism. These were published by Hodder and Stoughton, in a volume
entitled The Religions of China. One review on this book ends with the
sentence: ' The work is by far the most simple and easily comprehended
exposition of this difficult subject that exists, and is remarkable for its
freedom from a polemic bias, and for the easy confident touch of a man whose
mind is saturated with his subject and at home in every branch of it.'
Before he came to Oxford a
correspondence had begun between himself and Professor Max Miiller relative
to the series of the Sacred Books of the East.
Professor Max Miiller wrote
to him in 1875, '1 have long wished for an opportunity of being introduced
to you and being able to tell you how much I admire your magnificent edition
of the Chinese Classics. I knew when I heard my old friend Stanislas Julien
speak of your work in the highest terms that it must indeed be of the
highest order to extort such praise from a man not very lavish of praise.
All I can say for myself is that I wish we had such translations as yours,
of the other sacred writings of the world. I am trying very hard to get a
number of scholars together for a translation of these works, but the task
is no easy one.' In 1876 Professor Max Miiller wrote again:—'As a rule we
intend to give translations of complete works only—not extracts. We must
have what is tedious and bad as well as what is interesting and good,
otherwise we shall be accused of misrepresenting the real character of the
sacred books; I mean, of representing them in too favourable a light. I
should like to have one volume from you for the first instalment of three
volumes, to be published towards the end of 1877, and I should like to know
how much more we may expect from you for the following years.'
Dr Legge accordingly
contributed six volumes to the great series edited by Professor Max Miiller;
the first, entitled The Shoo King, the Religious Portions of the She King,
and the Hsiao King; or, Classic of Filial Piety, appearing in 1879. In 1882
the Yi King; or, Book of Changes, was published in one volume, and in 1885
the Li Ki\ or, Book of Rites, in two volumes.
In his preface to the Li Ki,
he writes:—'I may be permitted to express my satisfaction that with the two
volumes of the Li Ki I have done, so far as translation is concerned, all
and more than all which I undertook to do on the Chinese Classics more than
25 years ago. When the first volume was published in 1861, my friend the
late Stanislas Julien wrote to me, asking if I had duly considered the
voluminousness of the Li Ki, and expressing his doubts whether I should be
able to complete my undertaking. Having begun the task, however, I have
pursued it to the end.'
After the death of Professor
Legge in 1897, a paragraph appeared in the Outlook which ran as
follows:—'The writer well remembers an impressive moment in the year 1884 in
the study of Professor Legge. He had just been shown into the Professor's
presence, when the venerable man looked up and said:—"You have come to me at
the very moment at which my life has culminated. I have just finished
correcting the proofs of my translation of the Sacred Books of China, on
which I have been engaged for 25 years."
The article in the China
Review on these two volumes of the Li Ki began thus:—'The completion of the
translation of the Chinese Classics—The Four Books and the Five Ching—commenced
nearly thirty years ago by Dr Legge, marks an epoch in the history of
Sinology,' and the work is pronounced to be from first to last right nobly
done.' It marks his thoroughgoing fidelity as a translator,' and continues
'This does not mean that as a rule he has translated verbatim. Sometimes he
may have done so in defiance of English idiom. But more frequently,
especially in the later volumes, he has expanded a single Chinese word into
a whole line of English, thus giving the resultant of endless Chinese
speculations on Classic enigmas. If, hereafter, sceptical critics should
seek to go behind Dr Legge, they will find that they must go for the most
part behind the best Chinese commentators as well. We have therefore
represented to us in these translations what their Classics have been to the
Chinese themselves. He had finished therefore, just before the age of
seventy, the task he had laid on himself of making known the system of
Confucianism to Western nations. But far from feeling his energy abated he
now set himself to do something towards exhibiting the system of Taoism. In
1891 he contributed two more volumes to the series, containing the Too Teh
King by the Taoist philosopher Lao-tsze, of the sixth century b.c., The
Writings of Chwang-tsze and the Treatise of Actions and their Retributions.
