12 March 2019

In my previous blog entry (which I partly wrote as a mise-en-scène for this one), I confessed to having left our albums of model calligraphy (fatie 法帖) until last because they were difficult. This, of course, is what librarians do: shove anything difficult into a cupboard and forget about it – my own cupboard was pretty full when I was dismissed eighteen months ago.

It’s some consolation to find that even Thomas Hyde wasn’t above doing this sort of thing. In his manuscript notes of our Chinese holdings (British Library Sloane Or.853, increasingly quoted in my blog) he has a section headed Praetermissa in Arch. A, literally “Things put aside in Arch[ivum] A” (I won’t repeat the facts about the storage and handling of our earliest Chinese accessions – it’s all explained in an earlier blog entry). I think it’s pretty clear what he meant by “put aside” – one of the items is Sinica 91, something I have put aside these past forty years.

In his notes, Hyde describes the item as follows:

Praetermissa in Arch. A …
182. Liber Fa-tie, continens Calligraphiae exemplaria nitida pro addiscentibus scribere linguam Sinensem.

Things put aside in Arch[ivum] A …
182. A Fa-tie, containing fine examples of calligraphy for those who are learning to write the Chinese language.

In the Bernard catalogue (p.152), we learn a little more about it; it is a roll, and the text appears as white on black:

Rotulae in Archivo A …
2969.18 Liber Sinensis impressus Characteribus albis in charta nigra, continens exemplaria Calligraphiae nitida pro addiscentibus scribere linguam Sinensem.

Rolls in Archivum A …
2969.18 A Chinese printed book with white characters on a black background, containing fine examples of calligraphy for those who are learning to write the Chinese language.

Here is the item as it is currently preserved:


It is bound in a codex, probably by Nicholson. The composition of the codex and the order in which the leaves are presented suggest that in Hyde’s time the Chinese leaves were rolled up in a protective sheet of western paper, and that the whole thing was then rolled in a piece of limp vellum inscribed by Shen and Hyde in the usual way. The inscription is for the most part illegible, that is unless you are Will Poole, for it is he who kindly transcribed and translated it for me within minutes of receiving my e-mail:


A 182
fa Formularius
tie Libellus seu charta
Est libellus pro Institutione eorum qui / primò addiscunt scribere linguam Chinensem, / continens varia Exemplaria rariores / Scripturae tam quadratae quam cursivae. / Anglicè A China Copy-booke.

A 182
法 fa A model
帖 tie album
This is a book for teaching those who are first gaining knowledge of how to write the Chinese language, containing various uncommon examples of writing both squared and cursive. In English: A Chinese copy-book.

The codex contains the first 17 pages of the fatie, but they are not bound in order. Here is the first, which clearly bears its title, Mingshu jixuan fatie 名書集選法帖 (“An album of collected works by famous calligraphers”), and appropriately the very first example is by Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (see my previous blog entry):


The leaf, like all the others, is clearly divided into three panels, with pagination in the lower right corner. Originally they would have been pasted together and folded to make an “accordion” binding (zhezhuang 折裝).

According to Madan and Craster’s Summary catalogue [1], the item was “acquired about 1618”, but I don’t know where this information came from. This means that it must have been printed during the Wanli period at the latest, so I have described it thus in my catalogue:

名書集選法帖 不分卷殘十七葉
洋裝1冊(原活葉) ; 60 x 30公分
Sinica 91

I can find no record of the title in any catalogue, whether printed or online. A Google search for “名書集選法帖” will at the time of writing find only two things: this text in my online list Chinese books in Europe in the 17th century, and a work entitled Mingshu jixuan fatie qianzi wen 名書集選法帖千字文 (the “Thousand character classic”) by the Tang dynasty monk and calligrapher Huaisu 懷素 (737–799) in Osaka Prefectural Nakanoshima Library 大阪府立中之島圖書館 in Japan.

This can only mean either that Sinica 91 is of exceptional rarity, or it isn’t a discrete work, but part of another which I have failed to identify. Either way, it is extraordinary that a work of such quality should have arrived along with the rather cheaper productions of the Jianyang and Jinling commercial printers, and it must surely be the very first calligraphic manual to reach Europe.

1. Summary catalogue of Western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, vol.2 pt.1 (Oxford, 1922), p.558.

2 Responses to “Praetermissum”

  1. Daniel Newham Says:

    Amazing! is there a digital copy I could see? (other than the photo on this blog post)…

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