« AnteriorContinuar »
come and gestures of worship, and whose songs and shoutings first hailed them so sweetly over their fresh and sunny bays, were plunged, by the hands of those fatal visitants, into all the agonies of despair !-how soon released from them by a bloody extermination! It humbles and almost crushes the heart, even at this distance of time, to think of such a catastrophe, brought about by such instruments. The learned, the educated, the refined, the champions of chivalry, the messengers of the gospel of peace, come to the land of the ignorant, the savage, the heathen. They find them docile in their ignorance, submissive in their rudeness, and grateful and affectionate in their darkness; and the result of the mission is mutual corruption, misery, desolation! The experience or remorse of four centuries has not yet been able to expiate the crime, or to reverse the spell. Those once smiling and swarming shores are still silent and mournful; or resound only to the groans of the slave and the lash of the slave-driver-or to the strange industry of another race, dragged by a yet deeper guilt from a distant land, and now calmly establishing themselves on the graves of their oppressors.
We do not propose to give any thing like an abstract of a story, the abstract of wbich is already familiar to every one; while the details, like most other details, would lose half their interest, and all their character, by being disjoined from the narrative on which they depend. We shall content ourselves, therefore, by running over some of the particulars that are less generally known, and exhibiting a few specimens of the author's manner of writing and thinking.
Mr Irving has settled, we think satisfactorily, that Columbus was born in Genoa, about the year 1435. It was fitting that the hemisphere of republics should have been discovered by a republican. His proper name was Colombo, though he is chiefly known among his contemporaries by the Spanish synonyme of Colon. He was well educated, but passed his youth chiefly at sea, and bad his full share of the bardships and hazards incident to that vocation. From the travels of Marco Polo he seems first to have imbibed his taste for geographical discovery, and to have derived his grand idea of reaching the eastern shores of India by sailing straight to the west. The spirit of maritime enterprise was chiefly fostered in that age by the magnanimous patronage of Prince Henry of Portugal; and it was to that court, accordingly, that Columbus first offered his services in the year 1470. We will not withhold from our readers the following brief but graphic sketch of his character and appearance at that period :
He was at that time in the full vigour of manhood, and of an engaging presence. Minute descriptions are given of his person by his
son Fernando, by Las Casas, and others of his contemporaries. A cording to these accounts, he was tall, well-formed, muscular, and an elevated and dignified demeanour. His visage was long, and neith full nor meagre; his complexion fair and freckled and inclined to ruddy his nose aquiline; his cheek-bones were rather high, his eyes lig! grey, and apt to enkindle ; his whole countenance had an air of a thority. His hair, in his youthful days, was of a light colour ; but ca and trouble, according to Las Casas, soon turned it grey, and at thirt years of age it was quite white. He was moderate and simple in die and apparel
, eloquent in discourse, engaging and affable with strar gers, and of an amiableness and suavity in domestic life, that strong attached his household to his person. His temper was naturally irri table; but he subdued it by the magnanimity of his spirit, comporting himself with a courteous and gentle gravity, and never indulging i any intemperance of language. Throughout his life he was noted fo a strict attention to the offices of religion, observing rigorously th fasts and ceremonies of the church ; nor did his piety consist in mer forms, but partook of that lofty and solemn enthusiasm with which his whole character was strongly tinctured.'
For eighteen long years did the proud and ardent spirit of Columbus
urge his heroic suit at the courts of most of the European monarchs; and it was not till after encountering in every form the discouragements of withering poverty, insulting neglect, and taunting ridicule, that, in his fifty-sixth year, he at last prevailed with Ferdinand and Isabella, to supply him with three little ships, to achieve for them the dominion of a world! Mr Irving very strikingly remarks,
After the great difficulties made by various courts in furnishing this expedition, it is surprising how inconsiderable an armament was required. It is evident that Columbus had reduced his requisitions to the narrowest limits, lest any great expense should cause impediment. Three small vessels were apparently all that he had requested. Two of them were light barques, called caravels, not superior to river and coasting craft of more modern days. Representations of this class of vessels exist in old prints and paintings. They are delineated as open, and without deck in the centre, but built up high at the prow
and stern, with forecastles and cabins for the accommodation of the crew. Peter Martyr, the learned contemporary of Columbus, says that only one of the three vessels was decked. The smallness of the vessels was considered an advantage by Columbus, in a voyage of discovery, enabling him to run close to the shores, and to enter shallow rivers and harbours. In his third voyage, when coasting the gulf of Paria, he complained of the size of his ship, being nearly a hundred tons burden. But that such long and perilous expeditions into unknown seas, should be undertaken in vessels without decks, and that they should live through the violent tempests by which they were frequently assailed, remain among the singular circumstances of these daring voyages.'
