Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marginal Amusement at the Bodleian

Earlier today, under inspiration from the latest blog entry from Janus, I was doing an internet search for ‘Hero Capable [of overcoming all comers all at] Once,’ or, in the original tongue, Dpa'-bo Chig-thub. What to my great surprise could possibly pop up, but a rare catalog of Tibetan manuscripts and so forth that are kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. It’s so rare it’s not even a publication, really, just a typescript done, as you might expect, on a typewriter. I could hardly believe my eyes. What could explain this outrageously good fortune?
A Descriptive Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts Held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, prepared by John E. Stapleton Driver in ca. 1970, and revised by David Barrett, 1993. Total page count: 152.
Some very thoughtful person put it up for us in a searchable PDF format. Here.

You can find something entertaining already, 4 pages into it (there are no page numbers) in the entry for MS.Tibet.a.1, described as "a meditation text," with the title Bla mgon dbyer med kyi rnal 'byor thun mongs ma yin pa nyamsu len tshul rin chen dbang gi rgyal po'i do shal.

Someone wrote on the title page (I give it 'as is,' except for changing it into Wylie):  'di mang gi yi ge phal cher ma dag pa dang 'ga zhig rang zo byas pa'ang mang tsam 'dug pas zhu dag tong tshod mi 'dug go.  This is there translated, “As the text in this is generally corrupt and in a good many cases even made up, there’s no end to correcting it.”

A second person wrote on the title page in a different hand:  'di 'bri mkhan dang khyed rang gnyis ka ma dag pas skyon dan[g] .... rang bzo byed mkhan gtso bo khyed rang 'dra.  — khyed 'dra bas zhus dag gtong ba las ma gtang ba dga 'dug. This is translated, “Of the writer of this and yourself, the chief introducer of corruptions and inventions seems to be yourself." — "Rather than have someone like you make corrections, they were better not made at all.”

And finally, at the end of the text, somebody wrote (in English? Well, no Tibetan is given):  “It would shame you if a scholar were to see such a corrupt text, so I suggest you burn it.”

The original text was purchased in 1885 from two of the Schlagintweit brothers: R.H. and A. If you are like me you may well have trouble keeping straight which of the five Schlagintweit brothers was which, in which case this webpage would be a big help.

But what about the person given as the author of the text, the monk Legshé Ludrub (Legs-bshad-klu-sgrub)?  

A quick search of TBRC and a few other places turned up neither the title of this guruyoga text nor its author.  Who can he be? Where’s our good Doctor Watson?

John E. Stapleton Driver, in case you don’t remember, was the one who translated R.A. Stein’s Tibetan Civilization into English.

As part of this catalog, you can find some of the papers that were left behind by W.Y. Evans-Wentz (1878-1965) — famous editor of such well known works as The Tibetan Book of the Dead — after his own entry into the bar-do. Among these papers are some draft translations by Lama Kazi Dawa Samdrup.

Some of the Tibetan books here came from Solomon C. Malan (1812-1894), a friend and student of Csoma de Körös. For more about this, see P.J. Marczell, The Tibetan Mss. of the Malan Bequest in the Bodleian and Their Relation to the Life and Works of Csoma Körösi, Studia Asiatica, vol. 2, nos. 1-2 (2000), pp. 55-71.  Get it for free (or not!) here.

Other materials came from Samuel Turner (1749-1802), author of An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama in Tibet (London 1800).

”A.D. 1806.
”Fifty pounds were paid for some ' Tibetan MSS.' of Capt. Samuel Turner,E.I C.S., who had been sent by Warren Hastings,on a mission to the Grand Llama, in 1785. Of this mission he published an account, in a quarto volume, in 1800. His MSS. consist chiefly of nine bundles of papers and letters in the Persian and Tartar languages, written in the last century, together with a few Chinese printed books. Capt. Turner died Jan. 2, 1802; but as one of his sisters was married to Prof. White,* it was probably through him that the papers were now purchased.”  
        For the source, look here.

