Essay towards a Dictionary, Tibetan and English. Prepared, with the Assistance of Bandé Sangs-Rgyas Phun-Tschogs, a learned La'ma of Zangska'r, during a Residence at Kanam, in the Hima'laya Mountains, on the Confines of India and Tibet. 1827-1830.

[With:] A Grammar of the Tibetan Language in English. Prepared, under the Patronage of the Government and the Auspices of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

Calcutta: printed at the Baptist Mission Press, 1834 Stock Code: 122418
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The first Anglo-Tibetan dictionary

First editions of the first Tibetan-English dictionary and grammar, remarkably scarce in commerce, with one copy only of the Dictionary appearing on auction records (2007) and just two complete copies of the Grammar (1955 and 1998). This set has an excellent provenance: from the library of Thomas Herbert Lewin (1839-1916), army officer and frontier administrator, with his engraved armorial bookplate in each volume.

Riddick remarks that "despite Lewin's diminutive self-image, as suggested by the title of his memoirs A Fly on the Wheel or, How I Helped to Govern India (1885), his life in British India ultimately involved a good deal of adventure and a significant contribution to the administration of Burma" (Glimpses of India 379). He joined the Bengal Establishment as an ensign in 1857, serving in the Mutiny at the defence of Cawnpore and at the siege of Lucknow before turning to police work on India's north-eastern frontier. "Here he found a larger field of satisfying action in the civil administration of the hill tribes of the Chittagong from 1866 to 1873. His memoirs correctly reflect a pride in his negotiations with the Lushai and Howlong tribes which brought a peaceful settlement to the area and the release of nearly one hundred British subjects" (ibid.). A model of the pioneer soldier-administrator, he was also a practised linguist and anthropologist: his other works include A Manual of Tibetan (1879) and The Hill Tracts of Chittagong and the Dwellers Therein (1879). The Lewin Papers are held at Senate House Library. See also John Whitehead's biography Thangliena: A Life of T. H. Lewin Amongst Wild Tribes on India's North-East Frontier, 1992).

Sandór Csoma de Korös (1784-1842) studied Oriental languages at Göttingen and after an extraordinary journey by the overland route arrived in Lahore in 1821, travelling for a time with the English explorer William Moorcroft, who urged him to take up the study of Tibetan. Under the tutorship of various Lamas throughout Afghanistan and Northern India, Csoma de Korös became one of the first Europeans to master the language. He studied the two great encyclopaedias of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist literature, the Kangyur (100 volumes) and the bsTan-'gyur (224 volumes). As both a foreigner and a polyglot he was twice detained by local authorities on suspicion of being a spy, a point he addresses in the Preface to the Dictionary: "The author begs to inform the public that he had not been sent by any Government to gather political information; neither can he be accounted of the number of those wealthy European gentlemen who travel at their own expense for their pleasure and curiosity; but rather only a poor student, who was very desirous to see the different countries of Asia, as the scene of so many transactions of former ages; to observe the manners of several people, and to learn their languages, of which, he hopes, the world may see hereafter the results". From 1837 to 1841 he served as Librarian to the Asiatic Society. In 1842 he was planning a journey to Lhasa but contracted malaria and died at Darjeeling.

In his biography of the Tibetologist, Csoma de Korös's countryman and fellow philologist Theodore Duka, notes that James Prinsep, secretary to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, "considered it as one of his most important duties to urge that Csoma's works should be pushed through the press as rapidly as possible". He then goes on to cite a letter from Prinsep to the secretary of the Government of Bengal in which he discusses printing arrangements and costs for both the Dictionary and Grammar, and that "500 copies to be struck off". In a further letter Prinsep mentions the distribution "of the five hundred copies", noting that "the author solicits for himself one hundred copies that he may send them to the Universities of Austria, Italy, and Germany"; the remainder to be sent out either by the Asiatic Society or the Society's booksellers in Calcutta and London. To find copies of both books paired and presented, as here, in uniform bindings is exceptional.

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2 works, quarto (271 x 215 mm). Contemporary "country" straight-grain dark green half roan, spines gilt lettered direct and gilt banded, four low raised bands decorated with a foliate roll, green pebble-grain cloth sides, red speckled edges. Housed in a custom made green cloth solander box.


Bindings with a few scuffs and light abrasions, scattered foxing to endpapers, general light toning and occasional dust marking, Grammar cracked at gutter of title page and rear inner hinge (causing last few leaves to be slightly skewed). Very good copies, with the complete lithographed 40pp. section ("syllabic scheme" and Tibetan alphabet).


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