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Title: Christopher Columbus, Volume 1
       And The New World Of His Discovery, A Narrative

Author: Filson Young

Release Date: December 5, 2004 [EBook #4108]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, VOLUME 1 ***




Produced by David Widger





                         CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

                   AND THE NEW WORLD OF HIS DISCOVERY

                      A NARRATIVE BY FILSON YOUNG



                                  TO
                  THE RIGHT HON. SIR HORACE PLUNKETT,
                        K.C.V.O., D.C.L., F.R.S.

MY DEAR HORACE,

Often while I have been studying the records of colonisation in the New
World I have thought of you and your difficult work in Ireland; and I
have said to myself, "What a time he would have had if he had been
Viceroy of the Indies in 1493!"  There, if ever, was the chance for a
Department such as yours; and there, if anywhere, was the place for the
Economic Man.  Alas! there war only one of him; William Ires or Eyre, by
name, from the county Galway; and though he fertilised the soil he did it
with his blood and bones.  A wonderful chance; and yet you see what came
of it all.  It would perhaps be stretching truth too far to say that you
are trying to undo some of Columbus's work, and to stop up the hole he
made in Ireland when he found a channel into which so much of what was
best in the Old Country war destined to flow; for you and he have each
your places in the great circle of Time and Compensation, and though you
may seem to oppose one another across the centuries you are really
answering the same call and working in the same vineyard.  For we all set
out to discover new worlds; and they are wise who realise early that
human nature has roots that spread beneath the ocean bed, that neither
latitude nor longitude nor time itself can change it to anything richer
or stranger than what it is, and that furrows ploughed in it are furrows
ploughed in the sea sand.  Columbus tried to pour the wine of
civilisation into very old bottles; you, more wisely, are trying to pour
the old wine of our country into new bottles.  Yet there is no great
unlikeness between the two tasks: it is all a matter of bottling; the
vintage is the same, infinite, inexhaustible, and as punctual as the sun
and the seasons.  It was Columbus's weakness as an administrator that he
thought the bottle was everything; it is your strength that you care for
the vintage, and labour to preserve its flavour and soft fire.

                                        Yours,
                                             FILSON YOUNG.
RUAN MINOR, September 1906.




                                 PREFACE

The writing of historical biography is properly a work of partnership, to
which public credit is awarded too often in an inverse proportion to the
labours expended.  One group of historians, labouring in the obscurest
depths, dig and prepare the ground, searching and sifting the documentary
soil with infinite labour and over an area immensely wide.  They are
followed by those scholars and specialists in history who give their
lives to the study of a single period, and who sow literature in the
furrows of research prepared by those who have preceded them.  Last of
all comes the essayist, or writer pure and simple, who reaps the harvest
so laboriously prepared.  The material lies all before him; the documents
have been arranged, the immense contemporary fields of record and
knowledge examined and searched for stray seeds of significance that may
have blown over into them; the perspective is cleared for him, the
relation of his facts to time and space and the march of human
civilisation duly established; he has nothing to do but reap the field of
harvest where it suits him, grind it in the wheels of whatever machinery
his art is equipped with, and come before the public with the finished
product.  And invariably in this unequal partnership he reaps most richly
who reaps latest.

I am far from putting this narrative forward as the fine and ultimate
product of all the immense labour and research of the historians of
Columbus; but I am anxious to excuse myself for my apparent presumption
in venturing into a field which might more properly be occupied by the
expert historian.  It would appear that the double work of acquiring the
facts of a piece of human history and of presenting them through the
medium of literature can hardly ever be performed by one and the same
man.  A lifetime must be devoted to the one, a year or two may suffice
for the other; and an entirely different set of qualities must be
employed in the two tasks.  I cannot make it too clear that I make no
claim to have added one iota of information or one fragment of original
research to the expert knowledge regarding the life of Christopher
Columbus; and when I add that the chief collection of facts and documents
relating to the subject, the 'Raccolta Columbiana,'--[Raccolta di
Documenti e Studi Publicati dalla R. Commissione Colombiana, &c.  Auspice
il Ministero della Publica Istruzione.  Rome, 1892-4.]--is a work
consisting of more than thirty folio volumes, the general reader will be
the more indulgent to me.  But when a purely human interest led me some
time ago to look into the literature of Columbus, I was amazed to find
what seemed to me a striking disproportion between the extent of the
modern historians' work on that subject and the knowledge or interest in
it displayed by what we call the general reading public.  I am surprised
to find how many well-informed people there are whose knowledge of
Columbus is comprised within two beliefs, one of them erroneous and the
other doubtful: that he discovered America, and performed a trick with
an egg.  Americans, I think, are a little better informed on the subject
than the English; perhaps because the greater part of modern critical
research on the subject of Columbus has been the work of Americans.
It is to bridge the immense gap existing between the labours of the
historians and the indifference of the modern reader, between the
Raccolta Columbiana, in fact, and the story of the egg, that I have
written my narrative.

It is customary and proper to preface a work which is based entirely on
the labours of other people with an acknowledgment of the sources whence
it is drawn; and yet in the case of Columbus I do not know where to
begin.  In one way I am indebted to every serious writer who has even
remotely concerned himself with the subject, from Columbus himself and
Las Casas down to the editors of the Raccolta.  The chain of historians
has been so unbroken, the apostolic succession, so to speak, has passed
with its heritage so intact from generation to generation, that the
latest historian enshrines in his work the labours of all the rest.
Yet there are necessarily some men whose work stands out as being more
immediately seizable than that of others; in the period of whose care the
lamp of inspiration has seemed to burn more brightly.  In a matter of
this kind I cannot pretend to be a judge, but only to state my own
experience and indebtedness; and in my work I have been chiefly helped by
Las Casas, indirectly of course by Ferdinand Columbus, Herrera, Oviedo,
Bernaldez, Navarrete, Asensio, Mr. Payne, Mr. Harrisse, Mr. Vignaud,
Mr. Winsor, Mr. Thacher, Sir Clements Markham, Professor de Lollis,
and S. Salvagnini.  It is thus not among the dusty archives of Seville,
Genoa, or San Domingo that I have searched, but in the archive formed by
the writings of modern workers.  To have myself gone back to original
sources, even if I had been competent to do so, would have been in the
case of Columbian research but a waste of time and a doing over again
what has been done already with patience, diligence, and knowledge.  The
historians have been committed to the austere task of finding out and
examining every fact and document in connection with their subject; and
many of these facts and documents are entirely without human interest
except in so far as they help to establish a date, a name, or a sum of
money.  It has been my agreeable and lighter task to test and assay the
masses of bed-rock fact thus excavated by the historians for traces of
the particular ore which I have been seeking.  In fact I have tried to
discover, from a reverent examination of all these monographs, essays,
histories, memoirs, and controversies concerning what Christopher
Columbus did, what Christopher Columbus was; believing as I do that any
labour by which he can be made to live again, and from the dust of more
than four hundred years be brought visibly to the mind's eye, will not be
entirely without use and interest.  Whether I have succeeded in doing so
or not I cannot be the judge; I can only say that the labour of
resuscitating a man so long buried beneath mountains of untruth and
controversy has some times been so formidable as to have seemed hopeless.
And yet one is always tempted back by the knowledge that Christopher
Columbus is not only a name, but that the human being whom we so describe
did actually once live and walk in the world; did actually sail and look
upon seas where we may also sail and look; did stir with his feet the
indestructible dust of this old Earth, and centre in himself, as we all
do, the whole interest and meaning of the Universe.  Truly the most
commonplace fact, yet none the less amazing; and often when in the dust
of documents he has seemed most dead and unreal to me I have found
courage from the entertainment of some deep or absurd reflection; such as
that he did once undoubtedly, like other mortals, blink and cough and
blow his nose.  And if my readers could realise that fact throughout
every page of this book, I should say that I had succeeded in my task.

To be more particular in my acknowledgments.  In common with every modern
writer on Columbus--and modern research on the history of Columbus is
only thirty years old--I owe to the labours of Mr. Henry Harrisse, the
chief of modern Columbian historians, the indebtedness of the gold-miner
to the gold-mine.  In the matters of the Toscanelli correspondence and
the early years of Columbus I have followed more closely Mr. Henry
Vignaud, whose work may be regarded as a continuation and reexamination
--in some cases destructive--of that of Mr. Harrisse.  Mr. Vignaud's work
is happily not yet completed; we all look forward eagerly to the
completion of that part of his 'Etudes Critiques' dealing with the second
half of the Admiral's life; and Mr. Vignaud seems to me to stand higher
than all modern workers in this field in the patient and fearless
discovery of the truth regarding certain very controversial matters,
and also in ability to give a sound and reasonable interpretation to
those obscurer facts or deductions in Columbus's life that seem doomed
never to be settled by the aid of documents alone.  It may be unseemly in
me not to acknowledge indebtedness to Washington Irving,  but I cannot
conscientiously do so.  If I had been writing ten or fifteen years ago I
might have taken his work seriously; but it is impossible that anything
so one-sided, so inaccurate, so untrue to life, and so profoundly dull
could continue to exist save in the absence of any critical knowledge or
light on the subject.  All that can be said for him is that he kept the
lamp of interest in Columbus alive for English readers during the period
that preceded the advent of modern critical research.  Mr. Major's
edition' of Columbus's letters has been freely consulted by me, as it
must be by any one interested in the subject.  Professor Justin Winsor's
work has provided an invaluable store of ripe scholarship in matters of
cosmography and geographical detail; Sir Clements Markham's book, by far
the most trustworthy of modern English works on the subject, and a
valuable record of the established facts in Columbus's life, has proved a
sound guide in nautical matters; while the monograph of Mr. Elton, which
apparently did not promise much at first, since the author has followed
some untrustworthy leaders as regards his facts, proved to be full of a
fragrant charm produced by the writer's knowledge of and interest in
sub-tropical vegetation; and it is delightfully filled with the names of
gums and spices.  To Mr. Vignaud I owe special thanks, not only for the
benefits of his research and of his admirable works on Columbus, but also
for personal help and encouragement.  Equally cordial thanks are due to
Mr. John Boyd Thacher,  whose work, giving as it does so large a
selection of the Columbus documents both in facsimile, transliteration,
and translation, is of the greatest service to every English writer on
the subject of Columbus.  It is the more to be regretted, since the
documentary part of Mr. Thacher's work is so excellent, that in his
critical studies he should have seemed to ignore some of the more
important results of modern research.  I am further particularly indebted
to Mr. Thacher and to his publishers, Messrs.  Putnam's Sons, for
permission to reproduce certain illustrations in his work, and to avail
myself also of his copies and translations of original Spanish and
Italian documents.  I have to thank Commendatore Guido Biagi, the keeper
of the Laurentian Library in Florence, for his very kind help and letters
of introduction to Italian librarians; Mr. Raymond Beazley, of Merton
College, Oxford, for his most helpful correspondence; and Lord Dunraven
for so kindly bringing, in the interests of my readers, his practical
knowledge of navigation and seamanship to bear on the first voyage of
Columbus.  Finally my work has been helped and made possible by many
intimate and personal kindnesses which, although they are not specified,
are not the less deeply acknowledged.

