Page images
PDF
EPUB

Indies might be reached by doubling its most southerly headlands. Expeditions were fitted out; the Cape de Verd and the Azore Islands were discovered; Cape Bojador was passed; the tropical region was penetrated, and divested of its terrors; and at length the lofty promontory which terminates Africa on the south, was descried. It was hailed as a harbinger of the coveted passage to the Indian Seas, and on that account King John gave it the appellation of the Cape of Good Hope.

1486

The Spaniards were also making maritime discoveries at the same time, but Lisbon was the point of great attraction to the learned, the curious, and the adventurous, who were desirous to engage in the expeditions then continually fitting out there. Among them came Christopher Columbus, or Colombo, a native of Genoa, then in the vigor of maturity." Already he had made many a perilous voyage upon the ocean, having engaged in the life of a mariner at the age of fourteen years. The bent of his mind for such pursuits was early discovered by his father, and in the University of Pavia he was allowed, by a short course of study, to obtain sufficient elementary knowledge of geometry, astronomy, geography, and navigation, and of the Latin language, to enable J him to make those sciences afterward

03 - 6 E RE: 2 subservient to his genius. From the % F N .S. commencement of his nautical career

to his landing in Portugal, his history

is very obscure.

1 There is some obscurity and doubt respecting the precise year in which Columbus was born. Muñoz, in his History of the New World, places it in 1446. Mr. Irving, relying upon the authority of Bernaldez, who says that “he died in 1506, in a good old age, at the age of seventy, a little more or less,” places it in 1436, which would make him about forty-eight years old when he landed in Portugal.

* This peculiar signature of Columbus is attached to various documents written by him subsequent to his first voyage. It was customary, in his time, to precede a signature with the initials (and sometimes with the words in full) of some pious ejaculation. We accordingly find the signature of Columbus with initial prefixes, thus:

[ocr errors]

The interpretation is supposed to be “Sancta! Sancta, Ave, Sancta! Christo, Maria, Yoseph;” id est, Christ, Mary, Joseph. The xpo are Greek letters; the word FERENS Roman capitals. X, or a cross, is the sign for Christo or Christ, and xpo is an abbreviation of Xplorros, anointed, and expressed the first and chief portion of the Christian name of Columbus. The Latin wordferens (bearing, carrying, or enduring) expressed not only the latter portion of his name. but also his character, according to his own lofty conceptions of his mission. He believed himself to be Christo ferens, Christ-bearer or Gospel-bearer, to the heathen inhabitants of an unknown world. It may be added, that Colombo (Columbus), a dove or In person, Columbus was tall and commanding; in manners, exceedingly winning and graceful for one unaccustomed to the polish of courts or the higher orders in society. He was a strict observer of the rituals of his religion. His piety was not a mere form, but an elevated and solemn enthusiasm, born of a deep conviction of the vital truths of Christianity. While in Lisbon, he never omitted religious duties in the sanctuary. At the chapel of the Convent of All Saints, where he was accustomed to worship, he became acquainted with a young lady of rank named Donna Felipa, the daughter of Moñis de Palestrello, an Italian cavalier, who had been one of the most distinguished navigators in the service of Prince Henry. They loved, and were married. His wife's sister was married to Pedro Correo, a navigator of note. In the family of his mother-in-law he learned all the incidents of the voyages of her husband; and the charts, journals, and other manuscripts of that navigator she delivered to Columbus. These possessions awakened new aspirations in his mind. He had made himself familiar, by study and large experience, with all the nautical knowledge of the day, and, in common with the most enlightened men of his time, he was disposed to credit the narratives of Plato and other ancient writers respecting the existence of a continent beyond a glorious island called Atlantis,' in the waste of waters westward of Europe. Such a continent was necessary to make his own geographical theory perfect. The gorgeous pictures of Zipango or Cipangi and Cathay, on the eastern coast of Asia, drawn by Marco Polo and Mandeville, also excited his warm imagination; and the alleged apparitions of land seen to the westward by the people of the Canary Isles were treasured in his mind as great realities.” His comprehensive genius constructed a new and magnificent.theory, and his bold spirit stood ready to act in unison with his genius. He based his whole theory upon the fundamental principle that the earth was a terraqueous globe, which might be traveled round from east to west, and that men stood foot to foot at opposite points.

