31 Jan /19

Introducing a Pioneer Interpreter of Korea to the West

Rare 1898’s edition of James Scarth Gale’s <i>Korean Sketches</i>, part of EVS Translations Book Museum
Rare 1898’s edition of James Scarth Gale’s Korean Sketches, part of EVS Translations Book Museum

EVS Translations has a love of languages that goes back centuries. If you visit our Offenbach or Bulgaria offices, you will find on display part of a growing collection of first edition dictionaries, grammar and historical books, among which a rare bird: a collection of essays about daily life in Korea in the 1890s; as seen and experienced by the Canada-born James Scarth Gale during his 9 year-long stay in the country.
Korean Sketches, Preface: “Comparatively little has as yet been written that gives an idea of Korean life and character. After some nine years of intimate association with this quaintest and oldest of living races, I have put these sketches together, believing that they give a correct picture of the Hermit people as it is, and as it has been since the long forgotten days before our Anglo-Saxon race came into existence.”

In 1888, Gale was one of the first Westerners to arrive on the Korean peninsula (shortly after the signing of the first treaties of trade and diplomacy between Korea and the West) as a missionary with YMCA and to become a member of the “Board of Official Translators” of the Korean Bible.

In addition to translating the Bible and Christian literature into Korean, Gale published a Korean-English Dictionary (1897), a Korean Grammatical Forms (1903), and became the translator of the first work of Western literature to be printed in Korean (The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan).

As a Western missionary pioneer in Korea, to have explored the local history and culture, he became an important early Korean studies scholar to introduce the Korean linguistic and cultural richness to the West. His translation of Kim Man-jung’s (17th-century President of the Confucian College) novel of the times of the Tangs of China about 840 A.D, titled by Gale The Cloud Dream of the Nine, was the first literary work of Korean to be translated into English, and his History of the Korean People (1924-1926), revealing an appreciation of the Korean culture, was well received in the West World.

James Scarth Gale further wrote articles and publications on Korean politics and modernisation, to let us end with the preface of his Korea in Transition (1909) work: “Korea has suddenly emerged from the unknown into the widely advertised of to-day”

The work is selected by scholars as part of the knowledge base of Korean civilization as we know it, and a rare 1898’s edition of Gale’s Korean Sketches is part of EVS Translations Book Museum, a collection of reference works highlights the importance of translating ideas and knowledge so that it can be shared globally for the benefit of all.