September 1906.



                                 CONTENTS


THE INNER LIGHT

I         THE STREAM OF THE WORLD

II        THE HOME IN GENOA

III       YOUNG CHRISTOPHER

IV        DOMENICO

V         SEA THOUGHTS

VI        IN PORTUGAL

VII       ADVENTURES BODILY AND SPIRITUAL

VIII      THE FIRE KINDLES

IX        WANDERINGS WITH AN IDEA

X         OUR LADY OF LA RABIDA

XI        THE CONSENT OF SPAIN

XII       THE PREPARATIONS AT PALOS

XIII      EVENTS OF THE FIRST VOYAGE

XIV       LANDFALL




THE NEW WORLD

I         THE ENCHANTED ISLANDS

II        THE EARTHLY PARADISE

III       THE VOYAGE HOME

IV        THE HOUR OF TRIUMPH

V         GREAT EXPECTATIONS

VI        THE SECOND VOYAGE

VII       THE EARTHLY PARADISE REVISITED



DESPERATE REMEDIES

I         THE VOYAGE TO CUBA

II        THE CONQUEST OF ESPANOLA

III       UPS AND DOWNS

IV        IN SPAIN AGAIN

V         THE THIRD VOYAGE

VI        AN INTERLUDE

VII       THE THIRD VOYAGE (continued)



TOWARDS THE SUNSET

I         DEGRADATION

II        CRISIS IN THE ADMIRAL'S LIFE

III       THE LAST VOYAGE

IV        HEROIC ADVENTURES BY LAND AND SEA

V         THE ECLIPSE OF THE MOON

VI        RELIEF OF THE ADMIRAL

VII       THE HERITAGE OF HATRED

VIII      THE ADMIRAL COMES HOME

IX        THE LAST DAYS

X         THE MAN COLUMBUS






                          THY WAY IS THE SEA,
                   AND THY PATH IN THE GREAT WATERS,
                    AND THY FOOTSTEPS ARE NOT KNOWN.




THE INNER LIGHT

BOOK I.


CHAPTER I

THE STREAM OF THE WORLD

A man standing on the sea-shore is perhaps as ancient and as primitive a
symbol of wonder as the mind can conceive.  Beneath his feet are the
stones and grasses of an element that is his own, natural to him, in some
degree belonging to him, at any rate accepted by him.  He has place and
condition there.  Above him arches a world of immense void, fleecy
sailing clouds, infinite clear blueness, shapes that change and dissolve;
his day comes out of it, his source of light and warmth marches across
it, night falls from it; showers and dews also, and the quiet influence
of stars.  Strange that impalpable element must be, and for ever
unattainable by him; yet with its gifts of sun and shower, its furniture
of winged life that inhabits also on the friendly soil, it has links and
partnerships with life as he knows it and is a complement of earthly
conditions.  But at his feet there lies the fringe of another element,
another condition, of a vaster and more simple unity than earth or air,
which the primitive man of our picture knows to be not his at all.  It is
fluent and unstable, yet to be touched and felt; it rises and falls,
moves and frets about his very feet, as though it had a life and entity
of its own, and was engaged upon some mysterious business.  Unlike the
silent earth and the dreaming clouds it has a voice that fills his world
and, now low, now loud, echoes throughout his waking and sleeping life.
Earth with her sprouting fruits behind and beneath him; sky, and larks
singing, above him; before him, an eternal alien, the sea: he stands
there upon the shore, arrested, wondering.  He lives,--this man of our
figure; he proceeds, as all must proceed, with the task and burden of
life.  One by one its miracles are unfolded to him; miracles of fire and
cold, and pain and pleasure; the seizure of love, the terrible magic of
reproduction, the sad miracle of death.  He fights and lusts and endures;
and, no more troubled by any wonder, sleeps at last.  But throughout the
days of his life, in the very act of his rude existence, this great
tumultuous presence of the sea troubles and overbears him.  Sometimes in
its bellowing rage it terrifies him, sometimes in its tranquillity it
allures him; but whatever he is doing, grubbing for roots, chipping
experimentally with bones and stones, he has an eye upon it; and in his
passage by the shore he pauses, looks, and wonders.  His eye is led from
the crumbling snow at his feet, past the clear green of the shallows,
beyond the furrows of the nearer waves, to the calm blue of the distance;
and in his glance there shines again that wonder, as in his breast stirs
the vague longing and unrest that is the life-force of the world.

What is there beyond?  It is the eternal question asked by the finite of
the infinite, by the mortal of the immortal; answer to it there is none
save in the unending preoccupation of life and labour.  And if this old
question was in truth first asked upon the sea-shore, it was asked most
often and with the most painful wonder upon western shores, whence the
journeying sun was seen to go down and quench himself in the sea.  The
generations that followed our primitive man grew fast in knowledge, and
perhaps for a time wondered the less as they knew the more; but we may be
sure they never ceased to wonder at what might lie beyond the sea.  How
much more must they have wondered if they looked west upon the waters,
and saw the sun of each succeeding day sink upon a couch of glory where
they could not follow?  All pain aspires to oblivion, all toil to rest,
all troubled discontent with what is present to what is unfamiliar and
far away; and no power of knowledge and scientific fact will ever prevent
human unhappiness from reaching out towards some land of dreams of which
the burning brightness of a sea sunset is an image.  Is it very hard to
believe, then, that in that yearning towards the miracle of a sun
quenched in sea distance, felt and felt again in human hearts through
countless generations, the westward stream of human activity on this
planet had its rise?  Is it unreasonable to picture, on an earth spinning
eastward, a treadmill rush of feet to follow the sinking light?  The
history of man's life in this world does not, at any rate, contradict us.
Wisdom, discovery, art, commerce, science, civilisation have all moved
west across our world; have all in their cycles followed the sun; have
all, in their day of power, risen in the East and set in the West.


This stream of life has grown in force and volume with the passage of
ages.  It has always set from shore to sea in countless currents of
adventure and speculation; but it has set most strongly from East to
West.  On its broad bosom the seeds of life and knowledge have been
carried throughout the world.  It brought the people of Tyre and Carthage
to the coasts and oceans of distant worlds; it carried the English from
Jutland across cold and stormy waters to the islands of their conquest;
it carried the Romans across half the world; it bore the civilisation of
the far East to new life and virgin western soils; it carried the new
West to the old East, and is in our day bringing back again the new East
to the old West.  Religions, arts, tradings, philosophies, vices and laws
have been borne, a strange flotsam, upon its unchanging flood.  It has
had its springs and neaps, its trembling high-water marks, its hour of
affluence, when the world has been flooded with golden humanity; its ebb
and effluence also, when it has seemed to shrink and desert the kingdoms
set upon its shores.  The fifteenth century in Western Europe found it at
a pause in its movements: it had brought the trade and the learning of
the East to the verge of the Old World, filling the harbours of the
Mediterranean with ships and the monasteries of Italy and Spain with
wisdom; and in the subsequent and punctual decadence that followed this
flood, there gathered in the returning tide a greater energy and volume
which was to carry the Old World bodily across the ocean.  And yet, for
all their wisdom and power, the Spanish and Portuguese were still in the
attitude of our primitive man, standing on the sea-shore and looking out
in wonder across the sea.

The flood of the life-stream began to set again, and little by little to
rise and inundate Western Europe, floating off the galleys and caravels
of King Alphonso of Portugal, and sending them to feel their way along
the coasts of Africa; a little later drawing the mind of Prince Henry the
Navigator to devote his life to the conquest and possession of the
unknown.  In his great castle on the promontory of Sagres, with the voice
of the Atlantic thundering in his ears, and its mists and sprays bounding
his vision, he felt the full force of the stream, and stretched his arms
to the mysterious West.  But the inner light was not yet so brightly
kindled that he dared to follow his heart; his ships went south and south
again, to brave on each voyage the dangers and terrors that lay along the
unknown African coast, until at length his captains saw the Cape of Good
Hope.  South and West and East were in those days confusing terms; for it
was the East that men were thinking of when they set their faces to the
setting sun, and it was a new road to the East that they sought when they
felt their way southward along the edge of the world.  But the rising
tide of discovery was working in that moment, engaging the brains of
innumerable sages, stirring the wonder of innumerable mariners; reaching
also, little by little, to quarters less immediately concerned with the
business of discovery.  Ships carried the strange tidings of new coasts
and new islands from port to port throughout the Mediterranean; Venetians
on the lagoons, Ligurians on the busy trading wharves of Genoa, were
discussing the great subject; and as the tide rose and spread, it floated
one ship of life after another that was destined for the great business
of adventure.  Some it inspired to dream and speculate, and to do no more
than that; many a heart also to brave efforts and determinations that
were doomed to come to nothing and to end only in failure.  And among
others who felt the force and was swayed and lifted by the prevailing
influence, there lived, some four and a half centuries ago, a little boy
playing about the wharves of Genoa, well known to his companions as
Christoforo, son of Domenico the wool-weaver, who lived in the Vico
Dritto di Ponticello.




