While Ferdinand and Isabella were at Santa Fe, the capitulation was signed, that opened the way to an extent of empire, compared with which their recent conquests, and indeed all their present dominions, were insignificant. The extraordinary intellectual activity of the Europeans in the fifteenth century, after the torpor of ages, carried them forward to high advancement in almost every department of science, but especially nautical, whose surprising results have acquired for the age, the glory of being designated as peculiarly that of maritime discovery. This was eminently favored by the political condition of modern Europe. Under the Roman empire, the traffic with the east naturally centred in Rome, the commercial capital of the west. After the dismemberment of the empire, it continued to be conducted principally through the channel of the Italian ports, whence it was diffused over the remoter regions of Christendom. But these countries, which had now risen from the rank of subordinate provinces to that of separate independent states, viewed with jealousy this monopoly of the Italian cities, by means of which these latter were rapidly advancing beyond them in power and opulence. This was especially the case with Portugal and Castile, [1] which, placed on the remote frontiers of the European continent, were far removed from the great routes of Asiatic intercourse; while this disadvantage was not compensated by such an extent of territory, as secured consideration to some other of the European states, equally unfavorably situated for commercial purposes with themselves. Thus circumstanced, the two nations of Castile and Portugal were naturally led to turn their eyes on the great ocean which washed their western borders, and to seek in its hitherto unexplored recesses for new domains, and if possible strike out some undiscovered track towards the opulent regions of the east.
The spirit of maritime enterprise was fomented, and greatly facilitated in its operation, by the invention of the astrolabe, and the important discovery of the polarity of the magnet, whose first application to the purposes of navigation on an extended scale may be referred to the fifteenth century. [2] The Portuguese were the first to enter on the brilliant path of nautical discovery, which they pursued under the infant Don Henry with such activity, that, before the middle of the fifteenth century, they had penetrated as far as Cape de Verd, doubling many a fearful headland, which had shut in the timid navigator of former days; until at length, in 1486, they descried the lofty promontory which terminates Africa on the south, and which, hailed by King John the Second, under whom it was discovered, as the harbinger of the long-sought passage to the east, received the cheering appellation of the Cape of Good Hope.
The Spaniards, in the mean while, did not languish in the career of maritime enterprise. Certain adventurers from the northern provinces of Biscay and Guipuscoa, in 1393, had made themselves masters of one of the smallest of the group of islands, supposed to be the Fortunate Isles of the ancients, since known as the Canaries. Other private adventurers from Seville extended their conquests over these islands in the beginning of the following century. These were completed in behalf of the crown under Ferdinand and Isabella, who equipped several fleets for their reduction, which at length terminated in 1495 with that of Teneriffe. [3] From the commencement of their reign, Ferdinand and Isabella had shown an earnest solicitude for the encouragement of commerce and nautical science, as is evinced by a variety of regulations which, however imperfect, from the misconception of the true principles of trade in that day, are sufficiently indicative of the dispositions of the government. [4] Under them, and indeed under their predecessors as far back as Henry the Third, a considerable traffic had been carried on with the western coast of Africa, from which gold dust and slaves were imported into the city of
Seville. The annalist of that city notices the repeated interference of Isabella in behalf of these unfortunate beings, by ordinances tending to secure them a more equal protection of the laws, or opening such social indulgences as might mitigate the hardships of their condition. A misunderstanding gradually arose between the subjects of Castile and Portugal, in relation to their respective rights of discovery and commerce on the African coast, which promised a fruitful source of collision between the two crowns; but which was happily adjusted by an article in the treaty of 1479, that terminated the war of the succession. By this it was settled, that the right of traffic and of discovery on the western coast of Africa should be exclusively reserved to the Portuguese, who in their turn should resign all claims on the Canaries to the crown of Castile. The Spaniards, thus excluded from further progress to the south, seemed to have no other opening left for naval adventure than the hitherto untravelled regions of the great western ocean. Fortunately, at this juncture, an individual appeared among them, in the person of Christopher Columbus, endowed with capacity for stimulating them to this heroic enterprise, and conducting it to a glorious issue. [5]
This extraordinary man was a native of Genoa, of humble parentage, though perhaps honorable descent. [6] He was instructed in his early youth at Pavia, where he acquired a strong relish for the mathematical sciences, in which he subsequently excelled. At the age of fourteen, he engaged in a seafaring life, which he followed with little intermission till 1470; when, probably little more than thirty years of age, [7] he landed in Portugal, the country to which adventurous spirits from all parts of the world then resorted, as the great theatre of maritime enterprise. After his arrival, he continued to make voyages to the then known parts of the world, and, when on shore, occupied himself with the construction and sale of charts and maps; while his geographical researches were considerably aided by the possession of papers belonging to an eminent Portuguese navigator, a deceased relative of his wife. Thus stored with all that nautical science in that day could supply, and fortified by large practical experience, the reflecting mind of Columbus was naturally led to speculate on the existence of some other land beyond the western waters; and he conceived the possibility of reaching the eastern shores of Asia, whose provinces of Zipango and Cathay were emblazoned in such gorgeous colors in the narratives of Mandeville and the Poli, by a more direct and commodious route than that which traversed the eastern continent. [8]
The existence of land beyond the Atlantic, which was not discredited by some of the most enlightened ancients, [9] had become matter of common speculation at the close of the fifteenth century; when maritime adventure was daily disclosing the mysteries of the deep, and bringing to light new regions, that had hitherto existed only in fancy. A proof of this popular belief occurs in a curious passage of the "Morgante Maggiore" of the Florentine poet Palci, a man of letters, but not distinguished for scientific attainments beyond his day. [10] The passage is remarkable, independently of the cosmographical knowledge it implies, for its allusion to phenomena in physical science, not established till more than a century later. The Devil, alluding to the vulgar superstition respecting the pillars of Hercules, thus addresses his companion Rinaldo:
"Know that this theory is false; his bark
The daring mariner shall urge far o'er
The western wave, a smooth and level plain,
Albeit the earth is fashioned like a wheel.
