Page images
PDF
EPUB

-ble, no insinuation too calumnious to be propagated against them. The deep-rooted malignity exhibited in this volume must render it disgusting to every person whose mind contains the smallest portion of candour.

Mr. Bentham's friends may perhaps offer for his present publication the excuse which he so kindly proposed for the Bishop of London; but we are inclined to think, that in giving to the world these angry effusions, he has acted only upon the principles of his own peculiar philosophy. In the Traités de Législation our author has classed under nine heads the different kinds of pleasure of which man is susceptible ; amongst these a place is given to the pleasures of malevolence. The work before us is a practical exemplification of this amiable feature in his ethical system. If any man doubted before the existence of these pleasures, if any were ignorant of their extent, and of the length to which they máy lead their votary, let him read Church-of-Englandism,' and he will be convinced that they cannot have been overrated.

It is fortunate that this book (as we have said) is not at all attractive; it is too obscure to be generally understood, and too ridiculous to be admired; and however mischievous the intention, the tendency will be very innoxious. Of its worst part, the indecent levity with which all that is sacred is treated in it, we have not spoken. These offences must be answered for at a higher tribunal; but we would seriously recommend it to the author to consider, whether the decline of life cannot be better spent than in captiously cavilling at the doctrines of religion, and in profane ridicule of its most holy rites ?

Art. IX.-1. The Travels of Marco Polo, a Venetian, in the

Thirteenth Century; being a Description by that early Traveller of remarkable places and things, in the Eastern parts of the World. Translated from the Italian, with Notes, by Wil

liam Marsden, F. R. S. &c. with a Map. London. 1818. 2. Di Marco Polo e degli alteri Viaggiatori Veneziani più illus

tri Dissertazioni del P. Ab. D. Placido Zurla. Vol. i. in Venezia. 1818. IT might have been expected,' Mr. Marsden says, " that in ages

past, a less tardy progress would have been made in doing justice to the intrinsic merits of a work (whatever were its defects as a composition) that first conveyed to Europeans a distinct idea of the empire of China, and, by shewing its situation together with that of Japan (before entirely unknown) in respect to the great Eastern ocean, which was supposed to meet and form one body of water with the Atlantic, eventually led to the important discoveries

[blocks in formation]

of

of the Spaniards and Portugueze.' At length, however, we need not scruple to assert that ample justice has been done to the character and reputation of this early oriental traveller; and that the name of Marco Polo stands completely rescued from that unmerited reproach which, in an age of ignorance, was wantonly heaped upon it, and which five centuries have not been sufficient entirely to wipe away; at least, according to Mr. Marsden, who tells us there are still those who declare their want of faith, and make the character of Marco Polo the subject of their pleasantry.”—There may be such persons ;' but we should be somewhat less tender of their cavils and scruples than Mr. Marsden, and manifest very little of that consideration which he has vouchsafed to shew them, by undertaking his translation and commentary, as he tells us, with the view of removing from such candid and reflecting minds any doubts of the honest spirit in which the original was composed.'

For ourselves we can safely say that, on every occasion where we have found it necessary to refer to Marco Polo, either for the corroboration of some fact, or to trace back the progressive geography of Asiatic countries, we never found cause to call in question the fidelity and veracity of this early traveller; on whom, perhaps not quite appropriately, Malte-Brun has not hesitated to bestow the appellation of the creator of modern oriental geography—the Humboldt of the thirteenth century'_We say, not quite appropriately, because Carpin and Rubruquis preceded him into Tartary; and he has no claim either to science or philosophy, with both of which the modern traveller is so eminently gifted. He was however a man of observation, of sound judgment, and discretion; and, like the Father of History,' whom he most resembles, always careful to separate the knowledge acquired by his own experience from that which was communicated to him by others. Mr. Marsden, we think, has succeeded in removing every unfavourable impression; and we augur confidently that, from this time, the reputation of this noble Venetian will be considered as fully established, even by those on whom the translator has bestowed the unmerited compliment of composing so elaborate a work for their conviction.

It is not a little remarkable that, while Mr. Marsden was preparing his work in England, no less than three Italian publications on the life and travels of Marco Polo were in preparation in Italy one by the Cavaliere Baldelli at Florence, another at Rome, and a third, the only one that has yet appeared, by the Abbate Placido Zurla, who had already published a short account of our traveller in a work brought out in numbers at Milan, under the name of Vite e Ritratti d'Illustri Italiani, in which was given a pretended portrait of Marco Polo, but which is proved by Mr. Marsden to be altogether fictitious.

Judging

Judging from the scanty additional materials interspersed in Zurla's work, we are not led to form any very high expectation of the other two which are to follow; few if any new lights, we fear, are likely to be produced from the hidden stores of Italy. The plan of Zurla is radically defective; he has not only analyzed but absolutely anatomized his author----cut and hacked him into fragments, and mixed them up with so many extraneous scraps of his own, that even if Marco Polo himself were to rise from the dead he could not possibly recognise his own work-in short, it is no longer the travels of Marco Polo, but a collection of dissertations on the geography, natural history, customs, &c. of Eastern Tartarý and China, preceded by a biographical notice of the author and his family.

