Geographical Sketch. -- The Peninsula of Korea (between 33° 12' and 43° 02' of N. lat., and 124° 18' and 130° 54' of long. E. of Greenwich) is bounded on the N. by Manchuria and the Russian-Asiatic maritime province of Primorskaya (upon which it abuts for 11 M. inward from the Japan Sea); on the E. by the Japan Sea; on the S. by the Eastern Sea (Tung-hai) and the Korea Channel, and on the W. by the Yellow Sea (Hwang-hai). Its northernmost part is delimmed by the Tumen (which flows into the Japan Sea at the E.) and the Yalu River (which empties into the Yellow Sea), and between them by the Shan Yan ('Ever-White') Mts. -- the source of both streams. Its total length (from N. to S.) is about 600 M.; its coast-line is 1700 (5000 including the islands). Its widest part (between the mouths of the Tumen and Yalu) is 350 M.; its narrowest (in the vicinity of Seoul) about 120 M. The total area (much smaller than formerly) is estimated at 85,000 sq. M. (practically that of Utah, Kansas, or the British Isles). About one tenth is under cultivation. It is more than half as large as all Japan, including Formosa, the 14 million or more inhabitants being augmented by 300,000 Japanese (rapidly increasing in numbers), 14,000 Chinese, 500 Americans, 200 English, and 200 of other nationalities. In general shape and relative position to the continent of Asia, Korea resembles Florida, but is unlike it in that it is a land of rugged mts. Those at the N. are densely wooded, but the S. is so bare and drear that the Japanese often refer to the entire peninsula as 'the land of treeless mts.'
The sinuous ridge of lofty, towering peaks starts up like a great buttressed wall at the N. boundary, as if striving to hold back tho flowing Siberian steppes. Its trend S. is from the celebrated Paik-tu San (White-head Peak; 7800 ft.) -- the monarch of the Ever-White Range -- and passing through the center of the N.E. province of Ham Gyong it reaches the E. coast at about the 40th parallel of latitude. Thence it extends in a continuous line to the extreme S., here and there on its way throwing out lateral spurs that wind toward the W. coast. Among the arms of this great axial range, nearly midway between the extreme N. and S., rises the (5856 ft.) Diamond Mountain (Keum-Kang San), so called for a fancied resemblance of its (greatly exaggerated) 'Twelve Thousand Serrated Peaks' to rough diamonds. Perched high among them stand the great historic Buddhist monasteries of Korea, celebrated alike for their antiquity and the grandeur of their environment. According to the natives this range winds in and out 99 times in its progress down the peninsula, and in addition to this maze there is a complicated pass called 'Pass of the Ninety-nine Turns.' The E. section of this rugged spine which divides the country into two parts is merely a narrow strip, fertile but comparatively inaccessible, sloping sharply to the Sea of Japan; the W. section comprises the main body of the inhabited Korean territory -- well watered, poorly cultivated but phenomenally rich and admirably suited for agriculture. Craters of long extinct volcanoes, of time-eroded lava streams and other signs of volcanic action are constantly met with, and they as constantly remind old travelers of the Transvaal and Kimberly regions, with all their suggestive possibilities. That the mts. are streaked with gold is shown by the mineral output; it remains for some skilled prospector to find the diamonds, and thus confirm the name unwittingly give by the Koreans to the peaks. History records that during the terrible days of the Middle Ages, when the country was ruled by cruel and half-demented emperors, the peasants were forced to flee for their lives to the mts., and once there, to burn the trees thereon to keep from freezing. Each year sees more and more of the denuded slopes covered with young trees, and the Forestry Bureau of the Imperial Japanese Gov't. is untiring in its efforts to make physical Korea match its almost perfect climate.
