Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Legge, James

LEGGE, JAMES (1815–1897), professor of Chinese at the university of Oxford, son of Ebenezer Legge, was born at Huntly in Aberdeenshire in 1815. He was educated at the Aberdeen grammar school, and graduated M.A. at King's College, Aberdeen, in 1835. From his earliest years he had desired to enter the missionary field, and for the furtherance of this object he, at the completion of his course at Aberdeen, came to London and studied at the theological college at Highbury. In 1839 he was appointed by the London Missionary Society to the Chinese mission at Malacca, where he remained until the treaty of 1842 enabled him and others to begin missionary work in China. In 1840 he was appointed principal of the Anglo-Chinese College at Malacca, which Robert Morrison [q. v.] had founded in 1825, and in the following year the council of the university of New York conferred on him the degree of D.D. In 1843 he landed in the newly established colony of Hongkong, and took part in the negotiations which ended in the conversion of the Anglo-Chinese college into a theological seminary and its removal to Hongkong. There he resumed his position as principal. His health having broken down, he paid a visit to England in 1845, and three years later returned to Hongkong, where, in addition to his missionary work, he undertook the pastoral charge of an English congregation. In 1858 he paid another visit to England, and in 1873 he returned permanently to this country, resigning the principalship and other posts. In 1870 the degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by the university of Aberdeen, and in 1884 the same honour was granted him by the university of Edinburgh. In 1875 a number of merchants interested in China, and others, collected a fund for the endowment of a Chinese professorship at Oxford, on the understanding that Legge should be the first occupant of the chair. The university accepted the arrangement, appointed him professor, and the authorities of Corpus Christi College elected him a fellow of their college. His inaugural lecture was published in 1876. At Oxford he remained until his death. He died at his residence in Keble Road on 29 Nov. 1897. Legge was twice married: first, on 30 April 1839, to Mary Isabella, daughter of the Rev. John Morison; and secondly, in 1859, to Hannah Mary, daughter of John Johnstone, esq., of Hull, and widow of the Rev. G. W. Tilletts of Salisbury. By both wives he left children.

Legge was a voluminous writer both in Chinese and English, and did much to instruct his fellow-countrymen and continental scholars in the literature and religious beliefs of China. He bore a leading part in the controversy as to the best translation into Chinese of the term 'God,' and published a volume called 'The Notions of the Chinese concerning God and Spirits '(Hongkong and London, 1852, 8vo). But the great work of his life was the edition of the Chinese classics the Chinese text, with translation, notes, and preface. This task he began in 1841, and finished shortly before his death.

The publications of his labours commenced in 1861, when there appeared 'Confucian Analecta: Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning,' and 'Works of Mencius.' There quickly followed 'The Shoo-king, or Book of Historical Documents,' 1865, 4th edit. 1875; 'The Shi-king, or Book of Poetry,' London, 1871, 8vo; and 'The Ch'un Ch'iu: with the Tso Chwan,' 1872. He received the Julien prize from the French Institut in 1875 for these works. In 1876 there appeared 'The Book of Ancient Chinese Poetry in English Verse.' The last volumes of Legge's edition of the Chinese classics appeared in the series called 'The Sacred Books of the East,' which Max Müller, Friedrich [q. v. Suppl.] edited for the Clarendon Press. To this series Legge contributed vols. iii. xvi. xxvii. xxviii.xxxix.xl., Oxford, 1879–1894, 8vo. Of these the first four volumes dealt with the 'Texts of Confucianism,' and the last two with the 'Texts of Taoism.'

Legge's other writings on Chinese literature and religion were:

  1. 'The Life and Teaching of Confucius,' London, 1867; 4th edit. 1875.
  2. 'The Life and Teaching of Mencius,' London, 1875.
  3. 'The Religions of China: Confucianism and Tâoism, described and compared with Christianity,' London, 1880, 8vo.
  4. 'Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms: Travels of the Buddhist Pilgrim, Fa-hsien, in India,' London, 1886, 4to.
  5. 'The Nestorian Monument of Hsî-an-fû in Shen-Hsî, China, relating to the Diffusion of Christianity in China in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries, with a Sketch of subsequent Missions in China,' London, 1888, 8vo.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Men of the Time. 1895.]

R. K. D.