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THE NEW YORK TUSLIC LIBRARY
ASTOR, LOX AND DISCOVERY OF AMERICA. TILOEN FOURDATIONS. Replace of his birth are known with certainty; but he was descended of
an honourable 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 propenfity of his mind, seem to have encouraged and confirmed it, by the education which they gave him. After acquiring fome 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 ardour and predilection, on account of their connection with navigation, his favourite object, that he advanced with sapid 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 to those ports in the Mediterranean which his countrymen the Genoese frequented. This being a sphere too narrow for his active mind, he made an excursion to the northern seas, in 1467, and visited the coasts of Iceland, to which the English and other nations had begun to resort on account of its fishery. As navigation, in every direction, was now become enterprising, he proceeded beyond that island, the Thule of the ancients, and advanced several degrees within the polar circle. Having satisfied his curiofity by a voyage which tended more to enlarge his knowledge of naval affairs, than to improve his fortune, he entered into the service of a famous fea-captain, of his own name and family. This man commanded a small squadron, fitted out at his own expence, and by cruising sometimes against the Mahometans, sometimes against the Venetians, the rivals of his country in trade, had acquired both wealth and reputation. With him Columbus continued for several years, no less distinguished for his courage, than for his experience as a failor. At length, in an obftinate engagement, off the coast of Portugal, with some Venetian Caravels, returning richly laden from the Low Countries, the vessel on board which he served took fire, together with one of the enemy's ships, to which it was fast grappled. In this dreadful extremity his intrepidity and presence of mind did not forsake him. 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 fhore, though above two leagues distant, and saved a life reserved for great undertakings.
As soon as he recovered strength for the journey, he repaired to Libon, where many of his countrymen were settled. They soon conceived such a favourable opinion of his merit, as well as talents, that they warmly solicited him to remain in that kingdom, where his naval fkill and experience could not fail of rendering him conspicuous. To every adventurer, animated either with curiosity to visit new countries, or with ambition to distinguish himself, the Portuguese service was at that time extremely inviting. Columbus liftened with a favourable ear to the advice of his friends, and having gained the esteem of a Portuguese lady, whom he married, fixed his refidence in Lisbon. This alliance, instead of detaching him from a sea-faring life, contributed to enlarge the sphere of his naval knowledge, and to excite a desire of extending it still farther. His wife was a daughter of Bartholomew Perestrello, one of the captains employed by prince Henry in his early navigations, and who, under his protection, had discovered and planted the islands of Porto Santo and Madeira. Columbus got possession of the journals and charts of this experienced navigator, and from them he learned the course which the Portuguese had held in making their dircoveries, as well as the various circumstances which guided or encouraged them in their attempts. The study of these foothed and inflamed his favourite paflion; and while he contemplated the maps, and read the descriptions of the new countries which Perestrello had seen, his impatience to visit them became irresistible. In order to indulge it, he made a voyage to Madeira, and continued during several years to trade with that ifland, with the Canaries, the Azores, the settlements ir Guinea, and all the other places which the Portuguese had discovered on the continent of Africa,
By the experience whịch Columbus acquired, during such a variety of yoyages, to almost every part of the globe with which, at that time, ary intercourse was carried on by sea, he was now become one of the most skilful navigators in Europe. But, not satisfied with that praise, his ambition aimed at something more. The successful progress of the Portuguese navigators had awakened a spirit of curiosity and emulation, which fet every man of science upon examining all the circumstances that led to the discoveries which they had made, or that afforded a profpect of succeeding in any new and bolder undertaking. The mind of Columbus, naturally inquisitive, capable of deep reflection, and turned to speculations of this kind, was so often employed in revolving the principles upon which the Portuguese had founded their schemes of difcovery, and the mode in which they had carried them on, that he gradually began to form an idea of improving upon their plan, and of accomplishing discoveries which hitherta they had attempted in vain.
To find out a passage by sea to the East Indies, was the great object in yiew at that period, From the time that the Portuguese doubled Cape de Verd, this was the point at which they aimed in all their navigations, and, in comparison with it, all their discoveries in Africa appeared inconsiderable. The fertility and riches of India had been known for many ages ; its spices and other valuable commodities were in high request throughout Europe, and the vast wealth of the Venetians arising from their having engrossed this trade, had raifed the envy of all nations, But how intent soever the Portuguese were 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 failed round the farther extremity of Africa. This course was still unknown, and, even if discovered, was of such immense length, that a voyage from Europe to India must have appeared, at that period, an undertaking extremely arduous, and of very uncertain issue. More than half a century had been employed in advancing from Cape Non to the equator;
much longer space of time might clapse before the more extensive navigation from that to India could be accomplished. These reflections upon the uncertainty, the danger and tediousness of the course which the Portuguese were pursuing, naturally led Columbus to consider whether a shorter and more direct passage to the East Indies might not be found out. After revolving long and seriously erery circumstance suggested by his superior knowledge in the theory as well as practice of navigation, after comparing attentively the observations of modern pilots with the hints and conjectures of ancient authors, he at last concluded, that by failing directly towards the west, across the Atlantic ocean, new countries, which probably formed a part of the great continent of India, must infallibly be discovered.
