Two Letters from The Stone



Translation Salons and Readings

As part of our recently completed Wairarapa Academy Symposium ‘Dreaming of the Manchus’ 八旗夢影, which took place at Longwood Estate near Featherston in late February this year, we held a number of informal Translation Salons 竹林譯苑. For these we prepared and distributed a series of Wairarapa Readings 白水札記. One of the Readings — 白水札記 · 伍 — contained the two letters addressed to Jia Bao-yu in Chapter 37 of The Story of the Stone 紅樓夢 (the chapter is entitled ‘A happy inspiration prompts Tan-chun to found the Crab-flower Club’ 秋爽齋偶結海棠社). The witty version of these letters by David Hawkes — one scaling the heights of elegance 雅, the other plumbing the depths of vulgarity 俗 — served as an inspirational example of the master’s translation style. We reproduce that Reading here with remarks from noted Commentators.

My thanks to Annie Ren 任璐曼, a Stone specialist, for her work on the Readings, and her contributions to this modest publication.

— John Minford, 19 March 2018
The Wairarapa Academy for
New Sinology 白水書院

A Translator’s Note

Saturday 21 Oct. 1972

Question of style in 探春’s letter (ch. 37). Verse would have done if there weren’t the problem of contrast with 賈芸’s letter. Trouble with a euphuistic parody would be that 探’s letter would then become ridiculous, whereas it is only meant to be mildly comic. 探春 is not Don Armado. In this 雅 / 俗 contrast it’s the 俗 that’s meant to be the joke…

David Hawkes

The Story of the Stone: A Translator’s Notebooks, David Hawkes, p.72


Don Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost is an affected Spanish braggart, a man who thinks himself finer than he actually is and talks in mind-bogglingly fancy language, qualifying every word a dozen ways and taking paragraphs to get to the point.

from Don Adriano de Armado at Play Shakespeare


Related Material in China Heritage:

Sun Wen 孫溫, Illustrations for the Complete Dream of the Red Chamber 《繪全本紅樓夢》


Tan-chun’s Letter to Jia Bao-yu


Tan-chun’s Letter

Dear Brother,

Some nights ago, when the moon came out in a sky freshly clear after the rain, the garden seemed veritably awash with moonlight, and sleep in the face of so rare a spectacle was unthinkable. Thrice the clepsydra had been turned, and still I lingered beneath the tall paulownias, reluctant to go in. But in the end the treacherous night air betrayed me, and by morning I was lamentably indisposed.

How kind of you to have visited me in my sickroom! and how exquisitely thoughtful to have sent your maid-servant shortly afterwards with solicitous inquiries and with those delicious lychees and the calligraphy by Yan Zhen-qing!

While I have been lying here quietly on my own, I have been thinking how in the olden days even men whose lives were spent amidst the hurly-burly of public affairs would keep some quiet retreat for themselves with its tiny corner of mountain and trickle of running water; and how they would seek, by whatever arts and blandishments they knew of, to assemble there a little group of kindred spirits to share in their enjoyment of it; and how, on the basis of such leisure-time associations, rhymers’ guilds and poetry clubs were then founded, so that the fleeting inspirations of an idle hour might often be perpetuated in imperishable masterpieces of verse.

Now although I am no poet myself, I am privileged to live ‘midst rocks and streams’ and in the company of such gifted practitioners of the poetic art as Xue and Lin; and it seems to me a great pity that the romantic courts and pavilions of our Garden should not echo with the jocund carousal of assembled bards, and its flowering groves and blossoming banksides not become places of wine and song. Why should the founding of poetry clubs be the sole prerogative of the whiskered male, and female versificators allowed a voice in the tunable concert of the muses only when some enlightened patriarch sees fit to invite them?

Will you come, then, and rhyme with us? The pathway to my door is swept to receive you and your arrival is eagerly awaited by

Your affectionate Sister,







Jia Yun’s Letter to Bao-yu


Jia Yun’s letter

Dear Father,

I have the Honour to present my Humble Duty and hope this finds you as it leaves me in the Best of health, ever since you did me the great Kindness to recognize me as your Son I have been looking for some means of showing my appreciation of your great kindness but so far no opportunity has presented itself, to date. However, thanks to your esteemed Advice I have got to know several Nurserymen also a number of famous gardens and now through this contacts I have come across a very rare Variety of autumn crab flower (Pure White) only very little to be had, but using every means possible I have got two pots of it I hope you will think of me as a real Son and not refuse to keep them for your enjoyment. However, owing to the present Hot Weather I did not like to call in Person as the Young Ladies are outside in the Garden a lot owing to the heat, and not wishing to give Inconvenience

I remain,
Honoured Father,

Your Dutifully and Affected Son,
Jia Yun





Commentators (in block brackets 【】and below):



English Translation:

  • David Hawkes, The Story of the Stone, Vol. 2: The Crab-Flower Club, London: Penguin Classics, 1973, pp.114-115

Chinese Text:

Chinese annotations of the text are mostly taken from the mainland edition (人民出版社, 1988), with annotation by scholars including 啟功、周汝昌、俞平伯、李希凡、馮其庸; and also 紅樓夢校注本 (北京師範大學出版社, 1995).