A testimony to his faithful fulfilment of compact has been rendered by Mrs
Max Miiller, who also wrote to his children after his death: 'I well
remember when the Sacred Books of the East were coming out, and many
translators were troublesome and dilatory, that my husband often said, "Dr
Legge is always ready—he keeps exactly to the time he said." And I know how
accurate and excellent the work was considered.'
In 1886 he published a
translation of the Travels of Fa-hien or Fa-hien's Record of Buddhistic
Kingdoms, which was noticed as follows in the Indian Antiquary. 'The visits
to India, paid in the early centuries of the Christian era by eager Chinese
pilgrims are most interesting historical events. They stand out to great
advantage from the mass of myths and legends which do duty as Hindu history.
The spirit which drove these restless monks, the Luthers of an earlier
Reformation, to seek truth at the cradle of their faith, preserved the
records they left behind them from taint of fable and exaggeration; and the
result is in many respects a trustworthy tale. Nor are those elements
wanting which might move us to deeper feeling than a mere passing interest.
When we consider what a journey from China to India by way of Central Asia
means even in these days, we may well be moved to admiration by the
devotion, the zeal and the fortitude which must have inspired a humble
traveller to venture on such a journey fourteen centuries ago. It is true
that Fa-Hien took his time over it. After his start from China in 399 or 400
A.D., fifteen years passed away before he rested again in Nanking, having
pierced Central Asia, crossed India from Peshawar to the mouth of the
Ganges, visited Ceylon and returned home by way of Java. His diary deals
entirely with the religious state of the countries he visited. He saw or
noted nothing but the special objects of his journey, which were the state
of the Buddhist faith, the most approved views of Buddha's doctrine, and the
degree of piety with which its services were performed. The illustrations
are of great merit. They are taken from what Dr Legge enthusiastically calls
a superb Chinese edition of the Life of Buddha. The frontispiece might also
be the work of some Mongol Fra Angelico. The book is enriched with such
ample notes that it must almost entirely supersede previous translations and
expositions of the same work.
Besides these, books,
pamphlets, papers, reviews and lectures poured from his pen ; the following
list comprising some of them :—
1. The Nestorian Monument of
Hsi-an Fu relating to the diffusion of Christianity in China in the seventh
and eighth centuries.
2. Nature and History of the
Chinese written characters.
3. Confucius, the Sage of
4. Mencius, the Philosopher
5. Romances and Novels in the
Literature of China with the history of the great Archer Yang Yu-chi.
(Published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Oct. 1893).
6. A Letter to Professor Max
Muller on the Chinese Terms Ti and Shang-Ti, 1880.
7. A Fair and Dispassionate
Discussion of the Three Doctrines accepted in China, from a Buddhist Writer,
8. Chinese Chronology.
9. The Li Sao Poem and its
Author. (Published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1895.)
10. Imperial Confucianism.
11. Feudal China. (Three
12. The T&o Teh King. (Two
13. Taoism: Chwang-zse and
his Illustrative Narrative.
14. The Story of Pai-Li-Hsi.
15. Hwa Yuan of Sung, and how
he raised the siege of Sui-yang.
16. Chinese Poetry.
17. The Brothers of Wei.
18. The Pan Family of our
19. What and where was
Fu-Sang? Was it in America?
20. The Purgatories of
Buddhism and Taoism.
21. Ancient Chinese
Civilisation as indicated by the Characters.
22. Christianity and
Confucianism compared in their teaching of the whole Duty of Man. (R. T. S.)
Reference has been made to
his nephew John Legge, who died in 1878 in Australia, where his health had
obliged him to settle several years before. He was a scholar, a man of rare
mental endowment, and a warm correspondence was ever maintained between him
and his uncle. In his letters are many allusions to Dr Legge's literary
work. 'What a terra incognita of human thought you have laid open in that
old eastern lore. You have made an amazing contribution to human chronology
and history. It is as if one had discovered and translated Livy for the
first time. But woe is me. The Chinese mind is to me a mystery, as much as
the Rabbinic. In the first place the record is so meagre and monosyllabic
and the commentary so fanciful, it beats the Cabalists.
