Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

be surprized at a few omissions of objects or customs however remarkable. The most important of them belong to. China, in which country the greater part of his time was passed. His enemies particularly notice,—his silence with respect to the Great Wall—to the cultivation and general use of tea—to the preposterous fashion of bandaging the feet of female children in order to render them small and useless through life—and to the employment of wheel carriages impelled by wind. We may at once discard the last of these, as we believe they are confined to a particular district of the province of Petchelee, and have rarely been seen by any stranger. The other three were certainly familiar to him: he must have seen and even crossed the Great Wall, though at a place perhaps where it is only a mound of earth; but the most perfect and finished part of it is not more than sixty miles from Pekin, and it is there so very similar in construction to that of the walls of the capital and of most of the cities of China, as to cease possessing that attraction which, at first sight, it undoubtedly boasts. Some authors have speculated on its being built subsequently to the time of Marco Polo; and a missionary of the name of Paolino da San Bartholomeo (in a work published at Rome) has boldly fixed oh the fourteenth century as the date of its erection :—he might, with equal probability, have asserted that Julius Caesar invaded Britain in the fourteenth century.

The article of tea has supplied ail almost universal beverage to the Chinese from time immemorial, and appears, by the early annals of the empire, to have then, as now, contributed to the revenue; it is mentioned by the two Mahommedans who visited China in the ninth century: the cramping of the ladies' feet too has been a custom from a time ' to which the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.' These things must therefore have been well known to Marco Polo, though he has omitted them in his narrative. , But it has been the fate of this early traveller not only to be charged with faults of commission and omission, but to "have other matters ascribed to him of which he makes no mention, and of which indeed he could have no knowledge. Thus nothing is more common than to find it repeated from book to book, that gunpowder and the mariner's compass were first brought from China by Marco Polo, though there can be very little doubt that both were known in Europe some time before his return. Indeed there is good evidence that the use of the magnetic needle was familiar here long before he set out on his travels; for Alonzo el Sabio, king of Castile, who, about the year 1260, promulgated the famous code of laws known by the title of' Las siete Partidas,' has (in the preamble of ley 28, titulo Q, partida 2,) the following remarkable passage: 'E bien asi como los marineros se guian en la noche escura

por . por el aguja, que leses medianera entre la piedra. e la'estrella, ie les muestra por d5 vayan, tarubien en los malos tiempos, como en los buenos—otro si, los que han de anconsejar al Rev deben siempre guiar por la justicia.'—' And as mariners guide themselves in the dark night by the needle, which is the medium (medianera) between the magnet and the star, in like manner ought those who have to counsel the king always to guide themselves by justice.' i

Now it is obvious that the monarch would not have availed himself of the happy comparison of the office of a faithful counsellor to the magnetic needle, if that instrument had not been generally in use, at the period when he wrote; but how long before that period it had been known, and applied to the purposes of navigation, it may be difficult, perhaps impossible, to ascertain. There were in those times no philosophical journals, no literary gazettes, no reviews to communicate such intelligence to the world; and we are indebted for the little information which has come down to us, to incidental notices by authors not writing expressly on the subject. Thus Guyot de Provins, who is supposed to have lived about the year 1180, evidently alludes to the magnetic needle in the following verses:—

'Mais celle estoile ne se muet, . . .

Un art font, que mentir ne puet,
Par la vertu de la mariniere,
Une pierre laide et bruniere,
Ou li fers volontiersse joint,
Ont si esgardent le droite point,
Puis qu'uneaguille ont touchie,
Et en un festu Font couchie
En l'eue le raettent, sans plus,
Et le festus la tienneut desus:
Puisse tourne la pointe toute,
Contre le estoile,' &c.

