Strangers in a Strange Land—West Meets East
73. STAUNTON, George [Leonard]. An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to China; Including Cursory Observations Made, and Information Obtained, in Travelling Throughout That Ancient Empire, and a Small Part of Chinese Tartary. Together with A Relation of the Voyage Undertaken on the Occasion By His Majesty's Ship the Lion,and the Ship Hindostan, in the East India Company's Service, to the Yellow Sea, and Gulf of Pekin; as well as of their Return to Europe; With Notices of the Several Places Where They Stopped in Their Way out and Home; Being The Islands Of Madeira, Teneriffe and St. Jago; The Port Of Rio De Janeiro in South America; The Islands Of St. Helena, Tristan d'Acunha, and Amsterdam; The Coast of Java, and Sumatra, the Nanka Isles, Pulo Condore, and Cochin-China.... London: W. Bulmer and Co. for G. Nicol, 1797. 3 vols., as follows:
Text (2 vols.):
Vol. I: , xxxiv, 518 [2, blank] pp., 1 plate (frontispiece portrait: Tchien Lung Ta Whgang Tee Tchien Lung, The Great Emperor), 6 text illustrations (2 botanical subjects, views, boat, Chinese navigational instrument, bound feet).
Vol. II: xx, 626 pp., 2 plates (frontispiece portrait: His Excellency the Earl of Macartney, Embassador [sic] Extraordinary from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China + botanical plate: Camellia Sesanqua, Lady Banks' Camellia), 21 text illustrations (Chinese deities, chairs and carriers, furnishings and artifacts, views, methods of labor and devices, architecture, boats, and finally an Englishman seated in a Chinese garden sketching).
Atlas: 44 sheets of engravings (some folding): 35 plates, 9 maps.
Maps and plates in Atlas:
Note: The maps in this atlas deserve more study; they include early, detailed English renderings of China and its road system. In the short time the Macartney Embassy sojourned in the country, much was learned about China and the groundwork laid for the later founding of Hong Kong. The maps of China listed below were extensively used by subsequent cartographers in the West for several decades, frequently with attribution to Macartney.
Plate 1: A General Chart...to shew the track of the Lion and Hindostan from England to the Gulph of Pekin in China.... Map. Folding.
Plate 2: Sketches of the Island of Santo Paulo, called Amsterdam, in the Indian Ocean.... View and 2 maps.
Plate 3: A Chart of part of the coast of Cochin-China including Turon Harbour and the Island Callao.... Map and view. Folding.
Plate 4: A Chart on Mercator's Projection, containing the Track and Soundings of the Lion, the Hindostan and Tenders, from Turon-Bay in Cochin-China to the mouth of the Pei-Ho River in the Gulph of Pe-Tche-Lee or Pekin. Map. Folding. Vol. I text with explanation of atlas plates has Staunton’s remarks, “As a great part of this track...was never before navigated by European vessels...particular pains were taken to ascertain the squadron’s exact situation at noon of each day.... It may be presumed that these situations, as well as indeed the whole track, are laid down with a tolerable degree of exactness.”
Plate 5: A Chart of the Islands to the Southward of Tchu-San on the Eastern Coast of China generally laid down from one Published by Alexander Dalrymple, Esqre. with additions and alternations. 2 maps and circular profile of harbour. Staunton notes the inaccuracy of previous maps of the region and comments: “It was therefore thought that a new chart, with these and other alterations and additions, might not be useless to the future navigator.”
Plate 6: A Sketch by Compass of the Coast of the Promontory of Shan-Tung with the track of the Ships and the Soundings from the place of first making the Land to the Strait of Mi-A-Tau. Map and profile. Folding.
Plate 7: Cape Macartney... | Cape Gower... | View of the City of Ten-Tchoo-Foo.... 3 profiles. Folding.
Plate 8: Sketch of the Pay-Ho or White River, and the Road from Pekin to Geho taken 1793. Map.
