III.—Peril and Patience
When we arrived at the foot of the Kasai we were badly in want of food, and there seemed little hope of getting any; one of our guides, however, caught a light-blue mole and two mice for his supper. Katende, the chief, sent for me the following morning, and on my walking into his hut I was told that he wanted a man, a tusk, beads, copper rings, and a shell as payment for leave to pass through his country. Having humbly explained our circumstances and that he could not expect to "catch a humble cow by the horns"—a proverb similar to ours that "You cannot draw milk out of a stone"—we were told to go home, and he would speak to us next day. I could not avoid a hearty laugh at the cool impudence of the savage. Eventually I sent him one of my worst shirts, but added that when I should reach my own chief naked, and was asked what I had done with my clothes, I should be obliged to confess I had left them with Katende.
Passing onwards, we crossed a small rivulet, the Sengko, and another and larger one with a bridge over it. At the farther end of this structure stood a negro who demanded fees. He said the bridge was his, the guides were his children, and if we did not pay him, he would prevent further progress. This piece of civilisation I was not prepared to meet, and stood a few seconds looking at our bold toll-keeper, when one of our men took off three copper bracelets, which paid for the whole party. The negro was a better man than he at first seemed, for he immediately went into his garden and brought us some leaves of tobacco as a present.
We were brought to a stand on the banks of the Loajima, a tributary of the Kasai, by the severity of my fever, being in a state of partial coma, until late at night, I found we were in the midst of enemies; and the Chiboque natives insisting upon a present, I had to give them a tired-out ox. Later on we marched through the gloomy forest in gloomier silence; the thick atmosphere prevented my seeing the creeping plants in time to avoid them; I was often caught, and as there is no stopping the oxen when they have the prospect of giving the rider a tumble, came frequently to the ground. In addition to these mishaps, my ox Sinbad went off at a plunging gallop, the bridle broke, and I came down behind on the crown of my head. He gave me a kick in the thigh at the same time. I felt none the worse for this rough treatment, but would not recommend it to others as a palliative in cases of fever.
We shortly afterwards met a hostile party of natives, who refused us further passage. Seeing that these people had plenty of iron-headed arrows and some guns, I called a halt, and ordered my men to put the luggage in the centre in case of actual attack. I then dismounted, and advancing a little towards our principal opponent, showed him how easily I could kill him, but pointed upwards, saying, "I fear God." He did the same, placing his hand on his heart, pointing upwards, and saying, "I fear to kill, but come to our village; come, do come."
During these exciting scenes I always forgot my fever, but a terrible sense of sinking came back with the feeling of safety. These people stole our beads, and though we offered all our ornaments and my shirts, they refused us passage. My men were so disheartened that they proposed a return home, which distressed me exceedingly. After using all my powers of persuasion, I declared to them that if they returned, I would go on alone, and went into my little tent with the mind directed to Him Who hears the sighing of the soul, and was soon followed by the head of Mohorisi, saying, "We will never leave you. Do not be disheartened. Wherever you lead, we will follow. Our remarks were made only on account of the injustice of these people."
We were soon on the banks of the Quango, and after some difficulties reached the opposite bank.
The village of Cassenge is composed of thirty or forty traders' houses on an elevated flat spot in the great Quango, or Cassenge, valley. As I always preferred to appear in my own proper character, I was an object of curiosity to the hospitable Portuguese. They evidently looked upon me as an agent of the English government, engaged in some new movement for the suppression of slavery. They could not divine what a "missionario" had to do with the latitudes and longitudes which I was intent on observing.
On coming across the plains to Loanda we first beheld the sea; my companions looked upon the boundless ocean with awe. In describing their feelings afterwards they remarked, "We marched along with our father thinking that what the ancients had always told us was true, that the world has no end, but all at once the world said to us, 'I am finished, there is no more of me.'"
Here in this city, among its population of 12,000 souls there was but one genuine English gentleman, who bade me welcome, and seeing me ill, benevolently offered me his bed. Never shall I forget the luxuriant pleasure I enjoyed feeling myself again on a good English couch, after six months sleeping on the ground.
IV.—Into the Wilderness Again
For the sake of my Makololo companions I refused the tempting offer of a passage home in one of her majesty's cruisers.
During my journey through Angola I received at Cassenge a packet of the "Times" from home with news of the Russian war up to the terrible charge of the light cavalry. The intense anxiety I felt to hear more may be imagined by every true patriot.
After leaving the Kasai country, we entered upon a great level plain, which we had formerly found in a flooded condition. We forded the Lotembwa on June 8, and found that the little Lake Dilolo, by giving a portion to our Kasai and another to the Zambesi, distributes its waters to the Atlantic and Indian oceans. From information derived from Arabs at Zanzibar, whom I met at Naliele in the middle of the country, a large shallow lake is pointed out in the region east of Loanda, named Tanganyenka, which requires three days in crossing in canoes. It is connected with another named Kalagwe (Garague?), farther north, and may be the Nyanja of the Maravim.
Although I was warned that the Batoka tribe would be hostile, I decided on going down the Zambesi, and on my way I visited the falls of Victoria, called by the natives Mosioatunya, or more anciently, Shongwe. No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It has never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight. Five columns of "smoke" arose, bending in the direction of the wind. The entire falls is simply a crack made in a hard basaltic rock from the right to the left bank of the Zambesi, and then prolonged from the left bank away through thirty or forty miles of hills. The whole scene was extremely beautiful; the banks and islands dotted over the river are adorned with sylvan vegetation of great variety of colour and form. At the period of our visit several of the trees were spangled over with blossoms.
In due time we reached the confluence of the Loangwa and the Zambesi, most thankful to God for His great mercies in helping us thus far. I felt some turmoil of spirit in the evening at the prospect of having all my efforts for the welfare of this great region and its teeming population knocked on the head by savages to-morrow, who might be said to "know not what they do."
When at last we reached within eight miles of Tete I was too fatigued to go on, but sent the commandant the letters of recommendation of the bishop and lay down to rest. Next morning two officers and some soldiers came to fetch us, and when I had partaken of a good breakfast, though I had just before been too tired to sleep, all my fatigue vanished. The pleasure of that breakfast was enhanced by the news that Sebastopol had fallen and the war finished.
Pierre Loti, whose real name is Louis Marie Julien Viaud, and who has made his whole career in the French navy, was born at Rochefort on January 14, 1850. Distinguished though his naval activities have been, it is as a man of letters that Pierre Loti is known to the world. His first production, "Aziyade," appeared in 1876, and gave ample promise of that style, borrowed from no one and entirely his own, which has since characterized all his works. "The Desert," published in 1894, is a masterpiece of a peculiarly modern kind. Loti leaves to other writers the task of depicting the Bedouin. The spectacle of nature in her wildest and severest mood was what he went out to see; and he employs all the resources of his incomparable genius for description in painting the vacant immensity of the Arabian wilderness. Tired and distracted by the whirl and fever of life in Paris, Loti set out, like Tancred, in Beaconsfield's romance on a pilgrimage from Sinai to Calvary to recover the faith he had lost in civilisation.
February 22, 1894. All about us was the empty infinitude; the twilight desert swept by a great cold wind; the desert that rolled, in dull, dead colours, under a still more sombre sky which, on the circular horizon, seemed to fall on it and crush it.
Sitting under the palm-tree of the Oasis of Moses, half an hour's march from the Red Sea, surrounded by our camels and camel-men, we stared at the desert, and the emotion and the ecstasy of solitude came over us. We longed to plunge headlong into the dim, luring immensity, to run with the wind blowing over the desolate dunes. So we ran, and reaching the heights, we looked down on a larger wilderness, over which trailed a dying gleam of daylight, fallen from the yellow sky through a rent made by the wind in the cloudy veil. But so sinister was the desert in the winter wind, that from some remote, ancestral source of feeling a strange melancholy welled up and mingled with our desire for the solitude. In it was the instinctive fear which makes the sheep and cattle of the green lands retrace their steps at the sight of regions over which hangs the shadow of death.
But under our tent, lighted and sheltered from the wind, we recovered our gaiety of mood. There was the novelty of our first meal in the desert to excite us, and the pleasure of packing up our ridiculous European costumes, and dressing ourselves in the more useful and far more decorative burnous and veils of the sheiks of Arabia.
All the next three days we travelled through a waterless waste, following a vague trace which, in the course of ages, men and beasts have made in the dry sand. Far in front the sky-line danced in the heat. The sand around was strewn with greyish stones; everything was grey, grey-red or grey-yellow. Here and there was a plant of a pale green, with an imperceptible flower, and the long necks of the camels bent and stretched trying to crop it.
Little by little one's mind grows drowsy, lulled by the monotony of the slow, swinging movement of the tall, indefatigable camel. In the foreground of the grey scene, one's sleepy, lowered eyes see at last nothing but the continual undulation of its neck, of the same grey-yellow as the sand, and the back of its shaggy head, similar to the little head of a lion, encircled with a barbaric ornament of white shells and blue pearls, with hangings of black wool.
