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James Legge's Metrical "Book of Poetry"

Author(s): Lauren Pfister


Source: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 60,
No. 1 (1997), pp. 64-85
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of School of Oriental and African Studies
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James Legge's metrical Book of Poetry


LAUREN PFISTER

Hong Kong BaptistUniversity


I. An intellectualblack hole in sinology
Few non-Asian sinological scholars would not recognize the name of James
Legge MIi (A.D. 1815-97), partly because his voluminous translations of the
Confucian canon still continue to be reprinted and used by Western sinological
circles 120 years after their first publication.' In China itself, Legge has recently
received new attention with the republication of bilingual editions of The Four
Books and The Book of Changes.2 Japanese readers have had rather more
access to Legge's English translations of The Four Books, beginning with the
early Meiji period and continuing into the twentieth century. Unfortunately,
none of these Chinese or Japanese editions has included the extensive commentarial notes drawn from Chinese Confucian and early Western sinological
sources which earned Legge his reputation as a world-class Chinese scholar in
the nineteenth century.3
In 1875, after Legge had served for 34 years as a Christian missionary and
educator in Malacca (1839-43) and Hong Kong (1843-73), French sinologists
honoured the retired missionary with the first international [Stanislas] Julien
prize for Chinese literature. In consequence of this prestigious award, a group
of British friends and supporters urged the University of Oxford to receive the
Scottish clergyman as their first Professor of Chinese Language and Literature,
raising enough money during their campaign to provide for his minimal support
in this position. Legge held the chair-teaching courses in Chinese language
and literature, presenting public lectures on Chinese themes, and continuing
his work in translations-from 1876 until his death.
Perhaps it is because of the sheer volume of his published works that no
general critical appraisal of his numerous scholarly contributions to sinology
has yet been made. Academic specialization, taken in many modern universities
as a sign of superior training and academic promise, has also made it almost
1 The most famous set of translations and commentaries are The Chinese Classics, with a
translation, critical and exegetical notes, prolegomena, and copious indexes, first published in Hong
Kong between 1861 and 1872. This 8-book set comprised five volumes, the fourth being The Book
of Poetry. A second edition, including a reprint of the last three volumes attached to a complete
revision of The Four Books, was published by the Clarendon Press, Oxford (1893-95) [hereafter
CC]. For details of the revision see my article, 'Some new dimensions in the study of the works
of James Legge (1815-1897): part II', Sino-Western Cultural Relations Journal, 13, 1991, 33-48.
Less well known are six volumes of Legge's further translations, completed between 1879 and
1885, of The Sacred Books of China in the 'Sacred Books of the East' series (see below). The first
collection of Confucian texts in this set included retranslations of The Book of Historical Documents
and The Book of Poetry and a new rendering of The Classic of Filial Piety # (vol. 3 of the series).
2 See Hanying Sishu 4M
(The Chinese/EnglishFour Books), (ed.) Liu Chongde IA and
Luo Zhiyu
(Changsha:0.Hunan People's Press, 1992) and Zhou Yi J~1 (Book of Changes),
441 and Tai Shi 44 (Changsha: Hunan People's Press, 1993). It is significant for
(ed.) Tai Yif$,T?
the claims of this paper that these publishers did not use Legge's original translation of the Shijing
for their bilingual edition of that classic.
and Chinese text of Legge's 1861
3 See the 1885 Japanese edition of the English translation
flVT
f-l~I*41
edition of The Four Books MVby N. Imamura:
It/ Y HFX,
Tt
(
1FH,
XM~.-?
Editions of the Analects include Yamano Masaharo's edition (Tokyo, 1913), with the Chinese
characters, English translation, and selective Japanese notes; a similar edition with fewer notes
appeared c. 1950, entitled Confucian Analects: Dr. Legge's version, (ed.) Yoshi Ogaeri in Tokyo:
Bunki Shoten. A text held in the New York Public Library, (ed.) O. Shimisu and M. Hirose,
includes the whole of The Four Books in Chinese and English (Legge's translation), along with a
Japanese translation and selective notes. Entitled in English, The original Chinese text of the
Confucian Analects, the Great Learning ..., it is unfortunately undated.
? School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 1997

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JAMES LEGGE'S METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

65

impossible for most contemporary professional scholars to develop the background needed to evaluate the interdisciplinary breadth of Legge's efforts.
Legge not only worked through the multidimensional traditions within the
Chinese commentarial texts and earlier translations of the texts into various
Western languages4 but also collaborated closely with a contemporary Chinese
scholar, Wang Tao T_ (A.D. 1822-97),5 who came to live in Hong Kong
in 1863.
As well as his influence in scholarly circles, Legge's religious interpretation
of the Confucian classical tradition as containing an original monotheism
became a focus of intense debate among missionaries in China.6 Although a
highly readable biography was published by one of his daughters in 1905,' it
emphasized his missionary experiences, avoiding the complexities and controversies surrounding his translations and interpretive works. His major works,
embodied in The Chinese Classics, have long outlived him, but the details of
his life and productivity have slipped into a perplexing intellectual black hole:
Legge's influence is generally recognized among sinologists even today, but for
most of this century his life and works have remained a mystery-so little of
it has been thoroughly understood.
II. Overlookedtranslations
Essential to a comprehensive account of James Legge's sinological contributions are his three translations of Shijing ?4M, The Book of Poetry. It must be
stressed that these were three different acts of translation: it was Legge's general
practice to translate a text several times without reference to previous translations before embarking on a final version. Revisions of the final version were
often carried out in a similar way-first an independent translation, then a
comparison with his earlier efforts. Sensitive to the varying capacities and
interests of his diverse audiences, Legge's renderings reflect a subtle interaction
between conceptual clarity, functional equivalence and accessibility.8
The first translation of 'The She King' appeared late in 1871, accompanied
almost
200 pages of prolegomena, the Chinese texts with commentary and
by
notes in the body of the work, followed by a glossary of Chinese terms
employed in The Book of Poetry, and finally, several indexes. Seeking to appeal
to an academic audience willing to learn both the ancient Chinese language
and the cultural complexities it embodied, Legge presented literal translations
in stanza form. The accuracy of the conceptual presentation was his prime
concern; poetic features such as the rhythm and rhyme of the Chinese text
In each of the five volumes of The Chinese Classics Legge provided an annotated bibliography
4
of relevant texts. These run to nearly 250 entries: 183 titles of general works in Chinese (including
some Japanese publications and editions of texts); 17 dictionaries and technical tools in Chinese;
22 works in English; 13 in French; 7 in Latin; and one in Russian. Beyond the materials listed,
Legge's personal library included other texts in Italian, German, and Dutch. For more details of
his personal library, see my 'Some new dimensions in the study of the works of James Legge
(1815-1897); part I', Sino- Western Cultural Relations Journal, 12, 1990, 29-50.
5 See Lee Chi-fang, 'Wang T'ao's contribution to James Legge's translation of the Chinese
Classics', TamkangReview, 17/1, 1986, 47-67.
6 The critical document in this debate, published by Legge's friends after it was denied
publication in the proceedings of the General Missionary Conference of 1877 in Shanghai, was
Confucianism in relation to Christianity (London, 1877). After its publication, both critics and
supporters of Legge's missiological position published articles in the standard Chinese missionary
journal, The Chinese Recorder, the critics referring to his understanding of Confucian religious
history as 'Leggism'.
7 Helen Edith Legge, James Legge: missionary and scholar (London: Religious Tract Society,
1905).
8 Legge provided 'modern' translations of some texts to broaden their appeal. See James
Legge, The Chinese Classics, Vol. II Life and works of Mencius (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippencott and
Co., 1875: iv).

