Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Mandeville, Jehan de

MANDEVILLE, Jehan de, the name claimed by the compiler of a singular book of travels, written in French, and published between 1357 and 1371. By aid of translations into many other languages it acquired extraordinary popularity, while a few interpolated words in a particular edition of the English version have gained for Mandeville in modem times the spurious credit of being "the father of English prose."

In his preface the compiler calls himself a knight, and states that he was born and bred in England, of the town of St Albans; had crossed the sea on Michælmas Day 1322; had travelled by way of Turkey (Asia Minor), Armenia the little (Cilicia) and the great, Tartary, Persia, Syria, Arabia, Egypt upper and lower, Libya, great part of Ethiopia, Chaldæa, Amazonia, India the less, the greater, and the middle, and many countries about India; had often been to Jerusalem; and had written in Romance as more generally understood than Latin. In the body of the work we hear that he had been at Paris and Constantinople; had served the sultan of Egypt a long time in his wars against the Bedouins, had been freely addressed by him on the corruption of contemporary Christendom, had been vainly offered by him a princely marriage and a great estate on condition of renouncing Christianity, and had left Egypt under Sultan Melech Madabron, i.e., Muzaffar or Mudhaffar[1] (who reigned in 1346-47); had been at Mount Sinai, and had visited the Holy Land with letters under the great seal of the sultan, which gave him extraordinary facilities; had been in Russia, Livonia, Cracow, Lithuania, "en roialme daresten" (?de Daresten or Silistria), and many other parts near Tartary, but not in Tartary itself; had drunk of the well of youth at Polombe (Quilon on the Malabar coast), and still seemed to feel the better; had taken astronomical observations on the way to Lamary (Sumatra), as well as in Brabant, Germany, Bohemia, and still farther north; had been at an isle called Pathen in the Indian Ocean; had been at Cansay (Hangchow-fu) in China, and had served the emperor of China fifteen months against the king of Manzi; had been among rocks of adamant in the Indian Ocean; had been through an haunted valley, which he places near Millestorach (=Millescorath, i.e., Malasgird in Armenia); had been at many great feats of arms, but had been incapable of performing any himself; had been driven home against his will in 1357 by arthritic gout (despite the well of youth!); and had written his book as a consolation for his "wretched rest." The paragraph which states that he had had his book confirmed at Rome by the pope is, however, an interpolation of the English version.

This recital is of itself enough to provoke some little questioning, and on investigating the sources of the book it will presently be obvious that part at least of the personal history of Mandeville is mere invention. Under these circumstances the truth of any part of that history, and even the genuineness of the compiler's name, become matter for serious doubt. No contemporary corroboration of the existence of such a Jehan de Mandeville seems to be known. Some French MSS., not contemporary, give a Latin letter of presentation from him to Edward III., but this is so hopelessly vague that it might have been penned by any writer on any subject. At Liége, in the abbey of the Guilelmites, now pulled down, there certainly was in the I6th century a tomb of a man in armour said to be Mandeville; but the old French inscription showed no name, and the arms were quite unlike those of the Mandevilles, earls of Essex; while the Latin inscription, stating that the tomb was Mandeville's, and that he died at Liége on November 17, 1372, is not only apparently much later in style, but confounds him with a physician called "ad Barbam," who is said in a printed Latin edition of Mandeville to have met him first at Cairo and again at Liége, and to have persuaded and helped him to write his travels.[2]

Leaving this question, there remains the more complex one whether the book contains, in any measure, facts and knowledge acquired by actual travels and residence in the East. We believe that it may, but only as a small portion of the whole, and that confined entirely to the section of the work which treats of the Holy Land, and of the different ways of getting thither, as well as of Egypt, and in general of what we understand by the Levant.

