Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/48

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The Cultivation of their Language by the Chinese.

For the characters to be explained, the author of the "Shuo-wên" used the Small Seal kind of writing, and for the explanations he used the Li (隸) writing. The work is divided into fourteen chapters (or books), and there are 10,600 characters explained. These are arranged under 540 classifiers, called also Primitives and Radicals, beginning with one, the origin of all things. The subjects which the Dictionary embraces are, according to Hsü Ch'ung, the literature of the country, heaven and earth, demons and spirits, hills and streams, vegetable and animated nature, and all the affairs of men. The author seems to have meant his work to be mainly an authority for the true texts and right meanings of cerain treatises regarded as canonical. For these it was to shuo-wên, state or explain the symbolic writing, and chie-tsŭ, analyse the phonetic characters. Some of the explanations which it gives to characters seem to be mere trifling, and the work can scarcely be considered as one of great etymological value. Nor is it to be regarded as an index to all the characters in use at the time of its compiling. It leaves out through feelings of reverence those which entered into the names of Han emperors, and even in the author's own preface are characters which are not given in the dictionary. Nor does the work profess to solve all the difficulties which occur, for, as the author states, in some places he found doubts which he had to leave as he found. The "Shuo-wên" is of interest chiefly as the earliest Chinese dictionary extant which attempts to give an analysis of characters and a clue to their sounds. It is consequently a record of at least a part of the language as used for literary and other purposes before the end of the first century of our era. The analyses of characters which it gives are doubtless those which had most authority at the time of the compiler, and the indications of the sounds given to them are of value to the student of the language and literature. But it was with the writing of the characters and with their original or supposed original meaning that Hsü was chiefly concerned. It is for what he achieved in these matters that his work has been highly prized by native scholars. The preface also, which forms chuan 15 of the treatise as it was