趣文共賞 A Eulogy for Burned Books

Note: This post is part of a series where I reproduce random sources that I find interesting, with minimal annotation and commentary. Punctuation and translation (if given) are done by me unless otherwise stated. Corrections and comments are greatly appreciated.

I was recently looking through the literary collection of Wu Guolun 吳國倫 (1524-93; jinshi 1550), an official and prolific writer who came to be known as one of the “later seven masters” of the Ming. Among the many poems included in his collection is a curious one titled “Mourning for Burned Books.” As Wu explains in his preface to the poem, his entire library of books had been burned by a “violent guest” who apparently started a fire because he did not like the books in Wu’s collection. It seems that Wu was not even at home when this happened, since he writes that he had “heard” of the news recently. Wu was from Xingguo Subprefecture (興國州) located in Wuchang Prefecture, Huguang Province. Although the poem does not make explicit the location of this library, it was likely located in his native place in Xingguo.

I find this piece interesting mostly because of what it tells about access to private libraries: apparently a guest whom Wu may or may not have known was able to enter his (or his extended family’s?) library in his absence. Several lines of the poem (妻孥存鼠竄 城郭任鴟張; 却遂吾兒嬾 虚增過客傷) also seem to suggest that Wu was upset that his family members had let too many untrustworthy guests enter the library. (For more on the topic of library access, see Joseph McDermott, A Social History of the Chinese Book, pp. 134-47.)

The fact that Wu reacted to what must have been a devastating news about the loss of his treasured books by producing yet another literary text is somewhat incomprehensible to my modern senses, although it might have been perfectly reasonable for a literatus who used poems to express his feelings on a daily basis. I have not read the poems itself closely, and I have only translated Wu’s short preface below. The full text of the poem is included here for the curiosity of readers who can appreciate these texts much better than me.

Source: Wu Guolun 吳國倫, Danzhui dong gao 甔甀洞稿 (Siku cunmu congshu edition), 18.17b-19a. (The text below was taken from Airusheng’s 愛如生 Database of Chinese Classic Ancient Books 中國基本古籍庫 and checked against the Siku cunmu congshu edition.)

悼焚書 Mourning for Burned Books


In my twenty years of travel as an official, the books that I purchased have numbered nearly ten thousand volumes. Building a library to store them, I have treasured them greatly. Every time I returned home, I would quickly decline the guests and sit down on top of the library, feeling at ease and forgetting that I was poor. And so, very few of the youths in our village even knew that I was poor. Recently, I heard that there was a violent guest who came up to the library. When he searched through my boxes of books and saw nothing that satisfied his intentions, he started a fire, burned the books, and left. Quietly mourning my books, I have composed forty rhymed couplets to console myself.

萬卷從吾好 千金不易裝
少年窺槖籥 垂老厭圭璋
散帙高連屋 懸籖疊滿牀
牛毛原汗漫 雞跖亦煇煌
天啓河圖秘 霞生石墨香
寄身編竹穩 遊思結繩長
几上赤虹現 楹端彩鳳翔
秦碑留故蹟 汲塚弔餘芳
露綴三經席 星標六藝場
百家馮羽翼 諸體叶笙簧
野叟飡芝訣 園公種樹方
靈蛇蟠入次 繡虎伏成行
緝理茅茨閣 週遭薜茘墻
幔雲飄旖旎 簾影動瀟湘
户牖都鉛槧 山川此棟梁
敢同莘野樂 差異竹林狂
歳月資弦誦 精英屬表章
正須防散逸 誰更卜災祥
宦拙家逾遠 時艱力未匡
夢魂驚燕雀 消息閧豺狼
舊業千羣象 斯文厄九陽
鬼神憎篋笥 兵燹縱縹緗
豈復秦時暴 無容魯壁藏
何曾分玉石 渾欲戰玄黄
井吐商辰色 煙昏太乙光
總爲蝌蚪崇 遂作螙魚殃
噀雨遥難制 廻風近莫禳
熛氛騰赤館 烈熖倒靑囊
未乏燋頭客 其如白額郞
妻孥存鼠竄 城郭任鴟張
誤改于公户 慙非魏士鄕
絲桐歸火帝 符籙獻空王
重比周彝徙 珍逾孔履亡
刼灰期未辨 裨竈語能詳
錦目殘烽擲 珠函敝帚當
輪今悟糟粕 角且叩宫商
却遂吾兒嬾 虚增過客傷
爲儒甘刺豕 託隱慕屠羊
市肆歸堪借 言筌靜欲忘
有形俱幻化 何用熱中腸

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