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Mindscapes of Indophile travellers through the De Jong collection, University of Canterbury Library

By Roseanne Hawarden

When Professor Jane Buckingham declared that I should write a blog on the De Jong Collection in the University of Canterbury Library as part of a History Honours course on the Social and Cultural History of India, I knew enough about her mindscape and the tracks of my own, to realise that I would find plenty to interest me while meeting her demanding scholarly standards. This is the third course of hers that I have taken and have recognised that the university has a treasure in this charming Indophile. Experience had shown me that her directions would be pointers to an intellectual pathway of adventure and surprise.

My first step was to understand who Jan Willem de Jong was, and how his personal book collection became an asset in the university’s Special Collections. Speculating when, where and why he bought certain books occupied my mind as I walked home through the chilly university grounds, clutching a dozen books he had touched and loved. Professor de Jong (1921-2000) was a noted scholar and the founding professor of South Asian and Buddhist studies at ANU, living retired in Canberra until his death. As a linguist and philologist, his broad interests spanned the Asian continent. He specialised in Japanese Buddhism and was much acclaimed in that country. A frank obituary shows him to have been a reclusive academic, not an outstanding lecturer but a generous colleague, although an acerbic critic of inferior work. As bibliophiles, the de Jong home was filled to overflowing with books. Damian Cairns the MacMillan Brown Special Collections librarian, described their house as a ‘library with bedrooms’. Although deeply attached to his home and family, de Jong’s mindtravelled through many places, cultures and timeframes, all linked to traditions first established in early Indian cultures. It is ironic that his personal book collection travelled across the Tasman Sea to reside permanently in Christchurch that most English of New Zealand cities, after posthumous purchase by the university. How many of our vibrant multicultural student body realise that a large portion of their literary history (12,000 volumes of it), waits to be discovered in the stacks of the campus libraries?

Selecting from such a large collection is easy in a digital age with the judicious use of search terms. ‘India’ and ‘travel’ linked to ‘de Jong’ quickly produces a manageable list. Four books illustrate the several mindscapes that I travelled, from ancient to modern by both male and female authors, many intrepid travellers themselves. As a genre travel tales are a perpetual favourite. Historians are intrigued by the journeys of others, the more extreme the better to contrast with our own modern concerns. For armchair travellers those visions of distant and exotic landscapes lift us out of the ordinary and connect us into worlds of mystery and otherness. I concluded that Professor De Jong, and probably his wife Gisèle bought books on travel for personal pleasure.

Figure 1. Sart musicians in Mr Macartney’s garden in Kashgar. Sarts and Indian servants in the background (Photograph: Mannerheim).

The most scholarly and challenging book I attempted was a battered copy of ‘Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India (AD 629-645)’.1 De Jong would have regarded this as the bread and butter of his world as this is one of the earliest accounts of Indian Buddhism. Translated from the Chinese it recounts an arduous journey by a monk (now Xuanzhang) seeking the origins of his religion. This was an epic quest taking sixteen years along the northern and southern routes of the Silk Road. Having survived many dangerous encounters in the harsh terrain of Central Asia, he arrived back home to become a national hero, whose name is still honoured today.
1 Thomas Watters, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India, AD 629-645 (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1961).

