Christopher Columbus and His Monument Columbia Part 14

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The ocean encircles the ultimate bounds of the inhabited earth, and all beyond it is unknown. No one has been able to verify anything concerning it, on account of its difficult and perilous navigation, its great obscurity, its profound depth, and frequent tempests; through fear of its mighty fishes and its haughty winds; yet there are many islands in it, some peopled, others uninhabited. There is no mariner who dares to enter into its deep waters; or, if any have done so, they have merely kept along its coasts, fearful of departing from them. The waves of this ocean, although they roll as high as mountains, yet maintain themselves without breaking, for if they broke it would be impossible for ship to plow them.


Prof. MAURICE FRANCIS EGAN. From an article, "Columbus the Christ-Bearer," in the New York _Independent_, June 2, 1892.

The caravels equipped at Palos were so unseaworthy, judged by the dangers of the Atlantic, that no crew in our time would have trusted in them. The people of Palos disliked this foreigner, Columbus. No man of Palos, except the Pinzons, ancient mariners, sympathized with him in his hopes. The populace overrated the risks of the voyage; the court, fortunately for Columbus, underrated them. The Admiral's own ships and his crew were not such as to inspire confidence. His friends, the friars, had somewhat calmed the popular feeling against the expedition; but ungrateful Palos never approved of it until it made her famous.


SAMUEL R. ELLIOTT, in the _Century Magazine_, September, 1892.

You have no heart? Ah, when the Genoese Before Spain's monarchs his great voyage planned, Small faith had they in worlds beyond the seas-- And _your_ Columbus yet may come to land!


RALPH WALDO EMERSON, the well-known American essayist, poet, and speculative philosopher. Born in Boston, May 25, 1803; died at Concord, April 27, 1882. From his essay on "Success," in _Society and Solitude_. Copyright, by Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., publishers, Boston, and with their permission.

Columbus at Veragua found plenty of gold; but, leaving the coast, the ship full of one hundred and fifty skillful seamen, some of them old pilots, and with too much experience of their craft and treachery to him, the wise Admiral kept his private record of his homeward path. And when he reached Spain, he told the King and Queen, "That they may ask all the pilots who came with him, Where is Veragua? Let them answer and say, if they know, where Veragua lies. I a.s.sert that they can give no other account than that they went to lands where there was abundance of gold, but they do not know the way to return thither, but would be obliged to go on a voyage of discovery as much as if they had never been there before. There is a mode of reckoning," he proudly adds, "derived from astronomy, which is sure and safe to any who understands it."


From a poem, "Seash.o.r.e," by RALPH WALDO EMERSON. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston.

I with my hammer pounding evermore The rocky coast, smite Andes into dust, Strewing my bed, and, in another age, Rebuild a continent of better men.

Then I unbar the doors; my paths lead out The exodus of nations; I disperse Men to all sh.o.r.es that front the h.o.a.ry main.

I too have arts and sorceries; Illusion dwells forever with the wave.

I know what spells are laid. Leave me to deal With credulous and imaginative man; For, though he scoop my water in his palm, A few rods off he deems it gems and clouds.

Planting strange fruits and sunshine on the sh.o.r.e, I make some coast alluring, some lone isle, To distant men, who must go there, or die.


From the Drake Drinking Fountain, Chicago.

(See page 118.)]


Columbus alleged, as a reason for seeking a continent in the West, that the harmony of nature required a great tract of land in the western hemisphere to balance the known extent of land in the eastern.--_Ibid._


EDWARD EVERETT, a distinguished American orator, scholar, and statesman. Born at Dorchester, Ma.s.s., April 11, 1794; died, January 15, 1865. From a lecture on "The Discovery of America,"

delivered at a meeting of the Historical Society of New York in 1853.

No chapter of romance equals the interest of this expedition. The most fascinating of the works of fiction which have issued from the modern press have, to my taste, no attraction compared with the pages in which the first voyage of Columbus is described by Robertson, and still more by our own Irving and Prescott, the last two enjoying the advantage over the great Scottish historian of possessing the lately discovered journals and letters of Columbus himself. The departure from Palos, where a few years before he had begged a morsel of bread and a cup of water for his way-worn child; his final farewell to the Old World at the Canaries; his entrance upon the trade-winds, which then for the first time filled a European sail; the portentous variation of the needle, never before observed; the fearful course westward and westward, day after day and night after night, over the unknown ocean; the mutinous and ill-appeased crew; at length, when hope had turned to despair in every heart but one, the tokens of land--the cloud banks on the western horizon, the logs of driftwood, the fresh shrub floating with its leaves and berries, the flocks of land birds, the shoals of fish that inhabit shallow water, the indescribable smell of the sh.o.r.e; the mysterious presentment that seems ever to go before a great event; and finally, on that ever memorable night of October 12, 1492, the moving light seen by the sleepless eye of the great discoverer himself from the deck of the Santa Maria, and in the morning the real, undoubted land swelling up from the bosom of the deep, with its plains and forests, and hills and rocks and streams, and strange new races of men. These are incidents in which the authentic history of the discovery of our continent exceeds the specious wonders of romance, as much as gold excels tinsel, or the sun in the heavens outshines the flickering taper.


