The Mongol World
Subscribers to the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society will soon be receiving the spring issue. This edition is a festschrift created in honour of its former editor Professor David O. Morgan. Researchers in the fields of Mongol studies, Islamic studies and Persian studies, eagerly await its publication and in anticipation have lovingly nick-named it the ‘Morganama’.
Professor Morgan’s expertise lies in Mongal studies. This made me wonder what we have in our collections connected with Mongolia. Of particular significance is the painting on silk of the Mongolian hunting party and encampment, c.1800 . This was written about in a blog a few months back when Frederick Marryat was featured. Marryat donated the picture to the RAS. This is a lovely painting and certainly worthy of another viewing:
This copy does not do justice to the painting which hangs in the entrance hall at the RAS. Often I take time to pause and examine it on my way in and out of the building and would encourage you to do the same if you are visiting the RAS.
We also have within the Collections some Mongol photographs taken by Aurel Stein as part of his illustrations for “Ruins of Desert Cathay” published in London in 1912. We will soon be having a student on placement and her project is to audit, assess, improve the care and cataloguing, and highlight our Photographic Collections. So instead of highlighting these now, I thought I would share some illustrations from a book in our Library Collections. This book, published in the 1880s, is “Among the Mongols” by Rev. James Gilmour.
Gilmour, born in Scotland in 1843, worked as a missionary in China and Mongolia from 1870 until his death in 1891. He was keen to learn about the language and the customs of the people amongst whom he lived. According to the Prefatory Note the First Edition (this copy being a subsequent “cheaper” edition) had proved very popular not just because Rev Gilmour was a man of missionary zeal and strong and decided views, which he could clearly express to the reader, but also because of his literary style, which at the time was compared in the Spectator to the writings of Daniel Defoe. At the point of publication of this issue “Mr. Gilmour is now (1888) living among his Mongol friends, and striving to heal both their bodies and souls”. The engravings were “the work of a Chinese artist in the border town of Kalgan, and his pictures…are correct enough in the general impression of the scenes represented.”
The book is full of the many things that Gilmour has experienced whilst living among the Mongols – from leaving sticks and whips outside your host’s tent, before entering to hanging up your mutton legs at night to prevent them from being stolen by dogs. It certainly is an “entertaining” read though probably would not pass a current test for political correctness.
Before finishing this blog, I would like to take the opportunity of reminding you of our forthcoming lectures. On Thursday 12th May at 5.30pm it is the Anniversary General Meeting, which will be followed by Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams receiving the Denis Sinor Medal. Professor Sims-Williams will then lecture on “The Bactrian Archives: Reconstructing the Lost History of Ancient Afghanistan”. On Tuesday 17th May, at 6.30pm, Cam Sharp Jones will speak on “Indian Tribal Ethnography in the 19th Century”. This lecture forms part of our Fresh Perspectives Series. We would like to welcome you to join us for these occasions,