CHAPTER II

THE HOME IN GENOA

It is often hard to know how far back we should go in the ancestry of a
man whose life and character we are trying to reconstruct.  The life that
is in him is not his own, but is mysteriously transmitted through the
life of his parents; to the common stock of his family, flesh of their
flesh, bone of their bone, character of their character, he has but added
his own personality.  However far back we go in his ancestry, there is
something of him to be traced, could we but trace it; and although it
soon becomes so widely scattered that no separate fraction of it seems to
be recognisable, we know that, generations back, we may come upon some
sympathetic fact, some reservoir of the essence that was him, in which we
can find the source of many of his actions, and the clue, perhaps, to his
character.

In the case of Columbus we are spared this dilemma.  The past is reticent
enough about the man himself; and about his ancestors it is almost
silent.  We know that he had a father and grandfather, as all grandsons
of Adam have had; but we can be certain of very little more than that.
He came of a race of Italian yeomen inhabiting the Apennine valleys; and
in the vale of Fontanabuona, that runs up into the hills behind Genoa,
the two streams of family from which he sprang were united.  His father
from one hamlet, his mother from another; the towering hills behind, the
Mediterranean shining in front; love and marriage in the valley; and a
little boy to come of it whose doings were to shake the world.

His family tree begins for us with his grandfather, Giovanni Colombo of
Terra-Rossa, one of the hamlets in the valley--concerning whom many human
facts may be inferred, but only three are certainly known; that he lived,
begot children, and died.  Lived, first at Terra Rossa, and afterwards
upon the sea-shore at Quinto; begot children in number three--Antonio,
Battestina, and Domenico, the father of our Christopher; and died,
because one of the two facts in his history is that in the year 1444 he
was not alive, being referred to in a legal document as quondam, or, as
we should say, "the late."  Of his wife, Christopher's grandmother, since
she never bought or sold or witnessed anything requiring the record of
legal document, history speaks no word; although doubtless some pleasant
and picturesque old lady, or lady other than pleasant and picturesque,
had place in the experience or imagination of young Christopher.  Of the
pair, old Quondam Giovanni alone survives the obliterating drift of
generations, which the shores and brown slopes of Quinto al Mare, where
he sat in the sun and looked about him, have also survived.  Doubtless
old Quondam could have told us many things about Domenico, and his
over-sanguine buyings and sellings; have perhaps told us something about
Christopher's environment, and cleared up our doubts concerning his first
home; but he does not.  He will sit in the sun there at Quinto, and sip
his wine, and say his Hail Marys, and watch the sails of the feluccas
leaning over the blue floor of the Mediterranean as long as you please;
but of information about son or family, not a word.  He is content to
have survived, and triumphantly twinkles his two dates at us across the
night of time.  1440, alive; 1444, not alive any longer: and so hail and
farewell, Grandfather John.


Of Antonio and Battestina, the uncle and aunt of Columbus, we know next
to nothing.  Uncle Antonio inherited the estate of Terra-Rossa, Aunt
Battestina was married in the valley; and so no more of either of them;
except that Antonio, who also married, had sons, cousins of Columbus, who
in after years, when he became famous, made themselves unpleasant, as
poor relations will, by recalling themselves to his remembrance and
suggesting that something might be done for them.  I have a belief,
supported by no historical fact or document, that between the families of
Domenico and Antonio there was a mild cousinly feud.  I believe they did
not like each other.  Domenico, as we shall see presently, was sanguine
and venturesome, a great buyer and seller, a maker of bargains in which
he generally came off second best.  Antonio, who settled in Terra-Rossa,
the paternal property, doubtless looked askance at these enterprises from
his vantage-ground of a settled income; doubtless also, on the occasion
of visits exchanged between the two families, he would comment upon the
unfortunate enterprises of his brother; and as the children of both
brothers grew up, they would inherit and exaggerate, as children will,
this settled difference between their respective parents.  This, of
course, may be entirely untrue, but I think it possible, and even likely;
for Columbus in after life displayed a very tender regard for members of
his family, but never to our knowledge makes any reference to these
cousins of his, till they send emissaries to him in his hour of triumph.
At any rate, among the influences that surrounded him at Genoa we may
reckon this uncle and aunt and their children--dim ghosts to us, but to
him real people, who walked and spoke, and blinked their eyes and moved
their limbs, like the men and women of our own time.  Less of a ghost to
us, though still a very shadowy and doubtful figure, is Domenico himself,
Christopher's father.  He at least is a man in whom we can feel a warm
interest, as the one who actually begat and reared the man of our story.
We shall see him later, and chiefly in difficulties; executing deeds and
leases, and striking a great variety of legal attitudes, to the
witnessing of which various members of his family were called in.  Little
enough good did they to him at the time, poor Domenico; but he was a
benefactor to posterity without knowing it, and in these grave notarial
documents preserved almost the only evidence that we have as to the early
days of his illustrious son.  A kind, sanguine man, this Domenico, who,
if he failed to make a good deal of money in his various enterprises,
at least had some enjoyment of them, as the man who buys and sells and
strikes legal attitudes in every age desires and has.  He was a
wool-carder by trade, but that was not enough for him; he must buy
little bits of estates here and there; must even keep a tavern, where he
and his wife could entertain the foreign sailors and hear the news of
the world; where also, although perhaps they did not guess it, a sharp
pair of ears were also listening, and a pair of round eyes gazing, and
an inquisitive face set in astonishment at the strange tales that went
about.

There is one fragment of fact about this Domenico that greatly enlarges
our knowledge of him.  He was a wool-weaver, as we know; he also kept a
tavern, and no doubt justified the adventure on the plea that it would
bring him customers for his woollen cloth; for your buyer and seller
never lacks a reason either for his selling or buying.  Presently he is
buying again; this time, still with striking of legal attitudes, calling
together of relations, and accompaniments of crabbed Latin notarial
documents, a piece of ground in the suburbs of Genoa, consisting of scrub
and undergrowth, which cannot have been of any earthly use to him.  But
also, according to the documents, there went some old wine-vats with the
land.  Domenico, taking a walk after Mass on some feast-day, sees the
land and the wine-vats; thinks dimly but hopefully how old wine-vats, if
of no use to any other human creature, should at least be of use to a
tavern-keeper; hurries back, overpowers the perfunctory objections of his
complaisant wife, and on the morrow of the feast is off to the notary's
office.  We may be sure the wine-vats lay and rotted there, and furnished
no monetary profit to the wool-weaving tavern-keeper; but doubtless they
furnished him a rich profit of another kind when he walked about his
newly-acquired property, and explained what he was going to do with the
wine-vats.

And besides the weaving of wool and pouring of wine and buying and
selling of land, there were more human occupations, which Domenico was
not the man to neglect.  He had married, about the year 1450, one
Susanna, a daughter of Giacomo of Fontana-Rossa, a silk weaver who lived
in the hamlet near to Terra-Rossa.  Domenico's father was of the more
consequence of the two, for he had, as well as his home in the valley, a
house at Quinto, where he probably kept a felucca for purposes of trade
with Alexandria and the Islands.  Perhaps the young people were married
at Quinto, but if so they did not live there long, moving soon into
Genoa, where Domenico could more conveniently work at his trade.  The
wool-weavers at that time lived in a quarter outside the old city walls,
between them and the outer borders of the city, which is now occupied by
the park and public gardens.  Here they had their dwellings and
workshops, their schools and institutions, receiving every protection and
encouragement from the Signoria, who recognised the importance of the
wool trade and its allied industries to Genoa.  Cloth-weavers,
blanket-makers, silk-weavers, and velvet-makers all lived in this
quarter, and held their houses under the neighbouring abbey of San
Stefano.  There are two houses mentioned in documents which seem to have
been in the possession of Domenico at different times.  One was in the
suburbs outside the Olive Gate; the other was farther in, by St.
Andrew's Gate, and quite near to the sea.  The house outside the Olive
Gate has disappeared; and it was probably here that our Christopher
first saw the light, and pleased Domenico's heart with his little cries
and struggles. Neither the day nor even the year is certainly known, but
there is most reason to believe that it was in the year 1451.  They must
have moved soon afterwards to the house in the Vico Dritto di
Ponticello, No. 37, in which most of Christopher's childhood was
certainly passed.  This is a house close to St. Andrew's Gate, which
gate still stands in a beautiful and ruinous condition.

From the new part of Genoa, and from the Via XX Settembre, you turn into
the little Piazza di Ponticello just opposite the church of San Stefano.
In a moment you are in old Genoa, which is to-day in appearance virtually
the same as the place in which Christopher and his little brothers and
sisters made the first steps of their pilgrimage through this world.  If
the Italian, sun has been shining fiercely upon you, in the great modern
thoroughfare, you will turn into this quarter of narrow streets and high
houses with grateful relief.  The past seems to meet you there; and from
the Piazza, gay with its little provision-shops and fruit stalls, you
walk up the slope of the Vico Dritto di Ponticello, leaving the sunlight
behind you, and entering the narrow street like a traveller entering a
mountain gorge.