The prologue indeed points almost exclusively to the Holy Land as the subject of the work. The mention of more distant regions comes in only towards the end of this prologue, and (in a manner) as an afterthought. As regards the writer's claim to have travelled in those more distant regions, it is somewhat astonishing to find that any modern editor could have regarded this as possibly founded in truth. And the apology sometimes made for the book, as only a compilation of what was regarded as truth in the writer's age, is not tenable in the face of the frequent assertion (explicit or implicit) that he had himself been in the remotest regions spoken of, and had witnessed some of the most marvellous circumstances that he details. To this we shall recur later, for the bearing of these statements can only be appreciated when the true derivation of the matter about the further East shall have been exhibited.

By far the greater part of these more distant travels, extending in fact from Trebizond to Ormus, India, the Indian Archipelago, and China, and back again to western Asia, has been appropriated from the narrative of Friar Odoric (written in 1330). These passages, as served up by Mandeville, are almost always, indeed, swollen with interpolated particulars, usually of an extravagant kind, whilst in no few cases the writer has failed to understand the passages which he adopts from Odoric and professes to give as his own experiences. Thus (p. 193)[3] in appropriating a passage of Odoric about tortoises of great size, seen in Champa, these are described as "snails" {lymecons, A., limassons, G.) whose shells were as big as cottages.

In another place (p. 209), where Odoric has given a most curious and veracious account of the Chinese custom of employing tame cormorants to catch fish, the cormorants are converted by Mandeville into "little beasts called loyres (layre, A.), which are taught to go into the water" (the word loyre being apparently used here for "otter," lutra, for which the Provençal is luria or loiria). Where Odoric, describing the court of the Great Khan, mentions the genuine Tartar custom which forbade any man in entering to set down his foot on the threshold of the door (an etiquette which P. della Valle found still in force at Ispahan in the 17th century), Mandeville quite fails to understand the point (see p. 220).

At a very early date the coincidence of Mandeville's stories with those of Odoric was recognized, insomuch that a MS. of Odoric, which is or was in the chapter library at Mainz, begins with the words: Incipit Itincrarius fidelis fratris Odorici socii Militis Mendavil per Indiam; licet hic [read ille] prius et alter posterius peregrinationem suam dcscripsit. At a later day Sir T. Herbert calls Odoric "travelling companion of our Sir John"; and Purchas, with most perverse injustice, whilst calling Mandeville, next to Polo, "if next, . . . the greatest Asian traveller that ever the world had," insinuates that Odoric's story was stolen from Mandeville's. Mandeville himself is crafty enough, at least in one passage, to anticipate criticism by suggesting the probability of his having travelled with Odoric (see p. 282, and below).

Much again of Mandeville's matter, particularly in Asiatic geography and history, is taken bodily from the book of Hayton, an Armenian of princely family, who became a monk of the Præmonstrant order, and in 1307 dictated this work on the East in the French tongue at Poictiers, out of his own extraordinary acquaintance with Asia and its history in his own time.

It is curious that no passage in Mandeville can be plausibly traced to Marco Polo, with one exception. This is (p. 163) where he states that at Ormus the people, during the great heat, lie in water, a circumstance mentioned by Polo, though not by Odoric. We should suppose it most likely that this fact had been interpolated in the copy of Odoric used by Mandeville; for, if he had borrowed it direct from Polo, he would have borrowed more.

A good deal about the manners and customs of the Tartars is demonstrably derived from the famous work of the Franciscan John of Piano Carpini (see Carpini, vol. v. p. 132), though possibly the immediate source for Mandeville may have been some popular compilation. For though the passages in question are all to be found in Carpini, more or less exactly, the expression is condensed and the order changed. For examples compare Mandeville, p. 250, on the tasks done by Tartar women, with Piano Carpini, p. 643;[4] Mandeville, p. 250, on Tartar habits of eating, with Piano Carpini pp. 639-40; Mandeville, p. 231, on the titles borne on the seals of the Great Khan, with Piano Carpini, p. 715, &c.

