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ONE who proposes to present to the world a new system of geography may reasonably be asked, if the world be not already in possession of a sufficient number of such works. To this it may be answered, that an addition to their number can produce no inconvenience, since the works already extant on this subject will not be necessarily superseded or excluded from the library or closet by a new publication; and that some positive advantage will arise from multiplying the objects of our choice. The more candidates there are for public favour, the more beneficial is the choice that may be made among them.
Geographical systems are, in general, collections of miscellaneous knowledge, in which that particular branch of information will predominate, in which the writer is most conversant, or to which he is most addicted. As he thinks himself authorized to consider man under all the various aspects which his political and social condition, his history, language, literature, religion, dress, diet, and customs present him to view; to describe the earth as the receptacle of metals and minerals, of plants, birds, and fishes, as well as of mankind and the works of mankind; and as no human being is greatly or equally qualified to discuss all these subjects, works of this kind will always contain an over-proportion of one of these ingredients, not only in quantity but in value; and as readers are as much diversified in taste and knowledge as writers, one work will gratify the curiosity of some readers, and another work be best adapted to others. Every writer may therefore expect to be useful in a degree or manner different from any of his predecessors, and to receive his due portion of the harvest of popular approbation.
To the success of this claim, however, it is necessary that he should give the world something new. He who merely brings into one string a number of extracts and quotations from voyages and travels, has his merit and his usefulness, since he saves his reader the trouble and expence of examining the originals himself. He who merely repeats or translates the words of former compilers, though a sort of literary felon if he denies or disclaims the theft, may yet claim the intrinsic usefulness of the works he merely republishes. But this species of merit is not sufficient to recommend any work to judicious readers. At any rate, the book is far more meritorious which adds to the heap of
existing knowledge. Even if this addition be of no great value in itself, something is gained on the score of its novelty and originality.
The writer who now offers himself to public notice feels the arduousness of his undertaking in the most lively manner. That he shall perform his task, with the skill it deserves, he may be forgiven for doubting; but he finds no difficulty in assuring the public, that what they will receive from his pen will be entirely his own. Facts, indeed, compose the substratum of every system, and in the importance and genuineness of its facts much of the value of a work like the present wil! consist; but in the selection of these facts, in the connection in which they are placed, and the observations to which they have given rise, the public will find the result of deeper inquiries and more elaborate reflection in the work now offered them, than in any hitherto published on the same subject. The vanity which arrogates this praise is in reality much smaller than most readers may at first imagine. Systems of geography have hitherto been little more than medleys of chronological abstracts, historical epitomes, samples of language, lists of great cities and great men, and meagre details of forms of government. Their usefulness is not small, even with all their imperfections; but whatever benefit arises from skill to select materials, taste to embellish them, and judgment to draw instruction from them, has hitherto, in general, been flagrantly wanting.
From this sentence it is just, however, to except a writer of our own country, Dr. Morse, whose labours have supplied an indispensible demand of American curiosity. He has fulfilled the first and most reasonable expectation of his countrymen, in giving them that knowledge of their country which they would seek in vain in any foreign publication. This end he has accomplished with diligence, candour, and judgment, highly honourable to his name.
With respect to a still later compiler on this subject, Pinkerton, the same praise is by no means due to him. He is, however, far superior to his British predecessors, inasmuch as he omits a score of trifling and ridiculous details, with which their volumes are burthened. The chasm, occasioned by these omissions, he has chiefly filled by sketches of mineralogy, botany, and zoology, which are highly interesting to a numerous class of readers, and which are liable to no objec. tion but that of occupying the place of subjects interesting and instruc tive to a class of readers still more numerous.
The views of the writer who now claims the public attention can scarcely be expected to coincide exactly with those of any of his
predecessors. What merit they possess will best be seen by an impartial explanation of them.
Geography is commonly and vaguely defined to be "a description of the earth." The points of view in which the earth we inhabit presents itself to our observation are extremely various. If it be viewed collectively, as a great mass of matter, having certain motions, and obtaining light and heat, dryness and moisture, in portions and degrees, arising from these motions, and from its local relation to other distant masses of matter, we may be said to describe the earth, and therefore to discuss a necessary branch at least of geography. Geography will likewise confer her name upon our labours, if we consider the earth as composed of solid inert masses, of different colours, densities, gravities, and chemical properties. In like manner, if we describe the various ranks of organized beings, from man to moss, we describe the earth, and may therefore be considered as geographers. If we view the surface of the earth, as divided horizontally into land and water, and vertically into hill, valley, and plain, and exhibit the respective dimensions of length, breadth, and height of all the great features of land and water, we are geographers. If we consider man in his social, political, or physical condition, and the surface and products of the earth in relation to the works and subsistencc of men; as divided among nations; as checkered by cities, villages, and fields; as ploughed, or pastured, or resigned to the reign of nature, we are still geographers. Thus the objects and views peculiar to each of the arts and sciences, inasmuch as they are branches of a description of the earth, may be comprehended under the appellation of geography, and accordingly all writers of general geography have thought it incumbent upon them to introduce discussions and statements, which, on other occasions, are the province of the astronomer, the historian, the political economist, the lawyer, the botanist, the zoologist, the chemist, the philologist, the orator, and the moralist. These statements are necessarily brief, in proportion as the scene described is large and the book small; and though these subjects may be touched with great force and usefulness, as well as with much brevity, yet, in general, from the limited faculties of individuals, these surveys are unsatisfactory and superficial. One branch of the subject may be skilfully handled, while the rest, being foreign to the compiler's favourite pursuits, are neglected. Thus, in Mr. Pinkerton's book, while we have copious botanical details, every other branch of the subject, and especially that connected with statistical science and political economy, is executed in the most inaccurate and negligent manner.
