12 DECEMBER 1931, Page 22

Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo. Translated into English

from t ho text of L. F. Benedetto by Aldo Ricci. With an Intro- . duction and Index by Sir E. Denison Ross. The Broadway Travellers. (Routledge. 21s.) IVIIILST Dante wrote his Vita Nuova at Florence, and trans- formed his love for Beatrice into the love that moves the stars, a book of a very different character was being compiled in the neighbouring city of Genoa. Two men, collaborators, were at work there upon a mass of notes and memoranda—notes scribbled upon every kind of material and dealing with every variety of subject, from the pearl fisheries of Southern India to the banquets in Russia and from the Ark on Mount Ararat to the arrangements for infant welfare in China. " Orientalia," we should now call them. The owner of the Orientalia—a queer looking middle-aged man—would read them out and expand them and reminisce, speaking in the Venetian dialect, but speaking with an outlandish accent which made hint rather hard to follow. His companion—who spoke Tuscan and was of a literary turn—wrote down from his dictation,

asked questions, made corrections, inserted explanatory passages, and pulled things into shape. Both the men were

prisoners of the Genoese state, but conditions were comfortable, and when a man of action and a man of letters are immured together for several years with facilities for writing it is probable that a book will result. It resulted in this case, and in consequence of their imprisonment we have got the book we call Marco Polo.

Have we got it in its original form ? Certainly not. We are not even sure in what language the original was written. The literary man—Rustichello or Rusticiano of Pisa--was an Italian, yet it seems probable that he wrote out his fair copy in French. His manuscript has been lost, but various versions of it were made, in French, Italian, and Latin, and a vast critical litera- ture has grown up round these versions, through which, very dimly, we see the two collaborators at their work—far more dimly than we see their contemporary, Dante. For we have Dante's actual words. We know what he thought of people and things, and we can build up his character. But we are vague as to the character of Marco Polo. And the limitations in his book—for it has limitations, and it has been foolishly overpraised—may be due to the vicissitudes of transmission. Had we the original manuscript, we might get more vivid im- pressions of him. This original may yet be discovered ; Professor Benedetto is searching all over Europe, and has actually unearthed a new Latin version at Milan, which contains some additional matter, and which indeed forms the justification of the edition under review.

Marco Polo belonged to a Venetian family of merchants and diplomats. At the time of his birth, his father and uncle were away in the Far East, at the court of Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor, who ruled over Mongolia, China, Burma and Thibet, and they did riot return until Marco was nearly sixteen. They then set out on their second expedition, in which he joined, and which he has recorded. They travelled overland to Kublai Khali 'to give him some holy oil which had been sent by the I'ope, they spent seventeen years in his service, and were em- ployed by him on missions to various parts of China and India, and finally they took charge of a princess who was betrothed

to a ruler in Persia. Beginning their homeward journey, they travelled by sea, voyaged round the south of Asia Via Sumatra and Ceylon, deposited the princess, and reached Venice after an absence of twenty-five years. A war between Venice and Genoa then broke out, and Marco was captured, but the Genoese allowed him to send for his memoranda and

notes and released him in 1298. His story made a great impression, for it woke Europe up to the existence of the

further East. People realized for the first time that, beyond the barrier of Islam there existed another power, neither Moslem nor Christian, and highly civilized. They read with

excitement of enormous walled cities, of roads planted with trees, of bank-notes, pleasure-lakes, hot baths, and the book, though so different from Dante's, also ushers in a New Life.

Yet it is not a first-rate book, for the reason that its author is interested in novelties, to the exclusion of human beings.

lierodotus was interested in both, and he is a great traveller in consequence. Marco Polo is only a little traveller. He could bring back thrilling statistics, he could also discourse quaintly about oddities, such as the one-eyed cobbler who moved *a mountain near Mosul, or the exportation of dried pygmies from India, but he could not differentiate between men and make them come alive, and the East that he evoked is only a land of strange customs. He could manage men and conciliate them and outwit them, but they never fascinated him ; he remained the merchant-diplomat, and it is signi-

ficant that even his interest in " novelties " seems to have been *due to a whiin of Kublai Khan's ; the Emperor had coin•

plained that his envoys usually did their work and nothing

else ; lie would have liked, he said, out of the way information about the countries they visited, and Marco determined to

win his favour here. We get, indeed, the impression of a somewhat unpleasant character, shrewd, complacent, and mean. He despises idolatry, but is glad to benefit by it ; when the witches recover some lost property for him, he experiences pleasure but declines to pay the usual fee. The East will not reveal itself wholly through a mind of this type,

and we have to wait two hundred years more before we can see it in its full splendour, in the autobiography of the Emperor Babur. A land of riches and curios is all that Marco Polo unveils, and it is appropriate that his book should have been nicknamed by its enthusiastic contemporaries " it 11lilione," or the Millionaire.

The present edition embodies extracts from the newly discovered Latin manuscript, but it is not otherwise to be recommended. In the first place, it contains no map (apart from old maps), and a modern route-map is a necessity when reading Marco Polo. In the second place its annotated index is not an adequate substitute for notes. Thirdly, it is a trans- lation by the late Aldo Ricci from a composite modern Italian version of Professor Benedetto's, and Sir Denison Ross, under whose auspices it now appears, has never seen this modern Italian version, and so cannot guarantee that the translation is satisfactory. The best edition for English readers is still the Yule-Cordier edition of 1903, a cheap reprint of which is urgently needed..