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THE unveiling of a statue is often an occasion for bringing into
view the facts of the life of its subject. A monument less
perishable than marble has just been erected to the memory of this
eminent scholar, on the completion of his dictionary by Mr. Paul
Popoff, First Interpreter to the Russian Legation in Beijing. It
is a large work of over twelve hundred folio pages, and sixteen
years of life, eight for each of its author's, are embodied in it.
It was printed at the press of the Imperial College in Beijing;
Russian type, paper and compositors being imported for the purpose,
and the expenses being defrayed by the Russian Government, which
finds its interest in promoting the learned labors of Russian
It was Mr. Popoff's privilege to accompany the Archimandrite
on his homeward voyage, twelve years ago, and by kindly services
to comfort the last hours of the distinguished missionary. The
unfinished dictionary he accepted as a kind of legacy, and instead
of appropriating the labors of his predecessor, as some would have
done, we see him consecrate eight years of toil to the completion
of the task, and then with noble disinterestedness ascribe the
whole honor to the original author. Filial piety may wrong itself,
but the world, when informed of the facts, will not be unjust in its
judgment. While honoring the memory of him who laid the foundation,
it will not forget what is due to the architect who completed
the superstructure. Finis opus coronat. With the general learning
of the one are combined special studies of the other, which result in
a complete whole, the value of which Russians only can properly
appreciate. Though both names appear on the title page, Mr.
Popoff accepts for himself the humbler office of editor, conceding
to Palladius the honors of authorship; prefixing to the work a
copy of his likeness, aud devoting a long introduction to a narration
of the facts of his life.
It is from this introduction that I derive the contents of the
following pages. The easy task of abridgment I undertake with
the more pleasure, as for many years I enjoyed the friendship of the
worthy man whom they commemorate. I first met him in 1858 at
Tianjin, during negotiation of the treaties, when he was acting as
special interpreter for the Russian legation as I was for that of the
United States. He was ten years my senior, and in my youth and
inexperience I looked up to him with great reverence, a sentiment
that was augmented rather than diminished by the more intimate
acquaintance of succeeding years.
Among the Russian sinologues of recent times, says Mr. Popoff,
one of the most prominent places belongs to the Archimandrite
Palladius, late chief of the Ecclesiastical Mission in Beijing.
His laic name was Petre Ivanovitch Koporoff, and he was born
on the 17th of September, 1817, in the province of Kason, where his
father was a parish priest. The young Petre, having received the
elements of a sound secular education, resolved to enter the service
of the Church, and with this view obtained admission to the
Ecclesiastical Seminary of Kason. Here he soon distinguished
himself, and as a reward was sent to pass the last year of his
curriculum at the Theological Academy in St. Petersburg. Just
then the twelvth mission to China was in process of organization,
and Petre Koporoff, whether from zeal for the propagation of the
faith, or from a desire to advance his Oriental studies, it is not easy
to say, expressed a wish to join the mission.
Becoming a monk, he took the name Palladius and arrived in
Beijing in September, 1840. Here he gave himself to unremitting
study, and being possessed of unusual powers of acquisition his
attainments were prodigious. In the department of Buddhism
alone, as Professor Wassilieff informs us, he read through no fewer
than 750 volumes of Chinese books, comprising in fact the entire
literature of the subject.
Owing to his extraordinary proficiency in learning, taken in
connexion with other high qualities, Palladius was selected as a
candidate for the headship of the next decennial mission.
Returning to Russia, he was raised to the dignity of Archimandrite
in June, 1848, and arrived in Beijing as chief of the new
mission in October, 1849.
Here he labored with exemplary fidelity for ten years, winning
fresh distinction in his three-fold character of ecclesiastical chief,
diplomatic representative and Oriental scholar. By recommendation
of the Foreign Office, His Majesty the Emperor of Russia
conferred on him an order of St. Anne of the second class, and that
of St. Wladimir of the third class, together with a life pension of
Such was his reputation as a scholar and as the successful chief
of a mission which required tact and ability that he had before him
the most tempting offers of ecclesiastical preferment. The dignity
of Bishop was in fact offered to him, as also the post of superior in
one of the richest of Russian monasteries, but averse to pomp and
splendor and perhaps fearing that they would withdraw him from
his favorite studies, he declined both.