Plate 9: A Sketch of a Journey from Zhe-Hol in Tartary by land to Pekin and from thence by water to Hang-Tchoo-Foo in China. Map. Folding.
Plate 10: Sketch of a Journey from Hang-Tchoo-Foo to Quang-Tchoo-Foo or Canton in China. Map. Folding.
Plate 11: A Plan of the City and Harbour of Macao | A Colony of the Portugueze [sic] situated at the southern extremity of the Chinese Empire. Map on large scale, showing structures and points of interest (with key). Folding.
Plate 12: A Leaf of the Cactus Opuntia or Prickly Pear with the Cochineal Insects upon it. Life-size rendering with key, providing details of gathering and manufacture of the precious scarlet dye, in use before the modern introduction of aniline dyes. At the time, the Spanish had a monopoly on cochineal supplies, a commodity the French called "Dutch scarlet,” and the English wanted to penetrate the trade. Banks took advantage of the Macartney expedition to obtain at Rio the cochineal insects, which were shipped back to England on a whaler. This engraving is from an original drawing made at Rio de Janeiro.
Plate 13: The Fire-Backed Pheasant of Java. Staunton remarks that this bold, exotic bird is a new species “described by Dr. Shaw.” It was this species that Darwin used in Descent of Man as an example of secondary sexual characteristics, noting the large spurs of the male as compared to the vestigial ones of the female.
Plate 14: Natives of Cochin-China, Playing at cock [sic] with their Feet. This is one of the many terrific plates in the atlas revealing the life and pastimes of the Chinese.
Plate 15: View in Turon Bay. Chinese prepare for a ritual at an humble temple, with Macartney’s ships in the background.
Plate 16: A Mandarin or Magistrate of Turon attended by his Pipe-Bearer. We do not know what is in the pipe, but both men are dreamy-eyed.
Plate 17: Chinese Military Post. Superb detail, including mediaeval-looking costumes rivalling those of King Arthur’s knights.
Plate 18: Chinese Military drawn out in Compliment to the British Embassador [sic]. An historic moment recording the meeting of East and West, with Chinese and British vessels, flags unfurled, smoking petards, ceremonial tent, and a richly adorned crowd of persons.
Plate 19: Instruments of War used by the Chinese. Accompanied by explanatory key.
Plate 20: View of one of the Wesern [sic] Gates of the City of Pekin. Scene showing one of the nine gates to Peking, with people of various classes, two lofty buildings, carriage crossing bridge with barge beneath.
Plate 21: Plan of the Hall of Audience and the Adjacent Courts in the Emperor’s Gardens at Yuen-Min-Yuen. Architectural rendering and elevation.
Plate 22: A Front View of the Hall of Audience at the Palace of Yuen-Min-Yuen. A serene view with emphasis on the handsome architecture.
Plate 23: Plans, Sections, Elevations, &c. of the Great Wall of China and some of the Towers near the Pass of Cou-Pe-Keou. 11 elements with key and explanations.
Plate 24: A View of the Great Wall of China, Called Van-Lee-Tching, or Wall of Ten Thousand Lee taken near the Pass of Cou-Pe-Koo. Of this lofty view with the magnificent work of man, Staunton remarks: “The masonry and brick work in the Towers alone exceed those of all London.”
Plate 25: The Approach of the Emperor of China to His Tent in Tartary, to Receive the British Embassador [sic]. A magnificent rendering of the pomp and circumstance of a great moment, with British entering at right, as a huge crowd of Chinese dignitaries look on.
Plate 26: Plan, Section and Elevation of Poo-ta-la, or Temple of the Lama at Zhe-Hol in Tartary. Architectural rendering. Staunton remarks: “The roof of the middle part of this immense building is said to be covered with tiles of solid gold.”
Plate 27: A View of Poo-Ta-La or Great Temple near Zhe-Hol in Tartary.
