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gold. The display of wealth, so incalculable in its amount, which then lay exposed on the table before them, appeared something miraculous, and filled the minds of all who were spectators of it with such wonder, that for a time they remained motionless; but upon recovering from their ecstacy, they felt entirely convinced that these were in truth the honourable and valiant gentlemen of the house of Polo, of which at first they had entertained doubts, and they accordingly exhibited every mark of profound respect for their hosts.'-pp. xvi-xviii.
Well vouched as this anecdote is, and, in our opinion at least, perfectly accordant with the spirit of the age, Mr. Marsden is incredulous of it, because (as he says) it betrays a mixture of vanity and folly quite inconsistent with the character of grave and prudent men, which in the preceding part of their lives they appear to have uniformly sustained ; and he is therefore disposed to attribute the story to the fertile invention of their contemporaries, or to the succeeding generation, who seem to have regarded the travellers in no other light than as heroes of romance, and not unfrequently made them the subject of ridicule. Of this the reader must judge for himself;—but Ramusio proceeds to state, that no sooner was the report of what had taken place spread about the city of Venice, than numbers of all ranks, from the nobles down to the mechanics, hastened to the dwelling of the travellers, to testify their frievdship and good will. Maffeo was honoured with a high office in the magistracy. To Marco, the young men resorted to enjoy the pleasure of his conversation; and as all he told them concerning the imperial revenues, the wealth and the population of China, was necessarily expressed in millions, he acquired amongst them the surname of Messer Marco Millioni. Ramusio adds that he has seen him mentioned by this name in the records of Venice, and that the house in which he lived (even down to the time he wrote) was commonly termed, 'la corte del Millioni.' Sansovino, however, in his. Venetia Descritta,' attributes the popular appellation to the immense riches possessed by the Polo family at the period of their return. The Ambrosian manuscript of Jacopo de Aqui does the same; aud Apostolo Zeno, on the authority of M. Barboro, corroborates the prevailing opinion.*
Not many months after their arrival in Venice, according to Ramusio, but according to others two years after this event, intelligence was received that a Genoese fleet, commanded by Lampa Doria, had made its appearance off the island of Curzula, on the coast of Dalmatia ; in consequence
of which a Venetian fleet put to sea under the orders of Andrea Dandolo. Marco Polo, being considered as an experienced sea-officer, was appointed to the command of one of
* Di Marco Polo e degli altri Viaggiatori Veneziani più illustri Dissertazioni de P. Ab. D. Placido Zurla.---p. 67.
the gallies. The Venetians were defeated with great loss; Dandolo was taken prisoner, and Marco Polo, who belonged to the advanced division, in bravely pushing forward to the attack, was wounded and compelled to surrender. He was conveyed to a prison in Genoa, where he was visited by the principal inhabitants, who did all they could to soften the rigour of his captivity. His rare adventures were here, as well as in his own country, the subject of general curiosity. It may readily be supposed that the frequent necessity he was under of repeating the same story would become irksome, and,
fortunately,' says Mr. Marsden, for the promotion of geographical science to which it gave the first impulse, he was at length induced to follow the advice of those who recommended his committing it to writing. With this view, he procured from Venice the original notes which he had made in the course of his travels, and which had been left in the hands of his father. Assisted by these documents and by his verbal communications, the narrative is said to have been drawn up in the prison by a person named Rustighello, or Rusticello, a Genoese, according to Ramusio, who was in the daily habit of passing many hours with him in his place of confinement; or, as others suppose, a native of Pisa and his fellow prisoner.
A strong difference of opinion has existed among the editors of this extraordinary narrative, as to the language in which it was originally composed; but Mr. Marsden thinks that the preponderance of authority and argument is in favour of its having been a provincial, probably the Venetian, dialect of Italian ; and the reasons which he brings forward in support of this opinion are certainly not lightly to be passed over. Ramusio, however, from whom almost all the particulars of the life of our traveller are collected, and who, from his general accuracy, is himself a host, asserts that it was first written in Latin, by Rusticello, in which language, even so late as his own time, the people of Genoa were accustomed to record their ordinary transactions. He adds, that a translation of it was afterwards made into the common Italian, or lingua colgare,' with transcripts of which all Italy was soon filled; and that from this it was re-translated into Latin, in the year 1320, by Francisco Pipino of Bologna, who, as he supposes, was unable to procure a copy of the original. But where, it may be asked, if all Italy was filled with copies, could be the difficulty of procuring one in Bologna? Ramusio accounts for Marco Polo not dictating his narrative in the vulgar tongue by observing that, in the course of twenty-four years absence, the Polos had forgotten their native speech, and presented
un non so che di Tartaro nel volto e vel parlare, avendosi questi dimenticata la lingua Veneziana.' But the same argument would apply with equal force to the Latin language, the disuse of which
for the same period (for they could not have had any occasion for it in China) was full as likely to estrange it from their memory, as their native language. The question indeed is not of paramount importance; but Mr. Marsden's arguments for an Italian original appear to us to overturn all the assertions in favour of a Latin prototype.- (Introd. p. xxxii.)
The imprisonment of Marco was the occasion of much affliction to his father and uncle, as it had been their wish that he should form a suitable matrimonial alliance, on their return to Venice. All attempts to procure his liberation by offers of money failed, and they had no means of conjecturing even the duration of his captivity. Under these circumstances, tinding themselves cut off from the prospect of heirs to their vast wealth, it was agreed that Nicolo, although an old man, should take to himself a second wife.
Marco, however, after a captivity of four years, was released from
in bis days, under the portico in front of the church of St. Lorenzo, on the right hand side in entering; as to himself, his countrymen have been most unaccountably silent. His will is said to be dated in the year 1323, from which, without pretending to much accuracy, Mr. Marsden conjectures our celebrated traveller to have reached somewhere about the age of seventy years.
It would be extraordinary indeed if, considering all the circumstances under which the travels of Marco Polo were written, many faults, both of commission and omission, were not to be found in them. The greater part have been selected by Mr. Marsden for elucidation in his notes, and for vindicating the character of his author, in both of which he has been eminently successful. Of the former class of imputed faults, the most conspicuous are,-1. The relation of miracles pretended to have been performed on various
In forming a conclusion on this point, the Italian manuscript' preserved in the collection of the noble family of Sorenzo' is hardly to be considered as of any assistance. It seems indeed satisfactorily proved by Zurla to be of much less importance than Mr. Marsden is willing to admit; but the former had the advantage of seeing and examining it, whereas tl:e latter trusted to the report of it by Apostolo Zeno. Zurla tells us that it is written in a clear and beautiful character, bearing the most perfect reserublance to that in which the 'notes' on Frà Mauro's Map of the World are written, the date of which is unquestionably about the middle of the fifteenth century.
occasions; on which it may be observed generally, that every body believed, in those days, in divine interference: our traveller, however, vouches for no miracles on his own knowledge, but only repeats what he had been told by the inhabitants of the places where the traditions were current. 2. An apparent belief in the efficacy of magical arts; but this was the common weakness of the times, and none were exempt from its influence. 3. The descriptions of animals out of the ordinary course of nature 4. The statements of the extent and population of the cities in China ; 5. of the dimensions of the palaces; 6. of the magnificence and number of bridges; 7. of the military forces; and 8. of the amount of the imperial re
When to these statements, given in millions, was added the extraordinary story of the black stones used for fuel, it is not to be wondered at that, for centuries after his death, he should be branded as a writer of romance.
The prominent faults of omission are accusations of modern times; and they are such as Mr. Marsden is disposed to consider as less excusable, if really imputable to himself, and not to the loss of a part of the work, or to the omissions of transcribers. We do not however conceive that any vindication of the author's character is at all necessary on this head, even if the probability was not apparent, that they may have been owing to both these causes. Where is the traveller who has been careful to note down every thing that fell under his observation ? Manners and customs, and new and singular objects of nature and art, however strange for a time, become familiar from long residence, and unless noted down while the impression of their novelty was strong on the mind, may well be supposed to escape the subsequent attention of the narrator. We can scarcely suppose that Homer was unacquainted with the Pyramids of Egypt any more than with the city of Thebes and its hundred gates, yet no mention is made of the forıner, while he familiarly speaks of the latter. Herodotus describes the Pyramids from ocular inspection, but never once alludes to the great Sphinx. If, however, we may rely on the chronicle of De Aqui, his contemporary, Marco Polo has himself fully accounted for any omissions that may appear in his narrative. So little credit, says this writer, did he obtain, that when he lay on his death-bed, he was gravely exhorted by one of his friends, as a matter of conscience, to retract what he had published, or at least to disavow those false hoods with which the world believed his book to be filled. Marco indignantly rejected this advice, declaring at the same time, that, far from having used any exaggeration, he had not told one half of the extraordinary things of which he had been an eye-witness. Let it be recollected too that his book was dictated in a jail at Genoa from loose notes sent to him from Venice, and we shall not
be surprized at a few, omissions of objects or customs however remarkable. The most important of them belong to China, in which country the greater part of his time was passed. His enemies particularly notice, his silence with respect to the Great Wall-to the cultivation and general use of tea—to the preposterous fashion of bandaging the feet of female children in order to render them small and useless through life—and to the employment of wheel carriages impelled by wind. We may at once discard the last of these, as we believe they are confined to a particular district of the province of Petchelee, and have rarely been seen by any stranger. The other three were certainly familiar to him; he must have seen and even crossed the Great Wall, though at a place perbaps where it is only a mound of earth; but the most perfect and finished part of it is not more than sixty miles from Pekin, and it is there so very similar in construction to that of the walls of the capital and of most of the cities of China, as to cease possessing that attraction which, at first sight, it undoubtedly boasts. Some authors have speculated on its being built subsequently to the time of Marco Polo; and a missionary of the name of Paolino da San Bartholomeo (in a work published at Rome) has boldly fixed on the fourteenth century as the date of its erection :-he might, with equal probability, have asserted that Julius Cæsar invaded Britain in the fourteenth century.
The article of tea has supplied an almost universal beverage to the Chinese from time immemorial, and appears, by the early annals of the empire, to have then, as now, contributed to the revenue; it is mentioned by the two Mahommedans who visited China in the ninth century: the cramping of the ladies' feet too has been a custom from a time to which the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. These things must therefore have been well known to Marco Polo, though he has omitted them in his narrative.
But it has been the fate of this early traveller not only to be charged with faults of commission and omission, but to have other matters ascribed to him of which he makes no mention, and of which indeed he could have no knowledge. Thus nothing is more common than to find it repeated from book to book, that gunpowder and the mariner's compass were first brought from China by Marco Polo, though there can be very little doubt that both were knowu in Europe some time before his return. Indeed there is good evidence that the use of the magnetic needle was familiar here long before he set out on his travels; for Alonzo el Sabio, king of Castile, who, about the year 1260, promulgated the famous code of laws known by the title of' Las siete Partidas,'has (in the preamble of ley 28, titulo 9, partida 2,) the following remarkable passage: * E bien asi como los marineros se guian en la noche escura