Described as a seminal book in the collection, I was entranced the work of another national hero, this time a Finn. ‘Across Asia from West to East in 1906-1908’ by the explorer and soldier, Carl Gustaf Mannerheim is a first edition copy.2 Mannerheim is regarded as Finland’s greatest statesman. Volume One contains his daily journal from a trip across Asia to China, disguised as an ethnographic and archaeological expedition but was a secret intelligence gathering exercise for the Russian army. The second volume is a compilation of the scientific research he undertook by a team of eminent academics. Mannerheim was a prolific scribe who recorded in detail all he saw. His journal is very readable with almost every page illustrated with beautiful black and white photographs. For example, he describes fondly a month in Kashgar where he enjoyed the hospitality of the Anglo-Indian British agent, Mr Macartney. This included music in the garden provided by Sart (Uyghar) musicians attended by Indian servants, an event Mannerheim captured in an exotic photograph that depicts the pleasures of this remote post (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Sart musicians in Mr Macartney’s garden in Kashgar. Sarts and Indian servants in the background (Photograph: Mannerheim).
2 Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, Across Asia from West to East in 1906-08, Vol. I. Records of the Journey (Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura, 1940).
Another Indian journal in the de Jong collection dating to the 1930s is ‘Hindoo Holiday’.3 It is a memoir by Joe Randolph Ackerley (1896 -1967) of his short engagement as secretary to an Indian maharaja. His observations are acute and characterisations humorous but the book is devoid of women while lyrically describing young Indian men. This hint was later confirmed by further research, that the author was openly homosexual. Ackerley’s distinguished literary life and connections to British aristocracy through his father’s secret second family adds spice to an informative account of palace life in this era. Authors of the travel journals I selected were intrepid and inspiring but occasionally foolhardy, if not downright irresponsible. One was Dervla Murphy, author of ‘Where the Indus is young: a winter in Baltistan’, who set out in the 1970’s for the wilds of Tibet with her six year old daughter.4 She used her daughter to manipulate the locals into providing succour, abusing their hospitality while having a great adventure. Her daughter a stoic child, is the real heroine of this tale. My short journey through the mind of de Jong allowed me to glimpse the intellect that made him a towering figure in Asian research. My lack of Asian languages was a barrier to a full appreciation of his genius. My own interests lie along the medieval maritime Silk Road, so this was a landlubberly journey. De Jong patently had no interest in the sea, shipping or trade. His collection will become an anachronism as digital libraries mean that book collectors like de Jong will fade away. There will be no record in the years to come of which books caught the fancy of the great men and women of academia. For future students, the rare personal book collection in a university library may be the only
3 Joe Randolph Ackerley, Hindoo Holiday (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932).
4 Dervla Murphy, Where the Indus is Young: A Winter in Baltistan (Newton Abbot: Readers Union, 1978).
way to understand the pleasure obtained in owning and contemplating shelves of treasured books. Dr Rosanne Hawarden August 2017

Correspondence between JW de Jong and Edward Conze concerning “Memoirs of a modern gnostic” (1979)

By Royce Wiles

Edward Conze (1904-1979) was unquestionably a major figure in the development of Buddhist studies during the twentieth-century (especially his work on studying and translating the Sanskrit Prajñāpāramitā texts). Conze’s correspondence with JW de Jong (1921-2000)—another major academic figure in Buddhist studies—d is preserved in the De Jong collection of the University of Canterbury. From the mid-1950s until 1979 there are around 120-150 items preserved in chronological sequence. The letters deal almost entirely with matters of translation, publication exchanges, academic vacancies, new appointments, book reviews etc. and contain very little discussion of academic issues (a sample showing Conze’s distinctive letter head is shown in Figure 1). Conze’s academic papers are housed in the University of Bristol library.

At de Jong’s request Conze wrote about his life in The Memoirs of a Modern Gnostic (Sherborne: The Samizdat Publishing Company) (see Figure 2); only volumes 1 and 2 have ever been released. The third volume was apparently too problematic and a potential source of legal action. On the occasion of the workshop on the de Jong collection in Christchurch (late-2016) I thought to try to locate any information in the preserved letters about the third volume. The extracts below outline the progress in the preparation and eventual publication of Conze’s memoir and provide information on how he worked on it, the number of copies, etc.