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66

LAUREN PFISTER

were extensively discussed in the prolegomena and, in the case of the rhymes,
were itemized at the end of each poem. The presentation of the Shijing as a
whole followed the traditional order authorized by the Qing dynasty Imperial
Catalogue. Legge clearly sought to produce a translation representative of the
original form of the authorized text and aimed at an accurate rendering of
the conceptual content of the poetry rather than an aesthetic equivalent in
English.
In the interval between his retirement from the London Missionary Society
and taking up the professorship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Legge was
encouraged by two of his nephews to attempt a rendering of this Chinese
classic in metrical form. It quickly became a group project, ultimately involving
at least four others besides James Legge himself,9 including an Oxford graduate
who had figured largely in the government of the young British colony of
Hong Kong, Mr. W. T. Mercer.'1
Published with an eye to a broader audience, this metrical Book of Poetry
reduced the extensive notes and commentarial glosses to introductory comments with no Chinese characters. Also, the Chinese text itself was left out
completely and any necessary mention of Chinese terms was dealt with by a
relatively clearer transliteration system."
After beginning his professorial duties in 1876, Legge arranged with his
Oxford colleague, Friedrich Max Miiller, to have a number of Confucian
Classics included in the series, 'The Sacred Books of the East'. Most of the
chosen pieces were completely new translations, but Miller also asked Legge
to present a new translation of the religious portions of the Shujing VT, The
Book of Historical Documents, and the Shijing for his series. Legge agreed and
provided a full translation of the Shujing in its original form, but offered a
very different selection of materials from the Shijing.
Returning to the non-poetic, academic style of the first translation of the
Shijing, Legge re-edited it and radically rearranged the sequence of all the
poems. Even the presentation of the stanzas of the first translation was reduced:
rather than a parallel line-by-line English-Chinese text, this version rendered
the whole stanza as a single paragraph. Individual lines were identifiable by
the capitalization of initial words but were embedded in prose-like paragraphs.
Whether this formal readjustment was Legge's personal choice or was imposed
by the editor, Max Miller, is not clear. Certainly the more radical revision
came in the sequence of presentation. Based on a hierarchicalvision of religious
experiences, Legge placed the full translation of the final section of the Shijing,
the 'Sacrificial Odes of Shang' (ShangsongA.$0)at the beginning, followed by
the full rendering of the first section (ZhousongNA
W), and only selected poems
of Legge's brother, John Legge; both had graduated from Aberdeen
9 The nephews were sons
University in 1862 and then together entered a Nonconformist seminary, Lancashire Independent
College in Manchester. The elder was named John Legge, after his father, and the younger, James
Legge, after his uncle. A minister friend, Alexander Cran, joined them in the project. For further
information, see James Legge, Memorials of John Legge ... Withmemoir by James Legge (London:
J. Clarke & Co., 1880). See also James Legge, The Chinese Classics ... Vol. III. The She King; or,
The Book of Poetry (London: Trtibnerand Co., 1876: iii). This is the third volume of the 'modern'
translations [hereafter the Metrical She King (1876)].
10 Mercer had an active and long career in the political administration of Hong Kong. He
published a book of rather pedantic poetry in 1869, Under the peak; or, Jottings in verse, during
a lengthened residence in the colony of Hong Kong. See descriptions of his political activities in
E.J. Eitel, Europe in China (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1983 [1895]), esp. pp. 220,
275-6, 297, 408-11. See also Metrical She King (1876: iv).
11The loss of the Chinese text in all the renderings of The Sacred Books of China was lamented
by a number of scholars who knew The Chinese Classics, but its absence helped to make the text
more appealing to a public which could not hope to read Chinese. Only one text- Chenfeng
Mumen RamR had an obvious printing error in the 1872 Chinese text (the fourth lines in the
two stanzas are reversed). (See CC, iv, 1872, 210.)

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JAMES LEGGEIS METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

67

of the second section (Lusong VVI)of the 'Odes of the Temple and the Altar'
(Song AY).Legge then presented the 'Minor Odes of the Kingdom' (Xiaoya
'Major Odes of the Kingdom' (Daya 7k~) and the 'Lessons from the
/j\I),
States' (Guofeng 9%), including only those poems-or in many cases, only
certain stanzas of a few poems-which had some religious dimension.
As regards Legge's criteria for constructing his 'hierarchical vision of
religious experiences', he makes it clear that the Shangsong were the oldest
and perhaps the most monotheistic poems of this classic work. Legge's hierarchy, though never comprehensively or explicitly expressed, would thus seem
to rest on a complex understanding of the value of various religious experiences.
Primary to that understanding was the elevation of any text which explicitly
or implicitly suggested a monotheistic conceptualization of Supreme Lord
(Shangdi I*). Next, any religious traditions portrayed in the odes which
pointed to a belief in the existence of spiritual beings had to be considered
relatively informed, even if skewed and unbelievable. This included prayers to
ancestral spirits and the addressing of various powers such as the spirits of the
earth, moon, stars, mountains and rivers. Although there was in Legge's own
understanding a major distinction between personal and impersonal spirits,
there is no discernible re-ordering of the texts on the basis of this qualification.
A third distinct level involved the methods of discerning spiritual values (e.g.
through divination, by casting yarrow sticks or scorching tortoise shells and
shamanism), and the description of sacrificial rites. It also seems clear that
Legge's placing of the Xiaoya and Daya sections before the Guofeng is predicated on the fact that these were included in the religious ceremonies and
sacrificial rites of the Zhou king, all of which were in a class above any similar
rites in the domains of the feudal princes.
Viewed from this standpoint, Legge appears to have rearranged the order
of the Shijing according to criteria based on conscious metaphysical, epistemological, ritualistic and class-oriented data. The metaphysics reflected his
Christian commitment and his knowledge of comparative religious studies. His
epistemological judgements were most likely made according to the degree of
certainty any religious knowledge was able to provide; these evaluations themselves were grounded in his studies of Dissenter theology and Neo-Aristotelian
philosophy of the Scottish Commonsense tradition. For the rituals and classorientations of the speakers and subjects of the odes he drew on his assessment
of the Chinese commentarial traditions and their historical and religious
significance.
Although more could be said about this third version of the Shijing, I will
now turn to an analysis of the least recognized translation, that of the so-called
'Metrical Shijing' of 1876.
III. The metrical Book of Poetry of 1876
To establish what is important about a 'metrical' English version of The Book
of Poetry we need to ask whether its evaluation requires different standards of
judgement that go beyond 'accuracy' and an appeal to literal correctness. If
other evaluative criteria need to be applied to a poetic version of the text, the
question then is, how well do the renderings of Legge's metrical translation
stand up to closer examination? The very fact that this edition was not the
basis for the third version Legge prepared in 1879 should give us pause. Yet
in retrospect it is not difficult to see the uniqueness of this particular edition
of The Book ofPoetry. No other major sinologist of the nineteenth or twentieth

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68

LAUREN PFISTER

centuries has succeeded in producing a metrical version of this Confucian


classic in any European language.'2 The French and Latin versions prepared
by Seraphim Couvreur in 1896 were translations which sought to provide only
conceptual equivalence, relying on Zhu Xi's *A interpretations, and presenting
all the poems in paragraph form, much like Legge's third translation of 1879.13
Karlgren's version of The Book of Odes also presents the poetry in single
paragraphs which do not even distinguish between separate stanzas.14 Only
Arthur Waley's topically arranged version of the classic, The Book of Songs.
the ancient Chinese classic of poetry, presents the material in poetic form with
individuated stanzas.15 Nevertheless, Waley did not try to represent the rhyme
or the rhythm, nor even necessarily to follow the repetition of lines in the
Chinese standard, although he did attempt subtle re-creations of various
sounds, moods, and word-play. This unique aspect of Legge's metrical rendering does not, however, in itself establish the work as important. To do that,
we must also take account of what has so far been overlooked.
When comparing some outstanding renditions of The Book of Poetry on
the basis of their conceptual accuracy, philological awareness and interpretive
sensitivity, without considering the formal nature of the presentation, some
scholars have identified reasons for preferring later translations of the classic
12
This claim needs to be carefully qualified. Legge himself knew of two German translations
of the Confucian classic, both of which had been translated from a Latin version by Father
Lacharme. In his first translation of the Shijing in 1872, Legge reviewed a number of renderings
in Lacharme's work and discovered them to be 'very inaccurate Latin translation[s]'. (See James
Legge, CC, Iv, 1872, 167.) Legge made other comments on and evaluations of Lacharme's work
throughout this text, almost all of which rejected Lacharme's renderings. Since the two German
versions depended on Lacharme, they were already at a disadvantage. Of the two-Friedrich
Ruckert's Schi-King, Chinesisches Liederbuch, gesammelt von Confucious (Altona: 1833) and
Johann Cramer's Schi-King, oder ChinesischeLieder, gesammelt von Confucious--Legge considered
the former the far better version, in spite of inherent flaws due to lack of contact with the
original Chinese.
13 See Seraphim Couvreur, S.J., Cheu King: Texte chinois avec une double traductionenfrancais
et en latin (Ho Kien Fou: Imprimerie de la Mission Catholique, 1896; 4th ed., Taipei: Kwangchi
Press, 1967, 1992). One major difference between Couvreur's version and Legge's third 1879
translation is that the former numbers all the stanzas, even though they are already distinctly
separated. In Legge's third version, there are no numbers identifying the sequence, although he
had included them in both the 1872 and 1876 versions, at the extreme left of each stanza.
14 Karlgren preferred to start each stanza with a dash and to place its sequential number at
the beginning of the stanza in the midst of a running paragraph. This saves space and helps to
identify particular stanzas fairly clearly in the translation; his Chinese version, however, does not
distinguish the stanzas at all. (It should be noted that Legge's Chinese version in the 1872
translation provided both stanza and line numbers, making the process of referring to the original
much easier.) See Bernhard Karlgren, The Book of Odes: Chinese text, transcriptionand translation
(Stockholm: Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, 1974). Both Couvreur's and Karlgren's versions
included the transliteration of the Chinese text into contemporary Chinese sounds, with Karlgren
adding in parentheses the pronunciation of rhymes in the reconstructed phonetics of the older
Chinese. This adds a philological interest, especially in Karlgren's case, which is not as evident in
Legge's versions. Legge did carefully and thoroughly discuss the ancient 'prosody' in the 1872
version, but only at the end of his notes on each poem and without transliteration, using only the
Chinese characters themselves.
Book of Songs: the ancient Chinese classic of poetry (London:
15 See Arthur Waley (tr.), The
Allen and Unwin, 1937). Waley's rearrangementof the poems into topical units, much like Legge's
third version of 1879, according to their religious interest, also restructured the text in ways
completely foreign to the Chinese classic itself. Waley's reorganization is far more radical than
Legge's, but it must be remembered that in Legge's time imperial Chinese civil service examinations
were still using the standard text, and the need to 'follow the authoritative model' was thus more
urgently felt.
Nevertheless, Legge was quick to point out in his 1872 translation that both the Han dynasty
Mao school mR?and the Song T-, dynasty school following Zhu Xi's interpretations did consider
the placement of and interrelationship between poems a significant factor in understanding the
larger meanings of individual poems. One example of this intertextuality is the interpretation Zhu
of the Lessons of the States
Xi gives of the 'Shan you shu' fiif
poem in the Odes of Tang
the previous odes. (See CC, Iv,
)A1 in which this poem's significance is tied to the themes of Al,
1872, 176.)

