Distinguishing characteristics of the Seventeenth Century—The more thorough exploration of regions previously discovered—To the thirst for gold succeeds Apostolic zeal—Italian missionaries in Congo—Portuguese missionaries in Abyssinia—Brue in Senegal and Flacourt in Madagascar—The Apostles of India, of Indo-China, and of Japan.

The seventeenth century has a distinctive character of its own, differing from that of the preceding century in the fact that nearly all the great discoveries have been already made, and that the work of this whole period consists almost exclusively in perfecting the information already acquired. It contrasts equally with the century which is to succeed it, because scientific methods are not yet applied by astronomers and sailors, as they are to be 100 years later. It appears in fact, that the narratives of the first explorers—who were only able, so to speak, to obtain a glimpse of the regions which they traversed while waging their wars,—may have in some degree exercised a baneful influence upon the public mind. Curiosity, in the narrowest sense of the word, is carried to an extreme. Men travel over the world to gain an idea of the manners and customs of each nation, of the productions and manufactures of each country, but there is no real study. They do not seek to trace what they see to its source, and to reason scientifically upon the why and wherefore of facts. They behold, curiosity is satisfied, and they pass on. The observations made do not penetrate beneath the surface, and the great object appears to be to visit, as rapidly as may be, all the regions which the sixteenth century has brought to light.

Besides, the abundance of the wealth diffused on a sudden over the whole of Europe has caused an economic crisis. Commerce, like industry, is transformed and altered. New ways are opened, new mediums arise, new wants are created, luxury increases, and the eagerness to make a fortune rapidly by speculation, turns the heads of many. If Venice from a commercial point of view be dead, the Dutch are about to constitute themselves, to use a happy expression of M. Leroy-Beaulieu, "the carriers and agents of Europe," and the English are preparing to lay the foundations of their vast colonial empire.

To the merchants succeed the missionaries. They alight in large numbers upon the newly-discovered countries, preaching the Gospel, civilizing the barbarous nations, studying and describing the country. The development of Apostolic zeal is one of the dominant features of the seventeenth century, and it behoves us to recognize all that geography and historic science owe to these devoted, learned, and unassuming men. The traveller only passes through a country, the missionary dwells in it. The latter has evidently much greater facilities for acquiring an intimate knowledge of the history and civilization of the nations which he studies. It is therefore very natural that we should owe to them narratives of journeys, descriptions, and histories, which are still consulted with advantage, and which have served as a basis for later works.

If there be any country to which these reflections more particularly apply, it is to Africa, and especially to Abyssinia. How much of this vast triangular continent of Africa was known in the seventeenth century? Nothing but the coasts, it will be said. A mistake. From the earliest times the two branches of the Nile, the Astapus and the Bahr-el-Abiad, had been known to the ancients. They had even advanced—if the lists of countries and nations discovered at Karnak by M. Mariette may be believed—as far as the great Lakes of the interior. In the twelfth century, the Arab geographer Edrisi writes an excellent description of Africa for Roger II. of Sicily, and confirms these data. Later on, Cadamosto and Ibn Batuta travel over Africa, and the latter goes as far as Timbuctoo. Marco Polo affirms that Africa is only united to Asia by the Isthmus of Suez, and he visits Madagascar. Lastly, when the Portuguese, led by Vasco da Gama, have completed the circumnavigation of Africa, some of them remain in Abyssinia, and in a short time diplomatic relations are established between that country and Portugal. We have already said something of Francesco Alvarez; in his train several Portuguese missionaries settle in the country, amongst whom must be named Fathers Paez and Lobo.

Father Paez left Goa in 1588 to preach Christianity upon the eastern coast of North Africa. After long and sad mishaps, he landed at Massowah in Abyssinia, traversed the country, and in 1618 pushed on as far as the sources of the Blue Nile,—a discovery the authenticity of which Bruce was hereafter to dispute, but of which the narrative differs only in some unimportant particulars from that of the Scotch traveller. In 1604, Paez, arrived at the court of the king Za Denghel, had preached with such success that he had converted the king and all his court. He had even soon acquired so great an influence over the Abyssinian monarch, that the latter, in writing to the Pope and to the King of Spain to offer them his friendship, asked them to send him men fitted to teach his people.

Father Geronimo Lobo landed in Abyssinia with Alfonzo Meneses, patriarch of Ethiopia, in 1625. But times were greatly changed. The king converted by Paez had been murdered, and his successor, who had summoned the Portuguese missionaries, died after a short time. A violent revulsion of feeling ensued against the Christians, and the missionaries were driven away, imprisoned, or given up to the Turks. Lobo was charged with the mission of obtaining the sum necessary for the ransom of his companions. After many wanderings, which led him to Brazil, Carthagena, Cadiz, and Seville, to Lisbon and to Rome, where he gave the Pope and the King of Spain numerous and accurate details upon the Church of Ethiopia and the manners of the inhabitants, he made a last journey in India, and returned to Lisbon to die, in 1678.

