1902 Encyclopedia > Noel Julien (Stanislas-Aignan Julien)

Noel Julien
(later known as: Stanislas-Aignan Julien)
French Chinese scholar

NOEL JULIEN, (1797-1873), afterwards called STANISLAS-AIGNAN JULIEN, was born at Orleans April 13,1797. His father, who was a mechanic, being desirous of improv-ing the position of his son, destined the young Stanislas-Aignan for the priesthood, and in preparation for that calling sent him to the seminary in his native town. Here his extraordinary talent for the acquisition of languages first displayed itself, and with his knowledge increased his repugnance to the profession marked out for him. His favourite study at this time was Greek literature, and so recognized did his scholarship become that, when he went to Paris in 1821, he received the appointment of assistant professor of Greek at the College de France. In the same year he published a translation of the 'EÀeVîjs âp-n-ayfj of Coluthus, of which work he subsequently brought out ,a new edition, with a Latin version and notes. In later years he was in the habit of saying that it was as the author of this work that he would be best known by posterity,—another instance of the common inability of authors to judge correctly of the relative merits of their works. At this period his attention was drawn to the lectures being delivered by Abel Rémusat on the Chinese language, and being attracted to the study he placed him-self under the tuition of that professor. In this new pursuit his progress was as marked and as rapid as formerly in Greek. From the first he, as if by intuition, thoroughly mastered the genius of the language ; and the complexity of the characters and the peculiarities of con-struction, which to others have always presented serious difficulties, at once yielded to his ability and diligence. _In 1823 he published a translation in Latin of a part of the works of Mencius, one of the nine classical books of the Chinese, and, though this volume appeared within two years of his having taken up the study of the language, it justified its publication by its success. A year later he produced a translation of the modern Greek odes of Kalvos under the title of La Lyre patriotique de la Grèce. But such works were not profitable in a commercial sense, and, being without any patrimony, Julien was glad to accept the assistance of Sir William Drummond and others, until in 1827 he was appointed sub-librarian to the French Institute. In 1831 he was elected a member of L'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres de l'Institut de France in the place of Saint-Martin, and in the following year he succeeded Bémusat as professor of Chinese at the College de France. For some years his studies had been directed towards the dramatic and lighter literature of the Chinese, and in rapid succession he now brought out translations of the Hoei-lan-ki, or " L'histoire du cercle de craie," a drama in which occurs a curiously analogous scene to the judg-ment of Solomon ; the Pih shay tsing ki ; Blanche et Bleue, ou les deux couleuvres fées ; and the Tchao-chi kou eul, upon which Voltaire subsequently founded his Orphelin de la Chine. With the versatility which belonged to his genius, he next turned, apparently without difficulty, to the very different style common to Taouist writings, and translated in 1835, for the Oriental Translation Fund, Le Livre des Récompenses et des Peines of Laou-tsze. About this time the cultivation of silk-worms was beginning to attract atten-tion in France, and by order of the minister of agriculture Julien compiled, in 1837, a Résumé des principaux traités Chinois sur la culture des mûriers, et Véducation des vers-à-soie, which was speedily translated into English, German, Italian, and Russian.

Nothing was more characteristic of his method of study-ing Chinese than his habit of collecting every peculiarity of idiom and expression which he met with in his reading ; and, in order that others might reap the benefit of his experiences, he published in 1841 a work entitled Dis-cussions grammaticales sur certaines règles de position qui, en Chinois, jouent la même rôle que les inflexions dans les autres langues, which he followed in 1842 by Exercises pratiques d'analyse, de syntaxe, et de lexigraphie Chinoise. Meanwhile in 1839 he had been appointed joint keeper of the Bibliothèque Royal, with the especial superintendence of the Chinese books, and shortly afterwards he was made Administrateur du College de France.

