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quadrant, which took place while Columbus was attending on the Court of Spain, enabled him to determine his latitude with much exactness; but no circumstance can prove more strongly the feeble progress in this art, and the feelings of his contemporaries on the daring nature of his attempt, than the fact, that the opinions of Columbus were never concealed nor veiled, his ardent anticipations were never withheld from public scrutiny. He openly avowed and discussed his theory in the circles of experienced navigators, in the camps of ambitious and enterprising soldiers, in the councils of the learned and the wise, he corresponded with men of science, he made application to different governments for assistance in prosecuting his projected discoveries; and yet, in the eighteen or twenty years during which these negotiations were publicly conducted, no individual, we may say no government, was found adventurous enough to undertake with their own means, so hazardous an enterprise. Once, it is said, the king of Portugal was so ungenerous as to send out a vessel for discovery, furnished with the information obtained from Columbus, at the very time his ministers were pretending to negotiate with this gallant seaman, but the commander deterred by the first adverse weather, abandoned the voyage, and returned discouraged, and decrying the visionary scheme of traversing an illimitable ocean.
Even if it should be supposed that, with the improvement of navigation—and the voyages and discoveries of the Portuguese along the Coast of Africa were certainly increasing the skill and the audacity of mariners—this continent would eventually have been discovered, the merits of Columbus will not be diminished. It may be his boast, that in his projected voyage, he was guided by no precedent, he deserted the paths of man, fixed his eyes steadily on the west as on his polar star, and firm amidst all difficulties, varied not his course. If the accidental discovery of Brazil a few years afterwards, by Pedro Alvarez de Cabral, should be alleged as a proof how rapidly the world was approaching to a knowledge of the western hemisphere, and that accident might have accomplished in a few years, what it is the pride of science now to have performed,* it should, at least, be kept in remembrance, that the very course which Cabral held to avoid the equatorial calms along the Coast of Africa, and by which he was casually led to Brazil, had been taught him by the experience of Columbus. In his voyages to America, the trade winds had been found steady at a certain distance from land, this suggested to Cabral the means of avoiding those calms which had caused so
* Robertson's History of America, v. i. p. 21
much embarrassment to many of the Portuguese commanders, and navigators no longer feared to quit the coasts of the old world and plunge amidst the trackless waves of the once mysterious and dreaded ocean.
From these speculations, however, let us return and accompany our author through some of the interesting scenes of the life of this great discoverer.
Christoforo Colombo, as the name was known in Italy, or Christoval Colon, as he termed himself, when he removed to Spain, was born of poor but reputable parents, in the city of Genoa, in 1435 or 6. His early education was very limited, but he was sent for a short time to Pavia, at that time the great school of Lombardy, where he laid the foundation of his future knowledge.
“ Here he studied grammar, and became well acquainted with the Latin tongue. His education, however, was principally directed to those sciences necessary to fit him for maritime life. He was instructed in geometry, geography, astronomy, or, as it was at that time termed, astrology, and navigation. He had, at a very early age, evinced a strong passion for geographical science, and an irresistible inclination for the sea; and he pursued with ardour, every congenial study.
“In the latter part of his life, when, in consequence of the great events which were brought about by his agency, he looked back upon his career with a solemn and superstitious feeling; he mentions this early determination of his mind as a secret impulse from the Deity, guiding him to the studies, and inspiring him with the inclinations, which should fit him for the high decrees he was chosen to accomplish.t
“ In tracing the early history of a man like Columbus, whose actions have had so vast an effect on human affairs, it is interesting to notice how much has been owing to the influence of events, and how much to an inborn propensity of the mind. The most original and inventive genius grows more or less out of the times; and that strong impulse, which Columbus considered as supernatural, is unconsciously produced by the operation of external circumstances. Every now and then, thought takes some sudden and general direction ; either revisiting some long neglected region of knowledge, and exploring and re-opening its forgotten paths, or breaking with wonder and delight into some fresh and and untrodden field of discovery. It is then that an ardent and imaginative genius, catching the impulse of the day, outstrips all less gifted contemporaries; takes the lead of the throng by which it was first put in motion; and presses forwards to achievements, which feebler spirits would never have adventured to attempt.
“ We find in Columbus, an illustration of this remark. The strong passion for geographical knowledge, which he so early felt, and which gave rise to his after actions, was incident to the age in which he lived. Geographical discovery was the brilliant path of light, which was for
* Hist. del Almirante, c. 3.
+ Letter to the Castilian Sovereigns. 1505.
ever to distinguish the fifteenth century; the most splendid era of invention in the annals of the world. During the long night of monkish bigotry and false learning, geography, with the other sciences, had been lost to the European nations. Fortunately it had not been lost to mankind. It had taken refuge in the bosom of Africa.
While the pedantic schoolmen of the cloisters were wasting time and talent, and confounding erudition by idle reveries, and sophistical dialectics, the Arabian sages, assembled at Sennaar, were taking the measurement of a degree of latitude, and calculating the circumference of the earth, on the vast plains of Mesopotamia.
“ True knowledge, thus happily preserved, was now making its way back to Europe." Vol. i. pp. 6-7.
“The knowledge thus reviving, was but limited and imperfect; yet like the return of morning light, it was full of interest and beauty. It seemed to call a new creation into existence, and broke with all the charm of wonder upon imaginative minds. They were surprised at their own ignorance of the world around them. Every step seemed discovery, for every region beyond their native country was in a manner terra in coguita." p. 8.
