Essays in librarianship and bibliography/Introduction of European printing into the East

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Speaking to-night as President of the Bibliographical Society, I have found it necessary to select some point of bibliography as the subject of my discourse. The subjects which profitably occupy the ordinary meetings of the Society would not be appropriate to a numerous and various assemblage like the present. Now that Internationalism and Imperialism are in the air, and that the thoughts of the Queen's home-bred subjects have perforce been carried far beyond the precincts of their native isles, I have deemed that interest might be felt in a brief retrospect of the first steps by which the most intellectually valuable of all the arts was transplanted from Europe to the other quarters of the Old World. American typography I leave to our visitors, better qualified to treat it. I prefer no claim to originality, but rather rest the utility of my paper upon the advantage of bringing to one focus a number of facts hitherto scattered through a number of books, and by consequence but partially known.

I have often thought that our reunion with our Aryan brethren of Hindostan, when, after millenniums of separation, we Europeans returned to them in the characters of travellers, merchants, and missionaries, may be compared to the meeting of Jacob and Esau. As of old, the younger brother had been the more prosperous. We brought them more precious gifts than any we could receive from them, and among these was the art of printing. But it was out of our power to bestow such a boon upon the more numerous yellow race, for it already possessed it. China and Korea too had been acquainted with printing for centuries, and not merely with block printing, but with movable types. These, however, were rarely employed, in consequence, I imagine, of the great extent and complexity of the Chinese alphabet, or rather syllabarium; and it no more entered into the head of a Chinese to print a foreign language than it occurred to a Greek of the Roman Empire to translate a Latin book. Amazing consequences would have followed if China would but have reformed her alphabet and communicated her art to her neighbours. Had it but found its way to Constantinople by the tenth century, we should have preserved most of that lost classical literature for which, with much to encourage and much to dispirit, we are now sifting the dust of Egyptian catacombs. It does indeed appear from recent discoveries among the papyri of Archduke Rainier that the Saracens of Egypt had grasped the principle of block printing in the tenth century, probably from intercourse with China. But this does but increase the wonder that they should have merely struck off a few insignificant documents and carried the idea no further.

Even when at length the art of printing became known in Europe, its progress was for some time marvellously slow. For several years its practice was confined to a single city, and this would probably have continued still longer but for civil dissensions, which drove the printers abroad. We need not be surprised, then, that it should have been a hundred and six years after Gutenberg before any book proceeded from a European press upon the continent of Asia; or, if we date from the voyage of Vasco da Gama, now exactly four hundred years ago, we shall see that sixty-four years, or two generations, elapsed before the Portuguese conquerors gave a printing-press to India. There was probably but little need for typography, either in the military or the civil service; but in process of time another interest asserted itself—the missionary. We shall find that the larger number of Spanish and Portuguese books printed abroad, whether in America or in the East, were designed for the conversion and instruction of the natives.

This was not, however, precisely the case with the first book printed in India, or printed by Europeans in any part of the Old World outside of Europe, although it was a religious book, "The Spiritual Compendium of the Christian Life," by Gaspar de Leão, first Archbishop of Goa (Goa, 1561). The author had come out as Archbishop in 1560, and this book appears to be either the full text or an abridgment of the sermons preached by him in the visitation of his diocese in that year. It is much to be hoped that a book so memorable for the circumstances of its publication may be still extant; but Silva, in his Portuguese bibliographical dictionary, does not, as he usually does when he can, intimate the existence of a copy in the National Library of Lisbon or elsewhere; nor does Martin Antonio Fernandes allude to the existence of it, or any other of Archbishop Leão's writings at Goa, in the sermon which he preached on the occasion of the translation of his remains in 1864. Archbishop Leão printed two other books at Goa—a tract against the Jews, and another against the Mahometans; but these were posterior to the second Goa book, a copy of which is in the British Museum—the "Dialogues on Indian Simples and Drugs," by Garcia da Horta, printed at Goa in 1563. This is a work of great merit, said to contain the first account of Asiatic cholera. It is also remarkable as the first book in which any production of Camoens was given to the world; for, although the Lusian bard had written much, he had published nothing previous to the appearance of a complimentary copy of verses to da Horta, prefixed to this book. The Museum is, no doubt, indebted for its copy of this very rare work to its founder, Sir Hans Sloane, for whom it would have much interest. A Latin translation went through many editions, and the original was reprinted in 1872.

