Members of a group of Chinese teachers visiting Special Collections recently were very taken with the Library’s copies of Robert Morrison’s Dictionary of the Chinese Language (1815-1823) and Grammar of the Chinese Language (1815). Both books, the first publications of their kind, were given to the Library by John Bullar, a friend of Henry Robinson Hartley, the founder of the Hartley Institution. Intriguingly, the Grammar contains a note from the author to Bullar describing where the language was used, raising the question of how they knew each other – Morrison having spent most of his adult life in China and Bullar being a lifelong resident of Southampton.
The fact that Morrison was a missionary and his interest in the Chinese language arose from his undertaking to translate the Bible, suggests that the link between the two men was the British and Foreign Bible Society. As the Secretary of the Southampton Branch, Bullar, a Deacon of Southampton’s Above Bar Chapel, would have known of Morrison’s work and of the grants the Society made towards his publication of the Chinese New Testament in 1814 and the Bible in 1823.
Prior to leaving for China, Morrison had attended David Bogue’s Missionary Academy at Gosport and their paths may well have crossed at this time. A speech Bullar made in Southampton in October 1827 was reported in the Evangelical Magazine and confirms that he and Morrison were acquainted, ‘I can add, from my personal knowledge of the great, the good, the devoted Dr Morrison, that he told me incidentally that such had been his application to the Chinese language … he had scarcely the pen out of his hand from six in the morning till ten at night.’
Another Hampshire resident, Sir George Staunton of Leigh Park, provided crucial support for Morrison after he arrived in Canton in 1807. Staunton had had a lifelong interest in China, accompanying his father, also Sir George, on the first British Embassy to China in 1793 and later becoming chief of the East India Company’s factory at Canton. In his memoirs, Staunton wrote that from the time of Morrison’s arrival they were in constant communication, either personally or by letter.
Staunton helped Morrison to find language tutors, it being illegal for the Chinese to teach their language to a foreigner, and later gave him employment as a translator for the Company. When it became know that Morrison had published the translation of the New Testament, it was Staunton’s intervention which enabled him to keep his job – both the East India Company and the Chinese Government prohibiting the work of foreign missionaries. The Company did, however, recognise the value of Morrison’s Dictionary, not least to its own employees, shipping a printing press to Macau so that it could be published.
Leaving Morrison to his translating and missionary work, Staunton returned to Britain in 1817, settling at Leigh Park in 1819 and pursuing a political career. His love of China was reflected in his house and the development of the estate, though much had still to be done when Morrison, back in Britain for two years, paid a visit in September 1825. According to his wife this was the ‘longest interval of rest that Dr Morrison allowed himself to indulge in during the two years of his sojurn in England’. Morrison was able to admire the Temple which commemorated several friends from China whom he and Staunton had in common, but the Chinese bridge, Chinese boathouse and Chinese summerhouse described in Edward Lloyd’s Notices of Leigh Park Estate (1836), had yet to be built.
After this visit, Morrison never returned to Britain, dying in Canton in August 1834, and leaving as his legacy the contribution he made to the opening up of cultural relations between Britain and China, through his pioneering publications on the Chinese language.