High Tartary, by Little, Brown & Atlantic Monthly Press, $4.00][
OWEN LATTIMORE has invented a new science, and before long we shall want a name to call it by. In this second book, as in The Desert Road to Turkestan, he records his explorations. In the light of present conditions he records the past — which may be called archæology or history; in the light of a most penetrating sympathy and uncommon ease in colloquial Chinese he records the peoples — which may be called ethnology or even psychology. Then there is geography of the true and vital .sort which tells you not only how late such and such a pass is open but also what people use it and how it was formerly to be defended. Watersheds delight him, and prevailing winds have a human significance. I think his explanation of ’vertical’ trade from the oasis upstream to the plateau and the mountaineer country, instead of from oasis to similar oasis, is one of his most convincing and original observations.
But it must not be thought that the new science invented by Mr. Lattimore can be easily learned or put into book form by the ordinary traveler. The ingredient which is essential is a rangy vocabulary and a sure sense of the ridiculous. High Tartary reads like any novel full of adventure and hunger and cold and fine gorging at the inn. The ethnology is done by the roadside with a sense of wonder and fresh discovery that takes the chill from it. When he finds his transplanted Manchus — the Sibos and Solons — far to the west, and uses them for a check on true Manchu speech and culture, it is a real adventure in this new science of his.
So, too, with his contrast between the Catholic and Protestant missions and the depth of their roots in Chinese soil. He speculates on which would last longest if foreign support were withdrawn, and arrives at the conclusion that the Catholics have built more permanently because of their farmsteads and their cattle-breeding. A century hence, when the foreigner has left China, these speculations may have more than an academic interest.
As for the personal narrative, that makes prime reading and is full of surprising things like Shansi pawnbrokers who are generous, and delightful things like the Chinese official leaving the west country who handsomely distributes his pork sausages among the hated Mahometans, persuading them that it is mutton. Part of Mrs. Lattimore’s sledge journey to meet her husband in the dead of winter has been told elsewhere and part of it is in Mr. Lattimore’s book, but we want it all in detail, and now that the indomitable pair are out again in Manchuria and Mongolia pursuing their unique trade, there is hope of still another book of high adventure, gorgeous Chinese profanity, and keenly observed native life in the villages and on the bitter road.