January 13, 2012

Biography of the Dragon-like Heavenly Sovereign and Emperor of High Virtue

The original edition of this work was described in the annotated catalog Dao zang mu lu xiang zhu (Catalog of the Daoist canon with detailed annotations) as consisting of six juan. The work is a biography of Laozi, who was traditionally regarded as the author of Dao de jing and the founder of Daoism. The earliest reference to Laozi is found in Shi ji (The records of the grand historian), by Chinese historian Sima Qian (circa 145–86 BC). Laozi was often said to be a contemporary of Confucius (551–479 BC). The lengthy phrase, Tai shang hun yuan shang de huang di (The dragon-like heavenly sovereign) was an honorific title bestowed on Laozi by the Song emperor Zhenzong (reigned 998–1022). This fragmented Ming manuscript copy has two juan in two volumes, and it is possibly a copy that originated from the library of Prince Gaotang of the Ming dynasty, as each volume has a square-shaped seal impression of the prince’s ex libris: Gaotang Wang fu tu shu (Library of Prince Gaotang Mansion). A grandson of Emperor Xianzong (reigned 1465–87), Prince Gaotang (1514–83), whose real name was Zhu Houying,  was known as a scholar of encyclopedic knowledge, a calligrapher, and a collector of books who often had rare books copied. This Ming edition was copied from a Song text. The author was Jia Shanxiang, a famed Daoist, conversationalist, and zither-player of the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127). A number of his works, among them You long zhuan (Biography of a dragon-like master), can be found in Zheng zong dao zang (Orthodox Daoist canon).

Compendium of Materia Medica

Printed during the Wanli period, Ben cao gang mu (Compendium of materia medica) is a work on an encyclopedic scale, in 52 juan of text with two juan of illustrations, in 25 volumes. It was compiled by Li Shizhen (circa 1518–93), a native of Sichuan, who was one of the greatest physicians, pharmacologists, and naturalists in Chinese history. After serving for only one year in the prestigious Imperial Medical Institute, Li returned home to work as a doctor and to begin writing this book. The work and its three revisions took 27 years to complete. The exact date of publication is unknown. Li collected the material by meticulously surveying hundreds of sources in the years 1552–78. He travelled extensively and gathered first-hand experience with herbs and local remedies throughout China, as well as consulted every medical book in print at the time. The result was this work of great scientific, medical, and historical significance. The compendium contains details on approximately 1,800 medicinal drugs, including previously unknown varieties, with illustrations and some 11,000 prescriptions. Each herb is described by its type, form, flavor, nature, and method of application. The work was reissued many times during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) and since then. It has been translated into many languages, and is still considered the premier reference tool for Chinese herbal medicine. Also included are discussions on such related subjects as botany, zoology, mineralogy, and metallurgy. The author grouped his material into the categories of animal, mineral, and plant. Also included is a bibliography of 900 or so book titles. A label indicates that this copy was originally owned by Fujiyama of Izumo. The corrections, written in red ink on the top margins, were made by the Japanese medical scholar, Mori Tatsuyuki. The preface, dated 1590, is by Wang Shizhen (1526–90), a preeminent man of letters and historian of the Ming dynasty.

Supplement to Compendium of Materia Medica

This work is a supplement to the 16th-century Ben cao gang mu (Compendium of materia medica) in manuscript form, of 11 juan, in 20 volumes, compiled by Zhao Xuemin (circa 1719–1805), a native of Qiantang (present-day Hangzhou), Zhejiang Province. The book is considered the most important medical work of the Qing dynasty. Zhao Xuemin was the son of a renowned physician, and both he and his brother followed in their father’s footsteps. Zhao was known as an avid collector of medical, pharmacological, and astrological works. He cultivated an herbal garden, tested the properties of various plants, and operated a clinic. This work originally was a part of the 100-volume series entitled Liji shi er zhong (Twelve series of Liji), which Zhao completed over decades of collecting and arranging. The work was grouped in 12 categories, encompassing various medical topics relating to diseases, cures, and materia medica, including folk medicine. Of the 12 categories, only two are extant, and these were revised and printed by Zhang Yingchang in the tenth year of the Tongzhi reign (1871). The preface to this manuscript states that it took the author 40 years to complete the work, between 1765 and 1805, during the reigns of Qing emperors Jiaqing and Qianlong. Notwithstanding the lapse of more than 200 years since the publication of Li Shizhen’s Ben cao gang mu, Zhao attempted to fill certain gaps he had found in the earlier compendium. He corrected a number of errors and added a more than 700 medicinal drugs, chiefly taken from the folk tradition. The book has a preface by the author.