(*My note: I guess this means Joseph White, since he did indeed marry Mary Turner, sister of Samuel.)
For more about this, see the late Michael Aris’s article, A Note on the Resources for Tibetan Studies at Oxford, Bodleian Library Record, vol. 10, no. 6 (May 1982), pp. 368-375. Or look at this page of the Bodleian's own website (scroll down the page to the section about Tibet).

Even if they do have street lamps in Oxford, this is not one of them.
Look up the word panopticon for a clue.
Wasn't it invented by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832),
and isn't he the one they still keep locked up in a closet
in London University? None of it makes sense to me. Not really.

If the kind person who did this is still in a generous mood, I suggest they put up two other rare catalogs of Tibetan manuscripts that exist (however seldom) in typescripts.  They are:

P. Denwood, Catalogue of Tibetan Mss and Block-prints outside the Stein Collection in the India Office Library (1975), in 145 pages.  For a reference, look here.

E. Gene Smith, University of Washington Tibetan Catalogue, vols. 1-2 (Seattle 1969).  For a reference, look here.

Or is this asking too much?

Overlooking something?

Who took the photos?  I must confess, it was moi.  All 4 were taken in Oxford, around the time of the Xth IATS in 2003.

Update —  December 31, 2011

For an update with important further information by Charles Manson, particularly the part about an upcoming online catalogue of the Bodleian's Tibetan collection, look here.


  1. R.K. wrote (and I quote):

    By the way, the Schlagintweit collection was sold to the Bodleian by Emil (Hermann, Adolph and Robert were dead by then). He was a civil servant in Bavaria and hadn't been to Central Asia. When I came to the Bavarian State Library in 2007 I realized that they also keep a copy of the original "Schlagintweit collection" handlist compiled by Emil for the mere purpose of selling the entire set. But the Bavarians couldn't or didn't want to cough up the money, so it went to England instead!

    There is a really interesting and long article about the Schlagintweit brothers' work for the Geological Survey of India (a somewhat controversial appointment since they were Germans!) by Gabriel Finkelstein ("Conquerors of the Künlün": The Schlagintweit Mission to High Asia, 1854-57, published in 2000), which is available here.

  2. Actually I got it wrong: The Schlagintweits were not appointed to the Geological Survey of India (only established in 1851) but to the Magnetic Survey, a very different and earlier project, which (according to Finkelstein) "was the largest scientific undertaking in the first half of the nineteenth century" (p. 186).


  3. I'm glad we got that straight, R. What was that early-mid-19th century obsession with magnetism all about, anyway?

    Looking a bit on the internet, I found this Blogspot blog about Pundit Man Singh Rawat, which seems quite relevant to the Schlagintweits. They collected such a lot of stuff for the sake of science! Here their expeditions in western Tibet & Ladakh, etc. are dated to 1854-56.

  4. I wonder if people are aware of this very interesting catalog of Tibetan manuscripts and woodblock prints in the possession of the National Archives in Kathmandu.

    Bod yig dkar chags [Catalogue of Tibetan Texts], Government of Nepal, Department of Archaeology, National Archives (Kathmandu 2007), vol. 1. Vol. 2 was published in 2008, vol. 3 in 2011.

    Some of you may find it worthwhile to make the extra effort it will take to obtain these. Ought to be easy if you're passing through KTM on your way to wherever.

  5. Sorry, I forgot what may be essential information. The cataloging for these cataogs was done by Punya Prasad Parajuli and Mohan Singh Lama, although the title page also names Bhim Prasad Nepal as Chief Editor and Jagannath Upadhyaya as Editor.

    The cataloging appears to be very well done indeed. Still, it's important for people to be aware that Nepal-made Tibetan manuscripts are often spelled in unexpected ways, and for this reason it would be unfair and mistaken to blame the unusual spellings on the catalogers!

    The three so-far existing volumes contain only part of what is yet to come. The whole set is arranged according to the Tibetan-language titles in Tibetan-style alphabetic order. The last entry in vol. 3 begins with BO, which means quite a lot of the alphabet still remains to be covered.


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