A manuscript of the travels of Marco polo, in the Venetian dialect, was long preserved by the Soranza family at Venice, but whether this now exists, or has ever been published, is unknown. Mr Pinkerton informs us , that a genuine edition of these travels, probably from the original MS. either of Marco himself, after his return from Genoa, or from that of his amanuensis Rustigielo, was published at Trevigi in 1590, in the dialect of Venice, which has hitherto escaped the attention of all editors and commentators. This curious publication is often worded in the names of all the three travellers, father, uncle, and son; but when the peculiar travels of Marco are indicated, his name only is employed. In the former case, the language runs thus, “We, Nicolo, Maffei, and Marco, have heard, seen, and know, &c.:” In the latter, “I Marco was in that place, and saw, &c.” In this Venetian edition, the names of places and persons are often widely different from those in the other editions, and probably more genuine and correct. But that publication being at present inaccessible, we are under the necessity of being contented with the edition of Harris, in which he professes to have carefully collated the edition of Ramusio with most of the other translations, and with an original MS. in the royal library of Prussia. This latter labour, however, he seems to have taken entirely upon trust from Muller, a German editor and translator, probably through the intermediation of Bergeron, an early French editor of voyages and travels. The only freedom which has been assumed in the present edition is, by dividing it into sections for more ready consultation and reference, and by the addition of explanatory notes from various sources.
Marco Polo is the chief of all the early modern discoverers; having been the first who communicated to Europe any distinct ideas of the immense regions of Asia, from the Euxine eastwards, through the vast extent of Tartary to China and Japan; and the very first author who has made any mention of that distant insular sovereignty. Even Columbus is supposed, with some considerable probability, to have been prompted to his enterprize, which ended in the discovery of America, by the study of these travels; believing, that by a western course through the unexplored Atlantic, he should find a comparatively short passage to those eastern regions of the Indies, which Polo had visited, described, or indicated. In this view he was, however, so far misled in his estimation of the distance, by the erroneously spread-out longitudes of Ptolomy, bringing these regions much farther towards the east, and consequently nearer by the west, than their actual situation; and was stopped in his western course, by the important and unexpected discovery of many islands, and a vast interposed continent; which, from preconceived theory, he named the West Indies.