The account of Prester John, and all the wonders of his court and realm, is taken from the famous Epistle of that imaginary potentate, which was so widely diffused in the 13th century, and created that renown which made it incumbent on every traveller in Asia to assume his existence, and to find some new tale to tell of him. Many fabulous stories again of monsters, such as cyclopes, sciapodes, hippopodes, monoscelides, anthropophagi, and men whose heads did grow beneath their shoulders, of the phoenix and the weeping crocodile, such as Pliny has collected, are introduced here and there, derived no doubt from the popular versions of Solinus. And interspersed, especially in the chapters about the Levant, are the stories and legends that were retailed to every pilgrim, such as the legend of Seth and the grains of paradise from which grew the wood of the cross, that of the shooting of old Cain by Lamech, that of the castle of the sparrow-hawk (which appears in the tale of Melusina), those of the origin of the balsam plants at Matariya, of the dragon of Cos, of the river Sabbation, &c.

Even in that part of the book which may be admitted with probability to represent some genuine experience, there are distinct traces that another work has been made use of, more or less, as an aid in the compilation, we might almost say as a framework to fill up. This is the itinerary of the German knight William of Boldensele, written in 1336 at the desire of Cardinal Talleyrand de Perigord.[5] A cursory comparison of this with Mandeville leaves no doubt of the fact that the latter has followed its thread, using its suggestions, and on many subjects its expressions, though digressing and expanding on every side, and too often eliminating the singular good sense of the German traveller. After such a comparison we may indicate as examples Boldensele's account of Cyprus (Mandeville, p. 28, and p. 10), of Tyre and the coast of Palestine (Mandeville, 29, 30, 33, 34), of the journey from Gaza to Egypt (34), passages about Babylon of Egypt (40), about Mecca (42), the general account of Egypt (45), the pyramids (52), some of the particular wonders of Cairo, such as the slave-market, the chicken-hatching stoves, and the apples of paradise, i.e., plantains (49), the Red Sea (57), the convent on Sinai (58, 60), the account of the church of the Holy Sepulchre (74-76), &c. The following may be quoted as a specimen, showing how Mandeville has at once followed Boldensele and deviated from his good sense:—

Boldensele (ed. Basnage, p. 342).

"Sunt plura antiquorum monumenta, figuræ pyramidalis, inter quæ suut duo miræ magnitudinis et altitudinis, de maximis lapidibus et politis, in quibus inveni scripturas diversorum idiomatum. . . . Dicunt simplices hæc maxima monumenta fuisse granaria Pharnonis, ct sic ea appellant, quod verum nullo modo est; quia nec ad imponendam nec ad servandam annonam . . . locus in ipsis pyramidibus aptus deprehenditur . . . verum quod monumenta sunt," &c.

Mandeville (p. 52).

"Now also I shall speak of another thing . . . that is to say of the Garners of Joseph that he caused to be made. . . . And they be made of stone, full well made of mason's craft; of which two be marvellously great and high, and the other is not so great. . . . And above the Garners, without, be many scriptures of divers languages. And some say that they are sepulchres of great Lords . . . but that is not true; for all the common rumour and speech is . . . that they be the Garners of Joseph."

It will be seen from these indications, and more particularly from the specific analysis given below, that there is only a small residuum of the book to which genuine character, as containing the experiences of the author, can possibly be attributed. Yet, as has been intimated, the borrowed stories are frequently claimed as such experiences. We have already alluded to Mandeville's claim (p. 4) to have visited distant parts of Asia; to have drunk of the Fountain of Youth, a favourite mediæval fable which he interpolates in Odoric's account of Malabar (169); to his assertion that he had visited Lamary (Sumatra), and indeed that he had gone beyond it to 33° 16′ of S. lat. (181-82); and that he had been at a certain other island in the Indian Archipelago (190). He alleges also that he had witnessed the curious exhibition of the garden of transmigrated souls (described by Odoric) at Cansay, i.e., Hangchow-fu (211). He and his fellows with their valets had remained fifteen months in service with the emperor of Cathay in his wars against the king of Manzi,—Manzi, or Southern China, having ceased to have any existence as a separate kingdom some seventy years before the time referred to. Similar false statements are found at pp. 219, 235, 248, 271. But the most notable of these passages occurs in his adoption from Odoric of the story of the Valley Perilous (282). This is, in its original form, apparently founded on real experiences of Odoric viewed through a haze of excitement and superstition. Mandeville, whilst swelling the wonders of the tale with a variety of extravagant touches, appears to safeguard himself from the reader's possible discovery that the tale was stolen by the interpolation: "And some of our fellows accorded to enter, and some not. So there were with us two worthy men, Friars Minor, that were of Lombardy, who said that if any man would enter they would go in with us. And when they had said so, upon the gracious trust of God and of them, we caused mass to be sung, and made every man to be shriven and houselled; and then we entered, fourteen persons; but at our going out we were but nine," &c.

