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We must now suppose our traveller arrived at the dwelling of
This magnificent Tartar prince has always been an object of interest with readers of the old travellers. A fine poet has noticed him, and rendered him a hundred times more so. Coleridge was reading an account of one of his structures in Purchas's Pilgrimage, when he fell into a sleep occasioned by opium, during which, he tells us, he poured forth some hundreds of lines, of which an accident deprived us of more than the divine fragment known under the title of Kubla Khan, or a Vision in a Dream. Opium takers are said to have such visions; but only such an opium taker as Coleridge ever had one, we suspect, so thoroughly fit and poetical, or related it in such exquisite music. It is impossible to refer to it, and not repeat it. The reader shall first have not only the words which the poet quotes from Purchas as having occasioned it, but the original of Purchas from Marco Polo. He will then see what a poet can do, even for a book of old travels and a king of kings.
Coleridge says he fell asleep while reading “the following sentence, or words of the same substance," from Purchas's book :—“Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto; and thus ten miles of fertile ground were enclosed with a wall.” “The author,” he proceeds, “continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which he has the most vivid con nce th: he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the corresponding expressions, without any sensation, or a consciousness of effort. On awaking, he appeared to him. self to have a distinct recollection of the whole; and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour; and on his return to his room, found to his no small surprise and more tification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed . away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone had been cast; but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter."
The veracity of this statement has been called in question ; by what right of superior knowledge to the poet's own, we cannot say. For our parts, we devoutly believe it. We know very little of opium; but perhaps every writer of verse has experienced what it is to pour forth poetry in dreams, though he may have been as unable to call his production to mind, as Scarlatti was his famous “Devil's Sonata." Coleridge, by some process perhaps of the mysterious herb which had set him to sleep, had the ability given him; perhaps he had not been asleep at all in the ordinary sense of the word, but in some state of what is called coma vigil. At all events, the poem, exquisite as it is, is no finer than he could have written awake; and what he could have written awake, he might have conceived asleep, especially under the preternatural kind of excitement to which opiates give rise.
The following is Marco Polo's account of the structure alluded to. We give it, however, not from Harris, but from the later and better pages of Mr. Murray, who published not long ago the completest version of the travels of Marco Polo. The “Shandu” of Mr. Murray is the “Xanadu” of Coleridge.
KUBLA KHAN'S PALACE AT XANADU.
At Shandu in Tartary, near the western frontier of China, he has built a very large palace of marble and other valuable stones. The halls are gilded all over, and wonderfully beautiful, and a space sixteen miles in circuit is surrounded by a wall within which are fountains, rivers, and meadows. He finds stags, deer, and wild-goats, to give for food to the falcons and ger-falcons, which he keeps in cages, and goes out once a week to sport with them. Frequently he rides through that enclosure, having a leopard on the crupper of his horse, which, whenever he is inclined, he lets go, and it catches a stag, deer, or wild-goat, which is given to the ger-falcons in the cage. In this park, too, the monarch has a large palace framed of cane, in interior gilded all over, having pictures of beasts and birds most skilfully worked on it. The roof is of the same material 90 richly varnished that no water can penetrate. I assure you that these canes are more than three palms thick, and from ten to fifteen paces long. They are cut lengthways, from one knot to the other, and then arranged so as to form the roof. The whole structure is so disposed that the Khan, when he pleases, can order it to be taken down, for it is supported by more than two hundred cords of silk. His majesty remains there three months of the year, June, July, and August, the situation being cool and agreeable; and during this period his palace of cane is set up, while all the rest of the year it is down. On the 28th of August, he departs thence, and for the following purpose :—there are a race of mares white as snow, with no mixture of any other colour, and in number 10,000, whose milk must not be drunk by any one who is not of imperial lineage. Only one other race of men can drink it, called Boriat, because they gained a victory for Gengis Khan. When one of these white animals is passing, the Tartars pay respect to it as a great lord, standing by to make way for it.
Now for the architecture and landscape gardening of the poet:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
Down to a sunless sea.
But, oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
From the fountain and the caves.
A damsel with a dulcimer
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’t would win me
Neither Marco Polo, nor Rubruquis, no, nor Raleigh himself, nor any traveller that existed, ever saw a vision like that!
But we must hasten out of its divine company. Marco resumes with an account of
KUBLA KHAN'S PERSON AND STATE.
The Great Khan, lord of lords, named Kublai, is of a fine middle size, neither too tall nor too short; he has a beautiful fresh complexion, and well-proportioned limbs. His colour is fair and vermeil like the
dark and fine, his nose well formed and placed. He has four ladies, who always rank as his wives; and the eldest son, born to him by one of them, succeeds as the rightful heir of the empire. They are named empresses; each bears his name, and holds a court of her own; there is not one who has not three hundred beautiful maidens, with eunuchs, and many other male and female attendants, so that some of the courts of these ladies contain 10,000 persons.
Kubla resides in the vast city of Kambalu, three months in the year, December, January, and February, and has here his great palace, which I will now describe.