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ART. VII.-Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus. By Washington Irving. 12mo. pp. 337. London: Murray. 1831. THIS interesting little work forms one of the volumes of Mr. Murray's "Family Library," a title which, from the valuable and entertaining matter the collection contains, as well as from the careful style of its execution, it well deserves. No family, indeed, in which there are children to be brought up, ought to be without this "Library," as it furnishes the readiest resources for that selfeducation, which ought to accompany or to succeed that of the boarding-school or the academy, and is infinitely more conducive than either to the cultivation of the intellect.
Mr. Irving very naturally feels not a little enthusiasm as to every subject that is, in any way, connected with the discovery of America. We have already noticed, with applause, his voyages of the great navigator, whom he almost idolizes, and we are glad to observe, that that production has been epitomised for the "Family Library." His present volume relates the voyages and discoveries of the companions of Columbus, the disciples of the admiral, who, enkindled by his zeal, and instructed by his example, sallied forth, separately, in the vast region of adventure, to which he had led the way! The acquisition of gold and precious stones, concerning the abundance of which, in the new world, so many exciting rumours prevailed in Europe, and especially in Spain, in the early part of the sixteenth century, was, no doubt, the principal object which stimulated the enterprize of most of these successive bands of maritime adventurers. Some expected to monopolize the pearl fisheries of Paria and Cubaga; and some to occupy the golden Chersonesus of antiquity, which was then supposed to be situated near the coast of Veragua, and to have furnished the gold which Solomon used in building the temple of Jerusalem; while others, animated by a nobler ambition, addressed their hopes and energies to the accomplishment of that discovery, grander than every thing he had yet achieved, with which Columbus expected to crown the glories of his life. It was in pursuit of this object,—a continent in the South Sea,-that he made his last and most disastrous voyage; the wayward fate, by which he had been guided and harassed, from the commencement of his career, not permitting him to penetrate more than a few steps beyond the vestibule of that temple of future liberty and wealth, which he had disclosed to mankind.
The indefatigable labours of Navarrete have enabled Mr. Irving to trace the history of the followers of the admiral, in an authentic and satisfactory manner. Oviedo's General History, which unfortunately exists only in manuscript, in the library of the Seville cathedral; the Archives of the Indies, in Madrid, and the historical works of Herrera, Las Casas, Gomara, and Peter Martyr,
have also rendered him considerable assistance. The voyages of Alonzo de Ojeda, of Nino and Guerra, of Vicente Pinyon, and other small and not very successful adventurers, having been more or less touched upon in Mr. Irving's former production, we shall confine our attention principally to the adventures of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean. His life has recently been written, with great elegance, by M. J. Quintana, one of the few living authors of whom Spain can boast, and a scholar of whom any nation might be proud.
Vasco Nunez was one of the early adventurers, who hoped to better his fortunes by settling in the colony which was planted in St. Domingo. He belonged to one of those poor noble families which abound in Spain; was a good swordsman, and a person of considerable ability, though of loose and profligate habits. He had fixed himself upon a farm at Salvatierra, but having involved himself in debts which he had no prospect of discharging, he gladly availed himself of an opportunity which presented itself, of taking his departure from the island, as well as of gratifying his passion for change of scene, and enterprize. On the eve of the Bachelor Euciso sailing upon his expedition from St. Domingo, Vasco Nunez, in order to escape the vigilance of his creditors, who kept a close watch on the shore, to prevent him, as well as several others who owed large sums in the colony, from getting free, in this manner, from their obligations, concealed himself in a cask, which was removed from his farm on board Euciso's vessel, as if it were only filled with provisions for the voyage. When the vessel was fairly out at sea, Vasco Nunez emerged, like an apparition, from his cask, to the great surprise of Euciso, who had been totally ignorant of the stratagem. They soon, however, became good friends, although the fugitive afterwards repaid his protector with the ingratitude that usually forms part of the character of all adventurers. Having raised himself, by intrigue and talent, to the government of the settlement which was formed at Darien, he was determined to preserve his command by making large remittances to the Spanish treasury, and in order to accomplish his object, it was necessary to explore and plunder new territories. His arms were first directed against Careta, the cacique of Coyba, in the isthmus of Darien, from whose residence he returned with two brigantines, loaded with booty and captives. Among the latter, was the daughter of the cacique, a young and beautiful girl, of whom the Spaniard became enamoured. She became his wife, after the fashion of the country, and to his excessive fondness for her, he subsequently owed his ruin. Thus, in every region, we see that love exercises, upon the fortunes of man, an irresistible influence.