Man was in ancient days of grosser mould,
And Hercules might blush to learn how far
Beyond the limits he had vainly set,
The dullest sea-boat soon shall wing her way.
Men shall descry another hemisphere,
Since to one common centre all things tend;
So earth, by curious mystery divine
Well balanced, hangs amid the starry spheres.
At our antipodes are cities, states,
And thronged empires, ne'er divined of yore.
But see, the Sun speeds on his western path
To glad the nations with expected light." [11]
Columbus's hypothesis rested on much higher ground than mere popular belief. What indeed was credulity with the vulgar, and speculation with the learned, amounted in his mind to a settled practical conviction, that made him ready to peril life and fortune on the result of the experiment.
He was fortified still further in his conclusions by a correspondence with the learned Italian Toscanelli, who furnished him with a map of his own projection, in which the eastern coast of Asia was delineated opposite to the western frontier of Europe. [12]
Filled with lofty anticipations of achieving a discovery, which would settle a question of such moment, so long involved in obscurity, Columbus submitted the theory on which he had founded his belief in the existence of a western route to King John the Second, of Portugal. Here he was doomed to encounter for the first time the embarrassments and mortifications, which so often obstruct the conceptions of genius, too sublime for the age in which they are formed. After a long and fruitless negotiation, and a dishonorable attempt on the part of the Portuguese to avail themselves clandestinely of his information, he quitted Lisbon in disgust, determined to submit his proposals to the Spanish sovereigns, relying on their reputed character for wisdom and enterprise. [13]
The period of his arrival in Spain, being the latter part of 1484, would seem to have been the most unpropitious possible to his design. The nation was then in the heat of the Moorish war, and the sovereigns were unintermittingly engaged, as we have seen, in prosecuting their campaigns, or in active preparation for them. The large expenditure, incident to this, exhausted all their resources; and indeed the engrossing character of this domestic conquest left them little leisure for indulging in dreams of distant and doubtful discovery. Columbus, moreover, was unfortunate in his first channel of communication with the court. He was furnished by Fray Juan Perez de Marchena, guardian of the convent of La Rabida in Andalusia, who had early taken a deep interest in his plans, with an introduction to Fernando de Talavera, prior of Prado, and confessor of the queen, a person high in the royal confidence, and gradually raised through a succession of ecclesiastical dignities to the archiepiscopal see of Granada. He was a man of irreproachable morals, and of comprehensive benevolence for that day, as is shown in his subsequent treatment of the unfortunate Moriscoes. [14] He was also learned; although his learning was that of the cloister, deeply tinctured with pedantry and superstition, and debased by such servile deference even to the errors of antiquity, as at once led him to discountenance everything like innovation or enterprise. [15]
With these timid and exclusive views, Talavera was so far from comprehending the vast conceptions of Columbus, that he seems to have regarded him as a mere visionary, and his hypothesis as involving principles not altogether orthodox. Ferdinand and Isabella, desirous of obtaining the opinion of the most competent judges on the merits of Columbus's theory, referred him to a council selected by Talavera from the most eminent scholars of the kingdom, chiefly ecclesiastics, whose profession embodied most of the science of that day. Such was the apathy exhibited by this learned conclave, and so numerous the impediments suggested by dulness, prejudice, or skepticism, that years glided away before it came to a decision. During this time, Columbus appears to have remained in attendance on the court, bearing arms occasionally in the campaigns, and experiencing from the sovereigns an unusual degree of deference and personal attention; an evidence of which is afforded in the disbursements repeatedly made by the royal order for his private expenses, and in the instructions, issued to the municipalities of the different towns in Andalusia, to supply him gratuitously with lodging and other personal accommodations. [16]
At length, however, Columbus, wearied out by this painful procrastination, pressed the court for a definite answer to his propositions; when he was informed, that the council of Salamanca pronounced his scheme to be "vain, impracticable, and resting on grounds too weak to merit the support of the government." Many in the council, however, were too enlightened to acquiesce in this sentence of the majority. Some of the most considerable persons of the court, indeed, moved by the cogency of Columbus's arguments, and affected by the elevation and grandeur of his views, not only cordially embraced his scheme, but extended their personal intimacy and friendship to him. Such, among others, were the grand cardinal Mendoza, a man whose enlarged capacity and acquaintance with affairs raised him above many of the narrow prejudices of his order, and Deza, archbishop of Seville, a Dominican friar, whose commanding talents were afterwards unhappily perverted in the service of the Holy Office, over which he presided as successor to Torquemada. [17] The authority of these individuals had undoubtedly great weight with the sovereigns, who softened the verdict of the junto, by an assurance to Columbus, that, "although they were too much occupied at present to embark in his undertaking, yet, at the conclusion of the war, they should find both time and inclination to treat with him." Such was the ineffectual result of Columbus's long and painful solicitation; and, far from receiving the qualified assurance of the sovereigns in mitigation of their refusal, he seems to have considered it as peremptory and final. In great dejection of mind, therefore, but without further delay, he quitted the court, and bent his way to the south, with the apparently almost desperate intent of seeking out some other patron to his undertaking. [18]