Notes on Editions and Commentators:

  • 庚辰本 1760 年:題「脂硯齋重評石頭記」。因後四冊封面書名下都註有「庚辰秋月定本」或「庚辰秋定本」字樣,故名「庚辰本」。又稱「脂京本」。原出北京北城旗人家中,一九三三年初徐星曙以八銀幣購於北京東城隆福寺地攤,後歸燕京大學圖書館。現藏北京大學圖書館。
  • 甲辰本 1784 年:題「紅樓夢」。因書前有乾隆四十九年(甲辰)夢覺主人序文一篇,故名「甲辰本」。又稱「夢序本」、「夢覺本」。一九五三年發現於山西,現藏國家圖書館。
  • 王希廉(1805 -1877 ):原名希棣,字雪薌(又作雪香),因評贊《紅樓夢》,自號洞庭護花主人,工書善詩文,才華豔發。《新評繡像紅樓夢全傳》大约刊印于道光 12 年(1832),評語全部集中在每回回末正文之後,並含繡像六十四幅、論贊、問答、大觀園圖說等。
  • 張新之(c.f. 1811):自幼喜讀「紅樓夢」,生前卻無力將評點本出版,原稿後為收藏家劉銓福所典藏。劉銓福友人孫桐生借閱妙複軒評本後,大為讚賞,窮十年的心力,將其整理校對,並變賣家產,於光緒七年(1881 年),才得以由湖南臥雲山館刻印出版,書名為「妙複軒評本‧繡像石頭記紅樓夢」。

Tan-chun’s Letter, Notes:

  1. 娣探謹奉——妹妹探春小心地送上。客氣話。娣,女弟。古時女子對姊而言稱娣,對兄而言稱妹。後人以為對寶玉不應稱「娣」,遂據意改易。如甲辰本、程高本改作「妹探」 , 戚序本改作「妹探春」。都沒有細察探春特意這樣自稱的文情用意。其實,她稱「娣」正是把寶玉視為自己的姊姊,或把自己當作他的弟弟,抹去男女性別界線,愈見親密無間,自己具名只用一「探」字也正為此。若一本正經地寫上「妹探春」,便無風趣可言了。今從庚辰本。
  2. 文几——書房中置於座側的案几,倦時可憑靠。這裡說謹奉書信於几案前,表示對習文的人的尊重。
  3. 清景——清明的月色。詎忍就臥——怎麼忍心捨此景色而去睡覺呢。
  4. 時——當時。
  5. 漏已三轉——即夜已三更的意思。漏,漏壺,古代的定時器,由上下疊放的好幾只銅壺構成,水由最高一隻孔中漏出,逐級轉入到最低的一隻,從置於其中的刻時標桿所浮出的高度來測定時間。
  6. 桐檻——旁植梧桐樹的窗下或長廊邊的欄桿。
  7. 「未防」二句——不防感受風寒而得了病。採薪之患,自稱有病的謙辭。舊時自稱有病為「負薪之憂」,語出《禮記曲禮下》,或稱「采薪之憂」,出《孟子公孫醜下》,意思是背柴或打柴勞累,體力還未恢復。
  8. 撫囑——慰問和叮囑。
  9. 數遣侍兒問切——多次叫丫頭來對我表示問候、關切。
  10. 鮮荔——鮮荔枝。真卿——顏真卿,唐代大書法家。
  11. 「何瘝痌」句——你的關懷和愛護是何等的深啊!「瘝痌」亦作「恫瘝」,「痌」同「恫」。《書康浩》:「恫瘝乃身。」蔡沈集傳:「恫,痛;瘝,病也。視民之不安,如疾痛在乃身。」後來常用以表示對民間疾苦的關懷。如:恫瘝在抱。這裡說寶玉像病生在自己身上那樣地關切對方的健康。
  12. 伏幾憑床處默——默默地憑伏著幾案而坐。說自己獨在房中想問題。
  13. 名攻利奪之場——爭名奪利的場所。這裡指繁華的鬧市。
  14. 些山滴水之區——指範圍很小的人工園景。些,少,小。
  15. 揖——拱手禮。舊時朋友見面時常拱手,這裡是面邀的意思。
  16. 投轄攀轅——形容輓留客人心切。轄,古代車上的零件,多用青銅製成,插在軸端孔內。漢代陳遵大會賓客,曾閉門,把客人的車轄投入井中,使客人不得離去。見《漢書陳遵傳》。轅,壓在車軸上伸出在車子前端、駕車用的直木或曲木。攀轅,也就是牽輓住車子不讓走。舊時常用「攀轅扣馬」(《東觀漢記》)或「攀轅臥轍」(沈約《齊故安陸昭王碑》及《白氏六帖事類集》)作為輓留所謂賢明官吏之辭。
  17. 盤桓——徘徊,逗留。
  18. 竪——直立。這裡就是創建、樹立的意思。
  19. 吟社——詩社。
  20. 竊——猶言私下裡,是表示個人行動、意見的謙詞,如竊聞、竊思。叨——謙詞,在這裡有「幸運一道」的意思。棲處——居住。泉石之間——指大觀園。
  21. 薛林——薛寶釵、林黛玉。雅調——風雅的才調。
  22. 醉飛吟盞——飲酒賦詩。飛,形容舉杯。吟盞,等於說「增添詩興的酒杯」。
  23. 孰——誰。雄才蓮社——蓮社是佛教淨土宗最初的結社,東晉時慧遠在廬山東山寺所創立,曾約會劉程之等一批所謂名儒,號稱十八賢。他們曾以書招陶淵明,所以文中引以為比。《蓮社高賢傳》:「遠法師與諸賢結蓮社,以書招淵明。淵明曰:‘若許飲,則往。’許之。遂造(去到那裡)焉。忽攢眉(皺眉頭)而丟。」鬚眉,男子。這句說:誰說的只允許男子們結社以召集有才之士。
  24. 直以——即使……也當……。東山之雅會——像謝安那樣風雅地會聚。晉代謝安,字安石,曾隱居東山,後常以「東山」來指稱他。《晉書.謝安傳》:「(謝安)寓居會稽,與王羲之及許詢、桑門、支遁游處,出則漁弋山水,入則言詠屬文,雖受朝寄,然東山之志始末不渝,每形於言色。」讓余脂粉——余,我們。脂粉,女子。投帖給寶玉,卻不把他算在「鬚眉」中而歸於脂粉隊裡,是很有意思的。
  25. 棹雪而來——乘興而來。棹,划船工具,這裡作划船解。此字各本歧出:作「掉」、「綽」、「踏」、「造」等等,或是形訛,或是臆改。實在是用《世說新語》中王子猷冒雪「夜乘小船」訪戴安道事。帖中引典故只取其「乘興而行」的意思。
  26. 掃花以待——殷勤期待。杜甫《客至》詩:「花徑不曾緣客掃,蓬門今始為君開。」表示自己生活疏懶,待客不周。今反用其意。



Jia Yun’s Letter, Notes:

  1. 「不肖男」句——寶玉是賈芸的叔輩,論年紀反而是賈芸大四五歲。這裡賈芸自稱「不肖男」,叫他叔叔寶玉為「父親大人」,因為寶玉曾對賈芸開玩笑說:「倒像我的兒。」賈芸「最伶俐乖覺」,見機而入說:「俗語說的,‘搖車里的爺爺,拄拐的孫孫’。雖然歲數大,山高高不過太陽。自從我父親沒了,這幾年也無人照管教導。若寶叔不嫌侄兒蠢笨,認作兒子,就是我的造化了。」(第二十四回)
  2. 膝下——子女幼時依戀於父母的膝下,因而常以「膝下」表示對父母的敬愛,舊時與父母通信時多用之。語出《孝經》。賈芸費盡心思在信中表示對寶玉的敬意,所以恭請「萬福金安」外,又把「天恩」、「膝下」等他頭腦中所想得出來的詞都用上了。又凡需自稱處一律寫作小字,稱對方時或換行頂格,或空格,其小心恭順的程度,就與古代官員向皇帝上奏本差不多。在這裡,連「膝下」之前也空格,就顯得十分可笑了。
  3. 「上托」二句——賈芸以為凡說運氣好,就應說「上托大人洪福」,所以在「認得許多花兒匠」之前也加上了這話。這也是作者的詼諧。
  4. 親男——男,雖用作兒子對父母的自稱,但「親生兒子」卻不能說成「親男」。賈芸不能辨別詞的不同用法,所以寫出了「視男是親男一般」這樣令人絕倒的文句。