« PreviousContinue »
foreheads downe to their noses, their eies inconstant and black, their countenances writhen and terrible, the extreame joyntes strong with bones and sinewes, having thicke and great thighes, and short legs, and yet being equall unto us in stature; for that length which is wanting in their legs, is supplied in the upper parts of their bodies.' The cruelties committed by this terrible race were neither confined to sex " nor age, with whose carkeises the Tartarian chieftains, and their brutish and savage followers, glutting themselves, as with delicious cates, left nothing for vultures but the bare bones' and this old historian seems to consider it a strange thing, that the greedie and ravenous vultures disdeined to praye upon any of the reliques which remained,' though he had just told us that nothing but the bare bones was left for them.'
The terrified state of Europe at the approach of these barbarous hordes at length induced Innocent IV., as the spiritual ruler of the Christian world, to send ambassadors to the Tartar chiefs, to avert, if possible, from Christendom, the tremendous scourge with which it was threatened. With this view, in the year 1246, ASCELIN, the Franciscan, was dispatched with three brothers of the same Order, in the direction of Syria; and JOHN DE PLANO CARPINI and BENEDICT, friar preachers, were sent towards the eastern frontier of Europe.
We may smile at the credulity and simplicity of these religious missionaries, while perusing their narratives; but candour should. dispose us to make due allowance for the general ignorance of the age in which they lived: recollecting, as Gibbon says, that,
if the ninth and tenth centuries were the times of darkness, the thirteenth and fourteenth were the age of absurdity and fable.' Nor should we lose sight of the education and the habits of men, to many of whom the convent wall was the boundary of their travels, and the breviary of their knowledge. Of the ordinary business of life, and the intercourse with mankind, they were utterly ignorant. Their unbounded veneration for the Pope led them to consider him far superior to the most powerful monarchs on earth, and as a being to whose will the mightiest sovereigns were bound to pay implicit obedience. With such feelings and such qualifications, these simple men sallied forth on the perilous adventure of searching out and encountering the Tartars; and whatever we may think,' observes Mr. Murray, of the judgment with which their mission was performed, it is impossible not to admire the intrepidity with which they faced hunger, thirst, cold, slavery, and death, in the execution of it.' We may add, as matter for surprise as well as admiration, that men so ill qualified, as we have stated, for making observations on men and mauners, in a world
perfectly new to them, should have succeeded in bringing back so much knowledge tinctured with so little of the marvellous.
Ascelin and his companions proceeded on their mission in 1246. They first fell in with that army of Tartars of which they were in quest, on the southern frontier of Persia. The Mogul chiefs perceiving them advance towards the camp with intrepid steps, went out to meet them, and to demand who they were? Ascelin replied, that he was the ambassador of the Pope, the head of the Christian world. If the Pope,' they rejoined, 'be so great a personage, he must doubtless know that the Khan is the Son of God, who has committed to him the dominion of the earth; and that Bathy, in the north, and Baiothnoy here, have been ordered to receive the same honours as are due to himself.' The good friar, with more zeal than discretion, immediately assured them, that the Pope had never heard of the Khan, or of Baiothnoy, or of Bathy; but that he knew there was a strange and barbarous people called Tartars, who ravage and destroy all they meet, and particularly Christians; and that he had therefore sent his servants to exhort them to repent of their past wickedness, and cease to molest the people of God. Notwithstanding this uncourtly speech, the friars were con veyed to the residence of the Khan; and being asked what presents they had brought, replied, (truly enough) that the Pope was accustomed to receive, and not to make presents even to his best friends, much less to strangers and infidels,' They were then told, that an audience would be granted, provided they conformed to the regulation which required three genuflexions before the Khan. This they refused-except on one condition-that the Khan and his Court would embrace Christianity! The Tartars on this lost all patience, abused them as Christian dogs, and added, to the inexpressible horror of the fathers, that the pope himself was no better than a dog.' They then held a council to deliberate on the measures to be taken with these extraordinary ambassadors.
At this assembly a considerable diversity of opinion prevailed. Some were of opinion, that the friars should be flayed alive, and that their skins, stuffed with hay, should be sent to the Pope; others suggested, that they might be kept till the next battle with the Christians, and placed in the front of it, so as to fall by the hands of their own countrymen. A third advised that they should be whipped through the camp, and forthwith put to death. To Baiothnoy, in his present mood, the most prompt punishment appeared the most eligible; he therefore issued orders that sentence of death should be executed, without a moment's delay, upon the whole party. In this fearful predicament, an interposition was made by that female humanity which has so often been the subject of just panegyric, The principal wife of Baiothnoy, hearing of the fate which impended over these unhappy strangers, ran to her husband, and finding him inaccessible to pity, endeavoured to move
him by motives addressed to his interest. She represented the disgrace which he would incur by thus violating the law of nations: and that many who now repaired to him with homage and presents, would be deterred from coming. She reminded him of the deep displeasure expressed by the Khan at his treatment of a former ambassador, whose heart he had caused to be plucked out, and had rode round the camp with it fastened to the tail of his horse. By these arguments, and by earnest entreaty, she at length obtained his consent to spare the lives of the friars.'-vol. i. pp. 78, 79.