Columbus had already visited his native city of Genoa, for the purpose of interesting it in his scheme of discovery; but the attempt proved unsuccessful. He now made application, it would seem, to the dukes of Medina Sidonia and Medina Celi, successively, from the latter of whom he experienced much kindness and hospitality; but neither of these nobles, whose large estates lying along the sea-shore had often invited them to maritime adventure, was disposed to assume one which seemed too hazardous for the resources of the crown. Without wasting time in further solicitation, Columbus prepared with a heavy heart to bid adieu to Spain, and carry his proposals to the king of France, from whom he had received a letter of encouragement while detained in Andalusia. [19]
His progress, however, was arrested at the convent of La Rabida, which he visited previous to his departure, by his friend the guardian, who prevailed on him to postpone his journey till another effort had been made to move the Spanish court in his favor. For this purpose the worthy ecclesiastic undertook an expedition in person to the newly erected city of Santa Fe, where the sovereigns lay encamped before Granada. Juan Perez had formerly been confessor of Isabella, and was held in great consideration by her for his excellent qualities. On arriving at the camp, he was readily admitted to an audience, when he pressed the suit of Columbus with all the earnestness and reasoning of which he was capable.
The friar's eloquence was supported by that of several eminent persons, whom Columbus during his long residence in the country had interested in his project, and who viewed with sincere regret the prospect of its abandonment. Among these individuals are particularly mentioned Alonso de Quintanilla, comptroller general of Castile, Louis de St. Angel, a fiscal officer of the crown of Aragon, and the marchioness of Moya, the personal friend of Isabella, all of whom exercised considerable influence over her counsels. Their representations, combined with the opportune season of the application, occurring at the moment when the approaching termination of the Moorish war allowed room for interest in other objects, wrought so favorable a change in the dispositions of the sovereigns, that they consented to resume the negotiation with Columbus. An invitation was accordingly sent to him to repair to Santa Fe, and a considerable sum provided for his suitable equipment, and his expenses on the road. [20]
Columbus, who lost no time in availing himself of this welcome intelligence, arrived at the camp in season to witness the surrender of Granada, when every heart, swelling with exultation at the triumphant termination of the war, was naturally disposed to enter with greater confidence on a new career of adventure. At his interview with the king and queen, he once more exhibited the arguments on which his hypothesis was founded. He then endeavored to stimulate the cupidity of his audience, by picturing the realms of Mangi and Cathay, which he confidently expected to reach by this western route, in all the barbaric splendors which had been shed over them by the lively fancy of Marco Polo and other travellers of the Middle Ages; and he concluded with appealing to a higher principle, by holding out the prospect of extending the empire of the Cross over nations of benighted heathen, while he proposed to devote the profits of his enterprise to the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre. This last ebullition, which might well have passed for fanaticism in a later day, and given a visionary tinge to his whole project, was not quite so preposterous in an age, in which the spirit of the crusades might be said still to linger, and the romance of religion had not yet been dispelled by sober reason. The more temperate suggestion of the diffusion of the gospel was well suited to affect Isabella, in whose heart the principle of devotion was deeply seated, and who, in all her undertakings, seems to have been far less sensible to the vulgar impulses of avarice or ambition, than to any argument connected, however remotely, with the interests of religion. [21]
Amidst all these propitious demonstrations towards Columbus, an obstacle unexpectedly arose in the nature of his demands, which stipulated for himself and heirs the title and authority of Admiral and Viceroy over all lands discovered by him, with one-tenth of the profits. This was deemed wholly inadmissible. Ferdinand, who had looked with cold distrust on the expedition from the first, was supported by the remonstrances of Talavera, the new archbishop of Granada; who declared, that "such demands savored of the highest degree of arrogance, and would be unbecoming in their Highnesses to grant to a needy foreign adventurer." Columbus, however, steadily resisted every attempt to induce him to modify his propositions.
