Jacques Maritain Center : Greatest of Centuries


Geography is usually considered to be quite a modern subject. The idea that great contributions were made to it in the Thirteenth Century would ordinarily not be entertained. America was discovered at the end of the Fifteenth Century. Knowledge of the East was obtained during the Sixteenth Century. Africa was explored in the Nineteenth and a detailed knowledge of Asia came to us in such recent years that the books are still among the novelties of publication. Our knowledge of Persia, of Northern India, of Thibet, and of the interior of China are all triumphs of Nineteenth Century enterprise and exploration. As a matter of fact, however, all portions of the East were explored, the Capital and the dominions of Jenghis Khan described, Lhasa was entered and the greater part of China thoroughly explored by travelers of the Thirteenth Century, whose books still remain as convincing evidence of the great work that they accomplished. This chapter of Thirteenth Century accomplishment is, indeed, one of the most interesting and surprising in the whole story of the time.

It is usually considered that the teaching, supposed to have been more or less generally accepted, that the Antipodes did not exist, prevented any significant development of geography until comparatively modern times. While the question of the existence of antipodes was discussed in the schools of the Middle Ages, and especially of the Thirteenth Century when men's minds were occupied with practically all of the important problems even of physical science, and while many intelligent men accepted the idea that there could not be inhabitants on the other side of the world because of physical difficulties which supposedly made it impossible, it would be a mistake to think that this idea was universally accepted. We have already called attention to the fact in the chapter on "What was Taught at the Universities," that Albertus Magnus, for instance, ridiculed the notion that men could not live with their heads down, as was urged against the doctrine of the existence of antipodes, by suggesting very simply that for those on the other side of the earth what we call down was really not down but up. This expresses, of course, the very heart of the solution of the supposed difficulty.

As a matter of fact it seems clear that many of the great travelers and explorers of the later Middle Ages harbored the notion that the earth was round. As we shall note a little later in mentioning Sir John Mandeville's work, the writer, whoever he was who took that pseudonym, believed thoroughly in the rotundity of the earth and did not hesitate to use some striking expressions -- which have been often quoted -- that he had heard of travelers who by traveling continually to the eastward had come back eventually to the point from which they started. While in the schools, then, the existence of antipodes may have been under discussion, there was a practical acceptance of their existence among those who were better informed with regard to countries and peoples and all the other topics which form the proper subject matter of geography.

It must be realized, moreover, that though the existence of the Antipodes is an important matter in geography, at this early period it was a mere theory, not a condition antecedent to progress. It was really a side issue as compared with many other questions relating to the earth's surface and its inhabitants with which the medieval mind was occupied. To consider that no knowledge of geography could be obtained until there was a definite acceptance of the right view of the earth's surface, would be to obliterate much precious knowledge. The argument as to the existence of antipodes, as it was carried on, was entirely outside of geography properly so-called. It never influenced in the slightest degree the men who were consciously and unconsciousJy laying deep and broad the foundations of modern geography. To consider such a matter as vital to the development of as many sided a subject as geography, illustrates very typically the narrowness of view of so many modern scholars, who apparently can see the value of nothing which does not entirely accord with modern knowledge. The really interesting historian of knowledge, however, is he who can point out the beginnings of what we now know, in unexpected quarters in the medieval mind.

As the story of these travels and explorations is really a glorious chapter in the history of the encouragement of things intellectual, as well as an interesting phase of an important origin whose foundations were laid broad and deep in the Thirteenth Century, it must be told here in some detail. Our century was the great leader in exploration and geography as in so many other matters in which its true place is often unrecognized.

The people of the time are usually considered to have had such few facilities for travel that they did not often go far from home, and that what was known about distant countries, therefore, was very little and mainly legendary. Nothing could be more false than any such impression as this. The Crusades during the previous century had given the people not only a deep interest in distant lands, but the curiosity to go and see for themselves. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land were frequent, ecclesiastics often traveled at least as far as Italy, and in general the tide of travel in proportion to the number of population must have been not very much less in amount than in our own day. After the establishment of the religious orders, missionary expeditions to the East became very common and during the Thirteenth Century, as we shall see, the Franciscans particularly, established themselves in many parts of the Near East, but also of the Far East, especially in China. Many of those wrote accounts of their travels, and so the literature of travel and exploration during the Thirteenth Century is one of the most interesting chapters of the literature of these times, while the wonderfully deep foundations that were laid for the science of geography, are worthy to be set beside the great origins in other sciences and in the arts, for which the century is so noteworthy.

