The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Original Preface.

The amount of appropriate material, and of acquaintance with the mediaeval geography of some parts of Asia, which was acquired during the compilation of a work of kindred character for the Hakluyt Society,1 could hardly fail to suggest as a fresh labour in the same field the preparation of a new English edition of Marco Polo. Indeed one kindly critic (in the Examiner) laid it upon the writer as a duty to undertake that task.

Though at least one respectable English edition has appeared since Marsden’s,2 the latter has continued to be the standard edition, and maintains not only its reputation but its market value. It is indeed the work of a sagacious, learned, and right-minded man, which can never be spoken of otherwise than with respect. But since Marsden published his quarto (1818) vast stores of new knowledge have become available in elucidation both of the contents of Marco Polo’s book and of its literary history. The works of writers such as Klaproth, Abel Rémusat, D’Avezac, Reinaud, Quatremère, Julien, I. J. Schmidt, Gildemeister, Ritter, Hammer–Purgstall, Erdmann, D’Ohsson, Defrémery, Elliot, Erskine, and many more, which throw light directly or incidentally on Marco Polo, have, for the most part, appeared since then. Nor, as regards the literary history of the book, were any just views possible at a time when what may be called the Fontal MSS. (in French) were unpublished and unexamined.

Besides the works which have thus occasionally or incidentally thrown light upon the Traveller’s book, various editions of the book itself have since Marsden’s time been published in foreign countries, accompanied by comments of more or less value. All have contributed something to the illustration of the book or its history; the last and most learned of the editors, M. Pauthier, has so contributed in large measure. I had occasion some years ago3 to speak freely my opinion of the merits and demerits of M. Pauthier’s work; and to the latter at least I have no desire to recur here.

Another of his critics, a much more accomplished as well as more favourable one,4 seems to intimate the opinion that there would scarcely be room in future for new commentaries. Something of the kind was said of Marsden’s at the time of its publication. I imagine, however, that whilst our libraries endure the Iliad will continue to find new translators, and Marco Polo — though one hopes not so plentifully — new editors.

The justification of the book’s existence must however be looked for, and it is hoped may be found, in the book itself, and not in the Preface. The work claims to be judged as a whole, but it may be allowable, in these days of scanty leisure, to indicate below a few instances of what is believed to be new matter in an edition of Marco Polo; by which however it is by no means intended that all such matter is claimed by the editor as his own.5

From the commencement of the work it was felt that the task was one which no man, though he were far better equipped and much more conveniently situated than the present writer, could satisfactorily accomplish from his own resources, and help was sought on special points wherever it seemed likely to be found. In scarcely any quarter was the application made in vain. Some who have aided most materially are indeed very old and valued friends; but to many others who have done the same the applicant was unknown; and some of these again, with whom the editor began correspondence on this subject as a stranger, he is happy to think that he may now call friends.

