1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rubruquis, William of

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The camp of Batu was first reached near the northernmost point of his summer marches, therefore about Ukek or Uvyek, near Saratov (see Marco Polo, Paris ed. of 1824, p. 3). Before the camp was left they had marched with it five weeks down the Volga. The point of departure would lie on that river somewhere between 48° and 50° N. The route taken lay E. by a line running N. of the Caspian and Aral basins; then from about 70° E. to the basin of the Talas river; thence across the passes of the Kirghiz Ala-tau and S. of the Balkash Lake to the Ala-kul and the Baratula Lake (Ebi-nor). From this the travellers struck N. across the Barluk, or the Orkochuk Mountains, and thence, passing S. of the modern Kobdo, to the valley of the Jabkan river, whence they emerged on the plain of Mongolia, coming upon the Great Khan’s camp at a spot ten days' journey from Karakorum and bearing in the main S. from that place, with the Khangai Mountains between.

This route is of course not thus defined in the narrative but is a deduction from the facts stated therein. The key to the whole is the description given of that central portion intervening between the basin of the Talas and Lake Ala-kul, which enables the topography of that region, including the passage of the Ili, the plain S. of the Balkash, and the Ala-kul itself, to be identified past question.[1]

The return journey, being made in summer, after re traversing the Jabkan valley,[2] lay apparently farther to the N., and passed N. of the Balkash, probably with a fairly straight course, to the mouths of the Volga. Thence the party travelled S. by Derbent, and so by Shamakhi to the Araxes, Nakhshivan, Erzingan, Sivas and Iconium, to Lajazzo, Layas, or Ayas, where they embarked for Cyprus and Syria. St Louis had returned to France a year before.

We have alluded to Roger Bacon’s mention of Friar William. Indeed, in the geographical section of the Opus Majus (c. 1262) he cites -the traveller repeatedly and copiously, describing him as “frater Wilhelmus quem dominus rex Franciae misit ad Tartaros, Anno Domini 1253 . . . qui perlustravit regiones orientis et aquilonis et loca in medio his annexa, et scripsit haec praedicta illustri regi; quem librum diligent er vidi et cum ejus auctore contuli” (see Opus Majus, Oxford edition of 1897, i. 353–66). Add to this William’s own incidental particulars as to his being-like his precursor, Friar John de Plano Carpini—a very heavy man (ponderous valde), and we know no more of his personality, except the abundant indications of character afforded by the story itself. These paint for us an honest, pious, stout-hearted, acute and most intelligent observer, keen in the acquisition of knowledge, the author of one of the best narratives of travel in existence. His language indeed is dog-Latin of the most un-Ciceronian quality; but it is in his hands a pithy and transparent medium of expression. In spite of all the difficulties of communication, and of the badness of his urge man nus or dragoman,[3] he gathered a mass of particulars, wonderfully true or near the truth, not only as to Asiatic nature, geography, ethnography and manners, but as to religion and language. Of his geography a good example occurs in his account of the Caspian (eagerly caught up by Roger Bacon), which is perfectly accurate, except that he places the hill country occupied by the Mulahids, or Assassins, on the E. instead of the S. shore. He explicitly corrects the allegation of lsidore that it is a gulf of the ocean: “non est verum quod dicit Ysidorus . . . nusquam enim tangit oceanum, sed undique circumdatur terra” (265).[4] Of his interest and acumen in matters of language we may cite examples. The language of the Pascatir (or Bashkirs) and of the Hungarians is the same as he had learned from Dominicans who had been among them (274).[5] The language of the Ruthenians, Poles, Bohemians and Slavonians is one, and is the same with that of the Vandals, or Wends (275). In the town of Equius (immediately beyond the Ili, perhaps Aspara)[6] the people were Mahommedans speaking Persian, though so far remote from Persia (281). The Uighurs (or Yugurs) of the country about Cailac (see note above) had formed a language and character of their own, and in that language and character the Nestorians of that tract used to perform their office and write their books (281-82). The Uighurs are those among whom are found the fountain and root of the Turkish and Comanian tongue (289). Their character has been adopted by the Mongols. In using it they begin writing from the top and write downwards, whilst line follows line from left to right (286). The Nestorians say their service, and have their holy books, in Syriac, but know nothing of the language, just as some of our monks sing the mass without knowing Latin (293), The Tibet people write as we do, and their letters have a strong resemblance to ours. The Tangut people write from right to left like the Arabs, and their lines advance upwards (329). The current money of Cathay is of cotton paper, a palm in length and breadth, and on this they print lines like those of Mangu Khan’s seal:—“imprimunt lineas sicut est sigillum Mangu”—a remarkable expression. They write with a painter’s pencil and combine in one character several letters, forming one expression:—“ faciunt in una figura plures literas comprehendentes unam dictionem,”—a still more remarkable utterance, showing an approximate apprehension of the nature of Chinese writing (329).