''I had a regular harvest day
in your last four volumes. Your toil and patience and thoroughness put you
rather with Erasmus than with common Classical scholars, only the knowledge
you unfold has not the vital connection with European life his had.
'What a nomad you have been
for a literary man. How you have accomplished so much I often wonder,
considering the extent of your travels, You must have habits of method and
concentration of mind such as I am yet a stranger to.
'In the Analects you said
Confucius believed in a future state of being, but left Penalty and Reward
untouched. In that case the so common origin of the notion of
immortality—the adjustment of unjust lots here—could not have biassed him to
the belief. On what did he base his conjecture? I do not know that you are
aware how widely and honourably your name is spoken of. Many a time have I
shone aliend luce when I was known to be your nephew. Many a time the long
perseverance of your life has manned me for exertion from which I should
otherwise have recoiled.
'When you last wrote you were
just issuing Vol. V. from the Press. What a Hercules you are, and when will
the 12th labour end? It will be a work for posterity, and in the inevitable
opening up of China must set you alongside the Sanscrit scholars in Oriental
literature. These last books of Chow impressed me more than any with the
fundamental identity of human thought in all time, both in the inception of
philosophical speculation and in its highest reaches. Nature seems always to
touch fatalism, and consciousness to insist on freedom.
'May you be supported in your
magnum opus, for it is a mighty undertaking. It is the wonder of all who
look at my bookshelves.'
It is hardly possible to give
a true idea of the numberless letters which reached Professor Legge
containing questions on points of Chinese literature, Chinese history,
Chinese biography, Chinese astronomy; innumerable requests to translate
Chinese documents and inscriptions on seals, tablets, bowls, fans, etc., and
manuscripts to read and criticise. His kindness of heart and courtesy were
such that the fulness of his replies often called forth astonished protests
of gratitude. A selection of them would amaze a reader, so full are they of
detailed and varied knowledge of things Chinese. One or two may be here
In answer to a request to
translate the characters inscribed on an ancient Chinese Knife-coin, he
wrote: 'The coin is one of the knife-coins—or at least made after their
pattern—issued by the usurper called Wang; Wang and Hsin Mang of the first
Han dynasty. He held the throne from 9 to 22 A.D. His mint was very busy in
14 and your specimen was made perhaps in that year. All his coins of the
knife form were called Ch'i Tao, "Bond Knives," The inscription of yours is
"One Knife," and on the blade "Worth or good for 5000"—I suppose 5000 of the
small cash which were then the common currency.'
The facsimile letter will
give some idea of this kindness of heart. A cousin had written to Dr Legge
asking for a friend some information in regard to a special kind of tea, and
the reply was given at once. This cousin writes: 'The rapidity with which Dr
Legge wrote the intricate and elaborate Chinese characters was to me
amazing, as I watched him on one occasion.
Another letter exhibits well
the affectionate disposition of the Professor, while suffering himself
taking such keen interest in others, and all the time resting with such
assurance in the Divine love. The introduction of the Chinese characters
shows the habit of mind thinking in a foreign language.
'Oxford, May 10, 1886.
*My dear Cousin,
'Thank you for your letter of
the 8th current I am sorry to hear that Aunt Hannah is so feeble.
The strong are often struck
down in the midst of the race, and the weak hold out and on, and disappear
at last by a very gradual decay. So it would seem to be with her.
"So fades a summer cloud away;
So sinks the gale when storms are o'er;
So gently shuts the eye of day ;
So dies a wave along the shore."
'I continue myself very
helpless here. On Wednesday it will be four weeks since I was obliged to
take to bed, and still I cannot move a step without help, and considerable
pain. I am suffering from a most painful and persistent attack of gout, and
am almost ready to despair that I shall ever have the use of my "lower
limbs," as the Chinese call them, as I have been used to have. Otherwise my
health is fairly good. I do not complain at all. The material frame must
"Strange that a harp of
Should keep in tune so long!"
'I hope your anniversaries in
London will all be satisfactory.