Thirteen books are enumerated by Ribeiro dos Sanctos as having been published at Goa up to 1655, and there were probably others of a merely ephemeral character. The most interesting are a "Life of St. Peter in Marathi," by Estevao da Cruz, 1634—if not a translation, perhaps the first book, other than a catechism, written by a European in an Indian vernacular; and the record of the proclamation of John IV. in 1641, when Portugal recovered her independence. This book, which is in the British Museum, indicates the lowest stage of typographical debasement, but is interesting from its patriotic feeling.

Two Tamil books are said to have been printed by the Jesuits in 1577 and 1598 respectively, at Ambalakata, a place on the Malabar coast, probably now ruined or known by some other name.

Before leaving India, I may mention a remarkable circumstance, not, so far as I know, hitherto recorded in typographical history. It appears from that marvellously interesting book, too soon interrupted, Mr. Sainsbury's "Calendar of the Papers of the East India Company," that in 1624 the Shah of Persia, "having an earnest desire to bring into his country the art of printing," was "very importunate" with the agents of the Company at Ispahan, "to write for men skilful in the science, whom he promises to maintain at his own charge." It does not appear that the Company, who were then meditating the relinquishment of their Persian branch as unprofitable, took any steps to fulfil the Shah's wishes, and of course the casting of Oriental types in Persia, or their transport thither, would have been very difficult undertakings. But the desire to endow Persia with a printing-press nevertheless reflects the highest honour upon the Shah, who was no less famous a person than Abbas the Great.

From India we pass to China, and here an important discovery has been made of late years. It has until very lately been universally believed that the first book printed by Europeans in China was Eduardus de Sande, "De Missione legatorum Japanensium ad Romanam Curiam" (Macao, 1590). My friend, Señor José T. Medina, the Hercules and Lynceus of South American bibliographers, has, however, found from the book itself that this cannot be the case, for the writer of the preliminary address, Alexander Valignanus, states that he has himself previously published at the same place a book by Joannes Bonifacius, "De honesta puerorum institutione." This must have appeared in 1589, if not sooner, and is undoubtedly the first book printed by Europeans in China. Unfortunately it cannot be produced, for it is not to be found. A copy may still be lurking in some ancient library, and great will be his merit who brings it to light. It may be mentioned that although the book "De Missione" principally relates to Europe, and was compiled under the fiction of imaginary conversations with the Japanese ambassadors (who really had visited Europe and returned) for the information of the Japanese pupils of the Jesuits, one chapter is an account of China for the benefit of European readers. It is full of interest; and although its particulars have long become common property, it would be well worth translating as a contemporary account. Sande's book, it is needless to state, is of exceeding rarity. It may be seen in a show-case in the King's library at the British Museum, side by side with the very oldest South American books.

European publications in China since 1590 are numerous, and have been enumerated by that distinguished Sinologue, M. Henri Cordier, in his epoch-making bibliography. Time, however, compels me to pass to Japan, where the subject has received most important illustration from the labours of the present English minister to that country, Sir Ernest Mason Satow. Sir Ernest found examples of the use of movable types in Japan about 1598, and endeavoured to ascertain whether the art had been imported from Korea, where, as I have already stated, it existed at a much earlier period, or whether it was taught to the Japanese by the Jesuit missionaries. The point remains undecided; but Sir Ernest's researches have acquainted him with fourteen books printed by the missionaries between 1591 and 1605—some in Latin, some in Japanese, some in both languages. Some are religious in character, others philological. One, exceptionally, is a translation into Japanese of "Æsop's Fables," thus curiously restored to the East whence they originally came. Sir Ernest, himself a Japanese scholar, has given a minute account of all, with the aid of numerous facsimiles. All, of course, are of the greatest rarity, and chiefly to be found in the public libraries of London, Paris, Lisbon, Oxford, Leyden, and Rome, or in the collection of the Earl of Crawford. Sir Ernest Satow mentions, in an appendix, others which have been stated to exist, but have not been recovered. Some of these, it is probable, were merely manuscripts. It may be added that the frontispieces of these books, engraved by natives under European direction, evince much talent, and that the same is the case with similar work subsequently executed in South America and the Philippines.

The extirpation of Christianity in Japan destroyed European printing in that country; but books relating to Japan, chiefly acts of Japanese martyrs, continued for some time to be produced at Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The history of Manila printing is thoroughly investigated in the classical work of Señor Medina, whom I have already named as the discoverer of the real beginning of printing at Macao. It seems probable that the art was directly imported into Manila from the latter city. Two books—one in Spanish and Tagala, the other in Chinese—appear as printed in 1593, then follows a gap of nine years, after which publications begin to be tolerably frequent, and altogether a hundred and twelve are enumerated up to the end of the seventeenth century. A large proportion are in the vernacular languages. It is remarkable that the Caxton of the Philippines was a Chinese convert, whose celestial origin is disguised under the name of Juan de Vera. This fact is only known by the testimony of a Dominican, since it is another remarkable circumstance and peculiar to the Philippines, that for a very long time the name of no private individual appears as that of a printer, the imprint being always that of some religious or educational institution.