To most people it will come as a distinct surprise to learn that the travelers and explorers of the Thirteenth Century -- merchants, ambassadors, and missionaries -- succeeded in solving many of the geographical problems that have been of deepest interest to the generations of the last half of last century. The eastern part of Asia particularly was traveled over and very thoroughly described by them. Even the northern part of India, however, was not neglected in spite of the difficulties that were encountered, and Thibet was explored and Lhasa entered by travelers of the Thirteenth Century. Of China as much was written as had been learned by succeeding generations down practically to our own time. This may sound like a series of fairy-tales instead of serious science, but it is the travelers and explorers of the modern time who have thought it worth while to comment on the writings of these old-time wanderers of the Thirteenth Century, and who have pointed out the significance of their work. These men described not only the countries through which they passed, but also the characters of the people, their habits and customs, their forms of speech, with many marvelous hints as regards the relationship of the different languages, and even something about the religious practises of these countries and their attitude toward the great truths of Christianity when they were presented to them.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest travelers and explorers of all times was Marco Polo, whose book was for so long considered to be mainly made up of imaginary descriptions of things and places never seen, but which the development of modern geographical science by travels and expeditions has proved to be one of the most valuable contributions to this department of knowledge that has ever been made. It took many centuries for Marco Polo to come to his own in this respect but the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries have almost more than made up for the neglect of their predecessors. Marco Polo suffered the same fate as did Herodotus of whom Voltaire sneered "father of history, say, rather, father of lies." So long as succeeding generations had no knowledge themselves of the things of which both these great. writers had written, they were distrusted and even treated contemptuously. Just as soon, however, as definite knowledge began to come it was seen how wonderfully accurate both of them were in their descriptions of things they had actually seen, though they admitted certain over-wonderful stories on the authority of others. Herodotus has now come to be acknowledged as one of the greatest of historians. In his lives of celebrated travelers, James Augustus St. John states the change of mind with regard to Marco Polo rather forcibly:

"When the travels of Marco Polo first appeared, they were generally regarded as fiction; and as this absurd belief had so far gained ground, that when he lay upon his death bed, his friends and nearest relatives, coming to take their eternal adieu, conjured him as he valued the salvation of his soul, to retract whatever he had advanced in his book, or at least many such passages as every person looked upon as untrue; but the traveler whose conscience was untouched upon that score, declared solemnly, in that awful moment, that far from being guilty of exaggeration, he had not described one-half of the wonderful things which he had beheld. Such was the reception which the discoveries of this extraordinary man experienced when first promulgated. By degrees, however, as enterprise lifted more and more the veil from Central and Eastern Asia the relations of our traveler rose in the estimation of geographers; and now that the world -- though containing many unknown tracts -- has been more successfully explored, we begin to perceive that Marco Polo, like Herodotus, was a man of the most rigid veracity, whose testimony presumptuous ignorance alone can call in question."

There is many a fable that clings around the name of Marco Polo, but this distinguished traveler needs no fictitious adornments of his tale to make him one of the greatest explorers of all time. It is sometimes said that he helped to introduce many important inventions into Europe and one even finds his name connected with the mariner's compass and with gunpowder. There are probably no good grounds for thinking that Europe owes any knowledge of either of these great inventions to the Venetian traveler. With regard to printing there is more doubt and Polo's passage with regard to movable blocks for printing paper money as used in China may have proved suggestive.

There is no need, however, of surmises in order to increase his fame for the simple story of his travels is quite sufficient for his reputation for all time. As has been well said most of the modern travelers and explorers have only been developing what Polo indicated at least in outline, and they have been scarcely more than describing with more precision of detail. what he first touched upon and brought to general notice. When it is remembered that he visited such cities in Eastern Turkestan as Kashgar, Yarkand, and Khotan, which have been the subject of much curiosity only satisfied in quite recent years, that he had visited Thibet, or at least had traveled along its frontier, that to him the medieval world owed some definite knowledge of the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia and all that it was to know of China for centuries almost, his merits will be readily appreciated. As a matter of fact there was scarcely an interesting country of the East of which Marco Polo did not have something to relate from his personal experiences. He told of Burmah, of Siam, of Cochin China, of Japan, of Java, of Sumatra, and of other islands of the great Archipelago, of Ceylon, and of India, and all of these not in the fabulous dreamland spirit of one who has not been in contact with the East but in very definite and precise fashion. Nor was this all. He had heard and could tell much, though his geographical lore was legendary and rather dim, of the Coast of Zanzibar, of the vast and distant Madagascar, and in the remotely opposite direction of Siberia, of the shores of the Arctic Ocean, and of the curious customs of the inhabitants of these distant countries.

How wonderfully acute and yet how thoroughly practical some of Polo's observations were can be best appreciated by some quotations from his description of products and industries as he saw them on his travels. We are apt to think of the use of petroleum as dating from much later than the Thirteenth Century, but Marco Polo had dot only seen it in the Near East on his travels, but evidently had learned much of the great rock-oil deposits at Baku which constitute the basis for the important Russian petroleum industry in modern times. He says.

"On the north (of Armenia) is found a fountain from which a liquor like oil flows, which, though unprofitable for the seasoning of meat, is good for burning and for anointing camels afflicted with the mange. This oil flows constantly and copiously, so that camels are laden with it."

He is quite as definite in the information acquired with regard to the use of coal. He knew and states very confidently that there were immense deposits of coal in China, deposits which are so extensive that distinguished geologists and mineralogists who have learned of them in modern times have predicted that eventually the world's great manufacturing industries would be transferred to China. We are apt to think that this mineral wealth is not exploited by the Chinese, yet even in Marco Polo's time, as one commentator has remarked, the rich and poor of that land had learned the value of the black stone.

"Through the whole Province of Cathay," says Polo, "certain black stones are dug from the mountains, which, put into the fire, burn like wood, and being kindled, preserve fire a long time, and if they be kindled in the evening they keep fire all the night."

Another important mineral product which even more than petroleum or coal is supposed to be essentially modern in its employment is asbestos. Polo had not only seen this but had realized exactly what it was, had found out its origin and had recognized its value. Curiously enough he attempts to explain the origin of a peculiar usage of the word salamander (the salamander having been supposed to be an animal which was not injured by fire) by reference to the incombustibility of asbestos. The whole passage as it appears in The Romance of Travel and Exploration deserves to be quoted. While discoursing about Dsungaria, Polo says:

"And you must know that in the mountain there is a substance from which Salamander is made. The real truth is that the Salamander is no beast as they allege in our part of the world, but is a substance found in the earth. Everybody can be aware that it can be no animal's nature to live in fire seeing that every animal is composed of all the four elements. Now I, Marco Polo, had a Turkish acquaintance who related that he had lived three years in that region on behalf of the Great Khan, in order to procure these salamanders for him. He said that the way they got them was by digging in that mountain till they found a certain vein. The substance of this vein was taken and crushed, and when so treated it divides, as it were, into fibres of wool, which they set forth to dry. When dry these fibres were pounded in a copper mortar and then washed so as to remove all the earth and to leave only the fibres, like fibres of wool. These were then spun and made into napkins." Needless to say this is an excellent description of asbestos.

It is not surprising, then, that the Twentieth Century so interested in travel and exploration should be ready to lay its tributes at the feet of Marco Polo, and that one of the important book announcements of recent years should be that of the publication of an annotated edition of Marco Polo from the hands of a modern explorer, who considered that there was no better way of putting definitely before the public in its true historical aspect the evolution of modern geographical knowledge with regard to Eastern countries.

It can scarcely fail to be surprising to the modern mind that Polo should practically have been forced into print. He had none of the itch of the modern traveler for publicity. The story of his travels he had often told and because of the wondrous tales he could unfold and the large numbers he found it frequently so necessary to use in order to give proper ideas of some of his wanderings, had acquired the nickname of Marco Millioni. He had never thought, however, of committing his story to writing or perhaps he feared the drudgery of such literary labor. After his return from his travels, however, he bravely accepted a patriot's duty of fighting for his native country on board one of her galleys and was captured by the Genoese in a famous sea-fight in the Adriatic in 1298. He was taken prisoner and remained in captivity in Genoa for nearly a year.

It was during this time that one Rusticiano, a writer by profession, was attracted to him and tempted him to tell him the complete story of his travels in order that they might be put into connected form. Rusticiano was a Pisan who had been a compiler of French romances and accordingly Polo's story was first told in French prose. It is not surprising that Rusticiano should have chosen French since he naturally wished his story of Polo's travels to be read by as many people as possible and realized that it would be of quite as much interest to ordinary folk as to the literary circles of Europe. How interesting the story is only those who have read it even with the knowledge acquired by all the other explorers since his time, can properly appreciate. It lacks entirely the egotistic quality that usually characterizes an explorer's account of his travels, and, indeed, there can scarcely fail to be something of disappointment because of this fact. No doubt a touch more of personal adventure would have added to the interest of the book. It was not a characteristic of the Thirteenth Century, however, to insist on the merely personal and consequently the world has lost a treat it might otherwise have had. There is no question, however, of the greatness of Polo's work as a traveler, nor of the glory that was shed by it on the Thirteenth Century. Like nearly everything else that was done in this marvelous century he represents the acme of successful endeavor in his special line down even to our own time.

It has sometimes been said that Marco Polo's work greatly influenced Columbus and encouraged him in his attempt to seek India by sailing around the globe. Of this, however, there is considerable doubt. We have learned in recent times, that a very definite tradition with regard to the possibility of finding land by sailing straight westward over the Atlantic existed long before Columbus' time.{1} Polo's indirect influence on Columbus by his creation of an interest in geographical matters generally is much clearer. There can be no doubt of how much his work succeeded in drawing men's minds to geographical questions during the Fourteenth and Fifteenth centunes.

After Marco Polo, undoubtedly, the most enterprising explorer and interesting writer on Travel in the Thirteenth Century was John of Carpini, the author of a wonderful series of descriptions of things seen in Northern Asia. Like so many other travelers and explorers at this time John was a Franciscan Friar, and seems to have been one of the early companions and disciples of St. Francis of Assisi, whom he joined when he was only a young man himself. Before going on his missionary and ambassadorial expedition he had been one of the most prominent men in the order. He had much to do with its propagation among the Northern nations of Europe, and occupied successively the offices of custos or prior in Saxony and of Provincial in Germany. He seems afterwards to have been sent as an organizer into Spain and to have gone even as far as the Barbary coast.

It is not surprising, then, that when, in 1245, Pope Innocent IV. (sometime after the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe and the disastrous battle of Legamites which threatened to place European civilization and Christianity in the power of the Tartars) resolved to send a mission to the Tartar monarch, John of Carpini was selected for the dangerous and important mission.

At this time Friar John was more than sixty years of age, but such was the confidence in his ability and in his executive power that everything on the embassy was committed to his discretion. He started from Lyons on Easter Day, 1245. He sought the counsel first of his old friend Wenceslaus, King of Bohemia, and from that country took with him another friar, a Pole, to act as his interpreter. The first stage in his journey was to Kiev, and from here, having crossed the Dnieper and the Don to the Volga, he traveled to the camp of Batu, at this time the senior living member of Jenghis Khan's family. Batu after exchanging presents allowed them to proceed to the court of the supreme Khan in Mongolia. As Col. Yule says, the stout-hearted old man rode on horseback something like three thousand miles in the next hundred days. The bodies of himself and companion had to be tightly bandaged to enable them to stand the excessive fatigue of this enormous ride, which led them across the Ural Mountains and River past the northern part of the Caspian, across the Jaxartes, whose name they could not find out, along the Dzungarian Lakes till they reached the Imperial Camp, called the Yellow Pavilion, near the Orkhon River. There had been an interregnum in the empire which was terminated by a formal election while the Friars were at the Yellow Pavilion, where they had the opportunity to see between three and four thousand envoys and deputies from all parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, who brought with them tributes and presents for the ruler to be elected.

It was not for three months after this, in November, that the Emperor dismissed them with a letter to the Pope written in Latin, Arabic, and Mongolian, but containing only a brief imperious assertion that the Khan of the Tartars was the scourge of God for Christianity, and that he must fulfil his mission. Then sad at heart, the ambassadors began their homeward journey in the midst of the winter. Their sufferings can be better imagined than described, but Friar John who does not dwell on them much tells enough of them to make their realization comparatively easy. They reached Kiev seven months later, in June, and were welcomed there by the Slavonic Christians as though arisen from the dead. From thence they continued their journey to Lyons where they delivered the Khan's letter to the Pope.

Friar John embodied the information that he had obtained in this journey in a book that has been called Liber Tartarorum (the Book of the Tartars or according to another manuscript, History of the Mongols whom we call Tartars). Col. Yule notes that like most of the other medieval monks' itineraries, it shows an entire absence of that characteristic traveler's egotism with which we have become abundantly familiar in more recent years, and contains very little personal narrative. We know that John was a stout man and this in addition to his age when he went on the mission, cannot but make us realize the thoroughly unselfish spirit with which he followed the call of Holy Obedience, to undertake a work that seemed sure to prove fatal and that would inevitably bring in its train suffering of the severest kind. Of the critical historical value of his work a good idea can be obtained from the fact, that half a century ago an educated Mongol, Galsang Gomheyev, in the Historical and Philological Bulletin of the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg, reviewed the book and bore testimony to the great accuracy of its statements, to the care with which its details had been verified, and the evident personal character of all its observations.

Friar John's book attracted the attention of compilers of information with regard to distant countries very soon after it was issued, and an abridgment of it is to he found in the Encyclopedia of Vincent of Beauvais, which was written shortly after the middle of the Thirteenth Century. At the end of the Sixteenth Century Hakinyt published portions of the original work, as did Borgeron at the beginning of the Seventeenth Century. The Geographical Society of Paris published a fine edition of the work about the middle of the Nineteenth Century, and at the same time a brief narrative taken down from the lips of John's companion, Friar Benedict the Pole, which is somewhat more personal in its character and fully substantiates all that Friar John had written.

As can readily be understood the curiosity of his contemporaries was deeply aroused and Friar John had to tell his story many times after his return. Hence the necessity he found himself under of committing it to paper, so as to save hiinself from the bother of telling it all over again, and in order that his brother Franciscans throughout the world might have the opportunity to read it.

Col. Yule says "The book must have been prepared immediately after the return of the traveler, for the Friar Salimbene, who met him in France in the very year of his return (1247) gives us these interesting particulars: 'He was a clever and conversable man, well lettered, a great discourser, and full of diversity of experience. He wrote a big book about the Tartars (sic), and about other marvels that he had seen and whenever he felt weary of telling about the Tartars, he would cause this book of his to be read, as I have often heard and seen. (Chron. Fr. Salembene Parmensis in Monum. Histor. ad Provinceam Placent: Pertinentia, Parma 1857).'"

Another important traveler of the Thirteenth Century whose work has been the theme of praise and extensive annotation in modern times was William of Rubruk, usually known under the name of Rubruquis, a Franciscan friar, thought, as the result of recent investigations, probably to owe his cognomen to his birth in the little town of Rubruk in Brabant, who was the author of a remarkable narrative of Asiatic travel during the Thirteenth Century, and whose death seems to have taken place about 1298. The name Rubruquis has been commonly used to designate him because it is found in the Latin original of his work, which was printed by Hayluyt in his collection of Voyages at the end of the Sixteenth Century. Friar William was sent partly as an ambassador and partly as an explorer by Louis IX. of France into Tartary. At that time the descendants of Jenghis Khan ruled over an immense Empire in the Orient and King Louis was deeply interested in introducing Christianity into the East and if possible making their rulers Christians. About the middle of the Thirteenth Century a rumor spread throughout Europe that one of the nephews of the great Khan had embraced Christianity. St. Louis thought this a favorable opportunity for getting in touch with the Eastern Potentate and so he dispatched at least two missions into Tartary at the head of the second of which was William of Rubruk.

His accounts of his travels proved most interesting reading to his own and to many subsequent generations, perhaps to none more than our own. The Encyclopedia Britannica (ninth edition) says that the narrative of his journey is everywhere full of life and interest, and some details of his travels will show the reasons for this. Rubruk and his party landed on the Crimean Coast at Sudak or Soldaia, a port which formed the chief seat of communication between the Mediterranean countries and what is now Southern Russia. The Friar succeeded in making his way from here to the Great Khan's Court which was then held not far from Karakorum. This journey was one of several thousand miles. The route taken has been worked out by laborious study and the key to it is the description given of the country intervening between the basin of the Talas and Lake Ala-Kul. This enables the whole geography of the region, including the passage of the River Ili, the plain south of the Bal Cash, and the Ala-Kul itself, to be identified beyond all reasonable doubt.

The return journey was made during the summertime, and the route lay much farther to the north. The travelers traversed the Jabkan Valley and passed north of the River Bal Cash, following a rather direct course which led them to the mouth of the Volga. From here they traveled south past Derbend and Shamakii to the Uraxes, and on through Iconium to the coast of Cilicia, and finally to the port of Ayas, where they embarked for Cyprus. All during his travels Friar William made observations on men and cities, and rivers and mountains, and languages and customs, implements and utensils, and most of these modern criticism has accepted as representing the actual state of things as they would appear to a medieval sightseer. Occasionally during the period intervening between his time and our own, scholars who thought that they knew better, have been conceited enough to believe themselves in a position to point out glaring errors in Rubruquis' accounts of what he saw. Subsequent investigation and discovery have, as a rule, proved the accuracy of the earlier observations rather than the modern scholar's corrections. An excellent example of this is quoted in the Encyclopedia Britannica article on Rubruquis already referred to.

The writer says: "This sagacious and honest observer is denounced as an ignorant and untruthful blunderer by Isaac Jacob Schmidt (a man no doubt of useful learning, of a kind rare in his day but narrow and long-headed and in natural acumen and candour far inferior to the Thirteenth Century friar whom he maligns), simply because the evidence of the latter as to the Turkish dialect of the Uigurs traversed a pet heresy long since exploded which Schmidt entertained, namely, that the Uigurs were by race and language Tibetan."

Some of the descriptions of the towns through which the travelers passed are interesting because of comparison with towns of corresponding size in Europe. Karakorum, for instance, was described as a small city about the same size as the town of St. Denis near Paris. In Karakorum the ambassador missionary maintained a public disputation with certain pagan priests in the presence of three of the secretaries of the Khan. The religion of these umpires is rather interesting from its diversity: the first was a Christian, the second a Mohammedan, and the third a Buddhist. A very interesting feature of the disputation was the fact that the Khan ordered under pain of death that none of the disputants should slander, traduce, or abuse his adversaries, or endeavor by rumor or insinuations to excite popular indignation against them. This would seem to indicate that the great Tartar Khan who is usually considered to have been a cruel, ignorant despot, whose one quality that gave him supremacy was military valor, was really a large, liberal-minded man. His idea seems to have been to discover the truth of these different religions and adopt that one which was adjudged to have the best groundwork of reason for it. It is easy to understand, however, that such a disputation argued through interpreters wholly ignorant of the subject and without any proper understanding of the nice distinctions of words or any practise in conveying their proper significance, could come to no serious conclusion. The arguments, therefore, fell flat and a decision was not rendered.

Friar William's work was not unappreciated by his contemporaries and even its scientific value was thoroughly realized. It is not surprising, of course, that his great contemporary in the Franciscan order, Roger Bacon, should have come to the knowledge of his Brother Minorite's book and should have made frequent and copious quotations from it in the geographical section of his Opus Majus, which was written some time during the seventh decade of the Thirteenth Century. Bacon says that Brother William traversed the Oriental and Northern regions and the places adjacent to them, and wrote accounts of them for the illustrious King of France who sent him on the expedition to Tartary. He adds: "I have read his book diligently and have compared it with similar accounts." Roger Bacon recognized by a sort of scientific intuition of his own, certain passages which have proved to be the best in recent times. The description, for instance, of the Caspian was the best down to this time, and Friar William corrects the error made by Isidore, and which had generally been accepted before this, that the Caspian Sea was a gulf. Rubruk, as quoted by Roger Bacon, states very explicitly that it nowhere touches the ocean but is surrounded on all sides by land. For those who do not think that the foundations of scientific geography were laid until recent times, a little consultation of Roger Bacon's Opus Majus would undoubtedly be a revelation.