On this ground, the conferences were abruptly broken off, and he once more turned his back upon the Spanish court, resolved rather to forego his splendid anticipations of discovery, at the very moment when the career so long sought was thrown open to him, than surrender one of the honorable distinctions due to his services. This last act is perhaps the most remarkable exhibition in his whole life, of that proud, unyielding spirit, which sustained him through so many years of trial, and enabled him at length to achieve his great enterprise, in the face of every obstacle which man and nature had opposed to it. [22]
The misunderstanding was not suffered to be of long duration. Columbus's friends, and especially Louis de St. Angel, remonstrated with the queen on these proceedings in the most earnest manner. He frankly told her, that Columbus's demands, if high, were at least contingent on success, when they would be well deserved; that, if he failed, he required nothing. He expatiated on his qualifications for the undertaking, so signal as to insure in all probability the patronage of some other monarch, who would reap the fruits of his discoveries; and he ventured to remind the queen, that her present policy was not in accordance with the magnanimous spirit, which had hitherto made her the ready patron of great and heroic enterprise. Far from being displeased, Isabella was moved by his honest eloquence. She contemplated the proposals of Columbus in their true light; and, refusing to hearken any longer to the suggestions of cold and timid counsellors, she gave way to the natural impulses of her own noble and generous heart; "I will assume the undertaking," said she, "for my own crown of Castile, and am ready to pawn my jewels to defray the expenses of it, if the funds in the treasury shall be found inadequate." The treasury had been reduced to the lowest ebb by the late war, but the receiver, St. Angel, advanced the sums required, from the Aragonese revenues deposited in his hands. Aragon however was not considered as adventuring in the expedition, the charges and emoluments of which were reserved exclusively for Castile. [23]
Columbus, who was overtaken by the royal messenger at a few leagues' distance only from Granada, experienced the most courteous reception on his return to Santa Fe, where a definitive arrangement was concluded with the Spanish sovereigns, April 17th, 1492. By the terms of the capitulation, Ferdinand and Isabella, as lords of the ocean-seas, constituted Christopher Columbus their admiral, viceroy, and governor- general of all such islands and continents as he should discover in the western ocean, with the privilege of nominating three candidates, for the selection of one by the crown, for the government of each of these territories. He was to be vested with exclusive right of jurisdiction over all commercial transactions within his admiralty. He was to be entitled to one-tenth of all the products and profits within the limits of his discoveries, and an additional eighth, provided he should contribute one- eighth part of the expense. By a subsequent ordinance, the official dignities above enumerated were settled on him and his heirs for ever, with the privilege of prefixing the title of Don to their names, which had not then degenerated into an appellation of mere courtesy. [24]
No sooner were the arrangements completed, than Isabella prepared with her characteristic promptness to forward the expedition by the most efficient measures. Orders were sent to Seville and the other ports of Andalusia, to furnish stores and other articles requisite for the voyage, free of duty, and at as low rates as possible. The fleet, consisting of three vessels, was to sail from the little port of Palos in Andalusia, which had been condemned for some delinquency to maintain two caravels for a twelvemonth for the public service. The third vessel was furnished by the admiral, aided, as it would seem, in defraying the charges, by his friend the guardian of La Rabida, and the Pinzons, a family in Palos long distinguished for its enterprise among the mariners of that active community. With their assistance, Columbus was enabled to surmount the disinclination, and indeed open opposition, manifested by the Andalusian mariners to his perilous voyage; so that in less than three months his little squadron was equipped for sea. A sufficient evidence of the extreme unpopularity of the expedition is afforded by a royal ordinance of the 30th of April, promising protection to all persons, who should embark in it, from criminal prosecution of whatever kind, until two months after their return. The armament consisted of two caravels, or light vessels without decks, and a third of larger burden. The total number of persons who embarked amounted to one hundred and twenty; and the whole charges of the crown for the expedition did not exceed seventeen thousand florins, The fleet was instructed to keep clear of the African coast, and other maritime possessions of Portugal. At length, all things being in readiness, Columbus and his whole crew partook of the sacrament, and confessed themselves, after the devout manner of the ancient Spanish voyagers, when engaged in any important enterprise; and on the morning of the 3d of August, 1492, the intrepid navigator, bidding adieu to the Old World, launched forth on that unfathomed waste of waters where no sail had been ever spread before. [25]
It is impossible to peruse the story of Columbus without assigning to him almost exclusively the glory of his great discovery; for, from the first moment of its conception to that of its final execution, he was encountered by every species of mortification and embarrassment, with scarcely a heart to cheer, or a hand to help him. [26] Those more enlightened persons whom, during his long residence in Spain, he succeeded in interesting in his expedition, looked to it probably as the means of solving a dubious problem, with the same sort of vague and skeptical curiosity as to its successful result, with which we contemplate, in our day, an attempt to arrive at the Northwest passage. How feeble was the interest excited, even among those who from their science and situation would seem to have their attention most naturally drawn towards it, may be inferred from the infrequency of allusion to it in the correspondence and other writings of that time, previous to the actual discovery. Peter Martyr, one of the most accomplished scholars of the period, whose residence at the Castilian court must have fully instructed him in the designs of Columbus, and whose inquisitive mind led him subsequently to take the deepest interest in the results of his discoveries, does not, so far as I am aware, allude to him in any part of his voluminous correspondence with the learned men of his time, previous to the first expedition. The common people regarded, not merely with apathy, but with terror, the prospect of a voyage, that was to take the mariner from the safe and pleasant seas which he was accustomed to navigate, and send him roving on the boundless wilderness of waters, which tradition and superstitious fancy had peopled with innumerable forms of horror.