The following question was
sent to him: II have had the following communication made to me, viz., that
there are more printed books in China than in all England, and that there is
a Chinese national encyclopaedia, of which a digest in 1000 volumes has been
purchased by our Government for £1800. Will you do me the favour if you
should have, which I daresay is seldom the case, a spare five minutes, to
inform me whether the statement would receive your sanction?'
Professor Legge's reply was
'The printed books in China,
if we reckon them by copies, are much more numerous than the printed books
in England. If we reckon them by their subjects and authors, they are not
nearly so many. As a member of the Chinese Embassy said to me, about four
years ago: "For variety of subjects and scientific treatment, Chinese
literature is not fit to be spoken of in the same day as yours," adding,
however, "But our education is better fitted to make men good and the nation
happy than yours."
'The encyclopaedia to which
you refer is a compendium of literature, ancient and modern, with
illustrative plates, drawn up under Imperial Command. It was ordered in the
Khang-hi period (1462-1722), and after engaging the labours of a large
committee of native scholars, was published in 1726. Only about 100 sets, it
is said, were printed. A complete copy was offered to Europeans some sixteen
years ago for about £4000. In 1873 a bookseller in Peking offered an
apparently good copy to myself for less than £1000, which was far more than
I could afford. In 1877 a copy was purchased for the British Museum at a
large price—how much I have never exactly ascertained. Perhaps the 1800
which you mention is the correct figure. The whole collection contains
11,000 chapters, in which most of the subjects that have occupied Chinese
thought all along the course of time are fully exhibited; and yet Chinese
history, is a most voluminous department of the ture, does not enter into
its plan, the following fact will help you to realise the key of the copies
of works on the different |ots in the "Schools," or Competitive Examina-that
are required to meet the necessities of [nts in China. The Rev. Dr Muirhead
of |ghai told me that in 1882 he was in Nanking triennal examination for the
second literary be, corresponding, we may say, to our M.A. (competitors
numbered 35,000, all of whom, of them, had taken their B.A.; and out of this
great multitude only 120 were gazetted as successful. And this was in one
province alone; one of the largest indeed. But in the Empire at large the
students must form a class of many millions who have taken their first
degree, and keep on struggling for their second ; after which they have to
go forward to the third and fourth before they reach the summit of their
ambition. The number of copies of the standard works requisite to supply
their wants is immense. Outside them there are the many more millions of men
in business and other positions who must have some tincture of education
without going further into the subject of Chinese literature.
'Let me conclude this hasty
reply to your letter by saying that the books in China, as I have already
said, are on much fewer subjects than the books in England or in Europe
generally; but that the copies in circulation are more numerous.
Missionaries are doing not a little to provide a better and truer religious
literature for the people. The Government itself is encouraging the
production of treatises and manuals of science and its applications. There
is no mission field that demands so many of the best men in the Christian
Church—the strongest in mind and body, of the most varied gifts and most
versatile ability, as China.
Other Chinese scholars wrote
to him frequently. He had several interesting and erudite letters from G.
Schlegel in Leiden, one quite a large pamphlet in length, full of argument
and discussion of various passages and renderings in the Chinese Classics.
With Professor Georg von der
Gabelentz of Leipzig he had an extremely interesting literary
correspondence, full of questions, opinions and quotations from the Chinese
Classics, and other books in both English and Chinese, and long discussions
on Chinese literary points.
C. de Harlez in Belgium wrote
him various letters in one of which he compares his own translation of the
Yi King with that of Professor Legge. 'You will find that in my translation
of the Yi King I have done justice to your merits and acknowledged that your
translation is a faithful mirror of the Yi in its present state, and that my
text represents a quite different state of the book. So that the two
translations are perfectly conciliable.'
From Max Uhle in Saxony he
received the following :—
'Most Honourable Sir,
'Celebrated scholars are
celebrated by great scholars, and do not want the signs of devotion from
unknown men. But sometimes they are kind enough not to refuse the approach
of beginners. I am a young scholar, Sinologist, and beg you as a peculiar
favour, to allow me to dedicate my first work to the master of all Chinese
knowledge. My researches could only be founded on your works on the Shoo
King and She King. As you, honourable Sir, are the highest authority and
best judge of all that concerns the Chinese antiquity, I venture to lay
before you the results I think I have found. I should feel greatly honoured
if you, Sir, the incomparable interpreter of the Shoo King and the She King
would accept my first work.'