The father of the fair captive, induced Nunez to assist him in a war which he was carrying on against a neighbouring cacique; after chastising and plundering the foe, he paid a friendly visit to another cacique, the lord of Comagree, a province situated in a
beautiful plain, at the foot of a lofty mountain. The scene of his interview with the cacique, which ultimately led to his discovery of the Pacific, is described by Mr. Irving with his usual graphic power.
'On the approach of Vasco Nunez, the cacique came forth to meet him, attended by seven sons, all fine young men, the offspring of his various wives. He was followed by his principal chiefs and warriors, and Ly a multitude of his people. The Spaniards were conducted with great ceremony to the village, where quarters were assigned them, and they were furnished with abundance of provisions, and men and women were appointed to attend upon them.
The dwelling of the cacique surpassed any they had yet seen for magnitude, and for the skill and solidity of the architecture. It was one hundred and fifty paces in length, and eighty in breadth, founded upon great logs, surrounded with a stone wall; while the upper part was of woodwork, curiously interwoven, and wrought with such beauty as to fill the Spaniards with surprise and admiration. It contained many commodious apartments. There were store-rooms also; one filled with bread, with venison, and other provisions; another with various spirituous beverages, which the Indians make from maize, from a species of the Palm, and from roots of different kinds. There was also a great hall in a retired and secret part of the building, wherein Comagree preserved the bodies of his ancestors and relatives. These had been dried by the fire, so as to free them from corruption, and afterwards wrapped in mantles of cotton, richly wrought and interwoven with pearls and jewels of gold, and with certain stones held precious by the natives. They were then hung about the hall with cords of cotton, and regarded with great reverence, if not a species. of religious devotion.
Among the sons of the cacique, the eldest was of a lofty and generous spirit, and distinguished above the rest by his superior intelligence and sagacity. Perceiving, says old Peter Martyr, that the Spaniards were a" wandering kind of men, living only by shifts and spoil," he sought to gain favour for himself and family by gratifying their avarice. He gave Vasco Nunez and Colmenares, therefore, four thousand ounces of gold, wrought into various ornaments, together with sixty slaves, being captives that he had taken in the wars. Vasco Nunez ordered one-fifth of the gold to be weighed out and set apart for the crown, and the rest to be shared among his followers.
The division of the gold took place in the porch of the dwelling of Comagree, in the presence of the youthful cacique who had made the gift. As the Spaniards were weighing it out, a violent quarrel arose among them as to the size and value of the pieces which fell to their respective shares. The high-minded savage was disgusted at this sordid brawl among beings whom he had regarded with such reverence. In the first impulse of his disdain he struck the scales with his fist, and scattered the glittering gold about the porch. Before the strangers could recover their astonishment at this sudden act, he thus addressed them, "Why should you quarrel for such a trifle? If this gold is indeed so precious in your eyes, that for it alone you abandon your homes, invade the peaceful lands of others, and expose yourself to such sufferings and perils, I will tell you of a region. where you may gratify your wishes to the utmost. Behold those lofty
mountains," continued he, pointing to the south; "beyond these lies a mighty sea, which may be discerned from their summit. It is navigated by people who have vessels almost as large as yours, and furnished, like them, with sails and oars. All the streams which flow down the southern side of those mountains into that sea abound in gold; and the kings who reign upon its borders eat and drink out of golden vessels. Gold, in fact, is as plentiful and common among those people of the south, as iron is among you Spaniards." —Family Library, No. xviii., pp. 146-148.