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JAMES LEGGE'S METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

69

to Legge's 1872 'prosaic' rendition.16 But this comparison does not include
factors relating to the aesthetics of poetic renditions such as those which inform
Legge's translation project of 1876, precisely because the scholars concerned
were unaware of the existence of a metrical version. In this sense, the uniqueness
of Legge's metrical Shijing needs to be re-evaluated, in parallel with a
re-evaluation of the nature of the act of translation itself. The discussion that
follows will argue in favour of such a reconsideration of Legge's metrical work
in the light of the standards applied by Wong and Li as well as specific theories
of translation and their related criteria.
1. Standards ofjudgement
In recent decades the history of the development of translation theory has
been seen as an increasingly important facet of study in European and North
American translation circles.17 The shift in emphasis was prompted by changes
in the basic understanding of the task of translation, requiring modern theorists
to re-think earlier approaches and to experiment with new definitions of the
translation process.'8
Major eighteenth- and nineteenth-century translation theorists advocated
the pursuit of a 'perfect' translation based on the use of metaphor; they
believed an exact equivalence between languages could be achieved if the
translator thoroughly understood the original language (the 'source language'
or 'SL') and was a competent and creative speaker of the language into which
the SL text was rendered (the 'target language' or 'TL'). Later nineteenthand twentieth-century theorists have debated such claims, some arguing that
they were not universally true, others, that the metaphorical approach was
wrong altogether. Translators had sometimes to face phrases and ideas which
had no perfectly suitable rendering in the target language and to find some
other way to present the basic ideas without losing too much of the meaning
expressed in the original. Moving beyond the literal text, translators were
16
See, for example, the fine evaluative work by Wong Siu-kit RJME and Li Kar-shu *JW
in 'Three English translations of the Shijing', Renditions, November 1987, 113-39. Having
considered the translations of The Book of Poetry by Legge, Waley and Karlgren, they place
Legge's academic rendition of 1872 last in terms of precision and poetic style. The criteria they
apply include late Qing philological knowledge, advances in linguistic and etymological understanding, accuracy of word-for-word and phrase-for-phrase translation, devices by which the rendering
reflects the Chinese standard, as well as the fluidity and clarity of the contemporary English
rendering. In their generally thoughtful assessment, Karlgren's version emerges as the most
systematic and precise, while Waley's is the most stylish and poetic. Criticisms of Legge include
excessive reliance on Zhu Xi's philological evaluations and a too limited awareness of the
importance of late Qing philological scholarship. That Legge followed Zhu Xi in some cases is
clear, but this can be overstated. In fact, Legge opposed Zhu Xi's philological and interpretive
positions almost as often as he supported them, preferring in those instances either a Han school
position, a Qing option, or one of his own preference. A knowledge of Legge's Metrical Shijing,
I suspect might have modified some of their judgements of his style.
17 See, for example, Susan Bassnett-McGuire, Translationstudies (New York: Routledge, 1980;
revised ed. 1991, esp. 39-75). In her work, Victorian translation theorists (such as Arnold and
Longfellow) are distinguished from Romantic and post-Romantic theorists in that they elevated
the importance of the text in the original language to an extreme, emphasizing the accuracy of a
rendering and denying much liberty at all to the translator; whereas Romantics such as Goethe
tended to have a more liberal view of the creativity of the translation act.
See also Douglas Robinson The translator's turn (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press,
1991), 65-126. Robinson argues that the Romantic translation theorists gave metaphor paramount
status as a means of characterizing the act of translation. (See p. 160). For an historical overview
which supports the Romantic vision see George Steiner's After Babel: aspects of language and
translation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975).
18 The development of these theoretical positions is complicated by the fact that some theorists
feel there is no need for any change, only a more precise set of descriptive theories, while others
propose a more radical shift towards a less rationalist and more relational theory of translation.
For one such theory with many qualifications in the footnotes, see Robinson, The translator's
turn, 65-9.

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70

LAUREN PFISTER

urged to find other locutions which might even have only tenuous literal
associations with the original idea but which provoked appropriate responses
in the audience.19 This kind of translation has been described as 'dynamic
equivalence', suggesting that it produces a similar or even the same effect in
the audience of the target language that the original phrase has in its own
context.20 Once the idea of a dynamic equivalence is accepted, translators have
to become much more sensitive to the differencesexpressed in various languages
with regard to their historical, cultural, sociological, religious and aesthetic
backgrounds. In the light of this need, consideration of the historical developments in translation theories themselves becomes all the more relevant to both
the act of translating and the task of rethinking its theoretical explanation.
Taking the concept of dynamic equivalence seriously, theorists have gone
on to debate whether or not it is sensible to talk about evaluating translations
as ' acceptable/unacceptable', 'good/bad', 'right/wrong', and 'justified/
unjustified'. The debate is complex, and will not be rehearsed here.21 Its effect
is to demonstrate that a number of options, particularly in translations of
poetry, can be equally acceptable without one or other being branded as
completely wrong. I will argue that the 'right/wrong' and other distinctions
are still valid judgements, but I am also willing to broaden the range of options
because I recognize that the density of poetry permits and even legitimizes it.
Among other criteria which can and should be utilized in assessing translated poetry, the first must be-is it poetic in form? Once one accepts the
fundamental importance of this assessment, other criteria soon follow.
-

What style of translation is it? Does it seek to imitate the poem in the
source language (its stanzas, meter, rhythms, rhymes, images), or is it a
more liberal rendering?
Why does the translator choose this particular way of expressing the poem?
Is this form and style of expression appropriate in reflecting the status of
the poetic text in its original context?
Does the version reflect the same tone as the original poem? Is the voice of
the poetry pitched at the same or similar level of popularity, eruditeness,
oddness, simplicity?
What devices must the translator employ in order to present more difficult
passages? Does the translated text present itself as a 'perfect rendition ',22
or are there other techniques(footnotes, parenthetical comments, or other

19 A general discussion of these questions in relation to translations of poetry are found in


Bassnett-McGuire, Translation studies, 81-109. Examples of the problems in aiming for exact
equivalence, most often illustrated by poetic translation, are provided in Robinson, The translator's
turn, 133-93.
20This is the terminology of Eugene Nida. Peter Newmark (whom Donald Robinson
characterizes as a 'commonsense-for-sense' theorist) claims that the principle of dynamic
equivalence is becoming 'generally superordinate, both in translation theory and practice, to the
principles of primacy of form and primacy of content.' See Peter Newmark, Approaches to
translation (Hemel Hempstead, Herts: Prentice Hall International (UK) Ltd., 1988), 132, and for
Robinson's comment, The translator's turn, 173.
21 Robinson's work is an attempt to present a radical alternative along 'dialogic' lines,
following the ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin and Kenneth Burke in reinterpreting locally-based
terminology according to what he calls an ' ideosomatic feel' for the appropriateness of translations.
His theoretical approach to language bears a striking similarity to that of the pre-Qin Daoist
philosopher, Zhuangzi A-T and is opposed to that of a number of current translation theorists,
including Eugene Nida and Peter Newmark, who tend to over-generalize their rationalized
categories to the point where they cannot fail to raise certain theoretical doubts. Robinson's
position seeks to avoid such conflicts of principle by not insisting on the universalizability of
his ideas.
22 Sometimes a translation gives no obvious sign that it is in fact a translation, in which case,
text and translator create the impression of an exact translation (even if it is unintended): this
phenomenon has been called the 'realistic illusion' by Mikhail Bakhtin, and is discussed in
Robinson, The translator's turn, 170-72.

