« AnteriorContinuar »
great poet had also seen the Tartars of William de Rubruquis, and the subsequent Chinese improvements on their carts:
“ As when a vulture on Imaus bred,
ID., Book III.
The reader will also find Milton presently with Marco Polo in the desert. He was fond of the East and South, from Tartary down to Morocco, from the red and white complexions of the conical-batted sons of Hologou down to the
* Dusk faces with white silken turbans wreath'd."
But what poet is not? Chaucer got his 'Squire's Tale, nobody knows how, from
-“Sarra, in the land of Tartary."
Other old English poets confounded, or chose to confound,
-“the loathly lakes of Tartary”
with those of Tartarus ; at least, one word with the other. They thought both the places so grim and remote, as to deserve to have the same appellation.
Niccolo and Maffeo Polo went into the East to trade in jewels. They entered the service of Kubla, assisted him in his wars with their knowledge of engineering, and became agents for religious affairs between the Pope and their master, who (with a liberality which is apt to be more honourable to the person who is willing to hear, than to the zealots who assume that they are qualified to teach him) was desirous to understand what a people so clever in the affairs of this world had to tell him respecting the world unknown. On their return to the Khan (which terminated in nothing to that end), they brought with them the younger Polo Marco, who also entered the Khan's service,
and who subsequently became the most enterprising traveller of all three, and the relater of their adventures. He told the history to a friend, who took it from his mouth; and hence it is, that he is always spoken of in the third person.
The reader must conceive Marco in full progress for the court of the Great Khan, and about to pass over the terrible desert of Lop or Kobi, where he (or Dr. Harris) has omitted, however, what we could swear we once beheld in it, by favour of some other account; to wit, a dreadful unendurable face, that used to stare at people as they went by. Polo's account, deprived of this rich bit of horror, is comparatively tame; but still the sounds, and the invisible host of passengers, are much; and the poetic reader will trace the footsteps of Milton, who has clearly been listening, in this same desert of Lop, to the ghastly calling of people's namesto
“ Voices calling in the dead of night,
He has another line in the same passage about “ghastly fury's apparition,” which we cannot but think was suggested by our friend, the dreadful face.
MARCO POLO PASSES THE DESERT OF LOP.
NASCIAN is subject to the Tartars; the name of the
province and chief city is the same; it hath many cities and castles, many precious stones are found there in the rivers, especially jasper and chalcedons, which merchants carry quite to Ouaback to sell and make great gain ; from Piem to this province, and quite through it also, is a sandy soil with many bad waters and few good. When an army passes through the province, all the inhabitants thereof, with their wives, children, cattle, and all their house stuff fly two days' journey into the sands, where they know that great waters are, and stay there, and carry their corn thither, also to hide it in the sand after harvests from the like fears.
The wind doth so deface their steps in the sand, that their enemies cannot find their way.
Departing from this province, you are to travel five days' journey through the sands, where no other water almost than that which is bitter is anywhere to be found, until you come to the city called Lop, which is a great city from which is the entrance of a great desert, called also the wilderness of Lop, seated between the east and the north-east. The inhabitants are Mahommedans, subject to the Great Khan.
In the city of Lop, merchants who desire to pass over the desert, cause all necessaries to be provided for them, and when victuals begin to fail in the desert, they kill their asses and camels, and eat them. They make it mostly their choice to use camels, because they are sustained with little meat, and bear great burthens. They must provide victuals for a month to cross it only, for to go through it lengthways would require a year's time. They go through the sands and barren mountains, and daily find water ; yet it is sometimes so little that it will hardly suffice fifty or a hundred men with their beasts : and in three or four places the water is salt and bitter. The rest of the road, for eight-and-twenty days, is very good. In it there are not either beast, or birds; they say that there dwell many spirits in this wilderness, which cause great and marvellous illusions to travellers, and make them perish; for if any stay behind, and cannot see his company, he shall be called by his name, and so going out of the way, is lost. In the night they hear as it were the noise of a company, which taking to be theirs they perish likewise. Concerts of music-instruments are sometimes heard in the air, likewise drums and noise of armies. They go therefore close together, hang bells on their beasts' necks, and set marks if any stray.
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 confidence that 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 himself 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 out 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, derfully 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 eatches 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, and so