Slike strani
PDF
ePub
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

but he was descended of an honorable family, though reduced to indigence by various misfortunes. His ancestors having betaken themselves for subsistence to a sea-faring life, Columbus discovered, in his early youth, the peculiar character and talents which mark out a man for that profession. His parents, instead of thwarting this original propeusity of his mind, seem to have encouraged and confirmed it, by the education which they gave him. After acquiring some knowledge of the Latin tongue, the only language in which science was taught at that time, he was instructed in geometry, cosmography, astronomy, and the art of drawing To these he applied with such ardor and predilection, on account of their connexion with navigation, his favorite object, that he advanced with rapid proficiency in the study of them. Thus qualified, in the year 1461, he went to sea at the

age of fourteen, and began his career on that element which conducted him to so much glory. His early voyages were limited principally to those places which had before been discovered, in which nothing very remarkable happened, except that in a sea-fight, off the coast of Portugal, with some Venetian coasters, the vessel on board which he served took fire, together with one of the enemy's, to which it was fast grappled; upon which he threw himself into the sea, laid hold of a floating oar, and by the support of it, and his dexterity in swimming, he reached the shore, though more than six miles distant, and thus preserved a life designed for great undertakings.

Soon after this Columbus went to Lisbon, where he married a daughter of Bartholomew Perestrello, one of the captains employed by prince Henry in his early voyages, and who had discovered and planted the islands of Porto Santo and Madeira. The journals and charts of this experienced navigator, his father-inlaw, fell into his hands, and he, with avidity, availed himself of the valuable information they contained. His impatience to visit the places which Perestrello had seen and described, became irresistible; and he made a voyage to Madeira, and spent several years in trading with that island, the Canaries, the Azores, the settlements in Guinea, and all other places which the Portuguese had discovered on the continent of Africa.

By the experience acquired during such a variety of voyages, Columbus became one of the most skilful navigators of Europe. But his ambition did not suffer him to rest satisfied with that

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

praise. He aimed at something more. A project had been conceived of finding out a passage by sea to the East Indies. The accomplishment of this became a favorite object with Columbus. The Portuguese sought this route by steering towards the south, in hope of arriving at India, by turning to the east, after they had sailed round the farther extremity of Africa ; which passage was afterwards effected in 1497, by Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese navigator. Columbus contemplated a shorter and more direct passage to the East Indies, by sailing towards the west, across the Atlantic Ocean. The principles and arguments which induced him to adopt this opinion, then considered as chimerical, were highly rational and philosophical. The sphericity and magnitude of the earth, were at that period ascertained with some degree of accuracy. From this it was evident, that the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, formed but a small part of the terraqueous globe. It appeared likewise extremely probable, that the continent on the one side of the globe was balanced by a proportional quantity of land in the other hemisphere. These conclusions concerning the existence of another continent, drawn from the figure and structure of the globe, were confirmed by the observations and conjectures of modern navigators, and from pieces of timber artificially carved, canes of an enormous size, trees torn up by the roots, and the dead bodies of two men with singular features, which had been discovered and taken up, floating before a westerly wind, or driven on the coasts of the Azores. The force of this united evidence, arising from theoretical principles and practical observations, led Columbus to conclude, 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 infallibly be discovered. As early as the year 1474, he communicated his ingenious theory to Paul, a physician of Florence, eminent for his knowledge of cosmography. He warmly approved of the plan; suggested several facts in confirmation of it, and encouraged Columbus to persevere in an undertaking so laudable, and which must redound so much to the honor of his country, and the benefit of Europe.

Columbus now became impatierit to bring to the test of experiment the truth of his system, and to set out upon a voyage of discovery. The first step towards this was to secure the på

tronage of some of the considerable powers of Europe. With this view he laid his scheme before the senate of Genoa, and, making his native and beloved country the'first tender of his service, offered to sail, under the banners of the republic, in quest of new regions which he expected to discover. But they, incapable of forming just ideas of his principles, inconsiderately rejected his proposal as chimerical. He then submitted his plan to the Portuguese, who perfidiously attempted to rob him of the honor of accomplishing it, by privately sending another person to pursue the same track which he had proposed. But the pilot, who was thus basely employed to execute Columbus' plan, had neither the genius nor the fortitude of its author. Contrary winds arose ; no land appeared; his courage failed ; and he returned to Lisbon, execrating a plan which he had not abilities to execute. On discovering this flagrant treachery, Columbus immediately quitted the kingdom in disgust, and landed in Spain, towards the close of the year 1484. Here he resolved to propose it in person to Ferdinand and Isabella, who at that time governed the united kingdoms of Castile and Arragon. He, in the mean time, sent his brother Bartholomew to England, to propose his plan to Henry VII.

