Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/418

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402
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
 

SKETCH OF NICHOLAS PREJEVALSKI.

THE Russian explorer, Prejevalski, had returned, at the beginning of 1886, from his fourth journey of scientific investigation and military reconnaissance in Central Asia. His activity and its fruitfulness in the extension of knowledge are truly wonderful.

Nicholas Prejevalski is now in his forty-seventh year, having been born on the 31st of March, 1839. He was the son of an old Polish landholder in the province of Smolensk. Having attended the gymnasium of his native province for a time, he entered the Military Academy in St. Petersburg, and devoted himself to the natural sciences. He was engaged in the Polish campaign, and afterward resided at Warsaw, as teacher of history and geography, till 1867; then, at his own request, he was transferred to Irkutsk, in Eastern Siberia, whence he undertook journeys to the Amoor and Ussari. This remote region exercised such a power of fascination over the young man that the starting-point of his whole career may be dated from his residence there. It gave the first response to his natural taste for traveling in strange lands, and we therefore find it perfectly in course that he should have started in 1870 upon a longer journey through China. The expedition was undertaken under a commission from the Geographical Society of St. Petersburg, in company with Lieutenant Michael Pylzow and two Cossacks, and lasted three years. In its course it traversed Mongolia, Shan-Su, the basin of the Kuku-Nor, and Northern Thibet, for a distance of more than seven thousand miles. The literary fruit of this expedition was a book of "Travels in Mongolia in the Tangut Country, and the Solitudes of Northern Thibet, 1870-'73," which was published in London in 1876, translated by E. Delmar Morgan, and furnished with an introduction and notes by Colonel Henry Yule.

The journey was directed to the regions lying outside of the great Chinese wall, a country concerning which our data, derived chiefly from the accounts of Marco Polo in the thirteenth century and of a few missionaries, were so defective and inaccurate, that the whole table-land of Eastern Asia, extending from the Siberian mountains in the north to the Himalaya in the south, and from the Pamir Plain to China, was as little known to us as Central Africa or the interior of New Holland. This region, then a terra incognita, exceeding the whole of Eastern Europe in extent, situated, to borrow the words of the explorer, in the middle of the greatest continent, at an absolute height with which no other region on the globe could compare, here intersected by giant mountains, there spread out into illimitable desert plains, presented in every aspect features of scientific interest. But, he added, strongly as these regions attract us by the mysteries which they conceal, they equally deter us by the threat of all possible