In referring to this passage it is only fair to recognize that the description (though the suggestion of the greatest part exists in Odoric) displays a good deal of imaginative power; and there is much in the account of Christian's passage through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, in Bunyan's famous allegory, which indicates a possibility that John Bunyan may have read and remembered this episode either in Mandeville or in Hakluyt's Odoric.

Such a passage, however, as that which we recently quoted, and which appears to exist in all the MSS. and versions that have been examined, leaves no room for the rehabilitation of Mandeville's character as regards conscious mendacity. But it does not necessarily follow that the whole work is borrowed or fictitious. There are other examples in mediæval works of travel in which fiction has been linked to true experiences. Even the great Moorish traveller Ibn Batuta, accurate and veracious in the main, seems, in one part at least of his narrative, to invent experiences; and in such works as those of John of Hese and Arnold von Harff, we have examples of pilgrims to the Holy Land whose narratives begin apparently in sober truth, and gradually pass into flourishes of fiction and extravagance. So in Mandeville also we find various particulars which we are unable to trace to other writers, and which may therefore be, provisionally at least, assigned to the writer's own experience, or to knowledge acquired by colloquial intercourse in the East.

It is difficult to decide on the character of his statements as to recent Egyptian history. In his account of that country (pp. 37, 38) though the series of the Comanian (i.e., of the Bahri Mameluke) sultans is borrowed from Hayton down to the accession of Melechnasser, i.e., El-Malik el-Náṣir Mohammed ibn Kaláún, who came first to the throne in 1299, Mandeville appears to speak from his own knowledge when he adds that this "Melechnasser reigned long and governed wisely." In fact, though twice displaced in the early part of his life, Malik Náṣir reigned till 1341, a duration unparalleled in Mohammedan Egypt, whilst we are told that during the last thirty years of his reign Egypt rose to a high pitch of wealth and prosperity. Mandeville, however, then goes on to say that his eldest son Melechemader was chosen to succeed, but this prince was caused privily to be slain by his brother, who took the kingdom under the name of Melechmadabron. "And he was Soldan when I departed from those countries." Now Malik Náṣir Mohammed was followed in succession by no less than eight of his sons in thirteen years, the first three of whom reigned in aggregate only a few months. The names mentioned by Mandeville appear to represent those of the fourth and sixth of the eight, viz., El-Malik el-Ṣáliḥ 'Imádu-d-din, and El-Malik el-Muẓaffar Zainu-d-dín Hájj; and these the statements of Mandeville do not fit.

Among particulars which seem to suggest personal knowledge may be instanced the very good description of the Bedouins (p. 64), starting from that of Boldensele, but largely and accurately expanded; the use of carrier pigeons in Syria (p. 118); the intimation that the Red Sea was frequented by Venetian merchants trading with India (p. 140). There are some other particulars which the author can hardly have witnessed, but which may possibly have been heard in communication with other travellers (if not borrowed from some untraced source). Such are the practice of polyandry in a certain island (p. 287), and the rite of fraternal adoption between two persons by drinking each other's blood (195). The mention of Ani in Armenia with its thousand churches (148) is probably derived from some book; the city and its thousand churches are mentioned by William of Rubrouck.