It may be imagined, that this intelligence was not lost upon Nunez. He eagerly enquired into the means of penetrating to such a paradise of riches, and was told that he would find it a task attended with many difficulties; as he would have to pass through the territories of several caciques, who would oppose him with hosts of warriors, and also be exposed to the attacks of cannibals, and lawless hordes of other wandering savages. These difficulties had no terrors for Nunez; they rather nerved his courage with new strength, and his whole mind was now devoted to the discovery of the sea beyond the mountains, to which he looked forward as the source of fortune, as well as of fame. Anxious as he was to commence his enterprise, he did not quit the cacique, without baptising him and his whole family- thus singularly,' as Mr. Irving truly observes, 'did avarice and religion go hand in hand, in the conduct of the Spanish discoverers.'
Upon returning to the seat of his own government, Nunez wisely reflected, that he had not sufficient force to conquer his way to the new ocean; he, therefore, remitting at the same time a considerable sum of money, made application to the colony, established at St. Domingo, for assistance. While waiting the result of his request, he undertook a minor expedition, in search of a golden temple, which was reported to him as existing in the province of Dobayba―so called, according to Indian tradition, from a mighty female of the olden time, the mother of the god who created the sun and moon, and all good things.' In the course of his search after this famous temple, he encountered a thousand difficulties and misfortunes. On ascending one of the minor streams of the Rio Negro, he discovered a whole nation, living in huts, built among the branches of immense and lofty trees, who, having drawn up the ladders by which their dwellings were made accessible from below, refused to enter into any communication with the invader. By threatening to cut up their houses, root and branch, Nunez, however, prevailed upon them to surrender. He demanded gold, which they had not, as they assured him that they stood in no need of it; but, upon being pressed, their cacique promised, if he were allowed to visit a distant mountain, to return laden with the desired metal. He was allowed to take his departure, but he never returned. Although Nunez was thus baffled in his thirst for booty, and in his searches for the golden temple, yet the discovery of the
latter, for a long time, continued to be a favourite object of pursuit among the adventurers of Darien.
Having received a small reinforcement from St. Domingo, Nunez at length set out, in the month of September, 1513, upon his grand expedition in quest of the southern sea. In order to compensate, in some measure, for the paucity of his forces, he was attended by a number of Indians, and of ferocious blood-hounds. By means of these animals, and his fire-arms, Nunez overcame the opposition of several hostile caciques, and although he lost a majority of his followers by sickness and fatigue, he penetrated to the neighbourhood of the mountain, from the top of which, they were told, they would see the ocean spread before them. Here they rested for the night. The result is told by Mr. Irving in his best style.
The day had scarce dawned, when Vasco Nunez and his followers set forth from the Indian village, and began to climb to the height. It was a severe and rugged toil for men so way worn: but they were filled with new ardour at the idea of the triumphant scene that was so soon to repay them for all their hardships.
'About ten o'clock in the morning they emerged from the thick forests through which they had hitherto struggled, and arrived at a lofty and airy region of the mountain. The bald summit alone remained to be ascended; and their guides pointed to a moderate eminence from which they said the southern sea was visible.
Upon this Vasco Nunez commanded his followers to halt, and that no man should stir from his place. Then, with a palpitating heart, he ascended alone the bare mountain-top. On reaching the summit the long-desired prospect burst upon his view. It was as if a new world were unfolded to him, separated from all hitherto known by this mighty barrier of mountains. Below him extended a vast chaos of rock and forest, and green savannahs and wandering streams, while at a distance the waters of the promised ocean glittered in the morning sun.
At this glorious prospect Vasco Nunez sank upon his knees, and poured out thanks to God for being the first European to whom it was given to make that discovery. He then called his people to ascend: "Behold my friends," said he, "that glorious sight which we have so much desired. Let us give thanks to God that he has granted us this great honour and advantage. Let us pray to him to guide and aid us to conquer the sea and land which we have discovered, and which Christian has never entered to preach the holy doctrine of the Evangelists. As to yourselves, be as you have hitherto been, faithful and true to me, and by the favour of Christ you will become the richest Spaniards that have ever come to the Indies; you will render the greatest services to your king that ever vassal rendered to his lord; and you will have the eternal glory and advantage of all that is here discovered, conquered, and converted to our holy Catholic faith.”
The Spaniards answered this speech by embracing Vasco Nunez and promising to follow him to death. Among them was a priest, named Andres de Vera, who lifted up his voice and chaunted Te Deum laudamus -the usual anthem of Spanish discoverers. The rest, kneeling down,