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yond the desert, had no successors in the family house full of cousins and kinsmen, later half of the century. And with only one evening in the year 1295, about twen. young Marco added to their band, the ty-four years after their departure, three merchant brothers returned, perhaps a wild and travel-worn figures, in coats of little ashamed of their Christian rulers, coarse homespun like those worn by the perhaps chiefly interested about the recep. Tartars, the sheepskin collars mingling tion they would meet with, and whether with the long locks and beards of the the great Kublai would still remember his wearers, their complexions dark with exluckless ambassadors.
posure, their half-forgotten mother tongue The journey back occupied once more a little uncertain on their lips, - who three years and a half." It gives us a could believe that these were Venetian strange glimpse into the long intervals of gentlemen, members of an important famsilence habitual to primitive life, to find ily in the city which had forgotten them? that these messengers, without means of The three unknown personages arrived communicating any information of their suddenly, without any warning, at their movements to their royal patron, were ancestral home. One can imagine the more than eight years altogether absent commotion in the courtyard, the curious on the mission from which they returned gazers who would come out to the door, with so little success. In our own days the heads that would gather at every wintheir very existence would probably have dow, when it became known through the been forgotten in such a long lapse of in- house that these wild strangers claimed to terest. Let us hope that the holy oil from belong to it, to be in some degree its the sepulchre, the only thing Christianity masters - the long-disappeared kinsmen,
could send to the enquiring heathen, was whose portion perhaps by this time had safely kept, in some precious bottle of fallen into hands very unwilling to let it earliest glass from Murano, or polished go. The doorway which still exists in stone less brittle than glass, through all the Corte della Sabbionera, in the depths the dangers of the journey.
of the cool quadrangle, with its arch of Thus the Poli disappeared again into Byzantine work, and the cross above, the unknown for many years. Letters which every visitor in Venice may still were not rife anywhere in those days; and see when he will behind San Chrisostomo, for them, lost out of the range of civiliza. is, as tradition declares, the very door at tion, though in the midst of another full which the travellers knocked and parleyed. and busy world, with another civilization, The house was then, according to the art, and philosophy of its own, there was most authentic account we have, that of no possibility of any communication with Ramusio, un bellissimo e molto alto paVenice or distant friends. It is evident lazzo. Absolute authenticity it is perhaps that they sat very loose to Venice, having impossible to claim for the story. But it perhaps less personal acquaintance with was told to Ramusio, who flourished in the city than most of her merchant adven- the fifteenth century, by an old man, a turers. Niccolo and Matteo must have distinguished citizen who, and whose race, gone to Constantinople while still young, had been established for generations in and Marco was but fifteen when he left the same parish in the immediate vicinity the lagoons. They had apparently no ties of the Casa Polo, and who had heard it of family tenderness to call them back, from his predecessors there – a very and custom and familiarity had made the trustworthy source of information. The strange world around, and the half-savage family was evidently well off and importribes, and the primitive court with its tant, and, in all probability, noble. “In barbaric magnificence, pleasant and inter. those days,” says Colonel Yule, making, esting to them. It was nearly a quarter with all his learning, a mistake for once, of a century before they appeared out of “the demarcation between patrician and the unknown again.