As we go on, the last signs of life disappear. There is not a bird, not an insect; even the flies which exist in all the lands of the earth are not found. While the deserts of the sea contain vital wealth in profusion, here are sterility and death. Yet one is intoxicated with the stillness and lifelessness of it all, and the air is pure and virginal, blowing from the world before the creation.
The wind drops, and in an atmosphere of an absolute purity the sun mounts and burns with a white fire. Under the dazzling light, one shuts one's eyes in spite of oneself for long periods. When one opens them, the horizon seems a black circle breaking on the brightness of the heavens, while the precise spot in which one is remains astonishingly white. Nothing sings, nothing flies, nothing stirs. The immense silence is dully broken only by the incessant, monotonous tread of our slow, swinging camels.
On the fourth day we leave the plain and strike into the mountainous solitudes of the Sinai peninsula.... As we ascend, vast new tracts are unrolled on all sides beneath our eyes, and the impression of the desert becomes more distressing by reason of this visible affirmation of its illimitableness. It is terrifying in its magnificence! The limpidity of the air gives an extraordinary depth to the perspectives, and in the clear and far-receding distances the chains of mountains are interlaced and overlaid in regular forms which, from the beginning of the world, have been untouched by the hand of man, and with hard, dry contours which no vegetation has ever softened or changed. In the foreground they are of a reddish brown; then in their flight to the sky-line they pass into a wonderful tone of violet, which grows bluer and bluer until it melts into the pure indigo of the extreme distance. And all this is empty, silent, and dead. It is the splendour of an invariable region, from which is absent the ephemeral beauty of forest, verdure, or herbage; the splendour of eternal matter, affranchised from all the instability of life; the geological splendour of the world before the creation.
Oh, the sunset this evening! Never have we seen so much gold poured out for us alone around our lonely camp. Our camels, wandering beyond our tents, and strangely enlarged against the vacant horizon, have gold on their heads, on their legs, on their long necks; they are all edged with gold.
And then night comes, the limpid night with its stillness. If at this moment one goes away from the camp and loses sight of it, or even separates oneself from the little handful of living creatures strayed in the midst of dead space, in order to feel more absolutely alone in the nocturnal vacancy, one has an impression of terror in which there is something religious. Less distant, less inaccessible than elsewhere, the stars blaze in the depths of the cosmic abysses; and in this desert, unchangeable and untouched by time, from which one looks at them, one feels oneself nearer to conceiving their inconceivable infinity; one has almost the illusion of sharing in their starry duration, their starry impassibility.
II.—The Habitation of Solitude
March 1. After climbing two days in snow, thunder, and tempest, we see at last, amid the dim, cloudy peaks of granite, the tall ramparts and the cypress trees of the convent of Sinai. Alas! how silent, sinister, and chill appears the holy mountain, whose name alone still flames for us in the distance. It is as empty as the sky above our heads.
Trembling with the cold in our thin, wet burnous, we alight from our camels, that suffer and complain, disquieted by the white obscurity, the lashing wind, the strange, wild altitude. For twenty minutes we clamber by lantern light among blocks and falls of granite, with bare feet that slip at every step on the snow. Then we reach a gigantic wall, the summit of which is lost in darkness, and a little low door, covered with iron, opens. We pass in. Two more doors of a smaller kind lead through a vaulted tunnel in the rampart. They close behind us with the clang of armour, and we creep up some flights of rough, broken stairs, hewed out of the rock, to a hostel for pilgrims at the top of the great fortress.
Some hospitable monks in black robes, and with long hair like women, hasten to cheer us with a little hot coffee and a little lighted charcoal, carried in a copper vase. Everything has an air of nonchalant wretchedness and Oriental dilapidation in this convent built by the Emperor Justinian fourteen centuries ago. Our bare, whitewashed bedrooms are like the humblest of Turkish dwellings, save for the modest icon above the divan, with a night-light burning before it. The little chamber is covered with the names of pilgrims gathered from the ends of the earth; Russian, Arabian, and Greek inscriptions predominate.
Aroused by a jet of clear sunlight, and surprised by the strangeness of the place, I ran to the balcony; there I still marvelled to find the fantastic things seen by glimpses last night, standing real and curiously distinct in the implacable white light, but arranged in an unreal way, as if inset into each other without perspective, so pure is the atmosphere—and all silent, silent as if they were dead of their extreme old age. A Byzantine church, a mosque, cots, cloisters, an entanglement of stairways, galleries, and arches falling to the precipices below: all this in miniature; built up in a tiny space; all this encompassed with formidable ramparts, and hooked on to the flanks of gigantic Sinai! From the sharpness and thinness of the air, we know that we are at an excessive height, and yet we seem to be at the bottom of a well. On every side the extreme peaks of Sinai enclose us, as they mount and scale the sky; their titanic walls, all of blood-red granite without stain or shadow, are so vertical and so high that they dizzy and appal. Only a fragment of the sky is visible, but its blueness is of a profound transparency, and the sun is magnificent. And still the same eerie silence envelops the phantom-like monastery, whose antiquity is accentuated under the cold, dazzling sunlight and the sparkling snow. One feels that it is verily "the habitation of solitude," encompassed by the great wildernesses.
Its situation has preserved it from the revolutions, the wars, and the changing fashions of the world. Almost everything remains just as it was built in 550 by Justinian. And when one of the long-haired monks shows us the marvellous treasures of the basilica—a dim, richly barbaric structure, filled with priceless offerings from the ancient kings of the earth—we no longer wonder at the enormous height and thickness of the ramparts which protect the convent from the Bedouins.
Behind the tabernacle of the basilica is the holy place of Sinai—the crypt of the "Burning Bush." It is a sombre cavern lined with antique tiles of a dim blue-green, which are hidden under the icons of gold and precious stone attached to the walls, and under the profusion of gold and silver lamps hanging from the low roof. Rigid saints in vermilion robes, whose faces are concealed in the dark shadow of their barbaric glistening crowns, looked at us as we entered. We stepped in reverently, on bare feet, and never, in any place, did we have so entire an impression of a recoil into the long past ages of the world.
Peoples and empires have passed away, while these precious things slowly tarnished in this dim crypt. Even the monk who accompanies us resembles, with his long red hair falling over his shoulders, and the pale beauty of his ascetic face, the mystics of the early ages; and his thoughts are infinitely removed from ours. And the vague reflection of sunlight which arrives through a single, little window in the thick wall, and falls in a circle of ghostly radiance on the icons and mosaics, seems to be some gleam from an ancient day, some gleam from an age far different from the sordid, impious century in which we live.
A kind of lodge, paved with chiselled silver, and hung with lighted lamps, rises in the depth of the crypt; it is there that, according to the venerated tradition, the Angel of the Eternal appeared to Moses in the midst of the burning bush.
III.—Where Nothing Changes
March 16. We have now left the blue lonely waters and the red granite cliffs of the Gulf of Akaba, and entered the great desert of Tih, the solitudes of which, our camel-men say, are as immense and as flat as the sea, and the scene of incessant mirages. It is peopled by a few tribes of savage Bedouins, descended from the Amalekites. This is the land in which nothing changes: the true Orient, immutable in its dust and its dreams. Behind the barren hill on which we have camped, Arabia Deserta unrolls the infinite tract of its red desolation. On our right is the wild wilderness of Petra and the sinister mountains of the land of Edom. In front stretches the gloomier waste of the plateau of Tih.
From the spot on which we stand, light tracks, made by the regular movement of caravans, run out into the distance, innumerable as the threads in a weaver's loom. They form two rays: one dies away into the west, the other into the north. The first is the route of the believers coming from Egypt and Morocco; the second, which we are about to follow, is the path of the pilgrims from Syria to Palestine. This wild crossway of the desert, along which pass every year crowds of twenty or thirty thousand men marching to the holy city of Mecca, is now empty, infinitely empty, and the mournful, vacant grandeur which it wears under the sombre sky is terrible. The habitual halting-place of multitudes, it is strewn with tombstones, little rough, unhewn blocks, one at the head, the other at the feet—places in which the pious pilgrims who passed by have laid down to rest for eternity.
Our dromedaries, excited by the wide, open space in front of them, raise their heads and scent the wind, and then change their languid gait into something that becomes almost a race. It is of a mud-grey colour, this desert that calls to them, and as even as a lawn. As far as the eye can reach, no change is seen in it, and it is gloomy under a still gloomier sky. It has almost the shimmer of something humid, but its immense surface is all made of dry mud, broken and marked like crackled porcelain.
The next day the colour of the wilderness changes from muddy grey to deep black, and the sun soared up, white-hot, in a clear blue sky. The empty, level distances trembled in the heat, and seemed to be preparing for all sorts of visions and mirages.
"Gazal! Gazal!" (gazelles) cried the sheik. They were passing in an opposite course to ours, like a whirl of sand, little creatures slenderly fine, little creatures timid and quick in flight. But the moving, troubled air altered their images and juggled them away from our defeated eyes.