  • Conze: 24 Feb 1977: “A neighbour lent me an ancient dictaphone and twice I dictated the beginning of my biography into it. The first time there was nothing on the spool, and the second just one page. Like everything else in present day England the machine just did not work. So I came to the conclusion that it was clearly not the WILL OF GOD that my life should be recorded. Nevertheless I have arranged for a secretary to visit me next week, and perhaps after all I will be able to send you something on the subject.”
  • Conze: 14 March 1977: “By chance a competent secretary turned up for the story of my life. I dictated 22 pages to her, and now she has faded out again. So I have sent you the first 11 pages, giving my life in Germany up to 1933. If and when she turns up again, you will get the second part, covering the years between 1933 and 1949.”de Jong: 17 March 1977 “Thank you very much indeed for the brief record of your life … It is amazing to see how many circumstances are required in order to create a Buddhist scholar!” “I see that your brief record finishes on 15th June 1933. I think you ought perhaps to write a second chapter about your life in England from 1932 till 1947 when you burst upon the scene as a fully-fledged Buddhist scholar. I think this probably needs some explanation, because it is not obvious from the account of your life till 1933 that you are destined to become a specialist in this field.”
  • Conze: 20 April 1977 “The random notes on my life arose because your enquiry coincided with the unexpected emergence of a bright secretary here in Sherborne. As they developed I sent them to three close friends, apart from you. The one who is connected with the University of London was shocked to his very bones. The other two have remained silent so far. It will be best if you treat this as a confidential document, file it away in a file with an Armenian inscription … it can obviously not be printed as it stands in England or America. A copy has gone to my brother in Germany with a view to having it printed there ‘as a manuscript’. After my death it may put a few fleas into peoples’ ears.”
  • de Jong: 27 April 1977 “I think when I wrote to you I had not yet seen parts 2 and 3 [not volume 3] of your saga. After reading it I thought it would probably be better not to publish it in the near future unless a very much edited version. The uncensored recension could perhaps be published in the 21st century.”
  • Conze: 18 May 1977 “As for the Conze saga, I have been encouraged by everyone to continue. So I will send you a copy of what follows. Before publication a lawyer, my brother and a bhikhsu will go over every word.”
  • de Jong: 4 August 1977: “It was a pleasure to receive the last 50 pages of your saga. However, I understand that it is only a temporary version of the final part and that you intend to write more in detail about your experiences in America and in Germany. One thing I have realised only fully while reading your saga is the amount of work you have been able to do in often very difficult circumstances. We in our sheltered positon in universities do not have the same problems you had, especially not the financial situation …”
  • Conze: 11 October 1977 “My saga has been viewed by a lawyer who wants to remove much—far too much. So I have decided to re-arrange the material, leave the cutting to the prospective publishers (who will have different taboos in different countries), add some further bits about America and so on, and then deposit copies in a few libraries, while trying to sell an abbreviated version to publishers here and there.”
  • de Jong: 20 October 1977 “I hope that you will send me a copy of all the bits which you are going to add to [the saga]. I will carefully put them away in a secret file.”
  • Conze: 3 January 1978 “As for my memoirs I have now dictated the second version which differs from the first mainly by the arrangement of the material. By separate mail I have sent you the principal additions; also one of the smaller ones … Some of the sections proved so recalcitrant that I have split them off into a third part which I will not try to publish during my lifetime.”
  • Conze: 3 April 1978 “As for the life story, I am now doing the third version from which all remarks are removed which might be construed as libellous or politically offensive.”
  • Conze: 1 May 1978 “I am sending you by surface mail the first 49 pages so that you can see what the final form of ’The memoirs of a modern gnostic’ looks like. As each volume is completed I will send it on as a parcel. The printable American experiences are now distributed between volumes I and II, whereas the unprintable ones go into volume III.”
  • Conze: 9 October 1978 “I begin to feel that you were doing me a good turn when you stimulated me to write my life story. The existing text has caused some enthusiasm in various quarters, and I felt greatly honoured the Professor Joseph Needham [1900-1995] in Cambridge took the trouble to correct my English throughout.”
  • Conze: 2 November 1978 “I am just fed up with [rejection of the Memoirs by publishers], and will run off at my own expense during the next months 200 copies of an occasionally corrected text.”
  • Conze in a letter to Martin Kraatz, Marburg 2 December 1978 states that the following copies have been prepared to date: Part I 40 copies, Part II 20 copies, Part III 4 copies [“Von Tiel 1 sind soweit 40 Exemplare hergestellt worden, von Teil 2 die Hälfte davon, und von Teil 3 nur 4”]
  • Conze: 8 January 1978 “Of the third part I have done 160 pages, and there is little more to come.”
  • Conze: 1 February 1979 “I am nevertheless grateful to you for having given me the original impetus to write this autobiography which has pleased quite a lot of people, including myself.”
  • Conze: 8 March 1979 “I was very glad to hear that you have now the entire memoirs in your possession, except for Part III which I do not dare to entrust to the post.” “Somebody tells me that Eliade [1907-1996] in his Memoirs says that I had told him that I regarded Madame Blavatsky as a reincarnation of Tsong-kha-pa. This was said by me in 1954 in a beer cellar in Munich, when I could drink to my heart’s content and he was restricted by his wife to one small glass of beer.”
  • de Jong: 27 March 1979 “I certainly hope that there will once be an opportunity for me to see part 3, but I do not know of anybody who could personally bring this secret document from Sherborne to Canberra.”
  • de Jong’s last letter to Conze was on 6 September 1979—Conze died on September 24—on 23 October de Jong sent a condolence letter to Mrs. M. Conze

