« PreviousContinue »
8. He was now become one of the most skilful navigators in Europe ; but his ambition aimed at something more. The mind of Columbus, naturally inquisitive, and capable of deep reflection, was often employed in revolving the principles upon which the Portuguese had founded their schemes of discovery, and the mode in which they had carried them on.
9. At that period, the great object in view, was to find out a passage by sea to the East Indies. From the time that the Portuguese had sailed round Cape Verd, this was a point they were anxiously solicitous to attain ; in comparison with it, all discoveries in Africa appeared inconsiderable. But notwithstanding the Portuguese were so intent upon discovering a new
route to those desirable regions, they searched for it only by ! steering towards the south, in hopes of arriving at India, by
turning to the east, after they had sailed round the utmost extremity of Africa. This course, however, was still unknown: and if discovered, was of such immense length, that a voyage
from Europe to India, must have appeared an undertaking exs tremely arduous, and of uncertain issue.
10. More than half a century had been employed in' advancing from Cape Non to the Equator; a much longer space of time might elapse before the extensive navigation from that to India could be accomplished. These reflections upon the uncertainty, and the danger of the course which the Portuguese were pursuing, led Columbus to consider, whether a shorter and more direct passage to the East Indies might not be found out. After revolving long and attentively, every circumstance suggested by his superior knowledge in the theory, as well as practice of navigation ; after comparing the observations of modern pilots with the conjectures of ancient authors, he at last concluded, that by sailing directly towards the west, across the Atlantic ocean, new-countries, which probably formed a part of the vast continent of India, must be discovered.
11. The spherical figure of the earth was known, and its magnitude ascertained with some degree of accuracy. From this it was evident, that the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, formed but a small portion of the terraqueous globe.
It appeared likewise very probable that the continent on one 3 side the globe was balanced by a proportional quantity of land
in the other hemisphere. These conclusions concerning another continent, drawn from the figure and structure of the globe, were confirmed by the observations and conjectures of modern navigators.
12. A Portuguese pilot having stretched farther to the west
than usual at that time, took up a piece of timber artificially carved, floating upon the sea ; and as it was driven towards him by a westerly wind, he concluded that it came from some unknown land, situated in that quarter. Columbus's brotherin-law also had found, to the west of the Madeira isles, à piece of timber, fashioned in the same manner, and brought by the same wind; and had seen likewise canes of an enormous size floating upon the waves, which resembled those described by Ptolemy, as productions peculiar to the East Indies. After a course of westerly winds, trees torn up with their roots, were often driven upon the coasts of the Azores, and at one time the dead bodies of two men, with singular features, which resembled neither the inhabitants of Europe, nor of Africa, were cast ashore there.
13. To a mind capable of forming and executing great designs, as that of Columbus, these observations and authorities operated in full force with his sanguine and enterprising temper ; speculation led immediately to action,-fully satisfied himself with respect to the truth of his system, he was impa tient to bring it to the test of experiment, and to set out on a voyage of discovery.
14. The first step towards this, was to secure the patronage of some of the considerable powers in Europe, capable of un dertaking such an enterprise. His affection for his native country, induced him to wish it should reap the fruit of his labors and invention; and with this view, he laid his schemes before the senate of Genoa, and offered to sail under the ban. ners of the republic, in quest of the new regions he expected to discover. But, Columbus had resided so many years in foreign parts, that his countrymen were unacquainted with his abilities and character ; they, therefore, inconsiderately rejected his proposal, as the dream of a chimerical projector, and lost for ever the opportunity of restoring their commonwealth to its ancient splendor.
15. Columbus was so little discouraged by the repulse which he had received, that instead of relinquishing his object, he pursued it with fresh ardor. He next made an overture to John IL. king of Portugal, whom he considered as having the second claim to his services. Here every thing seemed to promise him a more favorable reception. He applied to a monarch of an enterprising genius, no incompetent judge in naval affairs, and proud of patronizing every attempt to discover new countries. His subjects were the most experienced navigators in Europe,
and the least apt to be intimidated either by the novelty or bold ness of any maritime expedition.
16. In Portugal, the skill of Columbus in his profession, as well as his personal good qualities, were well known : accordingly the king listened to him in the most gracious manner, and referred the consideration of his plan to Diego Ortiz, bishop of Ceuta, and two Jewish physicians, eminent cosmographers, whom he was accustomed to consult in matters of this kind. In Genoa he had to combat with ignorance, in Lisbon an enemy no less formidable opposed him, prejudice ; the persons to whose decision his project was referred, were the chief directors of the Portuguese navigation, and had advised to search for a passage to India by steering a course directly opposite to that which Columbus recomm
nmended, as shorter and more certain. They could not, therefore, approve of his proposal, without submitting to the double mortification, of condemning their own theory, and of acknowledging his superior sagacity.
17. After a fruitless and mortifying attendance, being teased with captious questions, and starting innumerable objections, with a view of betraying him into a particular explanation of his system, they deferred passing a final judgment, with respect to it; but secretly conspired to rob him of the honor and advantages which he expected from the success of his scheme, advising the king to dispatch a vessel secretly, in order to attempt the proposed discovery, by following exactly the course which Columbus seemed to point out. The king, forgetting, on this occasion, the sentiments becoming a monarch, meanly adopted this perfidious counsel. But the pilot chosen to execute Columbus's plan, had neither the genius, nor the fortitude, of its author ; he returned, as might have been expected, without accomplishing any thing ; execrating the project as equally extravagant and dangerous.
18. Upon discovering this dishonorable action, he instantly quitted the kingdom, and landed in Spain, towards the close of the year 1484, when he determined to propose it, in person, to Ferdinand and Isabella, who, at that time, governed the united kingdoms of Castile and Arragon. But as he had already experienced the uncertain issue of applications to kings and ministers, he took the precaution of sending into England his brother Bartholomew, to whom he had fully communicated his ideas ; in order that he might, at the same time, negotiate with Henry VII. who was reputed one of the most sagacious, as well as opulent, princes in Europe.
19. Columbus entertained doubts and fears with respect to the reception of his proposals in the Spanish court, because Spain was engaged, at that juncture, in a dangerous war with Granada, the last of the Moorish kingdoms. The cautious and suspicious temper of Ferdinand was not congenial with bold and uncommon designs. Isabella, though more generous and enterprising, was under the influence of her husband in all her actions.
20. The Spaniards had hitherto made no efforts to extend navigation beyond its ancient limits, and beheld the amazing progress of discovery among their neighbors, the Portuguese, without making one attempt to imitate or rival them. Under circumstances so unfavorable, it was not likely that Columbus could make a rapid progress with a nation naturally slow and dilatory in performing all its resolutions.
21. His character, however, was well adapted to that of the people, whose confidence and protection he solicited. He was grave, though courtly in his deportment; circumspect in his words and actions ; irreproachable in his morals ; and exemplary in his attention to all the duties of religion. By these qualities he gained many private friends, and acquired such general esteem, that he was considered as a person to whose propositions some attention was due.
22. Ferdinand and Isabella, though fully occupied by their operations against the Moors, paid so much regard to Columbus as to refer the consideration of his plan to the queen's confessor, Ferdinand de Talavera. He consulted such of his countrymen as were supposed best qualified to decide upon a subject of this nature : those pretended philosophers who were selected to judge in a matter of such moment, did not comprehend the first principles upon which Columbus founded his conjectures and hopes. Some of them, from mistaken nations, concerning the dimensions of the globe, contended that a voyage to those remote parts of the earth, which Columbus expected to discover, could not be performed in less than three years ; others concluded he would find the ocean to be of infinite ex. tent, according to the opinion of some ancient philosophers; or if he should persist in steering towards the west, beyond a certain point, that the convex figure of the globe would prevent his return, and that he must inevitably perish in the vain attempt to open a communication between the two opposite hezispheres, which nature had for ever disjoined. Some contended that it was presumptuous in any person to suppose that he alone possessed knowledge superior to all the rest of mankind united ; that if there were really any such countries as Colum
bus pretended, they could not have remained so long concealed, nor would the sagacity and wisdom of former ages have left the glory of this invention to an obscure Genoese pilot.
23. The patience of Columbus was put to the severest trial in listening to these ignorant and malicious insinuations : after innumerable conferences, and wasting five years in fruitless endeavors to inform and satisfy them, Talavera at last made such an unfavorable report to Ferdinand and Isabella, as induced them to acquaint Columbus, that until the war with the Moors should be brought to a final period, it was impossible for them to engage in any new and expensive enterprise.
24. This declaration Columbus considered as a total rejection of his proposals. But, happily for mankind, superiority of genius is usually accompanied with an ardent enthusiasm, which can neither be cooled by delays, nor damped by disappointments. The insolence of office may depress, but cannot extinguish it, as it soars above the littleness of human pride.
25. Columbus was of a sanguine temper, though he deeply felt the cruel blow given to his hopes, and retired immediately from a court where he had been long amused with vain ex. pectations. His confidence in the justness of his own system did not forsake him; and his impatience to demonstrate the truth of it became greater than ever.
26. Having thus failed of success with sovereign states, he next applied to persons of inferior rank, and addressed the dukes of Medina Sidonia, and Medina Celi; who, though subjects, were possessed of power and opulence sufficient for the enterprise which he projected. His proposals to them were, however, fruitless ; they did not choose to countenance a scheme which Ferdinand had rejected, even if they had approved of the enterprise. They were afraid of alarming the jealousy and offending the pride of Ferdinand, by acting coun. ter to his judgment. Such a succession of disappointments excited the most painful sensations ; and his distress was augmented by his not having received any accounts from his bro. ther, whom he had sent to the court of England.
27. Bartholomew, in his voyage to that country, fell into the hands of pirates who stripped him of every thing, and detained him a prisoner several years. At length he made his escape, and arrived in such extreme indigence, that he was compelled to employ a considerable space of time in drawing and selling maps, in order to obtain as much money as would enable him to purchase a decent dress, in which he might venture to ap. pear at court. He then laid before the king the proposals with