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JAMES LEGGE'S METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

71

means) to explain the unusual locutions in the source language which would
seem unnatural and even senseless in the target language?
In the following discussions I will refer to these five criteria and their collateral
issues as: form; style; appropriateness; voice; and techniques.
2. A descriptiveassessment of the metirical Shijing
In assessing Legge's contribution in the metrical Shijing, we should mention
at least one influence from his background which predisposed him to certain
kinds of translations. As a student, Legge's sense of Scottish history led him
to read the Latin history of Scotland by the famous Scots Latinist, George
Buchanan.23Legge was also aware that Buchanan had written a Latin metrical
paraphrase of the Psalms and found he preferred Buchanan's version above
any other.24 Years later, between 1874 and 1876, when the translation of the
metrical ShiFingwas being completed, Legge also prepared a manuscript of the
Psalms in English, metrically paraphrased in a fashion very similar to
Buchanan's style.25 Though other influences could be mentioned, Buchanan
appears to have shaped a major part of Legge's poetic sensitivities.
i. Form
It is important to note that, when he began the first translation of The Book
of Poetry, Legge had consciously considered the possibility of providing some
kind of metrical version and decided not to do so even though he believed this
was an important factor in the translation. His reasoning is worth considering:
It may be granted that verse is the proper form in which to translate verse;
but the versifier must have a sufficient understanding of the original before
he can do justice to it, and avoid imposing upon his reader .... My object
has been to give a version of the text which should represent the meaning
of the original, without addition or paraphrase, as nearly as I could attain
to it. The collection as a whole is not worth versifying. But with my labours
before him, any one who is willing to undertake the labour may present
the pieces in 'a faithful metrical version.' My own opinion inclines in
favour of such a version being as nearly as literal as possible.26
Although he recognized in principle the appropriateness of rendering the
Chinese poems in some poetic form, Legge had already judged a number of
the poems unimportant. In the 1872 translation, he repeated and elaborated
these evaluations in his footnotes to individual poems as well as in the summary
evaluations at the end of the different sections.27 Yet, in spite of Legge's initial
23 George Buchanan, Rerum Scoticorum Historia
(Edinburgh, 1582). Details of the text and
its influence on Legge's later translations are provided in my 'Some new dimensions ... part
1 ', 42-3.
24 George Buchanan,
Paraphrasis Psalmorum Davidis Poetica (n.p., 1566). An English version
of the text was prepared in 1754 under the title, A poetical translation of the Psalms.
25 The manuscript, for reasons which are not obvious, was never published; it is now held in
the New College Library of the University of Edinburgh.
26
From CC, Iv, 1872, prolegomena, 115-16 et passim, emphasis added.
27 This he did only for the Guofeng RK division in the 1872 edition.
(See the 1872 translation,
19, 37, 72, 90, 108-9, 123, 149, 162, 173, 189, 204, 214, 219, 225, 242-3. Sometimes no explicit
evaluation is given, but in a number of cases Legge listed those worthy of attention for their
information, moral stance, poetic interest, or aesthetic value. He speaks of two poems among
those in the Wei
section which are 'most interesting and ambitious'. From the host of Zheng
*
OPpoetry he mentions
two, the eighth and nineteenth which 'stood out conspicuously' because
of their positive values. Yet a stern voice could also be heard: 'To none of the odes of Ts'aou f
does there belong any great merit.' Legge quotes the praise of Zhu Xi and one of the Cheng W
brothers, but in the Zhounan Ai and Shaonan B~A he comments tersely that they 'do not
approve themselves so much to a western reader'. As at the beginning, so at the end: the last

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72

LAUREN PFISTER

claim that 'as a whole' it was not worth versifying, as we have seen, he later
changed his mind and laboured with others to complete the task.28
In the metrical version, all 305 of the existing poems of the Confucian
classic were transformed into English poetry, using lines varying from four to
twelve syllables, in many cases including multiple lengths in combination.29
Yet even this summary is too simple: three poems were rendered in Broad
Scots, a very different form of English (Wangfeng Junzi yu yi TI FR- TJi,
and Zhengfeng Gaoqiu 1Vi Vi]);30
Wangfeng Yang zhi shui r)l
FM2:7J
four others included Latin versions
prepared by William Mercer in addition
F
to the English renditions (Wangfeng Yangzhi shui
Fang
_M i7Ai, J, Chenfeng
chao
%
iXJ,
you que
Xiaoya Luming Huanghuang zhe hua
f
A
'J
/ and Zhousong Qingmiao Wei Tian zhi ming
and three poems were presented in two different translaJ'PJ V k-pi);31
Z
one
the
other
after
tions,
(Tangfeng Gesheng *L~t rJt, Qinfeng Huangniu
and
The
R
Min yu xiaozi Xiaobi M
Zhousong
%F*ji,

,l'T]).32
the section in which they
poems were numbered according to their sequence in4r-f,
appeared; their titles were not translated but given only in transliterated form
before the introductory statement which preceded each poem.
This is in contrast to the 1872 version which attempted no patterned
rhythm, often with very irregular line lengths. Stanzas were numbered in the
margins of both the English and the Chinese for easy reference, while in the
1876 rendition whole poems were presented in English only and so did not
require these indicators.
Another factor in the formal presentation of the poetry was that the layout
varied considerably in the metrical version, while in the first version the poems
appeared consistently the same. In the 1872 work there was no variation in
the margins; every line, no matter how long or short, began at exactly the
same point on the page. In the 1876 edition, only about a quarter of the poems
were printed in this fashion. In another quarter, whether in four- or six-line
stanzas, the second and fourth lines were indented.33 In 28 of the poems, the
even lines were invariably indented. The variety is astonishing, with over 59
different ways of indenting and/or extending the lines within the large variety
of stanza lengths. Thus the 1876 metrical version was immensely more inviting
to eyes used to English poetry than the earlier translation.
three odes of Bin i he considered to be 'of a trifling character', but he immediately pointed to
the first and third poems of that section as not only being longer but also ' of a superior character'.
28 Elsewhere I have assessed the importance of Legge's presentation of the translations included
in both The Chinese Classic and The Sacred Books of the East, using aspects of the communicative
action theory of Jirgen Habermas to identify the advances Legge had made over earlier attempts
at translating some of these materials. See 'James Legge' in the Encyclopedia of translation:
Chinese-English,English-Chinese, (ed.) Chan Sin-wai and David E. Pollard (Hong Kong: Chinese
University Press, 1995: 401-22).
29 In the metrical Shijing, I recorded at least 41 different syllabic patterns among the poems.
The 4-syllable lines always occur in connection with 6- or 8-syllable lines (see Metrical She King,
1876, 80: 'Peifeng Zhongfeng' 4l~ F
5-7J;and
r J; 236, 'Xiaoya Xiaomin Qiaoyan' ',J,
poems from 5351, 'Zhousong Wei Tian zhi ming' ZF*,F~)KZiJ). Examples exist of complete
to 12-syllables per line. A greater number of these kinds of poems is in either 8- or 10-syllable
lines. Among the many variations which include two or more lengths of line in a stanza, there
are 14 poems in the 8, 6, 8, 6 rhythm (pp. 89, 96, 187, 194, 278, 308, 351, 355, 356, 362, 364 [2
poems], 271, 372); seven poems appear in the rhythm 8, 8, 6, 8, 8, 6 (pp. 91, 176, 239, 248, 275,
315); seven other poems have been transformed into the rhythm 8, 6, 8, 6, 8, 8 (pp. 71, 233, 274,
281, 293, 298, 358) and five are reformulated in a 10, 10, 8, 10, 10, 8 rhythm (pp. 178, 203, 219,
262, 291). More than half the rhythm patterns occur only once in the whole of the translation.
30 Metrical She King (1876), 112-13, 124.
31 ibid., 113, 170, 201, 351.
32 ibid., 154, 161, 366.
33 By my count 79 poems were printed without any line variation and the same number with
the second and fourth lines indented.

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JAMES LEGGE'S METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

73

ii. Style
Among the conclusions drawn by translation theorists regarding poetry is that
the more one seeks to imitate specific aspects of an original poem in its
translated version, the less successful is the result.
... the closer the translation came to trying to recreate linguistic and formal
structures of the original, the further removed it became in terms of function. Meanwhile, huge deviations of form and language [in a translated
poem] managed to come closer to the original intention.34
It may come as a surprise therefore, that Legge's project actually includes over
60 poems which reflect a conscious attempt to mirror particular aspects of the
structure of the Chinese poetry. Most often, this is limited simply to the
number of lines in each stanza.35 In some cases, the variation which occurs in
the Chinese line lengths is reflected also in the English;36in a few, the predominance of a particular rhyme scheme is also mirrored in either a repeated rhyme
in English37 or in free verse in which no rhyme occurs in either Chineseor
English.38In some cases, both rhyme and rhythm are very close to the Chinese
original.39Although there was no attempt at an artificial likeness to the original
rhyme's actual sound, Legge's editing (if not his own creative effort)40attempts
to cloak a significant minority of the poems in this kind of formal similarity
to their Chinese original.
In the majority of cases it is undeniable that Legge took a more liberal
attitude to the task of translation. The concise lines of the original poems,
often (but not always) of four or five characters, defied any effort to convey
such density of meaning in so few English words.41 In over 30 of the Chinese
poems there are internal rhymes occurring on the penultimate character of the
line; these are never represented by any equivalent English locution, and would
be nearly impossible to recreate.
Yet there are two other aspects of the style of these English versions which
provoke reflection: the search for acceptable conceptual parallels and the
rendering of the allusive element of Chinese poetry. It was Legge's stated
purpose to include in the translations everything which was conceptually and
34Bassnett-McGuire, Translationstudies, 91. This conclusion summarizes a discussion of three
different renderings of Catullus Poem 13, and is followed by the statement, 'But this is not the
only criterion for the translation of poetry ...'
3 To put this claim in another perspective, only one out of every five poems in Legge's 1876
Shijing attempts to imitate the number of lines in each stanza of the original. There are also a
few renderings, all in the Xiaoya /IN, in which the English lines per stanza are fewer than those
in the Chinese text: see Metrical She King (1876), 214, 'Tonggong Jiri' )I$r F~] 1; 229, 'Qifu
Z [Ft-8+~1ZJ;and 263, 'Sanghu Kuibian' A 2
Shiyue zhijiao'
-Fi#. irregular in Chinese than
36 It should be noted that, in some cases, the line lengths are more
in English. See Metrical She King (1876), 143, 'Weifeng Fatan' R
r1ftI, and 247, 'Xiaoya
Beishan Beishan' /J1,\t LL FtLLU]J.
37 See, for example Metrical She King (1876), 65, 69, 114, 174, 221, 226, 264, 308.
38
Some representative pieces are found in Metrical She King (1876), 165, 167, 208.
39 e.g., Metrical She King (1876), 109, 152, 153, 170, 175, 260, 281.
40 There are very few clues as to who were the
original authors of the translations in the vast
majority of cases. When double versions occur, there is usually some explicit statement explaining
that the versions were prepared by two different authors. Otherwise, it is difficult to tell. In the
prolegomena to his 1872 version of the Shijing, Legge provided a prodigious amount of information
about the line lengths, rhyme structures, and their variants. In the notes under each poem he
always included, for the reader willing to compare the notes, all the specific rhymes identified by
Duan Yucai &?A and occasionally some other Chinese philologist. With these details at their
disposal, any of Legge's collaborators would have had enough information to enable them to try
to achieve a rendering imitating the original poem in a number of ways.
41 Only one
poem was completely reformulated into terse 5-syllable lines; the rest all had some
lines of 6 or more syllables in their stanzas. See CC, iv, 1872, 282, 'Xiaoya Dou ren shi Tiao zhi
hua' '
F1 Z*?F#].

