Mandevile, Sir John

, a celebrated English traveller, was born at St. Alban’s, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, of a family whose ancestor is said to have come into England with William the Conqueror. Leland, who calls this knight Magdovillanus, affirms that he was a proficient in theology, natural philosophy, and physic, before he left England, in 1322, to visit foreign countries. He returned, after having been long reputed dead, at the end of thirty-four years, when very few people knew him; and went afterwards to Liege, where it seems he passed under the name of Joannes de Barbam, and where he died, according to Vossius, who has recorded the inscription on his tomb, Nov. 17, 1372. His design seems to have been to commit to writing whatever he had read, or heard, or knew, concerning the places which he saw, or has mentioned in his book. Agreeably to this plan, he has described monsters from Pliny, copied miracles from legends, and related, without quotation, stories from authors who are now ranked among writers of romances and apocryphal history, so that many or most of the falsehoods in. his work properly belong to antecedent relators, but who were certainly considered as creditable authors at the time he wrote.

Sir John Mandevile visited Tartary about half a century after Marco Polo, who was there in 1272. In this interval a true or fabulous account of that country, collected by a cordelier, one Oderic D’Udin, who set out in 1318, and returned in 1330, was published in Italian, by Guillaume de Salanga, in the second volume of Ramusio, and in Latin and English by Hakluyt. It is suspected that sir John made too much use of this traveller’s papers; and it is certain that the compilers of. the “Histoire Generale des Voyages” did not think our English knight’s book so original, or so worthy of credit, as to give any account of it in their excellent collection. Sir John indeed honestly acknowledges that his book was made partly of hearsay, and -'partly of his own knowledge; and he prefaces his most improbable relations with some such words as these, thei seyne, or men seyn^ but I have not sene it. His book, however, was submitted to the examination of the pope’s council, and it was published after that examination, with the approbation of the pope, as Leland thinks, of Urban V. Leland also affirms that sir John Mandevile had the reputation of being a conscientious man, and that he had | religiously declined an honourable alliance to the Soldan-of Egypt, whose daughter he might have espoused, if he would have abjured Christianity. It is likewise very certain that many things in his book, which were looked upptv as fabulous for a long time, have been since verified beyond all doubt. We give up his men of fifty feet high r but his hens that bore wool are at this day very well known, under the name of Japan and silky fowls, &c. Upon the whole, there does not appear to be any very g.ood reason why sir John Mandevile should not be believed in any thing that he relates on his own observation. He was, as may be easily credited, an extraordinary linguist, and wrote his book in Latin, from which he translated it into French, and from French into English, and into Italian; and Vossius says that he knows it to be in Belgic and German. The English edition has the title of “The Voiyage and Travaile of Sir John Maundevile, knight, which treateth of the way to Hierusalem, and marvayles of lude,” &c. Lond. 1568, 4to, reprinted in 1684, same form, and again in 1727, 8vo. All these are in the British Museum, together with copies of the French, Spanish, Latin, and Italian. Of the last there are two editions, printed at Venice in 1537 and 1567, both in 8vo. The original English ms, is in the Cotton library. The English editions are the most valuable to us, as written in the very language used by our countrymen three hundred years ago^ at a time when the orthography of the English language was so little fixed, that it seems to have been the fashionable affectation of writers, to shew their wit and scholarship by spelling the same words in the greatest variety of ways imaginable. The reader will be amused by Addison’s pretended discovery of sir John Mandevile’s Mss. and the pleasant fiction of “the freezing and thawing of several short speeches which sir John made in the territories of Nova Zembla.” This occurs in the Tatler, No. 254, the note upon which has principally furnished us with the above account. 1


Tatler, with Annotations, vl. IV. edit. ISOfr. Yossius de Hist. Lat, —Leland. Bale. Tanner.