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handed and arbitrary authority. They murmured, they mutinied, they threw off all subordination, and sent to Spain constant complaints of the harshness and unbending severity of the admiral. In Spain, many of these men were connected with noble or influential families, for even the proudest names had been anxious to enlist some of their connexions in this new career of fortune, and their representations were soon borne to the throne, where Columbus, a foreigner and a stranger, had nothing to support him but his character and his services. We cannot then be surprised, if the jealous mind of Ferdinand was made to suspect that the authority which the admiral was disposed to exercise in his new government, was designed either to prepare for the establishment of an independent sovereignty, or to enable him to transfer these rich dominions to some other power, if his high claims should, by the Spanish court, be disallowed or disputed. Hence arose distrust and a constant disposition to control the plans of Columbus, and to lessen his authority.
But a far stronger motive with the Court of Spain for its neglect, its suspicions, its persecutions even of Columbus, was derived from the very magnitude of his discoveries. It has already been noticed, that in his negotiations with the Spanish Government, his claims had been lofty, his views magnificent. In the language of Mr. Irving, "neither poverty, neglect, ridicule nor contumely could shake his perseverance, nor make him descend to terms which he considered beneath the dignity of his enterprise." "In all his negotiations, he forgot his present obscurity, he forgot his present indigence; his ardent imagination realised the magnitude of his contemplated discoveries, and he felt himself negotiating about empire."
It was accordingly stipulated in the arrangements made with the Spanish Government, that Columbus should have for himself during life, and his heirs and successors forever, the office of admiral in all the lands he should discover, with similar honours and prerogatives to those enjoyed by the high admiral of Castile in his district: that he should be viceroy and governorgeneral over all the said lands and continents, with a conditional power of appointing to all separate governments; that he should be entitled to one tenth of all pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices and merchandize found or gained within his admiralty; that he or his lieutenant should be sole judge in all disputes arising out of the traffic between those countries and Spain, and at all after times, might contribute one eighth part of the expense in fitting out vessels to make discoveries, and receive one eighth part of the profit.
On the return of Columbus from what may be regarded as his triumphant voyage, these stipulations were not only confirmed, but in the moment of awakened admiration and gratitude, new favours were added to the original conditions. No rewards were considered too magnificent for services so extraordinary. But when these first impressions began to subside, when in truth every successive voyage to the western hemisphere was enlarging the authority which had been thus lavishly granted, and increasing beyond all estimates the domain over which this extensive authority was to be exercised, even the rulers of Spain became dissatisfied with the extent of their own concessions, alarmed at the mighty jurisdiction created by their own grants. Every discovery aggrandized this power, and every means, therefore, direct and indirect, were soon employed to reduce this exorbitant jurisdiction.
It seems to have been understood in a short time, if not openly avowed, that the authority granted to Columbus, should only extend over the territories he himself should personally discover. He was thus excluded from all those provinces, which, although disclosed by the inevitable results of his own enterprise, were not actually visited by himself. The necessary consequence of this decision was, that while obstructions were thrown in the way of his discoveries, every encouragement was granted to private adventurers. These cost the crown nothing, and claimed from it no peculiar privilege, even if eminently successful. It also followed from this unfriendly bias, that every complaint from those within the legal jurisdiction of the admiral, was favourably received; that measures were adopted obviously to circumscribe his authority, offices created that trenched on his privileges; commissioners appointed, who were authorised to investigate his conduct. By one of these, he was, as we have stated, sent home as a criminal in chains, and although released and acquitted without an inquiry or a trial, though sent again with a scanty equipment on his fourth voyage, as if to relieve his oppressors from his complaints, he was never permitted to resume his command; he was even in that voyage, denied access into the very ports where he ought to have been in the exercise of almost sovereign authority; and he finally expired, following the Court of Spain from province to province, soliciting an investigation into his imputed offences, or an acknowledgement of his unquestionable prerogatives.
This grant of power to Columbus, made when it was perhaps considered altogether insignificant, confirmed in the moment of unexpected and rapturous triumph, became the source of perpetual disquietude in every subsequent period of his life,
accelerated his death, and sent him broken-hearted to the grave.
The claims of the father were tardily, and but partially conceded to the son; and, finally, under many modifications, or rather by a compulsory compromise, other honours were, as equivalents, granted to his posterity.
If we could suppose the spirit of Columbus to look down on human events with earthly feelings, it might be a proud gratification to him, to perceive the honors, if not the high rewards, heaped upon his family, and to behold his offspring, the descendants of a Genoese mariner, connected by marriage, with branches of the royal families, both of Spain and Portugal.
Still more to view the destinies of those realms he first made known to civilized man, to mark the increasing improvements, prosperity and power of their rising empires, and the promise they hold out to mankind of light, liberty and happiness.
We should, perhaps, have mentioned that the mortifications which thickened around the declining years of Columbus, were heightened and multiplied by the loss of her who had been his first patron and constant friend. Isabella, of Castile, sunk into the grave, overwhelmed by domestic affliction. Three children, in the prime of life, perished before her eyes, and a fourth, her only surviving offspring, an idiot, either through idiosyncracy, or from the ill treatment of an unworthy husband, seemed by living, rather to aggravate than alleviate her misfortunes. How little could it have been foreseen, that the child of this unfortunate daughter, was destined to confer a new lustre not only on the crown of Spain, but on the imperial diadem of Austria, to be ranked among the most distinguished rulers of mankind, and to be celebrated equally for his good fortune, his valour and his wisdom? How little could it have been foreseen, that the brilliant reign of the Emperor Charles V. was to have been made more splendid, perhaps, to have been indebted for much of its great success, to the treasures which this Genoese adventurer had secured to the Spanish monarchy.
In speaking of the inhabitants of the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola, Mr. Irving has followed very closely the narratives of the old Spanish historians. These races have perished, their language has become extinct, no memorial remains of their existence, except the accounts of them which have been handed down to us by their conquerors; and it is now difficult to judge of the fidelity of these representations. When describing these hospitable and much abused people, and the islands on which they dwelt, not only Columbus, but succeeding writers, have VOL. II. NO. 3. 4.
coloured every scene and every occurrence with the tints of their own poetic imaginations, have broken forth in their accounts of the climate and of the country, in the most rapturous expressions, and in delineating the natives, have presented us with the most picturesque descriptions of rural life, in all its loveliness and all its primæval simplicity.
In this there has been much exaggeration. The mildness of the climate and the beauty of the scenery are still celebrated, but nature has not showered upon those regions unmingled blessings. Heat and moisture inflict on man, at least on European man, their usual concomitants of debility and disease. This was not perceived by Columbus on his first voyage, but as soon as settlements were commenced, the dangers of the climate became obvious; and of every band of adventurers, numbers perished prematurely under its inhospitable influence.
The numbers of the natives were undoubtedly overrated by the Spanish historians. Their state of society did not admit of a crowded population, neither could their means of subsistence have supported one. They had no domestic animals to contribute to their support, and the wild ones were small and not abundant. Indeed, to have depended on the chase for food, would at once have indicated sparse population and much uninhabited soil. They possessed many fine native fruits, but none that could supply a numerous people with constant and sufficient food. The plantain, which Humboldt represents as the all-sufficient luxury of the indolent indigenes of Mexico, was unknown to their ancestors. Like the sugar-cane, the coffee plant, and many other of the present productions of tropical America, it was a gift from the eastern hemisphere. Their esculent vegetables, maize and manioc, and the sweet potatoe (not the solanum now so extensively cultivated in the north of Europe and America, as intimated by Mr. Irving) required more extensive fields and more labour than were seen among these people, to maintain a dense population. Islands divided into many principalities, engaged in frequent hostilities, and subject to incursions from fierce tribes; scattered villages of twenty, forty or fifty huts, give us no idea of tribes that could collect easily 100,000 warriors in arms. (Vol. ii. p. 90.) In their habits and manners, we can discover scarcely any features of the North-American savage, and we should suppose the whole picture not only overcharged, but greatly distorted, were it not that when the same writers describe the natives of the Carribean Islands, or of the coast of Veragua, the jealous, dauntless and vindictive spirit of the continental tribes distinctly appear. We wish Mr. Irving could have found documents calculated to illus
trate accurately this topic. We know not that any vestige of their language has been preserved. Their very names, like those of the ancient Persians, in the pages of Herodotus, or of the Gauls, in the commentaries of Cæsar, have come down to us disguised, and accommodated to a foreign language.
Of this country and these people, as depicted by Mr. Irving from the glowing descriptions of the old historians, we shall present to our readers a few sketches.
"The ascent of this rugged defile presented formidable difficulties to the little army, encumbered as it was with various implements and munitions. There was nothing but an Indian foot-path, winding among rocks and precipices, or through brakes and thickets, entangled by the rich vegetation of a tropical forest. A number of high-spirited young cavaliers volunteered to open a route for the army. The youthful chivalry of Spain were accustomed to this kind of service in the Moorish wars; where it was often necessary, on a sudden, to open roads for the march of troops, and the conveyance of artillery across the mountains of Granada. Throwing themselves in the advance, with labourers and pioneers, whom they stimulated by their example, as well as by promises of liberal reward, they soon constructed the first road formed in the new world; and which was called El Puerto de los Hidalgos, or the Pass of the Gentlemen, in honour of the gallant cavaliers who effected it.*
"On the following day, the army toiled up this steep defile, and arrived to where the gorge of the mountain opened into the interior. Here a land of promise suddenly burst upon their view. It was the same glorious prospect which had delighted Ojeda and his companions. Below lay a vast and delicious plain, painted and enamelled, as it were, with all the rich variety of tropical vegetation. The magnificent forests presented that mingled beauty and majesty of vegetable forms, known only to these generous climates. Palms of prodigious height, and wide spreading mahogany trees, towered out of a chaos of variegated foliage. Á universal freshness and verdure was maintained by numerous streams, which wandered gleaming through the deep bosom of the woodland; while various villages and hamlets, peeping from among the trees, and the smoke of others rising out of the midst of the forests, gave signs of a numerous population. The luxuriant landscape extended as far as the eye could reach, until it appeared to melt away and mingle with the horizon. The Spaniards gazed with rapture upon this soft voluptuous country, which seemed to realize their ideas of a terrestrial paradise ; and Columbus, struck with its vast extent, gave it the name of the Vega Real, or Royal Plain.† Vol. i. pp. 366–367.
"In the soft regions of the Vega, the circling seasons brought each its store of fruits; and while some were gathered in full maturity, others were ripening on the boughs; and buds and blossoms gave promise of still future abundance. What need was there of garnering up, and anxiuously providing for coming days, to men who lived in a perpetual
* Hist. del Almirante, c. 50.
+ Las Casas, Hist. Ind. lib. c. 90, MS.