Then the first phantom lake appeared, and deceived even the Bedouin chief—the water was so blue, and the shadows of a border of palm-trees seemed to be reflected in it. And very soon the tempting waters show on all sides, retreating before us, changing their shapes, spreading out, going away, coming back; large lakes or winding rivers or little ponds edged with imaginary reeds. Every minute they increase, and it seems like a sea which little by little gains on us—a disquieting sea that trembles. But at noon all this blue phantasmagoria vanishes abruptly, as if it were blown away at a breath. There is nothing but dried sands. Clear, real, implacable, reappears the land of thirst and death.
Easter Sunday, March 25, 1894. We were awakened this morning by the singing of the larks. After travelling for three hours, look, here are some trees—the first we have seen—a long valley full of trees; and there, on the far sky-line, is the blue edge of the sea. And at last Gaza, with its white minarets and grey houses; Gaza, in the midst of its gardens and its woods; Gaza, that seems a sumptuous city to us poor wanderers of the desert!
The moon is high. It is the hour that our Bedouins depart. Seated on their tall swinging beasts, the sheiks go by, and wave to us a friendly farewell. They are returning to the terrible land where they were born and where they love to live, and their departure brings to an end our dream of the desert. To-morrow, at break of day, we shall ascend towards Jerusalem.
SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE
Voyage and Travel
I.—Of the Holy Land and the Way Thereto
The celebrated "Voyage and Travel of Sir John Mandeville" was first published in French between 1357 and 1371. The identity of its author has given rise to much difference of opinion, but its authorship is now generally ascribed to Jehan de Bourgoigne, a physician who practised at Liege. There is, indeed, some evidence that this name was assumed, and that the physician's real name, Mandeville, had been discarded when he fled from England after committing homicide. A tomb at Liege, seen at so late as the seventeenth century, bore the name of Mandeville, and gave the date of his death as November 17, 1372. As to the book itself, its material is evidently borrowed chiefly from other writers, especially from the account of the travels of Friar Odoric and from a French work on the East, and only a small part contains first-hand information. Numerous manuscripts exist, in several languages. The English version is probably not the work of the original writer, but it is, nevertheless, regarded as a standard piece of mediaeval English prose.
For as much as the land beyond the sea, that is to say, the Holy Land, passing all other lands, is the most worthy land, most excellent, and Lady and Sovereign of all other lands, and is blessed and hallowed of the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that land He chose before all other lands as the best and most worthy land, and the most virtuous land of all the world; wherefore, every good Christian man, that is of power, and hath whereof, should strive with all his strength for to conquer our right heritage, and chase out all misbelieving men. And for as much as many men desire to hear speak of the Holy Land, I, John Mandeville, Knight, albeit I be not worthy, that was born in England, in the town of Saint Albans, passed the sea, in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1322, on the day of Saint Michael, and hitherto have been a long time over the sea, and have seen and gone through many divers lands. And I shall devise you some part of things that there be, when time shall be, after it may best come to my mind; and specially for them that are in purpose for to visit the Holy City of Jerusalem, and I shall tell the way that they should hold thither. For I have oftentimes passed and ridden that way, with good company of many lords; God be thanked.
In the name of God, glorious and almighty, he that will pass over the sea to go to the city of Jerusalem, if he come from the west side of the world, as from England, he may and he will go through Almayne and through the kingdom of Hungary, that marcheth to the land of Polayne. And after go men to Belgrave and enter into the land of Bourgres, and through the land of Pyncemartz, and come to Greece, and so to the city of Constantynoble. And there dwelleth commonly the Emperor of Greece. And there is the most fair church and the most noble of all the world; and it is of Saint Sophie. From Constantynoble he that will go by water goeth to an isle that is clept Sylo, and then to the isle of Patmos.
From Patmos men go into Ephesus, a fair city and nigh to the sea. And there died Saint John, and was buried behind the high altar, in a tomb. And in the tomb of Saint John is nought but manna, that is clept angels' meat. For his body was translated into Paradise. And Turks hold now all that place, and the city and the church. And all Asia the less is clept Turkey. And ye shall understand that St. John made his grave there in his life, and laid himself therein all quick. And therefore some men say that he died not, but that he resteth there till the Day of Doom. And forsooth there is a great marvel, for men may see there the earth of the tomb apertly many times stir and move, as there were quick things under.
And from Ephesus men go through many isles in the sea, and to the isle of Crete, and through the isles of Colos and of Lango, of the which isles Ypocras was lord. And some men say that in the isle of Lango is yet the daughter of Ypocras, in form and likeness of a great dragon that is a hundred fathom of length, as men say, for I have not seen her. And they of the isles call her Lady of the Land. And she lieth in an old castle, in a cave, and showeth twice or thrice in the year. And she doth none harm to no man but if man do her harm. And she was thus changed and transformed from a fair damsel in the likeness of a dragon by a goddess that was clept Diana. And men say that she shall so endure in the form of a dragon unto the time that a knight come that is so hardy that dare come to her and kiss her on the mouth; and then shall she turn again to her own kind, and be a woman again, but after that she shall not live long.
And it is not long since that a knight that was hardy and doughty in arms said that he would kiss her. And when he was upon his courser and went to the castle and entered into the cave, the dragon lifted up her head against him. And when the knight saw her in that form so hideous and so horrible, he fled away. And the dragon bore the knight upon a rock, and from that rock she cast him into the sea; and so was lost both horse and man.
Egypt is a long country, but it is strait, that is to say narrow, for they may not enlarge it toward the desert, for default of water. And the country is set along upon the river of Nile; by as much as that river may serve by floods or otherwise, that when it floweth it may spread through the country, so is the country large of length. For there it raineth not but little in that country, and for that cause they have no water but if it be of the flood of that river. And for as much as it raineth not in that country, but the air is always pure and clear, therefore in that country be they good astronomers, for they find there no clouds to let them.
In Egypt is the city of Elyople, that is to say, the City of the Sun. In that city there is a temple made round, after the shape of the Temple of Jerusalem. The priests of that temple have all their writings under the date of the fowl that is clept Phoenix; and there is none but one in all the world. And he cometh to burn himself upon the altar of the temple at the end of 500 years; for so long he liveth. And at the 500 years' end the priests array their altar honestly, and put thereupon spices and sulphur and other things that will burn lightly. And then the bird Phoenix cometh, and burneth himself to ashes. And the first day next after men find in the ashes a worm; and the second day after men find a bird quick and perfect; and the third day next after, he flieth away.
And so there is no more birds of that kind in all the world but it alone. And truly that is a great miracle of God, and men may well liken that bird unto God; because that there is no God but one, and also that our Lord arose from death to life the third day. This bird men see oftentime flying in the countries; and he is not much greater than an eagle. And he hath a crest of feathers upon his head more great than the peacock hath; and his neck is yellow; and his back is coloured blue as Ind; and his wings be of purple colour, and the tail is yellow and red. And he is a full fair bird to look upon against the sun, for he shineth fully gloriously and nobly.
From Egypt men may go by the Red Sea, and so by desert to the Mount of Synay; and when they have visited the holy places nigh to it, then will they turn toward Jerusalem. They shall see here the Holy Sepulchre, where there is a full fair church, all round and open above and covered with lead. And then they may go up to Golgatha by degrees, and they shall see the Mount of Calvarie. Likewise they will behold the Temple of our Lord; and many other blessed things all whereof I cannot tell nor show him.
II.—Of Strange Peoples and Strange Beasts in Divers Lands
From the south coast of Chaldea is Ethiopia, a great country that stretcheth to the end of Egypt. Ethiopia is departed in two principal parts, and that is the East part and the Meridional part. And the folk of that country are black, and more black than in the other part, and they be clept Moors. In Ethiopia be folk that have but one foot, and they go so fast that it is a marvel; and the foot is so large, that it shadoweth all the body against the sun, when they will lie and rest them. In that country when the children be young and little they be all yellow, and when they wax of age that yellowness turneth to be all black. And as men go forth towards Ind, they come to the city of Polombe, and above the city is a great mountain.
And at the foot of that mount is a fair well and a great, that hath odour and savour of all spices, and at every hour of the day he changeth his odour and his savour diversely. And whoso drinketh three times fasting of that water of that well he is whole of all manner of sickness that he hath. And they that dwell there and drink often of that well they never have sickness, and they seem always young. I have drunken of it, and yet, methinketh, I fare the better. Some men call it the Well of Youth, for they that often drink thereof seem always young and live without sickness. And men say that that well cometh out of Paradise, and that therefore it hath such virtue.
To that land go the merchants for spicery. And there men worship the ox for his simpleness and for his meekness, and for the profit that cometh of him. And they say that he is the holiest beast in the earth. For it seemeth to them that whosoever is meek and patient he is holy and profitable; for then they say he hath all virtues in him. They make the ox to labour six years or seven, and then they eat him. And the king of the country hath always an ox with him; and he that keepeth him hath every day great fees.
