Billeder på siden

as to their respective claims to consideration; but nevertheless we are bound to say, that the subject, in our opinion, presents to the student of geographical history a fair ground for diligent inquiry, and impartial attention.

We have already alluded to the Venetian voyages, on the strength of which the Republic contests the originality of the discoveries of Columbus, the son of a rival state. The claim, as stated by Count Daru, is, that two brothers of the family of Zeno, discovered Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Virginia, and Mexico, towards the close of the fourteenth century. This, it will be hereafter seen, is too broad a statement of the matter; but it is sufficiently correct for the moment. Whatever may be thought ultimately of the effort thus made to dim the glory of the great man who was, at least, the first to make the discovery of the new world practically useful to the old, and however slight may seem the foundation for so sweeping an assumption, which has been advocated with great zeal and no small degree of learned research, within a few years, by one of the highest dignitaries of the Romish church, the subject is certainly one of more than ordinary interest, and forms a curious chapter in the geographical annals of our continent.


The political and commercial preeminence of the Venetian Republic during the Middle Ages, until the discovery of a new route by sea to the Indies, is well known. Constantinople and the principal cities of Greece, were tributary to her power, and on the soil of Italy her superiority was disputed, but never shaken, by the fierce jealousies of rival states. The distant regions of the East poured their treasures into her lap, and her "argosies with portly sail" not only covered the Mediterranean, but extended their adventurous voyages beyond the Pillars of Hercules, to the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal, France, England, and the ports of Flanders, then the principal marts of the north of Europe. "A dying glory smiles

O'er the far times when many a subject land
Looked to the winged Lion's marble piles,

Where VENICE sat in state, throned on her hundred isles."

When we contrast the fallen and abject condition into which that far-famed republic has declined in modern times, with

* Cardinal Zurla.

the brilliant and commanding station she once filled, her commerce annihilated, her liberties the sport of arbitrary power, the palaces of her merchant princes and illustrious nobles tenantless, and the descendants of her proudest families perishing with want at home, or lingering out a wretched existence in exile abroad, the lesson of earthly vicissitude cannot fail to awaken the most profound emotion, and create the liveliest sympathy for her hapless fate.

The merchants of Venice were the first to explore the realms of Eastern Asia, and reveal the existence of the rich possessions of the Tartar monarchs to admiring, but incredulous Europe. The visions of wealth, luxury, and magnificence, that garnished the tales of the early travellers, were among the most active stimulants to that new spirit of enterprise, which finally resulted in the discovery of the new world. Columbus himself caught from this source the inspiration that led him on in the career of adventure, and crowned his hopes with a consummation of which he had not dreamed. But, strange as it may seem, he was never undeceived; to the last moment of his life, he continued in the belief, that his discoveries had only opened a shorter route to those regions of Eastern Asia, Mangi and Cathay, which the Venetian travellers had visited by land, and whose exhaustless riches they had so eloquently described.

Among these merchant travellers, and the most celebrated of all, were the brothers Nicolò and Maffeo Polo, or Paolo, and Marco, a son of Nicolò. The two former made their first journey into Tartary about the year 1255, and, after several years' absence, returned to Italy as ambassadors from the Great Khan to the Pope. After remaining at home for a brief period, they again set out on a second journey to Asia, accompanied by Marco, whose description of their travels is now the oldest book of its class, and, although long regarded as only a bundle of fables, has been abundantly verified in all important particulars by succeeding travellers. After an absence of more than twenty years, the Polos returned to Venice, in 1295; but, as no intelligence respecting them had reached their native city before their return, they had the mortification to find themselves entirely forgotten by all their old acquaintance and countrymen. They repaired to their own house, a noble palace in the street of St. Chrysostom,

and found it inhabited by several of their relatives, who were either unwilling, or unable, to recognise them. The dress of the travellers was coarse, and much worn, and in the Tartar fashion. They had, besides, partly forgotten their native tongue, intermingling with their conversation foreign words, and, in their general air and demeanor, had become assimilated to the people among whom they had sojourned for so long a period. It was not strange, therefore, that they should not have been recognised at once.

The means these adventurous travellers took to revive the recollections of their kinsmen, and excite the respect of their countrymen, may be familiar to our readers, but the story is too good to lose by repetition. They invited all their relations and old associates to a magnificent entertainment; when the guests arrived, what was their astonishment on finding the poor, despised travellers arrayed in rich garments of crimson satin, made in the Oriental fashion, which, before leading the way to a table loaded with luxuries, they exchanged for still richer robes of crimson damask. The surprise of the company was without bounds, when, after dismissing the attendants, Marco produced the coarse Tartar dresses in which they had arrived; these he now cut open, and from their folds and linings took out so prodigious a quantity of rubies, sapphires, emeralds, carbuncles, and diamonds, that the guests, delighted with the beauty and splendor of these costly and magnificent gems, no longer hesitated to acknowledge their countrymen.