Yet this sagacious observer is denounced as an untruthful blunderer by Isaac Jacob Schmidt (a man of useful learning, of a kind rare in his day, but narrow, wrong-headed, and in natural acumen and candour far inferior to the 13th-century friar) simply because Rubrouck’s evidence as to the Turkish dialect of the Uighurs traversed a pet heresy, long since exploded, which Schmidt entertained, viz. that the Uighurs were by race and language Tibetan.[7] Léon Cahun (Introduction à l’histoire de l’Asie, pp. 353–55, 384–86, 392) also shows a strange perversity in depreciating Rubrouck; all this detraction may be contrasted with Oscar Peschel's admirably fair judgment (Geschichte der Erdkunde, p. 165, &c.). At the same time, Rubrouck may be considered inferior as a politician and diplomatist to Carpini; and the latter's remarkable work has in its turn suffered from undiscriminating eulogy of his successor's Itinerarium. An attempt has been made to strike a balance in the judgment of these two great pioneers in the Dawn of Modern Geography, ii. 375-81.

The narrative of Rubrouck, after Roger Bacon's copious use of it, seems to have dropped out of sight, though five MSS. are still known to exist: the chief of these are (1) Corp. Chr. Coll., Cambridge, No. 66, fols. 67 v.–110 v. of about 1320; (2) No. 181 of the same library, fols. 321–98, of about 1270–90; (3) Leiden Univ. Libr., No. 77 (formerly 104), fols. 160 r.–190 r. of about 1290. It has no place in the famous collections of the 14th century, nor in the earlier Speculum Historiale of Vincent of Beauvais, which gives so much attention to the 13th-century intercourse of Latin Christendom with Tartary. It first appeared imperfectly in Hakluyt (1598 and 1599), as we have mentioned. But it was not till 1839 that any proper edition of the text was published. In that year the Recueil de Voyages of the Paris Geographical Society, vol. iv., contained an edition of the Latin text, and a collation of the MSS. put forth by M. d’Avezac, with the assistance of two young scholars, since of high distinction, viz. Francisque Michel and Thomas Wright. But there is no commentary on the subject-matter, such as M. d’Avezac attached to his edition of Friar John de Plano Carpini in the same volume. Something has been done to supply this deficiency by the two editions in the Hakluyt Society's publications, (i.) William of Rubrouck . . . John of Plan de Carpine, trans. and edited by William W. Rockhill (London, 1900); (ii.) Texts and Versions of . . . Carpini and . . . Rubruquis . . ., edited by C. Raymond Beazley (London, 1903). Richthofen in his China, i. 602-4, has briefly but justly noticed Rubrouck. A French version with some notes, issued at Paris in 1877, in the Bibliothèque orientale Elzévirienne hardly deserves mention. Dr Franz Max Schmidt’s admirable monograph, Über Rubruk’s Reise (Berlin, 1885), has been separately printed from vol. xx. of the Zeitschrift of the Berlin Geographical Society. See also d’Ohsson, Histoire des Mongols (1852), vol. ii. pp. 283-309; Bretschneider, Mediaeval Researches from Eastern Asiatic Sources (1888), i. 204–5, 262–63, 299, 301, 305–8, 311, 318, 327, 334; ii. 25, 38, 41–42, 70–71, 83–86, 91, 116, 120; Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, ii. 266, 278–79, 281, 298–99, 303, 320–82, 421, 449–52; iii. 17–18, 31–32, 46, 69, 84-85, 88, 98, 101, 105, 188, 236–37, 544.  (H. Y.; C. R. B.) 

  1. See details in Cathay and the Way Thither, pp. ccxi-ccxiv, and Schuyler’s Turkistan, i. 402–5. Mr Schuyler points out the true identification of Rubrouck’s river with the Ili, instead of the Chu, which is a much smaller stream; and other amendments have been derived from Dr F. M. Schmidt (see below).
  2. This meaning may be put on Rubrouck’s words: “Our going was in winter, our return in summer, and that by a way lying very much farther north, only that for a space of fifteen days' journey in going and coming we followed a certain river between mountains, and on these there was no grass to be found except close to the river.” The position of the Chagan Takoi or upper Jabkan seems to suit these facts best; but Mr Schuyler refers them to the upper Irtish, and Dr F. M. Schmidt to the Uliungur.
  3. “Ego enim percepi postea, quando incepi aliquantulum intelli ere idioma, quod quando dicebam unum ipse totum aliud diceliat, secundum quod ei occurrebat. Tum videns nericulum loquendi per ipsum, elegi magis tacere” (248-149).
  4. The page references in the text are to d’Avezac’s edition of the Latin (see below).
  5. The Bashkirs now speak a Turkish dialect; but they are of Finnish race, and it is quite possible that they then spoke a language akin to Magyar. There is no doubt that the Mussulman historians of that age identified the Hungarians and the Bashkirs (e.g. see extracts from Juvaini and Rashiduddin in App. to D’Ohsson’s Hist. des Mongols, ii. 620–23). The Bashkirs are also constantly coupled with the Majrir by Abulghazi. See Fr. tr. by Desmaisons, pp. 19, 140, 180, 189.
  6. 6 Asp=Equus. Aspara is often mentioned by the historians of Timur and his successors; its exact place is uncertain, but it lay somewhere on the Ili frontier. Dr F. M. Schmidt thinks this identification impossible; but one of his reasons-Viz. that Equius was only one day from Cailac-appears to be a misapprehension of the text.
  7. See Forschungen im Gebiete . . der Völker Mittel-Aslens (St Petersburg, 1824), pp. 90–93.