On several occasions the writer indicates some acquaintance with Arabic, though the words are not always recognizable, owing perhaps to the carelessness of copyists in such matters. Thus (p. 142) he gives the Mohammedan confession of faith as La ellet ella Machometh rorcs alla (Roscl-alla, A.) (Lá iláha illá 'lláh Muḥammadun rasúlu 'lláh); (p. 50) the Arabic names of the wood, fruit, and sap of the balsam plant; (p. 99) the name of bitumen, "alkatran" (al-Ḳaṭrân) (p. 131) three titles of the Koran, viz., "Alkoran," "Meshaf" (i.e., miṣḥaf, "written sheets or pages," "a copy of the Koran"), and Harme (i.e., ḥaram, in the sense of "sacred, inviolable"); (p. 168) the names of the three different kinds of pepper (long pepper, black pepper, and white pepper) as sorbotin, fulful, and bano or bauo (fulful is the common Arabic word for pepper, the others we cannot explain with any confidence); (p. 192) the name of the elephant (but in A. this runs: Et apelle on là les oliphans raches).

Mandeville again, in some passages (and especially in one which is familiar from its being cited by Dr Johnson in the preface to his dictionary) shows a correct idea of the form of the earth, and of position in latitude ascertained by observation of the pole star; he knows that there are antipodes, and that if ships were sent on voyages of discovery they might sail round the world. And he tells a curious story, which he had heard in his youth, how a worthy man did travel ever eastward until he came to his own country again (p. 183). But on the other hand he repeatedly asserts the old belief that Jerusalem was in the centre of the world (79, 183), whilst he maintains in proof of this that at the equinox a spear planted erect in Jerusalem casts no shadow at noon,—which if true would only show that the city was on the equator.

Brief Analysis.—Prologue. Chaps, i.-iii. The way to Constantinople; the wonders and holy places there; the Greek islands, Greek Church, &c. Chaps, iv.-v. Constantinople and Palestine; Rhodes, Cyprus, coast of Palestine; Egypt and Babylon of Egypt; the Sinai desert and convent (these two chapters on the lines of Boldensele; succession of Ayubite and Mameluke sultans from Hayton). Chaps, v.-x. Palestine and the holy places (the most original part of the work, but based occasionally on Boldensele). Chap. xi. Syria, various routes from Western Europe; description of Tartary (the steppe country about the Volga,—very good, though expressly not from personal experience). Chap. xii. On the Saracens and their religion, Mohammed, &c. (partly based on Boldensele). Chap. xiii. Countries of Asia and Africa; journey to the East from Trebizond (this and on to chap. xx. inclusive is all based on Odoric, with interpolations ad libitum). Chap. xxi. The Great Khan; the history of Jenghiz and his successors (from Hayton, with something from Piano Carpini). Chap. xxii. The court and splendour of the khan, his paper-money, &c. (from Odoric). Chap. xxiii. Customs of the Tartars, &c. (chiefly from Piano Carpini). Chap. xxiv. Countries of Asia shortly described (from Hayton). Chap. xxvi. The lamb-plant (from Odoric), with much added about Alexander and the shut-up nations, griffins, and other monsters. Chap. xxvii. The royal estate of Prester John (chiefly from the "Letter" of Prester John, with something from Hayton); the Old Man of the Mountain (from Odoric). Chap, xxviii. The Valley Perilous (from Odoric, with inventions), followed by a quantity of fabulous geography of mixed and uncertain origin. Chaps. xxix., xxx. Similar hotchpotch continued (from the romance of Alexander, the letter of Prester John, Plinian fables, &c.). Chap. xxxi. The return journey from Cathay, &c. (from Odoric). The epilogue.