January 17, 2012

The Italian Poems of the Master Francesco Petrarcha

Francesco Petrarca (also known as Petrarch, 1304–74) was an Italian poet and scholar, often called the Father of the Renaissance. The greatest scholar of his era, Petrarch advocated the basic continuity between Christianity and the classical culture of Greece and Rome. While he wrote mainly in Latin and personally discovered many long-lost Latin manuscripts, he is best known for his Italian lyric poetry, much of it written to Laura, the idealized subject of his love who is identified by many scholars as Laure de Noves (circa 1308–48) of Avignon, France. Le cose volgari is an edition of Petrarch’s Italian poems, produced by the Venetian printer and scholar Aldo Manuzio (circa 1450–1515). In 1501, Aldo started to print so-called "libelli portatiles," editions of texts without scholarly commentary in octavo, a format that until that time was used only for prayer books. The Petrarch was published in July as the first "portable book" in Italian and is an outstanding example of Aldo’s innovative abilities. The book is printed in italic type, which Aldo invented, and which was intended to imitate the handwriting of his time. The text itself was edited by the scholar Pietro Bembo (1470–1547) using a manuscript of Petrarch. Bembo had an enormous influence on the development of Italian as a modern literary language, which he believed should be modeled on Petrarch’s writings. The famous Aldine Collection of the Berlin State Library boasts three copies of the Petrarch, one paper copy, and two illuminated and illustrated copies printed on parchment. One of the parchment copies has an armorial frontispiece representing the noble Priuli family of Venice, presented here, while the other has a portrait of Petrarch. Both of the other Berlin State Library Petrarchs are also in the World Digital Library.

January 18, 2012


In preparation for the peace conference that was to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section with the responsibility of preparing background information that might be needed by British delegates to the conference. Under the leadership of Sir George W. Prothero, director of the Historical Section of the Foreign Office, experts were engaged to write briefs covering the geography, history, and economic, social, and political characteristics of countries and territories with which the delegates might be concerned. In all, more than 160 separate studies were produced on countries and territories in all parts of the world, as well as on general topics such as freedom of the seas, international rivers, and international congresses and conferences. Four volumes of maps also were produced. In 1919–20, as the Paris Peace Conference neared its end, the Foreign Office, responding to requests for information, decided to issue the studies for public use. This work, number 68 in the published series, covers the geography and political history of Mongolia, which had been the subject of complex diplomatic maneuvering among China, Russia, and Mongolia between 1911 and 1915.

January 19, 2012

Letter to Guillaume Budé, March 4, 1521

François Rabelais (1494?-1553) was a French Renaissance writer remembered for his comic masterpiece, Gargantua and Pantagruel. This letter is the first known text by Rabelais. It was written in 1521, when Rabelais was a young monk at the Franciscan monastery of Fontenay-le-Comte, and deeply immersed in the study of Greek and the humanities. The letter is addressed to Guillaume Budé, a classical scholar whom Rabelais admired. Intended to attract Budé’s attention and elicit his encouragement, the letter employs the conventional motifs of classical humanism. Rabelais left the cloister in 1530, studied and later practiced medicine, and published the first part of Gargantua and Pantagruel in 1532. The book is the story of two giants, Gargantua, and his son, Pantagruel, and their many adventures, which Rabelais used to satirize the church hierarchy, lawyers, schools and universities, philosophers, and other aspects of the society in which he lived.