SCHEFER, Charles-Henri-Auguste


SCHEFER, Charles-Henri-Auguste (b. 16 November 1820, Paris; d. 3 March 1898, Paris), orientalist and academic administrator, as well as minister plenipotentiary and bibliophile. Schefer combined a brilliant career in the French Foreign Ministry (Ministère des affaires étrangères) with a productive life in scholarship. He was appointed professor of Persian at the Ecole des languages orientales in 1857, and served as its president from 1867 until his death (FIGURE 1, FIGURE 2).

Life and work. Schefer’s father Frédéric-Chrétien came from the west-German duchy Nassau, which from 1806 until 1813 had belonged to the Confederation of the Rhine, established by Napoleon I (1769-1821). He worked for the royal treasury in Paris, and married the Alsatian-born Madeleine Hertz. Charles was the first of their four children. In 1833 he entered the prestigious Collège Louis-le-Grand, where one of his classmates was Charles Baudelaire (1821-67). Schefer enrolled in his school's Arabic, Turkish, and Persian courses for prospective translators (jeunes de langues). In 1838 he was admitted to the Ecole des langues orientales vivantes, and his instructor of Persian became Etienne Quatremère (1782-1857).

After graduation in 1840 Schefer lived for two years on Crete, at that time still a part of the Ottoman Empire. He was in the service of the family of Moḥammad ʿAli (1769-1849), who in 1805 had established his family’s hereditary rule of Egypt. Schefer returned to Paris, and in 1843 he was appointed as instructor (maître- répétiteur) at the Ecole des langues orientales, but nonetheless decided to enter the diplomatic service. From 1843 until 1857 he was stationed in various cities in Egypt and in the Ottoman Empire. After his first assignment as translator (drogman) in Beirut, he served as drogman-chancelier in Jerusalem, Izmir, and Alexandria. In 1849 he was promoted to the same post in Istanbul, where he worked closely with the French embassy on the preparation of the Treaty of Paris (signed 30 March 1856) that ended the Crimean War (1853-56).

Schefer returned to Paris in 1857. In February, the Foreign Ministry promoted him to the rank of Premier secrétaire interprète pour les langues orientales, and in November he was elected as Quatremère's successor and became professor of Persian at the Ecole des langues orientales. Despite his teaching obligations he continued his work for the Foreign Ministry until 1862. The French government recognized Schefer's services with several high decorations, and in 1862 he was made a commander of the Légion d'honneur. In 1867 Napoleon III (1808-73) appointed Schefer as the administrative head of the Ecole des langues orientales, and the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres elected him in 1878 as the successor of the Indologist Joseph Garcin de Tassy (1794-1878).

Schefer's brother Jules (1830-86) was also educated at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. Like his older brother, he graduated from the Ecole des langues orientales vivantes, entered the Foreign Ministry, and later served as minister plenipotentiary in the Middle East.

Schefer was married twice. He had two sons with Faustine Robinet, a daughter of the chemist Stéphane Robinet (1799-1869), who was a member of the Académie de Médicine. Their younger son Gaston Schefer (1850-1921) was born in Istanbul, and fought in the French army during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. He became a print specialist at the Bibliothèque d'Arsenal in Paris, while publishing poetry, plays, and criticism. Schefer had a third son from his second marriage with Léonie Boursier. In 1886, Schefer purchased the Château de la Croix-Saint-Alban in Savoyen, in the French Alps. He restored the estate where he moved his library of about 13,000 volumes from his first home in the rue d’Ingrès in Passy, Paris’ exclusive XVIth arrondissement. Schefer died after a short illness in 1898, and his library and art collection were auctioned in spring of 1899 (see the sales catalogues listed below).

Islamic manuscripts. Today Schefer is best known as a very discerning collector of Islamic manuscripts (Richard, pp. 65-66). He traveled widely, and as a high-ranking diplomat, made the personal acquaintance of many well-known Ottoman bibliophiles, receiving manuscripts as personal gifts (ibid., p. 65). He also corresponded with the orientalists Gottlieb William Leitner (1840-99) and Henry Ferdinand Blochmann (1838-78) while they were stationed in Lahore and Calcutta, respectively. Since Schefer published many papers about his rare manuscripts, he opened new avenues of research for his colleagues (e.g., Blochet, 1903; Hillenbrand; see BLOCHET). At the time of his death his library included more than 800 manuscripts, and the historian Charles Barbier de Meynard (1827-1908), in his capacity as president of the Société asiatique, petitioned the Bibliothèque nationale to purchase the Islamic manuscripts in their entirety (Blochet, 1900, pp. II-V). This unique manuscript collection comprises 276 Arabic, 276 Persian, and 239 Turkish manuscripts, and includes not only exceptionally illuminated books and bindings but also many rare texts. As Francis Richard has pointed out, the history of Schefer’s library remains to be studied, and not all Islamic manuscripts, once owned by Schefer, are today in the Bibliothèque nationale.

