By C.W.R.D. Moseley
The Library, Vol.30 (1975)
Introduction: The fourteenth-century Travels of Sir John Mandeville is extant in a very large number of manuscripts and scholars have always accepted that it was one of the most popular (if not the most popular) of medieval vernacular accounts of the marvels of the East. There is of course much more to it than a mere catalogue of wonders, and its importance as, it seemed, ‘trustworthy’ geographical information can easily be demonstrated for people as diverse as Martin Behaim, Prince Henry the Navigator, Columbus, Martin Frobisher, Ortelius, Mercator, and Hakluyt I have recently spent a great deal of time trying to trace the discernible influence of the Common (or Defective or Pynson) version on thinkers and writers in England down to the first publication of the Cotton version in 1725 and some of my preliminary results have appeared or are about to appear. Here, however, I want briefly to look at die book’s availability, in whatever version, to readers, mainly in England. This is obviously of some importance in assessing the potential influence of a book, even though other considerations, such as literary quality, are more significant. Moreover, statistical techniques that might help us in a later period cannot be applied rigorously, so conclusions must be tentative.