ASIA AND ITS INHABITANTS
It was difficult for Olivier to discharge his mission with this constant change of reigning sovereigns. He was forced to renew his negotiations with each succeeding prince. Finally, the travellers, realizing the impossibility of obtaining anything definite under such circumstances, returned to Europe, and left the question of alliance between France and Persia to a more favourable season. They stopped upon their homeward journey at Bagdad, Ispahan, Aleppo, Cyprus, and Constantinople.
Although this journey had been fruitless as regarded diplomacy, and had contributed no new discovery to geography, Cuvier, in his eulogy of Olivier, assures us that, so far as natural history was concerned, much had been achieved. This may be the better credited, as Olivier was elected to the Institute as the successor to Daubenton.
Cuvier, in academic style, says that the narrative of the voyage published, in three quarto volumes, was warmly received by the public.
"It has been said," he continues, "that it might have been of greater interest if the censor had not eliminated certain portions; but allusions were found throughout the whole volume, which were inadmissible, as it does not do to say all we know, especially of Thamas Kouli Khan.
"M. Olivier had no greater regard for his assertions than for his fortune; he quietly omitted all that he was told to leave out, and restricted himself to a quiet and simple account of what he had seen."
A journey from Persia to Russia is not difficult; and was less so in the eighteenth century than to-day. As a matter of fact, Russia only became an European power in the days of Peter the Great. Until the reign of that monarch she had been in every particular—manners, customs, and inhabitants—Asiatic. With Peter the Great and Catherine II., however, commerce revived, high roads were made, the navy was created, and the various tribes became united into one nation.
The empire was vast from the first, and conquest has added to its extent. Peter the Great ordered the compilation of charts, sent expeditions round the coast to collect particulars as to the climate, productions, and races of the different provinces of his empire; and at length he sent Behring upon the voyage which resulted in the discovery of the straits bearing his name.
The example of the great emperor was followed by his successor, Catherine II. She attracted learned men to her court, and corresponded with the savants of the whole world. She succeeded in impressing the nations with a favourable idea of her subjects. Interest and curiosity were awakened, and the eyes of Western Europe were fixed upon Russia. It became recognized that a great nation was arising, and many doubts were entertained as to the result upon European interests. Prussia had already changed the balance of power in Europe, by her victories under Frederick II.; Russia possessed resources of her own, not only in men, but in silver and riches of every kind—still unknown or untested.
Thus it came to pass that publications concerning that country possessed an attraction for politicians, and those interested in the welfare of their country, as well as for the scientific men to whom descriptions of manners and customs foreign to their experience were always welcome.
No work had hitherto excelled that of the naturalist Pallas, which was translated into French between 1788-1793. It was a narrative of a journey across several provinces of the Russian empire. The success of this publication was well deserved.
Peter Simon Pallas was a German naturalist, who had been summoned to St. Petersburg by Catherine II. in 1668, and elected by her a member of the Academy of Sciences. She understood the art of enlisting him in her service by her favours. Pallas, in acknowledgment of them, published his account of fossil remains in Siberia. England and France had just sent expeditions to observe the transit of Venus. Russia, not to be behindhand, despatched a party of learned men, of whom Pallas was one, to Siberia.
Seven astronomers and geometers, five naturalists, and a large number of pupils, made up the party, which was thoroughly to explore the whole of the vast territory.
For six whole years Pallas devoted himself to the successive explorations of Orenburg upon the Jaik, the rendezvous of the nomad tribes who wander upon the shores of the Caspian Sea; Gouriel, which is situated upon the borders of the great lake which is now drying up; the Ural Mountains, with their numberless iron-mines; Tobolsk, the capital of Siberia; the province of Koliwan, upon the northern slopes of the Atlas; Krasnojarsk, upon the Jenissei; and the immense lake of Bakali, and Daouria, on the frontiers of China. He also visited Astrakan; the Caucasus, with its varied and interesting inhabitants; and finally, he explored the Don, returning to St. Petersburg on the 30th of July, 1774.
It may well be believed that Pallas was no ordinary traveller. He was not merely a naturalist; he was interested in everything that affects humanity; geography, history, politics, commerce, religion, science, art, all occupied his attention; and it is impossible to read his narrative without admiring his enlightened patriotism, or without recognizing the penetration of the sovereign who understood the art of securing his services.
When his narrative was once arranged, written, and published, Pallas had no idea of contenting himself with the laurels he had gained. Work was his recreation, and he found occupation in assisting in the compilation of a map of Russia.
His natural inclinations led him to the study of botany, and by his works upon that subject he obtained a distinctive place among Russian naturalists.