Christianity had been introduced into Congo, upon the Atlantic coast, in 1489, the year of its discovery by the Portuguese. At first Dominicans were sent; but as they made scarce any progress, the Pope, with the consent of the King of Portugal, despatched thither some Italian Capuchins. These were Carli de Placenza in 1667, Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi, from 1654 to 1668, afterwards Antonio Zucchelli and Gradisca, from 1696 to 1704. We shall mention these missionaries only, because they have published accounts of their journeys. Cavazzi explored in succession Angola, the country of Matumba, and the islands of Coanza and Loana. In the ardour of his apostolic zeal, he could devise no better means of converting the blacks than by burning their idols, rebuking the kings for the time-honoured custom of polygamy, and subjecting to torture, or to being torn with whips, those who relapsed into idolatry. Notwithstanding all this, he gained considerable ascendancy over the natives, which, if it had been well directed, might have produced very useful results in the development of civilization and the progress of religion. The same reproach is due also to Father Zucchelli and to the other Missionaries in Congo. The narrative of Cavazzi, published at Rome in 1687, asserted that Portuguese influence extended from 200 to 300 miles from the coast, and that in the interior there existed a very important town, known by the name of San Salvador, which possessed twelve churches, a Jesuit college, and a population of 50,000 souls.

At the close of the fourteenth century Pigafetta published the account of the journey of Duarte Lopez, ambassador from the King of Congo to the Courts of Rome and Lisbon. A map which accompanies this narrative presents to us a Lake Zambré, in the very place occupied by Lake Tanganyika, and more to the west, Lake Acque Lunda, from whence issued the Congo River; south of the equator two lakes are indicated, one the Lake of the Nile, the other, more to the east, bears the name of Colué; they appear to be the Albert and the Victoria Nyanza. This most curious information was rejected by the geographers of the nineteenth century, who left blank the whole interior of Africa.

Upon the West Coast of Africa at the mouth of the Senegal, the French had established settlements which, under the skilful administration of Andrew Brue, speedily received considerable extension. Brue, Commandant for the King and Director-general of the Royal French Company upon the Senegal Coast and in other parts of Africa—so ran his official title—although he may be little known, and the article which treats of him may be one of the most curtailed in the great collections of biography, deserves to occupy one of the most prominent positions among colonizers and explorers. Not content with extending the colony as far as its present limits, he explored countries which have been only lately revisited by Lieutenant Mage, or which have not been visited at all since Brue's time. He carried the French outposts eastwards above the junction of the Senegal and the Faleme, northwards as far as Arguin, which we have since abandoned, although reserving our rights, and southwards as far as the island of Bissao. He explored in the interior Galam and Bambouk, so rich in gold, and collected the earliest documents concerning the Pouls, Peuls or Fouls, the Yoloffs and the Mussulmen, who coming from the north, attempted the religious conquest of all the black nations of the country. The information thus collected by Brue about the history and migrations of these various people, is of the greatest value, affording clear light, even in the present day, to the geographer and the historian. Not only has Brue left us the narrative of deeds of which he was witness and the description of the places which he visited, but we also owe to him much information about the productions of the countries, the plants, the animals, and all the objects which would give occasion for commercial or industrial enterprise. These most curious documents, put together very maladroitly it must be confessed, by Father Labat, formed the subject, a few years ago, of a very interesting work by M. Berlioux.

To the south-east of Africa, during the first half of the seventeenth century, the French founded some commercial settlements in Madagascar, an island long known under the name of St. Lawrence. They build Fort Dauphin under the administration of M. de Flacourt; several unknown districts of the island are explored as well as the neighbouring islands upon the coast; the Mascarene Islands are occupied in 1649. Although firm and moderate towards his countrymen, De Flacourt did not use the same self-control towards the natives; he even brought about a general revolt, as a consequence of which he was recalled. Expeditions into the interior of Madagascar were henceforth very rare, and it is not until the present day that we find a thorough exploration carried out.

Of Indo-China and Thibet the only information which reached Europe during the whole of the seventeenth century was due to the missionaries. Such names as Father Alexandre de Rhodes, Ant. d'Andrada, Avril, Benedict Goes, may not be passed over in silence. In their Annual Letters is to be found a quantity of information, which even in the present day retains a real interest, as concerning regions so long closed against Europeans. In Cochin China and Tonkin, Father Tachard devoted himself to astronomical observations, of which the result was to prove by the most conclusive evidence the great errors in the longitudes given by Ptolemy. This called the attention of the learned world to the necessity of a reform in the graphic representation of the countries of the extreme east, and for attaining this end, to the absolute need of close observations made by specially qualified scientific men, or by navigators familiar with astronomical calculations. The country which especially attracted the missionaries was China, that enormous and populous empire, which ever since the arrival of Europeans in India, had persevered with the greatest strictness in the absurd policy of abstention from any intercourse whatsoever with foreigners. It was not until the close of the sixteenth century that the missionaries obtained the permission, so often demanded before in vain, to penetrate into the Middle Empire. Their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy facilitated their settlement and enabled them to gather, as well from the ancient annals of the country, as during their journies, a prodigious quantity of most valuable information concerning the history, ethnography, and geography of the Celestial Empire. Fathers Mendoza, Ricci, Trigault, Visdelou, Lecomte, Verbiest, Navarrete, Schall, and Martini, deserve especial mention for having carried to China the arts and sciences of Europe, while they diffused in the west the first accurate and precise information upon the unprogressive civilization of the Flowery Land.