Search results

You are looking at 1 - 10 of 10 items for

  • Author: Edward Weech x
  • Refine by access: All content x
Clear All Modify Search
The life and times of Thomas Manning
Author:

Chinese dreams in Romantic England tells the extraordinary story of Thomas Manning (1772–1840), a brilliant polymath who risked everything to discover the secrets of Chinese language and culture. A young idealist whose imagination was fired by the French Revolution and ambitious plans for making a better world, Manning participated in the ‘first wave’ of British Romanticism alongside famous friends such as Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Disillusionment with events in France encouraged other Romantics to seek inspiration in the poetic imagination and the English countryside, but Manning looked further afield – to China, one of the world’s most ancient and sophisticated civilizations. In 1790s Britain, China was terra incognita, and Manning’s quest led him first to the salons of Napoleonic Paris, then to the sealed borders of the vast Chinese Qing Empire, and finally to Tibet’s holy city of Lhasa. There, on the ‘roof of the world’, Manning became the first Englishman to meet the Dalai Lama. When he finally returned to England, he confronted an increasingly Sinophobic climate, and his outward-looking vision was neglected and later forgotten. This book uses newly discovered archival sources to tell Manning’s story in full for the first time. In doing so, it not only helps us understand the bold and forward-looking vision of this remarkable man. It also provides a surprising new perspective on China’s contribution to the Romantic imagination, and the wider course of cultural exchange between Britain and Asia at the dawn of the nineteenth century.

Edward Weech

Eventually, Manning decided to try and get into China from British India, and in spring 1810 he arrived in Calcutta. There, he prepared his journey to Tibet, eventually setting off as an independent traveller, accompanied by a solitary assistant, a Chinese Catholic. In order to conceal his English identity, Manning assumed the guise of a Buddhist pilgrim. He was the first Englishman to visit Lhasa, capital city of Tibet and home of the Dalai Lama; no other British person saw the city for almost a hundred years. Manning hoped to get permission to continue into the interior of China, but this was refused, as he was suspected of being a Catholic missionary or a spy. Nevertheless, Manning met the Dalai Lama several times. Though Manning was a religious sceptic, his diary shows that he was profoundly moved by these meetings. He was deported in spring 1812, and his Chinese assistant was arrested and exiled to Xinjiang. Instead of returning to England, Manning bided his time in Asia, hoping that Britain might send a diplomatic embassy to Peking, and that he would be recruited as a translator. This eventually took place in 1816, and Manning was duly employed. But the Amherst Embassy went badly, and in retrospect has been interpreted as something of a watershed in Anglo-Chinese relations. For Manning, its failure was a cruel anti-climax to his lifelong ambition.

in Chinese dreams in Romantic England
Abstract only
Edward Weech

The introduction starts with a vignette from late 1811, as we witness Thomas Manning’s encounter at the Potala Palace in Lhasa with the young Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso (1805–15). This interview – which Manning had conceived as a simple ruse to help him enter China – would instead become a defining moment in his career. The vignette introduces themes that will play an important role throughout the book, such as language, translation, travel, and religion. The introduction then lays out what we previously knew about Manning and establishes the historical context for his project, setting out the social and political situation in 1790s England and describing the state of knowledge about China in Britain at that time. It explains the significance of this book, especially inasmuch as it encourages us to consider anew the role of China in the Romantic imagination. Manning’s career helps the Romantic movement appear as an outward-looking phenomenon in dialogue with the Far East that was concerned with social reform and cultural renewal. The introduction explains that the book uses new archival sources to reveal that Manning’s interest in China stemmed from his desire for positive changes within Britain itself. Manning’s career helps us better understand how ideas about China, and Asia more broadly, factored into British intellectual culture at the dawn of the nineteenth century.

in Chinese dreams in Romantic England
Abstract only
Edward Weech

At a time when British people knew almost nothing about China, Manning abandoned a promising career as a mathematician to dedicate himself to the study of Chinese culture and society. Manning was dedicated to the cause of social reform; and, unimpressed with how contemporaries such as Coleridge and Wordsworth were looking inwards for inspiration – either to their own minds or the English countryside – Manning looked abroad, instead. There was not a single person in Britain at that time who could teach him Chinese, and so, in his thirtieth year, Manning took advantage of the Peace of Amiens to visit Napoleonic France in the hope of finding a teacher. In Paris, Manning soon found himself feted by the exciting salon culture, meeting some of the Continent’s most prominent literary and political figures, from Madame de Stael and Chateaubriand to Thomas Paine and the novelist Helen Maria Williams. Manning was eventually introduced to the linguist Joseph Hager, the one man in Paris who could introduce him to Chinese texts, but progress was painstakingly slow. In the second half of 1802 Manning explored the Rhine and the South of France, recording his reflections in letters to his father and Charles Lamb. These letters again show Manning as a Romantic traveller, while also revealing his intense interest in observing the social manners and customs of the rural poor. He hoped to carry out a similar project of social observation when he arrived in China.

in Chinese dreams in Romantic England
Abstract only
Edward Weech

Manning arrived in Canton in January 1807. He planned to study Chinese while looking for opportunities to explore the interior. The borders of the Empire were strictly closed to outsiders, and Manning lived with the small community of European traders in a cramped parcel of land near the docks. He experienced something of a culture shock, not being prepared for the full extent of the restrictions imposed on foreigners, who were not even allowed to leave the port area and enter the city itself. Nevertheless, he made slow progress with Chinese, and planned various abortive expeditions into China. He attempted a voyage to Cochinchina (Vietnam), and applied to serve in Peking as one of the emperor’s personal mathematicians and astronomers. The chapter explores the complexities of Manning’s self-image as a Romantic English liberal patriot in 1800s Canton in the hothouse atmosphere of the Napoleonic Wars.

