« VorigeDoorgaan »
reach. A vague journey in search of an fectiveness on the possibility of reaching unknown continent never for a moment its waters by circumnavigating Africa. entered into his thoughts; nor, if it had, Urged by religion and patriotism, he de. would he have ventured to demand the voted all his powers to the realization of means for its accomplishment from the the idea by which he was possessed, and sagacious counsellors of Isabella. And not in vain. For it was he who gave the assuredly, had his years of supplication impulse which carried the flag of Portugal been protracted from eight to eighty, not triumphantly round the "Cabo Tormentoa ship, not a man, not a maravedi, would rio” to Calicut and Malacca. But this have been placed at his disposal in the brilliant consummation of his labors he interests of so foolhardy a design. What did not live to witness. When he died he sought, then, was not a new world, but in 1463 the tropical continent had been a new way.
slowly and painfully coasted no farther The need of finding that new way grew than to Sierra Leone. The crossing of up as the result of the havoc wrought by the line by Santarem and Escobar soon the Turks. Commerce with the East had afterwards (in 1471) dissipated prevalent been rendered by the Crusades a Euro. bogey terrors connected with the torrid pean necessity; it was interrupted by the zone, but brought discouragement of a encampment of a horde of armed nomads more serious kind. For the eastward on the long lines of communication con- trend of the Gold Coast, by which expecnecting Italy with India and Cathay. The tations of a speedy passage to Orient Mediterranean was thus, for the first time realms had for a time been flattered, was in history, virtually converted into a cul then found not to contioue. Far on, imde sac; a state of things intolerable to measurably far on towards the south, the irresistibly growing enterprise, for which, unwelcome land lay extended, inexorably accordingly, means of exit had to be found, barring the way against sea-borne explorif not across Armenia or by Alexandria, ers. Was then Prince Henry's lifelong then out between the Pillars of Hercules. hope after all delusive? Could it be that There was nothing else for it. The open the Ptolemaic configuration of the globe ing up of an outside route to the Indies hit the truth, and that access there was had become a condition sine qua non of none from the Atlantic to the Indian progress.
Ocean? A slackening of enterprise might,
under the shadow of so dispiriting a doubt, A more startling question [Mr. Fiske rewell be excused; although other circummarks, than that of its possibility) has seldom stances doubtless contributed to produce been propounded; for it involved a radical departure from the grooves in which the hu
the pause that ensued. A perceptible man mind had been running ever since the reflux of thought, moreover, from the longdays of Solomon. Two generations of men
cherished project of an African periplus lived and died while this question was taking marked the interval; and before it came shape, and all that time Cathay and India and to an end Christopher Columbus had fully the islands of Spices were objects of increasing matured his ideas on the subject of 25 desire, clothed by eager fancy with all manner alternative route to the Indies. of charms and riches. The more effectually About six hundred books, it is esti. the eastern Mediterranean was closed, the mated, have been written about this exstronger grew the impulse to venture upon traordinary personage, individually and unknown paths, in order to realize the vague expressly, besides innumerable others but glorious hopes that began to cluster about those unknown countries. Such an era of treating of his career as part of a more romantic enterprise as was thus ushered in general subject. Yet we are very little, if the world has never seen before or since. at all, ihe wiser. The respectable edifice (Vol. i., p. 294.)
of early biography has been undermined
where it has not been utterly overthrown, Portugal led the way under the guidance and materials for rebuilding it on a surer of Prince Henry the Navigator, whose foundation are not at present forthcoming. Plantagenet descent on the mother's side Destructive criticism has played havoc
for he was a grandson of John of Gaunt with much that had seemed well ascer- Englishmen may be proud to remem- tained, and has thickly sprinkled with the ber. He was a man who had convictions, dust of doubt statements which it has not and the courage of them. He believed, found the means of actually disproving, for instance, in spite of Ptolemy, in the the result being that very few circumCape of Good Hope. Totally rejecting stances connected with the life of Columthe landlocked theory of the Indian Sea, bus stand free from the critical note of he laid the great stake of his life's ef. interrogation.