non-patrician at Venice, where all classes By that time the Casa Polo in San shared in commerce, all were (generally Chrisostomo had ceased to think of its speaking) of one race, and where there absent members. In all likelihood they were neither castles, domains, nor trains had no very near relations left. Father of horsemen, formed no very wide gulf." and mother would be dead long ago; the This is an astounding statement to make elder brother lived and died in Constanti- in the age of the great conspiracy of Bajanople ; and there was no one who looked monte Tiepolo ; but as Marco Polo'is with any warm expectation for the ar- always spoken of as noble, no doubt his rival of the strangers. When there sud- family belonged to the privileged class. denly appeared at the gate of the great The heads of the house gathered to the door to question the strange appli- nized these honored and venerated gentlemen cants; • for, seeing them so transfigured of the Ca' Polo, whom at first they had in countenance and disordered in dress, doubted, and received them with the greatest
honor and reverence. And when the story they could not believe that these were those of the Ca' Polo who had been be was spread abroad in Venice, the entire city, lieved dead for so many and so many to embrace them, and to make every demon
both nobles and people, rushed to the house years." The strangers had great trouble stration of loving kindness and respect that éven to make it understood who they could be imagined. And Messer Matteo, who claimed to be. 6. But at last these three was the eldest, was created one of the most gentlemen conceived the plan of making honored magistrates of the city; and all the a bargain that in a certain time they youth of Venice resorted to the house to visit should so act as to recover their identity Messer Marco, who was most humane and and the recognition of their relatives, and gracious, and to put questions to him about honor from all the city.” The expedient Cathay and the Great Khan, to which he
made answer with so much benignity and they adopted again reads like a scene out courtesy that they all remained his debtors. of the “ Arabian Nights.". They invited And because, in the continued repetition of all their relatives to a great banquet, which his story of the grandeur of the Great Khan, was prepared with much magnificence he stated the revenues of that prince to be “ in the same house," says the story-teller; from ten to fifteen millions in gold, and counted so that it is evident they must already all the other wealth of the country always in have gained a certain credence from their millions, the surname was given him of Marco own nearest relations. When the hour Millione, which may be seen noted in the pubfixed for the banquet came, the following of his house from that time to this has been
lic books of the Republic. And the courtyard extraordinary scene occurred :
vulgarly called the Corte Millione. The three came out of their chamber dressed
It is scarcely possible to imagine that in long robes of crimson satin, according to the narrator of the above wonderful story the fashion of the time, which touched the was not inspired by the keenest humorous ground; and when water had been offered for view of human nature and perception of their hands, they placed their guests at table, the character of his countrymen when he and then taking off their satin robes, put on rich damask of the same color, ordering, in so gravely describes the effectual arguthe mean while, that the first should be divided ments which lay in the gioie preciosis. among the servants. Then, after eating some- sime, the diamonds and sapphires which thing (no doubt a first course), they rose from his travellers had sewed up in their old table and again changed their dress, putting clothes, and which, according to all the on crimson velvet, and giving as before the laws of logic, were exactly fitted to prodamask robes to the servants; and at the end
cure their recognition as honored and of the repast they did the same with the velvet, putting on garments of ordinary cloth The scene is of a kind which has always
venerated gentlemen of the Ca' Polo.” such as their guests wore. The persons invited were struck dumb with astonishment at found great acceptance in primitive rothese proceedings; and when the servants had mance; the cutting asunder of the laden left the hall, Messer Marco, the youngest, garments, the ripping up of their seams, rising from the table, went into his chamber, the drawing forth of one precious little and brought out the three coarse cloth sur- parcel after another amid the wonder and coats in which they had come home. And exclamations of the gazing spectators, are immediately the three began with sharp knives all familiar incidents in traditionary story. to cut open the seams, and tear off the lining, But in the present case this was a quite upon which there poured forth a great quan- reasonable and natural manner of convey; tity of precious stones, rubies, sapphires, carbuncles, diamonds, and emeralds, which had ing the accumulations of a long period been sewn into each coat with great care, so through all the perils of a three years' that nobody could have suspected that any journey from far Cathay; and there is thing was there. For on parting with the nothing at all unlikely in the miraculous Great Khan, they had changed all the wealth story, which no doubt would make a great he bestowed upon them into precious stones, impression upon the crowded surrounding knowing certainly that if they had done other population, and linger, an oft-repeated wise, they never could, by so long and difficult tale, in the alleys about San Chrisostom a road, have brought their property home in and along the Rio, where everybody knew safety. The exhibition of such an extraordinary and infinite treasure of jewels and the discreet and sensible family which had precious stones which covered the table, once the wit to recognize and fall upon the more filled all present with such astonishment pecks of their kinsmen, as soon as they that they were dumb and almost beside them- knew how rich they were. The other selves with surprise; and they at once recog. results that ensued, the rush of golden
youth to see and visit Marco, who, though were assessed on the value of one or more no longer young, was the young man of galleys, and he was certainly a volunteer the party; and their questions, and the in some capacity or other in the fleet, a jeer of the new mocking title Marco Mil. defender of his country in the terrible lione, follow the romance with natural warfare which was draining all her rehuman incredulity and satire and laughter. sources. The battle of Curzola took place It is true, and proved by at least one pub- in September, 1298, and it ended in a comlic document, that the gibe grew into seri- plete and disastrous defeat for the Veneous use, and that even the gravest citizens tians. Of the ninety-seven galleys which forgot after a time that Marco of the Mil- sailed so bravely out of Venice, only lions was not the traveller's natural and seventeen miserable wrecks found refuge sober name. There was at least one in the shelter of the lagoons; and the other house of the Poli in Venice, and admiral and the greater part of the survivperhaps there were other Marcos from ors, men shamed and miserable, were whom it was well to distinguish him of carried prisoners to Genoa with every San Chrisostom.
