geroge foulk korea


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Samuel Hawley is a writer. His books are highly eclectic. He has written about 16th-century East Asian history, 19th-century Korean-American relations, Olympic sprinting and land speed racing and a circus elephant named Topsy who was electrocuted in 1903. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.



Editing George Foulk's 1884 Korea travel diary presented some difficult problems - so much so that for a time I thought that it would not be possible to shape it into a book. The first hurdle was learning to read his handwriting. Unlike his letters home, which were written with care so his parents could read them, Foulk dashed off his travel diary entries because they were only for his own reference. Through perserverance, however, everything becomes clearer, and in time I was able to decipher his scribbles.

The next hurdle was more problematic. As I put together a transcription of the diary I realized that it was not publishable as Foulk wrote it. While portions were written in readable prose - likely the portions he wrote in the evenings, when he had access to a table and time to reflect - much else was jotted down hastily, often in point-form, as he was going along.

And there was another problem: the diary as Foulk wrote it is in places highly disjointed. For example, he would record passing through a town and jot down his initial impressions of the place; then, a day or two later, he would return in his diary to the town to record further observations and thoughts.  He also kept additional notes and lists in the back of the diary.

These considerations led me to conclude that Foulk's diary could not be published as written and that I would have to do significant editing to shape it into a readable book. This entailed expanding point-form notes into full sentences where needed, deleting certain non-narrative asides such as compass sightings, and rearranging portions of the text to make a linear, coherent narrative.

I feel that Foulk would have approved of these changes.
He had in fact intended to write a book himself on Korea, using in part his travel diary notes, for he was very aware and indeed proud of the significance of his journey. Being appointed charge d'affaries unfortunately left him no time.

To convey some idea of the editorial process, here is the opening page of Foulk's actual travel diary from 1884:

george foulk 1884 korea travel diary

What I did first was to make an exact transciption, even to the hyphens Foulk typically used instead of periods:


Left home Nov. 1 – 8.58 am – bright and clear – arrived at Pap-chon-kori at 9.58 – Kwanak S. 8 W. Tong Jiki bluff S 17 E. Are just behind a procession of the Tanchon Possa – two pounders &c. L. 10.05 about 1/6 m[ile] NNW of n. bank Tongjiki ferry – Kwanak S. 13–15 W. Sand stretch is about two miles wide. Namsan bears N 10 -- 22 E. Arrived Tonjiki north bank 10.33. Sobungo N. 26 E. 21 ferry boats. And across Tongjiki ferry 10.40 – went right on – just beyond Kwanak – S 18W. Followed west side of valley about 1 mile wide – going towards Kwanak – little east of peak – valley narrowed – at 11.09 arrived far end of Shhūng băng tōl – a stoney place – 50 houses – counted carefully. Here saw Pusa’s [procession?]. Two had men in red shirts and blue bead strings and all sorts of other strings – cow bells at waist and blue covered sticks on back – then Pusa, two Kumsu and some servants – then 2 bronze coated fellows with tiny hats with big peacock feather on horses and on other with other runners on foot. Shūng băng tol is 20 ri from Seoul, 10 from Kwachon. Stream flows down valley – rocky valley – upland products – Nam san N. 0E. – this is at practical end of valley.

I then edited the transcription into readable prose:

November 1, 1884

     Left home at 8:58 a.m. Bright and clear. Arrived at Pa-chon-kori at 9:58. We are just behind a procession of the Tanchon Pusa, two pounders, &c. Left at 10:05. We are about one-sixth of a mile north-northwest of the north bank of Tongjiki ferry. The sand stretch is about two miles wide.

     Arrived at Tongjiki north bank at 10:33. Across Tongjiki ferry at 10:40. We went right on, following the west side of the valley, going towards Kwanak. At 11:09 we arrived at the far end of Shung bang tol, a stoney place of about fifty houses. Here saw the Pusa’s procession. He had men in red shirts and blue bead strings and all sorts of other strings, cow bells at the waist and blue covered sticks on the back. Then came the Pusa, two Kunsu and some servants, then two bronze coated fellows with tiny hats with big peacock feathers, on horses, with other runners on foot. Shung bang tol is twenty ri from Seoul, ten from Kwachon. A stream flows down a rocky valley planted in upland products. This is at the practical end of the valley.

Editing Foulk's letters to his parents was far easier. They stand on their own as well-written prose and needed very little editorial input from me. Here is a sample of one of his original letters, dated June 6, 1887:

george foulk korea letter

Here is the same letter as published:

Seoul, Korea
June 6, 1887

My dear Parents,

     Your letter of April 27th reached me on the 3rd instant. I cannot understand why you should not have received letters from me for so long a time. I certainly have written quite regularly, particularly since Rockhill relieved me of the charge of the legation. Your letter cheered me considerably. I was particularly glad to read that Uncle George was getting well so rapidly.

     It will be some time yet before the mail closes and I will not write for the present anything of my political affairs. Of this I think I’ve written you quite closely up to the present time. For the past week I have been singularly well. Why it is so I cannot imagine, but....

One of the main editorial decisions I made for the book can be seen in the heading: I wrote the date out in full for all the letters and standardized the spelling of "Seoul" to replace Foulk's various spellings.

george foulk korea George foulk korea