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How shall we introduce to you, reader, the great traveler of the fourteenth century? Are you predisposed to the mania for antiquity, and fond of the quaint titles and quainter contents of musty old books ? Your curiosity, then, will surely commend to you “ The Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundevile, Kt., which treateth of the Way to Hierusalem ; and of Marvayles of Inde, with other Ilands and Countryes.” Would
you learn the state of discovery five centuries ago ? You have here a veritable history of the travels of an adventurous spirit, at a period when perils, tenfold magnified by the imagination, crowded upon his way. Have you an ear to wondrous Tales of Faeries and Ghosts, to the monstrous fictions of the Arabian Nights ? Our author will tell you of “ marvayles” strange as those you love to hear; he will excité anew the curiosity of childhood, and almost draw from you an expression of childish amazement.
The book before us carries us back to an age of unbounded credulity. In the absence of any definite knowledge of foreign lands, the most implicit confidence was placed in the fables of ancient geographers. The whole unknown world was therefore peopled with nations of immense wealth, or size, or strength, or with the hideous creations of an active imagination. Especially were the countries beyond Palestine a theme for fruitful speculation. From “ Paradys” to the realms of Prester John was extended a vast region, which the bold wayfarers of the West had scarcely entered. A few had indeed passed its borders. One at least, Marco Polo, in pursuit of commercial advantage, had traversed its whole length nearly a half century before ; but his account of his travels was so compounded of truth and error, that while it confirmed many of the fabulous notions which were then prevalent respecting the East, it added little to the stock of reliable information.
Then there was the land of Palestine, full of the deepest interest, especially to the religious minds of that age. The Land of Palest What associations thrill through our own breasts at the mention of that
name! The birth-place of the sublimest poetry that ever lingered on human lips—the scene of the most striking interpositions of Heaven in defense of His chosen people—the theatre of the matchless life and humiliating death of the Son of God! How many spots in that narrow strip of country are endeared to our hearts by the most sacred ties ! Yet in all the fervor of our admiration, we cannot conceive with what intensity burned the devotion to those honored places a few centuries ago. Let us, for a moment, transfer ourselves, in imagination, to that period. The Holy Sepulchre has fallen into the hands of the Infidel. The pilgrim, wayworn and weary, is driven with indignity from the object of his reverence. Again and again has the cry gone forth, “ Who will join the standard of the Cross ?" As often have the powers of Christendom leagued together for its recovery, but have met ever with sorrowful defeat. The Crescent still gilds the heights of Jerusalem. The Paynim still treads insultingly on sacred ground, and laughs in derision at the struggle of the Christian hosts for vengeance.
At such a period, when the whole East was enveloped in mystery, and religious reverence united with curiosity to magnify its wonders, Sir John Mandeville set forth upon his adventurous journey. Of high birth, of considerable natural abilities, and of a social disposition, he met with a welcome wherever he chose to go, and before he had reached the limit of his wanderings, had gathered around him a band of fellow-travelers, with spirits kindred to his own. By good fortune he obtained letters from the Sultan, with his great seal, which procured him extraordinary privileges throughout his dominions. They not only served as passports through an unsettled country, but secured him a safe-conduct when it was necessary, a “buxom” reception for himself and his company, and full initiation into the “ mysteries of every place.” He says, moreover, and we are never disposed to charge him with willful falsehood, that the Sultan offered to marry him to a great Prince's daughter, if he would change his religion; " but,” he thanks God, “ I had no wille to don it, for no thing, that he behighten me.” With his fellow knights he followed the Sultan in his wars a long time. He also served the Great Chan of Tartary, for the sake of the opportunity it gave him of becoming acquainted with his kingdom.
Returning to his native country, after an absence of thirty-four years, he found, to his surprise, that he had passed from the recollection of his friends. “He was then," says his biographer, “knowen to a very fewe.” Like a true Catholic, he hastened to lay his book before the Pope, that it “myghten be examyned and corrected be avys of his wyse and discreet Conseille.” The Papal sanction was given after solemn deliberation, the work having been compared with another still more exaggerated account which had been “preeved for trewe" by a previous decree. We are the more surprised at this decision, as the book contains doctrines which were held to be heretical for centuries after. Says he,
" Men may wel perceyve, that the Lond and the Soe ben of rownde schapp and forme. For the partio of the Firmament schewethe in o Contree, that schewethe not in another Contree.
For as I have seyd zou be forn, the half of the Fir
mament is betwene tho 2 Sterres : [The Transmontayne, or Pole Star, and the Antartyk :) the which halfondelle I have seyn. And of the tother halfondelle, I have seyn toward the Northe, undre the Transmontane 62 Degrees and 10 Mynutes ; and toward the partie meridionalle, I have seen undre the Antartyk 33 Degrees and 16 Mynutes ; and thanne the halfondelle of the Firmament in alle, ne holdethe not but 180 Degrees.
And so there ne faylethe but that I have seen alle the Firmament, saf 84 Degrees and the halfondelle of a Degree ;
Be the whiche I seye zou certeynly, that men may envirowne alle the Erthe of alle the World, as wel updre as aboven, and turnen azen to his Contree, that hadde Companye and Schippynge and Conduyt; and alle weyes he scholde fynde Men, Londes, and Yles, als wel as in this Contree."
Having thus established the true theory of the world, he wonders that those beneath should not tumble into the Firmament; and he can only explain this mystery by another still greater.
“ For zif a man myghte falle fro the Erthe unto the Firmament; be grettere resoun, the Erthe and the See, that ben so grete, and so hevy, scholde fallen to the Firmament: but that may not be: and therefore seithe oure Lord God, Non timeas me, qui suspendi Terrå ez nichilo ?”
And yet in whatever part of the Earth men dwell, thinks he to himself, they live in the glorious belief that they only inhabit the top, and that in science of Geography " thei gon more righte than any other folk."
By what, however, appeared to him unanswerable arguments, he concludes that Jerusalem is, in reality, in the “myddes of the world,” from which there is a gradual descent to England on the extreme West, and the land of Prester John on the East. We quote his words.
“ And that may men preven and schewen there, be a Spere, that is pighte in to the Erthe, upon the hour of mydday, whan it is Equenoxium, that schewethe no schadwe on no syde. And that it scholde ben in the myddes of the World, David wytnessethe it in the Psautre, where he seythe, Deus operatus est salutē in medio Terre.”
Again, in the Prologue of his book he shows, by a beautiful analogy, that this position made it peculiarly suitable to be the theatre of the world's redemption.
“For he that wil pupplische ony thing to make it openly knowen, he wil make it to ben cryed and pronounced in the myddel place of a Town; so that the thing that is proclamed and pronounced, may evenly strecche to alle Parties : Righte so, he that was formyour of alle the World, wolde suffre for us at Jerusalem; that is the myddes of the World, to that ende and entent, that his Passioun and his Dethe, that was pupplischt there, myghte ben knowen evenly to alle the Parties of the World."
We should be glad to follow our author through his journey, and hear him recount the “ marvayles" which he is careful to preface with, “ Thei seyn,” or “men seyn, but I have not sene it." With what reverence he speaks of the " Paradys terrrestre” that “touchethe nyghe to the cercle of the Mone,” of the moss-covered wall, and the “ entree, that it closed withe Fyre brennynge;" of the "wylde bestes” and “Desertes,” the “highe Mountaynes” and “gret huge Roches," the " derke places,” and roring Ryveres” that forbid all access.
It is no small part of this “ Tretys” that he appears to have made "aftre informacioun of men.” He tells us of Diamonds that “ben norysscht with the Dew of Hevene," and that increase and multiply like the animate creation ; of geese with two heads, and men