James Legge

Scottish missionary and translator (1815–1897)

James Legge (20 December 181529 November 1897) was a Scottish sinologist, missionary, and scholar, best known as an early and prolific translator of Classical Chinese texts into English.

James Legge

Quotes edit

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The Confucian Analects edit

Page numbers refer to The Four Books: Confucian Analects, The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, and the Works of Mencius (Shanghai: The Chinese Book Co., 1930)
  • The Master said, [...] "Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles." [...] "Have no friends not equal to yourself." [...] "When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them."
    • Bk. 1, Ch. 8 (p. 7)
  • To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.
    • Bk. 2, Ch. 24 (p. 23)
  • When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.
    • Bk. 4, Ch. 17 (p. 45)
  • When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them.
    • Bk. 7, Ch. 21 (p. 87)
  • The Master standing by a stream, said, "It passes on just like this, not ceasing day or night!"
    • Bk. 9, Ch. 16 (p. 115)
  • The scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar.
    • Bk. 14, Ch. 3 (p. 193)
  • The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.
    • Bk. 14, Ch. 29 (p. 208)

Quotes about Legge edit

  • I cannot help dancing with joy to hear that the doctrines of our sages have now become available to [people of] the Western Sea. [...] James Legge has proven himself a man of culture and courage [...] by studying the way of our sages through the commentaries [...] so as to transform the [Western] barbarians.
    • Chen Qiyuan (late Qing scholar), as quoted in Wang Hui's Translating Chinese Classics in a Colonial Context: James Legge and His Two Versions of the Zhongyong (2008), footnote on page 45
  • James Legge had a rare largeness and simplicity of nature, and was distinguished by the dignity which never fails to adorn the single-minded man. He was, though so upright, as gentle as a child, and while severely conscientious he was saved by his delightful humour from being either fierce or fanatical. [...] He was a man of fine presence, pure purpose, and courageous speech [...]. He was sent Eastwards, to the oldest of living civilisations, and he studied it with an eye made luminous by love. [...] He gained the affection and confidence of the Chinese as but few foreigners have ever done, for he loved them truly, and they knew the simple integrity of his love. [...] Did he not judge with charity as well as knowledge? He had the insight which comes of the heart even more than of the head into their literature and religion; and he saw that the primary condition of making the “'est influential in the East was to make the East intelligible to the West. [...] Out of this understanding came his magnificent edition of the Chinese Classics. Of its learning it does not become me to speak; the invincible patience, the heroic industry that went to its production, we can all admire. But only those who knew the man can appreciate the idea, the splendid dream of humanity and religion that gave it birth.
  • Dr. Legge, from his raw literary training when he began his work, and the utter want of critical insight and literary perception he showed to the end, was really nothing more than a great sinologue, that is to say, a pundit with a very learned but dead knowledge of Chinese books.
    • Gu Hongming, The Discourses and Sayings of Confucius (1898), p. vii
  • One habit he maintained almost to his death, a habit which was the cause of no little astonishment among his friends. He habitually rose about 3 A.M., and worked at his desk for five hours, while the rest of the household slept. Soon after his arrival, the lighted study attracted the night-policeman to the house, 'fearful lest, at so suspicious an hour, mischief in some dishonest form or other was afoot.'
    • Helen Edith Legge, James Legge: Missionary and Scholar (1905), pp. 206–207
  • Legge made a fetish of literalness, as if a certain air of foreign remoteness, rather than clarity, were the mark of fidelity. What Mencius said was this, in exactly twelve words in Chinese, that when armies were lined up with spears and shields to attack a city, "the weather is less important than the terrain, and the terrain less important than the army morale." Or, more literally, if one preferred: "Sky-times not so good as ground-situation; ground-situation not so good as human harmony." To any Chinese child "sky-times" simply means the weather and can mean nothing else; "ground-situation" means the terrain, and "human harmony" means the army morale. But, according to Legge, Mencius said, "Opportunities of time (vouchsafed by) Heaven are not equal to advantages of situation (afforded by) the Earth, and advantages of situation (afforded by) the Earth are not equal to (the union arising from) the accord of Men."

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