The champion of the cause of negation and it is too true that he was no unsullied is Mr. Henry Harrisse, a Franco-American hero of the Cross. Yet it does not follow scholar of distinguished attainments and that his professions were insincere, or his indefatigable industry. His arguments devotion hypocritical. His American apagaiost the authenticity of the biography, praiser, however, loses no opportunity of professing to be the work of Columbus's treating them with contempt. He fails, son, Ferdinand, but known only in an indeed, to perceive that the first duty imItalian version published at Venice in posed upon him, as the biographer of a 1571, were formulated one-and-twenty man of exceptional genius, is that of enyears ago. Although unreservedly ac- deavoring to rise to the height of his cepted by very few, they have availed to great argument.” damage on several points the credit of a There is no certainty either as to the narrative supposed, until then, to be of date or as to the place of the birth of fundamental and unalterable authority, Columbus. The "seven cities" claiming and thus to throw the whole subject into Homer as a native are thrice multiplied in apparently hopeless confusion. The con- the towns and hamlets competing for the troversy has given rise to a still grow. honor of having cradled the “ Admiral of ing literature, but Mr. Harrisse has not the Ocean." He himself, however, plainly retreated by a hair's breadth from his asserted his Genoese origin, and, in the original position. He is a hardy sceptic. absence of documentary proof to the conHe doubts or denies to the utmost limit of trary, he should in all fairness be believed. what is rational. Yet he has been assidu- His autobiographical hints are, none the ous in his endeavors to replace what he less, both perplexed and perplexing. has removed ; and some few grains of fact, They seem to imply his birth in the year hard enough to resist the utmost efforts of 1446 or 1447, while the apparently trustcritical grinding, he certainly has suc- worthy statement of Bernaldez that he was ceeded in extracting from the numerous seventy at the time of his death antedates archives explored by him. The results of the event by fully ten years. But it is many years of patient study are thus em likely enough that he seemed a much bodied in the two bulky volumes of his older man than he really was. What is * Christophe Colomb,” cited among our beyond doubt is that he was the eldest of authorities; and they are indeed of pri- the four children of Domenico Colombo, mary importance to inquirers judicious a poor, shiftless weaver, never long out of enough to make proper allowance for their difficulties. Christopher, as he himself hyper-negative tendencies.
relates, went to sea at the age of fourteen; The only considerable recent English but he must have filled up the intervals of work on Columbus is that by Mr. Justin his voyages with weaving or wool-combWinsor. Favorably known as the judi. ing, since he is described as by trade a cious editor of a monumental “ History of lanerio in a notarial act registered at SaAmerica,” the author was exceptionally vona in 1472. The story of his having well prepared for the task subsequently studied at the University of Pavia may undertaken. His book, accordingly, con- safely be dismissed as apocryphal; nevertains much valuable information, and theless he managed one way or another to attests a complete command of the bibli- learn some Latin, cosmography, and asography of the subject. The portraits tronomy. and antique maps with which it is copi- Enterprising seamen were, in those days, ously illustrated are also highly interesting. naturally drawn to Portugal. There was The style of writing is not indeed always the centre of navigating adventure ; there correct, and the method of arrangement the emporium, so to speak, of exploratory leaves something to be desired. But these talent. And so Columbus followed his are venial faults; a more serious defect brother Bartholomew to Lisbon about the is the imperfect appreciation betrayed year 1473. His appearance must soon throughout of the singular and complex have become familiar to the idlers of the character attempted to be portrayed. The town as he paced along the banks of the work suffers not from the lues Boswelli- Tagus to Belem, or mounted by steep, ana, but from its opposite. We hear far evil-smelling alleys to catch the sun's last too much of the "common clay" of the radiance from one of the seven bills of the great discoverer, and far too little of the city of Ulysses. No wearer of hereditary lofty purposes, the noble and profound dignities, indeed, could have presented a emotions, of the spirit it enshrined. Mr. more striking figure than that of this Winsor is disappointed to find Columbus weaver's son from the Vico Dritto Ponti. "but a creature of questionable grace," cello in Genoa. His hair, once auburn, had whitened prematurely; but the fire of come when there should be no Ultima youth was in his eyes.
