ASIA AND ITS INHABITANTS
Witzen's account of Tartary—China as described by the Jesuits and Father Du Halde—Macartney in China—Stay at Chu-Sang—Arrival at Nankin—Negotiations—Reception of the Embassy by the Emperor—Fêtes and ceremonies at Zhe Hol—Return to Pekin and Europe—Volney—Choiseul Gouffier—Le Chevalier in Troas—Olivier in Persia—A semi-Asiatic country—Pallas's account of Russia.
At the end of the seventeenth century, a traveller named Nicolas Witzen had explored eastern and northern Tartary, and in 1692 published a curious narrative of his journey. This work, which was in Dutch, and was not translated into any other European language, did not win for its author the recognition he deserved. A second edition, illustrated with engravings which were meritorious rather from their fidelity to nature than their artistic merit, was issued in 1705, and in 1785 the remaining copies of this issue were collected, and appeared under a new title. But it attracted little notice, as by this time further, and more curious particulars had been obtained.
From the day that the Jesuits first entered the Celestial Empire, they had collected every possible fact with regard to the customs of this immense country, which previous to their stay there had been known only through the extravagant tales of Marco Polo. Although China is the country of stagnation, and customs and fashion always remain much the same in it, the many events which had taken place made it desirable to obtain more exact particulars of a nation with whom Europeans might possibly enter into advantageous friendly relations.
The Jesuits published the result of these investigations in the rare work entitled "Lettres Edifiantes," which was revised and supplemented by a zealous member of their order, Father Du Halde. It would be useless to attempt any reproduction of this immense work, for which a volume would be required, and it is the less necessary as at this day we have fuller and more complete details of the country than are to be found even in the learned father's book. To the Jesuits also belong the merit of many important astronomical observations, facts concerning natural history, and the compilation of maps, which were till quite lately authorities on remote districts of the country consulted with advantages.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Abbé Grosier, of the order of St. Louis du Louvre, published in an abridged form, a new description of China and Tartary. He made use of the work of his predecessor, Du Halde, and at the same time rectified and added to it. After an account of the fifteen provinces of China and Tartary, with the tributary States, such as Corea, Tonking, Cochin China, and Thibet, the author devotes several chapters to the population and natural history of China, whilst he reviews the government, religion, manners, literature, science, and art of the Chinese.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the English Government, being desirous of entering into commercial relations with China, sent an Envoy-extraordinary to that country named George Macartney.
This diplomatist had already visited the courts of Europe and Russia, had been governor of the English Antilles and Madras, and Governor-General of India.
He had acquired in the course of his travels in such varied climates, and amid such diverse peoples, a profound knowledge of human nature. His narrative of his voyages is rich in facts and observations calculated to give Europeans a true idea of the Chinese character.
Personal accounts of travel are always more interesting than anonymous ones.
Although the great I is generally hateful, it is not so in travels, where the assertion I have been there, I have done such or such a thing, carries weight, and gives interest to the narrative.
Macartney and his suite sailed in a squadron consisting of three vessels, the Lion, the Hindustan, and the Jackal, which left Portsmouth on the 26th September, 1792.
|Gravé par E. Morieu. 23, r. de Brea Paris.|
After a few necessary delays at Rio-de-Janeiro, St. Paul and Amsterdam Islands, where some seal-hunters were seen, at Batavia, and Bantam, in Java, and at Poulo Condere, the vessels cast anchor off Turon (Han San) in Cochin China, a vast harbour, of which only a very bad chart was then in existence.
The arrival of the English was at first a cause of uneasiness to the natives of Cochin China. But when they were once informed of the motives which had brought the English to their country, they sent an ambassador of high rank on board with presents for Macartney, who was shortly afterwards invited to a banquet at the governor's, followed by a dramatic entertainment. During the short stay many notes were taken of the manners and customs of the people, unfortunately too hurriedly to admit of accuracy.