Mr. Marsden has adopted a very different, and, in our opinion, a much more judicious plan in the conduct of his work': by preserving the author's narrative entire, he has exhibited Marco Polo in his true shape and proportion, unchanged in all respects, except that of his English dress. We were indeed persuaded, before we opened the volume, that no one was so well qualified to do justice to the merits of the illustrious traveller, as the learned and accurate historian of Sumatra. His residence on that island, which is largely spoken of by Marco Polo under the name of Java Minor, first gave him, he says, occasion to examine the narrative relating to it; and it has since,' he adds, been my unceasing wish that the elucidation of its obscurities should engage the attention of some person competent to the task of preparing a new edition from the best existing materials, and of illustrating it with notes calculated to bring the matter of the text into comparison with the information contained in subsequent accounts of travels and other well authenticated writings. This task, fortunately for the literary world, he has himself undertaken, and accomplished with that success which was to be expected from so able a writer. Gifted as he is with an extensive knowledge of the customs, character and languages of most of the nations of the east ; acquainted, from long residence, with most of their productions; possessing a library well stored with oriental literature; and having ready access to the best collections that Great Britain affords;-with such advantages, superadded to a well regulated mind, and a sound and discriminating judgment, we had a right to anticipate a work of no ordinary merit, and we have not been disappointed. The Translation is as close as the idiom of the Italian and English languages would admit, without being obscure; and the “ Notes' will be found to contain a vast mass of information, partly derived from personal knowledge, and partly from the best authors who have written on the various subjects which are brought under view.

In the choice of a text for his translation, Mr. Marsden was led to give the preference to the Italian version of Ramusio, who, indeed, of all compilers, may be considered as the most accurate. In the English language we had few editions of the work, and none that could be read with satisfaction. The first, by Johu Franpton, was printed by Ralph Newberry in 1579. Of this very rare book, entitled . The most noble and famous Travels of Marcus Paulus, no less pleasant than profitable, &c.' Mr. Marsden observes, the style is remarkably rude, and the orthography of foreign names incorrect; but with regard to the matter of the text, it is by no means defective.' A second English version may be found in the Pilgrimes' of Samuel Purchas, in which, as usual, this industrious collector has taken great liberties with the text, and committed great mistakes. Yet this version, as Mr. Marsden observes, has served as the basis of that given by Dr. Campbell, in his edition of the collection of voyages and travels, first published by Harris in 1704; for the use of which work, he tells us, the language was modernized and polished, without any reference to the Italian or the Latin for correction; so that all the faults, excepting those of style, were suffered to remain, whilst some mistakes imputable to the modernizer have been superadded: such, for instance, as that in which it is said of a certain causeway in China, that on both sides are great fences,' instead of great fennes (fens), as it stands in Purchas; the word being puludein the Italian. Under these circumstances it will be readily conceded to Mr. Marsden that ' a new translation of Marco Polo's travels was wanting to the literature of our own country.'

The Notes' however are the most important part of the volume; and the plan of placing them at the end of each section, from which they are respectively referred to by figures in a consecutive series, beginning with No. ), and continued to No. 1495, is perhaps the most convenient for the reader that could have been adopted. Many are of considerable length, and each of them illustrates some point in the text. Of the 781 pages of which the volume consists, the notes occupy, we should suppose, not less than twothirds.

With such a variety of matter before us, it would be idle to attempt any thing like an abstract, however abbreviated; and unfair to select any particular note as a specimen of the whole. We shall therefore confine ourselves, principally, to a brief sketch of the lise and travels of this illustrious Venetian. A great part of the matter is furnished by the traveller himself; the rest is chiefly taken from Ramusio. We had hoped that the Abbate Zurla, his countryman, might have been able to supply some additional information from the several manuscript collections of ancient records

which are known to exist in the libraries of Italy, but this is not the case; and we fear, as we have already observed, that all the materials of any importance which relate to the Polo family are already before the public. The only advantage which this writer seems to have over Mr. Marsden is that of having apparently seen the manuscript chronicle of Frà Jacopo de Aqui, belonging to the Ambrosian library in Milan, which contains some account of the life of Marco Polo, but of which Mr. Marsden had no other knowledge than what is conveyed in a note of Amoretti, in his account of the voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific by Cap. L. F. Maldonado, which note in fact contains all, or nearly all, that is mentioned by Zurla, personally relating to our traveller.

Andrea Polo de S. Felice, a patrician or nobleman of Venice, had three sons, Marco, Maffeo, and Nicolo, the last of whom was the father of our author. Being merchants of that wealthy and proud city, they embarked together on a trading voyage to Constantinople, where, as Mr. Marsden has shewn, they must have arrived in 1254 or 1255. Having disposed of their Italian merchandize, and learned that the western Tartars, after devastating many provinces of Asia and of Europe, had settled in the vicinity of the Wolga, built cities, and assumed the forms of a regular government, they made purchases of ornamental jewels, crossed the Euxine to a port in the Crimea, and, travelling from thence by land and water, reached at length the camp of Barkah, the brother or the son of Batu, grandson of the renowned Gengiskhan, whose places of residence were Sarai and Bolghar, well known to the geographers of the middle ages. This prince is highly praised by oriental writers for his urbanity and liberal disposition, and the traditional fame of his virtues is said still to exist in that quarter. The confidence which the Italiaus wisely shewed, by placing their valuable commodities in his hands, was repaid with princely munificence. They reniained with him a whole year, when hostilities breaking out between their protector and his cousin Hulagu, the chief of another horde of Tartars, Barkah sustained a defeat, which compelled the European travellers to seek their safety in a circuitous route round the head of the Caspian, and through the deserts of Transoxiana, till they arrived at the great city of Bokhara.

It happened, during their residence here, that a Tartar nobleman, sent by Hulagu to his brother Kublai, made that city his halting-place. From motives of curiosity, he desired an interview with the Italians, with whose conversation he was so much pleased, that he invited them to the Emperor's court, with an assurance of their meeting a favourable reception, and an ample recompense for the trouble of their journey. The difficulties of their return homewards, on the one hand, and the spirit of enterprize, on the other,

with

M 3

« PreviousContinue »