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THE ADMIRATION OF A CAREFUL CRITIC.
HENRY HARRISSE, a celebrated Columbian critic, in his erudite and valuable work, "Columbus and the Bank of St. George."
Nor must you believe that I am inclined to lessen the merits of the great Genoese or fail to admire him. But my admiration is the result of reflection, and not a blind hero-worship. Columbus removed out of the range of mere speculation the idea that beyond the Atlantic Ocean lands existed and could be reached by sea, made of the notion a fixed fact, and linked forever the two worlds. That event, which is unquestionably the greatest of modern times, secures to Columbus a place in the pantheon dedicated to the worthies whose courageous deeds mankind will always admire.
[Ill.u.s.tration: PORTRAIT OF COLUMBUS, BY SIR ANTONIO MORO.
Used by Washington Irving to ill.u.s.trate his "Life of Columbus." From the original in the possession of Mr. C. F. Gunther of Chicago. (See pages 52 and 113.)]
But our grat.i.tude must not carry us beyond the limits of an equitable appreciation. Indiscriminate praise works mischief and injustice. When tender souls represent Columbus as being constantly the laughing-stock of all, and leading a life of misery and abandonment in Spain, they do injustice to Deza, to Cabrera, to Quintanilla, to Mendoza, to Beatrice de Bobadilla, to Medina-Celi, to Ferdinand and Isabella, and probably a host of others who upheld him as much as they could from the start. When blind admirers imagine that the belief in the existence of transatlantic countries rushed out of Columbus' cogitations, complete, unaided, and alone, just as Minerva sprang in full armor from the head of Jupiter, they disregard the efforts of numerous thinkers who, from Aristotle and Roger Bacon to Toscanelli, evolved and matured the thought, until Columbus came to realize it. When dramatists, poets, and romancers expatiate upon the supposed spontaneous or independent character of the discovery of America, and ascribe the achievement exclusively to the genius of a single man, they adopt a theory which is discouraging and untrue.
No man is, or ever was, ahead of his times. No human efforts are, or ever were, disconnected from a long chain of previous exertions; and this applies to all the walks of life. When a great event occurs, in science as in history, the hero who seems to have caused it is only the embodiment and resulting force of the meditations, trials, and endeavors of numberless generations of fellow-workers, conscious and unconscious, known and unknown.
When this solemn truth shall have been duly instilled into the minds of men, we will no longer see them live in the constant expectation of Messiahs and providential beings destined to accomplish, as by a sort of miracle, the infinite and irresistible work of civilization. They will rely exclusively upon the concentrated efforts of the whole race, and cherish the encouraging thought that, however imperceptible and insignificant their individual contributions may seem to be, these form a part of the whole, and finally redound to the happiness and progress of mankind.
THE CARE OF THE NEW WORLD.
DAVID HARTLEY, a celebrated English physician and philosopher. Born at Armley, near Leeds, 1705; died, 1757.
Those who have the first care of this New World will probably give it such directions and inherent influences as may guide and control its course and revolutions for ages to come.
THE TRIBUTE OF HEINRICH HEINE.
HEINRICH HEINE. Born December 12, 1799, in the Bolkerstra.s.se at Dusseldorf; died in Paris, February 17, 1856.
Mancher hat schon viel gegeben, Aber jener hat der Welt Eine ganze Welt geschenkt Und sie heisst America.
Nicht befreien konnt'er uns Aus dem orden Erdenkerker Doch er wusst ihn zu erweitern Und die Kette zu verlangern
Some have given much already, But this man he has presented To the world an entire world, With the name America.
He could not set us free, out Of the dreary, earthly prison, But he knew how to enlarge it And to lengthen our chain.
COLUMBUS' AIM NOT MERELY SECULAR.
GEORGE WILHELM FRIEDRICH HEGEL, one of the most eminent philosophers of the German school of metaphysics. Born at Stuttgart in 1770; died in Berlin, 1831. From his "Philosophy of History."
