Page images
PDF
EPUB

which the Romans were accustomed to decree to conquerors. First were paraded the Indians, painted according to their savage fashion, and decorated with tropical feathers, and with their national ornaments of gold; after these were borne various kinds of live parrots, together with stuffed birds and animals of unknown species, and rare plants, supposed to be of precious qualities; while great care was taken to make a conspicuous display of Indian coronets, bracelets, and other decorations of gold, which might give an idea of the wealth of the newly-discovered regions. After these followed Columbus, on horseback, surrounded by a brilliant cavalcade of Spanish chivalry. The streets were almost impassable from the countless multitude; the windows and balconies were crowded with the fair ; the very roofs were covered with spectators. It seemed as if the public eye could not be sated with gazing on these trophies of an unknown world, or on the remarkable man by whom it had been discovered. There was a sublimity in this event that mingled a solemn feeling with the public joy. It was looked upon as a vast and signal dispensation of Providence in reward for the piety of the monarchs; and the majestic and venerable appearance of the discoverer, so different from the youth and buoyancy that are generally expected from roving enterprise, seemed in harmony with the grandeur and dignity of his achievement.

To receive him with suitable pomp and distinction, the sovereigns had ordered their throne to be placed in public, under a rich canopy of brocade of gold, in a vast and splendid saloon. Here the king and queen awaited his arrival, seated in state, with the prince Juan beside them, and attended by the dignitaries of their court, and the principal nobility of Castile, Valentia, Catalonia and Aragon, all impatient to behold the man who had conferred so incalculable a benefit upon the nation. At length Columbus entered the hall, surrounded by a brilliant crowd of cavaliers, among whom, says Las Casas, he was conspicuous

for his stately and commanding person, which, with his countenance rendered venerable by his gray hairs, gave him the august appearance of a senator of Rome. A modest smile lighted up his features, showing that he enjoyed the state and glory in which he came; and certainly nothing could be more deeply moving,

a mind inflamed by noble ambition, and conscious of having greatly deserved, than these testimonials of the admiration and gratitude of a nation, or rather of a world. As Columbus approached, the sovereigns rose, as if receiving a person of the highest rank. Bending his knees, he requested to kiss their hands; but there was some hesitation on the part of their majesties to permit this act of vassalage. Raising him in the most gracious manner, they ordered him to seat himself in their presence; a rare

onor in this proud and punctilious court.

At the request of their majesties, Columbus now gave an account of the most striking events of his voyage, and a description of the islands which he had discovered. He displayed the specimens he had brought of unknown birds and other animals; of rare plants, of medicinal and aromatic virtue ; of native gold, in dust, in crude masses, or labored into barbaric ornaments; and, above all, the natives of these countries, who were objects of intense and inexhaustible interest; since there is nothing to man so curious as the varieties of his own species. All these he pronounced mere harbingers of greater discoveries he had yet to make, which would add realms of incalculable wealth to the dominions of their majesties, and whole nations of proselytes to the true faith.

The words of Columbus were listened to with profound emotion by the sovereigns. When he had finished, they sunk on their knees, and, raising their clasped hands to heaven, their eyes filled with tears of joy and gratitude, they poured forth thanks and praises to God for so great a providence; all present followed their example; a deep and solemn enthusiasm pervaded that splendid assembly, and prevent

ed all common acclamations of triumph. The anthem of Te Deum laudamus, chanted by the choir of the royal chapel, with the melodious accompaniments of the instruments, rose up from the midst, in a full body of sacred harmony, bearing up, as it were, the feelings and thoughts of the auditors to heaven, so that,” says the venerable Las Casas, “it seemed as if in that hour they communicated with celestial delights.” Such was the solemn and pious manner in which the brilliant court of Spain celebrated this sublime event; offering up a grateful tribute of melody and praise, and giving glory to God for the discovery of another world.

