THE POLE AND AMERICA

In Mexico, in the whole of Central America, in Peru, in Chili, and on the shores of the Atlantic, a different state of things prevailed. The Spaniards had extended their conquests; but, far from acting like the English, they had reduced the Indians to slavery. Instead of applying themselves to the cultivation appropriate to the variety of the climates and of the countries of which they had made themselves masters, they sought only in the produce of the mines the resources and prosperity which they should have endeavoured to obtain from the land. If a country can thus rapidly attain prodigious wealth, yet this factitious system cannot last long. With the mines a prosperity which does not renew itself, must ere long become exhausted. The Spaniards could not fail to experience the sad result.

Thus then, at the end of the seventeenth century, a great part of the new world was known. In North America, Canada, the shores of the Atlantic and of the Gulf of Mexico, the valley of the Mississippi, the coasts of California and of New Mexico, were discovered or colonized. All the central part of the continent, from Rio del Norte, as far as Terra Firma, was subject, at least nominally, to the Spaniards. In the south, the savannahs and the forests of Brazil, the pampas of the Argentine, and the interior of Patagonia, escaped the observation of the explorers, as they were destined to do for a long time yet.

In Africa, the long line of coasts, which are washed by the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, had been patiently followed and observed by navigators. At some points only, colonists and missionaries had tried to penetrate the mystery of this vast continent. Senegal, Congo, the valley of the Nile, and Abyssinia, were all that were known with some degree of detail and of certainty.

If many of the countries of Asia, surveyed by the travellers of the middle ages, had not been revisited since that epoch, we had carefully explored the whole anterior part of that continent, India had been revealed to us, we had even founded some establishments there, China had been touched by our missionaries, and Japan, that famous Cipango which had exercised so great an attraction for our travellers of the preceding age, was at length known to us. Only Siberia and the whole north-east angle of Asia had escaped our investigations, and it was not yet known whether America was not connected with Asia, a mystery which was before long to be cleared up.

In Oceania, a number of archipelagos, of islands and separate islets, remained still to be discovered, but the islands of Sunda were colonized, the coasts of Australia and of New Zealand had been partially revealed, and the existence of that great continent which, according to Tasman, extended from Tierra del Fuego to New Zealand, began to be doubted; but it still required the long and careful researches of Cook to banish definitely into the domain of fable a chimera so long cherished.

Geography was on the point of transforming itself. The great discoveries made in astronomy were about to be applied to geography. The labours of Fernel and above all of Picard, upon the measure of a terrestrial degree between Paris and Amiens, had made it clear that the globe is not a sphere, but a spheroid, that is to say, a ball flattened at the poles and swollen at the equator, and thus were found at one stroke the form and the dimensions of the world which we inhabit. At length the labours of Picard, continued by La Hire and Cassini, were completed at the commencement of the following century. The astronomical observations, rendered possible by the calculation of the satellites of Jupiter, enabled us to rectify our maps. If this rectification had been already effected with regard to certain places, it became indispensable when the number of points of which the astronomical position had been observed, had been considerably increased; and this was to be the work of the next century. At the same time, historical geography was more studied; it began to take for its foundation the study of inscriptions, and archæology was about to become one of the most useful instruments of comparative geography.

In a word, the seventeenth century is an epoch of transition and of progress; it seeks and it finds the powerful means which its successor, the eighteenth century, was destined to put into operation. The era of the sciences has already opened, and with it the modern world commences.