Many fine full-page woodcuts. 56; 51; 42 folding leaves. Three vols. Large 4to (337 x 260 mm.), orig. yellow wrappers, orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers (labels a bit frayed), new stitching (a little loose). [China]: from title-page in trans.: “woodblocks owned by Yi xue xuan, 1801.”
An important and uncommon large-format edition of the “first of all Chinese encyclopaedias, containing so much botanical and zoological terminology.”–Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 6, Part 1: Botany, p. 191. This edition of the Er Ya contains the enlargements and commentary of Guo Pu (276-324), considered “the greatest commentator of the Erh Ya” (Needham, p. 188).
Guo, Chinese historian, poet, and writer, is best known as one of China’s foremost commentators of ancient texts and was a notable natural historian. Considered the most learned man of his age, he was also the first to define feng shui. Today, his edition of the Er Ya is considered to be authoritative and definitive, and without his glosses and commentaries, large portions of this text would be unintelligible.
The authorship and dating of the Er Ya is extremely uncertain; most of its elements were written between 450 and 140 BCE. The text is the first surviving Chinese dictionary, the first Chinese encyclopedia, and one of the “Thirteen Classics,” “making it one of the more revered works in the history of Chinese literature, not to mention lexicography.”–Creamer, “Lexicography and the History of the Chinese Language,” in History, Languages, and Lexicographers (Lexicographica, Series maior 41, 1992), p. 112.
The text is divided into 19 chapters, each explaining, in turn: old words, words, instructions (these first three chapters define abstract words), relatives (kinship), dwellings (architecture and engineering), utensils (tools, weapons, clothing, and their uses), music (including instruments and dancing), the heavens (astronomy, the stars, etc.), earth (geography, geology), hills (topography and feng shui terms), mountains (geology), waterways (rivers, navigation, irrigation, boating), plants (grasses, herbs, grains, and vegetables), trees (trees, shrubs, botanical terms), insects (includes reptiles), fishes (includes amphibians), birds, beasts (wild and legendary animals), and domestic animals (livestock, horses, pets, poultry, and zoological terms).
The final seven chapters describe more than 590 species of flora and fauna. It is a notable document in natural history.
Fine set. Some worming, in one or two places inexpertly repaired. Preserved in a chitsu.
❧ Morton, History of Botanical Science, p. 59-”the great Chinese dictionary Erh Ya…some 334 plants were mentioned, classed as either trees or herbs. The literary and popular name of each plant was given, together with a short descriptive definition…The many technical descriptive terms for plants which appear in the dictionary indicate the building of a systematic botanical terminology.” The Er Ya and its importance runs through all of Needham’s volume on botany in China.
Item ID: 6978