[graphic]

pigeon, was doubtless associated, in his imagination, with the carrier-bird, and had its due weight, not only in his conceptions of his destiny, but in forming his sign-manual. The signature to his will is EL ALMIRANTE (the Admiral), with the above letters, instead of xpo FERENS.

* Ancient writers speak of an island which existed at a very early period in the Atlantic Ocean, and said to have been eventually sunk beneath its waves. Plato, who gave the first account of it, says he obtained his information from the priests of Egypt. The island was represented to be larger than Asia and Africa, as they were then known, and beyond it was a large continent. Nine thousand years before Plato's time, this island was thickly inhabited and very powerful, its sway extending over all Africa, including Egypt, and also a large portion of Europe. A violent earthquake, which lasted for the space of a day and a night, and was accompanied by inundations of the sea, caused the island to sink, and, for a long period subsequent to this, the sea in this quarter was impassable by reason of slime and shoals. Learned men of modern times have been disposed to believe in the ancient existence of such an island, and suppose the West India Islands to be the higher portions of the sunken land. If this belief is correct, then the continent beyond was America.

According to the account given to Plato, Atlantis was the most productive region upon the earth. It produced wine, grain, and delicious fruits in abundance. It had wide-spread forests, extensive pasturegrounds, mines of gold and silver, hot springs, and every luxury for human enjoyment. It was divided into ten kingdoms, governed by as many kings, all descendants of Neptune, and living in perfect harmony with each other. It had splendid cities, rich and populous villages, vast fortifications, arsenals, and equipments for navies. There was a temple in the island a stadium (six hundred and six feet nine inches) in length, dedicated to Neptune. It was ornamented with gold, silver, orichalcium, and ivory. It contained a golden statue of Neptune, representing the god as standing in his chariot, and holding the reins of his winged steeds. Such was the ancient vision.

* So confident were the people of the Canaries that land lay to the westward of them, that they sought and obtained permission from the King of Portugal to fit out various expeditions in search of it. A belief was so prevalent that a Scottish priest named Brandon discovered an island westward of the Canaries, in the sixth century, that maps, in the time of Columbus, had the Island of St. Brandon upon them. It was placed under the equator.

This was seventy years before Copernicus announced his theory of the form and motion of the planets, a and one hundred and sixty years before Galileo was obliged, before the court of the Inquisition at Rome, to renounce his belief in the diurnal revolution of the earth.b Columbus divided the circumference of the earth at the equator, according to Ptolemy's system, into twenty-four hours of fifteen degrees each, making three hundred and sixty degrees. Of these he imagined that fifteen hours had been known to the ancients, extending from the Fortunate or Canary Islands to the city of Thinge in Asia, the western and eastern boundaries of the known world. By the discovery of the Cape de Verd and the Azore Islands, the Portuguese had advanced the western frontier one hour, leaving about one eighth of the circumference of the globe yet to be explored. The extent of the eastern region of Asia was yet unknown, although the travels of Polo in the fourteenth century had extended far beyond the Oriental boundary of Ptolemy's map. Columbus imagined that the unexplored part of Asia might occupy a large portion of the yet undefined circumference of the earth, and that its eastern headlands might approach quite near to those of Western Europe

a 1543.

b. 1633.