A leading feature demanding our notice in determining the character of this period, might be mentioned that urging of the spirit outward, that desire on the part of man to become acquainted with his world. The chivalrous spirit of the maritime heroes of Portugal and Spain opened a new way to the East Indies and discovered America. This progressive step also involved no transgression of the limits of ecclesiastical principles or feeling. The aim of Columbus was by no means a merely secular one; it presented also a distinctly religious aspect; the treasures of those rich Indian lands which awaited his discovery were destined, in his intention, to be expended in a new crusade, and the heathen inhabitants of the countries themselves were to be converted to Christianity. The recognition of the spherical figure of the earth led man to perceive that it offered him a definite and limited object, and navigation had been benefited by the new-found instrumentality of the magnet, enabling it to be something better than mere coasting; thus technical appliances make their appearance when a need for them is experienced.
These events--the so-called revival of learning, the flourishing of the fine arts, and the discovery of America--may be compared with that _blush of dawn_ which after long storms first betokens the return of a bright and glorious day. This day is the day of universality, which breaks upon the world after the long, eventful, and terrible night of the Middle Ages.
THE BELIEF OF COLUMBUS.
SIR ARTHUR HELPS, a popular English essayist and historian. Born, 1813; died, March 7, 1875. From his "Life of Columbus" (1869).
Columbus believed the world to be a sphere; he underestimated its size; he overestimated the size of the Asiatic continent. The farther that continent extended to the east, the nearer it came round to Spain.
It has always been a favorite speculation with historians, and, indeed, with all thinking men, to consider what would have happened from a slight change of circ.u.mstances in the course of things which led to great events. This may be an idle and a useless speculation, but it is an inevitable one. Never was there such a field for this kind of speculation as in the voyages, especially the first one, of Columbus.
* * * The gentlest breeze carried with it the destinies of future empires.
* * * Had some breeze big with the fate of nations carried Columbus northward, it would hardly have been left for the English, more than a century afterward, to found those colonies which have proved to be the seeds of the greatest nation that the world is likely to behold.--_Ibid._
RELIGION TURNS TO FREEDOM'S LAND.
GEORGE HERBERT, an English poet. Born at Montgomery, Wales, 1593; died, 1632.
Religion stands on tiptoe in our land, Ready to pa.s.s to the American strand.
THE PERSONAL APPEARANCE OF COLUMBUS.
ANTONIO HERRERA Y TORDESILLAS, an eminent Spanish historian. Born at Cuellar in 1549; died, 1625.
Columbus was tall of stature, with a long and imposing visage. His nose was aquiline; his eyes blue; his complexion clear, and having a tendency to a glowing red; the beard and hair red in his youth, but his fatigues early turned them white.
AN INCIDENT OF THE VOYAGE.
FERNANDO HERRERA, Spanish poet, 1534-1597.
Many sighed and wept, and every hour seemed a year.
THE EFFECT OF THE DISCOVERY.
C. W. HODGIN, professor of history in Earlham College, Indiana.
From "Preparation for the Discovery of America."
The discovery of America by Columbus stands out in history as an event of supreme importance, both because of its value in itself and because of its reflex action upon Europe. It swept away the hideous monsters and frightful apparitions with which a superst.i.tious imagination had peopled the unknown Atlantic, and removed at once and forever the fancied dangers in the way of its navigation. It destroyed the old patristic geography and practically demonstrated the rotundity of the earth. It overthrew the old ideas of science and gave a new meaning to the Baconian method of investigation. It revolutionized the commerce of the world, and greatly stimulated the intellect of Europe, already awakening from the long torpor of the Dark Ages. It opened the doors of a new world, through which the oppressed and overcrowded population of the Old World might enter and make homes, build states, and develop a higher ideal of freedom than the world had before conceived.
But this event did not come to pa.s.s by accident, neither was it the result of a single cause. It was the culmination of a series of events, each of which had a tendency, more or less marked, to concentrate into the close of the fifteenth century the results of an _instinct_ to search over unexplored seas for unknown lands.
COLUMBUS THE FIRST DISCOVERER.
FRIEDRICH HEINRICH ALEXANDER, Baron VON HUMBOLDT, the ill.u.s.trious traveler, naturalist, and cosmographer. Born in Berlin, September 14, 1769; died there May 6, 1859. He has been well termed "The Modern Aristotle."
To say the truth, Vespucci shone only by reflection from an age of glory. When compared with Columbus, Sebastian Cabot, Bartolome Dias, and Da Gama, his place is an inferior one.
The majesty of great memories seems concentrated in the name of Christopher Columbus. It is the originality of his vast idea, the largeness and fertility of his genius, and the courage which bore up against a long series of misfortunes, which have exalted the Admiral high above all his contemporaries.