It is probably with regard to language that one might reasonably expect to find least that would be of interest to modern scholars in Friar William's book. As might easily have been gathered from previous references, however, it is here that the most frequent surprises as to the acuity of this medieval traveler await the modern reader. Scientific philology is so much a product of the last century, that it is difficult to understand how this old-time missionary was able to reach so many almost intuitive recognitions of the origin and relationships of the languages of the people among whom he traveled. He came in contact with the group of nations occupying what is now known as the Near East, whose languages, as is well known, have constituted a series of the most difficult problems with which philology had to deal until its thorough establishment on scientific lines enabled it to separate them properly. It is all the more surprising then, to find that Friar William should have so much in his book that even the modern philologist will read with attention and unstinted admiration.

With regard to this Colonel Yule, whose personal experience makes him a valuable guide in such matters, has written a paragraph which contains so much compressed information that we venture to quote it entire. It furnishes the grounds for the claim (which might seem overstrained if it were not that its author was himself one of the greatest of modern explorers) that William was an acute and most intelligent observer, keen in the acquisition of knowledge; and the author in fact of one of the best narratives of travel in existence. Col. Yule says:

"Of his interest and acumen in matters of language we may cite examples. The language of the Pascatir (or Bashkirds) and of the Hungarians is the same, as he had learned from Dominicans who had been among them. The language of the Ruthenians, Poles, Bohemians, and Slavonians is one, and is the same with that of the Wandals or Wends. In the town of Equinus (immediately beyond the Ili, perhaps Aspara) the people were Mohammedans speaking Persian, though so far remote from Persia. The Yugurs (or Uigurs) of the country about the Cailac had formed a language and character of their own, and in that language and character the Nestorians of that tract used to perform their office and write their books. The Yugurs are those among whom are found the fountain and root of the Turkish and Comanian tongue. Their character has been adopted by the Moghals. In using it they begin writing from the top and write downwards, whilst line follows line from left to right. The Nestorians say their service, and have their holy book in Syriac, but know nothing of the language, just as some of our Monks sing the mass without knowing Latin. The Tibet people write as we do, and their letters have a strong resemblance to ours. The Tangut people write from right to left like the Arabs, and their lines advance upwards."

There were other matters besides language and religion on which Friar William made observations, and though his book is eminently human giving us a very interesting view of his own personality and of his difficulties with his dragoman, which many a modern Eastern traveler will sympathize with, and a picture that includes the detail that he was a very, heavy man, valde ponderosus, which makes his travel on horseback for some 10,000 miles all the more wonderful; it also contains a mass of particulars, marvelously true -- or so near the truth as to be almost more interesting -- as to Asiatic nature, ethnography, manners, morals, commercial customs, and nearly everything else relating to the life of the peoples among whom he traveled. A typical example of this is to be found in the following suggestive paragraph:

"The current money of Cathay is of cotton paper, a palm in length and breath, and on this they print lines like those of Mangu Khan's seal: 'imprimunt lineas sicut est sigillum Mangu'" -- a remarkable expression. "They write with a painter's pencil and combine in one character several letters, forming one expression: 'faciunt in una figura plures literas comprehendentes unam dictionem'" -- a still more remarkable utterance, showing an approximate apprehension of the nature of Chinese writing.

There are other distinguished travelers whose inspiration came to them during the Thirteenth Century though their works were published in the early part of the next century. Some of these we know mainly through their adaptation and incorporation into his work without due recognition, by that first great writer of spurious travels Sir John Mandeville. Mandeville's work was probably written some time during the early part of the second half of the Fourteenth Century, but he used materials gathered from travelers of the end of the Thirteenth and the beginning of the next (his own) century. Sir Henry Yule has pointed out, that by far the greater part of the supposed more distant travels of Sir John Mandeville were appropriated from the narrative of Friar Odoric, a monk, who became a member of the Franciscan order about the end of the Thirteenth Cenmry, and whose travels as a missionary in the East gave him the opportunities to collect a precious fund of information which is contained in Odoric's famous story of his voyages. Of Odoric himself we shall have something to say presently.

In the meantime it seems well worth while calling to attention, that the accepted narrative of Sir John Mandeville as it is called, and which may have been written by a physician of the name of John of Burgoigne under an assumed name, contains a number of interesting anticipations of facts that were supposed to enter into the domain of human knowledge much later in the intellectual development of the race. In certain passages, and especially in one which is familiar from its being cited by Dr. Johnson in the preface to his dictionary, Mandeville, to use the name under which the story is best known, shows that he had a correct idea of the form of the earth and of position in latitude as it could be ascertained by observation of the Pole Star. He knew also, as we noted at the beginning of this article, that there are antipodes, and if ships were sent on voyages of discovery they might sail around the world. As Col. Yule has pointed out, Mandeville tells a curious story which he had heard in his youth of how "a worthy man did travel ever eastward until he came to his own country again."

