18 JANUARY 1873, Page 18


IN 1863 M. Louis de Cara, a young man of remarkable ability and energy, and already deeply read in the natural sciences, being attached to the French consular service, entered with great eager- ness into the colonisation question, an interest which influenced and coloured all the rest of his unfortunately brief life. He died, at 27, during the late war, of consumption, contracted during the terrible labours and privations of the journey—to which his chief, M. de Lagree, had succumbed at an early stage—but not, happily, until be had completed his deeply interesting, comprehensive, and well - arranged narrative. His father and his country snay well be proud of the brave young savant, who gave such practical evidence of his tastes and opinions. " He studied the different schemes of colonisation tried in our day with delight," writes his father in the brief, pathetic preface, 4' and pen in hand. In some notes, referring to his daily occupa- tions, I notice these words, under date of January 27, 1864 We -try to defend ourselves against the Socialists by argument, by laws, and if need be, by bayonets. And all this is well enough, but a hungry stomach has neither reason nor ears, and ideas will not triumph over want, especially when it has the ballot-box in its control. If, then, France be not able to find, at a distance, the 'Far West,' which the happy fortune of the United States has set close at their hand, she will assuredly see the sunset of civilisa- tion in that of liberty.'" Five years later, in urging the project of a colonial establishment at the mouths of the Songkoi, he expressed the same fear and conviction. In the interim he had accompanied the expedition on the perilous and painful journey which he describes with such vigour and distinctness, that the interest of the book defies the efforts of a translator so unskilful that he is often ludicrously inaccurate by dint of literalness, actually render- ing idiomatic phrases an pied de la lettre, and who is always stiff and ungraceful. The absence of an index and the insufficiency of the table of contents render it difficult to get a general idea of the variety of the book, which is an extraordinary chron- icle of adventure, though the results of the exploration were not very satisfactory in either the political or the commercial aspects which had determined it. The mission did more service to the general progress of science, than to the particular interests of the colony whose funds supplied its cost. Until the official report of the Commission be published (its appearance has been delayed by the disasters of France), the practical application of the investigation of the vast region whose northern frontier touches China, and its southern Cambodia, cannot be appreciated ; but M. de Came makes it plain that it was a wise as well as a grand undertaking. We do not quarrel with the impatient and depreciatory tone which he adopts with regard to the English diplomatic transactions with Siam ; it is sometimes wholesomely admonitory to observe how our dealings with

• Eastern nations are regarded by other peoples, nor do we 'object to the 'disappointing of England' having been one of the objects comprised in the schema of the Governor of Cochin -China. We do not indeed think that our Government behaved quite so ill, or the French Government quite so well in that part of the world as M. de Carrie thinks, but we are certain that the French protectorate in Cochin China and the Annamite provinces is a very good thing for all concerned, except, perhaps, the missionaries, who have been murdered more freely there than in other parts of the world. It is true that the English tried, un- successfully, to find an overland route from the Burman Empire to China, but, if the French had succeeded in establishing a river highway for the important commerce now carried by caravans between Laos, Burroah, Thibet, and the Western Provinces of China, by proving the Mekong, which flows down from the far interior of the Chinese Empire, to be navigable, and the imprac- ticable rapids a native fable, we do not think the English would 'have been disappointed. This is essentially a French idea ; they

* Travels in Indo-China and the Chinese Empire. By Louis de Carnd. Member of the Commission of Exploration of the Mekong. With a Notice of the Author by the Count de Carn6. Translated from the French. London Chapman and HalL

do not even yet understand that we are so perfectly certain of walking in our turn and time on any commercial highway what- soever, that it really does not matter to us who makes it.