After experiencing a series of mortifying disappointments, during eight tedious years, Columbus, in deep anguish, withdrew from court, determined to repnir to England as his last resource. At this juncture the affairs of Spain, which had been perplexed in consequence

of war with the Moors, took a favorable turn. Quintanilla and Santangel, two powerful, vigilant, and discerning patrons of Columbus, seized this favorable opportunity to - make one more effort in behalf of their friend. They addressed themselves to Isabella, with such forcible arguments as produced the desired effect. They dispelled all Isabella's doubts and fears ; she ordered Columbus, who had proceeded on his journey, to be instantly recalled ; declared her resolution to employ hiin on his own terms; and, regretting the low state of her finances, generously offered to pledge her own jewels, in order to raise as much money as might be needed in making preparations for the voyage. Santangel, in a transport of gratitude, kissed the queen's hand; and, in order to save her from having recourse to such a mortifying expedient for procuring money, engaged to advance, immediately, the sum that was requisite.

Columbus had proceeded some leagues on his voyage to Eng. land, when the messenger from Isabella overtook him. He returned with joy mingled with some degree of fear, lest he should again be disappointed. The manner of his reception by the queen was, however, such as quickly dispelled his fears. A negociation commenced, and was forwarded with dispatch, and an agreement was finally entered into and signed, on the 7th of April, 1492. The chief articles of it were, 1. Ferdinand and Isabella, as sovereigns of the ocean, constituted Columbus their high-admiral in all the seas, islands, and continents, which should be discovered by his industry; and stipulated, that he and his heirs for ever should enjoy this office, with the same power and prerogatives which belonged to the high-admiral of Castile, within the limits of his jurisdiction. 2. They appointed Columbus their viceroy in all the islands and continents which he should discover; but if, for the better administration of affairs, it should be necessary to establish a separate governor in any of those countries, they authorised Columbus to name three

persons, of whom they would choose one for that office; and the dignity of viceroy, with all its immunities, was likewise to be hereditary in the family of Columbus. 3. They granted į to Columbus, and his heirs for ever, the tenth of the free profits accruing from the productions and commerce of the countries which he should discover. 4, They declared, if any controversy or lawsuit should arise, with respect to any mercantile transaction, in the countries which shall be discovered, it should be determined by the sole authority of Columbus, or of judges to be appointed by him. 5. They permitted Columbus to advance one-eighth part of what should be expended in preparing for the expedition, and in carrying on commerce with the countrie which he should discover, and intitled him, in return, to an eighth part of the profit.

Though the name of Ferdinand appears conjoined with that of Isabella in this transaction, his distrust of Columbus was so violent, that he refused to take any part of the enterprise, as king of Arragon. As the whole expence of the expedition was to be defrayed by the crown of Castile, Isabella reserved for her subjects of that kingdom an exclusive right to all the benefits which might redound from its success.

After all the efforts of Isabella and Columbus, the armament

1

was suitable, neither to the dignity of the power who equipped it, - nor to the importance of the service to which it was destined: It consisted of three vessels; the largest, a ship of no considerable burden, was commanded by Columbus, as admiral, who gave it the name of Santa Maria. Of the second, called the Pinta, Martin Pinzon was captain, and his brother Francis pilot. The third, named the Nigna, was under the command of Vincent Yanez Pinzon. These two last-mentioned were light vessels, hardly superior in burden or force to large boats. This little squadron was victualled for twelve months, and had on board ninety men, mostly sailors, together with a few adventurers, who followed the fortune of Columbus, and some gentlemen of Isabella's court, whom she appointed to accompany him.

The sum employed in fitting out this squadron did not exceed £4000 sting.

On the third of August, 1492, being Friday, Columbus set sail, in the presence of a vast crowd of spectators, who offered fervent supplications to heaven for his success, which they rather wished than expected. He steered directly for the Canary islands, and in short run thither, found his ships crazy and ill appointed, and very unfit for so long and dangerous a navigation as he had undertaken. After refiting them as well as he could, he left the Canaries on the 6th of September, and here properly "commenced the voyage of discovery. He held his course due west, and immediately left the usual track of navigation, and stretched into unknown and unfrequented seas. By the 14th of September, the fleet was about 200 leagues west of the Canaries, at a greater distance from land than any Spaniard had been before that time,

Columbus early discovered, from the spirit of his followers, that he must prepare to struggle, not only with the unavoidable difficulties which might be expected from the nature of his undertaking, but with such also as were likely to arise from the ignorance and timidity of the people under his command. All the art and address he was master of was hardly sufficient to quell the mutinous disposition of his sailors, who grew the more turbulent in proportion as their distance from home increased. What most astonished Columbus, during the voyage, was the variation of the magnetic needle. He observed that it did not point exactly to the polar star, but yaried towards the west.

[ocr errors]
« PrejšnjaNaprej »