In August, 1860, he was appointed chaplain to the embassy
in Rome, and during the four years spent in the eternal city, he
not only mastered the Italian language, but spent much time in
studying the antiquities of the Christian Church. The results of
these investigations appeared in a series of letters published in the
pages of a Russian Ecclesiastical Review. A jewelled cross from
the Imperial cabinet was conferred on him as a mark of approval of
his services in Rome.
Meanwhile the period having come round for a new mission
to China, the position of chief was offered to Palladius and by him
gladly accepted; his choice of a post no higher than the one which
he had held ten years before showing how strong was his attachment to the mission.
On its religious side it fulfilled the aspirations
of a pious soul, while in its Scientific aspects it presented invaluable
facilities for extending his Oriental studies.
It was in April, 1865, that he entered Beijing for his third
mission, and there he remained, with one brief interval, for thirteen
years, until age and infirmities compelled him to vacate his post to
return no more. The interval referred to was a voyage of exploration
in 1870-71 through the Manchurian provinces of the Northeast.
Undertaken at the instance of the Imperial Geographical
Society of Russia, its results in respect to ethnography and archeology
were deemed so important that he was awarded a medal by
the International Congress of Geography in Paris in 1875. "The
rest of his sojourn in Beijing" (from the spring of 1871), says Mr.
Popoff, "was devoted almost exclusively to his Chinese-Russian
Dictionary—a work which he regarded, not without reason, as a
resume of his knowledge of China, acquired by more than thirty
years of patient labor. The hand of death which struck him
at Marseilles, on his homeward voyage, in the spring of 1878,
left the undertaking far from complete. It fell to my lot to finish
it, as it had fallen to me to close the eyes of this corypheus of
As to his character, its leading features show themselves in
the preceding outline—an insatiable thirst for knowledge, indefatigable
patience in the pursuit of it and conscientious devotion
to the duties of his office; but it may not be out of place to add a
few words on the same subject.
His spiritual charge consisted chiefly of a small colony of
Christian Tartars brought to Beijing by the Emperor Kangxi from
the town of Albazin, much as the tribes of Israel were carried away
by their Babylonian conquerors. It was this colony that gave
occasion for the Ecclesiastical Mission, and it was adroitly used by
the Russian Government as a means for keeping up diplomatic
relations with a shy and exclusive neighbor. Not only did the
Archimandrite Palladius show himself a good pastor in providing for
the spiritual wants of his flock; he was freehanded and liberal in
giving them material aid whenever it was required. A tablet to his
memory, suspended in their Church and bearing the inscription 以永终譽, attests their gratitude.
"He was," says Professor Wassilieff, "a man of the utmost
modesty. Discreet and kind he treated everybody with Christian
indulgence; never condemning anybody and never roused to
fanaticism. In a word he was a man whom it was impossible not
to love and respect."
Holding a high place in the affections of his own countrymen,
he was esteemed and loved by many of other nationalities, and the
representatives of other nations sometimes sought his advice on
questions of diplomatic importance.
It only remains to append here a list of his principal writings:—
Besides the above works, a number of important articles of less
extent may here be mentioned:—
"This little narrative," says Mr. Popoff, "exhibits the author's
powers of narration to great advantage. Clothed with poetic
charms, yet truthful and simple, it gives us a vivid picture of
Chinese life and superstition."
In looking over this double list it is impossible to repress a sigh
of regret that the most of these works remain locked up in the
Russian language. Would it not be a meritorious performance for
some Russians from the shores of the Baltic to put them into
German and so render them accessible to the rest of mankind?
The Dictionary, which he left unfinished, is after all the
magnum opus of the Archimandrite's prolific pen. Mr. Popoff
gives a formidable catalogue of native and foreign dictionaries on
which the joint authors have drawn for assistance, and adds that
"not one of them gives as such complete, exact and full definitions
of all terms connected with the three great religions of China as
does this work of the lamented Archimandrite."
In bestowing eight years of patient labor on the completion
of that work, Mr. Popoff has not merely erected a monument to the
sainted missionary, but added much to his own reputation, and
done honor to his country. Happy the author who finds for his
literary executor a man of like mind; capable, conscientious,
laborious, and far more solicitous to lay immortelles on the tomb of
the departed, than to gather fresh laurels for his own brow!
W. A. P. M.
Pearl Grotto, near Beijing, 6th August, 1889.