The First French Scholar of Chinese

Catalogue des Ouvrages de Monsieur Fourmont l’ainé, Professeur en Langue Arabe au College Royal de France, Associé de l’Académie Royale des Inscriptions & Belles-Lettres, Interprête, & Sou-Bibliothequaire du Roy &c.

18 p.l., 123 pp. 8vo, cont. marbled wrappers (minor browning). Amsterdam: 1731.

First edition of a very uncommon book. Fourmont (1683-1745), “was the first scholar in France to deal with Chinese matters. He started his career in the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres as a Hebraist and had written several small books on Hebrew matters, but he left this discipline and turned to Chinese in 1711. At that time he met a young French-speaking Chinese man by the name of Arcadio Huang [(1679-1716),] in the Bibliothèque Nationale; Huang was the only Chinese speaking-person in France. Fourmont seized the opportunity to be introduced to Chinese, a language hitherto completely unknown in France. For the rest of his life he laboured with this language. Arcadio Huang taught him the pronunciation of Chinese syllables, and quite particularly, he introduced him to the 214 radicals.”-from the Preface of Knud Lundbaek in Cécile Leung, Etienne Fourmont (1683-1745) Oriental and Chinese Languages in Eighteenth-Century France (2002).

Because of his ability to read Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, and Persian, Fourmont had been appointed by Jean Paul Bignon as under-librarian of the Oriental Section of the Library. By the time of his appointment, there were considerable holdings of Chinese printed books, thanks to the gifts of various Jesuit missionaries and bulk purchases from the Foreign Missions of Paris. Fourmont worked with Huang in making an inventory of the 1000 or so Chinese books in the Royal Library. Fourmont was also charged in making lists of desiderata which were sent to missionaries in China, India, and Siam, requesting them to buy the books on the lists.

He wrote two large books on the Chinese language: the Meditationes Sinicae (1737), a history of Chinese studies in the West and with a list of methods of identifying characters, the ordering system of Chinese dictionaries, and a basic grammar. The other was Linguae Sinarum Mandarinicae Hieroglyphicae grammatica duplex (1742) which sets forth the syntactic rules and functions of different parts of speech in Chinese.

Fourmont’s greatest feat was having 80,000 fine Chinese characters engraved in Paris for his many proposed dictionaries. These engraved characters are today at the Bibliothèque Nationale.

This work is primarily an auto-bibliography of works, published, unpublished, and projected, by Fourmont, These include papers read before the Académie; works on the origins of languages; essays on the Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese languages; his projected dictionaries of Chinese; and a long account of how the Chinese collections in the Royal Library were built, his cataloguing of the collection, and the massive project of engraving the Chinese typefaces.

Very good copy.

❧ N.B.G., Vol. 18, cols. 354-65.

Price: $7,500.00

Item ID: 6308

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