Now shall I tell you of countries and isles that lie beyond those countries that I have spoken of. Wherefore I tell you that in passing by the land of Cathay toward the higher Ind, men pass by a kingdom that they call Caldilhe, that is a full fair country. And there groweth a manner of fruit, as it were gourds; and when they be ripe men cut them in two, and men find within a little beast, in flesh, in bone and blood, as though it were a little lamb without wool. And men eat both the fruit and the beast, and that is a great marvel. Of that fruit I have eaten, although it were wonderful; but that I know well that God is marvellous in His works. And nevertheless, I told them of as great a marvel to them that is among us; for I told them that in our country were trees that bear a fruit that become birds flying, and those that fall into the water live, and they that fall on the earth die anon; and they be right good for man's meat. And thereof they also had great marvel, that some of them trowed it were an impossible thing to be.
And beyond this land, men go towards the land of Bacharie, where be full evil folk and full cruel.
In that land be trees that bear wool, as though it were of sheep; whereof men make clothes, all things that may be made of wool. And there be also many griffons, more plenty than in any other country. Some men say that they have the body upward as an eagle and beneath as a lion; and truly they say sooth that they be of that shape. But one griffon hath the body more great and is more strong than eight lions; of such lions as be of this half; and more great and stronger than a hundred eagles such as we have amongst us. For one griffon there will bear, flying to his nest, a great horse, or two oxen yoked together, as they go at the plough. For he hath his talons so long and so large and great upon his feet, as though they were horns of great oxen or of bugles or of kine; so that men make cups of them, to drink of. From thence go men, by many journeys, through the land of Prester John, the great Emperor of Ind.
III.—Of the Land of Prester John
The Emperor Prester John holdeth a full great land, and hath many full noble cities and good towns in his realm, and many great isles and large. And he hath under him seventy-two provinces, and in every province is a king. And these kings have kings under them, and all are tributaries to Prester John. And he hath in his lordships many great marvels. For in his country is the sea that men call the Gravelly Sea, that is all gravel and sand without any drops of water; and it ebbeth and floweth in great waves, as other seas do, and it is never still nor in peace. And no man may pass that sea by navy, nor by no manner of craft, and therefore may no man know what land is beyond that sea. And albeit that it have no water, yet men find therein and on the banks full good fish of other manner of kind and shape than men find in any other sea; and they are of right good taste and delicious to man's meat.
In the same lordship of Prester John there is another marvellous thing. There is a vale between two mountains, that dureth nigh on four miles; and some call it the Vale of Devils, and some call it the Valley Perilous. In that vale men hear often time great tempests and thunders and great murmurs and noises all days and nights; and great noise, as it were sown of tabors, and of trumpets, as though it were of a great feast. This vale is all full of devils, and hath been always. And men say there, that is one of the entries of hell. And in mid place of that vale under a rock is a head and the visage of a devil bodily, full horrible and dreadful to see, and it showeth not but the head to the shoulders.
But there is no man in the world so hardy, Christian man nor other, but that he would be in dread for to behold it and that he would be ready to die for dread, so is it hideous for to behold. For he beholdeth every man so sharply with dreadful eyes that be evermore moving and sparkling as fire, and changeth and stareth so often in diverse manner with so horrible countenance that no man dare come nigh him. And in that vale is gold and silver and rich jewels great plenty. And I and my fellows passed that way in great dread, and we saw much people slain. And we entered fourteen persons, but at our going out we were but nine. And so we wisten never whether that our fellows were lost or turned again for dread.
But we came through that vale whole and living for that we were very devout, for I was more devout then than ever I was before or after, and all for the dread of fiends, that I saw in diverse figures. And I touched none of the gold and silver that meseemed was there, lest it were only there of the subtlety of the devils, and because I would not be put out of my devotions. So God of His grace helped us, and so we passed that perilous vale, without peril and without encumbrance, thanked be Almighty God.
These things have I told, that men may know some of all those marvellous things that I have seen in my way by land and sea. And now I, John Mandeville, Knight, that have passed many lands and many isles and countries, and searched many full strange places, and have been in many a full good honourable company, and at many a fair deed of armes—albeit that I did none myself, for mine unable insuffisance—now I am come home—mawgree myself—to rest. And so I have written these things in this book. Wherefore I pray to all the readers and hearers of this book that they would pray to God for me. And I shall pray for them, and beseech Almighty God to full fill their souls with inspiration of the Holy Ghost, in saving them from all their enemies both of body and soul, to the worship and thanking of Him that in perfect Trinity liveth and reigneth God, in all worlds and in all times; Amen, Amen, Amen.
Travels in the Interior of Africa
I.—Up the Gambia
Mungo Park, who was born Sept. 20, 1771, on a farm near Selkirk, Scotland, and died in 1806 in Africa, will for ever be regarded as the most distinguished pioneer of the illustrious procession of African explorers. Trained as a surgeon at Edinburgh, in 1792 he undertook an adventurous exploration in the East Indies. In 1795 the African Association appointed him successor to Major Houghton, who had perished in seeking to trace the course of the Niger and to penetrate to Timbuctoo. He disappeared in the interior for eighteen months, and was given up for lost, but survived to tell the romantic story of his experiences. Returning to Scotland, Mungo Park married, but his passion for travel was irrepressible. In May, 1805, he set out on another expedition, with an imposing party of over forty Europeans. The issue was disastrous. Park and his companions were ambushed and slain by treacherous natives while passing through a river gorge. His "Travels in the Interior of Africa" was published in 1799, and has been frequently reprinted. Told in simple, unaffected style, the general accuracy of the narrative has never been questioned.
Soon after my return from the East Indies in 1793, having learnt that noblemen and gentlemen associated for the purpose of prosecuting discoveries in the interior of Africa were desirous of engaging a person to explore that continent by way of the Gambia River, I took occasion, through means of the president of the Royal Society, to whom I had the honour of being known, of offering myself for that service. I had a passionate desire to examine into the productions of a country so little known. I knew I was able to bear fatigue, and relied on my youth and strength of constitution to preserve me from the effects of climate.
The committee accepted me for the service, and their kindness supplied me with all that was necessary. I took my passage in the brig Endeavour, a small brig trading to the Gambia for beeswax and honey, commanded by Captain Richard Wyatt. My instructions were very plain and concise. I was directed, on my arrival in Africa, to pass on to the River Niger, either by way of Bambouk, or by such other route as should be found most convenient; that I should ascertain the course, and, if possible, the rise and termination of that river; that I should use my utmost exertions to visit the principal towns or cities in its neighbourhood, particularly Timbuctoo and Houssa.
We sailed from Portsmouth on May 22, 1795; on June 4 saw the mountains over Mogadore on the coast of Africa; and on June 22 anchored at Jillifree, a town on the northern bank of the River Gambia, opposite to James's Island, where the English formerly had a small port. The kingdom of Barra, in which the town of Jillifree is situated, produces great plenty of the necessaries of life; but the chief trade is in salt, which they carry up the river in canoes as high as Barraconda, and bring down in return Indian corn, cotton cloths, elephants' teeth, small quantities of gold dust, etc.
On June 23 we proceeded to Vintain, two miles up a creek on the southern side of the river, much resorted to by Europeans on account of the great quantities of beeswax brought hither for sale. The wax is collected in the woods by the Feloops, a wild and unsociable race of people, who in their trade with Europeans generally employ a factor or agent of the Mandingo nation. This broker, who speaks a little English, and is acquainted with the trade of the river, receives certain part only of the payment, which he gives to his employer as a whole. The remainder—which is very truly called the "cheating money"—he receives when the Feloop is gone, and appropriates to himself as a reward for his trouble.
On June 26 we left Vintain, and continued our course up the deep and muddy river. The banks are covered with impenetrable thickets of mangrove, and the whole of the adjacent country appears to be flat and swampy. At the entrance of the Gambia from the sea sharks abound, and higher up alligators and hippopotami. In six days after leaving Vintain we reached Jonkakonda, a place of considerable trade, where our vessel was to take in part of her lading. Dr. Laidley, a gentleman who had resided many years at an English factory on the Gambia, to whom I had a letter of recommendation, came to invite me to his house, to remain there till an opportunity should offer of prosecuting my journey. I set out for Pisania, a small village in the dominions of the King of Yany, and arrived there on July 5, and was accommodated in the doctor's home.
On this occasion I was referred to certain traders called slatees. These are free black merchants, of great consideration in this region, who come down from the interior chiefly with enslaved negroes for sale. But I soon found that very little dependence could be placed on their descriptions. They contradicted each other in the most important particulars, and all of them seemed most unwilling that I should prosecute my journey.
The country is a uniform and monotonous level, but is of marvellous fertility. Grain and rice are raised in great abundance, besides which the inhabitants in the vicinity of the towns and villages have gardens which produce onions, calavances, yams, cassava, ground-nuts, pompions, gourds, watermelons, and other esculent plants. I observed also near the towns small patches of cotton and indigo.
