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WILLIAM DE RUBRUQUIS.
And first for a taste of William de Rubruquis. It is to be borne in mind, that he was sent into the East by the French king and crusader Louis IX., in the middle of the thirteenth century. The crusades had opened up a new Christian interest all over that quarter of the world. Enterprising monks, and remnants of Christian churches in Turkey and Armenia, had occasioned exaggerated notions of the state of the faith in various parts of it; and Louis had heard of the famous Prester John, or imaginary Christian presbyter and king, reigning somewhere over Christian subjects, who is supposed to have meant the king of Abyssinia. Louis had sent some monks to look out for this royal brother in vain; and now he sent three more, to find him in the person of a Tartar king of the name of Sartach. One of these was our good monk William, who seems to have been a Brabanter, and who had Latinized his name, after the fashion of those times, from Ruysbrock or Rysbruck into De Rubruquis. The servant of the church militant went rejoicing on his perilous mission, armed with a Bible and prayer-book, with a few lowly presents of wine, dried fruit, and biscuits, which the Tartars plundered and laughed at, and with a heap of bad arguments in divinity, which Sartach appears to have laughed at still more. As to Prester John, William could hear not a word about him, except from a few Nestorian Christians, who had nothing to show for the existence of such a personage.
Prester John was eternally sitting on his throne somewhere; but it was always in some other place.
Of Sartach the reader will find little in our extracts, the glory of the sight of him having been prejudiced by that of his brother chief and vagabond, Zagatai, whom Rubruquis saw first, and of whose state and presence he gives a more particular account. All the statements of Rubruquis are full of the life of truth. The appearance of Zagatai's carts with their houses on them, moving towards the traveller as if “a great city came to him,” is particularly striking; and Zagatai’s consort, with her lovely noseless face, has a virtue of repulsion in her, beyond all the foreign beauties we ever read of.
WANDERING TARTARS AND THEIR CHIEF ZAGATAI, IN THE THIR
FROM THE TRAVELS OF WILLIAM DE RUBRUQUIS.
THE third day after we were departed out of these pre
being entered, methought I was come into a new world, whose life and manners I will describe unto your highness as well as I can.
They have no settled habitation, neither know they today where they shall lodge to-morrow.
They have all Scythia to themselves, which stretcheth from the River Danube to the utmost extent of the East. Each of their captains, according to the number of his people, knows the bounds of his pastures, and where he ought to feed his cattle winter and summer, spring and autumn; for in the winter they remove into warm regions southward, and in the summer they go up into the cold regions northward. In winter, when snow lies upon the ground, they feed their cattle in pastures where there is no water, because then they use snow instead of water. Their houses in which they sleep they raise upon a round foundation of wickers artificially wrought and compacted together, the roof consisting of wickers also meeting above in one little roundell, out of which there rises upwards a neck like a chimney, which they cover with white felt; and often they lay mortar or white earth upon the felt with the powder of bones, that it may shine and look white: sometimes also they cover their houses with black felt. This cupola of their house they adorn with variety of pictures.
Before the door they hang a felt curiously painted over, for they spend all their coloured felt in painting vines, trees, birds, and beasts thereupon. These houses they make so
large that they contain thirty feet in breadth ; for measiiring once the breadth between the wheel-ruts of one of their carts or wains, I found it to be twenty feet over, and when the house was upon the cart it stretched over the wheels on each side five feet at least. I told two-and-twenty oxen in one draught, drawing an house upon a cart, eleven in one row according to the breadth of the cart, and eleven more on the other side. The axle-tree of the cart was of an huge bigness like the mast of a ship, and a fellow stood in the door of the house upon the forestall of the cart, driving the
They likewise make eertain four-square baskets of slender twigs, as big as great chests; and afterwards from one side to another they frame an hollow lid or cover of such-like twigs, and make a door in it before. Then they cover the said chest or house with black felt, rubbed over with tallow or sheep's milk, to keep the rain from soaking through, which they likewise adorn with painting or white feathers. Into these chests they put their whole household stuff, or treasure, and bind them upon other carts which are drawn by camels, that they may pass through rivers ; neither do they ever take down these chests from their carts.
When they take down their dwelling-houses, they turn the doors always to the south, and next they place the carts laden with chests here and there within a stone's cast of the house, insomuch that the house standeth between two ranks of carts, as it were between two walls.
The women make themselves (adorn ?) beautiful carts, which I am not able to describe to your majesty but by pictures only. I would willingly have painted all things for you, had my skill being great enough in that art. A rich Tartar hath a hundred or two such carts with chests. Baatu hath sixteen wives, every one of which hath one great house besides other little houses, which they place behind
the great one, being as it were chambers for their women to dwell, and to each of the houses belong two hundred carts. When they take their houses off their carts, the principal wife placeth her court on the west, and so all the rest in order; so that the last wife's house is on the east frontier, and the court of each wife is distant from another about a stone's cast.
Hence it is that the court of a rich Tartar will appear like a very large village, few men being to be seen therein. One woman will guide twenty or thirty carts at once, for their country is very flat, and they fasten the carts with camels or oxen one behind another. A wench sits in the foremost cart driving the oxen, and all the rest of themselves follow at a like pace. When they come to a place which is a bad passage, they loose them, and guide them one by one, for they go at a slow pace, and not much faster than an ox can walk.
On my arrival among these barbarous people I thought, as I before observed, that I was come into a new world; for they came flocking about us on horseback, after they had made us wait for them in the shade under the black carts. The first question they asked was, whether we had ever been with them heretofore or not; and on our answering that we had not, they began impudently to beg our victuals from us. We
them some of our biscuit and wine, which we had brought with us from the town of Soldai; and having drunk off one flaggon of our wine, they demanded another, telling us that a man does not go into a house with one foot. We gave them no more, however, excusing ourselves that we had but little. Then they asked us whence we came, and whither we were bound. I answered them in these words, That we had heard concerning their Prince Sartach, that he was become a Christian, and that unto him our determination was to travel, having your majesty's letter to deliver unto him. They were very inquisitive to know if I came of mine own accord, or whether I was sent. I answered that no man compelled me to come, neither had I come unless I had been willing; and that there I was come, according to my own will and that of my superior. I took the utmost care never to say I was your majesty's ambassador. Then they asked what we had in our carts, whether it were gold, silver, or rich garments to take to Sartach. I answered that Sartach should see what we had brought when we were come unto him; that they had nothing to do to ask such questions, but rather ought to conduct me unto their captain ; and that he, if he thought proper, should cause me to be directed to Sartach—if not, that I would return; for there was in the same province one of Baatu's kinsmen, called Zagatai, to whom the Emperor of Constantinople had written letters to suffer me to pass through his territories.
With this answer of ours they were satisfied, giving us horses and oxen and two men to conduct us. But before they would allow us these necessaries, they made us wait a long while, begging our bread for their brats, wondering at all things they saw about our servants, as their knives, gloves, purses, and points, and desiring to have them. I excused myself, saying we had a long way to travel, and we could not deprive ourselves of things necessary to finish so long a journey. They said I was a niggardly scoundrel. It is true they took nothing by force from me, but they will beg all they see very importunately; and if a man bestows anything upon them, it is but lost; for they are thankless wretches. They esteem themselves lords, and think that nothing should be denied them by any man.
If a man gives them nothing, and afterwards stands in need of their