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74

LAUREN PFISTER

historically appropriate to the original. Support for this claim is given not only
in his introductory statements but also in comments where double versions in
English were published for a single Chinese poem.42
Conceptual acceptability is in many cases quite possible, but capturing the
nuances of metaphorical and allusive poetry, especially when the various
commentators disagree about their meanings, is in principle an almost hopeless
task. Examples of these translation dilemmas are much more numerous than
can be explained here, but two poems illustrate the complex problems presented
by almost untranslatable ideas.
Consider this prose rendering in 1872 from Xiaoya Tonggong Heming
4 if? FOOC:43
/1,,
1. The crane cries in the ninth pool of the marsh,
And her voice is heard in the [distant] wilds.
The fish lies in the deep,
And is by the islet.
Pleasant is that garden,
In which are the sandal trees;
But beneath them are only withered leaves.
The stones of those hills,
May be made into grind-stones.
2. The crane cries in the ninth pool of the marsh,
And her voice is heard in the sky.
The fish is by the islet,
And now it lies hid in the deep.
Pleasant is that garden,
In which are the sandal trees;
But beneath them is the paper-mulberry tree.
The stones of those hills
May be used to polish gems.
The Chinese text uses a subtle technique, changing the last character of lines,
transposing lines, and then ending on two unexpected characters, the whole
bound together by a subtle interplay of rhyme.44The Minor Preface (Xiao Xu
b,1j), often referred to by Confucian scholars of Legge's day and earlier to
justify an interpretation, is in the end no help here. Legge comments briefly
on the hermeneutic problem before providing details of Zhu Xi's interpretation:

42 Before such a second English version of'Zhousong Min yu xiaozi Xiaobi'


fJ
Staffordshire [that is,
(CC, iv, 1872, 367), Legge clarified the point precisely: 'I received from PA.f.V4-YF
from his nephew, the Revd James Legge] another version of this piece, which gives it a more
general character. It is not so historically accurate as the above version, but I think the reader
will be pleased to see it.'
From this and similar statements we can surmise that Legge consciously styled the poems
within the concepts and contexts which he felt most suited the rendering. Still, the very fact that
he did publish two versions rather than one suggests that he was aware of the possibility of
diverse renderings and was willing to present a number of them if others would be 'pleased to
see them', a liberal attitude to translation not always recognized in his own day.
43 CC, Iv, 1872, 296-7.
44 The skilful transposition of phrases and rhymes is captured quite well by Legge in this 1872
rendition, but this is a literal English translation which leaves one completely at a loss as to the
covert meanings intended by the various symbols from the non-human natural world. The rhyme
scheme of this particular poem, representing each final character with a letter, is
A B C B D D EEE
A C B C D D F E F

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JAMES LEGGE'S METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

75

The Preface says this piece was intended to instruct King Seuen, but it does
not say in what. Nor is there any agreement among the critics about the
lessons hid in its aphorisms.45
However, because the first two lines of the poem are quoted in The Doctrine
of the Mean, they were specifically marked out by Confucian literati for further
reflection. Confucius himself had urged students to gain inspiration from the
as the initial stage in
study of these classical poems (xing yu shi
1-,)46 the same term employed in
striving for self-cultivation, the term, xing, being
Shijing scholarship to refer to the allusive element. For a translator not to
understand or render these metaphors was to fail to convey the nature of one
of the basic tasks facing those who set out to follow Confucius.
Satisfied by Zhu Xi's account, Legge made the poem in his 1876 version
far more explicit in its rendering of the metaphorical elements, making them
clear references to specific issues of self-cultivation, and in so doing eliminating
the metaphorical level of the poem.47
1. All true words fly, as from yon reedy marsh
The crane rings o'er the wild its screaming harsh.
Vainly you try reason in chains to keep;
Freely it moves as fish sweeps through the deep.
Hate follows love, as 'neath those sandal trees
the withered leaves the eager searcher sees.
The hurtful ne'er without some good was born;
The stones that mar the hill will grind the corn.
2. All true words spread, as from the marsh's eye
The crane's sonorous note ascends the sky.
Goodness throughout the widest sphere abides,
As fish round isle and through the ocean glides.
And lesser good near greater you shall see,
As grows the paper shrub 'neath sandal tree.
And good emerges from what man condemns;Those stones that mar the hill will polish gems.
A comparison of the two renderings raises a number of issues. The verbal
interplay and the repetition has gone in the second version as has any hint of
the relationship of end rhymes between the stanzas. Although the earlier
CC, IV, 1872, 297.
Vf
Vi J [8:8], which Legge translates (CC, I, 1872, 211):
This is from Lun Yu, 'Taibo'
The
Master
'It
is
the
Odes
that the mind is aroused
1.
said,
by
2. It is by the Rules of Propriety that the character is established.
3. It is from Music that the finish is received.'
47 Metrical She King (1876), 217-18. It is instructive to compare several other renderings with
this 1876 version. Couvreur, who aims to render the poems from Zhu Xi's perspective, refers to
the four images as allegories, but then proceeds to translate the poem without any direct reference
or link to Zhu Xi's teachings. Both Legge and Couvreur seek to convey Zhu Xi's understanding,
and both use the introductory notes to the poem for this purpose (the 1876 version of Legge's
group does not give so detailed an account of Zhu Xi's position), but Legge chooses to present
the poem in a way which brings out the fuller meaning. Couvreur remains reticent, letting the
reader search for the connections between the notes and the images. (See Couvreur, CheuKing, 215.)
Waley's rendering is very different. He also prefers to translate the metaphors in a literal
manner, but the last two lines of the poem are italicized, with a note below explaining that these
are a refrain. His interpretive trope lies above the refrain in the word for 'beneath', for which he
offers the following explanation: 'The "beneath " certainly has a double sense and hints that the
lower classes are treated as of no account. The refrain is a cryptic threat to emigrate.' (See Arthur
Waley, The Book of Songs, 314). Waley's rendering thus represents a complete rejection of the
moral connection with The Doctrine of the Mean.
45

46

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76

LAUREN PFISTER

version is not rhymed, it does repeat lines so that some of the effect is
maintained. In terms of style, the former uses plainer English, the latter is
grammatically awkward but rhymes. Yet in the latter there is now a much
fuller moral message to be drawn from the text; in the former, nothing of this
is even suggested. Neither version, however, can adequately convey the fact
that the first line in each stanza of the original is one character longer than
the rest: in the former version, the second and seventh lines are nearly as long
as the first; in the latter, all lines have ten syllables. Out of comparisons such
as these emerges a different set of criteria by which to judge the translations.
A second poem illustrates another method of rendering metaphor and
allusion, highlighting some of the subtle ways by which a translator works
through a problematic text. The first stanza of Xiaoya Sanghu Yuliu
is rendered by Legge in 1872 as follows:48
FuMP]1
/'JA
1. There is a luxuriant willow tree;Who would not wish to rest [under it]?
[But this] god is very changeable;Do not approach him.
If I were to [try and] order his affairs,
His demands afterwards would be extreme.
In the 1876 version, the form and style take on completely new dimensions:49
1. The willow trees luxuriant grow.
Who is not glad himself to throw
Beneath their shade to rest?
And so to our great sovereign's court
The feudal lords should oft resort,
And feel supremely blessed.
But he whom we all deemed a god
Is so uncertain in his nod,
That they his presence shun.
Near him alone I dare not go.
Were I at court myself to show,
And of his troubles take the charge,
His calls on me would be so large,
That I should be undone.
Here we find nothing like the six four-character lines with internal rhyme on
even lines of the Chinese classical text. Nor should we necessarily expect it:
where in the first version the longing and dread are hinted at through the long
dash at the end of the line, in the second version an extended imagery
embellishes the significance of those desires and dreads and makes them more
accessible. The offset rhymes-'rest' and 'blessed', 'shun' and 'undone 'present to the reader the experiential tension between what ought to be and
what is. The general effect is to make a small cameo of ministerial life take on
near epic proportions.
iii. Appropriateness
Underlying these broader questions of style in the stanzas quoted above is yet
another, and more perplexing, question of translation. The term for 'god'
48
49

CC, IV, 1872, 407-8.