demonstration of joy and triumph. The It would seem clear enough, however, admiral, as has already been said, was from this, that these travellers’ tales met chained to his own mast in barbarous exwith the fate that so often attends the ultation, but managed to escape from the marvellous narratives of an explorer. triumph of his enemies by dashing his Marco's Great Khan, far away in the dis- head against the timber, and dying thus tance as of another world, the barbaric before they reached port. purple and gold of Kublai's court, the Marco Polo was among the rank and great cities out of all mortal ken, as the file who do not permit themselves such young men in their mirth supposed, the luxuries. Among all the wonderful things incredible wonders that peopled that re- he had seen, he could never have seen a mote and teeming darkness, which the sight at once so beautiful and so terrible primitive imagination could not believe in as the great semicircle of the Bay of as forming part of its own narrow little Genoa, crowded with the exultant people, universe — kept one generation at least in gay with every kind of decoration, and amusement. No doubt the sun-browned resounding with applause and excitement traveller had all the desire to instruct and when the victorious galleys with their surprise his hearers, which comes natural wretched freight sailed in. No doubt in to one who knew so much more than they, the Tartar wastes he had longed many a and was capable of being endlessly drawn time for intercourse with his fellows, or out by any group of young idlers who even to see the face of some compatriot might seek his company. They would or Christian amid all the dusky faces and thread their way through the labyrinth of barbaric customs of the countries he had narrow passages in all their mediæval described. But now what a revelation to bravery, flashing along in parti-colored him must have been the wild passion and hose and gold-embroidered doublet on savage delight of those near neighbors their way from the Broglio to get a laugh with but the width of a European peninout of Messer Marco - who was always sula between them, and so much hatred, so ready to commit himself to some new rancor, and fierce antagonism! Proba. prodigy.
bly, however, Marco, having been born But after a while the laugh died out in to hate the Genoese, was occupied by the grave troubles that assailed the re- none of these sentimental reflections; and public. The most dreadful war that had knowing how he himself and all his counever arisen between Venice and Genoa trymen would have cheered and shouted had raged for some time, through various bad Doria been the victim instead of Dan. vicissitudes, when the city at last deter- dolo, took his dungeon and chains, and mined to send out such an expedition as the intoxication of triumph with which he should at once overwhelm all rivalry. and his fellow-prisoners were received, as This undertaking stirred every energy matters of course. among the population, and both men and He lay for about a year, as would apmoney poured in for the service of the pear, in this Genoese prison ; and here, commonwealth. There may not be au- probably for the first time, his endless thentic proof of Colonel Yule's sugges. tales of the wonders he had seen and tion, that Marco Polo fitted out, or parknown, first fulfilled the blessed office of tially fitted out, one of the boats, and story-telling, and became to the crowded mounted his own flag at the masthead prison a fountain of refreshment and new when it went into action. But the family life. To all these unfortunate groups,
wounded, sick, especially sick for home, cavaliers, and all who delight in knowing humiliated and forlorn, with scarcely any: the different races of the world, and the thing wanting to complete the round of variety of countries, take this book and misery, what a solace in the tedium of the read it!” This was the proper way, ac. dreary days, what a help to get through cording to all his rules, to present himself the lingering time, and forget their trou to the public. He makes his bow to them bles for a moment, must have been this like a showman in front of his menagerie. companion, burned to a deeper brown He knows, too, the language in which to than even Venetian suns and seas could catch the ear of all these fine people, so give, whose memory was inexhaustible, that every noble may desire to have a who day by day had another tale to tell, copy of this manuscript to cheer his who set before them new scenes, new peo- household in the lingering winter, or ple, a great, noble, open-hearted monarch, amuse the poor women at their embroidery and all the quaint habits and modes of while the men are at the wars.
