From the time when Marco Polo, the great Venetian traveller, wrote his half-mythical account of Madagascar to this year of grace 1895, in which we scan our daily paper to see how France is faring in her endeavour to persuade the Hova Government to accept a French protectorate, is a far cry. Six centuries lie between these two points.
The Madagascar of Marco Polo was a terra incognita, known only by vague rumour. The Madagascar of to-day is an island well known to many Europeans, and has been carefully studied and explored, especially by Frenchmen. Witness, for example, the magnificent work of M. Grandidier, which is likely to fill a score or so of folio volumes, and is a marvel of full and exact knowledge of almost everything relating to the island.
Madagascar seems likely to hold a large place in the thoughts of the British public during the coming years; and the aim of this modest volume is to set forth in brief the main facts as to the country and its people and history, and so enable the reader to form a sound opinion as to the present situation, and to read with intelligence the news that will probably be reaching us from month to month.
When on my return to England a few months ago I was asked to write a book on Madagascar, my answer was that there seemed to be too many already. I am assured, however, by those who know, that a small book, giving in concise form such information as is needed by ordinary intelligent readers to enable them better to understand how the present crisis has arisen, and what is the actual condition of the country, will be welcomed by many. I have therefore done my best to supply this desideratum. The book has been written currente calamo but the information it contains will, I believe, be found reliable. It is but an outline, and those who desire fuller information may find it in abundance in the works of Ellis, Sibree, Oliver, Grandidier, or in the seventeen published numbers of the Antananarivo Annual.
At the risk of being considered egotistic, I have occasionally preferred to use the first personal pronoun, as I think, when narrating events that have fallen under my personal observation, my doing so adds life and interest to the story.
W. E. Cousins.