It is true that Columbus experienced a most honorable reception at the Castilian court; such as naturally flowed from the benevolent spirit of Isabella, and her just appreciation of his pure and elevated character.
But the queen was too little of a proficient in science to be able to estimate the merits of his hypothesis; and, as many of those, on whose judgment she leaned, deemed it chimerical, it is probable that she never entertained a deep conviction of its truth; at least not enough to warrant the liberal expenditure, which she never refused to schemes of real importance. This is certainly inferred by the paltry amount actually expended on the armament, far inferior to that appropriated to the equipment of two several fleets in the course of the late war for a foreign expedition, as well as to that, with which in the ensuing year she followed up Columbus's discoveries.
But while, on a review of the circumstances, we are led more and more to admire the constancy and unconquerable spirit, which carried Columbus victorious through all the difficulties of his undertaking, we must remember, in justice to Isabella, that, although tardily, she did in fact furnish the resources essential to its execution; that she undertook the enterprise when it had been explicitly declined by other powers, and when probably none other of that age would have been found to countenance it; and that, after once plighting her faith to Columbus, she became his steady friend, shielding him against the calumnies of his enemies, reposing in him the most generous confidence, and serving him in the most acceptable manner, by supplying ample resources for the prosecution of his glorious discoveries. [27]
* * * * *
It is now more than thirty years since the Spanish government intrusted Don Martin Fernandez de Navarrete, one of the most eminent scholars of the country, with the care of exploring the public archives, for the purpose of collecting information relative to the voyages and discoveries of the early Spanish navigators. In 1825, Señor Navarrete gave to the world the first fruits of his indefatigable researches, in two volumes, the commencement of a series, comprehending letters, private journals, royal ordinances, and other original documents, illustrative of the discovery of America. These two volumes are devoted exclusively to the adventures and personal history of Columbus, and must be regarded as the only authentic basis, on which any notice of the great navigator can hereafter rest.
Fortunately, Mr. Irving's visit to Spain, at this period, enabled the world to derive the full benefit of Señor Navarrete's researches, by presenting their results in connection with whatever had been before known of Columbus, in the lucid and attractive form, which engages the interest of every reader. It would seem highly proper, that the fortunes of the discoverer of America should engage the pen of an inhabitant of her most favored and enlightened region; and it is unnecessary to add, that the task has been executed in a manner which must secure to the historian a share in the imperishable renown of his subject. The adventures of Columbus, which form so splendid an episode to the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, cannot properly come within the scope of its historian, except so far as relates to his personal intercourse with the government, or their results on the fortunes of the Spanish monarchy.
[1] Aragon, or rather Catalonia, maintained an extensive commerce with the Levant, and the remote regions of the east, during the Middle Ages, through the flourishing port of Barcelona. See Capmany y Montpalau, Memorias Históricas sobre la Marina, Comercio y Artes de Barcelona, (Madrid, 1779-92,) passim.
[2] A council of mathematicians in the court of John II., of Portugal, first devised the application of the ancient astrolabe to navigation, thus affording to the mariner the essential advantages appertaining to the modern quadrant. The discovery of the polarity of the needle, which vulgar
tradition assigned to the Amalfite Flavio Gioja, and which Robertson has sanctioned without scruple, is clearly proved to have occurred more than a century earlier. Tiraboschi, who investigates the matter with his usual erudition, passing by the doubtful reference of Guiot de Provins, whose age and personal identity even are contested, traces the familiar use of the magnetic needle as far back as the first half of the thirteenth century, by a pertinent passage from Cardinal Vitri, who died 1244; and sustains this by several similar references to other authors of the same century. Capmany finds no notice of its use by the Castilian navigators earlier than 1403. It was not until considerably later in the fifteenth century, that the Portuguese voyagers, trusting to its guidance, ventured to quit the Mediterranean and African coasts, and extend their navigation to Madeira and the Azores. See Navarrete, Coleccion de los Viages y Descubrimientos que hicieron por Mar los Españoles, (Madrid, 1825-29,) tom. i. Int. sec. 33.--Tiraboschi, Letteratura Italiana, tom. iv. pp. 173, 174.--Capmany, Mem. de Barcelona, tom. iii. part. 1, cap. 4.--Koch, Tableau des Révolutions de l'Europe, (Paris, 1814,) tom. i. pp. 358-360.
