Sunday, August 28, 2011

Filling the sea with pebbles

I've been reading Jonathan Spence's beautiful book today,Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man about a Ming scholar-gentleman who lost everything in the overthrow of the dynasty in 1644 (and apparently a true story.)

The gentleman Zhang Dai's grandfather , a brilliant scholar, decides to write a rhyming dictionary of all the world's knowledge, and he works far into the night for many years. Then one day, a friend brings a manuscript copy of one of the much larger, better designed dictionaries from the palace library in Beijing:

Sighing, grandfather said: "The number of books is without end, and I have been like a bird seeking to fill the sea with pebbles. What can be the point of it all?" So he pushed aside his thirty years of work and never returned to his "Rhyme Mountain." (p74)

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