From C. Merz he received a
similar request. '1 am about to publish a little treatise entitled de
pronominum primes persona in Su-King et Si-King usuy and should be very
happy if you, Reverend Sir, would allow me to dedicate you this, my first
publication, in order that I might express, by this feeble token, the
feelings of deep respect and gratitude I must entertain for the celebrated
editor of the Chinese Classics, without whose aid I could by no possibility
have thought of composing my humble treatise.'
Professor Legge took ardent
interest in the students who came to him to learn Chinese. These were not
many, comparatively speaking, as Chinese was an 'outside subject.' It was a
strong wish of his that young men about to be sent out by the Colonial
Office for the service of the Government in China, Burmah, and the Straits
Settlements, should spend a year or two in Oxford studying the Chinese
language, spoken as well as written. He wrote letters to various Secretaries
of State on the matter in 1877 and 1887, but it was not till some years
later that his wish was granted and a scheme arranged and put into effect
Facilities for the study of Chinese were offered to those candidates for the
Indian Civil Service who had been appointed to Burmah, and who should spend
a year of probation at one of the Universities before going out to India. He
had many appreciativ letters from his pupils speaking of his 'unvarying
kindness' and the 'honour and privilege of being taught by him.' One wrote
:—'I am devoutly thankful for the three years spent with you, and trust I
may be able by continued study in some degree to repay the debt I owe you,
and eventually become a scholar of whom you need not be ashamed.'
A friend writes:—'A year or
two before Dr Legge died, Mr R. T. Turley, the Bible Society's Agent ii
Manchuria, called on me knowing that I was acquainted with the Professor. He
mentioned that he was about to take a six months' course at Oxford with Dr
Legge as he desired to become more acquainted with the Chinese Classics, and
go from their translator and annotator that light which only he could give.
'The six months ended, Mr
Turley came in to take leave of me. In the course of our talk he said, I go
back to my work another man in consequence of the time spent at Oxford. I
thought I knew something of Chinese literature and Chinese character, but
not I feel as if I had a new world opened up to me, and am the gainer
immeasurably. I hope I shall do better work for China than has hitherto been
possible to me.
One promising pupil died soon
after going out to the East, and his father wrote to Professor Legge 'He
greatly loved you: allow me to thank you from my heart for all your kindness
In two convictions Dr Legge
never wavered—in his hatred of the Opium Traffic, and in his belief in
On the Opium Question he felt
strongly. and deplored as a national crime the production of the drug for
the Chinese market by the Indian Government, and its import into China: the
evil being greatly envenomed by the constantly increasing cultivation of the
poppy in China itself. He never heard nor read but with sorrowful
indignation any ex parte statement of the case of the Government of India to
vindicate its opium revenue. His own words are: 'I lived and went about
among the Chinese for fully thirty years. I heard the testimony about it of
thousands in all positions of society. I knew multitudes ruined by
indulgence in the vice, in character, circumstances, and health. I saw the
misery caused in families as younger members of them were led away into the
habit of smoking. I knew cases of suicide arising from it. I have been a
member of the Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade from its
beginning. It is not pleasant to be called a "sentimentalist," a "fanatic,"
or a "goose," but to the man who longs for right, such calling of names is,
to use an expression of Confucius, as " a floating cloud."
The venerable Pastor G. Appia
of Paris thus writes to Mr Benjamin Broomhall, who was editing National
Righteousness, and who was Secretary of the Christian Union against the
'Never shall I forget the
meeting, assembled in London in 1878, where he pleaded, with a passion which
nothing could restrain, the abolition of the sale of opium.
"Lately," said Dr Legge, 'a
former Chinese Ambassador, Kwo-Sung-tao, who knew me as a friend of his
country, received me in his drawing-room.