Dominicans may deride thy discoveries now; but the time will come when from two hundred observatories, in Europe and America, the glorious artillery of science shall nightly a.s.sault the skies; but they shall gain no conquests in those glittering fields before which thine shall be forgotten. Rest in peace, great Columbus of the heavens![36] like him scorned, persecuted, broken-hearted.--_Ibid._


We find encouragement in every page of our country's history. Nowhere do we meet with examples more numerous and more brilliant of men who have risen above poverty and obscurity and every disadvantage to usefulness and honorable name. One whole vast continent was added to the geography of the world by the persevering efforts of a humble Genoese mariner, the great Columbus; who, by the steady pursuit of the enlightened conception he had formed of the figure of the earth, before any navigator had acted upon the belief that it was round, discovered the American continent. He was the son of a Genoese pilot, a pilot and seaman himself; and, at one period of his melancholy career, was reduced to beg his bread at the doors of the convents in Spain. But he carried within himself, and beneath a humble exterior, a _spirit_ for which there was not room in Spain, in Europe, nor in the then known world; and which led him on to a height of usefulness and fame beyond that of all the monarchs that ever reigned.--_Ibid._


The Venerable FREDERIC WILLIAM FARRAR, D. D., F. R. S., Archdeacon of Westminster. Born in Bombay, August 7, 1831. From his "Lectures and Addresses."

There are some who are fond of looking at the apparently trifling incidents of history, and of showing how the stream of centuries has been diverted in one or other direction by events the most insignificant. General Garfield told his pupils at Hiram that the roof of a certain court house was so absolute a watershed that the flutter of a bird's wing would be sufficient to decide whether a particular rain-drop should make its way into the Gulf of St. Lawrence or into the Gulf of Mexico. The flutter of a bird's wing may have affected all history. Some students may see an immeasurable significance in the flight of parrots, which served to alter the course of Columbus, and guided him to the discovery of North and not of South America.


JOHN FISKE, a justly celebrated American historian. Born at Hartford, Conn., March 30, 1842. From "The Discovery of America."[37]

It was generally a.s.sumed without question that the Admiral's theory of his discovery must be correct, that the coast of Cuba must be the eastern extremity of China, that the coast of Hispaniola must be the northern extremity of c.i.p.ango, and that a direct route--much shorter than that which Portugal had so long been seeking--had now been found to those lands of illimitable wealth described by Marco Polo. To be sure, Columbus had not as yet seen the evidences of this oriental splendor, and had been puzzled at not finding them, but he felt confident that he had come very near them and would come full upon them in a second voyage. There was n.o.body who knew enough to refute these opinions, and really why should not this great geographer, who had accomplished so much already which people had scouted as impossible--why should he not know what he was about? It was easy enough now to get men and money for the second voyage. When the Admiral sailed from Cadiz on September 25, 1493, it was with seventeen ships, carrying 1,500 men. Their dreams were of the marble palaces of Quinsay, of isles of spices, and the treasures of Prester John. The sovereigns wept for joy as they thought that such untold riches were vouchsafed them, by the special decree of Heaven, as a reward for having overcome the Moors at Granada and banished the Jews from Spain. Columbus shared these views, and regarded himself as a special instrument for executing the divine decrees. He renewed his vow to rescue the Holy Sepulcher, promising within the next seven years to equip at his own expense a crusading army of 50,000 foot and 4,000 horse; within five years thereafter he would follow this with a second army of like dimensions.

Thus n.o.body had the faintest suspicion of what had been done. In the famous letter to Santangel there is of course not a word about a new world. The grandeur of the achievement was quite beyond the ken of the generation that witnessed it. For we have since come to learn that in 1492 the contact between the eastern and the western halves of our planet was first really begun, and the two streams of human life which had flowed on for countless ages, apart, were thenceforth to mingle together. The first voyage of Columbus is thus a unique event in the history of mankind. Nothing like it was ever done before, and nothing like it can ever be done again. No worlds are left for a future Columbus to conquer. The era of which this great Italian mariner was the most ill.u.s.trious representative has closed forever.


JOHN FISKE, an American historian. Born in Connecticut, 1842. From "Washington and his Country."[38]

Learned men had long known that the earth is round, but people generally did not believe it, and it had not occurred to anybody that such a voyage would be practicable. People were afraid of going too far out into the ocean. A ship which disappears in the offing seems to be going down hill; and many people thought that if they were to get too far down hill, they could not get back. Other notions, as absurd as this, were entertained, which made people dread the "Sea of Darkness," as the Atlantic was often called. Accordingly, Columbus found it hard to get support for his scheme.

About fifteen years before his first voyage, Columbus seems to have visited Iceland, and some have supposed that he then heard about the voyages of the Northmen, and was thus led to his belief that land would be found by sailing west. He may have thus heard about Vinland, and may have regarded the tale as confirming his theory. That theory, however, was based upon his belief in the rotundity of the earth. The best proof that he was not seriously influenced by the Norse voyages, even if he had heard of them, is the fact that he never used them as an argument.

In persuading people to furnish money for his enterprise, it has been well said that an ounce of Vinland would have been worth a pound of talk about the shape of the earth.


JOHN MILNER FOTHERGILL, M. D., an English physician. Born at Morland in Westmoreland, April 11, 1841; died, 1888.

Columbus was an Italian who possessed all that determination which came of Norse blood combined with the subtlety of the Italian character. He thought much of what the ancients said of a short course from Spain to India, of Plato's Atlantic Island; and conceived the idea of sailing to India over the Atlantic. He applied to the Genoese, who rejected his scheme as impracticable; then to Portugal; then to Spain. The fall of Granada led to his ultimate success; and at last he set out into the unknown sea with a small fleet, which was so ill-formed as scarcely to reach the Canaries in safety. Soon after leaving them, the spirits of his crew fell, and then Columbus perceived that the art of governing the minds of men would be no less requisite for accomplishing the discoveries he had in view than naval skill and undaunted courage. He could trust himself only. He regulated everything by his sole authority; he superintended the execution of every order. As he went farther westward the hearts of his crew failed them, and mutiny was imminent.

But Columbus retained his serenity of mind even under these trying circ.u.mstances, and induced his crew to persevere for three days more.

Three critical days in the history of the world.


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