The chief wild animals are the antelope, hyaena, panther, and the elephant. When I told some of the inhabitants how the natives of India tame and use the elephant, they laughed me to scorn, and exclaimed, "Tobaubo fonnio!" (white man's lie). The negroes hunt the elephant chiefly for the sake of the teeth. The flesh they eat, and consider it a great delicacy. The ass is the usual beast of burden in all the negro territories. Animal labour is nowhere applied to purposes of agriculture; the plough, therefore, is wholly unknown.
As the Slatees and others composing the caravans seemed unwilling to further my purpose, I resolved to avail myself of the dry season and proceed without them. Dr. Laidley approved my determination, and with his help I made preparations.
II.—Penetrating the Wild Interior
The kingdom of Kajaaga, in which I now commenced to travel, is bounded on the south-east and south by Bambouk, on the west by Bondou, and on the north by the River Senegal. The people, who are jet black, are called Serawoollies. They are habitually a trading tribe. Arriving in December at Joag, the frontier town, we took up our residence at the house of the chief man, who is called the dooty. My fellow-travellers were ten dealers, forming a little caravan, bound for the Gambia. Their asses were loaded with ivory, the large teeth being conveyed in nets, two on each side of the ass; the small ones are wrapped up in skins and secured with ropes.
Journeying by easy stages from place to place, I at length arrived at the important town of Jarra, which is situated in the Moorish kingdom of Ludamar. The greater part of the inhabitants are negroes, who prefer a precarious protection from the Moors, which they purchase by a tribute, rather than continued exposure to their predatory hostilities. Of the origin of these Moorish tribes nothing further seems to be known than that before the Arabian conquest, about the middle of the seventh century, all the inhabitants of Africa, whether they were descended from Numidians, Phoenic-ians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, or Goths, were comprehended under the general name of Mauri, or Moors. All these nations were converted to the religion of Mahomet during the Arabian empire under the caliphs.
The Moors, who are widely spread over the African continent, are a subtle and treacherous race. They take every opportunity of cheating and plundering the credulous and unsuspecting negroes.
On my arrival at Jarra, I obtained a lodging at the house of Daman Jumma, a Gambia slatee, who owed money to Dr. Laidley, from whom I had an order on him for the money, to the amount of six slaves. But he said he was afraid he could not in his present situation pay more than the value of two slaves. However, he gave me his aid in exchanging my beads and amber for gold, which was a portable article, and more easily concealed from the Moors.
Difficulties speedily arose. The unsettled state of the country from recent wars, and, above all, the overbearing deportment of the Moors, so completely frightened my attendants that they declared they would relinquish every claim to reward rather than proceed a step farther eastward. Indeed the danger they incurred of being seized by the Moors and sold into slavery became more apparent every day. Thus I could not condemn their apprehensions.
In this situation, deserted by my attendants, with a Moorish country of ten days' journey before me, I applied to Daman to obtain permission from Ali, the chief or sovereign of Ludamar, that I might pass unmolested through his territory, and I hired one of Daman's slaves to accompany me as soon as the permit should arrive. I sent Ali a present of five garments of cotton cloth, which I purchased of Daman for one of my fowling-pieces. Fourteen days elapsed, and then one of Ali's slaves arrived with directions, as he pretended, to conduct me in safety as far as Goomba. He told me that I was for this service to pay him one garment of blue cotton cloth. Things being adjusted, we set out from Jarra, and, after a toilsome journey of three days, came to Deena, a large town, where the Moors are in greater proportion to the negroes than at Jarra. Assembling round the hut of the negro where I lodged, the Moors treated me with the greatest insolence. They hissed, shouted, and abused me; they even spat in my face, with a view to irritate me and afford a pretext for seizing my baggage. Finding such insults had not the desired effect, they had recourse to the final argument that I was a Christian, and that, of course, my property was lawful plunder to the followers of Mahomet.
Accordingly they opened my bundles and robbed me of everything they fancied. My attendants refused to go farther, and I resolved to proceed alone rather than to pause longer among these insolent Moors. At two the next morning I departed from Deene. It was moonlight, but the roaring of wild beasts made it necessary to proceed with caution. Two negroes, altering their minds, followed me and overtook me, in order to attend me. On the road we observed immense quantities of locusts, the trees being quite black with them.
III—Romantic Savage Life
Arriving at Dalli, we found a dance proceeding in front of the dooty's house. It was a feast day. Informed that a white man was in the place, the performers stopped their dance and came to the spot where I was, walking in order, two by two, following the musician, who played on a curious sort of flute. Then they danced and sang till midnight, crowds surrounding me where I sat. The next day, our landlord, proud of the honour of entertaining a white man, insisted on my staying with him and his friends till the cool of the evening, when he said he would conduct me to the next village. I was now within two days of Goombia, had no apprehensions from the Moors, accepted the invitation, and spent the forenoon very pleasantly with these poor negroes. Their company was the more acceptable as the gentleness of their manners presented a striking contrast to the rudeness and barbarity of the Moors. They enlivened their conversation by drinking a fermented liquor made from corn. Better beer I never tasted in England.
In the midst of this harmless festivity I flattered myself that all danger from the Moors was over, and fancy had already placed me on the banks of the Niger, when a party of Moors entered the hut, and dispelled the golden dream. They said that they came by Ali's orders to convey me to his camp at Benown. If I went peaceably, they told me, I had nothing to fear; but if I refused, they had orders to bring me by force. I was struck dumb by surprise and terror, which the Moors observing, repeated that I had nothing to fear. They added that the visit was occasioned by the curiosity of Ali's wife, Fatima, who had heard so much about Christians that she was very anxious to see one. We reached Benown after a journey in great heat of four days, during which I suffered much from thirst. Ali's camp consisted of a great number of dirty-looking tents, amongst which roamed large herds of camels, sheep, and goats.
My arrival was no sooner observed than the people who drew water at the wells threw down their buckets, those in the tents mounted their horses, and men, women, and children came running or galloping towards me. At length we reached the king's tent. Ali was an old Arab, with a long, white beard, of sullen and indignant aspect. He surveyed me with attention, and seemed much surprised when informed that I could not speak Arabic. He continued silent, but the surrounding attendants, especially the ladies, were abundantly inquisitive, and asked a thousand questions. They searched my pockets, inspected every part of my apparel, and even counted my fingers and toes, as if doubtful whether I was in truth a human being.
I was submitted to much irritation and insult by the Moors in the camp, and never did any period of my life pass away so heavily as my sojourn there. The Moors are themselves very indolent, but are rigid taskmasters over those who are under them.
Ali sent to inform me that there were many thieves in the neighbourhood, and that to prevent my things from being stolen it was necessary to convey them all to his tent. So my clothes, instruments, and everything belonging to me were carried away. To make sure of everything, he sent people the next morning to examine whether I had anything concealed on my person. They stripped me with the utmost rudeness of all my gold, amber, my watch, and pocket-compass. The gold and amber were gratifying to Moorish avarice, but the compass was an object of superstitious curiosity.
IV.—The Long Sought for Niger
It is impossible to describe my joy when, after being three months in captivity, I succeeded in effecting my escape. Arduous days of travelling lay before me, and after many weeks of endurance and fatigue, I saw with infinite pleasure the great object of my mission—the long-sought-for, majestic Niger, glittering in the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at Westminster, and flowing slowly to the eastward. I hastened to the brink, drank of the water, and lifted up my fervent thanks in prayer to the Great Ruler of all things for having thus far crowned my endeavours with success.
I waited more than two hours without having an opportunity of crossing the river, during which time the people who had crossed carried information to Mansong, the king, that a white man was waiting for a passage, and was coming to see him. He immediately sent over one of his chief men, who informed me that the king could not possibly see me till he knew what had brought me to his country, and that I must not presume to cross the river without the king's permission.
He therefore advised me to lodge at a distant village, to which he pointed, for the night, and said that in the morning he would give me further instructions how to conduct myself. This was very discouraging. However, as there was no remedy, I set off for the village, where I found, to my great mortification, that no person would admit me into his house. I was regarded with astonishment and fear, and was obliged to sit all day without victuals in the shade of a tree.
The next day a messenger arrived from Mansong, with a bag in his hand. He told me it was the king's pleasure that I should depart forthwith from the district, but that Mansong, wishing to relieve a white man in distress, had sent me 5,000 cowries, to enable me to purchase provisions in the course of my journey. The messenger added that, if my intentions were really to proceed to Jenne, he had orders to accompany me as a guide to Sansanding. I was at first puzzled to account for this behaviour of the king, but from the conversation I had with the guide, I had afterwards reason to believe that Mansong would willingly have admitted me to his presence at Sego, but was apprehensive he would not be able to protect me against the blind and inveterate malice of the Moorish inhabitants.
His conduct was, therefore, at once prudent and liberal. The circumstances under which I made my appearance were undoubtedly such as might create in the mind of the king a well-warranted suspicion that I wished to conceal the true object of my journey.