"Ah! here, dear doctor," said
he, " you, although English by birth, are almost as Chinese as I am
therefore tell me sincerely, in comparing one country with the other, which
appears to you superior?"
'I paused some time in order
not to offend our interlocutor, and then said : "But, Excellency, do not be
angry with me, it is in spite of all that I place England first"
'"Yes, yes, I understand, if
you compare the industrial forces, the railways, the navy; but I speak from
a moral point of view. It is at this point of view that I should like you to
place yourself in order to compare the two peoples."
"Well, Excellency, from this
point of view it is impossible for me not to give the superiority to
'Never had I seen a man more
astonished. He began to walk the length and breadth of his beautiful
drawing-room, vigorously stretching his arms, enveloped in large sleeves,
and flinging back, involuntarily perhaps, one of his beautiful gilt chairs,
which was nearly broken, to the end of the drawing-room. Then, after a
moment, he placed himself before me and said:—
"But, then, Mr Doctor, why,
why does your country compel us to receive opium from it?"
'At these words I remained
dumb; I was shamefully beaten. Now, I hear you saying, in face of this
problem, what is your advice? what must we do?
'My brothers, to this
question I only know the reply of the prophet: "Cease to do evil, and learn
to do well."
The features of the old
man,' concludes Paster Appia,' seemed to reflect his indignation; his who!e
face was covered with a passionate blush, his eye sparkled; one felt the man
of goodness who sighed for the iniquity of his people.'
Years before, when labouring
in China, Dr Legge had said that it is the union of two attributes,
enthusiasm and soundmindedness, zeal and sanity, which mark the great
inventor and the great missionary.' At a meeting at Oxford he one evening
enlarged on the same theme, and asked, 'Why should we intermeddle with
existing heathen religions?' In his answer he said, 'The missionary has to
open the eyes of the heathen.' He insisted on this because some learned and
powerful thinkers maintain that heathen religions ought not to be interfered
with. 'Those who reason and speak in this way,' continued Dr Legge, 'can
hardly have a direct acquaintance with existing heathen religions. They know
them from a study of their most ancient documents, and do not know how the
leading principles which these contain have been obscured and overlaid by an
ever-increasing mass of superstitions and abominable idolatries.
Missionaries have to do with the systems which have grown up, and which
contain many things so absurd and monstrous, so silly and so hideous, that I
often found it difficult to quell the thought that some demoniac agency has
been at work egging men on until their religion has become an insult to the
high and Holy God.'
But he insisted with equal
force that missionaries should use every means in their power to become
acquainted with those religions. They should make themselves acquainted with
the body of their literature, so as to be able to speak with the most
learned of their pundits and hsien shengs in the gate. The idea that a man
need spend no time in studying the native religions, but has only, as the
phrase is, "preach the gospel," is one which can only mar missionaries and
mission work contemptible as inefficient.' He illustrated the importance of
understanding the native language by instancing the radical difference
between the English word jealous and its Chinese interpretation. ' The
written character corresponding to our word jealous has the symbol for woman
or female as its radical constituent. It is an idea than can be predicated
only of a woman, as she has no right to be jealous. Whatever be the conduct
of her husband, it is both weak and wicked in her to cherish the passion of
jealousy. The wo is never applied to a man. What is to be done then in the
case of such expressions as "The Lord thy God is a jealous God." The idea
must be translated as not the word.' It is, then, necessary for a missionary
to be filled with wisdom as well as with love.
The years passed on, and
Professor Legge well known and loved in Oxford as an old man, unaffected
simple, kind and true, living the life of a quiet scholar; at his home, No.
3 Keble Road. By those who we brought into close relationship with him he
was greatly beloved, and his tenderness of heart and openness of hand
brought comfort and help to many a troubled and needy soul.
Dr Legge was described by a
friend as 'the most charming of old men. After his long life of varied
experiences he was as simple as a child. He wę delightful to look at. The
frostiest of silver hair, the pinkest of cheeks, the bluest of blue eyes,
these were with the most benign expression. So honest, so healthy, so much
of the open-air life was in his aspect that he might have been anything
rather than an Oxford don. One could have imagined his long life spent on
Scottish hills in cold, pure air, tramping the heather all day long. How
unlike the later years at Oxford, in his study, walled in by mysterious
books, and absorbed in his strange learning to which scarcely any other man
held his key.'
