Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

that he was appointed governor of a province in which were twenty - seven towns; and he ap

Marco ifiiioni. ... , . TM> • i

pears to have visited, mostly in an official capacity, China, India, Tonquin, Ceylon, the coasts of Coromandel and Malabar, &c. With his father and uncle, he returned home, in 1295, by way of Persia, the Black Sea, and Constantinople; and they had become so altered in appearance and manners that they could hardly be recognised. Naturally, they came laden with treasures, and the house in which they lived was called "Corte dei Milioni." It is, however, not quite certain that this term has anything to do with "millionaires." It seems that Marco was surnamed "Milioni" in ridicule. The Venetians would not believe his wonderful stories, and as the word "million" was constantly on his lips, he became known as Marco Milioni.

Soon after his return to Europe war broke out

between Venice and Genoa, and Marco was taken

prisoner in a sea-fight. In the dungeons

HU book. r ° °

at Genoa he made the acquaintance of a Frenchified Italian, "Messire Eustacian," who has been identified with a certain Rustichello, the author of a prose-version in French of the legends of the Round Table. "Messire Rustacian" did not know French very well, but he employed it again for the Livre of Marco Polo. He seems to have been guided in the choice by the consideration that the use of that language afforded greater scope for publicity. In its original French the Livre is something of a translation, for the traveller, who dictated it, though versed in Mongolian, Chinese, Persian, and Arabic, seems to have possessed no knowledge of French. In old copies the work is entitled Lc Devisement du Monde or Le Livre des Mervcilles du Monde. In Italy, however, which very soon acquired an excellent version, the author's nickname attached itself to his book, which was styled U Milione.

For a long time the name "Marco Polo" was treated as synonymous with "liar," and the book which he fist retraire, though translated into all the languages of Europe and eagerly devoured by all classes of readers, was generally disbelieved. Modern researches, however, have tended to heighten its credibility, so that, in both these respects, the mediaeval traveller may be compared to Herodotus. In regard to style, for which he can hardly be held responsible, Marco Polo is by no means on a par with the old Greek writer, or with his own contemporary, Froissart. The interest of the book lies in the facts it records, not in the way the facts are recorded, and one can only regret that the fashions of the time precluded Froissart, or some author of equal charm, being sent on a roving commission to the Far East by an enterprising Parisian journal.1

Somewhat later Italy produced travellers who availed themselves of their native speech. Between the years 1346 and 1349 Fra Niccolo da Poggibonsi visited the Holy Land and recorded his impressions de voyage on a pair of tablets carried at his side,

1 The best recent edition of Marco Polo is The Book of Ser Marco the Venetian, newly translated and edited by Colonel Henry Yule. 2 vols. Loudon: Murray, 1871.

ultimately forming them into his Libro d'oltramare.

itaiianbooks Another traveller was Lionardo Frescoo/irowt baldi) who) in 2384) wa8 the envov of ^

liepublic of Florence to Count da Barbiano at Arezzo. Whilst thus engaged, he conceived the idea of journeying to Palestine, and, on his return, published an account of his travels. Simone Sigoli, of whom nothing more is known, composed an independent version. These works do not call for any special characterisation. Any one who has read Hakluyt's Voyages knows tolerably well what to expect in the way of "travellers' tales," and these Viaggi appear to have aroused only local, or, at most, "national" interest.1

Very different was it with The Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundeville — to give to the book its English title — which is of European importance. Here again we are confronted with a question of language. The work has been claimed as properly French, and the authorship assigned away from the English knight to a physician of Liege, one John of Burgundy or John of the Beard. On this point it is to be remarked that, while the French relation may have been, and probably was, older than any English version, the book in its English dres3 acquires an interest which in fortuitous French it is altogether without. For it is the first attempt in English to handle prose as Chaucer handles verse—with freedom and independence. The identity of the translator is as obscure as that of the author. Critics discriminate between these twain; but, after all, it is just conceivable that they were one and the same. The English "Maundeville" says (p. 5), "And yee schulle undirstonde, that I have put this boke out of Latyn into Frensch, and translated it agen out of Frensch into Englyssch that every man of my nacion may undirstonde it." The book purports to have been written in 1356. The first printed edition was, perhaps, that of Pietro de Cornero, of Milan, in 1480: "Tractato delle piu maravigliose Cosse e piu notabili che si trovano in le parte del mondo vedute . . . del Cavaler Johanne da Mandavilla." The first English edition was printed at Westminster, in 1499, by Winkyn de Worde, and was entitled: "A lytell Treatise or Booke, named John Mandevyll, Knyht, borne in Englande, in the towne of Saynt Abone, and speaketh of the wayes of the Holy Lande toward Jherusalem, and of the Marvyles of Ynde and other diverse Countries." The best English edition is that of London, 1725, The. Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundeville, &c, reprinted by J. 0. Halliwell, in 1839, and based on the Cotton MS. (Titus, C. xvi.) in the British Museum. This version is in the Midland dialect.1

1 See 0. Gargiolli, Viaggi in Terra Santa di Lionardo Frescobaldi c d'altri del iccolo xiv. Firenze : Barbera, 1862.

Notwithstanding its brave introduction, which seems to have "honesty" inscribed on the face of Nature of the it, the question has been asked whether amtmts- as traveller, or only as author, Maundeville was an historical, or, contrariwise, a legendary, typical personage. Well, the doubt is excused by the circumstance that the book is certainly, in some measure, a compilation. Whereas Marco Polo is content to describe what he has himself heard and seen, Maundeville makes his work an olla podrida of mediaeval fancy and tradition, which help to supplement his own observation. Has he availed himself of the prerogative accorded to all travellers, and imposed on human credulity in those sections purporting to deal with facts? There are two reasons which would lead us to think otherwise. One is his simple, frank, unpretentious style, and the other an occasional proviso, as, for instance, when he tells us, though he describes its marvels, that he has himself never been to the Earthly Paradise. It is, moreover, quite possible that the more outrageous stories of giants, monsters, and devils may have been added by copyists. It is worthy of note that the English traveller covered the same ground as his Venetian predecessor, and one result of his writings was to familiarise his countrymen with the notion of the Far East, hitherto a land unknown. Philologically, his book is of great value, since the variety of the subject-matter entails a corresponding variety in the vocabulary.

1 Mr Warner's edition, undertaken for the Roxburghc Club, though difficult to obtain, should also be mentioned. Mr E. B. Nicholson, of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, is in great request as an authority on Maundeville.

As regards intrinsic worth, it would be absurd to compare Maundeville's Voiage with the Commedia,

« AnteriorContinuar »