It is a very curious street this; I suppose there is no street in the
world that has more character.  Genoa invented sky-scrapers long before
Columbus had discovered America, or America had invented steel frames for
high building; but although many of the houses in the Vico Dritto di
Ponticello are seven and eight storeys high, the width of the street from
house-wall to house-wall does not average more than nine feet.  The
street is not straight, moreover; it winds a little in its ascent to the
old city wall and St. Andrew's Gate, so that you do not even see the sky
much as you look forward and upwards.  The jutting cornices of the roofs,
often beautifully decorated, come together in a medley of angles and
corners that practically roof the street over; and only here and there do
you see a triangle or a parallelogram of the vivid brilliant blue that is
the sky.  Besides being seven or eight storeys high, the houses are the
narrowest in the world; I should think that their average width on the
street front is ten feet.  So as you walk up this street where young
Christopher lived you must think of it in these three dimensions towering
slices of houses, ten or twelve feet in width: a street often not more
than eight and seldom more than fifteen feet in width; and the walls of
the houses themselves, painted in every colour, green and pink and grey
and white, and trellised with the inevitable green window-shutters of the
South, standing like cliffs on each side of you seven or eight rooms
high.  There being so little horizontal space for the people to live
there, what little there is is most economically used; and all across the
tops of the houses, high above your head, the cliffs are joined by wires
and clothes-lines from which thousands of brightly-dyed garments are
always hanging and fluttering; higher still, where the top storeys of the
houses become merged in roof, there are little patches of garden and
greenery, where geraniums and delicious tangling creepers uphold thus
high above the ground the fertile tradition of earth.  You walk slowly up
the paved street.  One of its characteristics, which it shares with the
old streets of most Italian towns, is that it is only used by
foot-passengers, being of course too narrow for wheels; and it is paved
across with flagstones from door to door, so that the feet and the
voices echo pleasantly in it, and make a music of their own.  Without
exception the ground floor of every house is a shop--the gayest, busiest
most industrious little shops in the world.  There are shops for
provisions, where the delightful macaroni lies in its various bins, and
all kinds of frugal and nourishing foods are offered for sale.  There
are shops for clothes and dyed finery; there are shops for boots, where
boots hang in festoons like onions outside the window--I have never seen
so many boot-shops at once in my life as I saw in the streets
surrounding the house of Columbus.  And every shop that is not a
provision-shop or a clothes-shop or a boot-shop, is a wine-shop--or at
least you would think so, until you remember, after you have walked
through the street, what a lot of other kinds of shops you have seen on
your way.  There are shops for newspapers and tobacco, for cheap
jewellery, for brushes, for chairs and tables and articles of wood;
there are shops with great stacks and piles of crockery; there are shops
for cheese and butter and milk--indeed from this one little street in
Genoa you could supply every necessary and every luxury of a humble
life.

As you still go up, the street takes a slight bend; and immediately
before you, you see it spanned by the lofty crumbled arch of St.
Andrew's Gate, with its two mighty towers one on each side.  Just as you
see it you are at Columbus's house.  The number is thirty-seven; it is
like any of the other houses, tall and narrow; and there is a slab built
into the wall above the first storey, on which is written this
inscription:--

                      NVLLA DOMVS TITVLO DIGNIOR
                                 HEIC
                          PATERNIS IN AEDIBV
                        CHRISTOPHORVS COLVMBVS
                               PVERITIAM
                      PRIMAMQVE IVVENTAM TRANSEGIT

You stop and look at it; and presently you become conscious of a
difference between it and all the other houses.  They are all alert,
busy, noisy, crowded with life in every storey, oozing vitality from
every window; but of all the narrow vertical strips that make up the
houses of the street, this strip numbered thirty-seven is empty, silent,
and dead.  The shutters veil its windows; within it is dark, empty of
furniture, and inhabited only by a memory and a spirit.  It is a strange
place in which to stand and to think of all that has happened since the
man of our thoughts looked forth from these windows, a common little boy.
The world is very much alive in the Vico Dritto di Ponticello; the little
freshet of life that flows there flows loud and incessant; and yet into
what oceans of death and silence has it not poured since it carried forth
Christopher on its stream!  One thinks of the continent of that New World
that he discovered, and all the teeming millions of human lives that have
sprung up and died down, and sprung up again, and spread and increased
there; all the ploughs that have driven into its soil, the harvests that
have ripened, the waving acres and miles of grain that have answered the
call of Spring and Autumn since first the bow of his boat grated on the
shore of Guanahani.  And yet of the two scenes this narrow shuttered
house in a bye-street of Genoa is at once the more wonderful and more
credible; for it contains the elements of the other.  Walls and floors
and a roof, a place to eat and sleep in, a place to work and found a
family, and give tangible environment to a human soul--there is all human
enterprise and discovery, effort, adventure, and life in that.


If Christopher wanted to go down to the sea he would have to pass under
the Gate of St. Andrew, with the old prison, now pulled down to make room
for the modern buildings, on his right, and go down the Salita del
Prione, which is a continuation of the Vico Dritto di Ponticello.  It
slopes downwards from the Gate as the first street sloped upwards to it;
and it contains the same assortment of shops and of houses, the same
mixture of handicrafts and industries, as were seen in the Vico Dritto di
Ponticello.  Presently he would come to the Piazza dell' Erbe, where
there is no grass, but only a pleasant circle of little houses and shops,
with already a smack of the sea in them, chiefly suggested by the shops
of instrument-makers, where to-day there are compasses and sextants and
chronometers.  Out of the Piazza you come down the Via di San Donato and
into the Piazza of that name, where for over nine centuries the church of
San Donato has faced the sun and the weather.  From there Christopher's
young feet would follow the winding Via di San Bernato, a street also
inhabited by craftsmen and workers in wood and metal; and at the last
turn of it, a gash of blue between the two cliffwalls of houses, you see
the Mediterranean.

Here, then, between the narrow little house by the Gate and the clamour
and business of the sea-front, our Christopher's feet carried him daily
during some part of his childish life.  What else he did, what he thought
and felt, what little reflections he had, are but matters of conjecture.
Genoa will tell you nothing more.  You may walk over the very spot where
he was born; you may unconsciously tread in the track of his vanished
feet; you may wander about the wharves of the city, and see the ships
loading and unloading--different ships, but still trafficking in
commodities not greatly different from those of his day; you may climb
the heights behind Genoa, and look out upon the great curving Gulf from
Porto Fino to where the Cape of the western Riviera dips into the sea;
you may walk along the coast to Savona, where Domenico had one of his
many habitations, where he kept the tavern, and whither Christopher's
young feet must also have walked; and you may come back and search again
in the harbour, from the old Mole and the Bank of St. George to where the
port and quays stretch away to the medley of sailing-ships and steamers;
but you will not find any sign or trace of Christopher.  No echo of the
little voice that shrilled in the narrow street sounds in the Vico
Dritto; the houses stand gaunt and straight, with a brilliant strip of
blue sky between their roofs and the cool street beneath; but they give
you nothing of what you seek.  If you see a little figure running towards
you in a blue smock, the head fair-haired, the face blue-eyed and a
little freckled with the strong sunshine, it is not a real figure; it is
a child of your dreams and a ghost of the past.  You may chase him while
he runs about the wharves and stumbles over the ropes, but you will never
catch him.  He runs before you, zigzagging over the cobbles, up the sunny
street, into the narrow house; out again, running now towards the Duomo,
hiding in the porch of San Stefano, where the weavers held their
meetings; back again along the wharves; surely he is hiding behind that
mooring-post!  But you look, and he is not there--nothing but the old
harbour dust that the wind stirs into a little eddy while you look.  For
he belongs not to you or me, this child; he is not yet enslaved to the
great purpose, not yet caught up into the machinery of life.  His eye has
not yet caught the fire of the sun setting on a western sea; he is still
free and happy, and belongs only to those who love him.  Father and
mother, brothers Bartolomeo and Giacomo, sister Biancinetta, aunts,
uncles, and cousins possibly, and possibly for a little while an old
grandmother at Quinto--these were the people to whom that child belonged.
The little life of his first decade, unviolated by documents or history,
lives happily in our dreams, as blank as sunshine.




CHAPTER III

YOUNG CHRISTOPHER

Christopher was fourteen years old when he first went to sea.  That
is his own statement, and it is one of the few of his autobiographical
utterances that we need not doubt.  From it, and from a knowledge of
certain other dates, we are able to construct some vague picture of his
doings before he left Italy and settled in Portugal.  Already in his
young heart he was feeling the influence that was to direct and shape
his destiny; already, towards his home in Genoa, long ripples from the
commotion of maritime adventure in the West were beginning to spread.
At the age of ten he was apprenticed to his father, who undertook,
according to the indentures, to provide him with board and lodging, a
blue gabardine and a pair of good shoes, and various other matters in
return for his service.  But there is no reason to suppose that he ever
occupied himself very much with wool-weaving.  He had a vocation quite
other than that, and if he ever did make any cloth there must have been
some strange thoughts and imaginings woven into it, as he plied the
shuttle.  Most of his biographers, relying upon a doubtful statement in
the life of him written by his son Ferdinand, would have us send him at
the age of twelve to the distant University of Pavia, there, poor mite,
to sit at the feet of learned professors studying Latin, mathematics, and
cosmography; but fortunately it is not necessary to believe so improbable
a statement.  What is much more likely about his education--for education
he had, although not of the superior kind with which he has been
credited--is that in the blank, sunny time of his childhood he was sent
to one of the excellent schools established by the weavers in their own
quarter, and that there or afterwards he came under some influence, both
religious and learned, which stamped him the practical visionary that he
remained throughout his life.  Thereafter, between his sea voyagings and
expeditions about the Mediterranean coasts, he no doubt acquired
knowledge in the only really practical way that it can be acquired; that
is to say, he received it as and when he needed it.  What we know is that
he had in later life some knowledge of the works of Aristotle, Julius
Caesar, Seneca, Pliny, and Ptolemy; of Ahmet-Ben-Kothair the Arabic
astronomer, Rochid the Arabian, and the Rabbi Samuel the Jew; of Isadore
the Spaniard, and Bede and Scotus the Britons; of Strabo the German,
Gerson the Frenchman, and Nicolaus de Lira the Italian.  These names
cover a wide range, but they do not imply university education.  Some of
them merely suggest acquaintance with the 'Imago Mundi'; others imply
that selective faculty, the power of choosing what can help a man's
purpose and of rejecting what is useless to it, that is one of the marks
of genius, and an outward sign of the inner light.

