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Not to “know the world,” was excusable in olden times, when people dressed in homespun and ate from wooden trenchers; but for us, whose first act in rising is to jump out of, and into, cloth made in foreign lands, and who grumble if the first morning's meal is not agreeably seasoned by condiments from the antipodes, there can be no apology. To contribute to such a knowledge is the design of this volume: to satisfy it completely, so as to know perfectly all people, is somewhat further than we can go. It would, for instance, be a pleasant task could we, for the reader's benefit, by some process spiritually uncap the cranium of a Chinaman or of an Arab, take a peep into his mental workshop, and watch its operations for a single day: but this being one of those curious undertakings not permitted us with even our own townspeople-some of whom, with all our researches, remain to this hour complete enigmas to us—it cannot be expected we should “take such liberties with strangers.”
We can however do this much; we can describe the country the Chinaman lives in ; how he grows his tea, and does his farming; how he spends his boyhood—the games he plays—the sort of school he attends — the books he studies and the way he is flogged — how he trades and what in - what he makes and how it is made the kind of house he lives in and the way it is furnished — how he courts and gets married — what he thinks of his wife — how much of his boys and how little of his girls – his general ideas of the world and of matters and things in general — what he regards as “the chief end of man,” and where he thinks his spirit is going when the grand routine of all his doings and thinkings here below is terminated, and the mortal remains of the poor Chinaman are consigned to the “tomb of his ancestors.”
Obtain this kind of knowledge of the principal people of the world and we obtain that which liberalizes. Something is possessed to think of and watch, beside the shape of the furrow our own plow turns over, the small gossip of our own little neighborhood, or the dirty bubbles that come walloping up from the bottom of our own political cauldron. We get, too, a more “realizing sense" of the important truth-that it is circumstance which creates national, alike with individual characteristics; and out of this grows charity for peculiar national ideas and for heterodox personal opinions. Readily do we see, had we been transported in babyhood to China and reared in a Chinese family, we should have rejoiced in a queue a yard or more long; thought angular eyes and deformed feet the acme of beauty; the world square, like a table; Confucius the most pre-eminent of mortals, and China the greatest of all countries; or had Turkey been the scene of our rearing, we should have considered the most agreeable position in life, the cross-legged; perhaps have been gladdened with a whole regiment of wives, would have called down the curses of Allah upon the “unbelieving dogs of Christians," and may be, have joined a troop of whirling or of howling dervishes.
Various are the uses of such information—a topic we could expand into an essay, but not here, this being the place in which he who makes a book is expected to devote to a chat with those who read it, though, it is said, the latter rarely deign to listen to what he has to communicate,
Some two years since, while engaged in our vocation as a publisher of books circulated by subscription solely, we commenced condensing such works of travel as were judged best suited to the wants of those who have heretofore obtained our publications; and the result is the respectable-sized volume you now hold. Our endeavor was to make it elementary, so that it would be adapted to any unlettered person whose eye should traverse its pages. To such, if an unknown word or allusion be given without an accompanying explanation, the charm of the most interesting narrative is marred, and if frequent, he arises dissatisfied from the perusal. There is no fact in nature or in science, not too abstruse for the learned, which is too abstruse for the common apprehension, if the successive steps to it be closely connected and in the right direction, for the human mind is essentially the same in all, and each brain has its own full set of tools.
This, like our other publications, is intended to be disposed of by subscription solely. This mode of circulating literature, as practiced in this country, is peculiarly an American invention. In Europe it is adopted to insure, in advance, the expense of costly works--with us, as a method for the convenience of the purchasers — of engaging sales after a book has been issued. Our mode has grown out of the general desire at large for information, and the difficulties experienced by the mass in procuring just the kind adapted to them; for it should be remembered that the regular book-merchant - the trader in ideas — is the very last man who emigrates — the very last to be established in a young community, and solely too from the absence of a demand for his services. Taking the whole land through, doubtless a thousand establishments have been reared to supply the animal appetite for liquid stimulus to one erected to minister to the intellect,
by the sale of books; and further, millions of our people never in their lives have even entered a bookstore, and millions upon millions do not annually average the possession of a single new book. With all our self-congratulated civilization, the mass of even our most enlightened communities is far behind a proper standard of cultivation, as is illustrated by the universal desire for tinsel and displayby the fawning to those who by the exercise of abhorrent qualities have accumulated an unusual share of externals; in the want of value for genuine worth and in a true idea of the objects of life generally. In fact, Ignorance everywhere rears his stupid front, and among the best weapons with which to vanquish him are books, and in the interior, with a vast number, the habit of obtaining and of using these will not be acquired unless brought to their very doors.
This volume is principally composed of abridgments from a great variety of sources, as will be seen by reference to another page, where Authorities are given. Works so constructed, and this mode of circulating them, are among the most useful of instrumentalities in the universal diffusion of knowledge, the fruits of which tend to the permanent happiness and elevation of our common humanity.
NO. 1.-PERILOUS JOURNEY OF THREE AMERICANS IN KHOORDISTAN.
NO. VI.-FORBES' FIVE YEARS IN CHINA.