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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 sea; and as it was driven towards him by a westerly wind, he concluded that it came from some unknown land, situated in that quarter. Colum. bus'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 wefterly 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 principles 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 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 defcriptions 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 our towards the East, it must, in consequence 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 fhortest course, to the remote regions of the East, was to be found by failing due west. This notion concerning the vicinity of India to the
weftern parts of our continent, was countenanced by some eminent writers among the ancients, the sanction of whose authority was necefsary, 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 fill 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 absolute 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 thonsand 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 cofinography, and who, from the learning as well as candour 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 feveral facts in confirmation of it; and encouraged Columbus to persevere in an undertaking so 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 system, 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 confiderable 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 Genoa, and making his country the first tender of his service, offered to fail under the banners of the republic, in quest of the new regions which
he expected to discover. But Columbus had resided for so many years in foreign parts, that his countrymen were unacquainted with his abi. lities and character; and, though a maritime people, were so little accustomed to distant voyages, that they could form no just idea of the principles on which he founded his hopes of success. They inconsiderately rejected his proposal, as the dream of a chimerical projector, and loft for ever the opportunity of restoring their commonwealth to its ançient splendour.
Having performed what was due to his country, Columbus was so little discouraged by the repulse which he had received, that, instead of relinquishing his undertaking, he pursued it with freih ardour. He made his next overture to John II. king of Portugal, in whose dominions he had been long established, and whom he considered, on that account, as having the fecond claim to his service. Here every circumfance seemed to promise him a more favourable reception. He applied to a monarch of an enterprising genius, no incompetent judge in naval affairs, and proud of patronising every attempt to discover new countries. His subjects were the most experienced navigators in Europe, and the least apt to be intimidated either by the novelty or boldness of any maritime expedition. In Portugal, the professional skill of Columbus, as well as his personal good qualities, were thoroughly known; and as she mer rendered it probable that his scheme was not altogether vifionary, the latter exempted him from the fufpicion of any finifter intention in proposing it. Accordingly, the king listened to him in the moft gracious manner, and referred the confideration of his plan to Diego Ortiz, bishop of Ceuta, and two Jewish physicians, eminent cofmographers, whom he was accustomed to consult in matters of this kind. As in Genoa, ignorance had opposed and disappointed Columþus ; in Lisbon, he had to combat with prejudice, an enemy no less formidable. The persons, according to whose decision his scheme was to be adopted or rejected, had been the chief directors of the Portuguese navigations, and had advised to search for a paffage to India, by steering a course directly opposite to that which Columbus recommended as shorter and more certain. They could not, therefore, approve of his proposal, without submitting to the double mortification, of condemnning their own theory, and of acknowledging his superior fagacity. After teasing him with captious questions, and starting innumerable ob. jections, with a view of betraying him into fuch a particular explanation of his system, as might draw from him a full discovery of its nlture, they deferred palling a final judgement with respect to it. In the mean time, they conspired to rob him of the honour and advantages
which he expected from the success of his scheme, advising the king to dispatch a vessel, secretly, in order to attempt the proposed discovery, by following exactly the course which Columbus seemed to point out. John, forgetting on this occafion the sentiments becoming a monarch, meanly adopted this perfidious counsel. But the pilot, chosen to execute Columbus's plan, had neither the genius, nor the fortitude of its author. Contrary winds arose, no fight of approaching land appeared, his courage failed, and he returned to Lilbon, execrating the project as equally extravagant and dangerous.
Upon discovering this dishonourable transaction, Columbus felt the indignation natural to an ingenuous mind, and in the warmth of his refentment determined to break off all intercourse with a nation capable of such flagrant treachery. He instantly quitted the kingdom, and landed in Spain towards the close of the year one thousand four hundred and eighty-four. As he was now at liberty to court the protection of any patron, whom he could engage to approve of his plan, and to carry it into execution, he resolved to propose it in person to Ferdinand and Isabella, who at that time governed the united kingdoms of Castile and Arragon. But as he had already experienced the uncertain issue of applications to kings and ministers, he took the precaution of sending into England his brother Bartholomew, to whom he had fully communicated his ideas, in order that he might negociate, at the same time, with Henry VII, who was reputed one of the most fagacious as well as opulent princes in Europe.
It was not without reason that Columbus entertained doubts and fears with respect to the reception of his proposals in the Spanish court. Spain was, at that juncture, engaged in a dangerous war with Granada, the last of the Moorish kingdoms in that country. The wary and fufpicious temper of Ferdinand was not formed to relish bold or uncommon designs. Isabella, though more generous and enterprising, was under - the influence of her husband in all her actions. The Spaniards had hitherto made no efforts to extend navigation beyond its ancient limits, and had beheld the amazing progress of discovery among their neighbours the Portuguese, without one attempt to imitate or to rival them. The war with the Infidels afforded an ample field to the national activity and love of glory. Under circumstances so unfavourable, it was imposfible for Columbus to make rapid progress with a nation, naturally now and dilatory in forming all its resolutions. His character, however, was admirably adapted to that of the people, whose confidence and protection he solicited. He was grave, though courteous in his deportment; circumspect in his words and actions ; irreproachable in his morals; and 3
exemplary in his attention to all the duties and functions of religion. By qualities so respectable, he not only gained many private friends, but acquired such general esteem, that, notwithstanding the plainness of his appearance, suitable to the mediocrity of his fortune, he was not considered as a mere adventurer, to whom indigence had suggested a vifionary project, but was received as a person to whose propositions serious attention was due.
Ferdinand and Isabella, though fully occupied by their operations against the Moors, paid so much regard to Columbus, as to remit the confideration of his plan to the queen's confeffor, Ferdinand de Talavera. He consulted such of his countrymen as were supposed best qua. lified to decide with respect to a subject of this kind. But true science had, hitherto, made so little progress in Spain, that the pretended philosophers, selected to judge in a matter of such moment, did not comprehend the first principles upon which Columbus founded his conjec. tures and hopes. Some of them, from mistaken notions concerning the dimensions of the globe, contended that a voyage to those remote parts of the east, which Columbus expected to discover, could not be performed in less than three years. Others concluded, that either he would find the ocean to be of infinite extent, according to the opinion of some ancient philosophers; or, if he should perfift in steering towards the welt beyond a certain point, that the convex figure of the globe would prevent his return, and that he must inevitably perish, in the vain attempt to open a communication between the two opposite hemispheres, which nature had for ever disjoined. Even without deigning to enter into any particular discussion, many rejected the scheme in general, upon the credit of a maxim, under which the ignorant and unenterprising Thelter themselves in every age, « That it is presumptuous in any per. fon, to suppose that he alone possesses knowledge fuperior to all the rest of mankind united." They maintained, that if there were really any such countries as Columbus pretended, they could not have remained so long concealed, nor would the wisdom and fagacity of former ages have left the glory of this invention to an obscure Genoese pilot.
It required all Columbus's patience and address to negociate with men capable of advancing such strange propofitions. He had to contend not only with the obstinacy of ignorance, but with what is still more intractable, the pride of false knowledge. After innumerable conferences, and wafting five years in fruitless endeavours to inform and to satisfy judges so little capable of deciding with propriety, Talavera, at last, made such an unfavourable report to Ferdinand and Isabella, as induced them to acquaint Columbus, that until the war with the Moors should be