Principles and arguments of various kinds, and derived from different sources, induced him to adopt this opinion, seemingly as chimerical as it was new and extraordinary. 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, as far as they were known at that time, formed but a small portion of the terraqueous globe. It was suitable to our ideas concerning the wisdom and beneficence of the Author of Nature, to believe that the vast space, still unexplored, was not covered entirely by a waste unprofitable ocean, but occupied by countries fit for the habitation of man. It appeared likewise extremely probable, that the continent, on this side of the globe, was balanced by a porportional 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. A 3
Portuguese Portuguese pilot, having stretched farther to the west than was usual at that time, took up a piece of timber artificially carved, floating upon the fea; 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 brother-in-law had found, to the west of the Madeira isles, a piece of timber fashioned in the same manner, and brought by the same wind; and had seen likewise canes of an enormons 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 by the roots, were often driven upon the coasts of the Azores, and at one time the dead bodies of two men, with singular features, resembl. ing neither the inhabitants of Europe nor of Africa, were cast ashore there.
As the force of this united evidence, arising from theoretical princi. ples and practical observations, led Columbus to expect the discovery of new countries in the Western Ocean, other reasons induced him to be. lieve that these must be connected with the continent of India. Though the ancients had hardly ever penetrated into India farther than the banks of the Ganges, yet some Greek authors had ventured to describe the provinces beyond that river. As men are prone, and at liberty, to magnify what is remote or unknown, they represented them as regions of an immense extent. Ctesias affirmed that India was as large as all the rest of Afia. Oneficritus, whom Pliny the naturalist follows, contended that it was equal to a third part of the inhabitable earth. Nearchus asserted, that it would take four months to march in a straight line from one extremity of India to the other. The journal of Marco Polo, who had proceeded towards the East far beyond the limits to which any European
had ever advanced, seemed to confirm these exaggerated accounts of the ancients. By his magnificent descriptions of the kingdoms of Cathay and Cipango, and of many other countries, the names of which were unknown in Europe, India appeared to be a region of vast extent. From these accounts, which, however defective, were the most accurate that the people of Europe had received at that period, with respect to the remote parts of the East, Columbus drew a just conclusion. He contended, that, in proportion as the continent of India stretched out towards the East, it must, in confequence of the spherical figure of the earth, approach nearer to the islands which had lately been discovered to the west of Africa; that the distance from the one to the other was probably not very considerable; and that the most direct, as well as forte course, to the remote regions of the East, was to be found by filing due wet. This notion concerning the vicinity of India to the western parts of our continent, was countenanced by some eminent writers
among the ancients, the sanction of whose authority was necesfary, in that age, to procure a favourable reception to any tenet. Ariftotle thought it probable that the Columns of Hercules, or Straits of Gibraltar, were not far removed from the East Indies, and that there might be a communication by sea between them. Seneca, in terms still more explicit, affirms, that, with a fair wind, one might fail from Spain to India in a few days. The famous Atlantic island described by Plato, and supposed by many to be a real country, beyond which an unknown continent was situated, is represented by him as lying at no great distance from Spain. After weighing all these particulars, Columbus, in whose character the modesty and diffidence of true genius was united with the ardent enthusiasm of a projector, did not rest with such abso. lute assurance either upon his own arguments, or upon the authority of the ancients, as not to consult such of his contemporaries as were capable of comprehending the nature of the evidence which he produced in fupport of his opinion. As early as the year one thousand four hundred and seventy-four, he communicated his ideas concerning the probability of discovering new countries, by failing westwards, to Paul, a phyfician of Florence, eminent for his knowledge of cosmography, and who, from the learning as well as candoar which he discovers in his reply, appears to have been well intitled to the confidence which columbus placed in him. He warmly approved of the plan, suggested several facts in confirmation of it, and encouraged Columbus to persevere in an undertaking fo laudable, and which must redound so much to the honour of his country, and the benefit of Europe.
To a mind less capable of forming and of executing great designs than that of Columbus, all those reasonings, and observations, and authorities, would have served only as the foundation of some plausible and fruitless theory, which might have furnished matter for ingenious discourse, or fanciful conjecture. But with his fanguine and enterprising temper, speculation led directly to action. Fully satisfied himself with respect to the truth of his systein, he was impatient to bring it to the test of experiment, and to set out upon a voyage of discovery. The first step towards this was to secure the patronage of some of the considerable powers in Europe, capable of undertaking such an enterprise. As long absence had not extinguished the affection which he bore to his native country, he wished that it should reap the fruits of his labours and invention. With this view, he laid his scheme before the senate of Ge. noa, and making his country the first tender of liis service, offered to fail under the banners of the republic, in quest of the new regions which