and Africa. He therefore concluded that a navigator, pursuing a direct course from east to west, must arrive at the extremity of Asia by a far easier and shorter route than following the coast of Africa around the Cape of Good Hope. Fortunately, he adopted the opinions of Aristotle, Pliny, and other writers, who considered the ocean as but of moderate breadth, so that it might be crossed from Europe in the space of a few days. A knowledge or suspicion of its actual extent would have deterred even the bold enterprise of Columbus from attempting an exploration of its waters in the small ships of that day. Reports of strange trees, reeds of immense size, curiously-carved pieces of wood, and the bodies of two men—unlike, in color and visage, any of the known races extant—having drifted ashore upon the Canary and Azore Islands by westerly winds, confirmed him in his belief, and a desire and determination to undertake a demonstration of his theory by an exploring voyage absorbed his whole attention. “He never spoke in doubt or hesitation,” says Irving, “but with as much certainty as if his eyes had beheld the Promised Land. A deep religious sentiment mingled with his thoughts, and gave them at times a tinge of superstition, but of a sublime and lofty kind. He looked upon himself as standing in the hand of Heaven, chosen from among men for the accomplishment of its high purpose. He read, as he supposed, his contemplated discovery foretold in Holy Writ, and shadowed forth darkly in the prophecies. The ends of the earth were to be brought together, and all nations, and tongues, and languages united under the banner of the Redeemer.” The prophetic passage in Pulci's “Morgante Maggiore” was to him full of promise:

“Know that this theory is false; his bark
The daring mariner shall urge far o'er
The Western wave, a smooth and level plain,
Albeit the earth is fashion'd like a wheel.
Man was in ancient days of grosser mold,
And Hercules might blush to learn how far
Beyond the limits he had vainly set”
The dullest sea-boat soon shall wing her way.
Men shall descry another hemisphere,
Since to one common center all things tend.
So earth, by curious mystery divine

* Life and Voyages of Columbus.

* Calpe and Abila, or Gibraltar, on the Spanish, and Cape Serra, on the African shore of the Straits of Gibraltar, were called the Pillars of Hercules; it being said, in ancient fable, that Hercules placed them there as monuments of his progress westward, and beyond which no mortal could pass.

Well balanced, hangs amid the starry spheres.
At our antipodes are cities, states, *
And thronged empires, ne'er divined of yore.
But see, the sun speeds on his western path
To glad the nations with expected light.”
PREscott's TRANSLATION of stanzA 229, 230, cANTo xxv.

While maturing his plans, Columbus extended the bounds of his observation and study by a voyage to Thule, or Iceland, from which remote point he says he advanced one hundred leagues northward, penetrated the polar circle, and convinced himself of the fallacy of the popular belief that the frozen zone was uninhabitable." Whether he saw, in Iceland, written accounts of the voyages of the Northmen to America, or heard of them as related by tradition or chanted in songs, we have no means of determining. If he did, it is singular, as Prescott remarks, that they were not cited by him in support of his hypothesis, while earnestly pressing his suit for aid before the courts of Portugal and Spain; and it is equally surprising that he did not, in his first voyage to America, pursue the route traversed by those early navigators. He probably heard little more than vague rumors of their voyages, such as presented insufficient data even for a plausible opinion. His magnificent idea was all . his own, sustained by the opinions of a few learned men, and confirmed by his observations while on this northern voyage. Filled with his noble resolutions and lofty anticipations, Columbus submitted the theory on which rested his belief in a practicable western route to Asia, to King John the Second of Portugal. That monarch's sagacity perceived the promised advantages to be derived from such an enterprise, and he eagerly sought the counsel of his ministers and wise men. But his court and the college of scientific sages could not comprehend the sublime project; and after a long and fruitless negotiation, during which the Portuguese meanly attempted to avail themselves clandestinely of his information, Columbus quitted Lisbon in disgust, determined to submit his proposals to Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish sovereigns, whose wisdom and liberal views were the admiration of men of science and learning. His wife was dead; his feelings had no hold upon Portugal, and he quitted it forever. It was toward the close of 1484 when Columbus appeared at the Spanish court.” It was an unpropitious hour, for the whole resources of the nation were then employed in pros. ecuting a war with the Moors. For a long time he awaited the decision of the sovereigns, employing his leisure in the alternate pursuits of science, and engagements in some of the military campaigns. He was treated with great deference, and, after much delay, a council of learned men were convened at Salamanca to consider his plans and propositions. After mature deliberation, they pronounced his scheme “vain, impracticable, and resting on grounds too weak to merit the support of government.” A minority of the council were far from acquiescing in this decision, and, with the Cardinal Mendoza and other officers of government, and Fray Juan Perez de Marchena, guardian of the ancient monastery of La Rabida,

* In the age of Columbus, Greenland was laid down upon the maps as a continuation or projection westward of Scandinavia. Columbus discovered this error in his northern voyage, which discovery was a new fact in support of his theory of a continent lying westward from Europe, or at least a proximity of the eastern coast of Asia. At that time the climate of Iceland and Greenland was far more genial than at present, and there is reason to believe that those portions of the latter country which for two or three hundred years have been ice-bound and uninhabitable, were then tillable. Philosophers of our day, who have studied the phenomena of terrestrial magnetism with care, have advanced a plausible theory whereby to explain this fact.