Chrestomathie persane. After more than 20 years of teaching experience at the Ecole des langues orieantales, Schefer became the first French orientalist to publish a two-volume anthology of Persian literature. Each volume is divided into a Persian text and a French commentary with index. His objective was to introduce his students to a wide range of literary genres, from historiography and chronograms to fables and letters (see ENŠĀʾ), covering the 10th to 18th centuries, though he focuses on prose. Schefer drew on his private manuscript collection, and justified in the introduction to the first volume (I, pp. V-XI) his use of hitherto unknown and unpublished works, though he did not discuss the already available chrestomathies that had appeared, during the first half of the 19th century, in India, England, Germany, and Russia.

The first volume (1883) comprises eight chapters.

(1) Ẓafar-nāma is attributed to Avicenna (980-1037), and contains a dialogue between the legendary vizier Bozorgmehr and his king Ḵosrow I Anōširvān (r. 531-78). Schefer presents the complete text of a 15th century manuscript (cf. the edition by Ḡ. Ḥ. Ṣadiqi, Tehran, n.d.).

(2) Ādāb-e salṭanat o wezārat is a short mirror-for-princes. Its author is unknown, and the work originated at the end of the 10th, the beginning of the 11th century. Schefer offers the complete text of a 16th century manuscript.

(3) Tāriḵ-e Boḵārā is a local history of Bukhara by the otherwise obscure Samanid author Moḥammad b. Jaʿfar Naršaḵi (fl. 940-50). In 1892 Schefer published the complete work, which represents a much revised 12th century Persian translation, but here Schefer focused on passages about the river Muliān, the city's economy and its division into fortress, markets, and suburbs.

(4) Fażāʾel-e Balḵ is a description of Balḵ, and the Arabic work by Abu Bakr ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿOmar b. Dāwud Balḵi (13th century) is preserved in a 13th century Persian translation (cf. the ed. by ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Ḥabibi, Tehran, 1971). Schefer relied on a 16th century manuscript, and cites excerpts from two chapters, focusing on historical traditions and the city's particular characteristics, respectively.

(5) Laṭāʾef al-ṭawāʾef is an anthology of anecdotes about the different social groups of late Timurid and early Safavid society, compiled by Faḵr-al-Din ʿAli Ṣafi b. Ḥosayn Wāʿeẓ Kāšefi (1463-1532 or 1533; cf. the edition by A. Golčin Maʿāni, Tehran, 1957). Schefer focused on material about poets, but opened his selection with a section about astronomers.

(6) Bayān al-adyān by Abu'l-Maʿāli Moḥammad b. ʿObayd-Allāh b. ʿAli (fl. 1090-1100) is the oldest work on religions and sects written in New Persian. Schefer selected four of the treatise's five chapters (cf. the edition by H. Rāżi, Tehran, 1963).

(7) Resāla-ye Ḥātamiya is an account of the generosity that immortalized the legendary 6th century Arab courtier Ḥātam Ṭā’i as the epitome of generosity. Schefer included the complete treatise by Ḥosayn Wāʿeẓ Kāṣefi (d. 1504 or 1505), as preserved in a 16th century manuscript (cf. the ed. by M. R. Jalāli Nāʾini, Tehran, 1941).

(8) Rāḥat al-ensān is a short anthology of versified moral precepts, composed by the otherwise unidentified poet Šarif. Schefer cites the complete work, which he dates to the beginning of the 11th century.

The second volume (1885) comprises six chapters.

(1) Tāriḵ-e āl-e Barmak is a history of the Barmakids, a well-known family of secretaries and viziers during the early ʿAbbasid caliphat. ʿAbd al-Jalil Yazdi compiled the work in the 14th century, and Schefer selected passages from two manuscripts, dated to the 14th and 16th century, respectively.

(2) Tāriḵ-e elči-ye Neẓāmšāh-e Dakani was written by Ḵᵛaršāh b. Qobād Ḥosayni (d. 1565), who, as the envoy (see ELČI) of Burhān Shah b. Aḥmad (r. 1509-54) the head of the Nizamshahi principality on the Deccan plateau, stayed for more than a year at the Safavid court of Ṭahmāsb (r. 1524-76). From this Safavid chronicle (cf. the ed. by M. R. Nāṣiri and K. Haneda, Tehran, 2000) Schefer selected passages from the sixth section about minor Persian dynasties in India.

(3) Tāriḵ-e jahāngošā was composed by the Ilkhanid governor ʿAṭā-Malek Jovayni (1226-83). From the well-known Mongol chronicle (cf. the ed. by M. Qazvini, 3 vols., Leiden, 1912-37), Schefer included a passage which covers the conflict between Čengiz Khan (d. 1227) and the Khwarazmshah Sultan ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad (r. 1200-20) and the subsequent Mongol conquest of Nishapur. For the text Schefer collated three manuscripts, one of which was dated 680/1283 (II, pp. 152-53).

