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with the fair prospect of wealth, prompted a ready compliance; and recommending themselves to the Divine protection, they set out towards the farthest corners of the east; and after a journey of twelve months reached the imperial residence of Kublai. They were received most graciously by the Grand Khan, who was very inquisitive into the state of affairs in the western world, and so well satisfied with their answers, that he determined to send them back in safety to Italy, accompanied by one of his own officers, as his ambassador to the see of Rome, professedly with the view of preyailing on the Pope to supply him with preachers of the gospel
, who might communicate religious instruction to the unenlightened people of his dominions; though Mr. Marsden supposes that poli
; tical considerations might have been the predominant object. Their Tartar companion soon fell sick, and was left behind. But the imperial tablet was a safe passport; and at the expiration of three years they reached Giazza, or Ayas, in Lesser Armenia, and arrived at Acre in 1269.
Here they learned that Pope Clement IV. had died in the preceding year, and the legate on the spot advised them to take no further steps in the business of their embassy until the election of a new pope. They therefore made the best of their way to Venice, where Nicolo Polo found that his wife, whom he had left with child, was dead, after producing a son to whom she had given the name of Marco, out of respect for the memory of her husband's eldest brother, and who was now in his fifteenth or sixteenth year.
Such,' says Mr. Marsden,' were the circumstances under which the author of the “ Travels” first makes his appearance.'
Two years baving passed away without any election, in consequence of the factions that prevailed in the sacred college, the Venetian travellers resolved to return secretly to the legate in Palestine, and young Marco accompanied then. By his Eminence they were furnished with letters to the Tartar emperor; but just as they were on the eve of departure, advice was received at Acre of the choice of the cardinals having fallen upon the legate himself, M. Tebaldo di Piacenza, who assumed the name of Gregory X. Our travellers were now supplied with letters-papal in a more ample and dignified form, and dispatched with the Apostolic benediction, together with two friars of the order of Preachers, who were to be the bearers of the new pope's presents. On reaching Armenia, which they found in the hands of a foreign enemy, the two friars were so terrified by the
apparent danger, that they declined proceeding farther, and resigning to the Polos the care of the presents from the Pope, returned to Acre.
Mr. Marsden traces without difficulty the route of our travellers into the country of Badakshan, where they remained twelve months,
on account perhaps of Marco's illness, which, he tells us, was cured by removing his residence from the valley to the summit of an adjoining hill. They crossed the great ranges of mountains nanied in our maps Belut-tag and Muz-tag, and acquired a knowledge of Kashmir and other countries on the borders of India. They ascended the elevated and wild regions of Pamer and Belór, on their way to the city of Kashghar, belonging to the Grand Khan, and the usual resort of the caravans. From this place they proceeded to Khoten, and traversed the dreary desert of Lop or Kobi, in a tedious journey of thirty days, passed Tangut and Sifan, and came to Kan-cheu on the western extremity of the Chinese province of Shen-si. Remaining here for some time, to give notice, as usual, to the Grand Khan of their arrival, he commanded that they should be immediately forwarded to his presence, at his expense, and with the attentions usually shewn to foreign ambassadors.
Their reception was highly gratifying; the emperor commended their zeal, accepted the presents of the pope, and received with all due reverence a vessel of the holy oil from the sepulchre of our Lord, that had been brought from Jerusalem at his own desire, and which he concluded, from the value set upon it by Christians, possessed extraordinary properties. Observing young Marco, and learning that he was the son of Nicolo, he honoured him with his particular notice, took him under his protection, and gave him an appointment in his household. It is impossible,'Mr. Marsden observes, 'for those who have read the account of Lord Macartney's embassy not to be struck with the resemblance between this scene and that which passed at Gehol in 1793, when Sir George Staunton presented his son, the present Sir George Thomas Staunton, to the venerable Kien-Long:
Young Marco soon became distinguished for his talents, and respected by the court. He adopted the manners of the country, and acquired a competent knowledge of the four languages most in use.
