Saturday, 17 October 2009

First Chinaman in England. — “I was at London constantly for some years last past, where, in the years 1687 and 1688, I chanced to have some conference in Latin with a natural Chinese whom I did sundry times meet with, by reason that he went to the Latin school at the Savoy. He told me that he was a native of Pekin, and that he had been about eight years absent from China. He told me that he judged Pekin to contain about double the number of the inhabitants contained in London, where he had been resident about eight months. I had formerly seen his picture admirably well painted at Windsor Castle. He appeared to be aged more than thirty years, though he pretended (and perhaps very truly) to be but five or six and twenty. He spoke to me imperfectly in Latin, as having learnt the same without any rules. I do not take him to be a competent judge of the number of people either in Pekin or in London. His stature was low and his complexion very swarthy. His nose was very flat, and his eyes, by reason that his face in that part was also flat, stood outward somewhat oddly, and were very brown; yet his countenance was pleasing and smiling. I did likewise see in London, and had a short and free conference with Father Couplet, a Jesuit that had lived in China about twenty years. He was a native of the Spanish Netherlands, and although he was ‘Sexagenario major,’ he was waiting for an opportunity to pass over again to his beloved China, which was so much in his mind that, whether he was waking or sleeping, he was in a manner continually thinking of it. I did then hear him hold some short discourse in the Chinese language with that very same Chinese whom I have mentioned above, who came in unto us (when we two were only together) to ask some questions, as it seemed, of the said father.” [1]

The Chinaman was Shen Fo-Tsung, the first to visit England, and of whom King James II had a portrait made. It was Father Philippe Couplet who had brought Shen Fo-Tsung to Europe.

[1] William Blundell, Crosby Records: A Cavalier’s Note Book, being Notes, Anecdotes, & Observations of William Blundell, of Crosby, Lancashire, Esquire, ed., T.E. Gibson (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1880), pp.140-1.

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