Jacobus Vitriacus, bishop of Ptolemais, who died at Rome in 1244, and who composed his Historia Orientalis between 1220 and 1230, after his return from the Holy land, says,—' Valde necessarius est acus navigantibus in mari.' He had himself made more than one voyage by sea. And Vicentio of Beauvais (Vicentius Bellovacius) observes, in his Speculum Doctrinale, ' Cum enim vias suas ad portum dirigere nesciunt, cacumen acus ad adamantem lapidem fricatumj per transversum in festuca parva infigunt, et vasi pleno aquae immittunt.' Bellovacius died in 1266; how long before his death the above was written we know not. In another passage he seems to hint that the Arabians were the inventors; but this is very improbable: had they possessed the compass when they traded so largely to China in the ninth and succeeding centuries,

. - . they

they would not (as they did) have crept along the shores of the bay of Bengal, of Cambodia, and Cochin-china; besides, the name they gave to it (el bossolo) leaves little doubt of the source from which it was derived. The route pursued by Marco Polo from the head of the Yellow Sea to the Persian Gulph affords a strong argument against any knowledge of the compass by the Chinese in the thirteenth century; to say nothing of his silence concerning this wonderful instrument, while he so minutely and accurately describes the four-masted vessels on which he and his retinue embarked.

Many other authorities might be quoted to shew that the magnetic needle was in common use among the mariners of Europe before the middle of the thirteenth century. It was indeed then a rude and simple instrument, being only an iron needle magnetized, and stuck into a bit of wood, floating in a vessel of water; in which inartificial 'and inconvenient form it seems to have remained till about the beginning of the fourteenth century, when Flavio Gioia, of Amalphi, made the great improvement of suspending the needle on a centre, and enclosing it in a box. The advantages of this were so great, that it was universally adopted, and the instrument in its old and simple form laid aside and forgotten: hence Gioia, in aftertimes, came to be considered as the inventor of the mariner's compass, of which he was only the improver. The Biographia Britannica mistakes the period of Gioia's death for that of his birth; he lived in the reign of Charles of Anjou, who died king of Naples in 1509- It was in compliment to this sovereign (for Amalphi is in the dominions of Naples) that Gioia distinguished the north point by a fleur-de-lis. This was one of the circumstances by which the French, in later days, endeavoured to prove that the mariner's compass was a French discovery: but to what discoveries will not our ingenious and ambitious neighbours lay claim, after their late attempts to appropriate that of the steamengine, and still more recently that of Mr. Seppings's most important improvement in the construction of ships of war!

That Marco Polo would have mentioned the mariner's compass, if it had been in use in China, we think highly probable; and his silence respecting gunpowder may be considered as at least a negative proof that this also was unknown to the Chinese in the time of Kublai-khan. Be this as it may, there is positive proof that the use of cannon was unknown, otherwise our travellers would not have been employed by the emperor to construct machines to batter the walls of Sa-Yau-Fu. (p. 489.) There is nothing in the history of these people, nor in their ' Dictionary of Arts and Sciences,' that bears any allusion to their knowledge ot cannon before the invasion of Gengis-Khan, when (in the year 1219) mention is made of hb-pao, or fire-tubes, the present name of cannon, which are said to kill men and to set fire to inflammable substances: they are said

VOl. XXt. NO. XU. N. too too to have been used by the Tartars, not by the Chinese, and were probably nothing more than the enormous rockets known in India at the period of the Mahommedan invasion. It is clear that Roger Bacon, who died in 1294, was acquainted with the composition, aud even with some of the effects of gunpowder, for it is recorded in those of his works which have come down to us. It would, however, be difficult to connect his discovery with the application of it to the purpose of war, by a people apparently unacquainted with the labours of the English friar. The Moors, or Arabs, in Spain, appear to have used gunpowder and cannon as early as 1312. In the Cronica de Espaiia by Abu Abdalla, it is said that,' el Rey de Granada, Abul-Walid, llevo consigo al sitio de Baza una gruessa nmquina, que, cargada con mixtos de azufre, y dandole fuego, despedia con estuendo globos contra el Alcazar de aquella ciudad.' And in 1831 when the king of Granada laid siege to Alicant, he battered its walls with iron bullets, discharged by fire from machines: this novel mode of warfare, adds the annalist, inspired great terror,—' y puso en aquel tiempo grande terror una nueva invencion de combate, que, entre las otras miiquinas que el Rey de Granada tenia para combatir los muros, llevava pellotas de hierro que se lanzaban con fuego.'*

