A MARVELLOUS JOURNEY WITH THE OLD GEOGRAPHER
WE recently performed a journey over a large part of Europe, in company with Master Peter Heylyn, clerk, of the reigns of Charles the First and Second. We parted company with that worthy gentleman on the inhospitable shores of the North Sea; but, being aware of his intention of traveling over Asia, Africa, and America, we hereby join rejoin him in a sort of aerial flight, and shall take the opportunity of dropping down upon any province, town, mountain, valley, or desert, which we may desire to inspect. So, away over the Bosphorus into the oriental lands!
Of Asia in general, Peter tells us, among other note-worthy things, that it “is the common mother of us all, from whence, as from the Trojan horse, innumerable troops of men issued to people the other parts of the uninhabited world.” The lively and opposite character of this similitude gives us an admirable idea of that great scattering of nations, by which the waste places of the earth are supposed to have been filled: the total absence of bathos, and the exact equality in the magnitude and probability of these facts compared, are worthy of observation. In a little time, traveling eastward, we arrive over the region of this same Troy; and here Peter bids us to take notice that the beauty of that famous city “may be (as some write) yet seene in the ruines which, with a kind of majestie entertaine the beholder: the wals of large circuit, consisting of a black hard stone, cut four-square; some remnants of the turrets which stood on the wals; and the fragments of great marble tombes and monuments of curious workmanship.” In the like manner, laborious inquirers have discovered in Wales gigantic evidences of King Arthur’s City, “towered Camelotte;” – “great stones, and marvellous works of iron lying under the ground, and royal vaults, which divers now have seen,” as Caxton, in his prologue to the old romance of “King Arthur,” affirmeth. But Heylyn is skeptical as regards the Trojan relics, which he says are “certainly not the runies of that Ilium which was destroyed by the Grecians, but another of the same name, built some four miles from the situation of the old, by Lysimachus, one of Alexander’s Captaines, who peopled it from the neighbouring cities.” It is worthy of remark (though Peter does not allude to it) that Julius Caesar contemplated making this comparatively insignificant town the capital of the Roman Empire, because of the supposed decent of the Romans from the people of Troy.
Passing over Phrygia Major, Peter takes occasion to remind us of Midas, who, for preferring the music of Pan to that of Apollo, had his head “adorned with a comely paire of asses’ ears.” This same “adornment” is still better hit off by Bacon in his Wisdom of the Ancients, where he says (or at least it made to say by his English translator, for the original is in Latin) that that “wise judge” Midas, “had a pair of asses’ ears privily chopt to his noodle for his sentence.” Concerning the town called Pesinus, we are informed that the Goddess Cibele was here worshipped; and that, the Romans, being told by an oracle that they would become the masters of the whole world, if they could obtain the exclusive possession of that deity, they sent to the Phrygians to demand it. “The Phrygians, willing to please a potent neighbour, especially the Romans, being their countrymen, as descended from Aeneas and his Trojans, granted their request, and the goddesse in shipt for Rome. But behold the unluckinesse of fortune! The ship, goddesse and all, made a stand in Tiber; neither could be againe moved forward by force or slight. It hapned that one Claudia, a vestall virgin, being suspected [of breaking her vows], tied her girdle unto it; praying the goddesse that, if shee were causelessly suspected, shee would suffer the ship to goe forward; which was no sooner said than granted: Claudia by her girdle drawing the ship up the streame to Rome, where I leave the good people wondering at the miracle, as they will might.” The Roman trade in miracles has passed into different hands since those days; but, according to the dates of the last despatches, it was still as flourishing as ever.
Presently we float over the delicious city and region of Damascus, the very name of which is a romance, stately with visions of Greek Emperors and Arabian Caliphs, the Mamelukes of Egypt, and the Sultans of Turkey. “Damascus,” says Heylyn, “is so pleasantly situate that the impostor Mahomet would never enter into it; fearing (as himself used to say) lest, being ravished with the ineffable pleasures of the place, he should forget the business about which he was sent, and make this towne his Paradise. For it is seated in a very fruitful soyle, bearing grapes all the yeare, and girt round about with the most curious and odoriferous gardens.”
