Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

tion. The art of protecting his ideas from penetration by involving them in obscurity, he possesses to an unusual extent. This, and his taste for quibbling, Mr. Bemham may perhaps have learnt from his former professional pursuits, and if such be the case his anger against the law is not disproportionate to the injury it has done him.

It is in tracing human actions to their motives, and to the hidden feelings which give rise to them, that the power and discernment of a moral philosopher display themselves the most. Mr. Bentham very adequately performs this part of the character. He points out the objects with a view to which every measure has been taken, and leaves nothing uncertain as to the secret or open designs of his opponents. His ideas, as we have already seen, are by no means favourable to their moral integrity. To the Bishop of London he is indeed more charitable than to any other person who has the ill-luck to be mentioned in this volume. The conduct of that Right Reverend prelate arises, it is hinted, from the misfortune of insanity, if that can be called a misfortune which shelters him from accountability for the guilt here laid to his charge. This instance of exemption is however solitary, and almost all the other persons and classes of persons mentioned or alluded to, are accused of the worst of actions, and those actions are traced to some low and degrading origin; to cool calculating selfishness, or to * interest-begotten prejudice.'

Mr. Bentham's 'laudatory' remarks are very rare, and he seldom uses terms of approbation, except to apply them ironically to his enemies. But in the language of vulgar scurrility, his vocabulary is copious and original, and all the terms of abuse that he can find or invent are profusely distributed on whatever is within his reach. In his indiscriminate railing, it is impossible to recognize any marks of the conviction of a liberal philosophy, or the warmth of a generous enthusiasm for theoretical perfection. If he were led away by too high a conception of the dignity ofour nature, or by an overstrained zeal for the happiness of mankind, we might excuse indignation flowing from such a source, and pardon intemperate expressions of it; but his invective evidently arises from wounded vanity, and from the hatred which he nourishes against all whom he looks upon as obstacles to any of his plans: It probably never occurred to him to doubt the infallibility of his reasonings, or the certainty of his conclusions; and not being charitable enough to make allowances for the weaker understandings of others, he thinks that, but for their own selfish views, all would acknowledge the truth of his doctrines. He therefore denounces as hypocrites all who are not his converts, and apparently feels towards them as if they were his enemies. No accusation is too improbable,

ble, no insinuation too calumnious to be propagated against them. The deep-rooted mahgnity exhibited in this volume must render it disgusting to every person whose mind contains the smallest portion of candour.

Mr. Bentham's friends may perhaps offer for his present publication the excuse which he so kindly proposed for the Bishop of London; but we are inclined to think, that in giving to the world these angry effusions, he has acted only upon the principles of his own peculiar philosophy. In theTraites de Legislation our author has classed under nine heads the different kinds of pleasure of which man is susceptible; amongst these a place is given to the pleasures of malevolence. The work before us is a practical exemplification of this amiable feature in his ethical system. If any man doubted before the existence of these pleasures, if any were ignorant of their extent, and of the length to which they may lead their votary, let him read ' Church-of-Englandism,' and he will be convinced that they cannot have been overrated.

It is fortunate that this book (as we have said) is not at all attractive; it is too obscure to be generally understood, and too ridiculous to be admired; and however mischievous the intention, the tendency will be very innoxious. Of its worst part, the indecent levity with which all that is sacred is treated in it, we have not spoken. These offences must be answered for at a higher tribunal; but we would seriously recommend it to the author to consider, whether the decline of life cannot be better spent than in captiously cavilling at the doctrines of religion, and in profane ridicule of its most holy rites?

Art. IX.— 1. The Travels of Marco Polo, a Venetian, in the Thirteenth Century, being a Description by that early Traveller of remarkable places and things, in the Eastern parts of the World. Translated from the Italian, tvith Notes, by William Marsden, F. R. S. &c. with a Map. London. 1818.

2. Di Marco Polo e degli alteri Viaggiatori Veneziani piil illustri Dissertazioni del P. Ab. D. Placido Zurla. Vol. i. in Venezia. 1818.

'TT might have been expected,' Mr. Marsden says, 'that in ages '*' past, a less tardy progress would have been made in doing justice to the intrinsic merits of a work (whatever were its defects as a composition) that first conveyed to Europeans a distinct idea of the empire of China, and, by shewing its situation together with that of Japan (before entirely unknown) in respect to the great Eastern ocean, which was supposed to meet and form one body of water with the Atlantic, eventually led to the important discoveries

VOl. XXI. NO. Xll. M of of the Spaniards and Portugueze.' At length, however, we need not scruple to assert that ample justice has been done to the character and reputation of this early oriental traveller; and that the name of Marco Polo stands completely rescued from that unmerited reproach which, in an age of ignorance, was wantonly heaped upon it, and which five centuries have not been sufficient entirely to wipe away; at least, according to Mr. Marsden, who tells us there are still those ' who declare their want of faith, and make the character of Marco Polo the subject of their pleasantry.'—There may be such ' persons;' but we should be somewhat less tender of their cavils and scruples than Mr. Marsden, and manifest very little of that consideration which he has vouchsafed to shew them, by undertaking his ' translation and commentary,' as he tells us, ' with the view of removing from such candid and reflecting minds any doubts of the honest spirit in which the original was composed.'

