Francis W. Cleaves (1911-1995)
Francis Woodman Cleaves, the founder of Sino-Mongolian studies in America, devoted his career to the study of ancient Mongolian, represented by the Sino-Mongolian inscriptions which he had collected in China as rubbings from stelae and published in meticulously annotated translations. His work was early recognized by the award of the Prix Stanislas Julien by the Academie des Inscriptions et Belle Lettres. He also translated the Secret History of the Mongols, the major text in Old Mongolian.
Cleaves ' linguistic aptitude was demonstrated early when, as head caddy at the Needham golf club, he picked up Italian from his charges. At Dartmouth he majored in Classics, and when he came to Harvard for graduate study, he enrolled in the Department of Comparative Philology, but transferred after a year to the Department of Far Eastern Languages, lured by the Chinese inscribed stele outside Boylston Hall. Supported by a Harvard-Yenching Fellowship, he went to Paris for three years, where he studied Mongolian and other Central Asian languages with Paul Pelliot before proceeding on to Peking. There he continued his Chinese studies and worked on Mongolian with Father Antoine Mostaert, who became his friend and mentor. During his sojourn in Peking he resuscitated the Sino-Indian Institute, dormant since the death of its founder Stael-Holstein. He catalogued its library of works on Buddhism, assembled a staff, and started work on a major indexing project.
In 1941 Cleaves returned to the United States and began teaching Chinese in Harvard's Department of Far Eastern Languages, while writing a new dissertation in place of the one he had finished in Peking and lost with the shipment of his books on the outbreak of the war with Japan. (The boxes surfaced in Kobe after the war, intact along with the ms. of his thesis.) He enlisted in the Navy and served in the Pacific. At the end of the war, he was put in charge of the repatriation of the Japanese civilians in North China, collecting their abandoned books in an Army truck and shipping them back to the Harvard Library. He returned to Harvard in 1946 to begin a career of teaching Chinese and Mongolian which continued without a break (no Sabbaticals!) until he retired, reluctantly, in 1980. He continued publishing articles on Mongolian language and Yuan Dynasty history, making up the more than seventy items in his bibliography, not counting an equal volume of unpublished manuscripts left at his death, among them his extensive annotations to his translation of the Secret History.
He loved teaching, and when Joseph Fletcher, his former student and successor in Mongolian and Central Asian studies, died midterm, Cleaves returned to teach his classes without remuneration, commuting twice weekly from his New Hampshire farm. His dedication to his students earned their affection as well as respect for his scholarship, and many of them continued to visit him at his farm, where he lived alone with his herd of cattle, horses, and an ever-multiplying pack of Golden Retrievers. He had always loved animals, from the time as a child when he brought home strays, snakes, a couple of skunks, and a mail-order bear cub. His farm animals were not for sale but kept, rather in emulation of the Mongol herdsmen whose exploits he chronicled, as part of a pastoral life. He eschewed such modern conveniences as the telephone and was accessible only by mail or personal visit.
In his scholarly writing his goal was always precision and clarity, and he strove to make his translations as nearly literal as possible. He wrote for students as well as for fellow scholars, and so provided translations of all quotations from Russian sources. A man of uncompromising standards--both scholarly and moral, strongly held opinions, and an iron constitution, he was in many ways reminiscent of Samuel Johnson, on whose prose style his own was modeled.
He was born in Boston in 1911 and died in New Hampshire on December 31, 1995. He never married and is survived by a brother, Bertram, and a sister, Marcia Nickerson.
Nicola Di Cosmo
James Hightower (Chairman)
（Harvard Gazette, January 22 1998）
（Harvard Gazette, January 22 1998）