August 24, 2011

Nepal and the Himalayan Countries

Isabelle Massieu (1844–1932) was a French writer and traveler who became the first French woman to visit Nepal. Beginning in 1892, she undertook a series of journeys from her native Paris that took her to nearly all parts of Asia and resulted in the publication of several popular books. Népal et pays himalayens (Nepal and the Himalayan countries) is a first-hand account of her 1908 voyage from the Sutlej Valley in northern India across Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim to Tibet. Massieu describes the people, landscape, and architecture of the countries visited, the town of Katmandu, capital of Nepal, the spectacular temple of Changu Narayana, and economic activities such as the production of tea. Also included are accounts of her encounters with Swedish explorer, geographer, and travel writer, Sven Hedin; French social psychologist and anthropologist Gustave Le Bon; French indologist Sylvain Lévi; and Catholic missionary, lexicographer, and Tibetan scholar Père Desgodins. The book includes six maps and many photographs and illustrations.

A Catalogue of Palm-leaf and Selected Paper Manuscripts Belonging to the Durbar Library, Nepal

Mahāmahopādhyāya Hara Prasād Sastri, an Indian scholar affiliated with the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and Cecil Bendall, professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge University in England, made a research expedition to Nepal in 1898–99. A major objective of the expedition was to examine and catalog the palm-leaf manuscripts in the Durbar Library, many of which had been acquired by Mahārāja Sir Vīra Sumsher Jung Bahādur Rānā. According to Bendall, this collection, “as regards the antiquity of the documents,” was “surpassed by no Sanskrit Library known to exist.” This book, printed in 1905, contains a complete catalog of the manuscripts, which are in various languages of India and Nepal, prepared by Sastri. Listed are religious texts and works on medicine, astronomy, drama, poetry, rhetoric, politics, and other topics. Some of the rarest manuscripts, including several in the historic Gupta script, are described in detail. Also included is a “History of Nepal and surrounding Kingdoms (1000–1600 A.D.),” compiled by Bendall and based on the texts of the manuscripts in the Durbar Library. The history contains tables of the reigning kings of Nepal and of the neighboring kingdoms.

Monograph on Buddha Sakyamuni’s Birth-Place in the Nepalese Tarai

In the 1870s, the Archaeological Survey of India undertook a series of expeditions to increase understanding of the early history of India and to further the preservation of important monuments and ruins. In 1896 German archaeologist Alois Anton Führer (1853–1930) received permission from the government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh and the government of India to carry out an expedition to Nepal. Führer generally is credited with discovering the birthplace of Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born in about 563 B.C. at the gardens of Lumbini, in the Nepalese foothills of the Himalayas. The birthplace later became a site for pilgrimages, and among the pilgrims in 249 B.C. was Emperor Ashoka of India, a devout Buddhist. Ashoka erected a commemorative pillar with the words: “Here the Worshipful One was born.” For reasons that are not known, after the 15th century Lumbini ceased to attract visitors and its temples fell into ruins. Accompanied by the governor of the province, General Khadga Shamsher, Führer discovered Ashoka’s pillar, which, with other evidence, confirmed Lumbini as the birthplace of the Buddha. This monograph, published in 1897, documents the finding of the pillar and the other results of the expedition. Lumbini is one of the four holy places of Buddhism and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.

History of Corea, Ancient and Modern; with Description of Manners and Customs, Language and Geography

The Reverend John Ross was a Presbyterian minister who, in 1872, left his native Scotland to become a missionary in China. He opened a school for boys in 1873 and, having mastered Chinese, in 1877 published Mandarin Primer: Being Easy Lessons for Beginners, designed to help English speakers learn Chinese. After working for a time in Xin Zhuang, Liaoning Province, he moved to the Manchurian city of Mukden (present-day Shenyang), near the Chinese-Korean border. At the time, Korea followed a policy of isolation and did not permit missionaries on its territory. Ross studied and eventually mastered Korean and, in 1877, published the first English grammar of the Korean language. He then undertook the first translation of the Bible from English into Korean, using the northern Korean dialect with which he was familiar. Ross wrote two major historical works, The Manchus (1880) and History of Corea (1891). The latter work traces the development of Korea from 2300 BCE to the 1870s and contains chapters on social customs, religion, government, language, and geography, along with maps and several colored illustrations of Korean costumes and social types. Ross’s chapter on the Korean language is especially interesting and includes his observations on the similarities and differences among Korean, Manchu, Mongol, Japanese, and Chinese.


Angus Hamilton was a British journalist who reported for a number of newspapers and journals between 1894 and 1912. Among the events he covered were the Boer War in South Africa, the Boxer uprising in China, and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. He spent several months in Korea as the Far East correspondent of the Pall Mall Gazette and produced this book on the basis of his observations. Korea was at the time little known in the West, and Hamilton’s book contained much information about the country’s economy, international trade, and the activities of the major foreign powers then vying for economic and political influence in Korea. Among the information provided was, in Appendix I, the timetable for travel by rail from Port Arthur (present-day Dalian, China) to Moscow. The total travel time was given as 13 days, 2 hours, and 42 minutes. Other appendices dealt with Korea’s shipping, exports and imports, coastal trade, customs revenues, and the export of gold. Hamilton was writing on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, and he devoted his introductory chapter to the political crisis then unfolding between Russia and Japan, the question of whether it would lead to war, and what effect a possible war would have on Korea.

Chosön, the Land of the Morning Calm; a Sketch of Korea

Percival Lowell was born in 1855 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, into a distinguished New England family. His brother, Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856–1943), was president of Harvard University; his sister, Amy Lowell (1874–1925), an important poet and critic. Lowell studied mathematics at Harvard and, after graduation, spent six years in business, managing a family-owned cotton mill. In the spring of 1883, he made his first trip to Japan. In August of that year, he was asked by the United States Legation in Tokyo to serve as secretary and counselor to the Korean Special Mission to the United States, the first mission from Korea to a Western country. Lowell accepted the offer and, as he later wrote, soon “entered my native land as a foreigner.” The Koreans were pleased with his services and, at the conclusion of their mission, invited Lowell to accompany them back to Korea. He remained in Korea for only about two months, but his stay provided the basis for Choson, the Land of the Morning Calm, in which he described the geography, people, and culture of a country still little known in the West. Lowell spent most of the next decade in the Far East, where he wrote several books and mastered both Japanese and Korean. In the fall of 1893, he returned to the United States, where he took up astronomy and founded, in 1894, the Lowell Observatory of Flagstaff, Arizona. His most important scientific contribution was to posit, in 1914, the existence of a trans-Neptunian planet, sixteen years before an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory discovered the planet that came to be called Pluto.