Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/516
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
beliefs, traditions, institutions? In short, what are the data which, when authentically presented, will serve as the basis for generalizations respecting the attributes and nature of man?
We publish, in the present number of the Monthly, an interesting ethnological sketch of the Calmucks of the Volga. It is translated from the Russian, and is derived from the work of Nebalsine, who resided for a long time at Astrakhan, at the mouth of the Volga, on the Caspian Sea, and he was employed at the "Court of Domains," by which these singular people are governed. At this place he had opportunity to study them carefully and intimately. No Mongol or Turkish race presents such characteristic traits as the Calmucks. They display the persistence of race character in a remarkable degree; answering exactly to the description given of them by Jornandez thirteen centuries ago, when, under the name of Huns, they devastated Southern Europe. Chambers describes the Calmuck as short in stature, with broad shoulders, a large head, small black eyes, always appearing to be half shut, and slanting downward toward the nose, which is flat with wide nostrils, hair black, coarse, and straight, complexion deeply swarthy, while his ugliness is the index of the purity of his descent. The beliefs of the Calmucks, as represented in the article, form an instructive comment on the dogma of the "wisdom of the East."
It is not to be supposed, however, that the wisdom of the West would at all approve the life of these restless nomadic vagrants. They would be told to settle down somewhere, change their religion, go to work, build schoolhouses, and make money, like good Christians. It is, however, probable that the Calmucks would not be without a reply. A traveller, who had studied their customs, made this significant statement: "If it could be proposed to all the academies of Europe to point out the best means to convert those enormous and sterile deserts, which are completely lost for agriculture, into habitable and productive lands, they would with difficulty find a more practical solution of this problem, than that actually put in operation by the Calmucks themselves. In fact, with these poor herbs, so thin and so arid, which they find in these enormous wastes burnt up by the sun, the Calmucks nourish millions of horses, cows, goats, sheep, and camels, and transform these sterile districts into a true and rich source of wealth to Russia. By making a great trade of wool, hair, fat, skins, and pelts, the Calmucks contribute to furnish illumination and defence against cold to a great portion of the northern provinces of the empire. In this particular, the economic part played by the Calmucks is very important."
It is only recently that the general public has been admitted to a knowledge of the researches which are carried on by the leading physicists of the world. Perhaps an educator would consider the desire of the public to be so admitted one of the most encouraging signs of the times, and he undoubtedly would hail the fellowship of the scientists and their audiences as a good omen. It is a very interesting phenomenon which we are now called upon, almost daily, to witness—this affiliation of the student and the public; and it has many good features, as well as some bad ones. Among the good there are the obvious ones of the acquisition of mere knowledge, of the acquaintance with the rigid and exacting logic of the physicists, of the perception of the real beauty in the order and harmony of Nature, and the familiarity with daring thought which stops short of wild speculation, and displays that poise of intellect which is a striking characteristic of the modern school. And, so far, we have noticed only