Heylyn has much to say about Armenia, the cradle, as most inquirers suppose, of the human race. This country – or at leas the chief division of it, called Turcomania – appears to have been the first place of settlement of the Turks, after they had passed out of their aboriginal home among the wilds of Scythia. It may therefore be regarded as Turkey Proper; and in connexion with this province Heylyn tells us all that he has to tell about the Ottomans. Events now passing beneath our eyes have attached more than usual interest to the history of Turkey; and we may in consequence be allowed to tarry longer than we might otherwise have done in the land at which we have just arrived.
Heylyn’s account of the people in many respects singularly coincides with charges which we have recently heard brought against the Turks of the present day. He represents them as enervated with ease and luxury, idle, servile, and depressed by the cruel tyranny of their local governors. “Walking up and downe they never use, and much wonder at the often walking of Christians. Biddulph relateth that, being at his ambulatory exercise with his companions, a Turke demamded them whether they were out of their way or their wits. ‘If your way,’ quoth the Turke, ‘lay toward the upper end of the cloister, why come you downwards? If to the other end, why goe you backe againe?’ Shooting is their chief recreation, which they also follow with much lazinesse, sitting on carpets in the shadow, and sending some of their slaves for their arrows.” Referring to the despotic rule, both of the Sultans themselves, and of their Pashas and Bassas, Heylyn says, that the ordinary revenue of the empire is but small; “the chief reason whereof is the tyrannicall government of the Turke, which dehorteth men from tillage, merchandise, and other improvements of their estates, as knowing all their gettings to lye in the Grand Signieur’s mercy. His extraordinary revenue is incredible; for no man is master of his own wealth farther than stands with the Emperour’s liking. So that great Bassas are but as spunges to suck up riches till their coffers swell, and then to be squeezed into his treasury. Such riches as they gaine, if they hap to die naturally, returne to the Emperour’s coffers, who giveth only what hee pleaseth to the children of the deceased.” It is curious to see Heylyn, who in his own country was the staunch supporter of as dishonest and grinding a despotism, especially in the way of taxation, as that which he denounces, becoming the advocate of the cause of the people against their masters, when another country and religion have to bear the brunt. But it was not until long after his time that Englishmen discovered that their own country possessed faults as well as virtues, and that foreign countries had virtues as well as faults. Not that Peter invariably forgot this rule; but he did so too often, and especially, it must be added, where a different faith was concerned. No doubt, however, his charge of tyranny against the Turkish Sultans and Pashas was no more than deserved; for the same state of things existed until recently, when the reforms of the late and of the present monarch have in a great degree swept away the rubbish of past ages, and opened a new future to the Ottoman race.
Prophets were not wanting in Heylyn’s time, any more than in our own, to proclaim loudly and confidently that the Turkish empire was staggering, and on the eve of dissolution; that, in fact, it could not possibly last in its integrity much longer. Heylyn is himself of this opinion, for which he states the reasons at large. These are, mainly, that “the body is growne to monstrous for the head – the Sultans, never since the death of Solyman, accompanying their armies in person, but rioting and wasting their bodies and treasuries at home:” that the Janizaries (a sort of Praetorian guard and imperial police, on of the main strengths of the country, though often more the masters than the servants of the Sultans) had become enfeebled by licentiousness; that rebellions were of frequent occurrence, that the sons of the monarchs were always bred up in effeminacy; that the Ottoman power had recently met with great reverses abroad; and that, “by the avarice and corruption of the Court now reigning, all peace and warre, all councels and informations, all wrongs and favours, are made saleable.” An ominous