For acliving, not of one, but of a hundred tribes cording to all evidence, what the prisoner and nations, all different, endless, original ! of Pisa took down from the lips of the All the poor expedients to make the time Venetian in the dungeons of Genoa, was pass, such games as they might have, such written by him in curious antique French, exercises as were possible, even the quar- corrupted a little by Italian idioms, the rels which must have risen to diversify most universal of all the languages of the the fat and tedious hours, could bear no Western world. Nothing can be more comparison with this fresh source of en- unlike than those flourishes of Rusticiano tertainment, the continued story carried by way of preface and the simple strain on from day to day, to which the cramped of the unvarnished tale when Messer and weary prisoner might look forward as Marco himself begins to speak. And the he stretched his limbs and opened his circumstance of these two Italians employeyes to a new unwelcome morning. If ing another living language in which to any one among these prisoners reinem- set forth their tale is so curious that bered then the satire of the golden youth, many other theories have been set forth the laughing nickname of the Millione, he on the subject, though none which are had learned by that time what a public accepted by the best critics as worthy of benefactor a man is who has something to belief. One of these, Ramusio, pronounces tell ; and the traveller, who perhaps had strongly in favor of a Latin version. Marco never found out how he had been laughed had told his stories over and over again, at, had thus the noblest revenge.
this historian says, with such effect, that Among all these wounded, miserable “ seeing the great desire that everybody Venetians, however, there was one whose had to hear about Cathay and the Great presence there was of immediate impor- Khan, and being compelled to begin again tance to the world - a certain Pisan, an every day, he was advised that it would older inhabitant than they of these prisons, be well to commit it to writing ” — which a penniless derelict, forgotten perhaps of was done by the dignified medium of a his own city, with nobody to buy him out Genoese gentleman, who took the trouble
Rusticiano, a poor poetaster, a rusty to procure from Venice all the notes which brother of the pen, who had written ro- the three travellers had made of their mances in his day, and learned a little of journeys, and then compiled in Latin, acthe craft of authorship. What a wonder.cording to the custom of the learned, a ful treasure was this fountain of strange continuous narrative. But the narrative story for a poor medieval literary man to itself and everything that can be discovfind in his dungeon! The scribbler seems ered about it, are wholly opposed to this to have seized by instinct upon the man theory. There is not the slightest appearwho for once in his life could furnish him ance of notes worked into a permanent with something worth telling. Rusticiano record. The story has evidently been saw his opportunity in a moment with an taken down from the lips of a somewhat exultation which he could not keep to discursive speaker, with all the breath himself. It was not his professional na. and air in it of oral discourse. “This is ture to refrain from a great fanfare and enough upon that matter; now I will tell flourish, calling upon heaven and earth to you of something else." " Now let us listen. Signori imperatori e re, duchi leave the nation of Mosul, and I will tell e marchesi , conti, cavalieri, principi
, you about the great city of Baldoc.” So baroni, he cries out, as he did in his the tale goes on, with interruptions, with
“O emperors and kings, o natural goings back : “But first I must dukes, princes, marquises, barons, and I tell you “Now we will go on with
the other." While we read we seem to is no evidence of it; or perhaps that tacit sit, one of the eager circle, listening to assent to a foolish and wrong popular verthe story of these wonderful unknown dict, which the instructors of mankind so places, our interest quickened here and often drop into, with a certain indulgent there by a legend — some illustration of contempt as of a thing not worth their the prolonged conflict between heathen while to contend against, was in his mind and Christian, or the story of some prodigy who knew so much better than his critics. accomplished; now that of a grain of mus. At all events it is evident that he did nothtard-seed which the Christians were defied ing more to bring himself to the notice of to make into a tree, now a curious Eastern the world. It was in 1299 that he returned version of the story of the three magi. to Venice - on the eve of all those great These episodes have all the character. disturbances concerning the serrata of the istics of the ordinary legend; but the Council, and of the insurrections which plain and simple story of what Messer shook the republic to its foundations. Marco saw and heard, and the ways of the But in all this Marco of the Millions makes unknown populations among whom he no appearance. He who had seen so spent his youth, are like nothing but what much, and to whom the great. Kublai was they are “ a narrative of facts, with no the finest of imperial images, most likely attempt to throw any fictitious interest or looked on with an impartiality beyond the charm about them.
