Impelled Unswervingly to Strange Things
Four years ago Diss Museum commemorated the Manning family in a festival called Friends in High Places.
This referred to one of the sons, Thomas, who was the first European to reach Lhasa and meet the boy Dalai Lama.
The festival resulted in a re-creation of that meeting, between Robert Manning, great-great nephew of Thomas, and the current Dalai Lama.
The museum drew on Thomas Manning’s journal for information about his travels; but there was little else to go on.
Now hundreds of documents including Manning’s diary and letters have been acquired by the Royal Asiatic Society after being found in an antiquarian bookseller’s cupboard.
In his journal Manning described the young potentate: “The lama’s beautiful and interesting face engrossed all my attention. He had the simple, unaffected manners of a well-educated princely child. His face was, I thought, affectingly beautiful. He was of a gay and cheerful disposition. I was extremely affected by this interview with the lama. I could have wept through strangeness of sensation.”
But, until now, nobody knew that he also made sketches of the boy. .
There are letters from Thomas’ father begging him not to leave, but he explains emotionally how he is ‘impelled unswervingly to strange things’.
He adds: ‘I have nothing, absolutely nothing, in my constitution of what is called crack-brained.’
He describes how he was writing while ‘sitting alone in a room at the very extremity of the earth having nothing but the tones of a Chinese string instrument played on by a Chinese servant … Surrounded on all sides by people whose thoughts, actions, dress and affections have nothing in common with Europe.’
‘Yet for all that you are not to suppose me unhappy, quite the contrary. I have not undertaken what is beyond my strength.’
The newly found material will be soon be made available to scholars.