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, B), 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) .
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 Itinerarius fidelis fratris Odorici socii Militis Mendavil per Indian; licet hic [read ille] prius et alter posterius peregrinationem suam descripsit. 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 Historiae Orientis of Hetoum, an Armenian of princely family, who became a monk of the Praemonstrant order, and in 1307 dictated this work on the East, in the French tongue at Poitiers, 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 Hormuz 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 Tatars is demonstrably derived from the famous work of the Franciscan Ioannes de Piano Carpini, who went as the pope's ambassador to the Tatars in 1245-1247; but Dr Warner considers that the immediate source for Mandeville was the Speculum historiale of Vincent de Beauvais. Though the passages in question are all to be found in Piano Carpini more or less exactly, the expression is condensed and the order changed. For examples compare Mandeville, p. 250, on the tasks done by Tatar women, with Piano Carpini, p. 643; Mandeville. p. 250, on Tatar habits of mating, with Piano Carpini, pp. 639-640; 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 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 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 him, Solinus, the bestiaries, or the Speculum naturale of Vincent de Beauvais. 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 Maṭarīya, of the dragon of Cos, of the river Sabbation, &c.
Even in that part of the book which might be supposed to represent some genuine experience there are the plainest traces that another work has been made use of, more or less — we might almost say as a framework to fill up. This is the itinerary of the German knight Wilhelm von Boldensele, written in 1336 at the desire of Cardinal Talleyrand de Perigord. A cursory comparison of this with Mandeville leaves no doubt that the latter has followed its thread, though digressing on every side, and too often eliminating the singular good sense of the German traveller. 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 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. There is, indeed, 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. In addition to those already mentioned, he alleges 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 be a separate kingdom some seventy years before the time referred to. But the most notable of these false statements 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 it 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.
Nor does it follow that the whole work is borrowed or fictitious. 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 Jan van Hees 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 particulars not yet traced to other writers, and which may therefore be provisionally assigned either 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 Hetoum down to the accession of Melechnasser, i.e. Malik al-Nāṣir (Nāṣir ud-din Mahommed), who came first to the throne in 1293, Mandeville appears to speak from his own knowledge when he adds that this “Melechnasser
reigned long and governed wisely.” In fact, though twice
- Viz. in D'Avezac's ed. in tom. iv. of Rec. de voyages et de mémoires pub. by the Soc. de Géog., 1839.
- It is found in the Thesaurus of Canisius (1604), v. pt. ii. p. 95, and in the ed. of the same by Basnage (1725), iv. 337.