[3] Four of the islands were conquered on behalf of private adventurers, chiefly from Andalusia, before the accession of Ferdinand and Isabella, and under their reign were held as the property of a noble Castilian family, named Peraza. The sovereigns sent a considerable armament from Seville in 1480, which subdued the great island of Canary on behalf of the crown, and another in 1493, which effected the reduction of Palma and Teneriffe after a sturdy resistance from the natives. Bernaldez postpones the last conquest to 1495. Salazar de Mendoza, Monarquía, tom. i. pp. 347- 349.--Pulgar, Reyes Católicos, pp. 136, 203.--Bernaldez, Reyes Católicos, MS., cap. 64, 65, 66, 133.--Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. i. Introd., sec. 28.
[4] Among the provisions of the sovereigns enacted previous to the present date, may be noted those for regulating the coin and weights; for opening a free trade between Castile and Aragon; for security to Genoese and Venetian trading vessels; for safe conduct to mariners and fishermen; for privileges to the seamen of Palos; for prohibiting the plunder of vessels wrecked on the coast; and an ordinance of the very last year, requiring foreigners to take their return cargoes in the products of the country.
See these laws as extracted from the Ordenanças Reales and the various public archives, in Mem. de la Acad. de Hist., tom. vi. Ilust. 11.
[5] Zuñiga, Annales de Sevilla, pp. 373, 374, 398.--Zurita, Anales, tom. iv. lib. 20, cap. 30, 34.--Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages.
[6] Spotorno, Memorials of Columbus, (London, 1823,) p. 14.--Senarega, apud Muratori, Rerum Ital. Script., tom. xxiv. p. 535.--Antonio Gallo, De Navigatione Columbi, apud Muratori, Rerum Ital. Script., tom. xxiii. p. 202.
It is very generally agreed that the father of Columbus exercised the craft of a wool-carder, or weaver. The admiral's son Ferdinand, after some speculation on the genealogy of his illustrious parent, concludes with remarking, that, after all, a noble descent would confer less lustre on
him than to have sprung from such a father; a philosophical sentiment, indicating pretty strongly that he had no great ancestry to boast of. Ferdinand finds something extremely mysterious and typical in his father's name of _Columbus_, signifying a _dove_, in token of his being ordained to
"carry the olive-branch and oil of baptism over the ocean, like Noah's dove, to denote the peace and union of the heathen people with the church, after they had been shut up in the ark of darkness and confusion."
Fernando Colon, Historia del Almirante, cap. 1, 2, apud Barcia, Historiadores Primitivos de las Indian Occidentals, (Madrid, 1749,) tom. i., tom. i. Introd., sec. 21, 24.--Ferreras, Hist. d'Espagne, tom. vii. p. 548.
[7] Bernaldez, Reyes Católicos, MS., cap. 131.--Muñoz, Historia del Nuevo- Mundo, (Madrid, 1793,) lib. 2, sec. 13.
There are no sufficient data for determining the period of Columbus's birth. The learned Muñoz places it in 1446. (Hist. del Nuevo-Mundo, lib. 2, sec. 12.) Navarrete, who has weighed the various authorities with caution, seems inclined to remove it back eight or ten years further, resting chiefly on a remark of Bernaldez, that he died in 1506, "in a good old age, at the age of seventy, a little more or less." (Cap. 131.) The expression is somewhat vague. In order to reconcile the facts with this hypothesis, Navarrete is compelled to reject, as a chirographical blunder, a passage in a letter of the admiral, placing his birth in 1456, and to distort another passage in his book of "Prophecies," which, if literally taken, would seem to establish his birth near the time assigned by Muñoz.
Incidental allusions in some other authorities, speaking of Columbus's old age at or near the time of his death, strongly corroborate Navarrete's inference. (See Coleccion de Viages, tom. i. Introd., sec. 54.)--Mr. Irving seems willing to rely exclusively on the authority of Bernaldez.
[8] Antonio de Herrera, Historia General de las Indias Occidentales, (Amberes, 1728,) tom. i. dec. 1, lib. 1, cap. 7.--Gomara, Historia de las Indias, cap. 14, apud Barcia, Hist. Primitivos, tom. ii.--Bernaldez, Reyes Católicos, MS., cap. 118.--Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. i. Introd., sec. 30.
Ferdinand Columbus enumerates three grounds on which his father's conviction of land in the west was founded. First, natural reason,--or conclusions drawn from science; secondly, authority of writers,--amounting to little more than vague speculations of the ancients; thirdly, testimony of sailors, comprehending, in addition to popular rumors of land described in western voyages, such relics as appeared to have floated to the European shores from the other side of the Atlantic. Hist. del Almirante, cap. 6-8.