The facility with which he had learned Chinese, and the success which his proficiency commanded, naturally inclined other less gifted scholars to resent the impatience with which he regarded the mistakes into which they fell in their translations from this most difficult language, and at different times bitter controversies arose between Julien and his fellow Sinologues on the one subject which they had in common. How envenomed were the disputes which thus arose may be gathered from the following title of a work published in 1842 by Julien, Simple exposé d'un fait honorable odieusement dénaturé dans un libelle récent de M. Pauthier, suivi de la réfutation de sa dernière réponse, du résumé analytique de plus de 600 fautes qu'il n'a pas su, justifier, et de l'examen de certains passages à l'aide desquels il a prétendu prouver que des Egyptiens ont porté en Chine l'invention de l'écriture 2353 ans avant J. C. In the same year appeared from his busy pen a translation of the Tao te King, the celebrated work in which Laou-tsze attempted to explain his idea of the relation existing between the universe and something which he called Taou, and on which the religion of Taouism is based. From Taouism to Buddhism was a natural transition, and about this time Julien turned his attention to the Buddhist literature of China, and more especially to the travels of Buddhist pilgrims to India. In order that he might better under-stand the references to Indian institutions, and the tran-scriptions in Chinese of Sanskrit words and proper names, he began the study of Sanskrit, and in 1853 brought out his Voyages des Pèlerins Bouddhistes, the value of which work is much enhanced by the fruits of this new instance of his extraordinary mental enterprise. The same remark applies to the work which he published six year later entitled Les Avadânas, contes et apologues Indiens inconnus jusqu' à ce jour, suivis de poésies et de nouvelles Chinoises. For the benefit of future students he disclosed his system of deciphering Sanskrit words occur-ring in Chinese books in his Méthode pour déchiffrer et transcrire les noms Sanscrits qui se rencontrent dans les livres Chinois (1861). This work, which contains much of interest and importance, falls short of the value which its author was accustomed to attach to it. It had escaped his obser-vation that, since the translations of Sanskrit works into Chinese were undertaken in different parts of the empire, the same Sanskrit words were of necessity differently represented in Chinese characters in accordance with the dialectical variations. No hard and fast rule can therefore possibly be laid down for the decipherment of Chinese transcriptions of Sanskrit words, and the effect of this impossibility was felt though not recognized by Julien, who in order to make good his rule was occasionally obliged to suppose that wrong characters had by mistake been introduced into the texts. His Indian studies led to a controversy with M. Reinaud, which was certainly not free from the gall of bitterness. Among the many subjects to which he turned his attention were the native industries of China, and his work on the Histoire et fabrication de la porcelaine Chinoise is still, and is likely to remain, a standard work on the subject. In another volume he also published an account of the Industries anciennes ei modernes de l'empire Chinois (1869), translated from native authori-ties. In the intervals of more serious undertakings he translated the San tseu King, or " Le Livre des trois mots " ; Thsien tseu wen, or " Le Livre de mille mots " ; " Les deux cousines " ; " Nouvelles Chinoises " ; the Ping chan ling yen, "Les deux jeunes filles lettrées"; and the " Dialoghi Cinesi," Ji-tch'ang k'eou-t'eou-koa. The last work of importance which proceeded from his pen was his Syntaxe nouvelle de la langue Chinoise (1869). In these volumes he gives the results of his study of the language, and has collected in them a vast array of facts and of idiomatic expressions. A more scientific arrangement and treatment of his subject would have added much to the value of this work, which, however, contains a mine of material which amply repays exploration. One great secret by which Julien acquired his grasp of the Chinese language was, as we have said, his methodical collection of phrases and idiomatic expressions. Whenever in the course of his reading he met with a new phrase or expression, he entered it on a card which took its place in regular order in a long series of boxes. At his death, which took place on the 20th February 1873, he left, it is said, 250,000 of such cards, about the fate of which, however, little seems to be known. In politics Julien was im-perialist, and in 1863 he was made a commander of the legion of honour in recognition of the services he had rendered to literature during the empire. (E. K. D.)

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