EXPLORATION IN A NEW DIRECTION.
ONE great temptation to the exploration of the world is rapidly passing away. There is little to be found that will gratify the love of the marvellous. Of an absolutely new land there is now no lingering hope. We know enough of the ocean to be sure that there exists no undiscovered continent, no unsuspected peninsula—unless it be in the Antarctic circle—and no island large enough to be either of value or of interest. It is not, it is true, many years since Saghalien, which was supposed to be a peninsula, was discovered to be an island ; a new island near Spitzbergen was found the other day ; and there may be an unnamed islet or two in the North Pacific still awaiting visitors ; or a rock in the Indian Ocean, as forgotten by all mankind as that strange British dependency. the Chagos group—a series of hill-tops just peering above the water—is by nearly all Englishmen; but such discoveries can only be classed as rectifications of detail in geography. They neither arouse imagination nor stimulate enterprise, as the old discoveries did ; nor can there be many more of them. The coasts of the world and its oceans have been surveyed by the persistent energy of half-a-dozen Governments, who have gone on with their work unnoticed for more than a century; and the water-system of the little planet has been thoroughly explored. The survey of the land is less complete ; but it• is advancing, as the Scotchman said of Sunday, " with fearful regularity." What with England, Germany, France, Portugal, the African Association, Mr. Thomson, Mr. Johnston, and the merchants hunting for bargains, we shall soon be in possession of a perfect map of Africa ; and are already tolerably certain that no unknown race exists, and that there is no considerable space in which wo are likely to find either new animals, or a new flora of any but scientific importance. The kind of delight which woke among men when the first giraffe was caught, or the first kangaroo was exactly sketched, is not, we fear, a delight reserved for this generation. There is just a faint hope of such a " find" when we get fairly inside New Guinea; but it is only faint. There may be a buried city somewhere in the back of Peru, as interesting as the ruined city in Cambodia, and Yucatan might repay much more patient searching than it has received ; while there are spaces in Thibet unknown to white men, and a province or two outside Afghanistan which even Russians have not visited. Indeed, if rumour does not lie, they discovered a village a few weeks ago which no official had seen for eighty years, and where the people were entirely self-governing ; but the story looks a little mythical, and the people thus discovered were still only Russians. Brazil has not been thoroughly searched, but knowledge of its contents accumulates at Rio, and its less-visited provinces are known to be almost blank; and now Mr. im Thurn, with his patient courage, jumping upwards from rock to rock and tree to tree, has revealed the mystery of Roraima, the secret mountain-top in Guiana which a correspondent of our own first set the world agog to discover. It is a plateau, twelve miles by four, entirely bare of trees, with no animals upon its surface, which is full of small lakes, and with nothing to repay the explorer except the consciousness of victory, a magnificent prospect, and a few orchids which fashionable gardeners will hardly prize. There is no clan living up there isolated from mankind for a few thousand years ; and the wonderful animals of which the Indians talked, and which should, if the fear of man is not instinctive, but only a result of centuries of distrust, have trotted up to Mr. im Thurn saying, " Come, sketch me," existed only in the wild imaginations of men who honestly believe that all dreams are real, and who cannot completely dissociate their own thoughts from the subjects of their thoughts— the possible explanation of many a rare old legend. So disappears one more though remote hope of scientific excitement. There are not many Roraimas in the world ; and when some bold gold-seeker has traversed Eastern Peru, and some adventurous Frenchman, with muskets for sale, has forced his way up among the Shans behind Laos, and the African land-grabbers have met, as they will meet, and the first Australian has killed the first German in the centre of New Guinea, there will be little left for the explorer, who now shakes his head over the wonderful dream we heard a missionary recount thirty-five years ago,—that in the depths of Australia we might yet discover a buried town, and evidences of a civilisation which had rotted-down till its survivor was only an aborigine who bad forgotten fire. How that discovery would delight the Duke of Argyll, giving him the victory in his life-long defence of the possibility of utter
degeneracy! But we fear that the pleasure—which, as hardheaded thinker, he well deserves—is not reserved for him.