Odoric of whom we have already spoken must be considered as the next great missionary traveler of this age. He took Franciscan vows when scarcely a boy and was encouraged to travel in the East by the example of his Holy Father St. Francis, and also by the interest and missionary zeal to convert the East which had been aroused by Marco Polo's travels. His long journeys will be more readily understood, however, if we realize, as is stated in the article on him in the Encyclopedia Britannica, an authority that will surely be unsuspected of too great partiality for the work of Catholic missionaries, that "There had risen also during the latter half of the Thirteenth Century an energetic missionary action, extending all over the East on the part of both the new orders of Preaching and Minorite (or Dominican and Franciscan) Friars which had caused members of these orders, of the last especially, to become established in Persia and what is now Southern Russia, in Tartary and in China."

In the course of his travels in the East Odoric visited Malabar touching at Pandarini (twenty miles north of Calicut), at Craganore and at Quilon, preceding thence, apparently, to Ceylon and to the Shrine of St. Thomas at Mailapur near Madras.

Even more interesting than his travels in India, however, are those in China. He sailed from the Hindustan Peninsula in a Chinese junk to Sumatra, visiting various ports on the northern coast of that island and telling something about the inhabitants and the customs of the country. According to Sir Henry Yule he then visited Java and it would seem also the coast of Borneo, finally reaching Kanton, at that time known to Western Asiatics as Chin Kalan or Great China. From there he went to the great ports of Fuhkeen and Schwan Chow, where he found two houses of his order, thence he proceeded to Fuchan from which place he struck across the mountains into Chekaeng and then visited Hang Chow at that time renowned under the name of Cansay. Modern authorities in exploration have suggested that this might be King Sae, the Chinese name for Royal Residence, which was then one of the greatest cities of the world. Thence Odoric passed northward by Nanking, and, crossing the great Kiang, embarked on the Grand Canal and traveled to Cambaluc or Pekin, where he remained for three years and where it is thought that he was attached to one of the churches founded by Archbishop John of Monte Corvino, who was at this time in extreme old age.

The most surprising part of Odoric's travels were still to come. When the fever for traveling came upon him again he turned almost directly westward to the Great Wall and through Shenshua. From here the adventurous traveler (we are still practically quoting Sir Henry Yule) entered Thibet and appears to have visited Lhasa. Considering how much of interest has been aroused by recent attempts to enter Lhasa and the surprising adventures that men have gone through in the effort, the success of this medieval monk in such an expedition would seem incredible, if it were not substantiated by documents that place the matter beyond all doubt even in the minds of the most distinguished modern authorities in geography and exploration. How Odoric returned home is not definitely known, though certain fragmentary notices seem to indicate that he passed through Khorasan and probably Tabriz to Europe.

It only remains to complete the interest of Odoric's wondrous tale to add that during a large portion of these years' long journeys his companion was Friar James, an Irishman who had been attracted to Italy in order to become a Franciscan. As appears from a record in the public books of the town of Udine in Italy, where the monastery of which both he and Odoric were members was situated, a present of two marks was made by the municipal authorities to the Irish friar shortly after Odoric's death. The reason for the gift was stated to be, that Friar James had been for the love of God and of Odoric (a typical Celtic expression and characteristic) a companion of the blessed Odoric in his wanderings. Unfortunately Odoric died within two years after his return though not until the story of his travels had been taken down in homely Latin by Friar William of Bologna. Shortly after his death Odoric became an object of reverence on the part of his brother friars and of devotion on the part of the people, who recognized the wonderful apostolic spirit that he had displayed in his long wanderings, and the patience and good-will with which he had borne sufferings and hardships for the sake of winning the souls of those outside the Church.

Sir Henry Yule summed up his opinion of Odoric in the following striking passage which bears forcible testimony also to the healthy curiosity of the times with regard to all these '~riginal sources of information which were recognized as valuable because first hand:

"The numerous MSS. of Odoric's narrative that have come down to our time (upwards of forty are known), and chiefly from the Fourteenth Century, show how speedily and widely it acquired popularity. It does not deserve the charge of general mendacity brought up against it by some, though the language of other writers who have spoken of the traveler as a man of learning is still more injudicious. Like most of the medieval travelers, he is indiscriminating in accepting strange tales; but while some of these are the habitual stories of the age, many particulars which he recited attest the genuine character of the narrative, and some of those which Tiraboschi and others have condemned as mendacious interpolations are the very seals of truth."