Thule — with the conjectures and specu. He was a man of noble and commanding lations of Strabo and Aristotle, which fell presence, tall and powerfully built, with fair, in so appositely with the half-developed ruddy complexion, and keen, blue-grey eyes intuitions of his own eager intelligence. that easily kindled, while his waving white He read, too, the “Liber Cosmograplahair must have been quite picturesque. His icus" of Albertus Magnus, the “Speculum manner was at once courteous and cordial, Naturale" of Vincent de Beauvais, and and his conversation charming, so that stran- fortified their reasons with the travellers' gers were quickly won, and in friends who tales of Mandeville and Marco Polo. At knew him well he inspired strong affection and respect. There was an indefinable air of Porto Santo, moreover, stories were rife of authority about him, as befitted a man of great
flotsam and jetsam from unknown lands. heart and lofty thoughts. Out of those kin- Pieces of timber strangely carved, and by dling eyes looked a grand and poetic soul, the means, it could be judged, of strange touched with that. divine spark of religious tools, had been picked up; reeds of enorenthusiasm which makes true genius. (Fiske, mous size, pine-trees of unfamiliar species, i., 353.)
had been cast ashore on Fayal and MaHis livelihood was earned by map.making deira; nay, human corpses, assignable to
a suggestive occupation at that critical no recognized branch of the human family, epoch to a man of imaginative turn; but had been brought by winds and waves to he was not long in Lisbon when, having claim remote burial in Flores. married a daughter * of Bartolommeo It was, however, a letter from Paolo Perestrello, a distinguished Italian navi. Toscanelli of Florence which, about 1474, gator, he retired with her to the little clinched the conviction of the Genoese island of Porto Santo for a year's study navigator. The old astronomer expressed and meditation. He emerged from this absolute assurance as to the possibility of seclusion dominated by one great and se effecting an ocean-transit to Cathay: Had ductive idea,
he himself been to and fro several times, The Aristotelian doctrine of the globu- he could scarcely have been more confilar shape of the earth maintained itself, dent. Nor did he stop short at bare as. albeit slighted by the multitude, through. sertion. He furnished, on the strength of out the Middle Ages. Albertus Magnus his deductions, sailing directions, and a and the schoolmen held it fast, and it was chart of the route, a copy of which actutaught, among others of the learned, by ally served to guide Columbus on his Roger Bacon and the Cardinal d'Ailly venturesome expedition. Its indications (Petrus Alliacus). With the revival of were indeed unduly encouraging, Asia learning in the fifteenth century it came being made to extend right across the fully to the front; and was assented to, section of the globe occupied, in point of almost as a matter of course, by all those fact, by the Pacific Ocean. Thus, the who recognized the progress of the future "splendid city of Quinsay" (Hangchow) in the cult of the past.
was situated, by Toscanelli's calculations, The belief [Mr. Justin Winsor says] † care
not far from the mouth of what we now ried with it of necessity another that the know as the Columbia River; and the east was to be found in the west. Supersti- glories of Marco Polo's “ Cipango" (reption, ignorance, and fear might magnify the resenting Japan) were to be found about obstacles to a passage through that drear Sea the region of the Gulf of Mexico. Coof Darkness; but in Columbus's time, in some lumbus further improved the situation by learned minds at least, there was no distrust considerably undervaluing the size of the as to the accomplishment of such a voyage globe, and concluded finally that Cipango beyond the chance of obstacles in the way. could be reached by a straight run of
Columbus derived from many sources twenty-five hundred miles from the Canahis persuasion that the direct route to the ries. His estimates of mileage and TosIndies lay across the Atlantic. Cardinal canelli's of longitude were alike illusory ; d'Ailly's book, the “Imago Mundi" yet they had their use in helping to con. (1410), is kcown to have influenced him ceal from view oppressive or prohibitive profoundly. Through its means he prob- truths. They besides, in a secondary and ably made acquaintance with ancient opin- unsuspected sense, corresponded with real. ions the subject; with Seneca'sities. prophetic announcement of an age to So Columbus's mind was made up. He • Possibly a granddaughter. The date of the mar- and meant to devote his life to embodying
had definitely appropriated a great thought riage, too, is in dispue. † Christopher Columbus, p. 119.
it in a daring enterprise.
