London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1806. 4to. x, [ii], 632 pp. Second edition. With 8 plates, including the hand-colored frontispiece, 4 additional hand-colored aquatints, plus 3 black and white plates (2 double page). Half morocco with marbled boards, chipped and faded along the edge, corners bumped and showing some loss, hinges weak; very faint damp stain along the outer edge of the text block, light scattered foxing. From the John Crear Library in Chicago, with its perforated stamp on the title, ink stamps on the verso of many of the plates and preliminary pages, and bookplate on the paste-down. . Item #15020
Second edition. Sir John Barrow took part in the British embassy to China in 1792-94 as secretary to Lord Macartney. Although its mission to open trade with China was ultimately unsuccessful, the embassy was able to gain valuable first-hand knowledge of the country and its people. The official account of the mission was undertaken Sir George Staunton (who used many of Barrow’s observations) in 1797, but Barrow was still considered something of an expert in Chinese affairs and wrote many articles on the subject for the Quarterly Review in addition to publishing his own account of the embassy in 1804. The author also clearly took the time to study the Chinese language while abroad, and this work includes his valuable observations on the topic, as well as many examples of Chinese characters.
According to Hill, this book is “one of the best illustrated English travels on China . . . Barrow was an excellent observer, and the text contains a number of descriptions of Chinese artifacts and novelties. Among these a plate of musical instruments, extensive renditions of Chinese melodies in western notation, and a long description, with illustration, of the abacus.” Other chapters include passages on literature, medicine and science, social customs, government, and a sketch of the character and private life of the Emperor, whose portrait graces the frontispiece.
Barrow (1764-1848) came from humble beginnings and rose to the rank of baronet in 1835. Best known for his own book about the mutiny on His Majesty’s ship Bounty (1831), Barrow was also an avid proponent of polar exploration and had several geographical features named in his honor, including the Barrow Strait. He was also active in the government of Cape Colony (now part of South Africa) during British occupation before the Treaty of Amiens, where he acted as a diplomat and explored the then little-known region.