Plate 28: Punishment of the Tcha. Not unlike some Pilgrim devices.
Plate 29: A View in the Gardens of the Imperial Palace of Pekin. Majestic landscape view of the intricate gardens which so confounded the English sensibilities of design.
Plate 30: A Scene in an Historical Play exhibited on the Chinese Stage. Staunton compares the play favorably to those of Shakespeare.
Plate 31: View of a Pai-Loo, improperly called a Triumphal Arch, and of a Chinese Fortress. Urban scene featuring typical Chinese memorial architecture and people milling about while some unfortunate miscreant endures bastinado (punishment by bamboo).
Plate 32: A Quan, or Mandarine, bearing a letter from the Emperor of China. Staunton comments: “This may be considered as exact portraits of both man and horse.” A magnificent horse and rider of the East, handsomely delineated.
Plate 33: A View near the City of Lin-tsin, on the Banks of the Grand Canal. Various social classes of Chinese gather to watch the barges of the British Embassy pass.
Plate 33: Plan and Section of a Sluice or Flood Gate on the Grand Canal of China. Technical rendering. Staunton comments in his usual animated manner when describing Chinese technology.
Plate 35: Chinese Barges of the Embassy passing through a Sluice on the Grand Canal. Another lively scene of the confluence of cultures.
Plate 36: View of Lake Pao-Yng from the Grand Canal by an embankment of Earth. The British Embassy halted at this notable fishery, as the masts to their vessel were replaced, as depicted here, with Chinese milling about and watching.
Plate 37: The Pelicanus Sinensis, or Fishing Corvorant [sic] of China. The Chinese used this pelican to assist in the fishery above. Staunton notes: “This bird appears to be a different species from any hitherto described by naturalists.”
Plate 38: View of the Suburbs of a Chinese City. A busy scene with temple, watchtower, military storehouse, and people in various activities, including a man fishing with Chinese bamboo net.
Plate 39: View of the Tchin-Shan, or Golden Island, in the Yang-Tse-Kiang, or Great River of China. The Emperor’s special island with pleasure houses, gardens, and monastery. Among the vessels depicted is a Chinese ship of war.
Plate 40: Chinese Barges of the Embassy preparing to pass under a Bridge.
Plate 41: View of the Tower of Thundering Winds on the borders of the Lake See-hoo, taken from the Vale of Tombs. Staunton notes that the prodigious structure makes the houses nearby “look like so many Lilliputian villages” and dates the Tower to the time of Confucius.
Plate 42: Economy of Time and Labor, exemplified in a Chinese Waterman. The master of the little vessel steers with one hand, sails with the other, and pulls a large oar with his foot, all while contentedly smoking a pipe.
Plate 43: The Rock of Quang-Yin… serving as a Temple and Dwelling for Several Priests of Fo. River scene of a six-hundred-foot grey marble hill, with temple nearby.
Plate 44: Section and elevation of a wheel used by the Chinese for raising water. Two views of a massive water wheel used for agricultural irrigation. Staunton comments that these wheels constructed without nails are fifteen to forty feet in diameter, and a thirty-foot wheel can lift 70,000 gallons of water in an hour.
Total plate count for text and atlas: 47 copper-engraved plates (38 plates, 9 maps), 27 copper-engraved text illustrations.
Text binding: 2 vols., 4to, full contemporary polished tan calf (expertly rebacked and restored, original spines with raised bands and gilt lettering preserved), marbled endpapers and edges. Engraved armorial bookplate of Luke, Lord Clonbrock on front pastedown in each text volume and atlas. Lord Clonbrock, scion of a prominent Irish family from Galway, was a Member of Parliament; he died in 1826.
Atlas binding: Folio, contemporary three-quarter tan calf over marbled boards, spine with raised bands and gilt lettering to match text vols., marbled endpapers and edges. Light shelf wear to paper-covered boards. Occasional very mild to moderate foxing, offsetting from plates to blank versos of adjacent plates. All in all, a superb set.
