On the Tracks of a Lost Book

Hartmut Walravens

On the Tracks of a Lost Book

(65th Meeting Astana, 2023)

The Manchu language has played an important role in European Oriental Studies – before 1912 as an official language of the Chinese Empire, as a key to the vast amount of archival material of imperial China, as a door-opener to the Tungus languages. The first chair of Chinese in Europe, occupied by Jean Pierre Rémusat who called himself Abel-Rémusat, was a chair of Chinese and Manchu, and he and also his successor, Stanislas Julien, were masters of Manchu, too.

The first comprehensive Manchu dictionary was the work of a Jesuit, Jean Joseph Amiot, and it was published in Paris in 1785, and for 80 years it remained the standard work, despite well-bemoaned disadvantages. Already in the 1820 Julius Klaproth (1783–1835) worked on a new dictionary, with the support of the Société asiatique. The progress on the work was satisfactory as can be seen from the news provided in the Journal asiatique – a new and well designed typography was created, with the help of Baron Schilling von Canstadt, and in 1829 the bulky manuscript seemed to be ready for printing. But then there was suddenly silence on the subject – the book was not printed, the manuscript is not listed among Klaproth’s papers in 1840, it cannot be found in libraries – it seems lost! Only in 1864 a handy, practical Manchu dictionary was published by Conon von der Gabelentz, a linguist and politician in Saxony.

The paper tries to analyse the extant historical information on Klaproth’s dictionary.