The Tartars now proposed to carry them to the great Khan, but Ascelin begged to be excused, and urged, that his instructions did not direct him to the Khan, but to the first army he should meet; adding, that nothing but force should induce him to proceed a step farther. He was then told, that as he had manifested so much curiosity to see a Tartar army, he ought to wait till one arrived in a complete state; on which he solemnly protested, that he had not the remotest wish to see one man more than he had already seen. The Tartars, however, kept these unfortunate people several months at the camp, imploring in vain to be dismissed. During this period, they were very scantily supplied with black bread and sour milk, their only food; and, in addition to insults and indignities of every description, were frequently menaced with immediate death. At length, however, after being brought out to witness the performance of the ceremonies, with which they had refused to comply, by an ambassador from the great Khan, they were permitted to depart, on the conclusion of a clamorous scene of barbarous festivity which had lasted for seven successive days, without the least attention to the poor missionaries, or apparent recollection that any such persons were in existence. They were charged with a letter from Baiothnoy to the Pope, which offers no very bad specimen of Tartar diplomacy: Know, Pope,' it says, that your messengers have come to us, and have given your letters, and have held the strangest discourses that were ever heard. We know not if you gave them authority to speak as they have done; but we send you the firm commandment and ordinance of God, which is, that if you wish to remain seated in your land and heritage, you, Pope, must come to us in your proper person, and do homage to him who holds just sway over the whole earth. And if you do not obey this firm command of God, and of him who holds just sway over the whole earth, God only knows what may happen.' With this protocole, (such as it was,) the friars were happy to set out on their return, and to make for Syria with all the speed in their power.
John de Plano Carpini, being better qualified for an ambassador, met with better success. Having learned in his passage
through Bohemia, Silesia and Poland, that gifts would be expected by the Tartar princes, he purchased some skins for this purpose, and received a further supply from the Duke and Duchess of Cracow. Having traversed Poland, he and his followers were conducted to the first division of the Tartar army, and strictly examined as to the purpose of their coming. Ou stating the object of their mission, they were forwarded from one division of troops to another, till, after a journey of two months, they reached the camp of Bathy, then beyond the Volga. On being ushered into the presence of this august personage, they were seized with the deepest awe, and fell on their knees before him: here they learned, for the first time, that it was necessary to proceed into the very heart of Tartary, to the imperial court of Cuyne Khan. Alarming as this intelligence was, they were afraid to offer any opposition to it; and the next morning, after a slender breakfast, they took their departure with many teares, not knowing whether it were to life or to death.' 'With furious speed, they followed their Tartar guides, changing horses several times a day, and subsisting entirely on a little millet and snow water. Beyond the sea of Balkash their hardships increased, the country being mountainous and cold beyond measure, and there fell a mightie snow.'
At length, on the 22d of July, they arrived at the court of Cuyne, where preparations were making for the election of that chief to the supreme command. Carpini describes in glowing colours the barbaric splendour and magnificence displayed on this occasion, at which were present ambassadors from Bagdad, Persia, Nubia, Russia and China, making, with the princes and dukes, no less a number than four thousand. The emperor's tent was of white cloth, and so capacious that two thousand inen might stand in it. From this tent the Khan was brought with great pomp, and inaugurated in a gilded chair; after which he was removed to one covered with feit, according to the custom of Gengis-Khan, and thus addressed—
Look on high and see God; and look down on the felt whereon thou sittest. If thou govern well, thou shalt reign in power and magnificence, and the whole earth shall be subject to thee; but if ill, thou shalt be poor, miserable, vile and contemptible, and shall not have power over the felt whereon thou sittest.' The several ambassadors now came forward, all bearing most costly gifts, consisting of five hundred cart loads of silver, gold and silk garments.' The friars were then asked, in their turn, what presents they intended to make? To this embarrassing question they replied by stating their utter inability to offer any thing worthy the acceptance of so mighty a monarch. This seems to have been admitted by Cuyne Khan as a sufficient excuse, at least it produced no alteration in his kind treatment of them; when, at the end of a few
days, and while the simple friars were flattering themselves that he was about to become a proselyte, and a subject of his Holiness, they unexpectedly received a message from him, purporting that he and his princes had determined to erect the flag of defiance against the Pope and all the Christian kingdoms of the west, unless they became obedient to his will. They were now glad to obtain letters of dismissal, with which they set out about the middle of November; and after experiencing a thousand hardships, being obliged to sleep on snow, without the shelter even of a tree, and with very little food; on the 8th of June following, to their inexpressible satisfaction, they passed the last guard of the Tartar army, and arrived safe at Kiow; rejoiced over as men that had risen from death to life.'
Carpini gives a much more favourable account of the Tartars than Ascelin. He describes their manners as more polished and courteous than any thing he had witnessed even in his native country disputes among themselves (he says,) are very rare, for ' although they use commonly to be drunken, yet they doe not quarrel in their drunkenness.' Their dress, their weapons, their horses, and equipments, their moveable houses, their confidence in each other, their honesty, and the modesty of the women; their abstemiousness, their power of enduring hunger, with many other particulars, are dwelt on at great length by Carpini, who is, in fact, the first European that has given a faithful account of this once mighty people.
It seems certain,' Mr. Murray says, from the language of this writer, that gunpowder was used, in the east of Asia, at a time when it was yet unknown in Europe.' In the passage to which he alludes, the army of Prester John are said to have had images of copper with fire in them, which they placed on horseback, while a man, with a pair of bellows, got up behind. When the horses were drawn up against the enemy, the men behind, he says,
laide I wote not what upon the fire within the images, and blew strongly with their bellowes; whereupon it came to passe, that the men and the horses were burnt with wilde fire, and the ayre was darkened with smoke.' This is Hakluyt's translation; but in the original the wilde fire' is the combustible matter well known under the name of Greek fire-ex Græco igne homines et equi comburerentur;' and the main object is stated to be that of throwing the enemy into confusion. There is little doubt, however, that both the Chinese and Hindoos were at a very early period acquainted with gunpowder; but the use of it, we believe, was confined to the making of rockets and other fire works.*
On this subject we have given some remarks in our review of Marsden's Marco