Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- I -- GENERAL MATERIALS
- PART TWO
- 11 -- ORIENTAL DIVISION AND GENERAL ORIENTAL RESOURCES
- RESOURCES
- Manuscripts

Manuscripts

Oriental Division

Although the Oriental Division does not have special facilities for the storage of manuscripts, 268 bound manuscripts are found on the general book shelves. The great majority of these are Arabic, with several Persian and Turkish items. Included are treatises on religion, medicine, law, and the sciences, ranging from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries. With the exception of occasional diagrams, they are not illuminated. The earliest and perhaps the most precious manuscript is the "Al-mujmal fi al-lughat," by Ibn Faris, the first part of an Arabic dictionary copied in Medina in 1172.5

Chinese items housed in the Oriental Division include 12 manuscript concordances or indexes of Chinese characters and phrases used by James Legge in his translation of The Chinese Classics (Hong Kong and London, 1861-72). There are also certain texts prepared by the Chinese scholar Wang T'ao for Legge's use in the same work.6

Manuscripts and Archives Division

The Manuscripts and Archives Division holds more than 1,000 manuscripts, tablets, and stone

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inscriptions in Oriental languages. Among items of note are an Egyptian stone inscription and papyrus fragments, and 624 Sumerian and Babylonian clay and stone tablets from the collection of Wilberforce Eames.7 The 26 Arabic manuscripts include copies of the Koran in old Cufic characters dating from the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, and an illustrated treatise on the human body dated 1278. Among other manuscripts are 37 texts in Pali of the Tripitakas in Burmese script on palm leaves. 3 Batak soothsayer books on bark or bamboo, and 15 Persian manuscripts, most of them dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Eight Ethiopic manuscripts on vellum, some illustrated, represent amulets and psalters, for the most part of the eighteenth century. Among the 4 Chinese manuscripts is an eighteenth-century copy of sections 15,951 to 15,958 of the Yung Lo Ta Tien of the Ming dynasty, the last full copy of which was destroyed in the burning of the Summer Palace near Peking in 1860 at the order of Lord Elgin. A small group of 3 Manchu manuscripts are of some interest, especially a scroll dated 1661 in Manchu and Chinese containing an imperial decree bestowing honors on the mother of a Manchu officer of the second heredity rank.8

Relevant manuscripts in English consist of sea journals and logs, correspondence, and commercial papers of firms or persons engaged in trade or travel between the United States and the Far East. The manuscripts range in date from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Additional materials furnish sources for the study of diplomatic relations of the United States and Eastern powers. Some of the collections of this nature are discussed below; others are scattered in groups of documents and papers in the division.9

Among the papers presented to the library by Mrs. Thomas F. Burgess in 1939 are two series of letters written from Persia and the Near East during the years 1827 to 1855 by the brothers Charles and Edward Burgess. These letters provide a history of the adventures and fortunes of Westerners in the Orient.10

The letters of the Hon. Townsend Harris, presented by Mrs. Thomas A. Janvier in 1921, were written to her and her mother Mrs. Sandwith Brinker during Harris's sojourn in Japan as the first United States Consul-General, later the first United States Minister during the period 1856 to 1862. The letters do not refer to diplomatic affairs, but to the country, the customs of the people, and incidents of his daily life.11

The John Redman Coxe Lewis journal and log-book of the corvette USS Macedonian gives a day-by-day account of the expedition of Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in 1854, with descriptions of Japan and its people.12 The diary of C. Blue, kept during the author's tour of duty on the U.S. sloop of war Vandalia (1853-56), describes Commodore Perry's reception in Japan and incidents in Shanghai during the Taiping Rebellion. A scroll of watercolor sketches by a Japanese artist of the scene on the first day after Perry's arrival at Uraga is in the Spencer Collection. It was the gift of Dr. Frank P. O'Brien.13

The Constable-Pierrepont papers (1774-1890) and the papers of Fogg Brothers of Boston (1840-1926) contain documents related to trade with the Orient.

The George C. Foulk papers, consisting of about 1,000 pieces, relate to Korea during the period from 1884 to 1887.14 The collection was supplemented in 1924 by a gift of 44 volumes and more than 300 separate pieces from Dr. Horace Newton Allen, former minister to Korea, including his personal and official diaries for the period 1884 to 1905, and correspondence, commissions, account books, files of Korean newspapers, and translations.15 In the gift is a collection of Korean poems dated from 1665 to 1745, illustrated with drawings by a native artist.16

In 1965, Mrs. A. Hawkins of Daytona Beach gave 3 boxes of material relating to the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean business of the mercantile firm of Frazar & Company, and to Everett Frazar's activity as Consul-General to the Kingdom of Korea in the United States and member of the American Asiatic Society. The period covered is 1883 to 1948.

Manuscripts pertaining to the Philippines are found in the Obadiah Rich collection. They consist of transcripts, dated about 1800, of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century accounts of voyages to the Philippines, together with historical and descriptive material. Other collections of the division contain an eighteenth-century Spanish naval log book, and papers relating to the attack on the Philippines by the United States and the War of Independence of 1898 and 1899. Also noteworthy are transcripts of the Acts of the Junta de Censura de Imprenta dating from 1866 to 1875.

Spencer Collection

The Spencer Collection's Oriental manuscripts, which number about 600, were collected principally for their illustrative and calligraphic value. These manuscripts are treated in greater detail in the discussion of the Spencer Collection and pertinent subject areas. Outstanding among them are

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the Persian manuscripts, including the sumptuously illustrated Shahn[amacr ]meh of Firdausi made for Shah Abbas I in 1614;17 the "Aja-ib al-Makhluquat" [The wonders of the world] by Kazw[imacr ]n[imacr ], completed some time after 1370. Turkish manuscripts include a Shahn[amacr ]meh translated into Turkish, perhaps the only complete copy of the Turkish translation in existence.18 Japanese manuscripts and scrolls number 235, with such items as the "Iwaya No Soshi" [The princess in the cave, or the stepmother] consisting of 70 full-page miniatures dating from about 1540. The Catalogue of Japanese Illustrated Books and Manuscripts in the Spencer Collection of The New York Public Library, compiled by Shigeo Sorimachi, was published in Tokyo in 1968. It is in Japanese, with titles translated into English.