He was employed by his sovereign in services of great importance in various parts of China, and even at the distance of six months' journey; he made notes of what he observed, for the information of the Grand Khan; and it is to these notes, uns doubtedly, that we are indebted for the substance of that account of bis travels which, after his return, he was induced to give to the world. Distinguished as he unquestionably was by marks of the royal favour, one instance of it only is recorded by him, and that incidentally and with great modesty. A newly appointed Fuyuen, or governor, of Yang-cheu-foo, in the province of Kiang-nan, being unable to proceed to his charge, our youøg Venetian was sent to act as his deputy, and held the office during the usual
period of three years. That his father and uncle were also para takers of the monarch's regard is evident from his subsequent unwillingness to be deprived of their services : for when seventeen years had elapsed, and the natural desire of revisiting their native land began to operate upon their minds, all their endeavours to prevail on the emperor to consent to their return were ineffectual, and even drew from him some expressions of reproach. • If the motive of their projected journey,' he concluded with saying,' was the pursuit of gain, he was ready to gratify them to the utmost extent of their wishes; but with the subject of their request he could not comply.'
It was their good fortune, however, to be relieved from this state of impatience and disappointment in a manner wholly unexpected. An embassy arrived at the court of Kublai from a Mogul-Tartar prince named Arghun, (the grand-nephew of the emperor,) who ruled in Persia. Having lost his wife, he sent to the head of his family to solicit from him another wife of his own lineage. The request was readily granted, and a princess was selected from amongst the emperor's grandchildren, who had attained her seventeenth year.
The ambassadors set out with the betrothed queen on their return to Persia; but finding their route obstructed by the disturbed state of the country, after some months they returned to the capital of China. Whilst they were in this embarrassed situation, Marco Polo arrived from a voyage which he had made to some of the East India islands; a communication took place between the Persians and the Venetians, and both parties being anxious to effect their return to their own country, it was arranged between them that the former should represent to the Grand Khan the expediency of availing themselves of the experience of the Christians in maritime affairs, to convey their precious charge by sea to the gulph of Persia. The emperor assented, and fourteen ships, each having four masts, were equipped and prorisioned for two years. On their departure from his court, Kublai expressed his kind regard for the Polo family, and extorting from them a promise that, after having visited their friends, they would return to his service, he loaded them with presents of jewels and other valuable gifts. They took their route by Hainan, the coast of Cochinchina, Malacca, across the bay of Bengal, and by Ceylon, the celebrated peak on which is particularly noticed, as is also the pearl fishery. They sailed along the western coast of India, and finally, after eighteen months, reached Ormuz in the Persian gulph; having lost six hundred of the inarines and two of the Persian noblemen on the passage. Whether this fleet ever found its way back is very doubtful; and its fate was proþably less interesting at the court of Pekin, on account of the death
of the venerable Emperor Kublai, which took place in the beginning of the year 1294.
On the arrival of the expedition in Persia, information was received by our travellers that the Mogul king Arghun had died some time before; that the country was governed by a regent who was suspected to have views on the sovereignty; and that Ghazan, the son of Arghun, was on the frontier with a large army, waiting for a favourable opportunity of asserting his right to the throne : to this prince they were directed to deliver their royal charge. Of her reception and subsequent fortunes,' says Mr. Marsden,' we know nothing; but as Ghazan distinguished himself so much by his virtues as to make the world forget the defects of his person, (he was very diininutive,) we may presume that she was treated with the respect and kindness that belong to the character of a brave man.'
