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Monday, December 16, 2013

First Japanese - English Dictionary - 1830


Here's an item that piques my interest. It's an English to Japanese and Japanese to English dictionary from 1830.

So what, right? What is it? The oldest one out there?

Well... yes... but to me, it's more curious because it's from 1830... over 20 years before Japan opened up her borders to meet with America's Commodore Perry et al...

And here's why... or at least I think I know why...

The dictionary was compiled by Walter Henry Medurst, who was born in London England on April 29, 1796 (died on January 24, 1857), and was educated at St. Paul's School there.

His father was an innkeeper in Scotland, but Medhurst showed a proficiency for printing and typesetting and studied it in school... by 1816, after becoming 'interested' in Christian missions (I don't know how one becomes interested, so much as has a keen desire to impart the word of one God on another culture), Medhurst sailed with the London Missionary Society to Malacca... as they intended it to be a new publishing center... for the Holy Bible.

Malacca is the third-largest Malaysian state... anyhow...

Just before arriving in Malacca, the ship stopped off in Madras, India where after a quick three-month romance, where it is rumored he may have seen 'ankles', Medhurst married Elizabeth Braun, née Martin... who then accompanied him to Malacca.

Medhurst quickly studied the Malay language, and then began learning Chinese characters. By 1819 he became ordained as a minister and continued his missionary work, first in Penang, Malaysia, then at Batavia, which is now better known as Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

In 1840, Medhurst and three others completed a translation of the Holy Bible into Chinese... and by 1848, he had created two volumes of English-Chinese dictionaries.

As well... when peace was achieved within China in 1842, Medhurst helped found the London Missionary Society Press in Shanghai.

Right... so where the hell did the Japanese-English dictionary come into being?

Although it does not appear as though Medhurst actually visited Japan during his lifetime, he still somehow found the time to create this dictionary while he was living in Indonesia...

Let's first see what Rulon-Miller Books has to say about this fine text that it has for sale for a mere $25,000:

MEDHURST, WALTER HENRY. An English and Japanese and Japanese and English vocabulary. Compiled from native works. Batavia: printed by lithography, 1830. - $25,000
First edition of the first Japanese-English dictionary, printed on a lithographic press at Batavia, the present day city of Jakarta, Indonesia; 8vo, pp. viii, [2], 344; text largely in triple column, with the Japanese printed in both Roman and Japanese characters together with English equivalents; later half calf over marbled boards, black morocco label on gilt-decorated spine, marbled edges, with a note on the verso of the front free endpaper "3 dollars - Hong Kong. Bound 1860. Arthur Paget November 10 1857." A very good copy, in a quarter red morocco clamshell box.
Walter Henry Medhurst (1796-1857) was an English missionary who served an apprenticeship in the printing trade before joining the Missionary Society. He was sent to Malacca in 1817 where he spent almost 20 years doing Protestant missionary work in what is now Indonesia. After the Opium War he moved to Shanghai in order to assist in a translation of the New Testament into Chinese, and remained in China until his return to England in 1856.

Medhurst's long career in the Far East made him familiar not only with Malay and Chinese, but also with Japanese. Although he never visited Japan, he set about compiling the present work from whatever sources he could find at hand. As for the quality of printing, Medhurst writes in his introduction that "the printing needs a thousand excuses; but it must be remembered that the work has been executed at a Lithographic press, by a self-taught artist, and in a warm climate, where the Lithography often fails; also that the whole has been written by a Chinese, who understands neither English nor Japanese." He also laments that there was no suitable paper available.
Medhurst went on to publish a Chinese dictionary and conversation book, but this is his first book, as well as the first book from his amateur press.
Not in Trubner's Oriental Catalogue (1882); not in Vancil; Astor Catalogue, p. 146; Zaunmuller, col. 214; 10 copies in OCLC (4 in the U.S.). No copies at auction since 1967; very uncommon in the trade.


For your further edification, I've found some data on Medhurst, because there's dick-all on-line, as pretty much everything written about Medhurst conforms to his missionary work or on his Chinese books - nothing on this, his vocabulary on the Japanese language.

Here’s what the author himself had to say about his dictionary, re-written by myself from a copy of the actual book’s introduction - spellings are the original author's own:

INTRODUCTION
The following compilation is with diffidence offered to the public, principally because the author has never been to Japan, and has never had an opportunity of conversing with the natives: but having through the kindness of several gentlemen from Japan, obtained the sight of some native books, particularly in the Japanese and Chinese character combined, the author has been enabled, from his knowledge of the latter language, to compile the following vocabulary. That it contains faults he is aware, and that it comes far short of what is requisite, he is ready to acknowledge, but he is at the same time conscious of having strictly followed the best native works within his reach, and of having spared no pains to render it as a first attempt tolerable. The printing needs a thousand excuses; but it must be remembered that the work has been executed at a Lithographic press, by a self-taught artist, and in a warm climate, where the Lithography often fails; also that the whole has been written by a Chinese, who understands neither English nor Japanese; added to which, being in a colony, it was found impossible to obtain sufficient paper of a like sort, or of an uniform quality to suit the Lithography. Nothwithstanding all this, it was thought better to print it under the compiler’s eye, rather than by sending it in MS. (AJ’s note: manuscript) to Europe , to run the risk of unnumbered faults, from the illegibility of a hand-writing, or of the unskilfulness of a compositor.

The title of vocabulary has been preferred to that of Dictionary, as the work does not profess to include every word in either language: the second part, however, contains nearly seven thousand words, and might have been increased to double that number, had many terms of Chinese origin been introduced, or others about which some doubt existed: as it is, the utmost caution has been used, scarcely a word being admitted which has not had two or more native authorities to warrant it, and all those European terms being excluded which could not have their counterpart in an Asiatic tongue: thus a mere vocabulary has been produced, and one too of few pretensions and many defects, but such as it is, the compiler casts upon the indulgence of the public, hoping that it will not be hardly dealt with.

The arrangement in the former part of the vocabulary is according to subjects, so that all the words of the same class may be found together: in the second part, the words are arranged according to the Japanese alphabet, in order to facilitate the finding of any given Japanese word.

The Japanese alphabet contains forty-eight letters, and is written in two different ways, sometimes analogous to the printed and written form of our character. The first, which is called Ka.ta.ga.na., is the clearest and most definite, and is chiefly used in dictionaries and works of science; the other, called Hi.ra,ga.na, is more like a running hand, and is the character generally used in all kinds of light reading, and in the transaction of the common business of life: it is also called the female character, from its being used in the following work, from its clearness and legibity, but from the form of the other it is given, to shew their similarity and connection.


Andrew back again... the author Medhurst goes on for a couple more pages describing the pronunciation of the characters, and to be honest, I think it’s cool enough to provide a link for you HERE.

It's quite the spectacular undertaking, and shows the foresight of Medhurst, who believed it was important to have such a document available... and we can only wonder if Commodore Perry might have received one of these books at some point in time in his "negotiations" with the Japanese.

So... $25,000... any book or language collectors out there... this seems like a keeper to me! Ten known copies...

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

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