(4) Marzbān-nāma is a collection of Persian fables which the otherwise obscure Saʿd-al-Din Varāvini (13th century) translated from the local dialect of Ṭabarestān (cf. the eds. by M. Qazvini, Tehran, 1932, and by M. Rovšan, Tehran, 1976). The popular work comprises nine chapters, but Schefer limited himself to selections from the first three. His source were two manuscripts from the 15th and 17th century, respectively.

(5) Letters and dispatches, written between the 12th and the 18th centuries, are drawn from 13 different sources. Schefer called the section on its Persian title page Majmuʿa-ye rasāʾel o makātib (II, p. 201).

(6) Ašʿār-e motanawweʿa comprises Schefer's personal anthology of Persian poetry. Nine examples of longer poems from the early 11th century are followed by a selection of short poems, in particular qeṭʿa and robāʿi, from the 14th and 15th centuries. The section concludes with 30 chronograms. The commentary for this section (II, pp. 240-59) is combined with the notes about the correspondence samples (II, pp. 212-40), and not listed as a separate chapter in the volume's table of contents (II, p. 293).

Editions and translations. Schefer’s work as the translator and editor of historical sources related to Iranian history documents a remarkable breadth of scholarship. He published Relation de l’ambassade au Kharezm by the Qajar politician Hedāyat Reżā Qoli Khan (1800-71), as well as Seljuq sources and 16th- and 17th-century German and French travelogues about contemporary Persia (see SAFAVID DYNASTY). Schefer’s publications about the Siāsat-nāma by Neẓām-al-Molk (ca. 1018-92) can be regarded as his most influential contribution to the study of Islamic historiography (see the reviews by Lane-Poole, Nöldeke, and Gabrieli), in addition to his discovery of the Rāḥat al-sudūr by Rāwandi (fl. 1180-1200) and the above-mentioned Bayān al-adyān.


Obituaries and other primary sources about Schefer’s life, in chronological order. Some of Schefer's personal papers were gifted to the library of the Institut de France in 1921 and 1937.

“Schefer (Charles-Henri-Auguste)” in G. Vapereau, Dictionnaire universel des contemporains contenant toutes les personnes notables de la France et des pays étrangers, 6th ed., Paris, 1893, pp. 1410-11.

Henri Cordier, “Charles Schefer,” Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, 12 March 1898, pp. 91-93.

Idem, “Notes biographiques,” in Leo Africanus, Description de l'Afrique, ed. Ch. Schefer, 3 vols., Paris, 1896-98, III, pp. II-IV.

Idem, “Charles Schefer,” in Vasco da Gama, Navigation, ed. Ch. Schefer, Paris, 1898, pp. VII-XX; repr. as H. Cordier, Charles Schefer, Paris, 1898.

Idem, “La collection Charles Schefer,” Gazette des beaux-arts 40, no. 20, 1898, pp. 245-58.

Gaston Schefer, “Charles Schefer,” T’oung Pao 9/3, 1898, p. 234.

Catalogue des objets d’art et de curiosité … composant la collection de M. Ch. Schefer et dont la vente, par suite de son décès … les Mercredi 8, Jeudi 9, Vendredi 10 et Samedi 11 Juin 1898, Paris, 1898.

Catalogue de la bibliothèque orientale de feu M. Charles Schefer: Vente du Lundi 17 Avril au Samedi 6 Mai, Paris, 1899.

Catalogue de bons livres anciens et modernes provenant de la bibliothèque de feu M. Ch. Schefer, Paris, 1899.

Auguste Bouché-Leclercq, “Notice sur la vie et les travaux de M. Charles Schefer,” Comptes rendus des séances de l’année 1899 de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 4th series, vol. 27, Paris, 1899, pp. 627-68.

Edgar Blochet, Catalogue de la collection de manuscrits orientaux, arabes, persans et turcs formée par M. Charles Schefer et acquise par l’Etat, Paris, 1900.

Gaston Schefer, La jeunesse d’un orientaliste: Charles Schefer 1840-1856, Paris, 1913.

Iraj Afšār, ed., Nāmahā-ye Qazvini beh Taqizāda, Tehran, 1964, esp. the letter from 25 February 1924, pp. 141-42.

Selected works by Schefer, in chronological order.

For complete bibliography, see Auguste Bouché-Leclercq, “Notice,” listed above, pp. 665-68; cf. the bibliography in Leo Africanus, Description de l'Afrique, listed above, III, pp. V-XIV.