catalogne truly; and yet Turkey has lasted for two centuries and a quarter since that period! But Heylyn sees still further reasons for passing sentence of doom against the Porte, and even for mapping out the exact way in which its fate is to be brought about. Let us see how near he has hit the mark. A few years previously, Mustaphe, brother of Achmet I., was placed on the throne by the Janizaries; shortly afterwards deposed by the same power; again placed there, and again deposed; his nephew, Amurath IV. being chosen in his stead. The new prince was a mere youth; and Heylyn argues that Mustaphe, having learnt a lesson from his previous changes of fortune, and finding his life in continual danger, “will secure himselfe from the like after-clasps which may happen unto him when this young boy shall be a little older, by the taking of him away, if it bee (as no question but it is) possible. And so,” oracularly concludes our prophet, “wee have the end of the Ottoman race.” It is not quite clear to us why the whole race is to fail because one member murders another; but Heylyn is so confident in the result, that he proceeds to assign the empire to the sundry claimants whom he conceives will arise. The Crim Tartars are to base their claim upon the fact of their supplying a large part of the Turkish army, and they are to be succoured by the Great Cham. The Bassas will seek to divide the territories among themselves, after the manner of Alexander’s captains upon the death of their chief. The Janizaries, being the best soldiers of the Empire, and having already Constantinople in their grasp, will put in their claim, and will have the best chance of all; “unlesse,” adds Peter, “the princes of Christendom, laying aside private malice, joine all in armies to strip this proud peacock of her feathers, and (upon so blessed and advantage) to breake in pieces, with a rodde of iron, this insolent and burdensome monarchy. – A thing rather to bee desired than expected.”
See how Time disdains to follow the forecastings of men! Mustaphe, instead of murdering Amurath, was himself murdered by Amurath. The Crim Tartars, instead of being the masters of Turkey, are the slaves of Russia. The Pashas are still nothing more than Pashas, having, indeed, much less power than before. The Janizaries have not destroyed the Sultans, but were themselves destroyed in the horrible but perhaps necessary massacre of eighteen hundred and twenty-five. And the chief powers of Europe, rather than unite for the partition of Turkey, have formed themselves into a league for its defence. The prophets of our own day may, perhaps, find a lesson in these disappointed vaticinations.
In treating of Arabia, Heylyn, as we many expect, speaks for the most part of Mahomet and his religion. Hard and bitter words are the only expressions he can find for them; calling the latter “and irreligious religion,” “a heathenish superstition,” a mass of absurdities, superstitions, and fopperies, and Mahomet himself a man tempted by the devil. He has a keen eye and a sharp tongue for all the many faults of that faith; but he will not, if he can help it, recognize its principles, or consider it with a reference to the sanguinary and debasing idolatry which it displaced. But he is obliged to acknowledge the charity of the Mahometans, and the noble fact that “you shall hardly find any beggars among them;” and the opportunity of giving a side blow at the Pope, lured him into this great admission in their favour – “I have heard many say, that it is better for a man that would injoy liberty of conscience to live in the countries professing Mahometanisme that Papistrie; for in the one hee shall never bee free from the bloody Inquisition; in the other he is never molested if hee meddle not with the Law, their women, or their slaves.” We are all acquainted, in imagination, with the chant of the Muezzin from the minarets, summoning the people to prayer in the grey early dawn, in the burning blue of noon-day, and under the dying light and new-born stars of evening – that remote disembodied, spiritual voice somewhere between heaven and earth, which enchanted a recent French traveler; but, perhaps, it was never alluded to with so little reverence as by Peter. He says that at the proper times “the criers keepe a-bauling in the steeples for the people to come to church.” After this, we will fly away in to Tartary.