Metrical She King (1876), 272-3.

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JAMES LEGGE'S METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

77

there is Shangdi, the Supreme Lord, the exact phrase Legge had argued was
the equivalent of the Christian 'God'. This poem includes the only instance
of the term employed in a sarcastic and blasphemous manner, confirmed by
both the Mao - and Zhu * schools. Legge's way of dealing with this was to
soften the blasphemy into the ironical hyperbole: 'this god'. In the later
metrical translation the blasphemy is further transformed from a description
of the Deity into an attitude on the part of attendant ministers, but this is an
interpretation which goes beyond the immediate sense of the Chinese text.
Even in Chinese, however, the description of Shangdi is problematic."5 Still,
in this trope Legge is unveiling some of his own unease over the phrase,
Shangdi, and its profound implications. It is significant that Legge did not
include this poem in the selection of religious poetry for the Shijing in his 1879
translation for The Sacred Books of the East."1
Legge's contemporary and critic, Alfred Lister, had more serious complaints
to raise. Why, he asked, should a good translation into English distort the
English language? For Lister, a translation rendered into anything other than
'good' English was unacceptable. After admitting that repetitious pieces are
difficult to remake into something more pleasing to the English eye and
ear, he is scathing about the way that the translators twist English into an
unnatural order.
The laws of poetry do not abrogate those of prose. A man has no more
right to put an accusative before the verb, or the nominative after it, in
verse, than he has in a leader in the Times .... It is difficult to see why the
trouble of inverting it should be taken.52
Moreover, the awkwardness of certain 'Scotticisms' set in irregular phraseology distracts from the poetry as a whole. Even more irritation is provoked
by the very Leggian concern to list each plant by its precise botanical name,
while the height of oddity comes with the transliterated Chinese names for
mountains and rivers, with which English-speaking people have no previous
association. Literalism in these instances condemns the poetry to failure before
it ever reaches an audience who read English poetry.53
Taking the principle of dynamic equivalence as the fulcrum for our own
evaluation of the 1876 metrical Shijing, we can answer Lister's criticisms.
50 In the commentarial notes to his 1872 translation, Legge carefully chooses from among the
interpretive options, explains the problematic issues and justifies his agreement with both Mao
and Zhu. Yet when he comes to translate the term, he simply declares that he will render 'the
name with a small g' without any explanation. Couvreur captures the blasphemous intent by
expanding the terms into half paraphrases, giving for Shangdi, 'ce maitre supreme de l'univers'.
Waley's approach is completely different, supported by two footnotes, but grasping with proper
effect the sense of the blasphemy:
Very leafy is that willow-tree
But I would not care to rest under it.
God on high is very bright;
Don't go too close to him!
Were I to reprove him,
Afterwards I should be slaughtered by him.
Waley explains his twist in the second line, from desire to rejection, by claiming in a brief
footnote-' because liu (willow) also means "slaughter".' 'God' he explains in the footnote as
'i.e. the ruler'. See CC, iv, 1872, 407-8; Couvreur, Cheu King, 305; Arthur Waley, The Book of
323.
1nAt
this point it appears that Legge's deep piety
Songs,
became a stumbling block to translation.
His way out was through the technique of footnotes, in which he could plant the irony for others
to follow up. For a helpful discussion of the 'ironic trope' in translation, see Douglas Robinson,
The translator's turn, 167-75.
52 See Alfred Lister, 'Dr Legge's metrical Shi-King', The China Review, 5/1 (July), 1876, 7.
53 ibid., 8.

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78

LAUREN PFISTER

Inversions occur in the English of the translated poems for the sake of the
rhyme. Perhaps better rhyme schemes could be constructed, but the poems are
not wrong or unacceptable for this reason alone. In fact, there are numerous
instances in the Chinese texts themselves where word order is reversed and
certain words are employed more for their rhyme than for their appropriateness. Should, then, rhyming enforce abnormally constructed phrases or
inverted sentences? Peter Newmark suggests
If the S[ource] L[anguage] writer is an acknowledged authority on his
subject, the translator has to regard every nuance of the author's meaning
(particularly if it is subtle and difficult) as having precedence over the
response of the reader ...
Yet he also admits
The better one understands the linguistic meaning of a text, the less choice
the translator has in formulating his words; but, the more difficult the
linguistic meaning, the more variations are likely to be available.54
Because The Book of Poetry is part of the Confucian canon, and was for
Legge in his own time a text representing a living and active Confucian culture,
he was bound to be as precise as possible. Yet the text itself was difficult to
grasp and at times archaic; this was recognized by Confucian scholars and
understood by Legge. For these reasons, a variety of renderings was clearly
appropriate and acceptable to different groups within the Confucian tradition.
This approach to evaluating the translations provides for a wider choice
of acceptable renderings, but also equips us with a more precise range of
criteria by which to judge the poems as organic wholes. Degrees of acceptability
can be identified according to the number of criteria satisfied and Lister's
criticisms can point us towards a more nuanced reading of the 1876 project
that does not dismiss it as an outright failure.
Because of his insistence that perfectly fluid contemporary English (and its
grammar) should be the normal standard for translated poetry, Lister's assessments at some points divorced Legge's editing from its rightful concern to
convey the original authorized text with its full array of symbols. The concern
with the Chinese names for mountains and rivers and the plethora of unusual
plant names, for instance, reflected the symbolic vocabulary of the Confucian
scholarly elite; those who sought to know them and their traditions had to be
more precise about identifying their surrounding world. To replace these terms
with more general names would, in the end, reduce the text to commonplace
platitudes about nature and society rather than the difficult and intricate
recollection of an ancestral past. In cases such as this, Lister's arguments
demonstrate an ignorance of Chinese culture and its context; and his criticisms
of particular 'shortcomings' really reflect his own.55
Peter Newmark, Approaches to translation, 21, 134 respectively.
Another example not mentioned above is worth considering. Lister criticizes the use of
'gentleman' in speaking about a high-ranking person who mistreats and manipulates women. (He
is referring to a text in the 1876 translation, 106.) The term in Chinese is shi ?, indicating a noble
warrior or even a ritual expert, and Legge was being very faithful to the trope of the original
text. He did not, however, seek to conceal the cultural criticism involved; there was certainly
heavy irony in describing this rank of person in so unfavourable a light. To translate the term as
'charlatan' would be to over-react and deny the irony its bite; to insist that 'gentleman' is
inappropriate is to force a particular reading on a 'shift of expression' produced by a very
different cultural context. See the original criticism in Alfred Lister, 'Dr Legge's metrical ShiKing', 7. For the problem of the 'shift of expressions' between distinctly different cultural
contexts see Bassnett-McGuire, Translationstudies, 83, 145-6.
54
55

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JAMES LEGGE'S METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

79

Nevertheless, we may agree with Lister that a certain stylistic awkwardness


distracts from the poetry, and makes its reading cumbersome and unappealing.56 One's personal degree of tolerance for the strange and ambiguous, for
the 'playfulness' of dialectical terms and the portrayal of different voices, will
determine their degree of acceptability or unacceptability.57Legge admits that
in some cases he did not know to which particular plant the Chinese term
referred; in these instances, he usually transliterated the Chinese term, leaving
the audience at a loss.58 Moreover, there remain some specific translation
problems, besides the significant issue of Shangdi mentioned above, which
deserve attention precisely because of the 'shifts in expression' which occur
across the ages and between cultures.
One does not grudge Legge his editing and judgement when he recognizes
in certain Chinese practices a similarity with Old Testament Hebrew society.59
This perceptive shift of expression brings out a significant parallel with a
culture distant in form but less so in time. Some of the proverbial renderings
of similarly apothemic Chinese in the 1876 translation are quite attractive.60
They capture the style and meaning of the text in astute ways and provide a
colourful window on to the world of Confucian wisdom. In another instance,
the knightly act of 'bending the knee' to symbolize the subjection of the
descendants of the Shang dynasty to King Wen is a perfect example of a shift

of expressionwhich is culturallyinappropriatefor the Chinesetext in its own

period, but functionally equivalent in portraying submission to a British audi-

ence.6'Referencesto God's providencein place of the care of Shangdifor the

common people may be overstated;62certainly the correction Legge made of


an earlier trope from God as 'parent' to God as 'father and mother' underscored his willingness to limit the Christianization of classical Confucian
phrases.63 But when Legge makes a passage a prayer which is not in the