Korea's nearest over-sea neighbor on the S. is Japan, from which it is separated by 122 M. of island-dotted strait. Mid-way, between the Tsushima Chanel of Japan and the Korea Channel of Korea, is the celebrated Tsushima ('Twin-Island') the sentinel of the S. entrance to the Sea of Japan, and Nippon's naval base during her titanic struggle with the Muscovites. Not far to the E., the Russian Armada of 38 modern fighting ships under Admiral Rodzhdestvensky were 'by the grace of Heaven and the help of the gods' annihilated by Togo's fleet during the battle of the Sea of Japan, March 27-28, 1905. Between Tsushima and the Korean promontories of the S. coast is one of the most remarkable archipelagos of the world, unknown to Europe until Captains Maxwell and Basil hall, in the Alceste and the Lyra, navigated it in 1816; here 200 or more islets of many shapes and sizes, from bold masses of wild and arid rock a thousand or more ft. high, to low, cultivated islands barey awash at high tide, dot the sea, shelter a myriad sea-fowl, and form a shoal that completely screens the mainland from approaching ships. Some are thickly wooded; others bare and of forbidding aspect. Those that are submerged by the spring tides help to render the coast one of the most dangerous known to navigators. Sponges, pearls, beautiful coral-beds, and a host of bizarre marine creatures dwell in the waters roundabout them. The largest, most important, and the most fertile of the islands (sometime noted for its fine pearls) is Chyoi-ju or Quelpart (40 M. long by 17 broad), distant 60 m. from the S.W. corner of the peninsula; with a population of 100,000, chiefly fishermen, and an infamous reputation for shipwrecks. It is an elliptical, rock-bound island almost covered with conical mts. (many of them extinct craters) culminating in the lofty Hal-la San or Mt. Auckland (6588 ft.), on the top of which are triple extinct craters each holding a lake in its burned-out cone. Cultivation rises to the 2000 ft. level. The towns are of no special interest to foreigners.
Travelers know this region as one of the most beautiful of the world, particularly during certain seasons. A sail through the cluster on a fine summer day, when atmospheric conditions are propitious for the formation of the wonderful
Inferir Mirages for which the locality is celebrated, is an experience one does not forget. Then the whole Korean world looks ghostly, and the islands loom upside down in a way that amazes the beholders. At times the sea is almost rippleless; at others tremendous tides scour through the channels, and dense fog-banks add to the treachery of the tides. The Korean port of Yusan -- the landing-place for many travelers from Japan -- faces Tsushima (which belongs to Japan), and from this point round the E. coast of the mainland (where there are no islands), the rise and fall of the tides is 1 to 2 ft. In singular contrast are the conditions on the W. coast; at Chemulpo the stream rushes in with startling rapidity and violence to a depth of 37 ft. The tidal range is greater in summer and autumn than in winter and spring. A winding channel leads up the bay, and unless big ships moor head and stern in the constantly altering fairway, they will be left sticking in the black mud when the tide swirls out. The flat-bottomed native junks are fashioned to meet this contingency, and one may often see a dozen or more resting on the black mud of the harbor bottom, looking like fat geese or beaches scows. The tidal stream is so strong that it runs for 56 M. up the Han River, to the rapid near Ma-pu. There are several fine harbors and sheltered ports on this deeply indented coast. The richest section of the peninsula flanks the Han River from its mouth to its source in the Keum-kang San. Much of the soil is rich alluvium, from 5 to 10 ft. deep, capable of bearing two bumper crops a year with little or no enriching. Few of the hills are terraced as in Japan. Many wild flowers deck them after the rains, and fine purple thistles grow in profusion. -- Outside the capital, which is practically the only city worth seeing, there are few places of importance. The small towns are mere clusters of hovels with narrow, dirty streets, and a preponderance of listless men and frowsy women. Abominable stenches abound, and open drains are common. The most important of the posts are mentioned in their proper places in the Guidebook.
The merciful hand of Providence has bestowed on the Koreans a magnificent land abounding in resources of all kinds -- one where none ought to be poor, and where misery ought to be unknown -- a land whose products and riches of many kinds are abundant, and as varied as they are rich. With a superb climate, an abundant rainfall, a productive soil, and a hardy people; with mts. sprinkled with gold, coal, iron, silver, copper, and lead; with an extensive coast-line laved by a sea teeming with fine fish from whales to sardines, and dotted with islands noted for their pearls, Korea has lacked only a good gov't to make it one of the most opulent countries of the gorgeous East. Earthquakes are unknown; typhoons are rare; its wonderful climate makes of the country a sort of open-air sanatorium, and its bright, beautiful, strangely calm and perfect mornings -- clear as the tones of a chapel bell, and musical with the call of many birds -- fill the spirit with the electric joy of youth, and with a tranquillity all too rare in this work-a-day world. It is fast becoming a health resort for the steamed colonials of the China and India littoral, and in the summer the attractive hotel at Seoul is full to overflowing with limp and enervated Europeans from the torrid south.