Besides Odoric there is another monkish traveler from whom Mandeville has borrowed much, though without giving him any credit. This is the well-known Praemonstratensian Monk Hayton, who is said to have been a member of a princely Armenian family and who just at the beginning of the Fourteenth Century dictated a work on the affairs of the Orient and especially the history of the nearer East in his own time, of which, from the place of his nativity and bringing up, he had abundant information, while he found all round him in France, where he was living at the time, the greatest thirst for knowledge with regard to this part of the world. His book seems to have been dictated originally in French at Poictiers, and to have attracted great attention because of its subject, many copies of it being made as well as translations into other languages within a few years after its original appearance.

The story of Odoric is a forcible reminder of how much the missionaries accomplished for geography, ethnology, and ethnography in the Thirteenth Century, as they did in succeeding centuries. If what the missionaries have added to these sciences were to have been lost, there would have been enormous gaps in the knowledge with which modern scholars began their scientific labors in philology. It may be a surprise to most people, moreover, to be thus forcibly reminded of the wonderful evangelizing spirit which characterized the later middle age. Needless to say these graduates of the Thirteenth Century universities who wandered in distant eastern lands, brought with them their European culture for the uplifting of the Orientals, and brought back to Europe many ideas that were to be fruitful sources of suggestions not only for geographical, ethnological, philological, and other departments of learning, but also in manufactures and in arts.

We mentioned the fact that Odoric in his travels eventually reached Cambaluc, or Pekin, where he found Archbishop John of Monte Corvino still alive though at an advanced age, and was probably attached for the three years of his stay to one of the churches that had been founded by this marvelous old Friar who had been made Archbishop because of the wonderful power of organization and administration displayed during his earlier career as a missionary. The story of this grand old man of the early Franciscan missions is another one of the romances of Thirteenth Century travels and exploration which well deserves to be studied in detail. Unfortunately the old Archbishop was too much occupied with his work as a missionary and an ecclesiastic to return to Europe in order to tell of it, or to write any lengthy account of his experiences. Like many another great man of the Thirteenth Century he was a doer and not a writer, and, but for the casual mention of him by others, the records of his deeds would only be found in certain ecclesiastical records, and his work would now be known to the Master alone, for whom it was so unselfishly done.

It will be noted that most of these traveling missionaries were Franciscans but it must not be thought that it was only the Franciscans who sent out such missionaries. The Dominicans (established at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century) also did wonderful missionary work and quite as faithfully as even their Franciscan brothers. Undoubtedly the Franciscans surpassed them in the extent of their labors, but then the Dominicans were founded with the idea of preaching and uplifting the people of Europe rather than of spreading the good news of the Gospel outside the bounds of Christianity as it then existed. From the very earliest traditions of their order the Franciscans had their eyes attracted towards the East. The story that St. Francis himself went to the Holy Land at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century in order to convert Saladin, the Eastern monarch whose name has been made famous by the stories of the Crusade in which Richard Coeur de Lion took part, has been doubted, but it seems to be founded on too good contemporary authority to be considered as entirely apocryphal. St. Francis' heart went out to those in darkness who knew nothing of the Christ whom he had learned to love so ardently, and it was a supreme desire of his life that the good tidings of Christianity should be spread by his followers all over the world. While they did this great work they accomplished unwittingly great things in all the series of sciences now included under the term geography, and gathered precious information as to the races of men, their relations to one another and to the part of the earth in which they live. The scientific progress thus made will always redound largely to their credit in the story of the intellectual development of modern Europe. Most of their work was far ahead of the times and was not to be properly appreciated until quite recent generations, but this must only emphasize our sympathy for those obscure, patient but fruitful workers in a great field of human knowledge. As to what should he thought of those who ignorant of their work proclaim that the Church did not tolerate geography it is hard to say. Our geographical knowledge comes mainly from travelers whose wish it is to gain commercial opportunities for themselves or their compatriots; that of the Middle Ages was gained by men who wished anxiously to spread the light of Christianity throughout the world. The geographical societies of these earlier days were the religious orders who sent out the explorers and travelers. furnished them on their return with an enthusiastic audience to hear their stories, and then helped to disseminate their books all over the then civilized world.

There is probably no better refutation of the expression so often heard from those who know nothing about it, with regard to the supposed laziness of the Monks of the Middle Ages, than this chapter of the story of their exploration and missionary labors during the Thirteenth Century. It is usually supposed that if a Monk was fat he could not possibly have accomplished any serious work in life. Some of these men were valde pondorosi, very weighty, yet they did not hesitate to take on themselves these long journeys to the East. Their lives are the best illustration of the expression of Montalembert:

"Let us then banish into the world of fiction that affirmation so long repeated by foolish credulity which made monasteries an asylum for indolence and incapacity, for misanthropy and pusillanimity, for feeble and melancholic temperaments, and for men who were no longer fit to serve society in the world. It was not the sick souls, but on the contrary the most vigorous and healthful the human race has ever produced who presented themselves in crowds to fill them."

{1} My learned friend, Father DeRoo, of Portland, Ore., who has written two very interesting volumes on the History of America before Columbus, does not hesitate to say that Columbus may even have met in his travels and spoken with sailors who had touched on some portions of the American Continent, and that, of course, the traditions. with regard to Greenland were very clear.

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