The following email (7 May 2012) from Asko Parpola, posted to the Indology listserv updates some of this: “I have kept the following email communication by Paul Williams, Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Bristol, on the 20th of Oct. 1995. With best regards, AP: ‘The bulk of Edward Conze’s books and papers are held in the University of Bristol Library. However, when they were bought from Mrs Conze soon after her husband’s death, she did not let the library have the manuscript of Vol. 3 of the Memoirs, saying that EC did not wish it to be published until all those mentioned in the book were dead. Around 1992 Mrs Conze told that she had destroyed the manuscript, thinking that its publication would not be good for the reputation of EC. But there may be another copy. Shenpen Hookham (the author of “The Buddha Within”) may have access to some of Conze’s papers not in Bristol — perhaps she knows where it is.’”

No copy of the elusive third volume has turned up in the de Jong collection however.


Happy Birth-Day, Mr X!

Clemency Montelle
University of Canterbury

It is surprising the places a letter can take you!

De Jong was a meticulous collector.  Along with books and offprints, everything that entered or left his house and offices was kept and documented.  His correspondence was no exception.  De Jong ensured that copies were made of letters he sent, and those copies, along with their original replies, were retained and stored together. They can now be found in the University of Canterbury De Jong collection, organised in chronological order in large ring binders. The binders read like intertwined episodes of unfolding interactions and testify to both De Jong’s every day work as well as some more unusual requests and interactions. They thus offer a fascinating backdrop to the more public activities undertaken throughout this scholar’s career.

These binders caught my eye one day as I was browsing through the collections, and with a morning to spare, I curled up in the corner of the Macmillan Brown library and started reading from the beginning.  At a certain point, my eye fell upon a letter dated 12 July 1983, partly because of the distinctive University of Canterbury Letterhead at the top, and partly because the word ‘Sanskrit Manuscript’ jumped out at me.  I paused and read the letter carefully [See Figure One].  The letter was from R. W. Hlavac, the then University Librarian, writing to De Jong asking for expert information on an artefact the university library had just acquired as part of the Albert William Andrews collection, namely an 18th century Sanskrit astrological scroll which was between 6 and 7 meters long.  De Jong’s reply, composed on the 16th of August, suggested it should be a project for a suitably qualified student and the correspondence on this between the two appears to have stopped there.

Letter, R.W. Hlavac to JW de Jong. De Jong Collection, Macmillan Brown Library MB 1171

I was intrigued. Where was this manuscript?  Did the library still have it?  Furthermore, my mind was boggling at the dimensions of this scroll.  Seven meters? In all my dealings with manuscripts, I’d never heard of scroll of such size before!  Clearly this was a very special item in the library collection, but nobody seemed to know anything about it.  I was determined to get to the bottom of this.

The librarians located the scroll and brought it out of storage.  The classification read:

 MB 680 Albert William Andrews papers : Sanskrit Scroll. Horoscope. Circa 18th century. Description: 1 scroll ; 17 cm. wide, kept in box. Notes: The handwritten and illustrated paper scroll is thought to be a personal horoscope dating from the late 18th century.

A horoscope is a special sort of astrological document.  Based on the birthdate of an individual, astrologers would compute the positions of the sun, moon, and planets, and using these, would predict key events in the life of the individual.  While the basis of astrological forecasts are not strictly scientific, the methods astrologers used to compute planetary positions and related phenomena are of great interest to historians of astronomy, as they give us direct insight into the techniques and mathematical models astronomers used to predict celestial events.