Having thus accomplished the object of their mission, the Venetians repaired to the court of the regent, at Tauris, where they remained nine months reposing themselves from the fatigues of their long and perilous travels, and probably, as Mr. Marsden observes, realizing or investing more conveniently some part of that vast property which they had brought with them from China. Having procured the necessary passports, they proceeded on their journey homewards, passing Trebizond on the coast of the Euxine; ' from whence, by the way of Constantinople and of Negropont, or Eubea, they finally, by the blessing of God, (as they piously acknowledged,), in the full possession of health and riches, arrived safely in their na-, tive city of Venice. This consummation of their memorable labours took place in 1295, (a date in which all the copies agree,) after an absence of twenty-four years.'
Up to this period (continues Mr. Marsden) our narrative of the adventures of the Polo family has been framed from the materials, however scanty, which Marco himself had directly or indirectly furnished. For what is to follow, we must principally rely upon the traditionary stories prevalent amongst his fellow citizens, and collected by his industrious editor Ramusio, who wrote nearly two centuries and a half after his time. Upon their first arrival, he says, they experienced the reception that attended Ulysses when he returned to Ithaca. They
Per ours of their death had been current and were confidently believed.
not recognised even by their nearest relations; and especially as By the length of time they had been absent, the fatigues they had undergone in journies of such extent, and the anxieties of mind they had suffered, their appearance was quite changed, and they seemed to have acquired something of the Tartar both in countenance and speech, their native language being mixed with foreign idioms and barbarous terms. In their garments also, which were mean and of coarse texture, there was nothing that resembled those of Italians. The situation of their family dwelling house, a handsome and lofty palace, was in the street of
S. Giovanni Chrisostomo, and still existed in the days of Ramusio, when, for a reason that will hereafter appear, it went by the appellation of “la corte del Millioni.” Of this house possession had been taken by some persons of their kindred, and when our travellers demanded admittance, it was with much difficulty that they could obtain it by making the occupiers comprehend who they were, or persuading them that persons so changed and disfigured by their dress, could really be those members of the house of Polo who for so many years had been numbered with the dead. In order therefore to render themselves generally known to their connexions, and at the same time to impress the whole city of Venice with an adequate idea of their importance, they devised a singular expedient, the circumstances of which, Ramusio says, had been repeatedly told to him when a youth, by his friend M. Gasparo Malipiero, an elderly senator of unimpeachable veracity, whose house stood near that of the Polo family, and who had himself heard them from his father and his grandfather, as well as from other ancient persons of that neighbourhood.
With these objects in view, they caused a magnificent entertainment to be prepared, in their own house, to which their numerous relatives were invited. When the hour of assembling at table was arrived, the three travellers came forth from an inner apartment, clothed in long robes of crimson satin reaching to the floor; such as it was customary to wear upon occasions of ceremony on those days. When water had been carried round for washing hands and the guests desired to take their places, they stripped themselves of these vestments, and putting on similar dresses of crimson damask, the former were taken to pieces and divided amongst the attendants. Again when the first course of victuals had been removed, they put on robes of crimson velvet, and seated themselves at table, when the preceding dresses were in like manner distributed; and at the conclusion of the feast, those of velvet were disposed of in the same way, and the hosts then appeared in plain suits resembling such as were worn by the rest of the company. All were astonished at what they saw, and curious to know what was to follow this scene.
As soon, however, as the cloth was removed and the domestics had been ordered to withdraw, Marco Polo, as being the youngest, rose from table, went into an adjoining room, and presently returned with the three coarse, thread-bare garments in which they had first made their appearance at the house. With the assistance of knives they proceeded to rip the seams and to strip off the linings and patches with which these rags were doubled, and by, this operation brought to view a large quantity of most costly jewels, such as rubies, sapphires, carbuncles, diamonds, and emeralds, which had been sewn into them, and with so much art and contrivance, as not to be at all liable to the suspicion of containing such treasures. At the time of their takir, their departure from the court of the Grand Khan, all the riches that his bounty had bestowed upon them were by them converted into the most valuable precious stones, for the facility of conveyance; being well aware that in a journey of extraordinary length and difficulty, it would have been impossible to transport a sum of that magnitude, in