Life in the Primeval World: Founded on Meunier's "Les Animaux D'autrefois"

T. Nelson and Sons

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T. Nelson and Sons
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Dec 31, 1872
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The Princess Helena Koltzoff-Massalsky, better known by her pseudonym of Dora d'Istria, came of the family of the Ghikas, formerly princes of Wallachia, and was born at Bucharest, on the 22nd of January, 1829. Through the care and conscientiousness of her instructor, Mons. Papadopoulos, and her own remarkable capacity, she acquired a very complete and comprehensive education. When but eleven years old, she composed a charming little story, and before she had reached womanhood, undertook a translation of the Iliad. She showed no inclination for the frivolous amusements of a frivolous society. Her view of life and its responsibilities was a serious one, and she addressed all her energies to the work of self-improvement and self-culture. She read and re-read the literary masterpieces of England, France and Germany. As a linguist she earned special distinction.

"Her intellectual faculties," says her master, M. Papadopoulos, "expanded with so much rapidity, that the professors charged with her instruction could not keep any other pupil abreast of her in the same studies. Not only did she make a wholly unexpected and unhoped-for progress, but it became necessary for her teachers to employ with her a particular method: her genius could not submit to the restraint of ordinary rules."

She was still in the springtime and flush of youth, when she went on a tour to Germany, and visited several German courts, where she excited the same sentiments of admiration as in her own country; it was impossible to see her without being attracted by so much intellect, grace and amiability. Travelling enlarged her horizon: she was able to survey, as from a watch-tower, the course of great political events, and she found herself mixing continually with the most celebrated savants and statesmen of the age. Her friendly relations with persons of very diverse opinions, while enabling her to compare and contrast a great variety of theories, did but strengthen in her "the idea and sentiment of liberty, which can alone conduct society to its true aim." Finally, from the Italian revolution of 1848, which awoke her warmest sympathies, she learned to understand the fatal consequences of despotic government, as well as the inevitable mistakes of freedom, when first unfettered and allowed to walk alone.

A CONSIDERABLE portion of the Indo-Chinese peninsula is occupied by the extensive country of Cambodia, or Camboja, known to the natives as Kan-pou-chi. It extends from lat. 8° 47′ to 15° N., along the basin of the Mekong, Makiang, or Cambodia river; and is bounded on the north by Laos; on the south, by the Gulf of Siam and the China Sea; on the east, by Cochin-China; and on the west, by Siam. Formerly it was independent; but since 1809 it has been included within the empire of Annam, except the province of Battabang, which belongs to the kingdom of Siam. But since the French established themselves at Saigon in 1858, and have gradually obtained a controlling power in Annam (or Cochin-China), their influence has also extended to Cambodia.

The largest river of Cambodia, and of the whole Indo-Chinese peninsula, is the Mekong, Makiang, or Cambodia, which, rising in the mountains of China, under the name of the Lan-tsan-kiang, flows in a south-easterly direction across the province of Yunnan; thence, under the name of the Kiou-long, traverses the territory of Laos; and afterwards, as the Mekong, intersects Cambodia, dividing the Annam portion from that which belongs to Siam; separates into several branches, and finally falls into the China Sea, after a fertilizing course of about fifteen hundred miles. Its two principal mouths are those of the Japanese and Oubequum channels. There are several smaller mouths, however, the southernmost of which is situated in lat. 9° 30′ N., and long. 106° 20′ E.

Very little was known of this great river until the French had made themselves masters of Saigon. It has since been explored in parts of its course by M. Mouhot, Lieutenant Garnier, and others. The country which it waters possesses many features of interest; and the scenery through which it flows is often of a romantic and beautiful character. The manners and customs of the people dwelling on its banks are not unworthy of consideration; and we propose, therefore, to carry the reader with us on a voyage up this magnificent stream,—penetrating, under the guidance of Lieutenant Garnier, into hitherto unexplored parts of Cambodia, and even into China itself.

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The very favourable reception accorded both by Press and Public to the "Circle of the Year," has induced me to prepare a second volume, similar in design, but dealing with different branches of the same subject. As the former was founded on the first series of a popular French work, "Les Saisons," by M. Hoefer, so the present has been suggested by the second series; but in availing myself of it, I have omitted much, I have revised more, and at various parts my additions have been considerable. And here, as in my former effort, I have written from a popular rather than a scientific point of view. It has not been my object to sketch the outlines or lay down the foundations of any science; but to show, as best I could, how much of wonder and beauty enters into our daily life, and what inexhaustible sources of study lie at our very feet. It is, perhaps, a misfortune of our common systems of education that they too much neglect the tuition of the eye; that the young are not taught to mark the curious and interesting objects which are comprehended within their daily vision; that they know so much about ancient mythology and so little about modern science,—so much about gods and heroes, so little about stars and flowers.

I have called this volume "Everyday Objects," not because those which it describes may be seen every day, but because they mostly belong to the region of the commonplace and familiar; and I have called it "Picturesque Aspects of Natural History," because I have endeavoured, in companionship with my French collaborateur, to indicate the poetical side of the various sciences into which I have presumed to penetrate. If it should awaken a love of nature in any breast, or develop a spirit of inquiry, which may lead the student further and further on the path of knowledge, the labour bestowed upon these pages will not have been in vain.

The instinct of curiosity,—says M. Hoefer, in his preface to the first series of "Les Saisons,"—is the awakening of the intellectual life: it commences with the lisping of the child, accompanies the adult in every phase of his existence, and, far from becoming extinct with the last throb of the heart, revives before the unknown shadows of the grave. What, then, is there in the whole world of greater importance to follow and direct than the movements and impulses of this curiosity, of these uncertain pulsations of the soul? In this lies the secret of all education; and upon education depends the future of humanity.

Unfortunately, he continues, the methods hitherto employed have been absolutely insufficient. And the insufficiency is most notable as regards the imperfect and defective training given to the instinct of curiosity. Observe the child. Of everything which excites his attention, he never fails to ask you the reason why. It is thus that he enters into the connexion of "cause" and "effect." It is a sign. But instead of following up this natural indication, and developing the thought by the exercise of the reason, we proceed as if the being under our charge were incapable of reason; we overload the memory of the child with a multitude of words, whose value he cannot understand until later in life, and perhaps never. The true direction of the mind is to proceed from the thought to the word, and not from the word to the thought. It is for want of having recognised and applied this principle that our educational systems have failed so utterly.

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