[9] None of the intimations are so precise as that contained in the well- known lines of Seneca's Medea, "Venient annuis saecula," etc., although, when regarded as a mere poetical vagary, it has not the weight which belongs to more serious suggestions, of similar import, in the writings of Aristotle and Strabo. The various allusions in the ancient classic writers to an undiscovered world form the subject of an elaborate essay in the Memorias da Acad. Real das Sciencias de Lisboa, (tom. v. pp. 101-112,) and are embodied, in much greater detail, in the first section of Humboldt's "Histoire de la Géographie du Nouveau Continent;" a work in which the author, with his usual acuteness, has successfully applied the vast stores of his erudition and experience to the illustration of many interesting points connected with the discovery of the New World, and the personal history of Columbus.
[10] It is probably the knowledge of this which has led some writers to impute part of his work to the learned Marsilio Ficino, and others, with still less charity and probability, to refer the authorship of the whole to Politian. Comp. Tasso, Opere, (Venezia, 1735-42,) tom. x. p. 129.--and Crescimbeni, Istoria della Volgar Poesia, (Venezia, 1731,) tom. iii. pp. 273, 274.
[11] Pulci, Morgante Maggiore, canto 25, st. 229, 230.--I have used blank verse, as affording facility for a more literal version than the corresponding _ottava rima_ of the original. This passage of Pulci, which has not fallen under the notice of Humboldt, or any other writer on the same subject whom I have consulted, affords, probably, the most circumstantial prediction that is to be found of the existence of a western world. Dante, two centuries before, had intimated more vaguely his belief in an undiscovered quarter of the globe.
"De' vostri sensi, ch' è del rimanente,
Non vogliate negar l'esperienza,
Diretro al sol, del mondo senza gente."
Inferno, cant. 26, v. 115.
[12] Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. ii., Col. Dipl., no. 1.--Muñoz, Hist. del Nuevo-Mundo, lib. 2, sec. 17.--It is singular that Columbus, in his visit to Iceland, in 1477, (see Fernando Colon, Hist. del Almirante, cap. 4,) should have learned nothing of the Scandinavian voyages to the
northern shores of America in the tenth and following centuries; yet if he was acquainted with them, it appears equally surprising that he should not have adduced the fact in support of his own hypothesis of the existence of land in the west; and that he should have taken a route so different from that of his predecessors in the path of discovery. It may be, however, as M. de Humboldt has well remarked, that the information he obtained in Iceland was too vague to suggest the idea, that the lands thus discovered by the Northmen had any connection with the Indies, of which he was in pursuit. In Columbus's day, indeed, so little was understood of the true position of these countries, that Greenland is laid down on the maps in the European seas, and as a peninsular prolongation of Scandinavia. See Humboldt, Géographie du Nouveau Continent, tom. ii. pp. 118, 125.
[13] Herrera, Indias Occidentals, tom. i. dec. 1, lib. 1, cap. 7.--Muñoz, Hist. del Nuevo-Mundo, lib. 2, sec. 19.--Gomara, Hist. de las Indias, cap. 15.--Benzoni, Novi Orbis Historia, lib. 1, cap. 6.--Fernando Colon, Hist. del Almirante, cap. 10.--Faria y Sousa, Europa Portuguesa, tom. ii. part. 3, cap. 4.
[14] Oviedo, Quincuagenas, MS., dial. de Talavera.
[15] Salazar de Mendoza, Crón. del Gran Cardenal, p. 214.--Herrera, Indias Occidentales, tom. i. dec. 1, lib. 1, cap. 8.--Fernando Colon, Hist. del Almirante, cap. 11.
[16] Herrera, Indias Occidentales, dec. 1, lib. 1, cap. 8.--Zuñiga, Annales de Sevilla, p. 104.--Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. i. sec. 60, 61, tom. ii., Col. Dipl., nos. 2, 4.
[17] This prelate, Diego de Deza, was born of poor but respectable parents, at Toro. He early entered the Dominican order, where his learning and exemplary life recommended him to the notice of the sovereigns, who called him to court to take charge of Prince John's education. He was afterwards raised, through the usual course of episcopal preferment, to the metropolitan see of Seville. His situation, as confessor of Ferdinand, gave him great influence over that monarch, with whom he appears to have maintained an intimate correspondence, to the day of his death. Oviedo, Quincuagenas, MS., dial. de Deza.
[18] Fernando Colon, Hist. del Almirante, cap. 11.--Salazar de Mendoza, Crón. del Gran Cardenal, p. 215.--Muñoz, Hist. del Nuevo-Mundo, lib. 2, sec. 25, 29.--Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. i., Introd., sec. 60.
[19] Herrera, Indias Occidentales, dec. 1, lib. 1, cap. 8.--Muñoz, Hist. del Nuevo-Mundo, lib. 2, sec. 27.--Spotorno, Memorials of Columbus, pp. 31-33.--The last dates the application to Genoa prior to that to Portugal.