A description of the surface of the earth, first, physically, as divided into land and water, hill, plain, and valley, with the influence of local circumstances on the climate and soil; secondly, politically, as divided among tribes and nations, seems to come more strictly under the proper definition of geography than any other view of the subject. This, therefore, is an essential part of a geographical work, but has generally been more cursorily and inaccurately treated than any other. It is capable of being embellished with many pleasing and useful illustrations. It is the ground work of all knowledge that deserves the name of geographical, and, therefore, on the double account of its utility and novelty, the present work will pay particular regard to this subject*.
When the surface of the earth is delineated as fully as the materials in our possession admit, we may make excursions, in almost any direction, over the world of man and nature. In these excursions, however, the present writer will confine his views entirely to that relation in which soils, minerals, plants, and the lower animals bear to the wellbeing and subsistence of men. With respect to mankind immediately, his inquiries will almost entirely resolve themselves into what may be called statistical. The population of every nation, as far as the best authorities go, will be ascertained; the variation in its population at different periods; the distribution of the people into classes and professions; their religious institutions; their general accommodations as to diet, clothing, and habitations; in the last of which will be considered the number, size, distribution, internal economy, and accommodation of their towns and cities; their modes of government, education, and agriculture; and, in fine, all those particulars, which fix the station of any people among civilized nations, will be drawn into such concise, comprehensive, and instructive views, as the judgment and industry of the writer put into his power.
Every reader must be aware that the merit of such a work will wholly lie in the skill with which it is executed. The writer, therefore, can say nothing which would avail to produce in his readers a favourable opinion of his qualifications for this work. He cannot appeal to former
* Of topographical description, the best model with which I am acquainted is the "England Delineated," by Dr. Aikin. Of statistical description, the best specimens are to be found in sir John Sinclair's "Statistical Account of Scotland.” From the last of these sources I have endeavoured to imbibe the true geographical spirit, though I hope it will be breathed in a style somewhat more attractive and popular, and accompanied with a taste rather more philosophical, than animates most of the pieces in that collection.
productions, because he has published nothing of which the plan is similar to that of his present undertaking. There is one claim to attention, however, which he may safely urge. There is no branch of knowledge in which the progress of new discoveries is more rapid and important than in geography. Every day new regions are explored; countries hitherto familiar to us are traversed by more candid and sagacious observers; the errors of former travellers are detected; new views are opened to us. The lapse of a single year is sufficient to make the most important additions to our knowledge, and to render existing geographical works in some measure obsolete.
This fact, true at all times, was never so remarkably true as at the present æra. Human curiosity was never before more active, more sagacious, directed by wiser maxims, and to more valuable objects. That curtain which conceals half of the world from the other half is continually lifted higher and higher, and wider as well as more accurate views are continually breaking in upon us. This is true even of Europe, which is traversed by a constant succession of book-making travellers, more and more exact and enlightened. It is more remarkably true of Africa and Asia, but the truth is still more memorable in relation to America. That veil which political jealousy has for centuries drawn over the southern portion of our continent has been nearly rent away in the present age, and the passing year has produced so much curious and authentic information, as alone to render indispensible a new geographical work. With respect to North America, the daily and rapid extension of our geographical knowledge is notorious, while the rapid progress of this portion of the world, in population and riches, continually calls for new pictures. No writer can hope to keep pace with this progress, and the most perfect work will be made essentially defective by the lapse of a very few years. Our cultivation extends, our towns enlarge, our political institutions and divisions vary and multiply from year to year, and the latest compilation will thus have no small title to regard and authority, merely because it is the latest.
Every geographical writer justly regards the description of his own country as of chief importance, and devotes to this subject a larger proportion of his work, than its importance, when viewed abstractedly and in relation to the extent and population of other states, may seem to justify. This circumstance, together with the inaccuracy of their information respecting America, has lessened the value of every European publication. Every American work of this kind has paid due attention to this circumstance, and given more ample details respecting