Whether he owed the idea to Toscanelli or way. Columbus had started for the north not [Mr. Fiske justly remarks] is a question with his son Diego, but, the boy growing of no great importance, so far as concerns his weary and exhausted, he stopped to beg own originality; for the idea was already in for him a piece of bread and drink of water the air. The originality of Columbus did not at the Franciscan monastery of La Rábida, consist in his conceiving the possibility of
near Palos, in Andalusia. This led to an reaching the shores of Cathay by sailing west, but in his conceiving it in such distinct and interview with the prior, Juan Perez, who, practical shape as to be ready to make the in Mr. Fiske's phrase, “had a mind hosadventure in his own person. (Vol. i., p. pitable to new ideas." He was impressed 365.)
with the commanding personality of his The scientific discoverer, too, must not his vision of what lay beyond the immi.
casual, almost destitute, guest, believed in only apprehend, but accomplish. His
nent ocean, and wrote a letter to the queen work is completed only when he has con
by which the balance was inclined in favor verted a half-seen possibility into a noto of trying if the vision might prove pal. rious reality. As Laplace says,
pable. mérite de la découverte d'une vérité appar. tient tout entier à celui qui la démontre." of three caravels, only one of them decked
On Friday, August 3, 1492, a little fleet And, in geographical inquiries, demonstra- from stem to stern, set sail from Palos for tion is by exploration.
For eighteen long years Columbus Japan. It was manned by ninety dewaited, supplicating one monarch after spondent or desperate men — released another to accept a hemisphere at the gaol-birds mostly, or insolvent debtors,
vagabonds, delinquents, or other scum of paltry price of a few thousand crowns.
seaport existence — with no relish for the The interval, however, brought him mani. task of ascertaining the shape of the world fold experience. He made voyages, in
by slipping down its tremendous declivity Portuguese ships, to the Gold Coast on one into nether regions whence no remounting side, to Iceland on the other; and, after
might be possible ; to say nothing of the quitting Portugal for Spain, lent a hand, risk, barely escaped, some said, by Harold not ineffectively, in fighting the Moors, Hardrada, of toppling sheer over the edge But the vigor of his age was passing, and of what was habitable into some dreadful the object for which he lived seemed as chaos of disorganization. “Happy isles”
He was poor; some there might perhaps be out there among thought him mad, and to the less discern: the dim billows; indeed, if sailors' yarns ing advisers of Ferdinand and Isabella, * deserved any credit, the western ocean was
* he can scarcely have appeared otherwise than under the unprepossessing aspect of lia,* the island of the Seven Cities, though
pretty freely sprinkled with them. Antila crotchet-monger and stock bore. Yet unvisited in recent times, might, it was he maintained inexorably his high preten. thought, be depended upon to exist, while sions. The Sibyl hersell was not stiffer to the north of it lay, somewhat obscured to bargain with.' Viceregal and other dig. by legendary fog, the island of the Hand nities should be secured to him and to his Of Satan; the isle of St. Brandan, with heirs forever in the new realms of the its colossal inhabitants, and man-eating Indies. And as for the wealth to be de. dogs, though less definite in position, rived from them, his share was already
was scarcely less an admitted reality than dedicated to defraying the cost of a new Teneriffe ; and besides an island of the crusade, by which the Turks should be Fountain of Life and sundry others, there driven from Jerusalem. It was not then
was the famous Brazil,t which might be his to relinquisb.
encountered anywhere between the roarAt last, sick with hope deferred, he was about to abandon Spain as, eight years cades. But who could hope, steering at
ing forties” and the latitude of the Orpreviously, he had abandoned Portugal. random across the great waste of waters Henry VII. had let the chance slip of in which these lay, to reach any one of grasping the empire of the west for En
them? Nor were there any strong in. gland; but Charles Vill. might prove ducements to do so. The possible society Clearer-sighted to the interests of France. of the great Achilles," at any rate, had So the neglected seer would not yet give no attraction for the unwilling comrades way to despair, dark though the 'outlook Its brightening came about in this
• Identified by Peter Martyr with the West Indian
Archipelago, hence called the Antilles." • It should be remembered, however, that many + The name of the South American country is from prelates at the Castilian Court, such as Marchena and “ brazil-wood," and is believed to be unconnected with Quintanilla, were consistently favorable to Columbus. the older designation of the legendary island.