Hedāyat Reżā Qolikhan, Relation de l’ambassade au Kharezm, 2 vols., Paris, 1876-79; Persian text with French tr.; cf. the new ed. of the Persian text, Sefārat-nāma-ye Ḵᵛārazm, ed. Jamšid Kiānfar, Tehran, 2006.

Georg Tectander von der Jabel, ed., Description du voyage en Perse entrepris en 1602 par Etienne Kakasch de Zalonkemeny, ambassadeur de l’empereur Rodolphe II à la Cour du grand-duc de Moscovie et près de Chah Abbâs, roi de Perse, Paris, 1877; orig., Iter Persicum, Altenberg in Meissen, 1610; French tr. of German text.

Nāṣer-e Ḵosraw, Relation du voyage, Paris, 1881; Persian text with French tr.

Chrestomathie persane à l’usage des élèves de l’Ecole spéciale des langues orientales vivantes, 2 vols., Paris, 1883-85; repr., 2 in 1 vol., Amsterdam, 1976; Persian text with French commentary.

“Trois chapitres du Khitay-Namèh de Ali Akbar Khita’i,” in Mélanges orientaux: Textes et traductions, Paris, 1883, pp. 29-84; Persian text with French tr.

“Tableau du règne de Mouïzz eddin Aboul Harith, Sultan Sindjar, fils de Melikchâh: Extrait de l'ouvrage intitulé Le repos des cœurs et la manifestation de la joie composé par Mohamed Ibn Aly Ravendy,” in Nouveaux Mélanges orientaux, Paris, 1886, pp. 1-47 and two unnumbered pls.; first publication of excerpt from Rāwandi’s Rāḥat al-sudūr, BNF MS pers. 1314; see also the excerpt in Neẓām-al-Molk, Traité de gouvernement, listed below, I/1, pp. 70-114; cf. the critical ed. by M. Iqbal, Leiden, 1921.

“Quelques chapitres de l'abrégé du Seldjouq Namèh composé par l'émir Nassir Eddin Yahia,” in Recueil de textes et de traductions, 2 vols., Paris, 1889, I, pp. 1-192; Persian text with French tr.

Raphaël du Mans, Estat de la Perse en 1660, Paris, 1890; 1st ed. of BNF MS franc̨ais 5632; cf. the new ed. in F. Richard, Raphaël du Mans: Missionaire en Perse au XVIIᵉs, 2 vols., Paris, 1995, II, pp. 1-199.

Neẓām-al-Molk, Traité de gouvernement, 2 vols. in 3, Paris, 1891, 1893, and 1897; the supplement (vol. I, pt. 2, 1897) to the Persian text (vol. I, pt. 1, 1891) and its French tr. (vol. II, 1893) was published last; repr. of the French tr., with a preface by Jean-Paul Roux, Traité de gouvernement, Paris, 1984.

Moḥammad b. Jaʿfar Naršaḵi, Description topographique et historique de Boukhara, tr. from the Arabic by Aḥmad b. Moḥammad Qubāwi and ed. by Muḥammad b. Zofar, Paris, 1892; Persian text, supplemented with other texts about Transoxania; cf. the critical edition Tāriḵ-e Boḵārā, ed. M. T. Modarres Rażawi, Tehran, 1940; tr. as History of Bukhara, by R. N. Frye, Cambridge, Mass., 1954.


Edgar Blochet, “Mussulman Manuscripts and Miniatures as Illustrated in the Recent Exhibition at Paris,” Burlington Magazin for Connoisseurs 3, no. 5, July 1903, pp. 132-45, and 3, no. 9, December 1903, pp. 276-85.

Charles-Henri de Fouchécour, “Schefer, Charles,” in Deux siècles d’histoire de l’Ecole des langues orientales, ed. Pierre Labrousse, Paris, 1995, pp. 82-84; with an undated portrait, unreliable regarding some biographical details.

Francesco Gabrieli, “Studi sul Siyāset-nāmeh: 1. Note al testo e alla traduzione Schefer,” Orientalia N.S. 7, 1938, pp. 80-94.

Richard Hillenbrand, “The Schefer Ḥarīrī: A Study in Islamic Frontispiece Design,” in Arab Painting: Text and Image in Illustrated Arabic Manuscripts, ed. Anna Contadini, Leiden, 2007, pp. 117-34 and 8 pls.

Stanley Lane-Poole, Review of Traité de gouvernement by Neẓām-al-Molk, English Historical Review, 11, no. 43, July 1896, pp. 560-62.

Theodor Nöldeke, Review of Traité de gouvernement by Neẓām-al-Molk, ZDMG 46, 1892, pp. 761-68.

Francis Richard, “Quelques collectionneurs français de manuscrits persans au XIXème siècle,” Luqmân 10/1, 1993-94, pp. 53-67.

March 20, 2009

(Nader Nasiri-Moghaddam)

Originally Published: July 15, 2009

Last Updated: July 15, 2009