In the countries that I visited the population is not very great, considering the extent and fertility of the soil and the ease with which the lands are obtained. I found many extensive and beautiful districts entirely destitute of inhabitants. Many places are unfavourable to population, from being unhealthful. The swampy banks of the Gambia, the Senegal, and other rivers towards the coast, are of this description. The negro nations possess a wonderful similarity of disposition. The Mandingoes, in particular, are a very gentle race; cheerful in their disposition, inquisitive, incredulous, simple, and fond of flattery. Perhaps the most prominent defect in their character is the propensity to theft, which in their estimation is no crime. On the other hand, it is impossible for me to forget the disinterested charity and tender solicitude with which many of these poor heathens, from the sovereign of Sego to the poor women who received me at different times into their cottages when I was perishing of hunger sympathised with me in my distresses, and contributed to my safety.
On my return to Pisania, Dr. Laidley received me with great joy and satisfaction, as one risen from the dead. No European vessel had arrived at Gambia for many months previous to my return from the interior. But on June 15 the ship Charlestown, an American vessel, commanded by Mr. Charles Harris, entered the river. She came for slaves, intending to touch at Goree to fill up, and to proceed from thence to South Carolina. This afforded me an opportunity of returning, though by a circuitous route, to my native country. I therefore immediately engaged my passage in his vessel for America. I disembarked at St. John's, and there took passage to Antigua, where, catching the mail-packet for Falmouth, I reached that port on December 22, having been absent from England two years and seven months.
I.—The Beginnings of a Romantic Career
Marco Polo stands out in history and literature as the most famous traveller belonging to the early mediaeval period. He was born at Venice in 1254. In 1271, his father and uncle, Venetian merchants, set out on a long and romantic Oriental journey, taking with them young Marco, who now began the amazing career chronicled in his book. Everywhere he made copious notes of his observations, and his curious records, so astonishing as to meet with little credence during the Middle Ages, have been so far confirmed as to demonstrate his absolute fidelity to facts as he saw them, and to such traditions as were communicated to him, however fantastic. Returning to Venice in 1295, three years later he fought in his own galley at Curzola, but on the defeat of the Venetians by the Genoese he was taken captive and flung into a fortress at Genoa. This captivity, which lasted a year, is memorable as being the cause of bringing about the record of his extraordinary experiences in the East. "The Travels of Marco Polo, a Venetian," consists essentially of two parts—first, the author's personal narrative; second, his description of the provinces and states and the peoples of Asia during the latter half of the thirteenth century.
In the middle of the thirteenth century, two merchants of Venice, Nicolo and Maffeo Polo, voyaged with a rich cargo of merchandise, in their own ship, to Constantinople, and thence to the Black Sea. From the Crimea they travelled on horseback into Western Tartary, where they resided in business for a year, gaining by their politic behaviour the cordial friendship of the paramount chief of the tribes, named Barka.
Prevented from returning to Europe through the outbreak of a tribal war in Tartary, the travellers proceeded to Bokhara, where they stayed three years. Here they made the acquaintance of the ambassador of the famous Kublai Khan. This potentate is called the "grand khan," or supreme prince of all the Tartar tribes. The ambassador invited the merchants to visit his master. Acceding to his request, they set out on the difficult journey, and on reaching their destination were cordially received by Kublai, for they were the first persons from Italy who had ever arrived in his dominions. He begged them to take with them to their country a commissioner from himself to the Pope of Rome. The result was unfortunate, for the commissioner fell ill on the way through Tartary in a few days, and was left behind. At Acre, the travellers heard that Pope Clement IV. was dead. Arrived at Venice, Nicolo Polo found that his wife had died soon after his departure in giving birth to a son, the Marco of this history, who was now fifteen years of age.
Waiting for two years in Venice, the election of a new pope being delayed by successive obstacles, and fearing that the grand khan would be disappointed or might despair of their return, they set out again for the East, taking with them young Marco Polo. But at Jerusalem they heard of the accession to the pontifical throne of Gregory X., and hastened back to Italy. The new pope welcomed them with great honour, furnished them with credentials, and commissioned to accompany them to the East two friars of great learning and talent, Fra Guglielmo da Tripoli and Fra Nicolo da Vicenza. The party, entrusted with handsome presents from the pontiff to the grand khan, voyaged forth, and reached Armenia to find that region embroiled in war. The two friars, in terror, returned to the coast under the care of certain knight templars; but the three Venetians, accustomed to danger, continued their journey, which, on account of slow winter progress, lasted altogether three and a half years.
Kublai had removed to a splendid city named Cle Men Fu [near where Peking now stands], and, on arriving, a gracious reception awaited the three merchants, who narrated events and delivered the messages from Rome with the papal presents. Taking special notice of young Marco, the grand khan enrolled him among his attendants of honour. Marco soon became proficient in four languages, and displayed such extraordinary talents that he was sent on a mission to Karazan, a city six months' journey distant. On this mission he distinguished himself by his tact and success, and during the seventeen years spent in the service of the khan executed many similar tasks in every part of the empire.
The Venetians remained many years at the Tartar court, and at length, after amassing much wealth, felt constrained to return home. They were permitted to depart, taking with them, at the khan's request, a maiden named Kogatin, of seventeen, a relative of the khan, whom they were to conduct to the court of Arghun, a sovereign in India, to become his wife.
The travellers were not fortunate, for they were compelled, through fresh wars among the Tartar princes, to return. But about this time Marco Polo happened to arrive after a long voyage in the East Indies, giving a most favourable report of the safety of the seas he had navigated. Accordingly, it was arranged that the party should go by sea; and fourteen ships were prepared, each having four masts and nine sails, and some crews of over 200 men. On these embarked the three Venetians, the Indian ambassadors, and the queen. In three months Java was reached, and India in eighteen more.
On landing, the travellers learned that the King of Arghun had died some time before, and his son Kiakato was reigning in his stead, and that the lady was to be presented to Kiasan, another son, then on the borders of Persia guarding the frontier with an army of 60,000. This was done, and then the party returned to the residence, and there rested nine months before taking their leave. While on their way they heard of the death of Kublai, this intelligence putting an end to their plan of revisiting those regions. Pursuing, therefore, their intended route, they at length reached Trebizonde, whence they proceeded to Negropont, and finally to Venice, at which place, in the enjoyment of health and abundant riches, they safely arrived in the year 1295, and offered thanks to God, Who had preserved them from innumerable perils.
The foregoing record enables the reader to judge of the opportunities Marco Polo had of acquiring a knowledge of the things he describes during a residence of many years in the eastern parts of the world.
II.—Legends of Ancient Persia
Persia was anciently a great province, but it is now in great part destroyed by the Tartars. From the city called Saba came the three magi who adored Christ at Bethlehem. They are buried in Saba, and are all three entire with their beards and hair. They were Baldasar, Gaspar, and Melchior. After three days' journey you come to Palasata, the castle of the fire-worshippers. The people say that the three magi, when they adored Christ, were by Him presented with a closed box, which they carried with them for several days, and then, being curious to see what it contained, were constrained to open. In it was a stone signifying that they should remain firm to the faith they had received.
Thinking themselves deluded, they threw the stone into a pit, whence instantly fire flamed forth. Bitterly repenting, they took home with them some of the fire, and placed it in a church, where it is adored as a god, the sacrifices all being performed before it. Therefore, the people of Persia worship fire.
In the north of Persia the people tell of the Old Man of the Mountain. He was named Alo-eddin, and was a Moslem. In a lovely valley he had planted a magnificent garden and built a cluster of gorgeous palaces, supplied by means of conduits with streams of wine, milk, honey, and pure water. Beautiful girls, skilled in music and dancing, and richly dressed, were among the inhabitants of this retreat.
The chief object of Alo-eddin in forming this fascinating garden was to persuade his followers that, as Mahomet had promised to the Moslems the enjoyments of Paradise, with every species of sensual gratification, so he was also a prophet and the compeer of Mahomet, and had the power of admitting to Paradise whom he pleased. An impregnable castle guarded the entrance to the enchanting valley, the entrance to this being through a secret passage.
At his court this chief entertained many youths, selected from the people of the mountains for their apparent courage and martial disposition. To these he daily preached on Paradise and his prerogative of granting admission; and at certain times he caused opium to be administered to a dozen of the youths, who, when half dead with sleep, were conveyed to apartments in the palaces in the gardens. On awakening, each person found himself surrounded by lovely damsels, who sang, played, served delicate viands and exquisite wines, till the youth, intoxicated with excess of enjoyment, believed himself assuredly in Paradise, and felt unwilling to quit it.
After four or five days the youths were again thrown into somnolency and carried out of the garden; and when asked by Alo-eddin where they had been, declared that by his favour they had been in Paradise, the whole court listening with amazement to their recital. The consequence was that his followers were so devoted to his service that if any neighbouring chiefs or princes gave him umbrage they were put to death by these disciplined assassins, and his tyranny made him dreaded through all the surrounding provinces. He employed people to rob travellers in their passage through his country. At length the grand khan grew weary of hearing of his atrocious practices, and an army was sent in the year 1262 to besiege him in his castle. It was so strong that it held out for three years, until Alo-eddin was forced through lack of provisions to surrender, and was put to death. Thus perished the Old Man of the Mountain.