Failing health during the
last year of his life interrupted his habit of rising about 3 but still he
kept it up until the end of October 1897. About three weeks later he was
seized with sudden illness and collapse, and after a few days of
unconsciousness he passed away on November 29. He was in his eighty-second
Many were the letters
received by his children.
A scholar wrote:—*His
personal presence only strengthened what I had learned from his writings. He
carried with ease his vast knowledge of China, its people and its
literature; and it was all penetrated by the elevation of his character and
the simplicity of his love of truth. Truly in him there was no guile. How
splendid a lesson he has set us all by his unwearied industry and his
single-minded devotion. I count myself fortunate to have lived where I could
sometimes meet him.'
A letter from Sir William
Hunter said:—' The Royal Asiatic Society has asked me, as one of their
Vice-Presidents, to attend on their behalf the funeral of your dear father
to-day. I cannot refrain from expressing not only the deep regret of the
Society for your father's death, but also the high honour in which I
personally held him. Not only was he a Vice-President of the Royal Asiatic
Society along with myself, but I was intimately connected with his work as
joint-members of the Oriental Board of the Faculty of Arts in the
University. At our very last meeting I had the privilege of giving him my
arm down stairs to our Committee-Room. His wisdom and profound learning made
him respected and beloved by every body of men which had the privilege of
From Sir H. Wentworth Acland:—
'My dear Miss Legge,
'I am deeply grieved for you
and yours when I heard of your bereavement and sorrow.
'Most singularly yesterday I
was on my way in my carriage to your house hearing how ill he was, but was
stopped on the way and could not come back again.
'I have often grieved that my
own failing powers hindered me from coming to see him. But it was delight
and ground of thankfulness whenever we did meet, as I learnt more each time
to respect and love and wish to see and learn from him.'
Before his burial on December
3 a service wę held in Mansfield College Chapel, where the Principle Dr
Fairbairn, himself a profound scholar and a honoured friend of Professor
Legge, delivered an address in which he said: 'Before committing to the
kindly keeping of the grave the mortal remains of a man we loved, we have
meet to express our gratitude to Almighty God, who did not think us unworthy
I have him live and die in the midst of us. Oxford did not know him till the
shadows of his long and gracious evening were beginning to fall, but it saw
him soon enough to know that he was a man of fine presence, pure purpose,
and courageous speech. . . , In his remote northern home, where nature is
cold but blood is warm, and men look unimpassioned when passion most
possesses them, the names that in those days most moved to heroism, because
the most heroic names, were those of Christian missionaries. The vision of
the peoples which knew not God had come to the Church, and had awakened an
enthusiasm which nothing but their conversion could satisfy. Young Legge saw
the vision, rose up and obeyed it. He carried into the mission-field not
only his enthusiasm, but his own large nature, and it was a nature strong
enough to make, wherever it moved, a clear space for itself and to do its
work in its own way. Happily he was sent Eastwards to the oldest of living
civilisations, and he studied it with an eye made luminous by love. For if
ever man loved a people, James Legge loved the Chinese, and he could not
bear to see them do wrong or suffer it. And he was not a man to see that
happen which he hated without straining every nerve to prevent it. . . . He
had the insight which comes of the heart even more than of the head into
their literature and religion, and he saw that the primary condition of
making the West influential in the East was to make the East intelligible to
the West. The missionaries who would convert a people must first condescend
to know the people they would convert and the religion they would displace.
The merchants who would honourably do the work of exchange amid a so-called
lower race must know the inner and nobler spirit of the race, which can as
little as themselves live by bread alone. All this James Legge understood,
and out of understanding came his magnificent edition of the Chinese
Classics, Of its learning it does not become me to speak, the invincible
patience, the heroic industry that went to its production we can all admire.
But only those who knew the man can appreciate the idea, the splendid dream
of humanity and religion that gave it birth.
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