We must think of him, then, at school in Genoa, grinding out the tasks
that are the common heritage of all small boys; working a little at the
weaving, interestedly enough at first, no doubt, while the importance of
having a loom appealed to him, but also no doubt rapidly cooling off in
his enthusiasm as the pastime became a task, and the restriction of
indoor life began to be felt.  For if ever there was a little boy who
loved to idle about the wharves and docks, here was that little boy.
It was here, while he wandered about the crowded quays and listened to
the medley of talk among the foreign sailors, and looked beyond the masts
of the ships into the blue distance of the sea, that the desire to wander
and go abroad upon the face of the waters must first have stirred in his
heart.  The wharves of Genoa in those days combined in themselves all the
richness of romance and adventure, buccaneering, trading, and
treasure-snatching, that has ever crowded the pages of romance.  There
were galleys and caravels, barques and feluccas, pinnaces and caraccas.
There were slaves in the galleys, and bowmen to keep the slaves in
subjection. There were dark-bearded Spaniards, fair-haired Englishmen;
there were Greeks, and Indians, and Portuguese.  The bales of goods on
the harbour-side were eloquent of distant lands, and furnished object
lessons in the only geography that young Christopher was likely to be
learning.  There was cotton from Egypt, and tin and lead from
Southampton.  There were butts of Malmsey from Candia; aloes and cassia
and spices from Socotra; rhubarb from Persia; silk from India; wool from
Damascus, raw wool also from Calais and Norwich.  No wonder if the
little house in the Vico Dritto di Ponticello became too narrow for the
boy; and no wonder that at the age of fourteen he was able to have his
way, and go to sea.  One can imagine him gradually acquiring an
influence over his father, Domenico, as his will grew stronger and
firmer--he with one grand object in life, Domenico with none; he with a
single clear purpose, and Domenico with innumerable cloudy ones.  And
so, on some day in the distant past, there were farewells and anxious
hearts in the weaver's house, and Christopher, member of the crew of
some trading caravel or felucca, a diminishing object to the wet eyes
of his mother, sailed away, and faded into the blue distance.

They had lost him, although perhaps they did not realise it; from the
moment of his first voyage the sea claimed him as her own.  Widening
horizons, slatting of cords and sails in the wind, storms and stars and
strange landfalls and long idle calms, thunder of surges, tingle of
spray, and eternal labouring and threshing and cleaving of infinite
waters--these were to be his portion and true home hereafter.
Attendances at Court, conferences with learned monks and bishops,
sojourns on lonely islands, love under stars in the gay, sun-smitten
Spanish towns, governings and parleyings in distant, undreamed-of lands
--these were to be but incidents in his true life, which was to be
fulfilled in the solitude of sea watches.

When he left his home on this first voyage, he took with him one other
thing besides the restless longing to escape beyond the line of sea and
sky.  Let us mark well this possession of his, for it was his companion
and guiding-star throughout a long and difficult life, his chart and
compass, astrolabe and anchor, in one.  Religion has in our days fallen
into decay among men of intellect and achievement.  The world has thrown
it, like a worn garment or an old skin, from off its body, the thing
itself being no longer real and alive, and in harmony with the life of
an age that struggles towards a different kind of truth.  It is hard,
therefore, for us to understand exactly how the religion of Columbus
entered so deeply into his life and brooded so widely over his thoughts.

Hardest of all is it for people whose only experience of religion is of
Puritan inheritance to comprehend how, in the fifteenth century, the
strong intellect was strengthened, and the stout heart fortified, by the
thought of hosts of saints and angels hovering above a man's incomings
and outgoings to guide and protect him.  Yet in an age that really had
the gift of faith, in which religion was real and vital, and part of the
business of every man's daily life; in which it stood honoured in the
world, loaded with riches, crowned with learning, wielding government
both temporal and spiritual, it was a very brave panoply for the soul of
man.  The little boy in Genoa, with the fair hair and blue eyes and grave
freckled face that made him remarkable among his dark companions, had no
doubt early received and accepted the vast mysteries of the Christian
faith; and as that other mystery began to grow in his mind, and that idea
of worlds that might lie beyond the sea-line began to take shape in his
thoughts, he found in the holy wisdom of the prophets, and the inspired
writings of the fathers, a continual confirmation of his faith.  The full
conviction of these things belongs to a later period of his life; but
probably, during his first voyagings in the Mediterranean, there hung in
his mind echoes of psalms and prophecies that had to do with things
beyond the world of his vision and experience.  The sun, whose going
forth is to the end of heaven, his circuit back to the end of it, and
from whose heat there is nothing hid; the truth, holy and prevailing,
that knows no speech nor language where its voice is not heard; the great
and wide sea, with its creeping things innumerable, and beasts small and
great--no wonder if these things impressed him, and if gradually, as his
way fell clearer before him, and the inner light began to shine more
steadily, he came to believe that he had a special mission to carry the
torch of the faith across the Sea of Darkness, and be himself the bearer
of a truth that was to go through all the earth, and of words that were
to travel to the world's end.

In this faith, then, and with this equipment, and about the year 1465,
Christopher Columbus began his sea travels.  His voyages would be
doubtless at first much along the coasts, and across to Alexandria and
the Islands.  There would be returnings to Genoa, and glad welcomings by
the little household in the narrow street; in 1472 and 1473 he was with
his father at Savona, helping with the wool-weaving and tavern-keeping;
possibly also there were interviews with Benincasa, who was at that time
living in Genoa, and making his famous sea-charts.  Perhaps it was in his
studio that Christopher first saw a chart, and first fell in love with
the magic that can transfer the shapes of oceans and continents to a
piece of paper.  Then he would be off again in another ship, to the
Golden Horn perhaps, or the Black Sea, for the Genoese had a great
Crimean trade.  This is all conjecture, but very reasonable conjecture;
what we know for a fact is that he saw the white gum drawn from the
lentiscus shrubs in Chio at the time of their flowering; that fragrant
memory is preserved long afterwards in his own writings, evoked by some
incident in the newly-discovered islands of the West.  There are vague
rumours and stories of his having been engaged in various expeditions
--among them one fitted out in Genoa by John of Anjou to recover the
kingdom of Naples for King Rene of Provence; but there is no reason to
believe these rumours: good reason to disbelieve them, rather.

The lives that the sea absorbs are passed in a great variety of adventure
and experience, but so far as the world is concerned they are passed in a
profound obscurity; and we need not wonder that of all the mariners who
used those seas, and passed up and down, and held their course by the
stars, and reefed their sails before the sudden squalls that came down
from the mountains, and shook them out again in the calm sunshine that
followed, there is no record of the one among their number who was
afterwards to reef and steer and hold his course to such mighty purpose.
For this period, then, we must leave him to the sea, and to the vast
anonymity of sea life.




CHAPTER IV

DOMENICO

Christopher is gone, vanished over that blue horizon; and the tale of
life in Genoa goes on without him very much as before, except that
Domenico has one apprentice less, and, a matter becoming of some
importance in the narrow condition of his finances, one boy less to feed
and clothe.  For good Domenico, alas! is no economist.  Those hardy
adventures of his in the buying and selling line do not prosper him; the
tavern does not pay; perhaps the tavern-keeper is too hospitable; at any
rate, things are not going well.  And yet Domenico had a good start; as
his brother Antonio has doubtless often told him, he had the best of old
Giovanni's inheritance; he had the property at Quinto, and other property
at Ginestreto, and some ground rents at Pradella; a tavern at Savona, a
shop there and at Genoa--really, Domenico has no excuse for his
difficulties.  In 1445 he was selling land at Quinto, presumably with the
consent of old Giovanni, if he was still alive; and if he was not living,
then immediately after his death, in the first pride of possession.

In 1450 he bought a pleasant house at Quarto, a village on the sea-shore
about a mile to the west of Quinto and about five miles to the east of
Genoa.  It was probably a pure speculation, as he immediately leased the
house for two years, and never lived in it himself, although it was a
pleasant place, with an orchard of olives and figs and various other
trees--'arboratum olivis ficubus et aliis diversis arboribus'.  His next
recorded transaction is in 1466, when he went security for a friend,
doubtless with disastrous results.  In 1473 he sold the house at the
Olive Gate, that suburban dwelling where probably Christopher was born,
and in 1474 he invested the proceeds of that sale in a piece of land
which I have referred to before, situated in the suburbs of Savona, with
which were sold those agreeable and useless wine-vats.  Domenico was
living at Savona then, and the property which he so fatuously acquired
consisted of two large pieces of land on the Via Valcalda, containing a
few vines, a plantation of fruit-trees, and a large area of shrub and
underwood.  The price, however, was never paid in full, and was the cause
of a lawsuit which dragged on for forty years, and was finally settled by
Don Diego Columbus, Christopher's son, who sent a special authority from
Hispaniola.

Owing, no doubt, to the difficulties that this un fortunate purchase
plunged him into, Domenico was obliged to mortgage his house at St.
Andrew's Gate in the year 1477; and in 1489 he finally gave it up to
Jacob Baverelus, the cheese-monger, his son-in-law.  Susanna, who had
been the witness of his melancholy transactions for so many years, and
possibly the mainstay of that declining household, died in 1494; but not,
we may hope, before she had heard of the fame of her son Christopher.
Domenico, in receipt of a pension from the famous Admiral of the Ocean,
and no doubt talking with a deal of pride and inaccuracy about the
discovery of the New World, lived on until 1498; when he died also, and
vanished out of this world.  He had fulfilled a noble destiny in being
the father of Christopher Columbus.




CHAPTER V

SEA THOUGHTS

The long years that Christopher Columbus spent at sea in making voyages
to and from his home in Genoa, years so blank to us, but to him who lived
them so full of life and active growth, were most certainly fruitful in
training and equipping him for that future career of which as yet,
perhaps, he did not dream.  The long undulating waves of the
Mediterranean, with land appearing and dissolving away in the morning and
evening mists, the business of ship life, harsh and rough in detail, but
not too absorbing to the mind of a common mariner to prevent any thoughts
he might have finding room to grow and take shape; sea breezes, sea
storms, sea calms; these were the setting of his knowledge and experience
as he fared from port to port and from sea to sea.  He is a very elusive
figure in that environment of misty blue, very hard to hold and identify,
very shy of our scrutiny, and inaccessible even to our speculation.  If
we would come up with him, and place ourselves in some kind of sympathy
with the thoughts that were forming in his brain, it is necessary that we
should, for the moment, forget much of what we know of the world, and
assume the imperfect knowledge of the globe that man possessed in those
years when Columbus was sailing the Mediterranean.