of another Ulysses, continually at his wit's ages replaced the sedate and skilful Orien. end to avert mutiny and murder by his tals of Marco Polo's narrative, there could motley crew, "the curses and the groans be no question but that such anomalies of whom harassed him day and night. would be removed by further exploration. The great flame-banner borne by Teneriffe,
These views were undisputed, and seemed The compass, like an old friend false at last indisputable. It was, accordingly, for the In our most need, appallid them, and the purpose not of testing them, but of profitwind
ing by the splendid prospect they opened, Still westward, and the weedy seas.
that a second expedition was immediately But every prognostic of evil was forgotten organized. It aitracted fifteen hundred when there came
eager participators. “Their dreams were
of the marble palaces of Quinsay, of isles at length
of Spices, and the treasures of Prester The landbird, and the branch with berries on John."
it, The carven staff — and last the light, the light Thus nobody [Mr. Fiske continues] had the On Guanahani!
faintest suspicion of what had been done.
The grandeur of the achievement was quite The uncertainty by which the biogra- beyond the ken of the generation that witphers of Columbus are haunted extends nessed it. For we have since come to learn to the identity of the first western shore that in 1492 the contact between the eastern touched by him. All that can be certainly and the western halves of our planet was first stated is that Guanahani is one of the really begun, and the two streams of human Bahamas; to determine which has been life which had flowed on for countless ages the object of many researches, none of apart were thenceforth to mingle together. them wholly conclusive, since at least The first voyage of Columbus is thus a unique half-a-dozen islands in the group still as- event in the history of mankind. Nothing sert plausible claims to the coveted dis- like it was ever done before, and nothing like tinction.
it can ever be done again. No worlds are
left for a future Columbus to conquer. The The safe return of Columbus to Spain era of which this great Italian mariner was was little short of miraculous. His flag- the most illustrious representative has closed ship, the Santa Maria, was wrecked on the forever. (Vol. i., p. 446.) shore of Cuba ; Martin Pinzon, bis second in command, treacherously deserted The chief result of his second voyage him with the Pinta; only the little Niña, was the discovery of Jamaica. His third, a half-decked carrack, more fitly to be in 1498, being directed further south, car. called a boat than a ship, remained to ried him into the stilling zone of calms, bring back the admiral and his momentous and along it, by the unperceived effect of news. An unprecedented freight, surely, the equatorial current, to the mouths of to be committed to so frail a craft, for the Orinoco. The force and volume of transportation across a wintry ocean! the discharge through them told him at And it was after unaccountably weather- once that a tierra infinita - a continent ng a furious storm that she at last safely was at hand, and suggested the lofty dropped her anchor in Palos harbor, mount of the terrestrial paradise as the March 15, 1493.
source of so imposing a flow. But it was Indescribable excitement followed upon not an Eden, but an Eldorado, that the her recognition. The reappearance of cavaliers of Spain were in search of; and Columbus seemed, indeed, rather a resur. the coveted riches of Cathay were every rection than a return. His success had day retiring to a more shadowy remotebeggared expectation, and met tumultuous ness. Discontent grew rife; the “Adrecognition. Honors were showered upon miral of Mosquito-land" (as he began to bim; the king and queen rose from their be called), so lately applauded and acthrones to receive him, and bade him be claimed, became an object of indigoant seated in their presence; Isabella wept scorn; there was rebellion in Hispaniola ; with joy at his recital; the incredible there were murmurings at Seville and was verified; the East had been found in Cordoba ; inimical influences triumphed the West. He himself entertained not at court; and the savage and stupid Bobathe slightest doubt that he had reached at dilla was sent out with plenary authority Cuba the shore of Cathay, and at Hispa- over the new colony. Thus it came about niola the sea-girt kingdom of Cipango. that Columbus returned in chains from his And although the looked-for stores of third voyage. Isabella, it is true, was precious stones and metals were not yet afflicted and indignant at the affront put forthcoming, and cinnamon-colored sav. upon him; but he was never reiostated in