The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

April 12, 2016

April 12, 1839

From the Dictionary of National Biography, precursor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,  we learn about  Nikolay Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky (April 12, 1839 to November 1, 1888). He was a descendant of a noble Cossack family, and a famous explorer of the Gobi desert and other bordering areas. He did not succeed in his major goal of reaching the holy city of Tibet, but he explored parts of that country.

This lightly edited account is from the DNB:

His travels occurred between November 1870 and September 1873. He crossed the Gobi desert, reached Peking, and then, pushed westwards and southwest . He also penetrated into Tibet, .... By this remarkable journey he proved that, for resolute and enduring men, travelling in the central Asian plateaus was easier than had been supposed. The Russian Geographical Society presented him with the great Constantine medal, and from all parts of Europe he received medals and honorary diplomas. The work in which he embodied his researches was immediately translated into all civilized languages....Przhevalsky accomplished [his geographic] feat with only three companions and with "ridiculously small pecuniary resources".

His accounts were edited by Sir Henry Yule
, with these titles: Mongolia, the Tangut Country, and the Solitudes of Northern Tibet (1876). That is the source for the next quotations, wherein we learn of the extraordinary talents of the Mongols he met, who can:

follow the almost imperceptible tracks of a stray horse or camel, and are sensible of the proximity of a well; but when you try and explain to them the simplest thing which does not come within their daily routine, they will listen with staring eyes and repeat the same question without understanding your answer. The obtuseness of the Mongol is enough to exhaust one's patience; ....Their inquisitiveness is often carried to an excess. When the caravan enters a populous district, the inhabitants appear from all sides, some of them from a distance, and after the usual salutation, 'mendu,' i.e. 'How do you do?' they begin asking you 'Whither are you travelling?' 'What is the object of your journey?' 'Have you nothing to sell?'.... and so on. No sooner is one gone than another takes his place;...At the halting-place your patience is sorely taxed. Hardly are the camels unloaded before they are upon you, examining and handling your property, and even entering your tent The smallest article excites their curiosity; your arms, of course, but even such trifling objects as boots, scissors, padlocks, are all handled in turn, and they all ask you to give them first one thing, then another. There is no end to it .... [I]f they get the chance, [they will] make off with something by way of a keepsake.

...Their almanac is the same as the Chinese, and is printed at Peking in Mongol characters. Their cycle is twelve years, each year having the name of some animal, thus :

Przhevalsky had plants and animals named after him. These Mongol  zodiac names have a different, older, poetry.

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