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he was not contented therewith, because we brought him not some rich garment.
We were however admitted into his presence with fear and bashfulness. He sat on his bed, holding a musical instrument in his hand, and his wife sat by him, who, in my opinion, had cut and pared her nose between the eyes that she might seem to be more flat-nosed; for she had left herself no nose at all in that place, having anointed the very scar with black ointment, as she also did her eyebrows, which sight seemed to us most ugly. Then I repeated to him the same words which I had done in other places; for we were directed in this circumstance by some that had been amongst the Tartars, that we should never vary in our tale. I besought him that he would accept this small gift at our hands, excusing myself that I was a monk, and that it was against our profession to possess gold, silver, or precious garments, and therefore that I had not any such thing to give him, unless he would receive some part of our victuals instead of a blessing. He caused thereupon our present to be received, and immediately distributed the same amongst his men, who were met together for that purpose, to drink and make merry. I delivered also to him the Emperor of Constantinople's letters, eight days after the feast of Ascension, and he sent them to Soldai to have them interpreted there; for they were written in Greek, and he had none about him that was skilled in the Greek tongue.
He asked us if we could drink any Cosmos-that is to say, mare's milk, for those that are Christians among them, as the Russians, Grecians, and Alans, who keep their own laws very strictly, will not drink thereof, for they account themselves no Christians after they have once drank of it; and their priests reconcile them to the church, as if they
had renounced the Christian faith. I answered, that as yet we had sufficient of our own to drink, and that when it failed us we should be constrained to drink such as should
be given us. He inquired also what was contained in the letters your majesty sent to Sartach. I answered they were sealed up, and nothing contained in them but friendly words. And he asked what words we would deliver unto Sartach. I answered the words of Christian Faith. He asked again what those words were, for he was very desirous to hear them. Then I expounded to him, as well as I could by my interpreter, who was a very sorry one, the Apostle's Creed, which after he had heard he shook his head.
Here endeth (as far as our pages are concerned) good William de Rubruquis; and here beginneth the good Signor Jeweller and noble Venetian, Messer Marco Polo.
HARRIS suffered his pen to slip in his table of contents when he described Marco Polo travelling in the middle of the twelfth century. That was the date of the father and uncle of Marco, who went into China and Tartary before him. Marco, however, includes the history of their travels in his own, so that Harris's date does not violate the spirit of the truth. The father and uncle, Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, had had better luck than Rubruquis. They saw not only the wild and roving Tartars, but the civilized; those who lived in great cities, not of houses on carts, but of magnificent palaces, descendants of the conquerors under Genghis Khan, lord of India, Persia, and Northern China, whose descendant Kubla (Coleridge's Kubla) was now reigning "In Cambalu, seat of Cathaian Khan."
Milton had seen him before Coleridge, in the pages of Marco Polo. The
great poet had also seen the Tartars of William de Rubruquis, and the subsequent Chinese improvements on their carts:
"As when a vulture on Imaus bred,
Whose snowy ridge the roving Tartar bounds,
To gorge the flesh of lambs or yeanling kids
On hills where flocks are fed, flies tow'rds the springs
Of Ganges or Hydaspes, Indian streams,
But in his way lights on the barren plains
Of Sericana, where Chineses drive
With sails and wind their cany waggons light;
So on this windy sea of land the Fiend
ID., Book III.
The reader will also find Milton presently with Marco Polo in the desert. He was fond of the East and South, from Tartary down to Morocco, from the red and white complexions of the conical-hatted sons of Hologou down to the
"Dusk faces with white silken turbans wreath'd."
But what poet is not? Chaucer got his 'Squire's Tale, nobody knows how, from
"Sarra, in the land of Tartary."
Other old English poets confounded, or chose to confound,
"the loathly lakes of Tartary"
with those of Tartarus; at least, one word with the other. They thought both the places so grim and remote, as to deserve to have the same appellation.
Niccolo and Maffeo Polo went into the East to trade in jewels. They entered the service of Kubla, assisted him in his wars with their knowledge of engineering, and became agents for religious affairs between the Pope and their master, who (with a liberality which is apt to be more honourable to the person who is willing to hear, than to the zealots who assume that they are qualified to teach him) was desirous to understand what a people so clever in the affairs of this world had to tell him respecting the world unknown. On their return to the Khan (which terminated in nothing to that end), they brought with them the younger Polo Marco, who also entered the Khan's service,
and who subsequently became the most enterprising traveller of all three, and the relater of their adventures. He told the history to a friend, who took it from his mouth; and hence it is, that he is always spoken of in the third person.
The reader must conceive Marco in full progress for the court of the Great Khan, and about to pass over the terrible desert of Lop or Kobi, where he (or Dr. Harris) has omitted, however, what we could swear we once beheld in it, by favour of some other account; to wit, a dreadful unendurable face, that used to stare at people as they went by. Polo's account, deprived of this rich bit of horror, is comparatively tame; but still the sounds, and the invisible host of passengers, are much; and the poetic reader will trace the footsteps of Milton, who has clearly been listening, in this same desert of Lop, to the ghastly calling of people's names-to
"Voices calling in the dead of night,
And airy tongues that syllable men's names
On sands and shores and desert wildernesses."
He has another line in the same passage about "ghastly fury's apparition," which we cannot but think was suggested by our friend, the dreadful face.
MARCO POLO PASSES THE DESERT OF LOP.
YASCIAN is subject to the Tartars; the name of the province and chief city is the same; it hath many cities and castles, many precious stones are found there in the rivers, especially jasper and chalcedons, which merchants. carry quite to Ouaback to sell and make great gain; from Piem to this province, and quite through it also, is a sandy soil with many bad waters and few good. When an army passes through the province, all the inhabitants thereof, with their wives, children, cattle, and all their house stuff fly two days' journey into the sands, where they know that great waters are, and stay there, and carry their corn thither, also to hide it in the sand after harvests from the like fears.
The wind doth so deface their steps in the sand, that their enemies cannot find their way.
Departing from this province, you are to travel five days' journey through the sands, where no other water almost than that which is bitter is anywhere to be found, until you come to the city called Lop, which is a great city from which is the entrance of a great desert, called also the wilderness of Lop, seated between the east and the north-east. The inhabitants are Mahommedans, subject to the Great Khan.
In the city of Lop, merchants who desire to pass over the desert, cause all necessaries to be provided for them, and when victuals begin to fail in the desert, they kill their asses and camels, and eat them. They make it mostly their choice to use camels, because they are sustained with little meat, and bear great burthens. They must provide victuals for a month to cross it only, for to go through it lengthways would require a year's time. They go through the sands and barren mountains, and daily find water; yet it is sometimes so little that it will hardly suffice fifty or a hundred men with their beasts: and in three or four places the water is salt and bitter. The rest of the road, for eight-and-twenty days, is very good. In it there are not either beast, or birds; they say that there dwell many spirits in this wilderness, which cause great and marvellous illusions to travellers, and make them perish; for if any stay behind, and cannot see his company, he shall be called by his name, and so going out of the way, is lost. In the night they hear as it were the noise of a company, which taking to be theirs they perish likewise. Concerts of music-instruments are sometimes heard in the air, likewise drums and noise of armies. They go therefore close together, hang bells on their beasts' necks, and set marks if any stray.