in Chinese dreams in Romantic England
Abstract only
Edward Weech

Manning was born in rural Norfolk, and Norfolk’s febrile cultural climate shaped his intellectual development. Manning’s social environment was influenced by prominent movements for reform, against the slave trade and in favour of women’s rights, and his ideas reflected the democratic ideals of the American and French revolutions. Manning’s zeal for progressive change stimulated his desire to learn about China. However, when he arrived at Cambridge University in 1790, the curriculum was dominated by mathematics and ancient Greek, and these were the subjects he studied at Caius College between 1790 and 1795. It would take several more years before he could begin to learn Chinese, but his studies of ancient Greek later provided a surprising foil for his Sinological pursuits. Manning was one of the best students in his year, but he was unable to graduate: his conscientious objection to subscribing to the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion meant he was disqualified from receiving a university degree. After leaving Caius, Manning continued his mathematical research, publishing a textbook and supporting himself by teaching university students. The chapter also explores the affecting story of Manning’s youthful romance with Miss Wilkins, one of the sisters of the famous architect, William Wilkins.

in Chinese dreams in Romantic England
Edward Weech

On the cusp of leaving France to prepare for his journey to China, Manning was trapped by the outbreak of war with Britain, and he was detained for eighteen months as a prisonnier de guerre. This frustrated his plans, which possibly included an attempt to enlist on a Russian Embassy to China. He petitioned anxiously for permission to leave France, and this was eventually granted due to the intervention of influential friends, including the leading statesmen Talleyrand and Lazare Carnot. Manning returned to England in January 1805 to arrange his trip to China. To do so, he approached Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society and noted patron of scientific expeditions. Banks secured permission from the East India Company for Manning to reside in their ‘factory’ (residential offices) outside Canton (modern Guangzhou), where he would find it easier to study Chinese and prepare a trip into China itself. Manning began the hazardous journey to China in April 1806; just a year earlier, William Wordsworth’s brother, John, had drowned when captaining Earl of Abergavenny, which was bound for China but sank off the English coast with a death toll over 250. Manning knew that even if he arrived safely in China, he would never see many of his family and friends again. The chapter concludes with the story of the long sea voyage from England to China, including Manning’s description of the colony at Penang.

in Chinese dreams in Romantic England
Edward Weech

One of Manning’s Cambridge pupils was Charles Lloyd, a Quaker poet plagued by mental health issues, and it was Lloyd who provided Manning’s introduction to Romantic literary circles. Lloyd had just fallen out with his previous mentor, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, after publishing some scandalous details about Coleridge in his novel, Edmund Oliver (1798). The chapter examines Manning’s trip to visit Lloyd during his honeymoon in the Lake District in summer 1799, providing our first view of Manning as a participant in English Romanticism. The Lakes were now assuming a place of momentous importance in British literary culture, thanks to Coleridge and, especially, William Wordsworth. Lloyd introduced Manning to the essayist Charles Lamb, and they began a famous friendship and literary correspondence. In January 1800 Lamb introduced Manning to Coleridge, and over the next eighteen months Lamb engaged Manning in a close reading of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, a seminal work in Romantic poetry. The chapter discusses Manning as a Romantic traveller, not only in the Lakes in 1799, but also in the West Country and South Wales in 1801 – other crucial locales in the Romantic imagination.

in Chinese dreams in Romantic England
Abstract only
Edward Weech

After the Amherst Embassy, Manning returned to England. He endured a terrifying shipwreck in the Java Sea, after which the survivors had to fend off attack from pirates. Surviving this ordeal, Manning continued his journey and met Napoleon on the island of St Helena, finally arriving back in England in August 1817. Initially, he promised important works on Chinese culture as well as a detailed comparison of the Chinese language with ancient Greek. But, to the perplexity and disappointment of his friends and admirers, Manning never published any such major treatises, despite living for another two decades. He did, however, provide the first English translation and commentary of Chinese jokes. This was slim reward for the vast resources of time and money expended on his Chinese studies, but it nevertheless contains important clues about the sociological purpose of his research. The chapter examines some key recollections of Manning by his contemporaries which help prepare the way for the analysis of Manning’s inner life and hidden purpose, which is explored in the concluding chapter.

in Chinese dreams in Romantic England
Abstract only
Why did Thomas Manning want to learn about China?
Edward Weech

The conclusion explains the hidden purpose of Manning’s Chinese project for the first time. Using new archival sources, it reveals that Manning believed China was one of the world’s most advanced civilizations, and that he thought the study of its social life, manners, and customs could furnish material to advance moral reform in Britain itself. He also thought that a comparative study of Chinese with ancient Greek could explain ‘the metaphysics of mind’. In the context of late Enlightenment Europe, this would provide an empirical basis for establishing the common nature of humankind that did not rely on the story of humans’ descent from Noah. The chapter discusses the significance of Manning’s goals within the context of Romantic Britain, and ongoing movements for religious, political, and social reform. It shows how Manning’s religious ideas and personal psychology helped drive his ambition to synthesize the wisdom of East and West. In his youth, Manning was a freethinking religious sceptic, who sometimes considered himself an atheist or Deist. He had a special interest in Neoplatonism, an ancient syncretic religious and philosophical system which also inspired other leading Romantics. The chapter considers Manning’s vision of intercultural exchange in conversation with the ideas of other leading thinkers of his day, notably Coleridge and the American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. It concludes by suggesting that Manning’s story is significant not just for the history of Romanticism and Anglo-Chinese exchange, but for the modern construction of how we think about our shared past.

in Chinese dreams in Romantic England