First edition of the official account of the first English mission to China; reprinted myriad times, but never again so splendidly as here. Berger, Bibliografía do Rio Janeiro, p. 286. Borba de Moraes II, pp. 837-838: “They called at Rio which he describes, commenting on the ‘Passeio Publico,’ the ‘Vallongo’ where five thousand Negroes were sold per year, the half-castes, the customs, and indicates the existence of two bookshops selling books on religion and medicine exclusively. He observed the strain between the Brazilian and Portuguese administrators, and the interest with which the former followed the events of the French Revolution. This first edition, sumptuously printed and accompanied by the Atlas, is the one which is most valued. Copies exist on large, thick paper.” Cf. British Museum, Natural History V, p. 252 (citing later editions). Cordier, Bibliotheca Sinica, col. 2381-2383. Cox I, p. 344. Hill I, pp. 280-281. Hill II:1628 & 1629n: "The work was remarkably successful. About fifteen editions issued in seven European countries and the U.S. from 1797 to 1832." Lust 545. National Maritime Museum: Voyages 519. Sabin 90843n. Palau (322130 & 322131) lists only the French and Spanish editions, the latter quite late.
Conventional collations and plate counts such as the one above hardly give an adequate idea of how complicated and beautiful this edition is. In fact, the two text volumes contain 26 other inserted leaves (mentioned above as text illustrations) that contain both text and a copper-engraved vignettes, some of them exquisite, and which although counted as part of the pagination are really extra leaves on different paper. This time-consuming and cumbersome process was never repeated in any of the subsequent editions, which began to appear almost immediately. In England, two others were published this same year in cheaper formats to satisfy demand. Before 1800, more English and Irish editions appeared, followed by French, German, Dutch, Italian, and other translations. Although one may appreciate that the work is valued for its descriptions of other locales visited on the way, clearly Europeans had an appetite for this literate, urbane description of China and its people at the end of the eighteenth century that rivalled their penchant for the country’s export ware, soon resulting in whole rooms of estates and palaces being given over to chinoiserie.
Macartney (1737-1806), accompanied by his secretary George Leonard Staunton (1737-1801), left for China in 1792 and remained there for about one year seeking to thaw the Chinese Emperor and warm his relations with England. In that task they were unsuccessful, although their efforts were rewarded, in part, by this handsome official account of their trip and activities. Both men, by the time they were sent to China, were skilled diplomats of some experience in foreign affairs and were well munified by the government with the wherewithal to influence the Chinese government. But it took a boy to get the message to the Emperor. Accompanying the suitably impressively-sized retinue was Staunton’s son, George Thomas Staunton (1781-1859), nominally the page of Ambassador Macartney. On the Embassy's arrival in China it emerged that the eleven-year old boy was the only European member of the British party able to speak Mandarin, and thus he alone could converse with the Emperor. The failure of the mission was probably due more to Chinese reticence than to lack of skill or logistical support. Unable to use the gunboat diplomacy that worked so well in the Nootka Controversy with Spain a decade earlier, Britain here found herself frustrated by a power not easily overawed by a couple of ships, slick diplomats, and one bright lad.
Staunton (1737-1801) was a rare combination, both physician and attorney, as well as diplomat and friend of notable men of the time, such as Dr. Johnson and Edmund Burke. He travelled extensively, also to the West Indies, where he practiced medicine. His work touches upon places visited en route to China, including Madeira, Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro, Java, Sumatra, St. Helena, Cochin-China, Macao, the Cape of Good Hope, etc. Staunton’s fascinating, well-written, and delightfully illustrated narrative records a voyage that was among the celebrated and significant events of the late eighteenth-century, documenting a defining episode in the modern encounter between China and the West. The collision of two world views and the issues raised in this work are part of an on-going ideological struggle of how to deal with a global system set in motion by the Western Enlightenment. However frustrating the mission might have been, the recounting of it in print was wildly successful. The excellent engravings of such exotic subjects were made from the original art work of first-rate English artist William Alexander (1767-1826), who accompanied the mission as draughtsman and later became first Keeper of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Alexander also assisted with the illustrations that accompanied Vancouver’s work (see no. 74 below). These prints are remarkable for their accuracy in depicting the architecture, costume, culture, and landscape of Imperial China, as well as the momentous meeting of the Chinese and English. In 1805 Alexander published The Costume of China (see Abbey 534 & Tooley 18), with lovely aquatint plates, some of which were derived from the illustrations used in Staunton’s book.
