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Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 't would win me
dome! those caves of ice !
Neither Marco Polo, nor Rubruquis, no, nor Raleigh himself, nor any traveller that existed, ever saw a vision like that!
But we must hasten out of its divine company. Marco resumes with an account of
KUBLA KHAN'S PERSON AND STATE.
The Great Khan, lord of lords, named Kublai, is of a fine middle size, neither too tall nor too short; he has a beautiful fresh complexion, and well-proportioned limbs. His colour is fair and vermeil like the rose, his
eyes dark and fine, his nose well formed and placed. He has four ladies, who always rank as his wives; and the eldest son, born to him by one of them, succeeds as the rightful heir of the empire. They are named empresses; each bears his name, and holds a court of her own; there is not one who has not three hundred beautiful maidens, with eunuchs, and many other male and female attendants, so that some of the courts of these ladies contain 10,000 persons. Kubla resides in the vast city
of Kambalu, three months in the year, December, January, and February, and has here his great palace, which I will now describe.
The floor rises ten palms above the ground, and the roof is exceedingly lofty. The walls of the chambers and stairs are all covered with gold and silver, and adorned with pictures of dragons, horses, and other races of animals. The hall is so spacious that 6000 can sit down to banquet; and the number of apartments is incredible. The roof is externally painted with red, blue, green, and other colours, and is so varnished that it shines like crystal, and is seen to a great distance around.
The Tartars celebrate a festival on the day of their nativity. The birthday of the Khan is on the 28th of September, and is the greatest of all, except that at the beginning of the year. On this occasion he clothes himself in robes of beaten gold, and his twelve barons and 12,000 soldiers wear, like him, dresses of a uniform color and shape; not that they are so costly, but similarly made of silk, gilded, and bound by a cincture of gold. Many have their robes adorued with precious stones and pearls, so as to be worth 10,000 golden bezants. The Great Khan, twelve times in the year, presents to those barons and knights robes of the same colour with his own; and this is what no lord in the world can do.
And now I will relate a most wonderful thing, namely, that a large lion is led into his presence, which as soon as it sees him, drops down, and makes a sign of deep humility, owning him for its lord, and moving about without any chain.
Chaucer had certainly read of Kubla. He has described him sitting, as above, at his table,
“Harking his minstrellès their thingês play
Before him at his board, deliciously." And so, leaving him in this proper imperial attitude with his minstrelsy, his lords, and his lion, we take leave of Marco and his mighty Khan. Nations in those times appear to have tried what they could do to aggravate the welfare and importance of a single man.
It was a very absurd though a very amusing endeavour. The single man, at his peril, at least in Europe, must now try what he can do to aggravate the welfare and importance of the people.
We must not quit, however, the old times of travels, and the most authentic of their illustrators, without quoting some passages in the narratives of Mandeville, Oderico, and others, whose names, though not worthy to stand beside the former, are associated with those regions of wild and preternatural interest which lie between truth and fiction; places, of which more is truly related than the narrators have been given credit for, but with such colouring from the reports of others, and from their own excited imagination, as give us leave to doubt or to believe just as much as may be suitable to the frame of mind in which we read them. The dreadful or delightful sounds, for instance, which these old travellers heard in deserts, have been reasonably attributed to winds and other natural causes; and the terrible “faces” which they saw, to robbers or gigantic sculpture. But what care we for "
“pure reason,” when we desire romance? There is enough mystery in everything, however commonplace, to leave its causes inexplicable; and if we choose to have our mysterious music or our terrible face without the alloy of explanation, " neat as imported,” we have all the right in the world, whether as boys or sages, to have the wish indulged.
FRIAR ODERIC'S RICH MAN WHO WAS FED BY FIFTY VIRGINS.
While in the province of Mangi, or Southern China, I passed by the palace of a rich man, who is continually attended upon by fifty young virgins, who feed him at every meal as a bird feeds her young; and all the time they are so employed, they sing to him most sweetly. The revenues of this man are thirty tomans of tagars of rice, each toman being 10,000 tagars, and one tagar is the burthen of an ass. His palace is two miles in circuit, and is paved with alternate layers of gold and silver. Near the wall of his palace there is an artificial mould of gold and silver, having turrets and steeples and other magnificent ornaments, contrired for the solace and recreation of this great man.
The personal title of the following tremendous old gentleman (called “Senex” by the first translator of Oderico) means nothing more, with the “reasonable,” than Sheik, or Elder. He is a kind of dreadful Alderman. But who would part with the words "Old Man of the Mountain,"—their wrinkled old vigour and reverend infamy? He is first cousin of the shocking old fellow in Sinbad, the Old Man of the Sea, who rode upon the shoulders of that voyager like a nightmare, and stuck his knees in his sides. It is proper to retain the “Of” in the old heading of the story. “ Of the old man,” &c., is much more ancient and mysterious than the modern custom of beginning with “ The.”
OF THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN.
Proceeding on my travels towards the south, I arrived at a certain pleasant and fertile country, called Melistorte, in which dwells a certain aged person called the Old Man of the Mountain. This person had surrounded two mountains by a high wall, within which he had the finest gardens and finest fountains in the world, inhabited by great numbers of most beautiful virgins. It was likewise supplied with fine horses, and every article that could contribute to luxury and delightful solace; on which account it was called by the people of the country, the terrestrial paradise. Into this delightful residence the old man used to entice all the
young and valiant men he could procure, where they were initiated into all the delights of the earthly paradise, in which milk and wine flowed in abundance, through certain hidden conduits. When desirous of assassinating any prince or nobleman, who had offended him, the old man would order the governor of his paradise to entice into that place some acquaintance or servant of the prince or baron whom he wished to slay. Allowing this person to take a full taste of the delights of the place, we was cast into a deep sleep by means of a strong potion, in which state he was removed from paradise; on recovering from his sleep, and finding himself excluded from the pleasures of paradise, he was brought before the old
man, whom he entreated to restore him to the place from whence he had been taken. He was then told, that if he would slay such or such a person, he should not only be permitted to return into paradise, but should remain there for ever.
By these means the old man used to get all those murdered against whom he had conceived any displeasure; on which account all the kings and princes of the east stood in . awe of him and paid him tribute.
When the Tartars had subdued a large portion of the earth, they came into the country of the old man, and took from him his paradise. Being greatly incensed at this, he sent out many of his resolute and desperate dependents, by whom numbers of the Tartar nobles were slain. Upon this the Tartars besieged the city of the old man of the mountain; and making him prisoner, they put him to a cruel and ignoble death.
The famous Prester John must by no means be omitted in the list of these remote personages who sit “throned" in old books. Prester, that is to say, Presbyter, or Priest John, has generally been thought in later times to mean the Christian King of Abyssinia ; but the most recent investigators are inclined to restore him his old locality, and consider him as a Tartar king, probably a Mongol of the name of Whang, who was supposed to have been converted to the Christian faith by Nestorian missionaries. Whang is almost identical with the pronunciation of the Spanish form of John—Juan; which is very unlike what we call it in England. The imagination is to consider Prester John as a compound of priest and sovereign, an eastern pope or Christian Grand Lama, sitting clothed in white, and holding a cross instead of a sceptre. He is a Christian Tartar, subjugating the nations around him,