* It is asserted, but without positive proof, that Columbus, before going to Spain, made application to the authorities of his native city, Genoa, for aid in his enterprise; but failing in this he went to Venice, and also sent his brother Bartholomew to England, to lay his plans before Henry the Seventh. If these statements are true, they exhibit his perseverance in a still stronger light than truthful history presents it.

they induced the sovereigns to soften the decisions of the council by a promise to give the proposition a fair audience when their pressing state engagements should be ended. Columbus, wearied by procrastination, at length lost all hope of effecting any thing with the Spanish court. He turned from it with disgust, and made application to two wealthy and enlightened Southern dukes, who had ample means at command. He was unsuccessful, and with a heavy heart he left Spain, to carry his proposals to the King of France. Isabella of Castile and Leon, sister of the profligate Henry the Fourth, was the successor Ootober 19, of that monarch to the throne. She married Ferdinand, the son of old John the 1469. Second of Aragon, and, associating him with herself in the government, united the two monarchies into one great kingdom, the renowned modern Spain. Isabella was eminently virtuous, and her piety and daily goodness were the fruit of a deep religious feeling. Ferdinand was ambitious, and, in the midst of his perplexity with the Moors, he felt a strong desire to advance the interests and glory of the new kingdom, by maritime discoveries; yet he could not comprehend the vast plans of Columbus, and he looked coldly upon the project. To the pious sentiments of the queen, Father Perez, a former confessor of Isabella and a friend of Columbus, appealed with success; and before the navigator had entered the dominions of France, he was summoned back to the court, then in the camp at Santa Fé. He arrived in time to witness the surrender of Grenada. Joy and exultation perIsabelLA of CAstile." vaded all classes. Columbus took advantage of this state of things, and while he excited the acquisitiveness of the nobles by reciting wonderful tales of the riches of Cipangi and Cathay, he eloquently portrayed to the queen the glorious prospect of extending the influence of the Gospel over benighted heathens, promising to devote the profits of the enterprise to the recovery of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem from the hands of the Paynim. His eloquence was seconded by that of Louis de St. Angel, a favorite officer of the crown. The religious zeal of Isabella was fired, and, notwithstanding the extravagant demands of Columbus,” she resolved, in opposition to the wishes of Ferdinand, to aid him in fitting out an ex

* Isabella was of middle size, and well formed, with a fair complexion, auburn hair, and clear, blue eyes. There was a mingled gravity and sweetness in her countenance, and a singular modesty, gracing, as it did, great firmness of purpose and earnestness of spirit. Though strongly attached to her husband, and studious of his fame, yet she always maintained her distinct rights as an allied prince. She exceeded him in beauty, personal dignity, acuteness of genius, and grandeur of soul. Combining the active and resolute qualities of man with the softer charities of woman, she mingled in the warlike councils of her husband, and, being inspired with a truer idea of glory, infused a more lofty and generous temper into his subtile and calculating policy.—Washington Irving.

* Columbus, in the demands set forth in his proposition, stipulated for himself and heirs the title and authority of admiral and viceroy over all lands discovered by him. This demand was inadmissible, yet the navigator persisted in it, though it appeared an effectual bar to any arrangement with the queen. His stipulations were finally acceded to, and Columbus always regarded the queen with feelings of the liveliest gratitude. “In the midst of the general incredulity,” he said in a letter, “the Almighty infused into the queen, my lady, the spirit of intelligence and energy, and while every one else, in his ignorance, was expatiating only on the inconvenience and cost, her highness approved it, on the contrary, and gave it all the support in her power.”

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »