« ПредишнаНапред »
To a mind capable of forming and executing great designs as that of Columbus, these observations and authorities opeudied in full force with his sanguine and enterprizing temper; speculation led immedintely 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 on 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, His affection for his native country not extinguished by absence, he wished should reap the fruits of his labours and invention. With this view, he laid his scheme before the senate of Cenoa, and offered to sail under the banners of the republic, in quest of the new regions he expected to discover. But Columbus had resided so many years in foreign parte that his countrymen were unacquainted with his abilities and character; they therefore inconsiderately rejected his proposal, as the dream of a chimerical projector, and lost forever the opportunity of restoring their communwealth to its ancient splen dour.
Columbus was so little discouraged by the repulse which he had, received, that instead of relinquishing his object, he pursued itwith fresh ardour.
He next made an overture to John II. king of Portugal, whom he considered as having the second claim to his services. Here every thing seemed to promise him a more favourable reception. He applied to a monarch of an enterprising genius, no income petent judge in naval affairs, and proud of patronizing 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 skill of Columbus in his profession, as well as his personal good qualities, were well known; accordingly the king listened to him in the most gracious manner, and res ferred the consideration of his plan to Diego Ortiz, bishop of Ceuta, and two Jewish physicians, eminent cosmographers, whom he was accustomed to consult in matters of this kind. As he had in Genoa to combat with ignorance, in Lisbon prejudice, an enemy no less formidable, opposed him; the persons to whose decision his project was referred were the chief directors of the Portuguese navigation, and had advised to search for a passage to ludia 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 condemning their own theory, and of acknowledging his superior sagacity
After a fruitless and mortifying attendance, being teazed with captious questions, and starting innumerable objections, with a view of betraying him into such a particular explanation of his system, they deferred passing a final judgment, with respect to it; but secretly conspired to rob him of the honour and advantages which he expected from the success of his scheme, advising the king to despatch a vessel secretly, in order to attempt the proposed discovery, by following exactly the course which Columbus seemed to point out. The king, forgetting, on this occasion, 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; he returned, as might have been expected, without accomplishing any thing; execrating the project as equally extravagant and dangerous.
Upon discovering this dishonourable action, he instantly quitted the kingdom, and landed in Spain, towards the close of the year 1484, when he determined 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, at the same time, negociate with Henry VII, who was reputed one of the most sagacious, as well as opulent, princes in Europe. Colunibus entertained doubts and fears with respect to the reception of his proposals in the Spanish court.
Spain was engaged, at that juncture, in a dangerous war with Granada, the last of the Moorish kingdoms. The cautious and suspicious temper of Ferdinand was not congenial with bold and 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 beheld the amazing progress of discovery among their neighbours, the Portuguese, without making one attempt to imitate or rival them. Under circumstances so unfavourable, it was not likely that Columbus could make a rapid progress with a nation naturally slow and dilatory in performing all its resolutions
His character, however, was well adapted to that of the people, whose confidence and protection he solicited. He was grave, though courtly in his deportment; circumspect in his words and actions; irreproachable in bis morals; and exemplary in his attention to all the duties of religion. By these qualities he gained many private friends, and acquired such
general esteem, that he was considered 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 refer the consideration of his plan to the queen's confessor, Ferdinand de Talavera. He consulted such of his countrymen as were supposed best qualified to decide upon a subject of this nature: these pretended philosophers selected to judge in a matter of such moment, did not comprehend the first principles upon which Columbus founded his conjectures and hopes. Some of them, from mistaken notions, concerning the dimensions of the globe, contended that a voyage to those remote parts of the earth, which Columbus expected to discover, could not be performed in less than three years, others concluded he would find the ocean to be of infinite extent, according to the opinion of some ancient philosophers; or if he should persist in steering towards the west, 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 bad forever disjoined. Some contended that it was presumptuous in any person to suppose that he alone possessed knowledge superior to all the rest of mankind united; that if there were really any such countries as Columbus pretended, they could not have remained so long concealed, nor would the sagacity and wisdom of former ages have left the glory of this invention to an obscure Genoese pilot.
Colun bus's patience was put to the severest trial in listening to these ignorant and malicious insinuations: after innumerable conferences, and wasting five years in fruitless endeavours to inform and satisfy them, 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 brought to a final period, it was impossible for them to engage in any new and expensive enterprise.
This declaration Columbus considered as a total rejection of his proposals. But happily for mankind superiority of genius is usually accompanied with an ardent enthusiasm, which can neither be cooled by delays, nor damped by disappointments. The insolence of office may depress, but cannot extinguish it, as it soars above the littleness of human pride.
Columbus was of a sanguine temper, though he felt deeply the eruel blow given to his hopes, and retired immediately from a court where he had been long amused with vain expectations. His confidence in the justness of his own system did not forsake
and his impatience to demonstrate the truth of it became greater than ever.
Maving thus failed of success with sovereign states, he next applied to persons of inferior rank, and addressed the dukes of Medi. na, Sidonia, and Medina Celi, who, though subjects, were possessed of power and opulence sufficient for the enterprize which he projected. His proposals to them were, however, fruitless; they did not choose to countenance a scheme which Ferdinand had re. jected, even if they had approved of the enterprize. They were afraid of alarming the jealousy, and offending the pride of Ferdinand, by acting counter to his judgment. Such a succession of disappointments excited the most painful sensations; and his dis. tress was augmented by his not having received any accounts from his brother, whoin he had sent to the court of England. In bis voyage to that country, Bartholomew fell into the hands of pirates, who stripped him of every thing, and detained him a pris. oner several years. At length he made his escape, and arrived in England, but in such extreme indigence, that he was compell. ed to employ a considerable space of time in drawing and selling maps, in order to obtain as much money as would enable him to purchase a decent dress, in which he might venture to appear at court. He then laid before the king the proposals with which he had been entrusted by bis brother; and, notwithstanding Henry's excessive caution and parsimony, which rendered him averse to new and expensive undertakings, he received the overtures of Columbus with more approbation, than any monarch to whom they had hitherto been presented.
Columbus, in the meanwhile unacquainted with his brother's fate, and all hopes of succeeding in Spain being vanished, he resolved to visit the court of England in person. He had already made preparations for this purpose, and taken measures for the disposal of his children during his absence, when Juan Perez, the Prior of the monastery of Ribada, near Palos, in which they had been educated, earnestly solicited him to defer his journey for a short time. Perez was a man of considerable learning, and of some credit with queen Isabella, to whom he was personally known. Warmly attached to Columbus, and prompted by curiosity or friendship, he entered upon an accurate examination of his system, in conjunction with a physician, who was a good mathematician.
This investigation satisfied them so thoroughly with respect to the principles upon which Columnbus founded his opinion, that Perez, fearing his country would lose the glory and benefit of so grand an enterprize, ventured to write to Isabella, conjuring her to consider the matter over again, and with the attention it merited.
Isabella was so far moved by this representation, that she desired Perez to repair immediately to the village of Santa Fé, in which, on account of the siege of Granada, the court resided
at that time, that she might confer with him upon this important and interesting subject.
The first effect of their interview was a gracious invitation of Columbus back to court, accompanied with the present of a small sum to equip him for the journey. As there was a near prospect that the war with the Moors would be speedily brought to a happy issue, by the reduction of Granada, which would leave the nation at liberty to engage in new undertakings; this, as well as the mark of royal favour with which Columbus had lately been honoured, encouraged his friends to appear with greater confidence than formerly, in support of his scheme.
Of these, Alonzo de Quintanilla, comptroller of the finances in Castile, and Luis de Santangel, receiver of the ecclesiastical revenues in Arragon, whose zeal in promoting this great design, entitles their names to an honourable place in history; these gen tlemen introduced Columbus to many persons of high rank. and interested them warmly in his cause. Ferdinand's distrustful prudence could not easily be overcome, he considered the project as extravagant and chimerical; and in order at once to destroy the efforts of his partizans, and render them ineffectual, he employed, in the new negociation, persons who had formerly pronounced his scheme impracticable.
To their astonishment Columbus appeared before them with the same confident hopes of success as formerly, and insisted upon the same high recompense. He proposed that a small fleet should be fitted vut, under his command, to attempt a discovery, and demanded to be appointed perpetual and hereditary admiral and viceroy of all the seas and lands he should discover, and to have the tenth of the profits arising from them, settled irrevocabiy upon him and his descendants. At the same time, he offered to advance the eighth part of the sum necessary, for accomplishing the design, on condition of his enjoying a proportional share of benefit from the adventure. If the enterprize should totally miscarry, he made no stipulation for any reward or emolument whatever.
Instead of viewing this last proposition as the clearest evidence of his full persuasion, with respect to the truth of his own system, or being struck with admiration with that magnanimity which, after so many delays and repulses, would stoop to nothing inferior to its original claims, the persons with whom Columbus treated, meanly ohjected to the expense of the expedition, and the value of the reward wbich he demanded.
The expense, they affirmed, would be too great for Spain, in the present exhausted state of its finances. They contended, the honours and emoluments claimed by Columbus, were exorbitant, even if he should perform the utmost of what he had proposed; and that if the expedition should prove abortive, such vast con