"Smalle Trees" from Peter Mundy's Diary

      Peter Mundy (fl. 1608-1667) was an English merchant from Cornwall and employee of the English East India Company (chartered in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth I).  Clerk Mundy was in India (c.1628-1632), including visits to the city of Agra where he had noted the early construction of a great mausoleum: the Taj Mahal.
      Leaving England in April 1636, now as a factor (licensed trader) for Courteen's Association (chartered in 1635 by King Charles I), an early and short-lived rival to the East India Company, Mundy arrived on one of Capt. John Weddell's four ships to Macau fifteen months later and recorded in his diary the great wealth and glamour of that city and its Asian, European, and Eurasian inhabitants.  (Wendell, d.1639, was an unhappy former employee of the East India Company.)  This was the first contact between Britain and China.  In late June 1637 they anchored among the islands south of Macau and a week later arrived in the city itself.  There Mundy delivered a letter from King Charles II to the Captain-General and Senate of Macau.  At the end of July they tried to force a passage up the Pearl River to Canton, but were met by cannon-bearing Chinese war junks which forced them to turn back.  Returning to Macau, Mundy rented a house and carried out a "limited trade."  He spoke some Portuguese -- lingua franca throughout the East, and Spanish.  Mundy's account is the earliest known text to be written originally in English by a writer who actually set foot in/near China -- and was at the foreign enclave for six months.  And it was written shortly after the peak of the city's height of prosperity (1585-1600).  Like other writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Mundy compared what is different and what is similar to European objects and habits, using the former as references to represent the newly found exotic objects and products.  Mundy recorded the first English reference to "chaa" (tea) and to pronunciation difficulties faced by Chinese speakers of English.  In Macau Mundy also saw both Japanese (who were not allowed to settle in China) and Portuguese refugees fleeing from the Christian persecution which was then at its height in Japan.  However, Mundy's account was not published in its own era.  The Hakluyt Society of London published The Travels of Peter Mundy, in Europe and Asia, Vol. III, Part I: Travels in England, Western India, Achin, Macao, and the Canton River, 1634-1637, edited by Sir Richard Carnac Temple, in 1919.  (The entire diary was published in at least 5 volumes between 1905 and 1936). 1

       Peter Mundy's Diary (1637 / 1919):

       "Some trees are to bee seene here and there in the Citty and some smalle gardein plottes, butt in their houses Many galleries and tarasses Furnished with Macetas, or Flower potts, made into sundry shapes, wherein were various sorts of smalle trees, plantts, Flowers, etts. Among the rest a smalle tree (common here) growing outt off a Meere rock or stone, which is putt into a panne or other vessell off water, soe that the water cover the roote and some part of the stocke, and soe it waxeth greater, having seene some off 3 or 4 foote high... In the said panne they allso putt certaine smalle Fishes as bigge and as long as a Manns little Finger, their scales some of Silver and some off gould coullour shining, boughtt and broughtt from Cantan, Fed with bread, Rice, etts. There they continue a long tyme and breed, running in and outt through holes and concavities of the said rocke, being Artificall." 2

       Written only 21 years after the death of William Shakespeare, this is the earliest known English reference from China to what we now know of as penzai.  However, as seen in Mundy's biography (above), it was almost three centuries after the observation was made before it was widely circulated.  Compare this description with the observations of Kaempfer some fifty-five years later in Japan.


1      http://www.blogthetalk.com/2005/06/first-contact-between-britain-and.html ;

Subrahmanyam, Sanjay  The political economy of commerce: Southern India 1500-1650 (Cambridge University Press; 1990), pp. 235-237 ;

Bolton, Kingsley and Braj B. Kachru  World Englishes: critical concepts in linguistics (Taylor & Francis; 2006), pp. 150-152 ;

Hansen, Waldemar  The Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India (Motilal Banarsidass Publ.; 1986), pp. 107, 182 ;

Puga, Rogério Miguel  "Images and Representations of Japan and Macao in Peter Mundy's Travels (1637)," Bulletin of Portuguese / Japanese Studies, December 2000, Vol. 1, pp. 97-109 ;

Parker, Geoffrey (ed.)  The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare (Cambridge University Press; 2000), pg. 120 ;

http://www.hakluyt.com/bibliography/bibliography-second-series-I.htm .

2      Porter, Jonathan  Macau: The Imaginary City, Culture and Society, 1557 to the Present (Boulder, CO: Westview Press; 1999), pg. 153, with source footnote 108 as C. R. Boxer, Seventeenth Century Macau in Contemporary Documents and Illustrations (Hong Kong: Heinemann, 1984), pp. 57-58, per http://books.google.com/books?id=hnf4xvxVfIAC&pg=PA153&dq=Peter+Mundy+%2BMacao+%2Bsmall+tree&1r= ;

Also, partly given on pg. 27 in Gifts from the Gardens of China by Jane Kilpatrick (Frances Lincoln; 2007), per http://books.google.com/books?id=dgsfa13J2OIC&pg=PA27&dq=penjing&lr=#PPA8,M1, with the note that the extraordinary tree "was not a tree at all but was, in fact Narcissus tazetta subsp. tazetta, called in Chinese the Water Fairy Flower.  This delicate narcissus is native to the southern Mediterranean and was probably introduced to China by Arab traders...  N. tazetta is very popular for the New Year Festival and plants are often grown [29] from bulbs placed amongst pebbles in shallow bowls of water, exactly [sic] as Mundy described."  Kilpatrick's reasoning for matching this very tender, early-blooming, flowers-in-clusters daffodil to Mundy's 3 or 4 foot high "smalle tree growing outt off a Meere rock or stone" has not been determined yet by RJB.  We do note that in pre-1800 Chinese works, narcissus is mentioned as a dwarfed plant at the end of the 16th century and in c.1620.

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