The oldest known MS. of the original is the earl of Ashburnham's MS. Libri xxiv., dated 1371, but nevertheless very inaccurate in proper names. The English version was made, at least as early as the beginning of th e 15th century, from a French MS. defective between p. 36 l. 7 ("And there") of Halliwell's edition and p. 62 l. 25 ("And that Valey"), and is represented in this state by nearly every known English MS. It was completed and revised by two independent editors, neither of them later than the first quarter of the 15th century. One of these revisions is represented by the British Museum MS. Egerton 1982, and the very badly abbreviated Bodleian MS. e Mus. 116. The other is represented by the British Museum MS. Cotton Titus C. xvi. The first printed edition of the English version is apparently the undated edition of Pynson, which gives the version in its original defective shape. So do Wynkyn de Worde's edition of 1499 and eleven editions before 1725, except that they insert a paragraph seemingly abbreviated from the revision represented by Cotton TitusvC. xvi. This latter revision was, however, followed in full by the editions of 1725 and 1727, and is, in Halliwell's editions, the text now current. The other revision seems never to have been printed.

That none of the forms of the English version can conceivably be from the same hand which wrote the original work is made patent to any critical reader by their glaring errors of translation, but the form now current asserts in the preface that it was made by Mandeville himself, and this assertion has been taken on trust by almost all modern historians of English literature. The words of the original "je eusse cest livret mis en latin . . . . mais . . . je l'ay mis en rōmant" were mistranslated as if "je eusse" meant "I had" instead of "I should have," and then (whether of fraudulent intent or by the error of a copyist thinking to supply an accidental omission) the words were added "and translated it ajen out of Frensche into Englyssche." Schönborn and Mätzner respectively seem to have been the first to show that the current Latin and English texts cannot possibly have been made by Mandeville himself. Dr J. Vogels states the same of unprinted Latin versions which he has discovered in the British Museum, and he has proved it as regards the Italian version.

The terseness, the simplicity, and the quaintness of the English version, together with the curiosity of the subject-matter, will always make it delightful reading; but the title "father of English prose," which in its stricter sense already belonged to King Alfred, must in its looser sense be now transferred to Wickliffe.

See Schönborn's Bibliographische Untersuchungen über die Reise-Beschreibung des Sir John Mandeville, Breslau, 1840; Mätzner's Alteglishe Sprachproben. I. ii. pp. 454-55; letters by E. B. Nicholson in The Academy of November 11, 1876, and February 12, 1881; Vogels, "Das Verhältniss der italienischen Version der Reisebeschreihung Mandeville's zur französischen" in a Festschrift, dem Gymnasium zu Moers zur Feier seines 300jahrigen Bestehens gewidmet vom Lehrer-Collegium des Crefelder Gymnasiums, Bonn, 1882, and his forthcoming "Handschriftliche Untersuchungen über Mandeville's Reisebeschribung," in Vollmöller's Romanische Forschungen; also for the bibliography of editions and translations, up to 1867, Tobler's Bibliographia geographica Palæstinæ. See also Yule's Cathay and the Way Thither (Hakluyt Society), i, 27, 28, on the sources of the book. At least two critical editions are understood to be in preparation—by Vogels(French and English), and by Michelant (French, for the Société de l'Orient Latin). On a French Lapidaire and other works attributed to Mandeville see Pannier's Lapidaires français du moyen âge, Paris, 1882, pp. 189-201. (e. b. n.h. y.)

  1. The on in Madabron apparently represents the Arabic nunation, though its use in such a case is very odd.
  2. This physician is called in a French MS. "Jehan de Bourgoigne dit a la Barbe." M. Michelant once saw the title of a medical or botanical treatise bearing the name of Jehan de Bourgoigne. Can he also have written these travels under a feigned name?
  3. Page indications like this refer to passages in the 1866 re-issue of Halliwell's edition, as being the most ready of access. But all these passages have also been verified as substantially occurring in the French MS. from Lord Ashburnham's library mentioned below (of 1371 a.d.), cited A, and in that numbered xxxix. of the Grenville collection (B. M.), which dates probably from the early part of the 15th century, cited G.
  4. Viz., in D'Avezac's ed. in tom. iv. of Rec. de Voyages et de Mémoires, pub. by the Soc. de Géog., 1839.
  5. It is found in the Thesaurus of Canisius, 1604, v. pt. ii. p. 95, and in ed. of same by Basnage, 1725, iv. 337.