reach of most Venetians at the internal No doubt the prisoners liked the le- strife, knowing that revolutions come and gends best, and the circle would draw go, while the course of human life runs on closer, and the looks become more eager, much the same. And besides, Marco was when the story ran of the Prete Gianni noble, and lost no privilege, probably inand Genghis Khan, of the Vecchio della deed sympathized with the effort to keep Montagna, or of how the calif tested the the canaille down. faith of the Christians. When all this He married in these peaceful years, in began to be committed to writing, when the obscurity of a quiet life, and had three Rusticiano drew his inkhorn, and pon- daughters only - Faustina, Bellela, and dered his French, with a splendor of Moretta; no son to keep up the tradition learning and wisdom which no doubt ap- of the adventurous race; a thing which peared miraculous to the spectators, and happens so often when a family has come the easy narrative flowed on a sentence at to its climax and can do no more. He a time, with half-a-dozen eager critics seems to have kept up in some degree his ready no doubt to remind the raconteur if commercial character, since there is a rec. he varied a word of the often-told tale, ord of a lawsuit for the recovery of some what an interest for that melancholy money of which he had been defrauded by crowd! How they must have peered over an agent. But only once does he appear each other's shoulders to see the miracu- in the character of an author responsible lous manuscript, with a feeling of pleased for his own story. Attached to two of the complacency as of a wonderful thing in earliest manuscript copies of his great which they themselves had a hand! No book, one preserved in Paris and the doubt it was cold in Genoa in those sun. other in Berne, are MS. notes, apparently less dungeons the weary winter through ; quite authentic, recording the circumbut so long as Messer Marco went on stances under which he presented a copy with his stories, and he of Pisa wrote, of the work to a noble French cavalier with his professional artifices, and his who passed through Venice, while in the sheet of vellum on his knee, what endless service of Charles of Valois in the year entertainment to beguile dull care away! 1307. The note is as follows:The captivity lasted not more than a
This is the book of which my Lord Thie year, and our traveller returned home, to bault, Knight and Lord of Cepoy (whom may where the jest still lingered about the God assoill), requested a copy from Sire man with the millions, and no one men. Marco Polo, citizen and resident in the city tioned him without a smile. He would of Venice. And the said Sire Marco Polo, not seem to have disturbed himself about being a very honorable person of high characthis - indeed, after that one appearance his desire that what he had seen should be
ter and report in many countries, because of as a fighting man, with its painful consequences, he would seem to have retired heard throughout the world, and also for the to his home as a peaceful citizen, and honor and reverence he bore to the most exawoke no echoes any more.
cellent and puissant Prince, my Lord Charles,
He might son of the King of France, and Count of Va perhaps be discouraged by the reception lois, gave and presented to the aforesaid Lord his tale had met with, even though there l of Cepoy the first copy of his said book that