It is stated in the Cronica de Don Alonzo el Onceno, cap. 273, that when Alonzo XI. king of Castile, besieged Algeziras in 1 {342-3, the Moorish garrison, in defending the place—' lanzaban muchos truenos contra la hueste en que lanzaban pellas de fierro muy grandes.' That the truenos (literally thunders) were a species of cannon, and fired with powder, is clear from the following passage in the same Chronicle,—' Los Moros que estaban en su hueste cerca de Gibraltar, des que oyeron el ruido de los truenos, e vieron las afumadas que facian en Algecira, cuidaron que los Cristianos combatianla ciudad.' Mariana mentions the circumstance of the inhabitants defending themselves by ' tiros con polvora que lanzaban piedras and adds that this was the first instance he had found of any mention of the use of such arms.'—vol. vi. p. 54. The celebrated battle of Crecy was fought by Edward III. in 1346; and Hume, on the authority of Villani, says that the English had cannon, but not the French; it is, however, worthy of remark that, although Villani was a contemporary, yet he composed his history in Italy, and therefore could only speak from hearsay; whereas Froissart, also a contemporary, residing in France, and almost an eye-witness, makes no mention of cannon, although he describes the battle very particularly; and Thomas of Walsingham, who wrote more than three centuries before Hume,f and who not only gives a very detailed ac- — . .

* Zurita, Aun. de Aragon, t. ii. lib. 7. cap. la. f. 99. v. t Ypodigma Neustrioj.

count count of (he battle, but even specifies by name the arms and weapons used by the Englishgladios, lanceas, secures, et sagitlas— makes not the slightest mention of the bombarde, nor of the pallolole di j'erro c/ie saettavano.* The French were beaten by the English as completely at Crecy as they were at Waterloo; and their national vanity might have spread the report of the English owing their victory to the advantage of cannon, with as little foundation in fact, as they ascribed their defeat at Waterloo to the entrenchments and fortifications of Mont St. Jean.

In vindicating our traveller from the charge of not mentioning what did not exist in China when he was there, we have been tempted to lay before the public some facts, which, though probably known to those who are much read in the early literature of Spain, may yet be new to such of our readers as are not familiar with that noble language, or have not access to the sources from which we have drawn our information.f For this we look to their usual indulgence, though we feel at the same time that an apology is necessary for the digression to which it has led us.

To return to our traveller. With all the apparent improbabilities, defects, and inconsistencies of the narrative there is still enough in it to convince the most sceptical of its general accuracy; while the numerous descriptions and incidents afford, as Mr- Marsden justly observes, unobtrusive proofs of genuineness; among others may be enumerated, the state in which the bodies of persons destroyed by the hot wind of the desert are found—the manufacture of inebriating liquor from the infusion of dates—the tradition prevailing in Budakshan, of the descent of its princes from Alexander of Macedon—the gigantic figures of idols in a recumbent posture —the description of the bos grunniens, or yak of Tartary—the figures of dragons in Kataian or Chinese ornament—the periodical residence of the emperors in Tartary during the summer months— the commencement of the Kataian year in February—the ceremony •of prostration before the emperor or his tablet by word of command—the ascent to the top of Adam's Peak, in Ceylon, being effected by the assistance of iron chaius—the burning of coal, beforementioned, and a great variety of other matters utterly unknown at the time, but which have since been found to be perfectly correct. These indeed are now familiar to most readers: but all the other subjects of which the author treats, and which are not so generally known, are elucidated and explained by the erudition and research of Mr. Marsden; who has added, by his edition of Marco Polo, another treasure to the stock of oriental literature worthy of his distinguished reputation as a linguist and a geographer, and highly meriting a place on the shelf of every library, public and private.

* Villani, torn. ii. lib. 12. p. 280. \ Company, Quest. Crit.'

N 2

Aut.

« AnteriorContinuar »