Volume 1, Chapter 13 -- Travels of Sir John Mandeville into the East, in 1322.[1]

The travels of Sir John Mandevil, or Mandeville, are to be found in Latin in Haklyut's collection. An edition of this strange performance was published in 8vo. at London in 1727, by Mr Le Neve, from a MS. in the Cotton Library. This old English version is said to have been made by the author from his own original composition in Latin. It is a singular mixture of real or fictitious travels, and compilation from the works of others without acknowledgement, containing many things copied from the travels of Oderic, and much of it is culled, in a similar manner, from the writings of the ancients. Though, from these circumstances, it is a work of no authenticity and unworthy of credit, it has been judged indispensable to give some account of its nature and contents.

Mandeville affirms that he was descended of an ancient and noble family, and was born at St Albans. After receiving the rudiments of a liberal education, he says that he studied mathematics, physic, and divinity, and wrote books on all these sciences; and became expert in all the exercises then befitting a gentleman. Having a desire to travel, he crossed the sea in 1322, or 1332, for different manuscripts give both dates, and set out on a journey through France towards the Holy Land, a description of which
country, replete with monkish tales, and filled with the most absurd holy fables, occupies half of his ridiculous book. In the very outset he pretends to have visited India, and the Indian islands, and other countries; all of which appears to be fabulous, or interpolation. Before proceeding to the Holy Land, perhaps the sole country which he really visited, he gives various routes or itineraries to and from Constantinople, containing no personal adventures, or any other circumstances that give the stamp of veracity; but abundance of nonsensical fables about the cross and crown of our Saviour, at the imperial city.

He pretends to have served in the army of the sultan of Egypt, whom he calls Mandybron, who must have been Malek el Naser Mohammed, who reigned from 1310 to 1341, and states a war against the Bedouins, or Arabs of the desert, as the scene of his own exploits. Yet he seems to have been entirely unacquainted with Egypt, and gives only a slight mention of Cairo. He represents the sultan as residing in Bablyon, and blunders into pedantic confusion between Babylon in Egypt, and Babylon in Chaldea, all of which is probably an injudicious complement from books common at the time.

About the middle of the book he gives some account of the ideas of the Saracens concerning Christ; and then falls into a roaming description of various countries, obviously compiled without consideration of time or changes of people and names; deriving most of his materials from ancient authors, particularly from Pliny, and describing Mesopotamia, Chaldea, Albania, Hircania, Bactria, Iberia, and others, as if such had actually existed in the geography of the fourteenth century. Where any thing like modern appears, it is some childish fable, as that the ark of Noah was still visible on mount Ararat. He even gives the ancient fable of the Amazons, whom he represents as an existing female nation.

He next makes a transition to India, without any notice of his journey thither; arid gravely asserts that he has often experienced, that if diamonds be wetted with May-dew, they will grow to a great size in a course of years. This probably is an improvement upon the Arabian philosophy or the production of pearls by the oysters catching that superlative seminal influence. The following singular article of intelligence respecting India, may be copied as a specimen of the work: "In that countree growen many strong vynes: and the women drynken wyn, and men not: and the women shaven hire berdes, and the men not." From India he proceeds to the island of Lamary, the Lambri of Marco Polo; and by using the Italian term "the star transmontane," at once betrays the source of his plagiarism. His descriptions seem disguised extracts from Polo, with ridiculous exaggerations and additions; as of snail shells so large as to hold many persons. His account of the pretended varieties of the human race, as of nations of Hermaphrodites, and others equally ridiculous, which he places in separate islands of the Indian ocean, are mere transcripts from Pliny.

His accounts of Mangi and Kathay, or southern and northern China, are most inaccurately stolen from Marco Polo, and disguised or rather disfigured to conceal the theft. "The city with twelve thousand bridges, has twelve principal gates, and in advance from each of these a detached town, or great city, extends for three or four miles." Though he pretends to have resided three years in Cambalu, he does not seem to have known the name of the khan, whom he served for fifteen months against the king of Mangi. Leaving Cathay he goes into Tharsis, Turquescen, Corasine, and Kommania, in which he seems to have transcribed from Oderic; and makes Prester John emperor of India, a country divided into many islands by the great torrents which descend from Paradise! He gives also an account of a sea of sand and gravel, entirely destitute of water, the Mare arenosum of Oderic; to which he adds that it moves in waves like the ocean. Though he makes Prester John sovereign of India, he assigns Susa in Persia for his residence; constructs the gates of his palace of sardonyx, its bars of ivory, its windows of rock crystal, and its tables of emeralds; while numerous carbuncles, each one foot in length, served infinitely better than lamps to illuminate the palace by night. To many absurdities, apparitions, and miracles, copied and disguised from Oderic, he adds two islands in the middle of the continent, one inhabited by giants thirty feet high, while their elder brethren in the other are from forty-five to fifty feet.

He borrows many fabulous stories from Pliny, and from the romances of the middle, ages, yet so ignorantly as to reverse the very circumstances of his authors. Andromeda is not the lady who was rescued by Perseus, but the monster by which she was to have been devoured. Two islands in India, one called Brahmin, and the other Gymnosophist. And a thousand other fictions and absurdities, too ridiculous even for the credulity of children. Of this worse than useless performance, the foregoing analysis is perhaps more than sufficient for the present work.--E.

[1] Forst. Voy. and Disc. in the Nerth, p. 148. Pinkert. Mod. Geogr. II. xxxvi.  Hakluyt, II. 76.


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