Readers of Goethe’s Faust will remember how Faust debated with himself about the true meaning of a famous biblical passage.“In the beginning was the word”.“In the beginning was the sense”.“In the beginning was the force”.“In the beginning was the dead”. For each of the four interpretation, we presume, philosophers and exegetical scholars are prepared to argue to the point of causing weariness of flesh and vexation of spirit. A certain book-viewer once made short shrift of Faust’s scruples and said that so far as the making and reviewing of books are concerned, in the beginning is the foreword. And he is right. Not the word, but the foreword, not the logos, but the prologue or the preface in which the writer or editor makes his salutation to the reader — a salutation, as the witty writer of Caprices d’an bibliophile observed, too often reminiscent of that of the Roman gladiators to Caesar while entering the arena.
Since the founding of the National Central Library in Nanking in 1933, it has always been our ambition among other things to make known to the Western world “the state of polite learning”in China. We want to supply data and play the rôle of an intermediary to those chercheurs et curieux who care to know what books and periodicals are being published in China, what work is being done by Chinese scholars in various fields, etc. The War, a great eruption as well as interruption, entirely upset our plan. For eight grinding years, working against almost overwhelming odds, we campaigned for books in behalf of poorly equipped school libraries and kept wide-scattered institutions of learning in Free China primed with book news. Now that peace is restored, war-time intellectual relief work is more or less over, and the Library is moved together with the National Government back from Chungking to its original seat in Nanking and Becomes “central” in name as well as local habitation, we are in a position to carry our long cherished wish.
Though our hopes are high, our aims are modest. In each number we shall publish one or two learned articles on Chinese history, philosophy, archaeology or art, embodying the latest researches and views on these several subjects. There will be also a classified catalogue of books and periodicals published in China during the three months under review. A section is devoted to brief digests of noteworthy Chinese books and full-dress criticism of foreign works dealing with China and the Chinese. There is no dearth of materials for this section, because many war-time publications of outstanding merit have received but scanty attention amidst the dust and din of those years, and we shall bring as many of them under pubic notice as possible. Foreign contributors can count on the hospitality of our pages, for we intend to make this quarterly a forum open to all who are dedicated to the cause of the furtherance of Chinese studies.
The name Philobiblon is, as befits a publication of this nature, borrowed from the celebrated book of Sir Richard de Bury, ardent collector of books and magnanimous founder of a library. The enthusiasm of the great fifteenth-century English bibliophile is positively contagious, and a reading of his zestful account of book-collecting would make those love books now who never loved before, and those who always love, now love them the more. He wrote in Latin (very crabbed Latin, it is true)just as we public this quarterly in English, for the simple reason that that Latin was at his time what English is today, the most universal vehicle of intellectual communication. Of course, while sharing his love of books, we are, as we stated above, engaged in any entirely different business, which, however, his shade would perhaps not frown upon. There is a beautiful Chinese idiom shu hsiang(書香),”the perfume of books”, which denotes that subtle cultural refinement that comes of knowledge of good books. Somewhere in Sir Richard’s work, we light upon a delightful parallel to the Chinese expression, describing the libraries in Paris as “more aromatic than stores of spicery”. The perfume of books indeed! If, in stirring the dust gathered on the shelves, we could also spread a little of this aroma or perfume of books far and wide, we would feel our labours amply repaid.