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This digital presentation offers a glimpse into The New York Public Library's James Legge Collection of rare Chinese books. This collection of 230 titles, amassed by noted nineteenth-century missionary-scholar James Legge (1815-1897), was acquired by the Library in 1909, at which time it formed the basis of the NYPL's Chinese language rare book collection.
James Legge was, without a doubt, one of the most important Sinologists of the nineteenth century. Born in Huntly, Scotland in 1815, Legge was educated at Kings College, Aberdeen, and at Highbury Theological College, a Congregational seminary in London. It was during his time at Highbury that Legge determined to become a foreign missionary. He studied Chinese during his final year at the seminary and, upon his graduation in 1839, traveled to China, where he spent nearly three decades serving as a missionary in Hong Kong.
It was during his years in China that Legge embarked on the English translations of Chinese classics upon which his legacy largely rests, producing works such as The Chinese Classics: With a Translation and Exegetical Notes and The Chinese Classics: With a Translation, Critical and Exegetical Notes, Prolegomena, and Copious Indexes. In the course of these literary efforts, Legge forged working relationships with some of the leading Chinese scholars of the time -- most notably with Wang Tao, the great Chinese literary commentator. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Legge was careful to give credit to the native, Chinese collaborators from whom he received assistance in the preparation of his translations. Indeed, states Legge biographer Norman J. Giradot, "Legge may even be seen to be an innovator in the ethics of cross-cultural scholarly attribution." (Giradot 356)
Legge returned from China in 1867. During his later years, he served as the first Chair of Chinese Language at Oxford University, all the while continuing his work translating classic Chinese texts. At the time of his death in 1897, Legge held degrees -- both earned and honorary -- from Oxford University, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Aberdeen. Through his work as a translator, Legge laid the foundation for the study of Chinese classics in the English language. Although a great many translations and commentaries have appeared since his death, his editions of classic Chinese literature are still in print and widely read.
The James Legge Collection is part of The New York Public Library's Chinese rare book collection, which comprises more than 1,000 titles. Of particular note amongst this body of materials are rich holdings of book and manuscript materials from the Ming (1368-1644 C.E.) and Qing (1644-1911 C.E.) Dynasties. In all, NYPL's holdings of rare Chinese materials form an important resource for the study of Chinese history, literature, philosophy, religion, and art.
The cataloging, preservation, and digitization of these titles was made possible as part of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The New York Public Library is grateful to the NEH for their generous support.
Giradot, Norman J. The Victorian Translation of China: James Legge's Oriental Pilgrimage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Legge, Helen Edith. James Legge, Missionary and Scholar, by His Daughter, Helen Edith Legge .... London: The Religious Tract Society, 1905.
Pfister, Lauren F. Striving for the "Whole Duty of Man": James Legge and the Scottish Protestant Encounter with China .... New York: Peter Lang, 2004.
University of Pennsylvania. "The Online Books Page: Online Books by James Legge." http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Legge%2C%20James%2C1815-1897