III.—Of the Tartars and their Grand Khan
Now that I have begun speaking of the Tartars, I will tell you more about them. They never remain long anywhere, but when winter approaches remove to the plains of a warmer region, in order to find sufficient pasture for their cattle. Their flocks and herds are multitudinous. Their tents are formed of rods covered with felt, and being exactly round, and nicely put together, they can gather them together into one bundle, and make them up as packages to carry about. When they set them up again, they always make the entrance front the south.
Their travelling-cars are drawn by oxen and camels. The women do all the business of trading, buying, and selling, and provide everything necessary for their husbands and families, the time of the men being entirely devoted to hunting, hawking, and matters that relate to military life. They have the best falcons and also the best dogs in the world. They subsist entirely on flesh and milk, consuming horses, camels, dogs, and animals of every description. They drink mares' milk, preparing it so that it has the qualities and flavour of white wine, and this beverage they call kemurs.
The Tartars believe in a supreme deity, to whom they offer incense and prayers; while they also worship another, called Natigay, whose image, covered with felt, is kept in every house. This god, who has a wife and children, and who, they consider, presides over their terrestrial concerns, protects their children, and guards their cattle and grain. They show him great respect, and at their meals they never omit to take a fat morsel of the flesh, and with it to grease the mouth of the idol.
Rich Tartars dress in cloth of gold and silks, with skins of the sable, the ermine, and other animals. All their accoutrements are of the most expensive kind. They are specially skilful in the use of the bow, and they are very brave in battle, but are cruel in disposition. Their martial qualities and their wonderful powers of endurance make them fitted to subdue the world, as, in fact, they have done with regard to a considerable portion of it.
When these Tartars engage in battle they never mingle with the enemy, but keep hovering about him, discharging their arrows first from one side, and then from the other, occasionally pretending to fly, and during their flight shooting arrows backwards at their pursuers, killing men and horses as if they were combating face to face. In this sort of warfare the adversary imagines he has gained a victory, when in fact he has lost the battle. For the Tartars, observing the mischief they have done him, wheel about, and renewing the fight, overpower his remaining troops, and make them prisoners in spite of their utmost exertions.
Kublai is the sixth grand khan, and began his reign as grand khan in the year 1246, and commenced his reign as Emperor of China in 1280. It is forty-two years since he began his reign in Tartary to the present year, 1288, and he is fully eighty-five years of age. It was his ancestor, Jengiz, who assumed the title of khan. Kublai is considered the most able and successful commander that ever led the Tartars to battle. He it was who completed the conquest of China by subduing the southern provinces and destroying the ancient dynasty. After this period he ceased to take the field in person. His last campaign was against rebels, of whom there were many both in Cathay and Manji [North and South China].
The Tartars date the beginning of their year from the beginning of February, and it is their custom on that occasion to dress in white. Great numbers of beautiful white horses are presented to the grand khan. On the day of the White Feast all his elephants, amounting to five thousand, are exhibited in procession, covered with rich housings. It is a time of splendid ceremonials, and of most sumptuous feasting. During the amusements a lion is conducted into the presence of his majesty, so tame that it is taught to lay itself down at his feet.
The grand khan has many leopards and lynxes kept for the purpose of chasing deer, and also many lions, which are larger than the Babylonian lions, and are active in seizing boars, wild oxen, and asses, stags, roebucks, and of other animals that are objects of sport. It is an admirable sight, when the lion is let loose in pursuit of the animal, to observe the savage eagerness and speed with which he overtakes it. His majesty has them conveyed for this purpose in cages placed on cars, and along with them is confined a little dog, with which they become familiarised. The grand khan has eagles also, which are trained to stoop at wolves, and such is their size and strength that none, however large, can escape from their talons.
Before we proceed further we shall speak of a memorable battle that was fought in the kingdom of Yun-chang. When the king of Mien [Burma] heard that an army of Tartars had arrived at Yun-chang, he resolved to attack it, in order that by its destruction the grand khan might be deterred from again attempting to station a force on the borders of his dominions.
For this purpose he assembled a very large army, including a multitude of elephants (an animal with which the country abounds), on whose backs were placed battlements, or castles of wood, capable of containing to the number of twelve or sixteen in each. With these, and a numerous army of horse and foot, he took the road to Yun-chang, where the grand khan's army lay, and encamping at no great distance from it, intended to give his troops a few days of rest.
The Tartars, chiefly by their wonderful skill in archery, inflicted a terrible defeat on their foes; and the King of Mien, though he fought with the most undaunted courage, was compelled to flee, leaving the greater part of his troops killed or wounded.
In the northern parts of the world there dwell many Tartars, under a chief of the name of Kaidu, nearly related to Kublai, the grand khan. These Tartars are idolaters. They possess vast herds of horses, cows, sheep, and other domestic animals. In these northern districts are found prodigious white bears, black foxes, wild asses in great numbers, and swarms of sables and martens. During the long and severe winters the Tartars travel in sledges drawn by great dogs.
Beyond the country of these northern Tartars is another region, which extends to the utmost bounds of the north, and is called the Region of Darkness, because during most part of the winter months the sun is invisible, and the atmosphere is obscured to the same degree as that in which we find it just about the dawn of day, when we may be said to see and not to see. The intellects of the people are dull, and they have an air of stupidity. The Tartars often proceed on plundering expeditions against them, to rob them of their cattle and goods, availing themselves for this purpose of those months in which the darkness prevails.
IV.—Of Ceylon and Malabar
The island of Zeilan [Ceylon] is better circumstanced than any other in the world. It is governed by a king named Sendernaz. The people worship idols, and are independent of every other state. Both men and women go nearly nude. Their food is milk, rice, and flesh, and they drink wine drawn from trees. Here is the best sappan-wood that can anywhere be met with.
The island produces more beautiful and valuable rubies than can be found in any other part of the world, and also many other precious stones. The king is reported to possess the grandest ruby that ever was seen, being a span in length, and the thickness of a man's arm, brilliant beyond description, and without a single flaw. The grand khan, Kublai, sent ambassadors to this monarch, with a request that he would yield to him possession of this ruby; in return for which he should receive the value of a city. The answer was that he would not sell it for all the treasure of the universe. The grand khan, therefore, failed to acquire it.
Leaving the island of Zeilan, you reach the great province of Malabar, which is part of the continent of the greater India, the noblest and richest country in the world. It is governed by four kings, of whom the principal is named Sender-bandi. Within his district is a fishery for pearls. The pearl oysters are brought up in bags by divers. The king wears many jewels of immense value, and among them is a fine silken string containing one hundred and four splendid pearls and rubies. He has at least a thousand wives and concubines, and when he sees a woman whose beauty pleases him, he immediately signifies his desire to possess her. The heat of the country is excessive, and on that account the people go naked.
In this kingdom, and also throughout India, all the beasts and birds are unlike those of our own country. There are bats as large as vultures, and vultures as black as crows, and much larger than ours.
In the province of Malabar is the body of St. Thomas the Apostle, who there suffered martyrdom. It rests in a small city to which vast numbers of Christians and Saracens resort. The latter regard him as a great prophet, and name him Ananias, signifying a holy personage.
In the year 1288 a powerful prince of the country, who at the time of harvest had accumulated as his portion an enormous quantity of rice, and whose granaries could not hold the vast store, used for that purpose a religious house belonging to the church of St. Thomas, although the guardians of the shrine begged him not thus to occupy the place. He persisted, and on the next night the holy apostle appeared to him, holding a small lance in his hand, which he held at his throat, threatening him with a miserable death if he should not immediately evacuate the house. The prince awoke in terror, and obeyed.
Various miracles are daily wrought here through the interposition of the blessed saint. The Christians who have the care of the church possess groves of cocoanut-trees, and from these derive the means of subsistence. The death of this most holy apostle took place thus. Having retired to a hermitage, where he was engaged in prayer, and being surrounded by a number of peafowls, with which bird the country abounds, an idolater who happened to be passing, and did not perceive the holy man, shot an arrow at a peacock, which struck St. Thomas in the side. He only had time to thank the Lord for all His mercies, and into His hands resigned his spirit.
In the kingdom of Musphili [Solconda], which you enter upon leaving Malabar after proceeding five hundred miles northward, are the best and most honourable merchants that can be found. No consideration whatever can induce them to speak an untruth. They have also an abhorrence of robbery, and are likewise remarkable for the virtue of continence, being satisfied with the possession of one wife. The Brahmins are distinguished by a certain badge, consisting of a thick cotton thread passed over the shoulder and tied under the arm.
The people are gross idolaters, and much addicted to sorcery and divination. When they are about to make a purchase of goods, they observe the shadow cast by their own bodies in the sunshine, and if the shadow be as large as it should be, they make the purchase that day. Moreover, when they are in a shop for the purchase of anything, if they see a tarantula, of which there are many there, they take notice from which side it comes, and regulate their business accordingly. Again, if they are going out of their houses and they hear anyone sneeze they return to the house and stay at home.