It was on Friday, the 3d of August, 1492, that the bold ad
venturer sailed forth, with the earliest dawn, from the little port of Palos, on his magnificent expedition; and immediately began a regular journal, addressed to the sovereigns, from the exordium of which, as lately printed by Navarette, we receive a strong impression both of the gravity and dignity of his character, and of the importance he attached to his undertaking. We subjoin a short specimen.
• Therefore your highnesses, as Catholic Christians and princes, lovers and promoters of the holy Christian faith, and enemies of the sect of Mahomet, and of all idolatries and heresies, determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said parts of India, to see the said princes, and the people, and lands, and discover the nature and disposition of them all, and the means to be taken for the conversion of them to our holy faith ; and ordered that I should not go by land to the East, by which it is the custom to go, but by a voyage to the West, by which course, unto the present time, we do not know for certain that any one hath passed ; and for this purpose bestowed great favours upon me, ennobling me, that thenceforward I might style myself Don, appointing me high admiral of the Ocean Sea, and perpetual viceroy and governor of all the islands and continents I should discover and gain, and which henceforward may be discovered and gained, in the Ocean Sea ; and that my eldest son should succeed me, and so on, from generation to generation, for ever. I departed, therefore, from the city of Granada on Saturday the 12th of May, of the same year 1492, to Palos, a sea-port, where I armed three ships well calculated for such service, and sailed from that port well furnished with provisions, and with many seamen, on Friday the 3d of August of the same year, half an hour before sunrise, and took the route for the Canary islands of your highnesses, to steer my course thence, and navigate until I should arrive at the Indies, and deliver the embassy of your highnesses to those princes, and accomplish that which you had commanded. For this purpose, I intend to write during this voyage very punctually, from day to day, all that I may do, and see, and experience, as will hereafter be seen. Also, my sovereign princes, beside describing each night all that has occurred in the day, and in the day the navigation of the night, I propose to make a chart, in which I will set down the waters and lands of the Ocean Sea, in their proper situations, under their bearings; and, further, to compose a book, and illustrate the whole in picture by latitude from the equinoctial, and longitude from the West; and upon the whole it will be essential that I should forget sleep, and attend closely to the navigation, to accomplish these things, which will be a great labour.'
As a guide by which to sail, Mr Irving also informs us, he had prepared a map, or chart, improved upon that sent him by
Paolo Toscanelli. Neither of these now exist, but the globe, or planisphere, finished by Martin Behem in this year of the admiral's first voyage, is still extant, and furnishes an idea of what the chart of Columbus must have been. It exhibits the coasts of Europe and Africa, from the south of Ireland to the end of • Guinea, and opposite to them, on the other side of the Atlan• tic, the extremity of Asia, or as it was termed, India. Between • them is placed the island of Cipango (or Japan) which, accord• ing to Marco Polo, lay fifteen hundred miles distant from the • Asiatic coast. In his computations Columbus advanced this • island about a thousand leagues too much to the east; suppo
sing it to lie in the situation of Florida, and at this island he • hoped first to arrive.
We pass over the known incidents of this celebrated voyage, which are here repeated with new interest and additional detail; but we cannot refrain from extracting Mr Irving's account of its fortunate conclusion.
• For three days they stood in this direction; and the further they went the more frequent and encouraging were the signs of land. Flights of small birds of various colours, some of them such as sing in the fields, came flying about the ships, and then continued towards the south-west, and others were heard also flying by in the night. Tunnyfish played about the smooth sea, and a heron, a pelican, and a duck, were seen, all bound in the same direction. The herbage which floated by the ships was fresh and green, as if recently from land, and the air, Columbus observes, was sweet and fragrant as April breezes in Seville,
• All these, however, were regarded by the crews as so many delusions, beguiling them on to destruction; and when on the evening of the third day they
beheld the sun go down upon a shoreless horizon, they broke forth into clamorous turbulence. Fortunately, however, the manifestations of neighbouring land were such on the following day as no longer to admit a doubt. Besides a quantity of fresh weeds, such as grow in rivers, they saw a green fish of a kind which keeps about rocks ; then a branch of thorn with berries on it, and recently separated from the tree, floated by them; then they picked up a reed, a small board, and, above all, a staff artificially carved. All gloom and mutiny now gave way to sanguine expectation ; and throughout the day each one was eagerly on the watch, in hopes of being the first to discover the long-sought-for land.
• In the evening, when, according to invariable custom on board of the admiral's ship, the mariners had sung the salve regina, or vesper hymn to the Virgin, he made an impressive address to his crew. He pointed out the goodness of God in thus conducting them by such soft and favouring breezes across a tranquil ocean, cheering their hopes continually with fresh signs, increasing as their fears augmented, and thus leading and guiding
them to a promised land. • The breeze had been fresh all day, with more sea than usual, and they had made great progress. At sunset they had stood again to the west, and were ploughing the waves at a rapid rate, the Pinta keeping the lead, from her superior sailing. The greatest animation prevailed throughout the ships; not an eye was closed that night. As the evening darkened, Columbus took his station on the top of the castle or
cabin on the high poop of his vessel. However he might carry a cheerful and confident countenance during the day, it was to him a time of the most painful anxiety, and now when he was wrapped from observation by the shades of night, he maintained an intense and unremitting watch, ranging his eye along the dusky horizon, in search of the most vague indications of land. Suddenly, about ten o'clock, he thought he beheld a light glimmering at a distance! Fearing that his eager hopes might deceive him, he called to Pedro Gutierrez, gentleman of the king's bed-chamber, and inquired whether he saw a light in that direction; the latter replied in the affirmative. Columbus, yet doubtful whether it might not be some delusion of the fancy, called Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, and made the same inquiry. By the time the latter had ascended the round-house, the light had disappeared. They saw it once or twice afterwards in sudden and passing gleams; as it were a torch in the bark of a fisherman, rising and sinking with the waves; or in the hand of some person on shore, borne up and down as he walked from house to house. So transient and uncertain were these gleams, that few attached any importance to them; Columbus, however, considered them as certain signs of land, and moreover, that the land was inhabited.
• They continued their course until two in the morning, when a gun from the Pinta gave the joyful signal of land. It was first discovered by a mariner named Rodrigo de Triana ; but the reward was afterwards adjudged to the admiral, for having previously perceived the light. The land was now clearly seen about two leagues distant ; whereupon they took in sail and lay to, waiting impatiently for the dawn.
• The thoughts and feelings of Columbus in this little space of time must have been tumultuous and intense. At length, in spite of every difficulty and danger, he had accomplished his object. The great mystery of the ocean was revealed ; his theory, which had been the scoff of sages, was triumphantly established; be bad secured to himself a glory which must be as durable as the world itself.
• It is difficult even for the imagination to conceive the feelings of such a man at the moment of so sublime a discovery. What a bewil. dering crowd of conjectures must have thronged upon his mind, as to the land which lay before him, covered with darkness. That it was fruitful was evident, from the vegetables which floated from its shores. He thought, too, that he perceived in the balmy air the fragrance of aromatic groves. The moving light which he had beheld, had proved that it was the residence of man. But what were its inhabitants ? Were they like those of the other parts of the globe; or were they some strange and monstrous race, such as the imagination in those times was prone to give to all remote and unknown regions ? Had he come upon some wild island far in the Indian sea; or was this the famed Cipango itself, the object of his golden fancies ? A thousand speculations of the kind must have swarmed upon him, as, with his anxious crews, he waited for the night to pass away: wondering whether the morning light would reveal a savage wildnerness, or dawn apon spicy groves, and glittering fanes, and gilded cities, and all the splendour of oriental civilization.