While the scroll was very long, it was quite narrow, no more than 20cm and it was stored rolled up.

Sanskrit Scroll. Horoscope. Circa 18th century. Albert William Andrews papers, Macmillan Brown Library MB 680

The scroll appears to have been made up of many smaller sheets pasted together.  Unfortunately, the first sheet appears to have become detached at some point and is no longer part of the original. This means that the beginning of the text is gone, so that any information about the name and circumstances of the individual for whom this horoscope was cast is lost, details which are central to a horoscope. However, by a stroke of luck, when the text does pick up, it starts with the precise date and circumstances of the birth of this individual.  The date, using various traditional eras, is given as: “saṃvat 1903, śaka 1768, winter, month of Kārttika, the dark fortnight, 12th tithi, 48th ghaṭī, 49th pala, Sunday”.  This is a very exact date, and corresponds to Sunday, November 15th, 1846, 19 hours, 31 minutes, and 36 seconds after sunrise.  This sort of precision is typical of a horoscope!

The longitudes and velocities of the planets are then computed for this precise instant.  These are presented in the scroll in a table:

Sanskrit Scroll. Horoscope. Circa 18th century. Albert William Andrews papers, Macmillan Brown Library MB 680

Each of the columns (to be read vertically) list the planets, beginning with the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and the ascending and descending nodes of the Moon.  The longitudes are given in zodiacal signs, degrees, minutes, and seconds.  Underneath these, are the instantaneous velocities, given in minutes and seconds.  These are also summarised in a horoscopic diagram, in the form of a rosette:

Sanskrit Scroll. Horoscope. Circa 18th century. Albert William Andrews papers, Macmillan Brown Library MB 680

Here the first letter abbreviations of each of the planets are placed in one of the twelve partitions of the rosette, which are labelled 1 through to 12 anticlockwise, one for each of the twelve zodiacal signs.  With this key information computed, the astrological interpretation can begin!

The scroll contains written passages, astrological diagrams, pictures, and numerical tables.  It is a heavily decorated, colourful piece with inks in hues of greens and yellows filling in rosettes, highlighting thick boarders, and delimiting passages of text.   The scroll also contains many other astrologically significant schemes, including the rekha-bindu scheme (`line and dot’) and an ornamental snake which encodes the names of the 27 nakṣatras, special constellations found along the path of the moon:

Sanskrit Scroll. Horoscope. Circa 18th century. Albert William Andrews papers, Macmillan Brown Library MB 680

It is hard to estimate the significance of the scroll.  One assumes that such documents cannot be all that rare as these are the products of a working astrologer.  However, given the length and detail of this particular document, I suggest this was quite a special text!  Perhaps there might be a clue in the Andrews papers that might reveal the name of the individual for whom the horoscope was cast as well.

Without De Jong’s letter, the scroll could very well be still sitting on the shelf.  However, as he recommended, I will be making sure that this text gets transcribed and translated, and eventually published, so that it adds to our understanding of this corpus of documents in Indian history.

Sanskrit Scroll. Horoscope. Circa 18th century. Albert William Andrews papers, Macmillan Brown Library MB 680


Treasures of the de Jong collection: Wilkins’ Bhagavadgītā

McComas Taylor
Australian National University

Someone once told me that the fastest way to a Dutchman’s heart was with Speculaas biscuits. Clutching a packet of those spicy treats, I nervously approached the front door of the irascible Professor JW de Jong (1921-2000). I had begun my doctoral research at the Australian National University just a few years before he died and I had decided to pay a courtesy call to the noted Indologist and Buddhist Studies scholar at his home in a leafy suburb of Canberra.

Mrs de Jong welcomed me in, and the three of us had tea and biscuits in their airy front room with big picture windows looking over the garden. The biscuits apparently worked their magic: instead of the daunting figure I had feared, I found a diminutive scholarly gentleman with big hair and thick glasses. I don’t remember the details of our conversations, but after tea, Prof. de Jong led the way down through a gallery packed with books on either side to his library/studio in a converted garage in the back garden.