56 See examples of various kinds of stylized language and awkward


renderings in Metrical She
King (1876), 169, 172, 197, 232, 255.
Once again, the prominence among Chinese scholars of studies on the ancient dialects of
various states, as in The Book of Poetry, and the importance of the Han dynasty dictionary,
Shuowen A, which focused on the loss of direct access to the meanings of terms because of the
'shifts of expression' within various Chinese dialects, make the appearance of some Scotticisms
a fortunate, if unwitting, parallel to the feel of the actual text in the Chinese classic.
58 See for example, the Metrical She King (1876), 199, 205, 207, 251, 274, 294. In a few cases,
there was evidence that Legge himself had overcome some of these problematic translations in
the four years between the 1872 translation and the 1876 project. Compare the following passages
(the two paginations refer to the 1872 and 1876 versions respectively): 226, 180; 261, 199;
292, 215.
59 In CC, iv, 1872, 381, Legge included in his notes the fact that Mosaic legislation required
harvesters to leave some of the harvest for the poor and widows (Deuteronomy 23: 19-22, and
elsewhere). The Chinese text refers only to widows. However, when it came to the metrical version
(p. 259), Legge's editing permitted the full shift of expression into the biblical phraseology,
'Handfuls besides we drop upon the ground
And ears untouched in numbers lie around;These by the poor and widows shall be found'
One might argue that the widows were also poor, but to avoid the biblical locution would be
sophistry. It is not a terribly serious point, but it does show the subtlety of the translator's art.
In this 1876 version, unlike that of 1872, there is no note to clarify the biblical parallel and its
difference from the customs of Zhou dynasty China.
60
See for example, Metrical She King (1876), 248, 271.
61 This locution occurs in the Metrical She
King (1876), 285.
62
'Xiaoya Dou ren shi Baihu', i
as rendered in Metrical She King (1876), 278.
A?t F~j
63 The 1872 rendering (p. 340) is corrected in the Metrical She
King (1876), 236. This proves
to be an important locution in the history of Christianity in China precisely because Confucian
scholars who became Christians following the teachings of the Jesuits used 'Father-Mother God'
in their writings and influenced the Jesuits to do so also. See a discussion of this use of the phrase
in Nicolas Standaert, 'Inculturation and Chinese-Christian contacts in the Late Ming and Early
Qing', Ching Feng 34/4, 1991, 1-16.

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80

LAUREN PFISTER

Chinese text,64 or calls an officer of the court a 'priest ',65 the misdirection of
meaning is regrettable.
There are times in the translation when one may wonder about the 'imposition' of a very different view of humanity, when Aristotelean terms are heard
instead of more precise Chinese alternatives. This undoubtedly involves a
major shift between the classical Chinese original and nineteenth-century
English. Yet is 'soul' or 'spirit' too Christian or Aristotelean for the Chinese
'heart-mind', xin `?66 And what about the broader range of psychological
and emotional terms?67While noting the difficulty, it is not easy to offer
concrete alternatives.
iv. Voice
Enough has been said already about the problem of' Scotticisms' in the text,
outside poems that were rendered as a whole in Scots, to make further discussion unnecessary.68
The classical texts themselves represented a wide range of perspectives and
included poems by kings and feudal princes, queens and concubines, soldiers
and ministers-as well as their wives-farmers, recluses, and others. The
strength of two of the renderings into Scots versions69--of WangfengJunzi yu
yi I) r-TT&] and WangfengJunzi yang yang T)A rF
RtTfM -is that they
are expressed in the voice of a wife longing for her husband; Scottish military
experience being what it was, it was not hard for a Scotsman to recall the
words of waiting mothers and anxious wives.
One more way in which Legge's 1876 translation registered another voicethe regal and princely persons addressed by others, and their own voices in
prayer and supplication to higher spirits and Shangdi-needs to be noted. In
each such case, the King James standard for formal pronouns was employed,
and in a few locutions other parts of speech also reverted to the language of
the 1611 English Bible.70For the English reader in the nineteenth century, the
1611 King James Bible was the Authorized Version, and this register immediately aroused in the audience the atmosphere of prayer. One example of the
difference in renderings between the earlier and the metrical version is worth
exploring here-Zhousong Chengong Yong IM~,YIFTt ]:7
They come full of harmony;
They are here, in all gravity;The princes assisting,
While the Son of Heaven looks profound.
64 See Metrical She King (1876), 184. In this poem, 'Binfeng Chixiu' ~
the end of
Tr
a phrase
the first stanza is 'I am to be pitied'. This is transformed here into 'Hear my prayer',
f,.J,
added for the sake of rhythm and rhyme but out of keeping for the actual poem.
65 In both CC, Iv, 1872, 369, 371, and Metrical She King (1876) renditions (pp. 252-5), Legge
had used the term 'priest' for the Chinese character zhu *. When he retranslated the text to
portray the religious dimensions of Confucian classical traditions, he changed this rendering (Max
Miiller's editing or Legge's conscious self-correction?) to 'officer of prayer'. See 'Sacred Books
of the East', 3, 1879, 366-8.
66 Metrical She King (1876), 363-4.
67 In 'Peifeng, Baizhou' lt),
rtAfiJ (Metrical She King, 1876, 76-7), images attached to the
heart are rendered in English as mind, spirit, thoughts, impressions, belief, feelings, spleen and
soul. From the perspective of dynamic equivalence, these are perfectly legitimate, but for the
rendering of an authoritative text with sensitivity to its age and context, they may be problematic.
68 Other material relevant to the 1876 project and its evaluation can be found in that text,
pp. 103, 109, 128, 141, 192, 209.
69Metrical She King (1876) 112-13.
70 Metrical She King (1876), 196, 221, 224, 226, 230, 241, 263, 356, 360.
71 See CC, iv, 1872, 589-90; in the Metrical She King (1876) 360-61.

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JAMES LEGGE'S METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

81

'While I present [this] noble bull,


And they assist me in setting forth the sacrifice,
O great and august Father,
Comfort me, your filial son!
'With penetrating wisdom thou did'st play the man,
A sovereign with the gifts both of peace and war,
Giving rest even to great Heaven,
And ensuring prosperity to thy descendants.
'Thou comfortest me with the eyebrows of longevity;
Thou makest me great with manifold blessings.
I offer this sacrifice to my meritorious father,
And to my accomplished mother.'
Note the changes in form and meaning in the metrical version:
The helping princes stand around,
With reverent air, in concord fine.
The king, Heaven's son, with looks profound,
Thus prays before his father's shrine:'This noble bull I bring to thee,
And these assist me in the rite.
Father, august and great, on me,
Thy filial son, pour down thy light!
'All-sagely didst thou play the man,
Alike in peace and war a king.
Heaven rested in thee, O great Wan,
Who to thy sons still good dost bring.
'The eye-brows of long life to me,
Great source of comfort, thou hast given.
Thou mak'st me great, for 'tis through thee
Come all the other gifts of Heaven.
'O thou, my meritorious sire,
And thou in whose fond breast I lay,
With power and grace your son inspire
His reverent sacrifice to pay.'
The first and most obvious difference between the renditions is the number
of stanzas. In the metrical version, Legge permitted an additional stanza,
breaking up the fourth into two separate stanzas. In spite of this difference,
the metrical version follows the original Chinese rhyme pattern exactly (i.e. A
B A B, C D C D, etc.), except for the fact that the final rhymes in the second
and fourth stanzas are repetitive in the Chinese where they are not in the
metrical version.72Once again, the four-character lines of the original are given
some resemblance in the eight-syllable lines of the metrical translation.73From
72 According to Duan Yucai's REE1,J~A
notes which Legge summarizes at the end of the poem
in CC, Iv, 1872, 590, the repetition of the rhymes is achieved by a forced or artificial rhyme in a
more ancient dialectical register.
73 In this poem there are some adjustments to be made in the reading to make the words 'fit'
the pattern. In this case for example, as throughout the whole of the metrical version, the term
'Heaven' is elided and counted as one syllable.

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82

LAUREN PFISTER

this aspect, the metrical version is far more appealing and representative than
the prose rendering.
There are at least two instances of slightly awkward wording: 'all-sagely'
is an ill-suited neologism, possible as a rendering of xuanzhe
but some
may find it strained. On the other hand, prayer addressing theb_.,
preternatural
often does stretch language beyond its normal usage, and the use of special
terms may be seen as a means of conveying the highly exalted state of ritualized
prayer. No such explanation can be given for 'eye-brows', however, which
remains an unnecessary oddity.
On the positive side, the voice of prayer is strongest when it calls on the
names of those addressed, and in the metrical version these are simple, prominent, and replete with supplicatory awe. King Wen (Wenwang) does not have
to be named in the Chinese, but an English reader would not so readily
recognize him as the object of the prayer; to have this august name explicitly
uttered is therefore an appropriate addition to the text, helping to sustain the
register of prayerful attention and identifying, for those who do not know, the
specific person being addressed. The change of trope from 'Giving rest even
to great Heaven' to 'Heaven rested in thee' is justified by Legge in the notes
of 1872 by reference to a Chinese authority, but it is only given explicit voice
in the 1876 version.74 The shift in phraseology adds to the fact of King Wen's
successful reign the additional dimension of Heaven's trust in him-a fully
appropriate translation of the Chinese as applied to this great founder of the
Zhou dynasty.75
v. Techniques
In the examples given above, in both the 1872 and 1876 versions, we find a
number of common techniques used to fill out the English translation of these
Chinese classical poems. Characters indicating elements of punctuation were
not completely missing in the Chinese, but whether a translation used a period,
comma, or semicolon depended very much on the editor's sense of the flow of
the text. Question marks were usually a little more easily placed, but exclamation marks were often at the discretion of the editor.
One technique for which there was no Chinese precedent was the pause
created by a dash. The difference in the rhythm and feel of the poem could
vary significantly according to the placement of this pausal sign. Take, for
instance, the difference in its position between the 1872 and 1876 versions seen
in King Wu's prayer to his father and mother above. In the earlier translation,
the dash appears after the second line of the first stanza, separating the princes
from the ritual and prayer of King Wu; in the metrical version, the sign is
moved to the fourth line of the first stanza, bringing a much more natural
pause before the prayer, and uniting the King and his entourage in the accompanying rituals.
Another important addition to the text, particularly when moving from a
descriptive to a dialogic poem, was the insertion of quotation marks to mark
off the spoken passage from the rest. These were sometimes introduced by
Chinese characters indicating that speech would follow, but this was certainly
not always the case. Over 40 of the poems contained these speech markers, a
The authority is Hwang Tso. See CC, Iv, 1872, 590.
'Sacred Books of the East', 3, 1879 translation follows the CC, Iv, 1872 version closely
but with some slight changes. In order to present King Wu more obviously in a context of prayer,
Legge adds at the beginning of the second stanza '(he says),'-but this merely adjusts imbalanced
lines, making the meaning clearer but bringing no aesthetic quality to the piece. (See 'Sacred
Books of the East', 3, 1879, 360.)
74

