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Seven Intimate Library Owners

Cang shu ji shi shi or The Poetical History of Book CollectingThe Freer Library is once again open for business! In celebration, enjoy this informative post by librarian Mike Smith:

The Freer-Sackler Library's copy of Cang shu ji shi shi or The Poetical History of Book Collecting

Nancy Lee Swann, Sinologist and Curator of Princeton University's Gest Library from 1931-1948, wrote an article for the inaugural 1936 issue of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies titled "Seven Intimate Library Owners." This "serene and learned article," as it is described in a University of Massachusetts Sinology web site biography of Dr. Swann, relates the book collecting customs and friendships of seven bibliophiles in Qing Dynasty Hangzhou.

"Seven Intimate Library Owners" reports of the book lover Wu Chuo:

His greatest pleasure, however, was in the accumulation of books: he hungered and thirsted for them as for food and drink . . . in his home was an old wisteria vine growing over a pavilion and arbor. When the vine was in flower the tender clusters hung down like jeweled pendants. Upon occasions at that season he gave most successful entertainments, setting out wine for his guests while they vied with one another in verse making.

Of the Wang Xian library:

There friend 'grasps hand' with friend; there each inquires of the other about 'worms' in house books. All of the group interchanged visits, made inter-library loans, borrowed manuscripts, and shared collated texts.

Of Bao Ting Bo:

Upon trial for provincial examinations, however, he failed to pass. Thereafter, he turned to private studies, and the collecting of books. At the time of constructing a building to house his books, he selected from a text of the Book of Rites the phrase: 'Learning (brings one) thereafter never to have enough knowledge' . . . from this six-character phrase, he chose the latter half for the name of his library, Chih-pu-tsu Chai ('Never-to-know-enough Library').

A major source for "Seven Intimate Library Owners" is the Cang shu ji shi shi or Poetical History of Book Collecting. This work is a compilation of original seven-character-four-phrase poems each eulogizing a selected owner of a private library; the poems are followed by biographical excerpts concerning the bibliophiles to whom they are dedicated. An edition of this book bound in the traditional Chinese style, the original issue of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies containing Dr. Swann's article, and related resources can all be found in the Libraries' Freer-Sackler Library, where they are available for public use.

—Mike Smith

Selected Bibliography: 

Cai, Jinzhong. Index to the Poetical History of Book Collecting. Tabei: Chinese Materials and Research Aids Service Center, 1966. No. 28 of the Harvard-Yenching Institute Sinological Index Series.

Swann, Nancy Lee. "Seven Intimate Library Owners." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 1 (1936), p. 363-390.

Ye, Changchi. Cang shu ji shi shi. Yangzhou: Jiangsu Guangling gu ji ke yin she, 1990.

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