“In considering his scanty education, it is worthy of notice how little he owed from the very first to adventitious aid; how much to the native energy of his character, and the fertility of his mind. The short time that he remained at Pavia was barely sufficient to give him the rudiments of the necessary sciences; the familiar acquaintance with them, which he evinced in after life, must have been the result of diligent self-schooling and casual hours of study, amidst the cares and vicissitudes of a rugged and wandering life. He was one of those men of strong natural genius, who appear to form themselves; who, from having to contend at their very outset, with privations and impediments, acquire an intrepidity to encounter, and a facility to vanquish difficulties, throughout their career. Such men learn to effect great purposes with small means, supplying this deficiency by the resources of their own energy and invention. This, from his earliest commencement, throughout the whole of his life, was one of the remarkable features in the history of Columbus. In every undertaking, the scantiness and apparent insufficiency of his means enhance the grandeur of his achievements.” p.9.
Columbus left Pavia while very young ; he began his seafaring life by his own account at the age of fourteen. From this period until the age of thirty-five, very little has been traced of his history either by his ancient or modern biographers. His second son, who became his biographer, seems to have left his early history purposely obscure. From allusions, in some of the Admiral's own letters, which have recently been discovered, it appears that for some portion of that time, he was in the naval service of Renè, Count of Provence, who was endeavouring to establish his claim to the crown of Naples. During the residue of this period, he was probably engaged in commercial voyages to the Levant, for he had certainly visited that region, or in the
predatory warfare in which, during the fifteenth century, the maritime states of Italy were constantly involved, either with the infidels or with each other.
In 1470, he was led by accident to Lisbon, at that time the great centre of maritime enterprise. An attachment to a lady whom he finally married, detained him and caused him to settle in that city, and from this period, the interesting and authentic portion of his history may be said to commence. It may be remarked, without any disparagement to Columbus, that his marriage appears in a great measure to have determined his future fortunes. His wife was the daughter of Bartolomeo Monis de Palestrello, who had been one of the most distinguished navigators under Prince Henry of Portugal, and his papers, charts, journals and memorandums now came into the possesion of his son-in-law. Columbus also sailed occasionally in the Portuguese expeditions to the coast of Guinea, and made one voyage northwards to or beyond the island of Iceland.
These occurrences were all preparing him for bolder undertakings, and, as if to keep alive the spirit of naval enterprise, he resided for some time in the recently discovered island of Porto Santo, where his wife inherited some property.
"In their Island residence too, they must have been frequently visited by the voyagers going to and from Guinea. Living thus surrounded by the stir and bustle of discovery, comuning with persons who had risen by it to fortune and honour, and voyaging in the very tracks of its recent triumphs, the ardent mind of Columbus kindled up with enthusiasm in the cause. It was a period of general excitement to all who were connected with maritime life, or who resided in the vicinity of the
The recent discoveries had inflamed their imaginations, and had filled them with visions of other islands, of greater wealth and beauty, yet to be discovered in the boundless wastes of the Atlantic. The opinions and fancies of the ancients on the subject, were again put into circulation. The story of Antilla, a great island in the ocean, discovered by the Carthaginians, was frequently cited ; and Plato's imaginary Atalantis once more found firm believers. Many thought that the Canaries and Azores were but wrecks which had survived its submersion, and that other and larger tracts of that drowned land might yet exist, in remoter parts of the Atlantic.” Vol. i. p. 30.
But Columbus, though possessing an ardent imagination, was not a mere visionary. He studied and became acquainted with all that had been written by the ancients or discovered by the moderns, in his favourite sciences. He corresponded with some of the ablest cosmographers of the age, and he collected carefully, even the vague reports of the adventurers of the day; but while he availed himself of all of these resources, the principles
on which he framed his hypothesis, were strictly scientific. Besides the authority of ancient writers, and the reports of navigators, on which, according to the statement of his son, he partly formed his plan of discovery, his principal argument was derived from the “Nature of Things.”
“ He set down as a fundamental and established principle, that the earth was a terraqueous sphere or globe, which might be travelled round from east to west, and that men stood foot to foot, when on opposite points. The circumference from east to west, at the equator, Columbus divided, according to Ptolemy, into twenty-four hours of fifteen degrees each, making 360 degrees. Of these, he imagined, comparing the globe of Ptolemy with the earlier map of Marinus Tyrius, that fifteen hours had been known to the Ancients, extending from the Straits of Gibraltar, or rather from the Canary Islands, to the City of Thinæ, in Asia, a place set down as at the eastern limits of the known world. The Portuguese had advanced the western frontier by the discovery of the Azores and Cape de Verd Islands, equal to one hour more. There remained, according to the estimation of Columbus, eight hours, or one third of the circumference of the earth, unknown and unexplored. This space might, in a great measure, be filled up by the eastern region of Asia, which might extend so far as nearly to surround the globe, and to approach the western shores of Europe and Africa. The tract of ocean intervening between these continents, he observes, would be less than might at first be supposed, if the opinion of Alfranganus, the Arabian, were admitted, who gave to the earth a smaller circumference, by diminishing the size of the degrees, than did other cosmographers; a theory to which Columbus seems, at times, to have given faith. Granting these premises, it was manifest, that by pursuing a direct course, from east to west, a navigator would arrive at the extremity of Asia, and discover any intervening land.” p. 34.
In these calculations, there was evidently much error, but the observations of astronomy were then too imperfect to rectify ancient opinions. It was reserved for the discoveries of Columbus himself and his successors, to correct the mistakes of cosmographers, and their imperfect theories respecting the superficial extent of the earth.
One accidental coincidence merits, perhaps, a brief notice. Columbus was so firmly persuaded, not only of the justness of his theoretical opinions, but of the accuracy of his calculations, that on leaving Gomera on his first great voyage of discovery, he gave instructions to the commanders of his Caravels, that in case of separation, they should, after they had sailed seven hundred leagues, shorten sail every night, and look out constantly for land. It was, perhaps, fortunate for his progress, that at the outset of his voyage, he had announced the remote VOL. II.NO. 3.