For ourselves we can safely say that, on every occasion where we have found it necessary to refer to Marco Polo, either for the corroboration of some fact, or to trace back the progressive geography of Asiatic countries, we never found cause to call in question the fidelity and veracity of this early traveller; on whom, perhaps not quite appropriately, Malte-Brun has not hesitated to bestow the appellation of ' the creator of modern oriental geography—the Humboldt of the thirteenth century'—We say, not quite appropriately, because Carpin and Rubruquis preceded him into Tartary; and he has no claim either to science or philosophy, with both of which the modern traveller is so eminently gifted. He was however a man of observation, of sound judgment, and discretion; and, like the ' Father of History,' whom he most resembles, always careful to separate the knowledge acquired by his own experience from that which was communicated to him by others. Mr. Marsden, We think, has succeeded in removing every unfavourable impression; and we augur confidently that, from this time, the reputation of this noble Venetian will be considered as fully established, even by those on whom the translator has bestowed the unmerited compliment of composing so elaborate a work for their conviction.

It is not a little remarkable that, while Mr. Marsden was preparing his work in England, no less than three Italian publications on the life and travels of Marco Polo were in preparation in Italy— one by the Cavaliere Baldelli at Florence, another at Rome, and a third, the only one that has yet appeared, by the Abbate Placido Zurla, who had already published a short account of our traveller in a work brought out in numbers at Milan, under the name of Fite e Ritratti d'lllustri Italiani, in which was given a pretended portrait of Marco Polo, but which is proved by Mr. Marsden to be altogether fictitious.

Judging

Judging from the scanty additional materials interspersed in Zurla's work, we are not led to form-any very high expectation of the other two which are to follow; few if any new lights, we fear, are likely to be produced from the hidden stores of Italy. The plan of Zurla is radically defective; he has not only analyzed but absolutely anatomized his author—cut and hacked him into fragments, and mixed them up with so many extraneous scraps of his own, that even if Marco Polo himself were to rise from the dead he could not possibly recognise his own work—in short, it is no longer the travels of Marco Polo, but a collection of dissertations on the geography, natural history, customs, &c. of Eastern Tartary aud China, preceded by a biographical notice of the author and his family.

Mr. Marsden has adopted a very different, and, in our opinion; a much more judicious plan in the conduct of his work': by preserving the author's narrative entire, he has exhibited Marco Polo in his true shape and proportion, unchanged in all respects, except that of his English dress. We were indeed persuaded, before we opened the volume, that no one was so well qualified to do justice to the merits of the illustrious traveller, as the learned and accurate historian of Sumatra. His residence on that island, which is largely spoken of by Marco Polo under the name of Java Minor, first gave him, he says, occasion to examine the narrative relating to it; 'and it has since,' he adds, 'been my unceasing wish that the elucidation of its obscurities should engage the attention of some person competent to the task of preparing a new edition from the best existing materials, and of illustrating it with notes calculated to bring the matter of the text into comparison with the information contained in subsequent accounts of travels and other well authenticated writings.' This task, fortunately for the literary world, he has himself undertaken, and accomplished with that success which was to be expected from so able a writer. Gifted as he is with an extensive knowledge of the customs, character and languages of most of the nations of the east; acquainted, from long residence, with most of their productions; possessing a library well stored with oriental literature; and having ready access to the best collections thatGreat Britain affords;—with such advantages, superadded to a well regulated mind, and a sound and discriminating judgment, we had a right to anticipate a work of no ordinary merit, and we have not been disappointed. The Translation is as close as the idiom "of the Italian and English languages would admit, without being obscure; and the ' Notes' will be found to contain a vast mass of information, partly derived from personal knowledge, and partly from the best authors who have written on the various subjects which are brought under view.

'. M,2 In . In the choice of a text for his translation, Mr. Marsden was led to give the preference to the Italian version of Ramusio, who, indeed, of all compilers, may be considered as the most accurate. In the English language we had few editions of the work, and none that could be read with satisfaction. The first, by John Erampton, was printed by Ralph Newberry in 1579. Of this very rare book, entitled ' The most noble and famous Travels of Marcus Paulus, no less pleasant than profitable, &c.' Mr. Marsden observes, ' the style is remarkably rude, and the orthography of foreign names incorrect; but with regard to the matter of the text, it is by no means defective.' A second English version may be found in the ' Pilgrimes' of Samuel Purchas, in which, as usual, this industrious collector has taken great liberties with the text, and committed great mistakes. Yet this version, as Mr. Marsden observes, has served as the basis of that given by Dr. Campbell, in his edition of the collection of voyages and travels, first published by Harris in 1704; for the use of which work, he tells us, the language was modernized and polished, without any reference to the Italian or the Latin for correction; so that all the faults, excepting those of style, were suffered to remain, whilst some mistakes imputable to the modernizer have been superadded: such, for instance, as that in which it is said of a certain causeway in China, that ' on both sides are great fences,' instead of ' great fennes' (fens), as it stands in Purchas; the word being ' pulude' in the Italian. Under these circumstances it will be readily conceded to Mr. Marsden that' a new translation of Marco Polo's travels was wanting to the literature of our own country.'

The 'Notes' however are the most important part of the volume; and the plan of placing them at the end of each section, from which they are respectively referred to by figures in a consecutive series, beginning with No. 1, and continued to No. 1495, is perhaps the most convenient for the reader that could have been adopted. Many are of considerable length, and each of them illustrates some point in the text. Of the 781 pages of which the volume consists, the notes occupy, we should suppose, not less than twothirds.

With such a variety of matter before us, it would be idle to attempt any thing like an abstract, however abbreviated; and unfair to select any particular note as a specimen of the whole. We shall therefore confme ourselves, principally, to a brief sketch of the life and travels of this illustrious Venetian. A great part of the matter is furnished by the traveller himself; the rest is chiefly taken from Ramusio. We had hoped that the Abbate Zurla, his countryman, might have been able to supply some additional information from the several manuscript collections of ancient records

« AnteriorContinuar »