That the earth was a round globe of land and water was a fact that, after
many contradictions and uncertainties, intelligent men had by this time
accepted.  A conscious knowledge of the world as a whole had been a part
of human thought for many hundreds of years; and the sphericity of the
earth had been a theory in the sixth century before Christ.  In the
fourth century Aristotle had watched the stars and eclipses; in the third
century Eratosthenes had measured a degree of latitude, and measured it
wrong;--[Not so very wrong.  D.W.]--in the second century the
philosopher Crates had constructed a rude sort of globe, on which were
marked the known kingdoms of the earth, and some also unknown.  With the
coming of the Christian era the theory of the roundness of the earth
began to be denied; and as knowledge and learning became gathered into
the hands of the Church they lost something of their clarity and
singleness, and began to be used arbitrarily as evidence for or against
other and less material theories.  St. Chrysostom opposed the theory of
the earth's roundness; St. Isidore taught it; and so also did St.
Augustine, as we might expect from a man of his wisdom who lived so long
in a monastery that looked out to sea from a high point, and who wrote
the words 'Ubi magnitudo, ibi veritas'.  In the sixth century of the
Christian era Bishop Cosmas gave much thought to this matter of a round
world, and found a new argument which to his mind (poor Cosmas!) disposed
of it very clearly; for he argued that, if the world were round, the
people dwelling at the antipodes could not see Christ at His coming, and
that therefore the earth was not round.  But Bede, in the eighth century,
established it finally as a part of human knowledge that the earth and
all the heavenly bodies were spheres, and after that the fact was not
again seriously disputed.

What lay beyond the frontier of the known was a speculation inseparable
from the spirit of exploration.  Children, and people who do not travel,
are generally content, when their thoughts stray beyond the paths trodden
by their feet, to believe that the greater world is but a continuation on
every side of their own environment; indeed, without the help of sight or
suggestion, it is almost impossible to believe anything else.  If you
stand on an eminence in a great plain and think of the unseen country
that lies beyond the horizon, trying to visualise it and imagine that you
see it, the eye of imagination can only see the continuance or projection
of what is seen by the bodily sight.  If you think, you can occupy the
invisible space with a landscape made up from your own memory and
knowledge: you may think of mountain chains and rivers, although there
are none visible to your sight, or you may imagine vast seas and islands,
oceans and continents.  This, however, is thought, not pure imagination;
and even so, with every advantage of thought and knowledge, you will not
be able to imagine beyond your horizon a space of sea so wide that the
farther shore is invisible, and yet imagine the farther shore also.  You
will see America across the Atlantic and Japan across the Pacific; but
you cannot see, in one single effort of the imagination, an Atlantic of
empty blue water stretching to an empty horizon, another beyond that
equally vast and empty, another beyond that, and so on until you have
spanned the thousand horizons that lie between England and America.  The
mind, that is to say, works in steps and spans corresponding to the spans
of physical sight; it cannot clear itself enough from the body, or rise
high enough beyond experience, to comprehend spaces so much vaster than
anything ever seen by the eye of man.  So also with the stretching of the
horizon which bounded human knowledge of the earth.  It moved step by
step; if one of Prince Henry's captains, creeping down the west coast of
Africa, discovered a cape a hundred miles south of the known world, the
most he could probably do was to imagine that there might lie, still
another hundred miles farther south, another cape; to sail for it in
faith and hope, to find it, and to imagine another possibility yet
another hundred miles away.  So far as experience went back, faith could
look forward.  It is thus with the common run of mankind; yesterday's
march is the measure of to-morrow's; as much as they have done once, they
may do again; they fear it will be not much more; they hope it may be not
much less.

The history of the exploration of the world up to the day when Columbus
set sail from Palos is just such a history of steps.  The Phoenicians
coasting from harbour to harbour through the Mediterranean; the Romans
marching from camp to camp, from country to country; the Jutes venturing
in their frail craft into the stormy northern seas, making voyages a
little longer and more daring every time, until they reached England; the
captains of Prince Henry of Portugal feeling their way from voyage to
voyage down the coast of Africa--there are no bold flights into the
incredible here, but patient and business-like progress from one
stepping-stone to another.  Dangers and hardships there were, and brave
followings of the faint will-o'-the-wisp of faith in what lay beyond; but
there were no great launchings into space.  They but followed a line that
was the continuance or projection of the line they had hitherto followed;
what they did was brave and glorious, but it was reasonable.  What
Columbus did, on the contrary, was, as we shall see later, against all
reason and knowledge.  It was a leap in the dark towards some star
invisible to all but him; for he who sets forth across the desert sand or
sea must have a brighter sun to guide him than that which sets and rises
on the day of the small man.


Our familiarity with maps and atlases makes it difficult for us to think
of the world in other terms than those of map and diagram; knowledge and
science have focussed things for us, and our imagination has in
consequence shrunk.  It is almost impossible, when thinking of the earth
as a whole, to think about it except as a picture drawn, or as a small
globe with maps traced upon it.  I am sure that our imagination has a far
narrower angle--to borrow a term from the science of lenses--than the
imagination of men who lived in the fifteenth century.  They thought of
the world in its actual terms--seas, islands, continents, gulfs, rivers,
oceans.  Columbus had seen maps and charts--among them the famous
'portolani' of Benincasa at Genoa; but I think it unlikely that he was so
familiar with them as to have adopted their terms in his thoughts about
the earth.  He had seen the Mediterranean and sailed upon it before he
had seen a chart of it; he knew a good deal of the world itself before he
had seen a map of it.  He had more knowledge of the actual earth and sea
than he had of pictures or drawings of them; and therefore, if we are to
keep in sympathetic touch with him, we must not think too closely of
maps, but of land and sea themselves.

The world that Columbus had heard about as being within the knowledge of
men extended on the north to Iceland and Scandinavia, on the south to a
cape one hundred miles south of the Equator, and to the east as far as
China and Japan.  North and South were not important to the spirit of
that time; it was East and West that men thought of when they thought of
the expansion and the discovery of the world.  And although they admitted
that the earth was a sphere, I think it likely that they imagined
(although the imagination was contrary to their knowledge) that the line
of West and East was far longer, and full of vaster possibilities, than
that of North and South.  North was familiar ground to them--one voyage
to England, another to Iceland, another to Scandinavia; there was nothing
impossible about that.  Southward was another matter; but even here there
was no ambition to discover the limit of the world.  It is an error
continually made by the biographers of Columbus that the purpose of
Prince Henry's explorations down the coast of Africa was to find a sea
road to the West Indies by way of the East.  It was nothing of the kind.
There was no idea in the minds of the Portuguese of the land which
Columbus discovered, and which we now know as the West Indies.  Mr.
Vignaud contends that the confusion arose from the very loose way in
which the term India was applied in the Middle Ages.  Several Indias were
recognised.  There was an India beyond the Ganges; a Middle India between
the Ganges and the Indus; and a Lesser India, in which were included
Arabia, Abyssinia, and the countries about the Red Sea.  These divisions
were, however, quite vague, and varied in different periods.  In the time
of Columbus the word India meant the kingdom of Prester John, that
fabulous monarch who had been the subject of persistent legends since the
twelfth century; and it was this India to which the Portuguese sought a
sea road.  They had no idea of a barrier cape far to the south, the
doubling of which would open a road for them to the west; nor were they,
as Mr. Vignaud believes, trying to open a route for the spice trade with
the Orient.  They had no great spice trade, and did not seek more; what
they did seek was an extension of their ordinary trade with Guinea and
the African coast.  To the maritime world of the fifteenth century, then,
the South as a geographical region and as a possible point of discovery
had no attractions.

To the west stretched what was known as the Sea of Darkness, about which
even the cool knowledge of the geographers and astronomers could not
think steadily.  Nothing was known about it, it did not lead anywhere,
there were no people there, there was no trade in that direction.  The
tides of history and of life avoided it; only now and then some terrified
mariner, blown far out of his course, came back with tales of sea
monsters and enchanted disappearing islands, and shores that receded, and
coasts upon which no one could make a landfall.  The farthest land known
to the west was the Azores; beyond that stretched a vague and impossible
ocean of terror and darkness, of which the Arabian writer Xerif al
Edrisi, whose countrymen were the sea-kings of the Middle Ages, wrote as
follows:

     "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 a ship to plough them."

It is another illustration of the way in which discovery and imagination
had hitherto gone by steps and not by flights, that geographical
knowledge reached the islands of the Atlantic (none of which were at a
very great distance from the coast of Europe or from each other) at a
comparatively early date, and stopped there until in Columbus there was
found a man with faith strong enough to make the long flight beyond them
to the unknown West.  And yet the philosophers, and later the
cartographers, true to their instinct for this pedestrian kind of
imagination, put mythical lands and islands to the westward of the known
islands as though they were really trying to make a way, to sink stepping
stones into the deep sea that would lead their thoughts across the
unknown space.  In the Catalan map of the world, which was the standard
example of cosmography in the early days of Columbus, most of these
mythical islands are marked.  There was the island of Antilia, which was
placed in 25 deg. 35' W., and was said to have been discovered by Don
Roderick, the last of the Gothic kings of Spain, who fled there after
his defeat by the Moors.  There was the island of the Seven Cities,
which is sometimes identified with this Antilia, and was the object of a
persistent belief or superstition on the part of the inhabitants of the
Canary Islands.  They saw, or thought they saw, about ninety leagues to
the westward, an island with high peaks and deep valleys.  The vision was
intermittent; it was only seen in very clear weather, on some of those
pure, serene days of the tropics when in the clear atmosphere distant
objects appear to be close at hand.  In cloudy, and often in clear
weather also, it was not to be seen at all; but the inhabitants of the
Canaries, who always saw it in the same place, were so convinced of its
reality that they petitioned the King of Portugal to allow them to go and
take possession of it; and several expeditions were in fact despatched,
but none ever came up with that fairy land.  It was called the island of
the Seven Cities from a legend of seven bishops who had fled from Spain
at the time of the Moorish conquest, and, landing upon this island, had
founded there seven splendid cities.  There was the island of St.
Brandan, called after the Saint who set out from Ireland in the sixth
century in search of an island which always receded before his ships;
this island was placed several hundred miles to the west of the Canaries
on maps and charts through out the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
There was the island of Brazil, to the west of Cape St. Vincent; the
islands of Royllo, San Giorgio, and Isola di Mam; but they were all
islands of dreams, seen by the eyes of many mariners in that imaginative
time, but never trodden by any foot of man.  To Columbus, however, and
the mariners of his day, they were all real places, which a man might
reach by special good fortune or heroism, but which, all things
considered, it was not quite worth the while of any man to attempt to
reach.  They have all disappeared from our charts, like the Atlantis of
Plato, that was once charted to the westward of the Straits of Gibraltar,
and of which the Canaries were believed to be the last peaks unsubmerged.

