Richard Rutt – pioneer in Korean studies – passes away

On July 27, Richard Rutt, one of the last of the great missionary scholars,  passed away in England.   Brother Anthony describes Rutt as:

Richard Rutt was the last of the line of scholar-missionaries that began with James Scarth Gale, Homer B. Hulbert, George Heber Jones and the Anglican bishop Mark Napier Trollope, the pioneers who laid the foundation of what is now known as Korean studies.

On arriving in Korea, he began to explore in great depth its language, culture and history, as well as Classical Chinese. He was an active member of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, serving on the council, overseeing its publications and serving as its president in 1974. He published several scholarly papers in the RASKB’s journal, Transactions, which reveal his deep knowledge of the Classical Chinese used in pre-modern Korea.

His deep affection for the traditional culture of Korea, which had almost ceased to exist by the time he arrived, was particularly expressed in his popular 1978 volume, “Korean Works and Days: Notes from the Diary of a Country Priest.” His most outstanding work of scholarship, apart from his translations, must be his annotated edition of the “History of the Korean People” by James Scarth Gale, which was first published in 1927. It includes a thoroughly researched biography and bibliography of the author.

Rutt was fascinated by traditional, formal “sijo” and older forms of Korean poetry in general. This led to the publication in 1971 of “The Bamboo Grove: An Introduction to Sijo,” containing pioneering translations of many of the most celebrated Korean sijo. Like Gale, Rutt was deeply interested in Classical Chinese, and after his retirement he published a new translation of the challenging ancient Chinese classic, “The Book of Changes” in 1996.

I have always enjoyed his research and regret never having had the opportunity of meeting him. May he rest in peace.

  • Bangzi

    As a PhD student of Ming-Qing Chinese history I know the years of dedication it takes to come even near proficiency level in Classical Chinese.

    When I consider scholars like Richard Rutt who work on pre-modern Korea I am full of respect and admiration. Not only must one master Classical Chinese, but early and modern Korean and Japanese!

    I have just begun learning Korean and from the outset I can say, without a doubt, that Korean is on a whole other level of pain above Chinese.

    Those of you in Korean studies seriously rock!

  • kuiwon

    Rutt was fascinated by traditional, formal “sijo” and older forms of Korean poetry in general.

    What other older forms of Korean poetry are there besides Sijo? I’m unfamiliar with Korean vernacular poetry.

  • thekorean

    One example I could think of is 향가, like 처용가.

  • oranckay

    I’d like to recommend his coauthored _Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary_. It isn’t anywhere close to being complete, and it clearly reflects personal interests. But it’s fun to read through for that reason and it as complete as anything like it will be for a very long time.

    Re the poetry, he also translated Korean hansi, which like it or not was what most poetry was written in.

  • kuiwon

    #3 – That’s the only poetry written by Koreans I’ve read XD. One appreciates Hansi a lot more, once he realizes that the rules for writing 절구 and 율시 are quite complicated.

  • Q

    There are 고려가요(高麗歌謠)‘s too. 청산별곡 (靑山別曲)
    a famous piece.

  • sanshinseon

    R.IP. Richard Rutt, one of my seonbaes for sure…
    “full of respect and admiration” — Yes. and now whistful sorrow.
    But his was a life well-lived, no doubt!

  • kuiwon

    #6 – Ah. The sad thing about vernacular poetry is that vernaculars change (a point gbevers should understand) and thus the original texts are oftentimes difficult to read.

  • robert neff

    It is a shame that so many of these scholars are passing away before we – the younger generation – are able to learn from them. I am sure that Prof. Rutt had a lot more information that he could have presented in a more intimate setting rather than the stuffy confines of academia. I think that we all suffer from academia writing for academia – obscure and often slighted so as not to offend itself.