One other important city in the Eastern Archipelago possessed printing at an early date. This was Batavia. The Museum possesses treaties with native princes printed there in 1668, and these were probably not the first. A printed book also is referred to the same year.

Now, like Scipio, we must carry the war into Africa. As might be expected in the Dark Continent, the appearance of the first African printed book is a matter of some obscurity; not that the statements respecting time and place and authorship are not precise, but because it has hitherto been impossible to verify them. Nicolas Antonio, in his "Bibliotheca Hispanica," distinctly mentions "Theses rhetoricæ, varia eruditione refertae," by Antonio Macedo, a celebrated Portuguese Jesuit who is said to have had a hand in the conversion of Queen Christina of Sweden, as printed at Funchal in Madeira in 1637. I cannot find that this book has ever come to light, or that any other early production of the Funchal press has been recorded, though one would think that such must have existed. I need not say that the first African book would be a treasure almost rivalling the volume with which Mexico initiated American typography in 1539, or the Goa and Macao books whose probable disappearance we have been lamenting. There is room for error; Antonio hardly appears to have himself seen the book. But, on the other hand, there may well be copies in the possession of persons to whom the imprint Funchal suggests nothing. A Macao or Manila book at once announces itself as something extraordinary by the peculiarity of its paper, but a book printed in Madeira would probably be indistinguishable in general appearance from contemporary productions on the Portuguese mainland, whose appearance at the period was fully in keeping with the then fallen fortunes of the nation. If, therefore, the book ever existed, I shall not despair of its being found, most probably at Lisbon, Funchal, or Rome. If its existence is mythical, the first African printed book would probably be the catechism on baptism in the Angola language by Francisco Pacconio, executed at Loanda, the capital of the Portuguese settlements on the west coast, said at least to have been printed there in 1641, but perhaps only sent out from Lisbon. If actually printed at Loanda, it would be the first book printed on the African mainland, and hence of the highest bibliographical interest. But it may have been confounded with a similar catechism by the same author, published at Lisbon in 1642. Books were printed at Santa Cruz de Tenerife at least as early as 1754. Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, followed soon afterwards. Apart from official documents, the first book printed in South Africa is G. F. Grand's "Memoirs of a Gentleman" (Cape Town, 1814), exhibited at the British Museum. To prevent misunderstanding, it may be remarked that the honour due to the first African book has been claimed for a narrative of the capture of the island of Terceira by the Marquis de Santa Cruz in 1583, but it is clear that the date Angra, the capital of the island, is not an imprint, but refers merely to the place where the despatch was written, and that it was printed in Spain.

I am not quite sure whether Australia properly belongs to my subject, but two circumstances of especial interest induce me to include it. One is that the first Australian publication, the official Sydney Gazette of 1803, is, I understand, at present a visitor to England in the custody of Mr. Anderson, librarian of the public library at Sydney, who contemplates reproducing it. The other is that what is believed to be the first Australian book, as distinguished from a newspaper or official notification, has been very recently acquired by the British Museum. It is a narrative of the crimes and death of William Howe, the last and worst of the bushrangers of Tasmania, and was printed at Hobart Town in 1817. It was noticed by the Quarterly Review so long ago as 1819, when it was prophesied that Australian bibliographers would one day fight for it as fiercely as English collectors contend for Caxton's "Reynard the Fox." If they do, they must fight with the Sydney Public Library, which, I am informed, has three copies. There is also a copy in the Bodleian.

The subject of the beginning of printing by Europeans in Asia and Africa is one which must gain in interest as printing itself extends. Typography in these countries is as yet but in its infancy, for it has not laid hold of the mass of the people. It seems evident that the cumbrous Oriental alphabets must eventually give way to the simplicity of Roman type, and then one great bar to the intercommunication of ideas among Oriental nations will have ceased to exist. It may be that they will go a step further, and employ a single language for the purposes of general intercourse. So far as we can see at present, this language can hardly be any other than English. Should this come to pass, Lord Beaconsfield's celebrated saying, "England is a great Asiatic power," will prove true in a deeper and wider sense than he intended, and we shall look back with augmented veneration to the labours of the zealous and disinterested men who paved the way for European culture by first bringing the European printing-press to the far East.

  1. Read before the London Meeting of the Library Association, 1896.