Sea myths and legends are strange things, and do not as a rule persist in
the minds of men unless they have had some ghostly foundation; so it is
possible that these fabled islands of the West were lands that had
actually been seen by living eyes, although their position could never be
properly laid down nor their identity assured.  Of all the wandering
seamen who talked in the wayside taverns of Atlantic seaports, some must
have had strange tales to tell; tales which sometimes may have been true,
but were never believed.  Vague rumours hung about those shores, like
spray and mist about a headland, of lands seen and lost again in the
unknown and uncharted ocean.  Doubtless the lamp of faith, the inner
light, burned in some of these storm-tossed men; but all they had was a
glimpse here and there, seen for a moment and lost again; not the clear
sight of faith by which Columbus steered his westward course.


The actual outposts of western occupation, then, were the Azores, which
were discovered by Genoese sailors in the pay of Portugal early in the
fourteenth century; the Canaries, which had been continuously discovered
and rediscovered since the Phoenicians occupied them and Pliny chose them
for his Hesperides; and Madeira, which is believed to have been
discovered by an Englishman under the following very romantic and moving
circumstances.

In the reign of Edward the Third a young man named Robert Machin fell in
love with a beautiful girl, his superior in rank, Anne Dorset or d'Urfey
by name.  She loved him also, but her relations did not love him; and
therefore they had Machin imprisoned upon some pretext or other, and
forcibly married the young lady to a nobleman who had a castle on the
shores of the Bristol Channel.

The marriage being accomplished, and the girl carried away by her
bridegroom to his seat in the West, it was thought safe to release
Machin.  Whereupon he collected several friends, and they followed the
newly-married couple to Bristol and laid their plans for an abduction.
One of the friends got himself engaged as a groom in the service of the
unhappy bride, and found her love unchanged, and if possible increased by
the present misery she was in.  An escape was planned; and one day, when
the girl and her groom were riding in the park, they set spurs to their
horses, and galloped off to a place on the shores of the Bristol Channel
where young Robert had a boat on the beach and a ship in the offing.
They set sail immediately, intending to make for France, where the
reunited lovers hoped to live happily; but it came on to blow when they
were off the Lizard, and a southerly gale, which lasted for thirteen
days, drove them far out of their course.

The bride, from her joy and relief, fell into a state of the gloomiest
despondency, believing that the hand of God was turned against her,
and that their love would never be enjoyed.  The tempest fell on the
fourteenth day, and at the break of morning the sea-worn company saw
trees and land ahead of them.  In the sunrise they landed upon an island
full of noble trees, about which flights of singing birds were hovering,
and in which the sweetest fruits, the most lovely flowers, and the purest
and most limpid waters abounded.  Machin and his bride and their friends
made an encampment on a flowery meadow in a sheltered valley, where for
three days they enjoyed the sweetness and rest of the shore and the
companionship of all kinds of birds and beasts, which showed no signs of
fear at their presence.  On the third day a storm arose, and raged for a
night over the island; and in the morning the adventurers found that
their ship was nowhere to be seen.  The despair of the little company was
extreme, and was increased by the condition of poor Anne, upon whom
terror and remorse again fell, and so preyed upon her mind that in three
days she was dead.  Her lover, who had braved so much and won her so
gallantly, was turned to stone by this misfortune.  Remorse and aching
desolation oppressed him; from the moment of her death he scarcely ate
nor spoke; and in five days he also was dead, surely of a broken heart.
They buried him beside his mistress under a spreading tree, and put up a
wooden cross there, with a prayer that any Christians who might come to
the island would build a chapel to Jesus the Saviour.  The rest of the
party then repaired their little boat and put to sea; were cast upon the
coast of Morocco, captured by the Moors, and thrown into prison.  With
them in prison was a Spanish pilot named Juan de Morales, who listened
attentively to all they could tell him about the situation and condition
of the island, and who after his release communicated what he knew to
Prince Henry of Portugal.  The island of Madeira was thus rediscovered in
1418, and in 1425 was colonised by Prince Henry, who appointed as
Governor Bartolomeo de Perestrello, whose daughter was afterwards to
become the wife of Columbus.

So much for the outposts of the Old World.  Of the New World, about the
possibility of which Columbus is beginning to dream as he sails the
Mediterranean, there was no knowledge and hardly any thought.  Though new
in the thoughts of Columbus, it was very old in itself; generations of
men had lived and walked and spoken and toiled there, ever since men came
upon the earth; sun and shower, the thrill of the seasons, birth and life
and death, had been visiting it for centuries and centuries.  And it is
quite possible that, long before even the civilisation that produced
Columbus was in its dawn, men from the Old World had journeyed there.
There are two very old fragments of knowledge which indicate at least the
possibility of a Western World of which the ancients had knowledge.
There is a fragment, preserved from the fourth century before Christ, of
a conversation between Silenus and Midas, King of Phrygia, in which
Silenus correctly describes the Old World--Europe, Asia, and Africa--as
being surrounded by the sea, but also describes, far to the west of it, a
huge island, which had its own civilisation and its own laws, where the
animals and the men were of twice our stature, and lived for twice our
years.  There is also the story told by Plato of the island of Atlantis,
which was larger than Africa and Asia together, and which in an
earthquake disappeared beneath the waves, producing such a slime upon the
surface that no ship was able to navigate the sea in that place.  This is
the story which the priests of Sais told to Solon, and which was embodied
in the sacred inscriptions in their temples.  It is strange that any one
should think of this theory of the slime who had not seen or heard of the
Sargasso Sea--that great bank of floating seaweed that the ocean currents
collect and retain in the middle of the basin of the North Atlantic.

The Egyptians, the Tartars, the Canaanites, the Chinese, the Arabians,
the Welsh, and the Scandinavians have all been credited with the
colonisation of America; but the only race from the Old World which had
almost certainly been there were the Scandinavians.  In the year 983 the
coast of Greenland was visited by Eric the Red, the son of a Norwegian
noble, who was banished for the crime of murder.  Some fifteen years
later Eric's son Lief made an expedition with thirty-five men and a ship
in the direction of the new land.  They came to a coast where there were
nothing but ice mountains having the appearance of slate; this country
they named Helluland--that is, Land of Slate.  This country is our
Newfoundland.  Standing out to sea again, they reached a level wooded
country with white sandy cliffs, which they called Markland, or Land of
Wood, which is our Nova Scotia.  Next they reached an island east of
Markland, where they passed the winter, and as one of their number who
had wandered some distance inland had found vines and grapes, Lief named
the country Vinland or Vine Land, which is the country we call New
England.  The Scandinavians continued to make voyages to the West and
South; and finally Thorfinn Karlsefne, an Icelander, made a great
expedition in the spring of 1007 with ships and material for
colonisation.  He made much progress to the southwards, and the Icelandic
accounts of the climate and soil and characteristics of the country leave
no doubt that Greenland and Nova Scotia were discovered and colonised at
this time.

It must be remembered, however, that then and in the lifetime of Columbus
Greenland was supposed to--be a promontory of the coast of Europe, and
was not connected in men's minds with a western continent.  Its early
discovery has no bearing on the significance of Columbus's achievement,
the greatness of which depends not on his having been the first man from
the Old World to set foot upon the shores of the New, but on the fact
that by pure faith and belief in his own purpose he did set out for and
arrive in a world where no man of his era or civilisation had ever before
set foot, or from which no wanderer who may have been blown there ever
returned.  It is enough to claim for him the merit of discovery in the
true sense of the word.  The New World was covered from the Old by a veil
of distance, of time and space, of absence, invisibility, virtual
non-existence; and he discovered it.




CHAPTER VI

IN PORTUGAL

There is no reason to believe that before his twenty-fifth year Columbus
was anything more than a merchant or mariner, sailing before the mast,
and joining one ship after another as opportunities for good voyages
offered themselves.  A change took place later, probably after his
marriage, when he began to adapt himself rapidly to a new set of
surroundings, and to show his intrinsic qualities; but all the attempts
that have been made to glorify him socially--attempts, it must be
remembered, in which he himself and his sons were in after years the
leaders--are entirely mistaken.  That strange instinct for consistency
which makes people desire to see the outward man correspond, in terms of
momentary and arbitrary credit, with the inner and hidden man of the
heart, has in truth led to more biographical injustice than is fully
realised.  If Columbus had been the man some of his biographers would
like to make him out--the nephew or descendant of a famous French
Admiral, educated at the University of Pavia, belonging to a family of
noble birth and high social esteem in Genoa, chosen by King Rene to be
the commander of naval expeditions, learned in scientific lore, in the
classics, in astronomy and in cosmography, the friend and correspondent
of Toscanelli and other learned scientists--we should find it hard indeed
to forgive him the shifts and deceits that he practised.  It is far more
interesting to think of him as a common craftsman, of a lowly condition
and poor circumstances, who had to earn his living during the formative
period of his life by the simplest and hardest labour of the hand.  The
qualities that made him what he was were of a very simple kind, and his
character owed its strength, not to any complexity or subtlety of
training and education, but rather to that very bareness and simplicity
of circumstance that made him a man of single rather than manifold ideas.
He was not capable of seeing both sides of a question; he saw only one
side.  But he came of a great race; and it was the qualities of his race,
combined with this simplicity and even perhaps vacancy of mind, that gave
to his idea, when once the seed of it had lodged in his mind, so much
vigour in growth and room for expansion.  Think of him, then, at the age
of twenty-five as a typical plebeian Genoese, bearing all the
characteristic traits of his century and people--the spirit of adventure,
the love of gold and of power, a spirit of mysticism, and more than a
touch of crafty and elaborate dissimulation, when that should be
necessary.

He had been at sea for ten or eleven years, making voyages to and from
Genoa, with an occasional spell ashore and plunge into the paternal
affairs, when in the year 1476 he found himself on board a Genoese vessel
which formed one of a convoy going, to Lisbon.  This convoy was attacked
off Cape St. Vincent by Colombo, or Colomb, the famous French corsair, of
whom Christopher himself has quite falsely been called a relative.  Only
two of the Genoese vessels escaped, and one of these two was the ship
which carried Columbus.  It arrived at Lisbon, where Columbus went ashore
and took up his abode.