75 The

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JAMES LEGGEIS METRICAL BOOK OF POETRY

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large number of them occurring in the ritual sections of the Minor and Major
Odes of the Kingdom (Xiaoya and the Daya).76
Translators of the classical Chinese poems could not but face locutions
which were difficult and even impossible to render into concise English equivalents. In such cases Legge and his collaborators completed English phrases
and sentences in ways that involved shifts in translation and the use of terms
not found in the text. In the 1872 rendition, to indicate this, Legge regularly
used square brackets around all additional words not explicitly included in the
Chinese. In the 1876 translations, this technique appeared much less frequently,
simply because the poetic rendering involved so many variations of language,
rhyme, rhythm, images, grammar and non-verbal cues. In the 1872 version the
poem was either taken as an organic whole, an acceptable rendering of the
Chinese text, or it was split into authentic and inauthentic text. This division
was not suited to the 1876 version, and so was less frequent.
A technique which had irritated Legge's critic, Lister, but which ignorance
of the names of certain plants or the absence of equivalents made necessary
was the use of transliterated terms. Whenever there was a problem of identification, Legge referred to the 'Japanese plates', as he so often called them in his
commentarial notes-the text by Oka Genpo, [A0,? Studies of the plates Of
items found In Mao's Shijing [Hoshi hinbutsu zuko] n0A~tN-i , published in
Naniwa V* [Osaka], in the fourth year of the Tenmei emperor (A.D. 1784).
He not only referred to the most suitable name for these plants and other
items in the metrical Shijing, but in the 1872 edition he also tried to identify
them by their Latin names.77 Some mysteries nevertheless remained and, as
mentioned above, these were presented in transliterated forms with explanations provided in the notes.
The last technique I will identify here, already mentioned in the initial
description of Legge's three translations, is the use of notes. These functioned
as the place for critical analysis and assessment as well as comparative study.
Legge's notes for the 1876 version presented more or less the same position as
those of the 1872 translation, but in one case they clearly differed.
V J Legge reversed his interpretive position on
In the Binfeng Fanke 19W Fflt
the basis of his own intertextual interpretation of the poem. In 1872 he had
followed commentators of both major schools (Mao and Zhu) in describing
the poem as a metaphor referring to Duke Zhou NJAl,but he admitted even
there, 'I say [this] with them, hardly knowing why, but having nothing better
to say.' At the end of the notes, however, he pointed out that the first two
lines of the second stanza also appeared in The Doctrine of the Mean, suggesting
in that intertextual context that the real point here was 'the rule for man's
way of life is in himself '.78 Four years later, Legge was convinced that this
interpretation should be upheld, even though it went against the historical
claims of other commentators. It is precisely in such cases that notes as a
translation technique are at their most effective. They allowed Legge to guide
readers towards a particular point of view which would colour their reading,
and to lead them to question the views of other commentators he had read.
76 One such speech, which has been completely overlooked in religious studies of these poems
in English involves the words of God (Shangdi) spoken to King Wen. See the 'Daya Wenwang
Huangyi' Qt*3C [I * J, Metrical She King (1876), 297.
In CC, Iv, 1872, Legge referred to over 75 species and genera under their Latin rubric, and
77
a similar number in some English form. It is instructive to note that he only referred to two such
items by their Latin names in the Metrical She King (1876): dentirostres and Anas galericulata
(pp. 233 and 262 respectively).
78 CC, IV, 1872, 240.

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84

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The text of the poem itself remained largely unaffected and largely 'faithful'
to the original in a relatively literal rendering.
This is indicative of one of the basic commitments of Legge's approach to
translation. If there were reasons to oppose the commentators because of some
overlooked aspect clearly there in the classical texts themselves, the texts had
greater authority and had to be interpreted accordingly. In this sense, Legge
was no longer acting merely as translator but also as interpreter of the text
and its traditions.
IV. 'Once Beclouded': concludingremarks
The project of the metrical Shijing in English is a unique contribution to
sinological translation. As we have seen, although James Legge had translated
The Book of Poetry three times, only the second version consciously attempted
to render each piece in metrical form. No other major scholar has attempted
a metrical version; those before Legge who had presented texts claiming to be
metrical renderings of the Confucian classic were hampered by their reliance
on secondary sources. Unlike his other two translations of this classic, the
metrical renditions were worked on with four others. But Legge was the final
editor and his basic principle was that the poems should be metrical while
being as faithful as possible to the historical and conceptual content of the
original poems.
The major historical problem raised by Legge's work is that the metrical
version did not receive either the attention or republication that so many of
his other texts did. One possible reason for its being forgotten is that the title
of the book was the same as the prose version published four years earlier in
1872. Another more profound reason, perhaps, is that the contemporary attitude to translation preferred a readable English text over one which presented
the multiple levels of the Chinese text in all its diversity.
A further criticism was levied against Legge's first edition of the Shijing in
1937 by none other than Arthur Waley:
The best translation of [The Book of Poetry] in traditional interpretation
is that of Couvreur, which faithfully follows the commentary of Chu Hsi
[Zhu Xi]. Legge mixes up the Chu Hsi interpretation with that of the Han
commentators and dilutes both with suggestions of his own, so that to-day
his translation serves no useful purpose.79
The assumption on which Waley makes his criticism is that a translation
should be representative of a particular tradition. But Legge was representative
of the living tradition of the time; he embodied the practice of living Confucian
scholars, and chose his own way, just as they did. Waley, from the standpoint
of a post-imperial China, was interested in the representativeness of traditions
which had already largely died in Chinese society. Legge lived with Confucian
scholars in a colonial context, close to and interacting with their homeland;
his work is a vital link in our understanding of those scholars and the way
they applied Confucian principles of interpretation and their own insights to
advance the study of the classics. A testimony to this judgement was given in
a memorial presented to Dr. Legge by his colleague, the Confucian scholar
Wang Tao, as Legge prepared to depart from Hong Kong in 1873:

the ancient Chinese classic of


79 See Arthur Waley in his appendix to The Book of Songs:
poetry, 337.

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Dr. Legge ... did not shrink from difficulties. Concentrating on the study
of the Thirteen Classics, he threaded together, scrutinized, examined into
sources, and analysed. He maintained his own views and did not simply
follow tradition. In his study of the Classics, he did not favour any one
school or devote himself to any one theory, but he made wide and extensive
his studies in order to reach a perfect comprehension. Generally speaking,
he took his materials from Ma (Yung) and Cheng (Hsuan), and blended
them with the views of the two Cheng and Chu (Hsi). He was not partial
either to the Han School or to the Sung School. He translated the Four
Books and The Book Of History which, when published and read by
Western scholars, were received with admiration for their thoroughness,
lucidity, and accuracy, and were accepted by them as authoritative ....
Alas! the Classics [jing T] are hardly studied nowadays .... [W]ho is
there within the Four Seas to continue this study now? Yet Dr. Legge as a
Western scholar devoted himself to the Classical studies, and bent down to
the work of editing and proof-reading. He undertook the difficult task of
translating all the Classics in order to fulfil his purpose of benefiting scholars
of later generations. But this was not all that Dr. Legge had in mind-in
fact, it was only subsidiary work done in his spare time. His main purpose
was to preach the Gospel to bring salvation to the whole world and to lead
men to eternal life, so that the light of the Christian doctrine could shine
in every corner of the earth ...
For over twenty years, [Dr. Legge] never ceased from loving talent and
cherishing scholars, teaching them to hold to the great principles and not
esteem petty virtues. Everybody in Kwangtung [Guangdong], whether
acquainted with him or not, when they hear his name, are full of his praise.
Thus one can see what kind of a man Dr. Legge is.80
so This English translation by Lindsay Ride is included in a biographical note on James Legge,
now published at the beginning of CC, I, 16-17.

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