Page images






Diz Discoveries, Misfortunes, and Death. -- Amerigo Vespucci, and the name



For nearly fifteen hundred years after the birth of our CHAP Saviour, the great Western Continent was unknown to the inhabitants of the Old World.

1492. The people of Europe had looked upon the Atlantic Ocean as a boundless expanse of water, surrounding the land and stretching far away they knew not whither. This vast unknown, their imaginations had peopled with all sorts of terrible monsters, ever ready to devour those who should rashly venture among them. But the cloudil of mystery and superstition that hung over this world of waters was now to be dispelled--a spirit of discovery was awakened in Europe.

The Azores and Madeira Isles were already known. Mariners, driven out by adverse winds, had discovered them. Tradition told of islands still farther west, but as yet no one had gone in search of them. The attention of the people of maritime Europe was turned in the opposite direction; they wished to find a passage by water to the eastern coasts of Asia. The stories told by those early


CHAP. travellers, Sir John Mandeville and Marco Polo, had

fired their imaginations ; they believed that among those 1492. distant regions of which they wrote, so abundant in pre

cious stones, diamonds, and gold, was the veritable land of Ophir itself. Their intense desire to obtain the treasures of India, led to a result most important in the world's history—a result little anticipated, but which was to have a never-ending influence upon the destinies of the human family—the discovery of America.

As God had ordered, there appeared at this time a remarkable man; a man whose perseverance, no less than his genius, commands our respect. He was a native of Genoa, one of the great commercial cities of Italy. He had been from his childhood familiar with the sea, and had visited the most distant portions of the world then known. His time and talents were devoted to the study of navigation, geography, and astronomy. He began to astonish his countrymen with strange notions about the world. He boldly asserted that it was round, instead of

that it went around the sun instead of the sun going around it; and moreover, that day and night were caused by its revolution on its axis. These doctrines the priests denounced as contrary to those of the church. He could not convince these learned gentlemen by his arguments, neither could they silence him by their ridicule. When he ventured to assert that by sailing west, he could reach the East Indies, these philosophers questioned not only the soundness of his theory, but that of his intellect. For years he labored to obtain the means to explore the great western ocean, to prove that it was the pathway to the coveted treasures of the East. This remarkable man was Christopher Columbus.

He applied first to John the Second, king of Portugal, to aid him in his enterprise, but without success; he then applied to Henry the Seventh, king of England, with a similar result. After years of delay and disappointment,

flat ;




his project having been twice rejected by the Spanish CHAP. court, and he himself branded as a wild enthusiast, he succeeded in enlisting in its favor the benevolent Isabella, 1492. Queen of Spain. She offered to pledge her private jewels to obtain means to defray the expenses of the expedition. Thus the blessings, which have accrued to the world from the discovery of America, may be traced to the beneficence of one of the noblest of women.

A little more than three hundred and fifty years ago, on Friday, the 3d of August, 1492, Columbus sailed from the little port of Palos, in Spain.

He confidently launched forth upon the unknown ocean. His three little vessels were mere sail-boats compared with the magnificent ships that now pass over the same waters. He sailed on and on, day after day, and at length came within the influence of the trade winds, which without intermission urged his vessels toward the west. The sailors began to fear-if these winds continued, they never could return. They noticed the variation of the compass ; it no longer pointed to the pole,—was this mysterious, but hitherto trusty friend, about to fail them ?

Ten weeks had already elapsed, and the winds were still bearing them farther and farther from their homes. It is true, there were many indications that land was near; land birds were seen ; land weeds, a bush with fresh berries upon it, and a cane curiously carved, were found floating in the water. Again and again, from those on the watch, was heard the cry of land, but as often the morning sun dispelled the illusion ; they had been deceived by the evening clouds that fringed the western horizon. Now, the sailors terror-stricken, became mutinous, and clamored to return. They thought they had sinned in venturing so far from land, and as a punishment were thus lured on to perish amid the dangers with which their imaginations had filled the waste of waters.

Columbus alone was calm and hopeful ; in the midst


CHAP. of all these difficulties, he preserved the courage and noble

self-control that so dignifies his character. His confidence 1492. in the success of his enterprise, was not the idle dream of

a mere enthusiast ; it was founded in reason, it was based on science. His courage was the courage of one, who, in the earnest pursuit of truth, loses sight of every personal consideration. He asked only for a little more time, that he might prove to others the truth of what he himself so firmly believed. When lo! the following night the land breeze, fragrant with the perfume of flowers, greeted them; never was it more grateful to the worn and weary sailor. The ships were ordered to lie to, lest they should run upon rocks. Suddenly the ever watchful eye of Columbus saw a light, a moving light! The alternations of hope and fear, the visions of fame and greatness, or the higher aspirations that may have filled his soul on that eventful night,

are more easily imagined than described. Frid., The next morning, they saw lying before them in all Oct. 12.

its luxuriant beauty an island, called by the natives Guanahani, but renamed by Columbus, San Salvador, or Holy Saviour.

With a portion of his crew he landed. Falling on their knees, they offered thanksgivings to God, who had crowned their labors with success.

Columbus raised a banner, and planted a cross, and thus took formal possession of the land in the names of his sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella. The awe-stricken natives watched the ceremony from amid the groves ; they thought the white strangers were the children of the sun, their great deity. Alas! the cross did not prove to them the emblem of peace and good-will !

Columbus explored this island-one of the Bahama group--and discovered others, now known as the West Indies. Thus he spent three months; then taking with

him seven of the natives, he sailed for home. On the 15th 1493. of March he arrived at Palos. From that port to the court




at Barcelona, his progress was a triumphal procession. He CHAP. was graciously received by the King and Queen, who appointed him Viceroy or Governor of all the countries he 1493. had or should discover. They conferred upon him and his family titles of nobility, and permission to use a coat of arms. The day he made his discovery, was the day of his triumph; this day was the recognition of it by his patrons and by the world. His past life had been one of unremitting toil and hope deferred ; but in the future were bright prospects for himself and his family. But his title, the object of his honorable ambition, proved the occasion of all his after sorrows. The honors so justly conferred upon him, excited the jealousy of the Spanish nobility.

From this time his life was one continued contest with his enemies. He made more voyages, and more discoveries in the West Indies. On his third voyage he saw the main- 1493. land at the mouth of the Orinoco. It seems never to have occurred to him, that a river so large must necessarily drain a vast territory. He supposed the lands he had discovered were islands belonging to Cathay, or Farther India; from this circumstance the natives of the New World were called Indians. It is more than probable Columbus died without knowing that he had found a great continent.

After a few ycars his enemies so far prevailed, that on a false accusation he was sent home in chains from the island of Hispaniola. Isabella, indignant at the treatment he had received, ordered them to be taken off, and all his rights and honors restored. Ferdinand promised to aid her in rendering him justice, and in punishing his enemies ; but, double-dealing and ungenerous, he did neither. To the misfortunes of Columbus was added the death of Isabella, his kind and generous patroness. And now he was openly maligned and persecuted. Their work was soon done ; in a short time he died, worn out by disease and

« PreviousContinue »