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accordance with the singular marriage customs of the Mongols, had passed on Abaka's death to the Orda of her stepson Arghun. The latter mourned her sorely, and took steps to fulfil her dying injunction, that her place should be filled only by a lady of her own kin, the Mongol tribe of Bayaut.* Ambassadors were despatched to the court of Khanbalig to seek such a bride. The message was courteously received, and the choice fell on the Lady Kukâchin, a maiden of seventeen, moult bele dame et avenant.' The overland road from Peking to Tabriz was not only of portentous length for such a tender charge, but was imperilled by war, so the envoys desired to return by sea. Tartars in general were strangers to all navigation; and the envoys, much taken with the Venetians, and eager to benefit by their experience, begged the old Emperor as a favour to send the three Firinghis along with them. He consented with reluctance; but, having done so, fitted the party out nobly for the voyage, charging the Polos with friendly messages for the potentates of Europe, including the King of England. It was an ill-starred voyage, involving long detentions on the coast of Sumatra, and in the South of India, to which, however, we are indebted for some of the best chapters in the book, and two years and a half passed before their arrival in Persia. The three hardy Venetians survived all perils, and so did the lady, who had come to look on them with filial regard; but two of the three envoys and a vast proportion of the suite had perished by the way. Arghun, too, had been dead even before they quitted China; his brother Kaikhátu reigned in his stead, and his son Ghazan succeeded to the lady's hand. We are told by one who knew both the princes well that Ghazan, instead of being like his father Arghun one of the handsomest men of his time, was so much the reverse that in all his host of 200,000 Tartars you would hardly have found a man so little or so mean-looking.† But in other aspects the lady's exchange was for the better. Ghazan had some of the highest qualities of a soldier, a legislator, and a king, adorned by many and varied accomplishments; and had a longer life been granted him it might have been well for Persia. Short as his life was, that of the fair young princess who had come so far to his arms was much shorter. As well as we can gather, the party must have delivered her over to her bridegroom in the early part of 1294: Ghazan succeeded to the throne in the autumn of 1295, and the Lady Kukâchin passed away in the following June. The poor girl wept as she took leave of the kindly and noble Venetians.

* The Lady Bulugan died on the banks of the Kur, in Georgia, 7th April, 1286.- Hanımer's · Ilkhans'i. 374. † Hayton, the Armenian.


They went on to Tabriz, and, after a long halt there, proceeded homewards, reaching Venice some time in 1295.*

Thus far we draw the thread at least of the history from Marco's own account, but there it snaps short. For what else can be gathered of his biography we must turn to other quarters. Considering how widely the story of his travels had spread within the fourteenth century, it is strange how scanty and worthless are the notices of Polo in his own or the succeeding generations. That excellent geographical collector, G. Battista Ramusio, was the first who tried with affectionate solicitude to put together the scraps of fact about Mark's personal history; but more than two centuries had passed since his death, and some will not hold water. Ramusio's story, abridged, runs


• Of the elder Poli there were three, Marco, Maffeo, and Nicolo, the two latter of whom were the first visitors of Cathay. Marco died soon after their departure, and Nicolo's wife, who had been left with child, named her boy after this deceased uncle. Maffeo and Nicolo returned, found young Mark, and carried him back to the East with them, whence they did not return for a quarter of a century. Not many months after their return a fleet was fitted out in haste to encounter Lamba Doria who had entered the Adriatic with seventy Genoese galleys, and Marco was made captain of a Venetian galley. The fleets engaged at Curzola, and the Venetians were completely beaten.

Marco was wounded, captured with his admiral and many more, and sent in irons to Genoa. When news spread in that city of his marvellous travels, great curiosity was excited, and much attention paid him. He had to repeat his story till he was tired, and at last took the advice given him that he should commit it to writing. He procured memoranda from Venice, and with the aid of a Genoese gentleman, a daily visitor, the whole was written down in Latin, then much used in Genoese documents. In a few months it had been translated into the vulgar tongue, and had spread over Italy. Polo's father and uncle were much distressed about his imprisonment, the more so that unless he had a family there would be no heir to their wealth. So, as time passed without his release, Nicolo, who was a hearty old man, took another wife, and in the course of four years had three sons, Stephen, Matthew, and John. Before many years passed, Marco was set free by special favour, and took a wife himself, by whom he had two girls, Moretta and Fantina.'

Ramusio is, on several points of this story, inaccurate. His own edition, with all the best texts, places the return of the travellers in 1295 ; and it could not have been earlier. But the

* It is odd that no writer, so far as we know, should have noticed the correspondence of particulars about the Ladies Bulugan and Kukâchin in the Persian histories with Polo's story. They will be found in Hammer's · History of the Ilkhans,' and in Quatremère's · Rashiduddin.'


Battle of Curzola (an island near Lissa of recent fame) took place on the 8th of September, 1298; so that the call for Mark's services came three years instead of not many months' after their return. And the prisoners of Curzola were restored when peace was inade through the offices of Matteo Visconti of Milan, 25th May, 1299. Thus, if Marco was a prisoner of Curzola, his imprisonment did not exceed nine months, instead of exceeding

four years.

The matter is further complicated by a statement in the chronicle of Giacomo d'Aqui, one of the few quasi-contemporary references to Polo. A MS. of this at Milan assigns the capture of Marco to the Battle of Layas, on the coast of Cilicia, fought, it says, in 1296.