From a shelf he drew out one of the prizes of his 14,000-volume collection: a large brown book of obvious antiquity. De Jong proudly opened the book and showed me the title page: The Bhăgvăt-Gēētā or Dialogues of Krĕĕshnă and Ărjŏŏn. I drew my breath. This is one of the holy grails of Indology and arguably one of the most influential books in the world, Charles Wilkins’ 1785 translation of the Hindu classic, the Bhagavadgītā.

Wilkins himself was an interesting character. Born in England in 1749, he trained not in a scholarly or intellectual discipline, but as a printer. Like many adventurous young men of his generation he was lured to India where fabulous fortunes or sudden death were equally possible. Reaching Calcutta in 1770 he worked as printer for the East India Company and elevated himself through the system, mastering Persian, Bengali and Sanskrit on the way. With the great British orientalist William Jones, Wilkins co-founded the Asiatick Society of Bengal, the first scholarly organisation dedicated to the study of the Indic cultural world. Wilkins he returned to England in 1786, the year after his translation appeared, and died there many years later at the ripe old age of 86.

Written in Sanskrit about two millennia ago, 700-verse Bhagavadgītā appears in the middle of the great Indian epic, the Mahābhārata. A great internecine war between two rival branches of the royal family is about to begin. When the two armies have arrayed themselves for battle, Arjuna, one of the leading warriors, losses his nerve and refuses to fight against an army consisting mainly of this kinsmen and mentors. He turns to his charioteer Kṛṣṇa (Krishna) for advice, but gets much more than he bargained for. Not only does Kṛṣṇa give solace to the hapless hero, he reveals himself to be supreme deity in human form, and teaches Arjuna about the illusory nature of existence. Thus chastened, Arjuna regains his composure and the battle begins.

Over the centuries, the Bhagavadgītā, or ‘Song of the Lord’ as it is sometimes translated, has been sung, cited, recited, illustrated and annotated across the length and breadth of India. It is one of the best loved texts in the Hindu world, not only is it written in beautiful poetic form, it is a source of profound philosophy and insight.

Wilkins’ translation (which he undertook with the unacknowledged assistance of a pandit, Kasinatha Bhattacharya) brought this remarkable text to a European audience for the first time, where it caused a sensation. Romantics loved it because its monotheistic tone suggested that Indians were ‘just like us’, as they believed in a single ‘God’. Orientalists loved it as it fed into the concept of a mysterious, spiritual ‘East’. Indian nationalists, including Gandhi himself, confronted by monolithic religions like Christianity and who needed to establish a unified image of ‘Hinduism’, found in the Gītā a convenient ‘Hindu Bible’.

In the West, the Gītā was for many people the first point of contact with India, and sparked an interest, a love or a fascination for that land and its people. It has been the entry point for many to Hindu traditions, to India, and to Indian studies. This text has shaped perceptions of India in the West, and indeed throughout Asia, down the generations.

Wilkin’s first work effectively spawned an entire Gītā translations industry. Richard H. Davis, author of The Bhagavadgita: A Biography, cites earlier work by Callewaert and Hemraj who identified 1891 translations of the text into 75 languages. Davis estimates there are now well over 300 English translations alone.

After de Jong’s death in the year 2000, the University of Canterbury acquired his entire library and fifty lineal meters of manuscripts from his widow. The collection is now in the care of the Macmillan Brown Library. At a recent workshop organized by Dr Clemency Montelle to celebrate the de Jong archive, I had the pleasure of encountering this rare volume again, after an interval of nearly twenty years.

Joanna Condon, who manages the collection, had laid out a number of collection’s treasures for us to enjoy in the rare books room. Each volume lay open in a white pillow to avoid damaging the spine. Wilkins’ Gēētā was larger than I remember – officially it is quarto, which is about the size of a modern A4 sheet.  Its brown board cover shows its age, but the pages are surprisingly crisp and bright, and look like they were printed yesterday. Nice to know that this extraordinary treasure will be safe for generations of scholars to consult and to enjoy from now on.

The Bhăgvăt-gēētā : or, Dialogues of Krĕĕshnă and Ărjŏŏn ; in eighteen lectures with notes / translated from the original, in the Sănskrĕĕt, or ancient language of the Brāhmăns, by Charles Wilkins. de Jong Collection, Macmillan Brown Library, reference: 737388