Here, in this district called Cathay (that golden land of old Italian romance and poetry) we come across the cities of Cambalu, where there are fifty thousand astrologers, and of Xaindu – the “Xanadu” of Coleridge’s magnificent dream-poem. In this latter is “the palace of the Emperour, of a four-square figure, every side extending eight miles in length. Within this quadrant is another, whose sides are six miles long; and within that another of foure miles square, which is the palace it selfe. Betweene these severall wals, are walkes, gardens, orchards, fishponds, places for all manner of exercise, and parkes, forrests, chases for all manner of game.” Here we have the “stately pleasure-dome” which Kubla Khan “decreed,” as Coleridge says:
So, twice five miles of fertile
With walls and towers well girdled round;
And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossom’d many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
The Great Cham, or Khan, of Tartary, is called by the simple vulgar, “the Shadow of Spirits, and Some of the Immortall God; and by himselfe is reputed to be the monarch of the whole world. For this cause every day, as soone as hee hath dined, hee causeth his trumpets to be sounded: by that signe giving leave to the other kings and princes of the earth to goe to dinner. A fine dreame of universall monarchie.” Cathay, it may be remarked, has been discovered by modern geographers to be a part of China, and not of Tartary; but at present we are traveling with an old geographer, and therefore shall not heed the impertinences of later scribes.
India, which has now become almost another England, and has had all its mystery and romance rubbed off by its connection with mercantile speculation and shop interests, was in Heylyn’s time and inscrutable and little-known land, where Fable had it nearly all her own way, with small fear of being dispossessed by Reality. “There have bin attributed to this India,” says Heylyn, “the tales of men with dogge’s heads; of men with one legge onely, yet of great swiftnesse; of such as live by sent; of men that had but one eye, and that in their foreheads; and of others who eares did reach unto the ground. It is reported also that this people, by eating a dragon’s heart and liver, attaine to the understanding of the languages of beasts; that they can make themselves, when they list, invisible; that they have two tubes, whereof one opened yeelds winde, the other raine; and the like. But of these relations and the rest of this straine; I doubt not but the understanding reader knoweth how to judge and what to believe.” All who please are at liberty to assent to the above, and also to the assertion that “Bacchus was the first that entred and conquered this country; as indeed,” adds Peter, “what regions first or last hath he not brought under his winie empire?” At Moltan, “the women ride booted and spurred: a fashion lately imitated by some mimicke dames of England;” and at Ulna, “if I remember alright, the women, in foolish pride, blacke their teeth: because dogge’s teeth (forsooth) are white.”
We have now got into the region of wonders, and of stately and majestic visions. The metropolis called Quinsay, in China, is like a city out of the Arabian Nights – a city of the Genii, or of the Pre-Adamite sultans. It “containeth in circuite one hundred miles, having in the midst of it a lake of thirty miles compasse, in which are two goodly ilands, and in them two magnificent palaces, adorned with all necessaries either for majestie or convenience, in which are celebrated the publike feasts and the marriages of the better sort. The lake is nourished with divers rivers, the chief being Polysago and Cacamacan; on which rivers twelve thousand bridges lift up their stately heads, and under whose immense arches great ships with sails spread abroad, and top and top-gallant may and doe usually passe. This citty, partly by the fury of warres, and partly by the violence of earthquakes, hath now lost no small part of her ancient beauty and remowne.” Heylyn’s account of this city appears to be derived from Marco Polo. Of the diet of the Chinese or geographer says: “They eate thrice in a day, but sparingly: their drinke they drinke hot,” [an allusion to tea, perhaps] “and eate their meate with two sticks of ivory, ebony or the like: not touching their meat with their hands, and therefore no great filers of linnen. The use of silver forks in eating, with us, which our sprucer gallants so much used of late, was no doubt and imitation of this.” The above allusion to the Chinese “not touching their meat with their hands,” as if it were something strange and note-worthy, gives us a vivid idea of the dirty habits of our ancestors, no very long time ago.
For a few more Eastern wonders, which will remind the reader of some of the marvels of Sindbad the Sailor, we will drop down upon the Moluccas, and other oriental islands. In the former it is asserted “that there is a river, plentifully stored with fish, whose water is yet so hot that it doth immediately scald off the skin of any beast that is cast into it; that some of the men have tayles, and most of their swine have hornes; that they have oysters, which they call Bras, the shells whereof are of so large compasse that they christen children in them; that in the sea there are stones which grow and increase like fish, of which the best lime is made; that there is a bird called Monicodiata, which, having no feet, is in continual motion; and that there is a hole in the backe of the cock, in which the henne doth lay her eggs and hatch her young ones.” These statements are made on the authority of Galvano; but Heylyn entirely disbelieves them. In some other Indian and Chinese Islands, travelers relate that there is “a tree whose westerne part is ranke poison, and the eastern part an excellent preservative against it. They tell us also of a fruit that whosoever eateth shall for the space of twelve hours be out of his wits; and of a stone on which whosoever sitteth shall suddenly have a rupture in his body.” [An awkward land, this, to travel in!] “We are told also that hereabouts are taken tortoises of that bignesse that ten men might sit and dine within one of the shells; and that here is a tree which all the day time hath not a floure on it, but within half an houre after sunne-set is full of them. All huge and monstrous lies.”