A letter from the duke of Medina Celi to the cardinal of Spain, dated 19th March, 1493, refers to his entertaining Columbus as his guest for two years. It is very difficult to determine the date of these two years. If Herrera is correct in the statement, that, after a five years' residence at court, whose commencement he had previously referred to 1484, he carried his proposals to the duke of Medina Celi, (see cap. 7, 8.) the two years may have intervened between 1489-1491. Navarrete places them between the departure from Portugal and the first application to the court of Castile, in 1486. Some other writers, and among them Muñoz and Irving, referring his application to Genoa to 1485, and his first appearance in Spain to a subsequent period, make no provision for the residence with the duke of Medina Celi. Mr. Irving indeed is betrayed into a chronological inaccuracy, in speaking of a seven years' residence at the court in 1491, which he had previously noticed as having before begun in 1486. (Life of Columbus, (London, 1828,) comp. vol. i. pp. 109, 141.) In fact, the discrepancies among the earliest authorities are such as to render hopeless any attempt to settle with precision the chronology of Columbus's movements previous to his first voyage.
[20] Ferreras, Hist. d'Espagne, tom. viii. pp. 129, 130.--Muñoz, Hist. del Nuevo-Mundo, lib. 2, sec. 31.--Herrera, Indias Occidentales, dec. 1, lib. 1, cap. 8.--Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. i., Introd., sec. 60.
[21] Herrera, Indias Occidentales, dec. 1, lib. 1, cap. 8.--Primer Viage de Colon, apud Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. i. pp. 2, 117.-- Fernando Colon, Hist. del Almirante, cap. 13.
[22] Muñoz, Hist. del Nuevo-Mundo, lib. 2, sec. 28, 29.--Fernando Colon, Hist. del Almirante, ubi supra.
[23] Herrera, Indias Occidentales, dec. 1, lib. 1, cap. 8.--Muñoz, Hist. del Nuevo-Mundo, lib. 2, sec. 32, 33.--Fernando Colon, Hist. del Almirante, cap. 14.--Gomara, Hist. de las Indias, cap. 15.
[24] Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. ii., Col. Diplomat., nos. 5, 6. --Zuñiga, Annales de Sevilla, p. 412.--Mariana, Hist. de España, tom. ii. p. 605.
[25] Peter Martyr, De Rebus Oceanicis et Novo Orbe, (Coloniae, 1574,) dec. 1, lib. 1.--Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. ii., Col. Diplomat., nos. 7, 8, 9, 10, 12.--Herrera, Indias Occidentales, dec. 1, lib. 1, cap. 9.-- Fernando Colon, Hist. del Almirante, cap. 14.--Muñoz, Hist. del Nuevo- Mundo, lib. 2, sec. 33.--Benzoni, Novi Orbis Hist., lib. 1, cap. 6.-- Gomara, Hist. de las Indias, cap. 15.
The expression in the text will not seem too strong, even admitting the previous discoveries of the Northmen, which were made in so much higher latitudes. Humboldt has well shown the probability, _a priori_, of such discoveries, made in a narrow part of the Atlantic, where the
Orcades, the Feroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland afforded the voyager so many intermediate stations, at moderate distances from each other. (Géographie du Nouveau Continent, tom. ii. pp. 183 et seq.) The publication of the original Scandinavian MSS., (of which imperfect notices and selections, only, have hitherto found their way into the world,) by the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries, at Copenhagen, is a matter of the deepest interest; and it is fortunate that it is to be conducted under auspices, which must insure its execution in the most faithful and able manner. It may be doubted, however, whether the declaration of the Prospectus, that "it was the knowledge of the Scandinavian voyages, in all probability, which prompted the expedition of Columbus," can ever be established. His personal history furnishes strong internal evidence to
the contrary.
[26] How strikingly are the forlorn condition and indomitable energy of Columbus depicted in the following noble verses of Chiabrera;
"Certo da cor, ch' alto destin non scelse,
Son l' imprese magnanime neglette;
Ma le bell' alme alle bell' opre elette
Sanno gioir nelle fatiche eccelse;
Nè biasnio popolar, frale catena,
Spirto d'onore, il suo cammin reffrena.
Così lunga stagion per modi indegni
Europa disprezzò l'inclita speme,
Schernendo il vulgo, e seco i Regi insieme,
_Nudo nocchier, promettitor di Regni._"
Rime, parte 1, canzone 12.
[27] Columbus, in a letter written on his third voyage, pays an honest, heartfelt tribute to the effectual patronage which he experienced from the queen. "In the midst of the general incredulity," says he, "the Almighty infused into the queen, my lady, the spirit of intelligence and energy; and, whilst every one else, in his ignorance, was expatiating only on the inconvenience and cost, her Highness approved it, on the contrary, and gave it all the support in her power." See Carta al Ama del Principe D. Juan, apud Navarrete, Coleccion de Viages, tom. i. p. 266.
See also: 1484-1492 ,The first voyage
The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella The Catholic, Vol. 2, by William H. Prescott


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