The Morrison Collection
Morrison Chinese Library at UCL

The Williams Report


The 1854 report on the contents of the Morrison Chinese Library by John Williams (1797-1874), commisioned by the governing council of University College, was the first attempt to classify and analyse the collection since UCL had acquired it nearly twenty years earlier. Williams was an amateur Sinologist who was best known for his studies of the records of astronomical events in Chinese historical sources.

The following summary of the Morrison Chinese Library is an "extract" from a more comprehensive report on the collection, but I have not yet seen the full report. Williams also wrote out a number of catalogue slips for various books in the collection, of which fifty-four are still extant (these slips have now been collected together, and are catalogued with the callmark "RM 001"). The descriptions in these catalogue slips are very similar to the descriptions given in Morrison's Manuscript Catalogue, and it is possible that Williams had access to a draft verson of the unpublished catalogue of his collection that Morrison was known to have been preparing for publication during his visit to England during 1824-1825 (see Memoirs of the Life and Labours of Robert Morrison vol.2 pp.295-296). It is also possible that the full report by Williams included, or was intended to include, a complete catalogue of the collection.

Extract from a Report on the Contents of the Morrison Chinese Library, Made to the Council, in September 1854, by Mr. John Williams, Assistant Secretary to the Royal Astronomical Society

The following may be considered as a tolerably accurate summary of the contents of the Library, as given in the MS. Catalogue of Dr. Morrison, and verified by actual examination; and, in directing attention to it, it must be premised, that although the total number of volumes mentioned in it is very considerable, the number is really much greater, as, in enumerating the duplicates, but one copy of each is reckoned, whereas in many instances three, four, and even as many as twenty copies of the same work occur. It must also be observed, that, although considerable care has been taken to ensure correctness, yet as there has been no revision, the present summary must be considered rather as an approximation to, than as an accurate statement of the actual number volumes in the Library.

Class No. of Works No. of Vols.
Religious, Mystical, &c. 266 779
Medical and Botanical 128 934
Rites and Ceremonies 23 294
Jurisprudence 11 204
Topography, Geography, &c. 52 976
Poetry, the Drama, &c. 36 364
History, Chronology, &c. 20 701
Philology, Antiquities, &c. 58 963
Classics 30 497
Astronomy, Music, &c. 23 202
Education and Mathematics 31 260
Biography 11 262
Bibliography 2 157
Natural History, and Sundries 16 138
Novels, and works of Fiction 81 672
Miscellaneous 39 1,326
Not ascertained 8 18
  835 8,747
Duplicates 168 624

To these are to be added the works which are not at present in the Catalogue, and also the publications of the Missionaries, consisting of Translations of the Scriptures, and of various Tracts. These have not yet been examined sufficiently to be enumerated with any precision, but possibly about 100 volumes should be added on their account.

The first class consists of works on the Religion and Morality of the Chinese, which are, as may naturally be expected, exceedingly numerous. They relate chiefly to the three leading sects, viz. that of Confucius, that of the Taou, and that of Buddha. The Buddhist works are particularly numerous. There are also included in this class Treatises on Mythology, Divination, Dreams, and other Mystical subjects.

The medical works also are extremely numerous. Among them are some of those which are of the highest authority among the Chinese, many of them treat of Medicine in general; others are confined to particular diseases, as Fever, Small-pox, &c., and many appear to be collections of medical prescriptions. With these, several Botanical works have been classed, as being more or less connected with Medicine. It may also be mentioned, that among the works not entered in the Catalogue, are two or three Japanese works on Anatomy, which appear to be curious.

A section has been devoted to Rites and Ceremonial Usages, both public and private. Among these, a work (No.23, in 60 vols.) descriptive of the ceremonies observed on the anniversary of the Emperor's birth-day, is particularly worthy of notice, not only on account of the beauty of the printing, but also of the curious engravings with which it is illustrated, being on the whole an extremely favourable specimen of Chinese typography. Unfortunately one of the four volumes containing the engravings is among those which are missing. The Laws of China form another section. There are several voluminous treatises on this subject, and also works containing legal cases and decisions.

The Topographical and Geographical section includes many works descriptive of the Empire in general, and of the various provinces, cities, &c. Many of them are very copious, and doubtless contain much valuable information on those interesting subjects. With these have been classed some works resembling our voyages and travels.

Poetical and dramatic works form another section. Among these, No.43, in 42 volumes, may be mentioned, being a Collection of Dramas and Operas composed during the Yuen dynasty, i.e. between A.D.1280 and 1368.

Some of the Historical and Chronological works appear likely to be of great value in elucidating Chinese history. Among these may be mentioned No.1, in 282 volumes, which gives an uninterrupted historical account of China and its dependencies from the earliest period to the conclusion of the Ming dynasty, A.D.1644. There is also an extensive Chronological work, containing Tables of the Cycles arranged in years, and thus giving the exact date of every important event.

The Philological Class consists of numerous Dictionaries of Words and Phrases; and among these are most of those of the highest authority among the Chinese, including several copies of the celebrated Dictionary compiled by order of the Emperor Kang-He, which forms the basis of Dr. Morrison's Chinese Dictionary. Many works relating to Tartar literature have been placed here; and also several works on Antiquities, which, as they are chiefly of a Philological nature, being explanations of characters and inscriptions on ancient vases and other monuments, are considered to be in their proper position in this class.

The Classical books form another division. These works consist chiefly of the Woo King, or Five Ancient Classical Works, and of the Sze-Shoo, or Four Books, attributed to Confucius and his followers. Several valuable editions of these works, with very voluminous commentaries, are in the Collection, and are likely to be of importance to Chinese students.

There are also works on Astronomy, combined with Astrology, Biography, Music, Agriculture, Natural History, and other sciences; and, among the lighter works, may be mentioned a Collection of Riddles. A voluminous Catalogue of the Books in the Imperial Library at Pekin is possibly a good specimen of the bibliographical attainments of its inhabitants, and may also be of value as giving an accurate idea of the general nature of Chinese literature.

Many Educational works are in the Collection; among these are Treatises on Writing, Arithmetic, Drawing, and other subjects useful to young persons and students. With these may also be classed a mathematical work, in 96 vols., containing Tables of Logarithms, &c., which, however, appear to be from European sources.

Novels, and other works of fiction are also numerous. Some of these are of high celebrity in China.

There is also a large collection of miscellaneous works. Many of these are upon general literary subjects; some relate more particularly to science. Among these, No.21, in 150 volumes, a kind of Illustrated Encyclopaedia, deserves particular notice. Many of the works in this division are very voluminous, and require a closer examination than it has been possible at present to give them, to ascertain more precisely the nature of their contents.

Among the works not included in the Catalogue must be mentioned a complete copy of the Holy Scriptures in Chinese; and a separate edition of the New Testament, of which thee are numerous copies. A number of short Tracts on religious subjects, composed and printed by the Missionaries for distribution, are also among these.

Dr. Morrison's MSS. appear to relate chiefly to the compilation of his valuable Dictionary. There are also among them various Teatises and Tracts on religious subjects; but nothing of any value beyond these seems to be in the collection.

Such is a general account of the contents of the Chinese Library of the late Dr. Morrison, as far as this rather cursory examination has gone. It appears to be a collection, which, should the literature of that people ever become a subject of attention in this country, is likely to supply a vast deal of the requisite information, as to the more valuable portion of their learning; and it is hoped that the present examination and arrangement of these works, by giving some idea of the general nature of the Library, and by facilitating access to the works in it, will tend to excite Students to take up the subject, and devote their talents and ability to the elucidation of Chinese literature.