Could we accept this authority, it would enable us to put Marco's capture within a few months of his return, and extend the period of his imprisonment to three years, and would thus be more accordant with the general tenor of Ramusio than his capture at Curzola. This is what M. Pauthier does, and avoids all difficulty—by shutting his eyes. But the date in this MS. of Aqui is wrong, for the battle of Layas really took place in 1294, a year or more before Marco's return from the East; a date clearly stated by several other chroniclers,* as well as in a spirited contemporary Genoese ballad on the subject :

E per meio esse aregordenti

De si grande scacho mato
Correa mille ducenti

Zonto ge noranta e quatro.' †
This seems to shut us up to the view that he was taken at
Curzola in September, 1298, and released in 1299.

Ramusio's statement about the Genoese gentleman seems to be only a confused allusion to that dictation of the story in the prison of Genoa to one Rusticiano of Pisa, which is distinctly set forth in all the best MSS., though it appears to have been omitted from those known to Ramusio. The whole story of the self-sacrifice of Messer Nicolo in taking a second wife in his old age, and of the family that resulted, seems founded in mistake, as we see by the Wills which Cicogna has published. The old man did indeed leave three sons besides Marco, and their names were as Ramusio gives them. But two of them were illegitimate, and Matteo, at least, who seems to have been own brother to Marco, must, from the circumstances

* J. de Varagine ; Pipino; Dandolo; Stella ; all in Muratori,' tom. ix. 14, 42; xii. 404; xvii. 984. † Archivio Stor. Italiano;' Appendice IV. No. 18, p. 14,


as the

of the story, have been older than the Traveller. His Will is extant; it is dated August, 1300, and shows that old Nicolo was then already dead. We have also the Will of Marco the elder, which proves that instead of dying before his namesake's birth he was alive in 1280. Lastly, we have a part of Ramusio's statements confirmed by the Traveller's own Will made in January, 1323 (ab Incarn. Dom. probably 1324), which speaks of his then daily increasing infirmities, and names trustees Donata his wife, and his three daughters Fantina, Bellela, and Moreta.

Marco Polo stands easily at the head of Medieval Travellers, rather from the vastness of his experience and the great compass of his journeys than from eminent superiority of character and capacity. Zealous biographers have paralleled him with Columbus ; but we fail to trace the high genius and enthusiasm, the ardent and justified convictions, which mark the Admiral as one of the lights of our race. It is a juster praise that the spur which his book gave to geography, and the landmarks which he hung out at the eastern extremities of the earth, tended to kindle the fire and guide the aims of the greater son of the rival republic. His work was a link in the Providential chain which in due time revealed the New World. A chronicler of his own age says that his stories were doubted, and that on his death-bed anxious friends begged him to retract; to which the dying traveller replied that he had not told the half. A little later, one who copied the work, ' per passare tempo e malinconia,' says frankly that he puts no faith in it. Sir Thomas Brown is content to carry a wary eye' in reading Paulus Venetus; but others of our countrymen in the last century express strong doubts whether he ever was in Tartary or China.* Marsden's edition might well have extinguished the last sparks of scepticism. Von Hammer meant praise in calling Polo der Vater Orientalischer Hodogetik (!), in spite of the uncouthness of the eulogy; yet another grave German, ten years after Marsden, put forth in a serious book that the whole story was a clumsy im posture.

The aim of the compiler,' says the author of this bold theory, 'was analogous to that of the old poet of the Rolandslied; he wished to fire the public zeal for the conversion of the Mongols, in order to facilitate trade with their territories. The Poli assuredly never got beyond Great Bucharia.'t

With all the intrinsic interest of the book, we doubt if it would have continued to exercise such fascination on many

* Vulg. Errors,' b. i. ch. viii.; • Astley's Voyages,' iv. 583. † Hüllmann, 'Städtewesen des Mittelalters,' 1829, iv. 360, quoted by Neumann.

minds through successive generations were it not for its difficulties. It is a great book of puzzles, whilst our confidence in the man's veracity is such that we feel certain every riddle has an answer.

And such difficulties have not attached merely to the identification of places, the interpretation of outlandish terms, or the illustration of obscure customs; for strange entanglements have perplexed also the chief circumstances of the traveller's life and authorship. The date of the dictation of his book and that of his last Will are almost the only absolutely ascertained dates in his biography. The year of his birth is disputed, and that of his death is unrecorded ; the critical occasion of his capture by the Genoese, to which we seem to owe the happy fact that he did not go down mute to the tomb of his fathers, has been, as we have just seen, the subject of chronological difficulties; there are in the various texts of his story differences hard to account for; the very tongue in which it was written down has been a question solved only in our own day, and in a most unexpected manner.

The book itself consists essentially of two parts. First, of a Prologie, narrating in a very brief but interesting manner the circumstances which first led the elder Polos to the Khan's Court, and those of their second journey with Mark, and of the return to Persia through the Indian Seas. Secondly, of a series of Herodotean chapters, descriptive of notable sights and products, of curious manners or remarkable events, relating to the different nations and states of Asia, but more especially to the Emperor Kublai, his court, wars, and administration. A series of chapters near the close, omitted from many copies, treats of the wars between various branches of the house of Chinghiz, in the latter part of the thirteenth century.

As regards the language in which Marco's book was first written, we have seen that Ramusio assumed that it was Latin ; Marsden supposed it to have been Venetian ; Baldello Boni first maintained, on grounds that have since been expanded and strengthened to demonstration, that it was French.

The oldest MS, in any Italian dialect is one in the Magliabecchian Library, known as L'Ottimo from the purity of its language, and as the Della Crusca from its having been used by that body in their Vocabulary. It bears on its face the following note in Italian:

* This Book, called the “ Navigation of Messer Marco Polo," & noble citizen of Venice, was written in Florence by Michael Ormani, my great-grandfather by the mother's side, who died in the year of grace one thousand three hundred and nine; and my mother brought it into


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