When the fame of this wonderful banquet had spread throughout Venice, as it soon did, the travellers became at once the lions of the day. Crowds of persons, of all ranks, flocked to their palace, to see and congratulate them on their return, and listen to the story of their unsurpassed adventures. Maffeo, the oldest of the party, was admitted to the honors of the magistracy, as a token of respect, and public marks of distinction were conferred upon them all. The noble youth of the city came almost daily to visit and converse with Marco, who was always communicative, and ready to gratify their curiosity by his descriptions of what he had seen, in the distant regions they had visited. As he usually spoke in round numbers of the immense wealth of the Khan, or Emperor, of Tartary, they gave him the name of Marco Millioni. In the time of Ramusio (about the

middle of the sixteenth century), the Polo palace was still pointed out in the street of St. Chrysostom.*

Washington Irving, alluding to the effect produced on the public mind by the travels of these celebrated Venetians, as described by Marco Polo, says;

"His splendid account of the extent, wealth, and population of the Tartar territories filled every one with admiration. The possibility of bringing all those regions under the dominion of the church, and rendering the Grand Khan an obedient vassal to the holy chair, was for a long time a favorite topic among the enthusiastic missionaries of Christendom, and there were many saints-errant who undertook to effect the conversion of this magnificent infidel. Even at the distance of two centuries, when the enterprises for the discovery of the new route to India had set all the warm heads of Europe madding about these remote regions of the East, the conversion of the Great Khan became again a popular theme; and it was too speculative and romantic an enterprise not to catch the vivid imagination of Columbus. In all his voyages, he will be found continually to be seeking after the territories of the Grand Khan; and even after his last expedition, when nearly worn out by age, hardships, and infirmities, he offered, in a letter to the Spanish monarchs, written from a bed of sickness, to conduct any missionary to the territories of the Tartar emperor, who would undertake his conversion."†

The story of the Zenos, (or Zeni, in the Italian plural,) who flourished a century after the Polos, is far less wonderful in its details, and, had it been published in their own age, would be entitled to no less credit. The family was one of high consideration in the Republic of Venice. Marino Zeno was the Venetian governor of Constantinople, in the year 1205; Riniero filled the office of Doge of his native city, from 1252 to 1268; and others of the family were elevated, from time to time, to various distinguished posts in the service of the state, both at home and abroad. The most brilliant in genius of all this noble race, and not less illustrious in his career than the rest, was Carlo Zeno, a brother of the navigators, whose valor and naval prowess, skilfully directed, saved the Republic in the famous war of Chiozza, which he brought to a close in the year 1380. Aided by powerful allies, and strengthened by the accession of large bodies of

Navigationi e Viaggi, Tom. II. Prefatione.

Life and Voyages of Columbus, Vol. II. p. 297. Appendix.

condottieri, or mercenary troops, the Genoese had taken and occupied Chiozza, a considerable town in the Venetian territory, built on the lagoons, like Venice, and assailable only from the sea. After a long and vigorous siege, conducted with great spirit by the Venetian forces, chiefly under the direction of Carlo Zeno, the place was reduced, and the enemy compelled to capitulate unconditionally. This event raised Carlo to the highest distinction in the Republic, and added fresh lustre to his name, already honorably known in the public service.

The brothers of Carlo, who are stated by the Venetian writers to have anticipated Columbus, and forestalled the Genoese in relation to the glory of original discovery, as the former had deprived them of the credit of naval superiority, were named Nicolò and Antonio, both younger than Carlo, under whom they are supposed to have served in the wars of the Republic. Their discoveries are referred to the period immediately succeeding the termination of the war of Chiozza, from 1380 to 1400; but no account of them was published until the year 1558, more than a century and a half after they are supposed to have been made. The work was then printed at Venice, it is believed, under the direction of Nicolò Zeno, called the Younger, who was well known for his scientific attainments, and may be presumed to have drawn up the account from the materials in his possession. It was published by Marcolini, a noted bookseller at Venice, in an octavo volume, containing, also, the Travels of Caterino Zeno in Persia, an ambassador from the Venetian government to that country in 1473. The former is entitled, "Dello Scoprimento dell' isola Frislanda, Eslanda, Engrovelanda, Estotilanda, et Icaria, fatto per due fratelli Zeni, M. Nicolò, il Cavaliere, e M. Antonio." (The Discovery of the Islands of Frisland, Iceland, Greenland, Estotiland, and Icaria, made by two brothers Zeni, the Chevalier Nicholas and Antonio.) Both works were added to the edition of the second volume of Ramusio's collection of Voyages and Travels, published at Venice, in 1574.

The narrative commences in the following manner;

"Or M. Nicolò il Cavaliere, come huom di alto spirito, doppo la sudetta guerra Genovese di Chioggia, che diede tanto da far ai nostri maggiori, entrò in grandissimo desiderio di veder il mondo, e peregrinare, e farsi capace di varij costumi, e di lin

« ForrigeFortsæt »