To none am I more indebted than to the Comm. GUGLIELMO BERCHET, of Venice, for his ample, accurate, and generous assistance in furnishing me with Venetian documents, and in many other ways. Especial thanks are also due to Dr. WILLIAM LOCKHART, who has supplied the materials for some of the most valuable illustrations; to Lieutenant FRANCIS GARNIER, of the French Navy. the gallant and accomplished leader (after the death of Captain Doudart de la Grée) of the memorable expedition up the Mekong to Yun-nan; to the Rev. Dr. CALDWELL, of the S.P.G. Mission in Tinnevelly, for copious and valuable notes on Southern India; to my friends Colonel ROBERT MACLAGAN, R.E., Sir ARTHUR PHAYRE, and Colonel HENRY MAN, for very valuable notes and other aid; to Professor A. SCHIEFNER, of St. Petersburg, for his courteous communication of very interesting illustrations not otherwise accessible; to Major–General ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM, of my own corps, for several valuable letters; to my friends Dr. THOMAS OLDHAM, Director of the Geological Survey of India, Mr. DANIEL HANBURY, F.R.S., Mr. EDWARD THOMAS, Mr. JAMES FERGUSSON, F.R.S., Sir BARTLE FRERE, and Dr. HUGH CLEGHORN, for constant interest in the work and readiness to assist its progress; to Mr. A. WYLIE, the learned Agent of the B. and F. Bible Society at Shang-hai, for valuable help; to the Hon. G. P. MARSH, U.S. Minister at the Court of Italy, for untiring kindness in the communication of his ample stores of knowledge, and of books. I have also to express my obligations to Comm. NICOLÒ BAROZZI, Director of the City Museum at Venice, and to Professor A. S. MINOTTO, of the same city; to Professor ARMINIUS VÁMBÉRY, the eminent traveller; to Professor FLÜCKIGER of Bern; to the Rev. H. A. JAESCHKE, of the Moravian Mission in British Tibet; to Colonel LEWIS PELLY, British Resident in the Persian Gulf; to Pandit MANPHUL, C.S.I. (for a most interesting communication on Badakhshan); to my brother officer, Major T. G. MONTGOMERIE, R.E., of the Indian Trigonometrical Survey; to Commendatore NEGRI the indefatigable President of the Italian Geographical Society; to Dr. ZOTENBERG, of the Great Paris Library, and to M. CH. MAUNOIR, Secretary–General of the Société de Géographie; to Professor HENRY GIGLIOI, at Florence; to my old friend Major–General ALBERT FYTCHE, Chief Commissioner of British Burma; to DR. ROST and DR. FORBES-WATSON, of the India Office Library and Museum; to Mr. R. H. MAJOR, and Mr. R. K. DOUGLAS, of the British Museum; to Mr. N. B. DENNYS, of Hong-kong; and to Mr. C. GARDNER, of the Consular Establishment in China. There are not a few others to whom my thanks are equally due; but it is feared that the number of names already mentioned may seem ridiculous, compared with the result, to those who do not appreciate from how many quarters the facts needful for a work which in its course intersects so many fields required to be collected, one by one. I must not, however, omit acknowledgments to the present Earl of DERBY for his courteous permission, when at the head of the Foreign Office, to inspect Mr. Abbott’s valuable unpublished Report upon some of the Interior Provinces of Persia; and to Mr. T. T. COOPER, one of the most adventurous travellers of modern times, for leave to quote some passages from his unpublished diary.

Palermo, 31st December, 1870.

1 Cathay and The Way Thither, being a Collection of Minor Medieval Notices of China. London, 1866. The necessities of the case have required the repetition in the present work of the substance of some notes already printed (but hardly published) in the other.

2 Viz. Mr. Hugh Murray’s. I mean no disrespect to Mr. T. Wright’s edition, but it is, and professes to be, scarcely other than a reproduction of Marsden’s, with abridgment of his notes.

3 In the Quarterly Review for July, 1868.

4 M. Nicolas Khanikoff.

5 In the Preliminary Notices will be found new matter on the Personal and Family History of the Traveller, illustrated by Documents; and a more elaborate attempt than I have seen elsewhere to classify and account for the different texts of the work, and to trace their mutual relation.

As regards geographical elucidations, I may point to the explanation of the name Gheluchelan (i. p. 58), to the discussion of the route from Kerman to Hormuz, and the identification of the sites of Old Hormuz, of Cobinan and Dogana, the establishment of the position and continued existence of Keshm, the note on Pein and Charchan, on Gog and Magog, on the geography of the route from Sindafu to Carajan, on Anin and Coloman, on Mutafili, Cail, and Ely.

As regards historical illustrations, I would cite the notes regarding the Queens Bolgana and Cocachin, on the Karaunahs, etc., on the title of King of Bengal applied to the K. of Burma, and those bearing upon the Malay and Abyssinian chronologies.

In the interpretation of outlandish phrases, I may refer to the notes on Ondanique, Nono, Barguerlac, Argon, Sensin, Keshican, Toscaol, Bularguchi, Gat-paul, etc.

Among miscellaneous elucidations, to the disquisition on the Arbre Sol or Sec in vol. i., and to that on Mediaeval Military Engines in vol. ii.

In a variety of cases it has been necessary to refer to Eastern languages for pertinent elucidations or etymologies. The editor would, however, be sorry to fall under the ban of the mediaeval adage:

Vir qui docet quod non sapit

Definitur Bestia!

and may as well reprint here what was written in the Preface to Cathay:

I am painfully sensible that in regard to many subjects dealt with in the following pages, nothing can make up for the want of genuine Oriental learning. A fair familiarity with Hindustani for many years, and some reminiscences of elementary Persian, have been useful in their degree; but it is probable that they may sometimes also have led me astray, as such slender lights are apt to do.

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