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Page 285

PART IV - THE EAST
CHAPTER V - MARCO POLO

WHILST Dante wrote his Vita Nuova at Florence, and the stars, a book of a very different character was being compiled in the neighbouring city of Genoa. Two men, collaborators, were at work there upon a mass of notes and memoranda-notes scribbled upon every kind of material and dealing with every variety of subject, from the pearl fisheries of Southern India to the banquets in Russia and from the Ark on Mount Ararat to the arrangements for infant welfare in China. ' Orientalia,' we should now call them. The owner of the Orientalia-a queer-looking middle-aged man-would read them out and expand them and reminisce, speaking in the Venetian dialect, but speaking with an outlandish accent which made him rather hard to follow. His companion-who spoke Tuscan and was of a literary turn-wrote down from his dictation, asked questions, made corrections, inserted explanatory passages, and pulled things into shape. Both the men were prisoners of the Genoese state, but conditions were comfortable, and when a man of action and a man of letters are immured together for several years with facilities for writing it is probable that a book will result. It resulted in this case, and in consequence of their imprisonment we have got the book we call Marco Polo.
Have we got it in its original form ? Certainly not. We are not even sure in what language the original was written. 'I' he literary man-Rustichello or Rusticiano of Pisa-was an Italian, yet it seems probable that he wrote out his fair copy in French. His manuscript has been lost, but various versions of it were made, in French, Italian, and Latin, and a vast critical literature has grown up round these versions, through which, very dimly, we see the two collaborators at their work-far more dimly than we see their contemporary Dante. For we have Dante's actual words. We know what he thought of people

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