We fancy exploration, to become again thoroughly interesting, must be directed towards things, rather than places ; the whole world being searched for things of value, and especially new dyes, new fibres, and new foods. We have always thought that there was nearly as mach to interest men in Mr. Fortune's hunt of years for the ,green indigo—which undoubtedly exists, though he failed to find it—as in any exploration of anew island. The delight of the American who has just discovered a cotton-plant six times as fruitful as the old variety, must be very keen, and not altogether fainted by the reflection —though that is unavoidable—that in such a plant there must be dollars. Just imagine what that man would do for mankind who found a new and vigorous potato, different from the plant which now grows in Ireland, and which is, according to a writer in the Certain, being propagated by cuttings, which is a single undivided plant, liable to inherit, through all its millions of apparently separate existences, the weaknesses of the original tuber, and liable also to exhaustion, as of old age. It has no children ; only a power, so to speak, of having bits of its flesh cut off and planted. It is never renewed from seeds, and so, by all the analogies of Nature, will perish; though the banana, which also is never renewed—and, indeed, in one variety, has become seedless—has lasted ages. It is quite possible that there are only two bananas in the world. Or imagine a new and successful cereal,—a real one in the true silica armour, with a head twice as heavy, and grains twice as nutritious, as those of wheat. Why should wheat be the final source of bread P Man got saccharine matter from all sorts of things—grapes, honey, and fruits—from the earliest times ; but be was old in the world, and had passed through many civilisations, before he discovered the cane and crushed the beet, and so got his present boundless store of sugar. A cereal as fruitful as wheat and as hardy as rye would change the face of Northern Europe; while one which could flourish on exhausted soil
• r in a damp climate, might affect the distribution of mankind. The direct gain of mankind from such a discovery might be counted by hundreds of millions ; and we know of no law of Nature which should prevent it, and of no guarantee that the cultivating races have exhausted search. They most of them, in the early ages, when they longed for substitutes for fish, and meat, and berries, must have clutched the first edible grass they could find without much hunting for better. Farmers will smile, but there may be grains they never saw. Mincing Lane thinks it knows all about tea, and, no doubt, does know a good deal ; but Mr. Alexander Hosie, of the Chinese Consular service, baa eaten and drank a tea which needs no sugar. At least, in the fascinating Report which he has presented to Sir H. Parkes, and which has just been published by Parliament to teach travellers how to observe, while recording the result of his hunt after white tree-wax, he says :—" I come now to the last class of tea, the discovery of Mr. Baber. If my memory is not at fault, he was regaled by a priest on Mount O•mei with tea possessing both the flavour of milk and sugar. It may have been in the very temple on the mountain-side in which I am now writing that Mr. Baber was agreeably surprised. At anyrate, I am sipping an infusion which is without doubt sweet, and which is declared by the priest to be brewed from a naturallyprepared tea-leaf. It is a large dark-brown leaf, and is very sweet when chewed. The people at the bottom of the mountain, Whom I first questioned regarding this tea, asserted that the leaves were sweet because they were first steeped in molasses ; but the balance of evidence, as I have since found from extensive inquiry, is against any such artificial preparation. The tree is said to grow in only one gorge in the mountain, whence the leaves are brought for sale." What will Mincing Lane give for a shipload of that tea, the very existence of which, till drunk and eaten, the dealers would have regarded as a solemn joke? Men are wise about silkculture in Italy and Southern France; but they do not know, as the Chinese told Mr. Hosie,, that the mulberry-leaf is too strong food for baby-silkworms, and that the wretched little insect, if you want plenty of silk, should be fed-up in earliest infancy on the leaves of a silkworm thorn-tree, fifteen feet high, unknown to Europeans, though Mr. Hosie found it everywhere in Szechuen, growing by the roadsides, and as hardy as the thorns, of which it is a variety, usually are. How much difference in annual cash-earnings would the importation of that thorn make in Lombardy ? Why
should not the Governments, which so steadily map-out the seas, even combining to do it, institute a patient and exhaustive search for new grasses able to produce flour, and new vegetables fit for eating P They might not produce many Mr. Hosies, who, if the Members of Parliament read his Report, will very soon find himself as well-known in London as any popular author; but they also might. The men like Mr. Fortune and Mr. Hosie, the men whose observation nothing escapes, are not rare among botanists, and would need but little encouragement to carry on for years a persistent inquiry which, if carefully limited to defined objects, would almost certainly produce some considerable result. The work, it will be said, is one for Societies ; but it seems a pity to waste the great resource which Governments possess in the wide distribution of their agencies, and in their power of carrying-on their enquiries without reference to time. There will be a Legation at Pekin and Lima, and Jeddo, and Teheran, a hundred years hence ; and one official inquirer who records everything, and is replaced when he departs, and is always protected and treated with civility, can, in that space of time, accumulate much knowledge, and will cost but little money. It is organised and protracted inquiry, not a mere spasmodic effort, that we want to see, and that will benefit mankind. Let the Societies hunt for their rare orchids, and plants with lovely blooms, and all manner of scientific novelties, and let the Governments promote the search for prosaic things which the ordinary inquirer will neglect. We shall find no new edible animal, we fear, unless it be some variety of goat which can be bred into fatness, and made to yield sweet meat— kid properly cooked, that is, roasted to death, is better than most mutton—but a new cereal is clearly a possibility, and might be worth all the botanical discoveries made since the settlers in Virginia sent home the potato. The late Mr. Bagehot, who was always dropping witty wisdom, used to say that the wildest speculator he ever heard of was the first man who dropped grain into the earth and waited till it grow up, and to regrefthat his name, like that of the discoverer of fire, and of the first man who mastered a horse, was for ever lost. We think we may venture to say that the name of the man who next discovers a cereal of true value will not be.