When Columbus retired from the royal presence, he was attended to his residence by all the court, and followed by the shouting populace. For many days he was the object of universal curiosity, and wherever he appeared, he was surrounded by an admiring multitude.

LESSON CXXIII.

Character of Columbus.-WASHINGTON IRVING.

He was devoutly pious: religion mingled with the whole course of his thoughts and actions, and shone forth in all his most private and unstudied writings. Whenever he made any great discovery, he celebrated it by solemn thanks to God. The voice of prayer and the melody of praise rose from his ships when they first beheld the New World, and his first action, on landing, was to prostrate himself upon the earth and render up thanksgivings. Every evening the Salve Regina and other vesper hymns were chanted by his crew, and masses were performed in the beautiful groves that bordered the wild shores of this heathen land. The religion thus deeply seated in his soul diffused a sober dignity and a benign

composure over his whole demeanor. His language was pure and guarded, free from all imprecations, oaths, and other irreverend expressions. All his great enterprises were undertaken “ in the name of the Holy Trinity," and he partook of the holy sacrament previous to embarkation. He observed the festivals of the church in the wildest situations. The sabbath was with him a day of sacred rest, on which he would never set sail from a port, unless in a case of extreme necessity. He was a firm believer in the efficacy of vows, and penances, and pilgrimages, , and resorted to them in times of difficulty and danger; but he carried his religion still further, and his piety was darkened by the bigotry of the age.

He evidently concurred in the opinion that all nations who did not acknowledge the Christian faith were destitute of natural rights; that the sternest means might be used for their conversion, and the severest punishments inflicted upon their obstinacy in unbelief. In this spirit of bigotry, he considered himself justified in making captives of the Indians, and transporting them to Spain to have them taught the doctrines of Christianity, and in selling them for slaves if they pretended to resist his invasions. In doing the latter, he sinned against the natural goodness of his character, and against the feelings which he had originally entertained and expressed towards this gentle and hospitable people; but he was goaded on by the mercenary impatience of the crown, and by the sneers of his enemies at the unprofitable result of his enterprises. It is but justice to his character to observe, that the enslavement of the Indians thus taken in battle was at first openly countenanced by the crown, and that when the question of right came to be discussed, at the instance of the queen, several of the most distinguished jurists and theologians advocated the practice, so that the question was finally settled in favor of the Indians by the humanity of Isabella. As the venerable bishop Las Casas observes,

where the most learned men have doubted, it is not surprising that an unlearned mariner should err.

These remarks in palliation of the conduct of Columbus are required by candor. It is proper to show him in connection with the age in which he lived, lest the errors of the time should be considered his individual faults. It is not the intention of the author, however, to justify Columbus on a point where it is inexcusable to err. Let it remain a blot on his illustrious name, and let others derive a lesson from it.

A peculiar trait in his rich and varied character remains to be noticed—that ardent and enthusiastic imagination which threw a magnificence over his whole course of thought. Herrera intimates that he had a talent for poetry, and some slight traces of it are on record, in the book of prophecies which he presented to the Catholic sovereigns. But his poetical temperament is discernible throughout all his writings and in all his actions. It spread a golden and glorious world around him, and tinged every thing with its own gorgeous colors. It betrayed him into visionary speculations, which subjected him to the sneers and cavillings of men of cooler and safer,

but more grovelling minds.

Such were the conjectures formed on the coast of Paria about the form of the earth and the situation of the terrestrial paradise; about the mines of Ophir in Hispaniola, and of the Aurea Chersonesus in Veragua; and such was the heroic scheme of a crusade for the recovery of the holy sepulchre. It mingled with his religion, and filled his mind with solemn and visionary meditations on mystic passages of the Scriptures, and the shadowy portents of the prophecies. It exalted his office in his eyes, and made him conceive himself an agent sent forth upon a sublime and awful mission, subject to impulses and supernatural intimations from the Deity; such as the voice which he imagined spoke to him in comfort amidst the troubles

« PreviousContinue »