The subjects covered in the chapters on China include much of interest, such as excellent, detailed discussion of medicine and natural history, gardens and garden design, material culture, fireworks and gunpowder (noting priority of Chinese invention over Europe), labor and trade, Jesuit missionaries in China, printing and papermaking (superb detail), cartography (including unusual information, such as navigational maps incised on gourds--what a find one of those would be), cattle and horses (with comparison of English and Chinese saddles), technology and science, and a wealth of social history (with inroads into the sexual oppression of women and more detail than we care to read on eunuchs).
This work presents excellent documentation on the botany of China at the time, with some four hundred plants listed with their scientific names, along with extensive discussion in the text of qualities and uses, including medicinal. Among the most intriguing plants listed are two simple entries for roses collected in the Province of Canton (Vol. II, p. 524): “Rosa indica” followed by “____. another species.” “Rosa indica,” despite the confusing term “indica” (used to describe scent rather than locale of origin), is what many consider the most pivotal rose in rose culture, Parson’s Pink China (also known as Old Blush, Common China, Diversifolia, Rose Semi-Double, Rosier a Feuilles Variables, and a host of other names). Parson’s Pink China was introduced to culture in England by Sir Joseph Banks, Director of Kew Gardens in England. Banks was responsible for organizing the plants collected by Staunton’s botanists and gardeners near Canton and assisted in preparing the illustrations in the present work. The introduction of Parson’s Pink China and the mysterious “another species” were in all probability the China roses that revolutionized rose culture. By 1798 Parson’s Pink China made its way to France to become the subject of successful breeding efforts and a source of many hybrids to come. By 1800, it had also appeared in North America and would eventually give rise to a wide array of popular descendents, including the Noisette Rose, Tea Roses, Hybrid Teas, and Hybrid Perpetuals. (It’s not all so rosy—Thomas Jefferson’s introduction of a China rose from the Macartney’s expedition, appropriately named the Macartney rose, spread aggressively south and west of Monticello and is now prohibited in Texas.) Thanks to many centuries of domestication in China and the country’s rich biodiversity, the China roses gave rosarians much-sought qualities lacking in European roses of the eighteenth century: repeat or perpetual (remontant) blooming (previously occurring only among the Autumn Damasks), true color unfading with age, and a small, bushy habit. A completely new range of colors also originated from the ancient Chinese roses, and new fragrances were discovered, too. Fortunately, Macartney took two gardeners to China as part of his entourage, and though the Embassy failed to open China’s doors, another more peaceful revolution occurred on the botanical front, due the odd marriage of British imperialism and rose collecting.A plant of probably even greater interest to the British and other European powers was the opium poppy, the product of which the Chinese at the time used in some quantity despite official concerns about its effects and the efforts of several rulers to curb or forbid its use. Britain very much wanted a greater share of this extremely profitable trade, so much so that it eventually made war on China to protect its financial interests in Chinese consumption of the product. Ironically, it was eleven-year old George Thomas Staunton on this Embassy who revisited his hosts with a vengeance. Returning to live in China several times during the early nineteenth century, this boy, in 1840 now a man and a member of Parliament, was one of the main proponents of the First Opium War (1839-1842), thereby ruining the lives of countless Chinese citizens. (3 vols.) ($7,500-15,000)
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