So many memories of Stefano have come flooding back under these tragic circumstances. The very day I heard the news I had just picked In Praise of the Light off my shelves to check a point of early Chinese Buddhist translation, and replaced it after finding exactly the information I wanted, and not only with a clear sense of indebtedness to his peerless scholarship. For I vividly recall too that I had smiled to myself, pleased in the first instance at the value of his observations but also at the thought of knowing such a genial colleague in a field that was in times past sometimes marred by pettiness and a pointlessly combative spirit. My first thought on hearing the news was, of course, of the last time we had spoken, at the British Library in February, and of the ideas that we had exchanged about the Chinese Buddhist canon that I had so looked forward to taking further with him. As one friend has already remarked to me, he combined the eye for detail necessary in philological scholarship with the ability to see the bigger picture, and ask the important questions.
But over the past two days I have also thought back to the way in which his work had gradually come to my attention. I must have heard his name through mutual friends who knew him in Venice, but the first piece by him that I read was the 1996 T’oung Pao article on the Diamond Sutra, which struck me as a very important and novel contribution to the study of Buddhist Chinese translations. It also reassured me to see that Leiden was now producing fresh work in this area after depending so long largely on the talent of a single individual. I remember Erik Zuercher telling me that he had taken up the study of Ming Christianity because he had been obliged to work on ‘a religion that people had heard of’. Now, it seemed, the times were changing.
It was still, however, an unexpected pleasure when I was editorial chair of the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies to receive the manuscript of his study of An Shigao’s Yin chi ru jing and to see that once again he had made an important discovery. I also noted that behind this work there lay a very extensive acquaintance with the relevant scholarship – he was aware, for example, of the important ideas of Yamabe Nobuyoshi, but had already come to his own conclusions about their implications. I counted myself fortunate that through the generosity of the late Karashima Seishi I was then able to keep up with his publications while he was in Japan, and I was naturally delighted when he was appointed to the Numata professorship. In the United Kingdom, given the obtuseness of Anglo-Saxon attitudes, we have always depended on the kindness of strangers to elevate our levels of scholarship on Asia, but in the case of Stefano his presence also improved the quality of the coffee in Balliol, and made a visit to Oxford much more pleasant in a town in which a Cambridge graduate always feels slightly out of place. The idiocy of Brexit has rightly appalled many to whom we British are deeply indebted, and the willingness of Stefano to soldier on in such depressing circumstances I found heartening more than words can say.
And now this. I cannot write any more.
Tim H. Barrett (SOAS University of London)