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The Book of Poetry, tr. by James Legge, [1876], at

The following is the Preface to the 1876 edition. It is not included in the Shanghai edition.—JBH


IN the third chapter of the Prolegomena the author has endeavoured to state clearly the principles on which the metrical version of the Book of China's ancient poetry, published in the present volume, has been made, and will only repeat here that his readers will find in it, in an English dress, the Chinese poems themselves, and not others composed by paraphrase from them. It remains for him to relate how he came to undertake the work, and the assistance that he has received in completing it.

While preparing his larger and critical work on the She, published at Hong-Kong in 1871, though, as he has stated in the chapter referred to, he did not think that the collection as a whole was worth the trouble of versifying; it often occurred to him that not a few of the pieces were well worth that trouble; and if he had had the time to spare, he would then have undertaken it. Occupied with other Chinese classics, the subject of versifying any portion of the She passed from his mind until he received in the spring of 1874, from his nephew, the Rev. John Legge, M.A., of Brighton in Victoria, Australia, a suggestion that he should bring out a metrical version of the whole Book. To encourage him to do so, his nephew promised his own assistance, and that of his brother, the Rev. James Legge, M.A., of Hanley, Staffordshire, while another helper might be found in the Rev. Alexander Cran, M.A., of Fairfield, near Manchester.

A plan for the versification of all the pieces was drawn out in harmony with this suggestion, and the principles on which the versions should be made were laid down. Various causes, however, operated to prevent each of his helpers from doing all the portion that had been assigned to him, and many of the versions which were sent had to be altogether set aside. Fully three-fourths of the volume are the author's own, while he had much to do in revising the other fourth. To all his three associates be tenders his most cordial thanks. Many of the pieces have a beauty which they would not have possessed but. for them; and several of them-of those especially from Australia-as they came to him, glowed with more of the fire of poetry than they now show.

To another gentleman he has also to acknowledge his great obligation. When he was beginning to see the end of his task, be asked his old Hong Kong friend, W. T. Mercer, Esq., M.A. Oxford, to read and revise his manuscript before it went to the press. He knew he could not have a kinder critic, nor an abler,-as all will say who are acquainted with Mr. Mercer's own volume of "Under the Peak; or, Jottings in Verse, during a lengthened residence in the Colony of Hong-Kong," published in 1869.

Mr. Mercer kindly acceded to the request, and went over every one of the pieces, pruning, correcting, and smoothing the versification, and making otherwise various suggestions. He recast some of the pieces in the first Part. The author has appended two of his recastings to his own versions, and 1. ii. V. should have been mentioned as entirely his. In other cases it was found advisable to remake the pieces. To Mr. Mercer also the Work is indebted, as the reader will perceive, for Latin versions of some of the pieces.

Two metrical versions in German of the old Chinese poems have existed for a good many years. The one was published at Altona, in 1833, with the title:—"Schi-King, Chinesisches Liederbuch, gesammelt von Confucius, dem Deutschen angeeiguet von Friedrich Rückert;" the other at Crefeld, in 1844, with the title:—"Schi-King, oder Chinesische Lieder, gesammelt von Confucius. Neu und frei nach P. La Charme's lateinischer Uebertragung bearbeitet. Für’s deutsche Volk herausgegeben von Johann Cramer." Of these the former by Rückert has much the greater merit, and the second translator had it constantly before him. The present version, however, is under no obligation to either, nor can a comparison be instituted between it and them. Cramer says that his version was "freely" made from Lacharme's Latin translation; nor had Rückert any other original. Of the character of Lacharme's translation the author has spoken in the preface to his larger Work.

    122, King Henry's Road, London,
        April, 1876.

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