Abbildungen der Seite

assistance, they will do nothing for him. They gave us of their cows' milk to drink after their butter was churned out of it, which was very sour, which they call Apram ; so we departed from them; and indeed it seemed to me that we were escaped out of the hands of devils. The next day we were introduced to their captain. From the time wherein wc departed from Soldai till we arrived at the court of Sartach, which was the space of two months, we never lay in house or tent, but always under the canopy of heaven, and in the open air, or under our carts; neither saw we any village, or heard of any building where any village had been; but the graves of the Comanians we saw in great abundance.

We met the day following with the carts of Zagatai, laden with houses, and I really thought that a great city came to meet me. I wondered at the multitudes of droves of oxen and of horses, and droves of sheep; I could see but few men that guided all these, upon which I inquired how many men he bad under him, and they told me that he had not above five hundred in all, and that one-half of this number never lay in another lodging. Then the servant, which was our guide, told me that I must present somewhat to Zagatai, and so he caused us to stay, going themselves before to give notice of our coming. By this time it was past three, and they unladed their houses near a river, and there came unto us his interpreter, who, being informed by us that we were never there before, demanded some of our victuals, and we granted his request. He also required of us some garment as a reward, because he was to interpret our message to his master. We excused ourselves as well as we could. Then he asked us what we would prefer to his lord, and we took a flaggon of wine, and filled a basket with biscuit, and a salver with apples and other fruits; but he was not contented therewith, because we brought him not some rich garment.

We were however admitted into his presence with fear and bashfulness. He sat on his bed, holding a musical instrument in his hand, and his wife sat by him, who, in my opinion, had cut and pared her nose between the eyes that she might seem to be more flat-nosed; for she had left herself no nose at all in that place, having anointed the very scar with black ointment, as she also did her eyebrows, which sight seemed to us most ugly. Then I repeated to him the same words which I had done in other places; for we were directed in this circumstance by some that had been amongst the Tartars, that we should never vary in our tale. I besought him that he would accept this small gift at our hands, excusing myself that I was a monk, and that it was against our profession to possess gold, silver, or precious garments, and therefore that I had not any such thing to give him, unless he would receive some part of our victuals instead of a blessing. He caused thereupon our present to be received, and immediately distributed the same amongst his men, who were met together for that purpose, to drink and make merry. I delivered also to him the Emperor of Constantinople's letters, eight days after the feast of Ascension, and he sent them to Soldai to have them interpreted there ; for they were written in Greek, and he had none about him that was skilled in the Greek tongue.

He asked us if we could drink any Cosmos—that is to say, mare's milk, for those that are Christians among them, as the Russians, Grecians, and Alans, who keep their own laws very strictly, will not drink thereof, for they account themselves no Christians after they have once drank of it; and their priests reconcile them to the church, as if they

[ocr errors]

had renounced the Christian faith. I answered, that as yet we had sufficient of our own to drink, and that when it failed us we should be constrained to drink such as should be given us. He inquired also what was contained in the letters your majesty sent to Sartach. I answered they were sealed up, and nothing contained in them but friendly words. And he asked what words we would deliver unto Sartach. I answered the words of Christian Faith. He asked again what those words were, for he was very desirous to hear them. Then I expounded to him, as well as I could by my interpreter, who was a very sorry one, the Apostle's Creed, which after he had heard he shook his head.

Here endeth (as far as our pages are concerned) good William de Rubruquis; and here beginneth the good Signor Jeweller and noble Venetian, Messer Marco Polo.



HARRIS suffered his pen to slip in his table of contents when he described Marco Polo travelling in the middle of the twelfth century. That was the date of the father and uncle of Marco, who went into China and Tartary before him. Marco, however, includes the history of their travels in his own, so that Harris's date does not violate the spirit of the truth. The father and uncle, Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, had had better luck than Rubruquis. They saw not only the wild and roving Tartars, but the civilized; those who lived in great cities, not of houses on carts, but of magnificent palaces, descendants of the conquerors under Genghis Khan, lord of India, Persia, and Northern China, whose descendant Kubla (Coleridge's Kubla) was now reigning "In Cambalu, seat of Cathaian Khan."


Milton had seen him before Coleridge, in the pages of Marco Polo. The

great poet had also seen the Tartars of William de Rubruquis, and the subsequent Chinese improvements on their carts:

“As when a vulture on Imans bred,
Whose snowy ridge the roving Tartar bounds,
Dislodging from a region scarce of prey
To gorge tho flesh of lambs or yeanling kids
On hills where flocks are fed, flies tow'rds the springs
Of Ganges or Hydaspes, Indian streams,
But in his way lights on the barren plains
Of Sericana, where Chineses drive
With sails and wind their cany waggons light;
So on this windy sea of land the Fiend
Walk'd up and down alone, bent on his prey."

ID., Book III.

The reader will also find Milton presently with Marco Polo in the desert. He was fond of the East and South, from Tartary down to Morocco, from the red and white complexions of the conical-hatted sons of Ilologou down to the

* Dusk faces with white silken turbans wreath'd."

But what poet is not? Chaucer got his Squire's Tale, nobody knows how, from

“ Sarra, in the land of Tartary."

Other old English poets confounded, or chose to confound,

[blocks in formation]

with those of Tartarus ; at least, one word with the other. They thought both the places so grim and remote, as to deserve to have the same appellation

Niccolo and Maffeo Polo went into the East to trade in jewels. They entered the service of Kubla, assisted him in his wars with their knowledge of engineering, and became agents for religious affairs between the Pope and their master, who (with a liberality which is apt to be more honourable to the person who is willing to hear, than to the zealots who assume that they are qualified to teach him) was desirous to understand what a people so clever in the affairs of this world had to tell him respecting the world unknown. On their return to the Khan (which terminated in nothing to that end), they brought with them the younger Polo Marco, who also entered the Khan's service,

and who subsequently became the most enterprising traveller of all three, and the relater of their adventures. He told the history to a friend, who took it from his mouth; and hence it is, that he is always spoken of in the third person.

The reader must conceive Marco in full progress for the court of the Great Khan, and about to pass over the terrible desert of Lop or Kobi, where he (or Dr. Harris) has omitted, however, what we could swear we once beheld in it, by favour of some other account; to wit, a dreadful unendurable face, that used to stare at people as they went by. Polo's account, deprived of this rich bit of horror, is comparatively tame; but still the sounds, and the invisible host of passengers, are much; and the poetic reader will trace the footsteps of Milton, who has clearly been listening, in this same desert of Lop, to the ghastly calling of people's namesto

“ Voices calling in the dead of night,

And airy tongues that syllable men's names
On sands and shores and desert wildernesses."

He has another line in the same passage about “ghastly fury's apparition,” which we cannot but think was suggested by our friend, the dreadful face.


[ocr errors]

ASCIAN is subject to the Tartars; the name of the

province and chief city is the same; it hath many cities and castles, many precious stones are found there in the rivers, especially jasper and chalcedons, which merchants carry quite to Ouaback to sell and make great gain ; from Piem to this province, and quite through it also, is a sandy soil with many bad waters and few good. When an army passes through the province, all the inhabitants thereof, with their wives, children, cattle, and all their house stuff fly two days' journey into the sands, where they know that great waters are, and stay there, and carry their corn thither, also to hide it in the sand after harvests from the like fears.

« ZurückWeiter »