The Life and Times of Po Chu-I, 772-846 A.D.

The Life and Times of Po Chu-I, 772-846 A.D.

The Life and Times of Po Chu-I, 772-846 A.D.

The Life and Times of Po Chu-I, 772-846 A.D.

Excerpt

There have been short notices of Po Chü-i's life, but never a full biography. The longest of these notices, that in the Old T'ang History, covers only twenty pages, about half of which are occupied by extracts from his prose works. But the absence of a biography has not been due to lack of material; indeed so great a quantity of his work has been preserved and so much of it is autobiographical in character that my chief difficulty has been to reduce this book to a reasonable length. Another difficulty has been to avoid confusing the reader by crowding my stage with too great a number of persons. Chinese names are difficult to remember, particularly when the bearers of them cannot be very definitely characterized. For this reason I have put in the foreground those of Po Chü-i's friends and relations whom it seemed possible to bring to life as individuals, and have played down or eliminated a host of others whose personalities are harder to differentiate, particularly the seven or eight members of the Yang family, his wife's relations, of whom, despite the mass of anecdote that clings to them, I find it hard to get a clear or interesting impression.

My book is simply a history; I have invented neither incidents nor thoughts, and when on rare occasions I speculate about what Po's unexpressed thoughts or motives may have been I make it quite clear that I am only speculating. The novelistic style of biography, even when it refrains from inventing fictitious incidents, has great disadvantages. The imaginary thoughts and self-interrogations that it attributes to its characters ('What course should he now pursue? To hesitate would be fatal', and so on) tend rather to reflect some odd melodramatic backwater of the biographer's own mind than to help us understand the character he is seeking to portray. In the main my account of Po's life is founded on his own writings, both prose and verse, with their 'titles' and prefaces. A Chinese 'title' (t'i) is often a description of the circumstances under which a poem or essay was written rather than a mere heading, and prefaces (hsü) give an even more extensive account of these circumstances, so that solid biographical data can often be got from an . . .

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