Nevertheless, when Peter gets into Africa, he entertains us with similar relations. Africa, by the way, he calls a country, instead of a quarter of the globe; and speaks of the Vandal kings thereof, as though they had rule over the whole region from sea to sea. In speaking of an expedition by the Goths of Spain against the Roams in Italy, which was defeated on account of the former refusing to fight on a Sunday, while the latter had no such scruples, and consequently massacred their unresisting enemies, he makes a remark which we commend to all over strict Sabbatarians. “Works of necessity,” he observes, “are allowed by the best divines, and consonant to God’s word, to bee done on that day.” He appends an anecdote of a Jew, who, “being at Alexandria, and refusing to take shippe, when the winde served very happily, to saile into Palestine, because it was Saturday, - the better to cousen his conscience, hired a Janizary to beate his aboard: which task the Janizary, partly in love to knavery, and partly in hate to the nation, performed not by halfes, and in jest, but lashed him sorely, and to the purpose.”
The women of Barbary, Peter quaintly pourtrays in a few words; describing them as “sumptuous in jewels, beautifull in blacknesse, having delicate soft skinnes.” But the people of Negroland provoke his contempt in the highest degree. Of this nation he says: “The very nobles (if so noble a name may without offence bee given to so blockish a people) are so stupid that when they are in presence of their king they never looke him in the face, but sit flat with their elbowes on their knees, and their hands on their faces; and for their greater gallantry, they annoint their haire with a fat of fishes, which maketh them stinke abominably.” In the more civilized parts of Africa wonders come crowding in upon us in every direction; as, for instance, at the city of Morocco, where it appears that on a tower of the castle are three globes of pure gold, weighing one hundred and thirty thousand Barbary ducats, and that several kings have essayed to take them down, in order to use them for the benefit of their exchequer, but have invariably suffered some calamity in consequence, so that the vulgar believe they are guarded by spirits. We hear also of the Psylli, a people of Lybia, so venomous in themselves that they could poison a snake; and we are told that the inhabitants of Ethiopia Superior are of a olive-twany complexion, “excepting only their king himself, who is alwaies of a white complexion: a wonderfull prerogative, if true.” At the island of Pharos, Peter does not forget to inform us that here Ptolemy built a tower of glass (a sort of ante-type of the Crystal Palace), “which, being by reason of magicke enchantments impregnable, was by him laid levell to the ground with a handful of beanes.” Of the last cataract of the Nile, we read that “the hideousnesse of the noyse which it maketh not only deateth all the by-dwellers, but the hills also are torne with the sound.” This is very grand, and is perhaps not far from the truth; but we cannot say as much for the tradition concerning the island of Teneriffe, “the inhabitants of which never heard of a showre or river, but receive al their fresh waters from a most high mountiane, wherein there is a tree covered continually with a moist cloud, which every noone dissolveth into water, and is by cisterns conveighed into divers parts of the iland.” The same story has been told of another of the Canary Islands.