The expedition, consisting of five officers of the French Navy, M. de Came, and twelve natives, left Saigon in June, 1866. It was commanded by M. de Lagree, whose name heads the list of deaths closed by that of Louis de Cared; it was perilous and painful, lonely and terrible from first to last ; the records of its successive exploits and experiences are full of fascinating interest of that peculiar kind which always attaches to adventure, and which no proper and solemn reflections on the misery and dangers under- gone by these our fellow-creatures, with such charming con- sequences to ourselves, can subdue ; and it leaves one paramount impression upon our minds. The identity of the" hottest place in the world" is as much disputed as that of "the garden of Eng- land," svhich Mrs. Elton was so "cocksure " about, but there can be no rival pretender to the bad eminence of Laos as the most unbear- able portion of the earth's surface. In nine days after the expedi- tion, dismissed with royal honours, had left the capital of Cam- bodia for a river voyage full of charm and excitement—during which, when they dined on shore in the forest, they had to turn out the wild boars as a preliminary—it entered Laos, where no white man except M. Mouhot, who died there (and the missionaries, who do not seem to count), had set foot for two centuries. A weird and horrid place was Steng Tueng, where they had to live fifteen days, awaiting the completion of formalities, in a bamboo house, perpetually rocked by the squalls, while the river kept steadily rising, and soon covered the floor. The miseries the expedition suffered here were nothing in comparison with those 'which awaited them, but they served as efficient training, includ- ing severe illness of painful kinds, the destruction of the bread-stuffs by damp, and of the barrels of wine and brandy, which were pierced through by insects in a single night. The vast forests are full of wild beasts, and in their recesses are hidden mysterious ruins of great structures, which may be regarded as the half-effaced signatures of the old Kherm masters of the soil, whose inhabitants have forgotten them. The river swarms with alligators; the natives are almost savages, and have a horrid habit of howling like wild beasts over their work ; they eat decomposed fish with relish ; also opium. At Bassac, formerly the capital of the Laotian monarchy, are some wonderful ruins of Kherm temples, covered with elabo- rate carvings, in which animals are correctly and characteristically represented, but the human figures distorted and grotesque. The Frenchmen were all through their journey entirely dependent upon the barbarian people, science could not help them in that strange navigation, in whose course they shot from a sheet of water of immense width, into dim, narrow gorges overhung by tre- mendous precipices, and suffered changes of temperature from the burning heat of a fiery sky, to the shade of impenetrable woods, where the Mekong lost itself in a labyrinth of islets, weeds, and trees rising from the bosom of the waters. The barbarous people, on the whole, treated them well. When an arm of the Mekong was to be explored, recourse was had to elephants, and Al. de Came writes gratefully and appreciatingly of those de- lightful animals, about whom too much never could be written. The tiger, the rhinoceros, and the wild elephant frequently crossed their path, as they laboured through the forests, the great beasts crushing and trampling a way for them by sheer force, until, by land and by water, they reached the limits of Lower Laos, and became convinced that never can the great river Mekong be utilised for commercial purposes. But they had made important observations and precious collections ; and in the end, when their task was done, and they had reached Yunan, they had proved beyond all question the navigability of the Songkoi, a fine river which flows into the Gulf of Tonkin, and is in every way fitted to promote the commercial intercourse of the Chinese Empire with the French colony. Middle Laos is half dust-plain, half salt-marsh, and the province of Ubone is inexhaustibly rich in chalk. A whole chain of mountains of the most eccentric shape is formed of it. Here the river is so low that great banks of sand appear, the shore is a desert, and the bordering forests are formed of trees averaging 100 feet in height bound together by swinging arches of climbing plants. Tigers abound, but the lazy natives will not hunt them. The Laotian tiger has a peculiar liking for monkeys, which he catches by the simple process of shaking them off the trees as children shake apples ! The expedition had a month's rest at the capital, Luang- Praban, a large city with 10,000 inhabitants bounded on one side by the Mekong. The stir was delightful to the travellers, wearied with the noiselessness of vast solitudes. The description of the town, the people, their customs, and their trade, is exceedingly interest- ing. Unhappily, the travellers paid for the temporary suspen- sion of their struggle with wild nature, semi-savage men, and the wiles of a half-barbarous diplomacy, by a long winter in the pestilential marshes of Thibet, in whose highlands it is probable the mighty river has its source. They were obliged to land in consequence of the violence of the current ; they did so amid torrents of rain, and were immediately attacked with fever, and assailed by a novel and hideous enemy. There are far more serious sufferings recorded in the book, but none which will im- press the reader so much as those thus recorded, especially if, like the present writer, he has hitherto supposed that leeches inhabit water exclusively :-

"The leeches were a dreadful torment. Countless as the leaves on which they kept watch, they rushed from the wood, and hung on, in clusters, to the body, which they drained; squeezed them- selves even between the toes, quitting their hold only when glutted, and leaving a poisonous sting in the skin, to turn, before long, to an ulcer. The natives advised its to fasten to the end of a cane a plug of damp tobacco and touch them with it. It had a magical effect ; but the remedy required constant application, and was soon abandoned. Like men forced to remain seated in a nest of ants, we were obliged to be patient and let our blood flow till we halted in the evening, when we each had to staunch his wounds. When we were compelled to pass a night in the forest, we avoided setting up our camp amidst the large shrubs, where the leeches were still more numerous. Sometimes to escape them, we stretched our blankets on a narrow piece of sand afoot above the Mekong, where, before sleeping, we had to place a sentry to watch the strewn, that we tnight not be carried away by any sudden rise of the water. But there if there were no leeches, the mosquitos became maddening ; and above all, the im- palpable gnats of the forest, against which no mosquito-curtain can protect, and whose bite is fire."

This is worse than the beautiful city of Eden in/I/Urdu Chuzzlewit as

it appeared in reality. The expedition now suffered extreme priva- tions; the authorities refused them the means of transport, and when, almost starving and much exhausted, they had struggled on to within a few days' march of the borders of China, they were informed that orders had been received not to permit the strangers to pass the frontier. They parleyed, palavered, persuaded, then determined at all risks to persevere. Quitting the Mekong, they entered a mountainous country, where pine forests clothed the heights and torrents foamed down the gorges, and where the population is mixed, Chinese and Laotian. The fatigue of the ascent was nothing to them now. On the 18th October, 1867, they "beheld from the summit of a high mountain a great plain stretched out before their eyes, and at its extremity on a low hill was a veritable town, with its white gables, red walls, and brick roofs ;" and they knew they had reached the land of one of the most ancient and least known peoples of the world, that they had found a new way into China.