17 February 2012

"Three Years Travels from Moscow Over-Land to China": A 17th-Century Backpacker's Tale

Original title page in English, with a slightly modified title, and a veritable Oriental menagerie -- monkey (top right), elephant (bottom right), dead fish included (bottom-center).

In this installment, I have for your reading pleasure the tale of Evert Ysbrants Ides, seventeenth-century ambassador and traveler to deepest Orient. Such land journeys to Eastern realms were rare, and this early modern Paul Theroux was one of the few Western Europeans to visit Siberia or China before the late nineteenth century. Ides' account of the journey he made from Moscow to Peking (Beijing) in 1693 was published in English in 1705 as: 
Three Years Travels from Moscow Over-Land to China, thro' Great Ustiga, Siriana, Permia, Siberia, Daour, Great Tartary, etc. to Peking, Containing, An exact and particular Description of the Extent and Limit of those Countries, and the Customs of the Barbarous Inhabitants; with reference to their Religion, Government, Marriages, daily Imployments, Habits, Habitations, Diet, Death, Funerals, etc.
Well, that just about covers everything - imployments, diet, and death! Written by "his Excellency E. Ysbrants Ides, Ambassador from the Czar of Muscovy to the Emperor of China," it was first printed in Dutch "by the Direction of Burgomaster Witzen*, formerly Ambassador in England," being "now Faithfully done into English." (One assumes that the arbitrary use of italics was carried over from the original.) 

Nicolaes Witsen, stern patron of Ides and several Amsterdam wig-wrights.

Your Faithful Author can find little biographical information about Ides, but this lack of source material is rarely a problem here at the Cabinet.  His companion on the embassy to China, Adam Brand (also known as "Adam Brand, P.I." and "Adam Brand, Attorney at Law"), an Englishman, beat Ides to the punch, publishing A Journal of an Embassy from Their Majesties John and Peter Alexowits, Emperors of Muscovy, etc. into China...With some Curious Observations Concerning the Products of Russia.† But Ides' account has awesome illustrations (reproduced below)! 

Coincidentally, in 1697, the young Russian czar Peter "Alexowits" "The Great," the very man who had sent the embassy to China, made a similar envoy from Rus to the wild Occident lands of France, the Netherlands, and England. Peter traveled to Western Europe incognito, disguised as a poor eight-feet-tall journeyman shipwright, with a large posse of "apprentices" (royal hangers-on) in tow. 

"Pete Romanov" in his shipwright togs, with the ship he built with his own hands to sail back to Russia, loved a good embassy.

Witsen's 1705 map of Tartary. The Korea peninsula is on the bottom-right; the Chinese Empire at the very bottom; and the Bering Sea on the top-right. The realm of Prester John is mysteriously absent.  

Below are several illustrations from Ides' book - enjoy, Readers!

The daily commute: "Russians travelling with Dog sleads in Siberia"

"Samojedian Hart sleds": Why use dogs when you can use harts (reindeer, in this case), and wear woodwose-like fur suits? (Also, this reminds me of a Currier and Ives print!)

Is it just Your Humble Author, or does this look unmistakably like similar depictions of American Indians from the same period, tepees, buckskins, and bows and arrows included? Eerily Atlantean similarity across continents, or lazy John White-plagiarist

"The Embassadors entry through the famous Chinese wall which is 1200 miles long.": Ides relates how Dutch legends of his day told of how the Great Wall of Cathay was so extensive and, well...great, that even the dearly departed Elect could see it from the strict Calvinist Paradise upon high.  

"The Embassadors Introduction into the Audience hall": The Imperial Court in Peking put Ides and his companions up in special mobile "elephant hostels" (on left) for the duration of their visit.   

"The Embassador entertained by the Emperor in the best audience chamber.": An honor for Ides and co., as most Europeans were relegated to the third-best audience chamber, especially Jesuits

 *    "Burgomaster" Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717), thirteen-time mayor of Amsterdam, was a fellow Siberian explorer, whose book Noord en Oost Tartarye (North and East Tartary) also appeared in 1692 (1705 in English). This book, unlike Ides' travel narrative, is an encyclopedic account of everything Europeans knew (and made up) about Russia, Siberia, China, and Japan at the time. 

†   Sadly, Adam Brand's "Curious Observations" are doomed to disappoint the modern reader, although there is an extensive and fascinating section on the construction and distribution of ushankas (stereotypical Russian hats), several basic borscht recipes, and helpful tips on Old Believer beard maintenance.  

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