America in the time of Heylyn was a very different place from the America of the present day. The red man still held possession of a large part of his ancestral earth; the primeval forests had been but slightly encroached upon by modern cities; and the great republic of the north-west had not even been dreamt of as a possibility. In the south the Spaniards had made some progress; but the Pilgrim Fathers had not long crossed the Atlantic, and only a nucleus or so of English society existed in the north. Peru was the California in those days, from which such large quantities of gold were poured into Europe that, according to Heylyn, they were supposed by many to have created a “dearth of all things in respect of former times;” we suppose, by putting a stop to production. A story which he tells touching this subject may be perused with advantage by many of our fellow-countrymen in Australia at the present day. “Two merchants, departing from Spaine to get gold, touched upon part of Barbary, where one buyeth Moores to dig and delve with, the other fraughteth his vessel with sheep; and, being come to the Indies (America), the one, finding mines, set his slaves to worke, and the other, hapning in grassie ground, put his sheepe to grasing. The slaves, growne cold and hungry, call for food and cloathing, which the sheep-master by the increase of his cattle had in abundance: so that what the one got in gold, with toyle, charges, and hazard, he gladly gave unto the other for continuall supplies of victuals and rayments for himselfe and his servants. In the end, the mines being exhausted, and all the gold thence arising being exchanged with the sheepheard for such necessaries as mature required, home returned the sheepheard in triumph; his companion having nothing to shew for the improvement of his stock.” Schemes for cutting through the Isthmus of Darien were rife in Heylyn’s time as well as now; only that in those days Spain, and not England, was the enterprising nation; but see how Peter frowns upon such things as being impious. “I have read,” said he, “of many things like attempts begaune, but never of any finished… God, it seemeth, being not pleased at such proud and haughty enterprises. And yet,” he adds cautiously, “perhaps the want of treasure hath not beene the least cause why the like projects have not proceeded; besides the dreadfull noyses and apparitions which continually affrighted the workmen.” The present speculators had best look to this last-mentioned danger.
The remote is always allied to the wonderful; and the distant lands of the earth are filled with monstrosities and marvels, until repeated inter-communication has destroyed the charm. We have already seen this in connexion with Asia and Africa; and America is no exception to the rule. A few instances, before we close our book, and end our discursive flight, will give the reader a further specimen of this strange faculty of the human mind; though it should be remembered that some of the stories here quoted may have a root in fact. One of the chief towns in Guiana, says Heylyn, is El Dorado, “the greatest city in America, and, as some relate, of the world, too. For Diego Ordas, one of the companions of Cortez, is sayd to have entred into this citty at noone, and to have traveled all that day, and the next also until night, through the streetes hereof, before he came to the King’s palace. It is situate on a lake of salt water two hundred leagues in length, and is by the Spaniards called El Dorado (or Guilded Citty) from the abundance of gold, both in coyne, plate, armour, and other furniture, with the sayd Diego Ortas there saw.” Near to another city, “report telleth us of a christall mountain.” Cusco, in Peru, is “the seat of the ancient kings of this nation; who, the more to beautifie this citty, commanded every one of the nobility to build a palace here for his continuall residence. It hath a faire market-place, in the midst of which two high wayes thwart one another, which are two thousand miles long, straight and levell.” At Portoveio, there are graves in which are found human teeth of three fingers’ breadth. The Strait of Magalhaens is “a place of that nature that which way soever a man bend his course, he shall be sure to have a winde against him, *** On both sides are the high mountaines, continually covered with snow, from whence proceede those dangerous counter-windes that beat on all sides of it: al place certainly unpleasing to view and hazardous to passe.” Peter also talks to us of a fig-tree, the north part of which, looking towards mountains, produces fruit only in the summer, while the south part, facing the sea, is fruitful only in the winter; of a little animal which cannot go a stone’s throw in less than fifteen days; of “an hearbe called Sentida or Viva which, if one touch it, will shut its leaves and not open them till the man which did displease it be gone out of sight” (this is the sensitive plant); of flying fishes, (“but,” says he, “I binde you not to believe it”); and of some high, craggy, and barren hills – namely, the Andes – so full of wild beasts and serpents that a whole army of one of the Peruvian kings was destroyed by them in passing that way.
Thus we see that Tradition divides the world with History, and Fable with Fact. But we must not stay too long in these fantastic regions, lest our brains be moon-struck. So we dismiss the magician who has been showing us these sights, and return to the realities of the nineteenth century.
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