BERNARDIN DE SAINT PIERRE
Voyage to the Isle of France
I.—Miseries of Slavery
In 1768 Bernardin de Saint Pierre (see FICTION) was sent out to Mauritius, which was then a French colony called the Isle of France, to fortify it against the English. He found it was not worth fortifying, and, after an absence of three years, he returned to France, and in 1773 published his famous "Voyage to the Isle of France," and thereby made his name. It gave him a position similar to that which Defoe occupies in England, for by means of it he introduced into French literature the exotic element which he afterwards expanded in "Paul and Virginia." He was the first French writer of genius to apply the art of description in depicting the life and scenery of far-distant lands. Finally, it is interesting to remark on the general change which has taken place in the treatment of subject native races since the time when Saint Pierre wrote, even though such atrocities as came to light in the recent Congo scandal may be still burning themselves out in isolated instances.
PORT LOUIS, August 6, 1768. The Isle of France was discovered by a Portuguese, and taken over by the Dutch; but they abandoned it in 1712, and settled at the Cape of Good Hope, and the French then took possession of it.
The island was a desert when we took it over, and the first settlers were a few honest, simple farmers from our colony of Bourbon, who lived together very happily until 1760, when the English drove us out of India. Then, like a flood, all the scoundrels, rogues and broken men hunted from our Indian possessions, invaded the island and threw everything into disorder and ruin. Everybody is envious and discontented; everybody wishes to make a fortune at once and depart. And this is an island with no commerce and scarcely any agriculture, where the only money found is paper money! Yet they all say they will be rich enough to return to France in a year's time. They have been saying this for many years. Everything is in a state of squalid neglect. The streets are neither paved nor planted with trees; the houses are merely tents of wood, moved from place to place on rollers; the windows have no glass and no curtains, and it is rare that one finds within even a few poor pieces of furniture.
There are only four hundred farmers. The rest of the white population are mainly idlers, who gather together in the square from noon till evening and pass away the time in gambling and scandalmongering. The work of agriculture is carried on by black slaves imported from Madagascar. They can be got in exchange for a gun or a roll of cloth, and the dearest does not cost more than seven pounds. They are compelled to work from sunrise to sunset, and they are given nothing to eat but mashed maize boiled in water, and tapioca bread. At the least negligence the skin is scourged from their body. The women are punished in the same manner. Sometimes when they are old they are left to starve to death. Every day during my sojourn in the Isle of France I have seen black men and black women lashed hands and feet to a ladder and flogged for having forgot to shut a door or for breaking a bit of pottery. I have seen them bleeding all over, and having their wounded bodies rubbed with vinegar and salt. I have seen them speechless with excess of pain; I have seen some of them bite the iron cannon on which they have been bound.
I do not know if coffee and sugar are necessary to the happiness of Europe, but I know well that these two vegetables are a source of misery to the inhabitants of two continents of the world. We are dispeopling America in order to have a land to grow them; we are dispeopling Africa in order to have a nation to cultivate them. There are 20,000 black slaves on the Isle of France, but they die so fast that, in order to keep up their number, 1,200 more have to be imported every year.
I am very sorry that our philosophers who attack abuses with so much courage have hardly spoken of the slavery of the black races, except to make a jest of it. They have eyes only for things very remote. They speak of St. Bartholomew, of the massacre of the Mexicans by the Spaniards, as if this crime was not one committed now by the half of Europe. Oh, ye men who dream of republics, see how your own people misuse the authority entrusted to them! See your colonies streaming with human blood! The men who shed it are men of your stamp; they talk like you, they talk of humanity, they read the books of our philosophers, and they exclaim against despotism; but when they get any power they show that they are really brutes. In a country of so corrupt a morality an absolute government is necessary. The excesses of a single tyrant are preferable to the crimes and the injustices of a whole people.
II.—A Land of Beauty and Abominations
PORT LOUIS, September 13, 1769. An officer proposed to make a walking tour round the island with me, but when the time came to set out he excused himself, so I resolved to go alone. But knowing that I should often have to camp out in the woods alone, I took two negroes with me to carry provisions, and I armed myself with a double-barrel gun and a couple of pistols, for fear I should encounter one of the bands of runaway slaves that hide in the deserted part of the island.
Striking out through the plains of Saint Pierre, we walked for four days along the seashore, with the dense and silent forest on our left hand. On crossing the black river I came to the last farm on this part of the coast. It was a long hut, formed of stakes and covered with palm leaves. There was only one room. In the middle of it was the kitchen; at one extremity were the stores and the sleeping places of the eight black slaves; the other end was the farmer's bed; a hen was setting on some eggs on the counterpane, and some ducks were living beneath the bed, and around the leafy wall pigeons had made their nests. In this miserable hut I was surprised to find a very beautiful woman. She was a young Frenchwoman, born, like her husband, of a good family. They had come to the island some years ago in the hope of making a fortune; they had left their parents, their friends, and their native land, to pass their lives in this wild and lonely place, from which one could see only the empty sea and the grim precipices of a desolate mountain. But the air of contentment and goodness of this young and lovely mother of a growing family seemed to make everybody around her happy. When evening came she invited me to share a simple, but neatly-served supper. The meal appeared to me an exceedingly pleasant one. I was given as a bed-room a little tent built of wood, about a hundred steps away from the log cabin. As the door had not been put up, I closed the opening with planks, and loaded my gun and pistols; for the forest all around is full of runaway slaves. A few years ago forty of them began to make a plantation on the mountain close by; the white settlers surrounded them and called on them to surrender, but rather than return to captivity all the slaves threw themselves into the sea.
I stayed with the farmer and his wife until three o'clock the next morning. The farmer walked with me as far as Coral Point. He was a remarkably robust man, and his face and arms and legs were burnt by the sun. Unlike the ordinary settler, he worked himself in tilling the land and felling and carting trees. The only thing that worried him, he said to me, was the unnecessary trouble that his wife took in bringing up her family. Not content with looking after her own five children, she had recently burdened herself with the care of a little orphan girl. The honest farmer merely told me of his little worries, for he saw clearly that I was aware of all his happiness. When we took farewell of each other, we did so with a cordial embrace.
The country beyond his farm was charming in its verdure and freshness; it is a rich prairie stretching between the splendid sea and the magnificent forest. The murmur of the fountains, the beautiful colour of the waves, the soft movement of the scented air filled me with joy and peace. I was sorry that I was alone; I formed all kinds of plans. From all the outside world I only wanted a few loved objects to enable me to pass my life in this paradise. And great was my regret when I turned away from this beautiful yet deserted place. I had scarcely gone 200 feet when a band of blacks, armed with guns, came towards me. Advancing to them, I saw that they were a detachment of the black police. One of them carried two little dogs; another pulled a negress along by means of a cord around her neck—she was part of the loot they had got in attacking and dispersing a camp of runaway slaves. The negress was broken with grief. I questioned her; she did not reply. On her back she carried a large gaping bag. I look in it. Alas! it contained a man's head. The natural beauty of the country disappeared. I saw it as it really was—a land of abominations.
The Isle of France is regarded as a fortress which protects our Indian possessions. It is as though Bordeaux were regarded as the citadel of our American colonies. There are 1,500 leagues between the Isle of France and Pondichery. Had we but spent on a fortress on the Malabar coast or the mouth of the Ganges half of the money which has been wasted on the Isle of France the English would not now be masters of Bengal. What, then, is the use of the Isle of France? To grow coffee and serve as a port of call.
III.—Bourbon, the Pirates' Island
PORT LOUIS, December 21, 1770. Having obtained permission to return to France, I embarked on November 9, 1770, on the Indien. It took us twelve days to cover the forty leagues between the Isle of France and Bourbon. This was due to the calm weather; but on landing at Bourbon, we encountered a hurricane.
Out of the calm sea there suddenly came a monstrous wave which broke so violently on the shore that everybody fled. The foam rose fifty feet into the air. Behind it came three waves the same height and force, like three long rolling hills. The air was heavy, the sky dark with motionless clouds, and the vast flocks of whimbrels and drivers came in from the open sea and scattered along the coast. The land birds and animals seemed perturbed. Even men felt a secret terror at the sight of a frightful tempest in the midst of calm weather.
On the second day the wind completely dropped, and the sea grew wilder. The billows were more numerous, and swept in from the ocean with great force. All the small boats were drawn far up on the land, and the people strengthened their house with joists and ropes. Seven ships besides the Indien were riding at anchor, and the islanders gathered in a crowd along the shore to see if they would weather the storm. At noon the sky began to lower, and a strong wind arose suddenly from the south-east. Everyone was afraid that the vessels would be flung ashore, and a signal was made from the battery for them to depart. As the cannon went off, the vessels cut their cables and got under sail, and at the end of two hours they disappeared in the north-east in the midst of a black sky.