This, so far as can be ascertained, is the truth about the arrival of
Columbus in Portugal.  The early years of an obscure man who leaps into
fame late in life are nearly always difficult to gather knowledge about,
because not only are the annals of the poor short and simple and in most
cases altogether unrecorded, but there is always that instinct, to which
I have already referred, to make out that the circumstances of a man who
late in life becomes great and remarkable were always, at every point in
his career, remarkable also.  We love to trace the hand of destiny
guiding her chosen people, protecting them from dangers, and preserving
them for their great moment.  It is a pleasant study, and one to which
the facts often lend themselves, but it leads to a vicious method of
biography which obscures the truth with legends and pretences that have
afterwards laboriously to be cleared away.  It was so in the case of
Columbus.  Before his departure on his first voyage of discovery there is
absolutely no temporary record of him except a few dates in notarial
registers.  The circumstances of his life and his previous conditions
were supplied afterwards by himself and his contemporaries; and both he
and they saw the past in the light of the present, and did their best to
make it fit a present so wonderful and miraculous.  The whole trend of
recent research on the subject of Columbus has been unfortunately in the
direction of proving the complete insincerity of his own speech and
writings about his early life, and the inaccuracy of Las Casas writings
his contemporary biographer, and the first historian of the West Indies.
Those of my readers, then, who are inclined to be impatient with the
meagreness of the facts with which I am presenting them, and the
disproportionate amount of theory to fact with regard to these early
years of Columbus, must remember three things.  First, that the only
record of the early years of Columbus was written long after those years
had passed away, and in circumstances which did not harmonise with them;
second, that there is evidence, both substantive and presumptive, that
much of those records, even though it came from the hands of Columbus and
his friends, is false and must be discarded; and third, that the only way
in which anything like the truth can be arrived at is by circumstantial
and presumptive evidence with regard to dates, names, places, and events
upon which the obscure life of Columbus impinged.  Columbus is known to
have written much about himself, but very little of it exists or remains
in his own handwriting.  It remains in the form of quotation by others,
all of whom had their reasons for not representing quite accurately what
was, it must be feared, not even itself a candid and accurate record.
The evidence for these very serious statements is the subject of
numberless volumes and monographs, which cannot be quoted here; for it is
my privilege to reap the results, and not to reproduce the material, of
the immense research and investigation to which in the last fifty years
the life of Columbus has been subjected.


We shall come to facts enough presently; in the meantime we have but the
vaguest knowledge of what Columbus did in Lisbon.  The one technical
possession which he obviously had was knowledge of the sea; he had also a
head on his shoulders, and plenty of judgment and common sense; he had
likely picked up some knowledge of cartography in his years at Genoa,
since (having abandoned wool-weaving) he probably wished to make progress
in the profession of the sea; and it is, therefore, believed that he
picked up a living in Lisbon by drawing charts and maps.  Such a living
would only be intermittent; a fact that is indicated by his periodic
excursions to sea again, presumably when funds were exhausted.  There
were other Genoese in Lisbon, and his own brother Bartholomew was with
him there for a time.  He may actually have been there when Columbus
arrived, but it was more probable that Columbus, the pioneer of the
family, seeing a better field for his brother's talent in Lisbon than in
Genoa, sent for him when he himself was established there.  This
Bartholomew, of whom we shall see a good deal in the future, is merely an
outline at this stage of the story; an outline that will later be filled
up with human features and fitted with a human character; at present he
is but a brother of Christopher, with a rather bookish taste, a better
knowledge of cartography than Christopher possessed, and some little
experience of the book-selling trade.  He too made charts in Lisbon, and
sold books also, and no doubt between them the efforts of the brothers,
supplemented by the occasional voyages of Christopher, obtained them a
sufficient livelihood.  The social change, in the one case from the
society of Genoese wool-weavers, and in the other from the company of
merchant sailors, must have been very great; for there is evidence that
they began to make friends and acquaintances among a rather different
class than had been formerly accessible to them.  The change to a new
country also and to a new language makes a deep impression at the age of
twenty-five; and although Columbus in his sea-farings had been in many
ports, and had probably picked up a knowledge both of Portuguese and of
Spanish, his establishment in the Portuguese capital could not fail to
enlarge his outlook upon life.

There is absolutely no record of his circumstances in the first year of
his life at Lisbon, so we may look once more into the glass of
imagination and try to find a picture there.  It is very dim, very
minute, very, very far away.  There is the little shop in a steep Lisbon
street, somewhere near the harbour we may be sure, with the shadows of
the houses lying sharp on the white sunlight of the street; the cool
darkness of the shop, with its odour of vellum and parchment, its rolls
of maps and charts; and somewhere near by the sounds and commotion of the
wharves and the shipping.  Often, when there was a purchaser in the shop,
there would be talk of the sea, of the best course from this place to
that, of the entrance to this harbour and the other; talk of the western
islands too, of the western ocean, of the new astrolabe which the German
Muller of Konigsberg, or Regiomontanus, as they called him in Portugal,
had modified and improved.  And if there was sometimes an evening walk,
it would surely be towards the coast or on a hill above the harbour, with
a view of the sun being quenched in the sea and travelling down into the
unknown, uncharted West.




CHAPTER VII

ADVENTURES BODILY AND SPIRITUAL

Columbus had not been long in Portugal before he was off again to sea,
this time on a longer voyage than any he had yet undertaken.  Our
knowledge of it depends on his own words as reported by Las Casas, and,
like so much other knowledge similarly recorded, is not to be received
with absolute certainty; but on the whole the balance of probability is
in favour of its truth.  The words in which this voyage is recorded are
given as a quotation from a letter of Columbus, and, stripped of certain
obvious interpolations of the historian, are as follows:--

     "In the month of February, and in the year 1477, I navigated as far
     as the island of Tile [Thule], a hundred leagues; and to this
     island, which is as large as England, the English, especially those
     of Bristol, go with merchandise; and when I was there the sea was
     not frozen over, although there were very high tides, so much so
     that in some parts the sea rose twenty-five 'brazas', and went down
     as much, twice during the day."

The reasons for doubting that this voyage took place are due simply to
Columbus's habit of being untruthful in regard to his own past doings,
and his propensity for drawing the long bow; and the reason that has been
accepted by most of his biographers who have denied the truth of this
statement is that, in the year 1492, when Columbus was addressing the
King and Queen of Spain on his qualifications as a navigator, and when he
wished to set forth his experience in a formidable light, he said nothing
about this voyage, but merely described his explorations as having
extended from Guinea on the south to England on the north.  A shrewd
estimate of Columbus's character makes it indeed seem incredible that,
if he had really been in Iceland, he should not have mentioned the fact
on this occasion; and yet there is just one reason, also quite
characteristic of Columbus, that would account for the suppression.
It is just possible that when he was at Thule, by which he meant Iceland,
he may have heard of the explorations in the direction of Greenland and
Newfoundland; and that, although by other navigators these lands were
regarded as a part of the continent of Europe, he may have had some
glimmerings of an idea that they were part of land and islands in the
West; and he was much too jealous of his own reputation as the great and
only originator of the project for voyaging to the West, to give away any
hints that he was not the only person to whom such ideas had occurred.
There is deception and untruth somewhere; and one must make one's choice
between regarding the story in the first place as a lie, or accepting it
as truth, and putting down Columbus's silence about it on a later
occasion to a rare instinct of judicious suppression.  There are other
facts in his life, to which, we shall come later, that are in accordance
with this theory.  There is no doubt, moreover, that Columbus had a very
great experience of the sea, and was one of the greatest practical
seamen, if not the greatest, that has ever lived; and it would be foolish
to deny, except for the greatest reasons, that he made a voyage to the
far North, which was neither unusual at the time nor a very great
achievement for a seaman of his experience.

Christopher returned from these voyages, of which we know nothing except
the facts that he has given us, towards the end of 1477; and it was
probably in the next year that an event very important in his life and
career took place.  Hitherto there has been no whisper of love in that
arduous career of wool-weaving, sailoring, and map-making; and it is not
unlikely that his marriage represents the first inspiration of love in
his life, for he was, in spite of his southern birth, a cool-blooded man,
for whom affairs of the heart had never a very serious interest.  But at
Lisbon, where he began to find himself with some footing and place in the
world, and where the prospect of at least a livelihood began to open out
before him, his thoughts took that turn towards domesticity and family
life which marks a moment in the development of almost every man.  And
now, since he has at last to emerge from the misty environment of
sea-spray that has veiled him so long from our intimate sight, we may
take a close look at him as he was in this year 1478.

Unlike the southern Italians, he was fair in colouring; a man rather
above the middle height, large limbed, of a shapely breadth and
proportion, and of a grave and dignified demeanour.  His face was ruddy,
and inclined to be freckled under the exposure to the sun, his hair at
this age still fair and reddish, although in a few years later it turned
grey, and became white while he was still a young man.  His nose was
slightly aquiline, his face long and rather full; his eyes of a clear
blue, with sharply defined eyebrows--seamen's eyes, which get an
unmistakable light in them from long staring into the sea distances.
Altogether a handsome and distinguished-looking young man, noticeable
anywhere, and especially among a crowd of swarthy Portuguese.  He was not
a lively young man; on the contrary, his manner was rather heavy, and
even at times inclined to be pompous; he had a very good opinion of
himself, had the clear calculating head and tidy intellectual methods of
the able mariner; was shrewd and cautious--in a word, took himself and
the world very seriously.  A strictly conventional man, as the
conventions of his time and race went; probably some of his gayer and
lighter-hearted contemporaries thought him a dull enough dog, who would
not join in a carouse or a gallant adventure, but would probably get the
better of you if he could in any commercial deal.  He was a great
stickler for the observances of religion; and never a Sunday or feast-day
passed, when he was ashore, without finding him, like the dutiful son of
the Church that he was, hearing Mass and attending at Benediction.  Not,
indeed, a very attractive or inspiring figure of a man; not the man whose
company one would likely have sought very much, or whose conversation one
would have found very interesting.  A man rather whose character was cast
in a large and plain mould, without those many facets which add so much
to the brightness of human intercourse, and which attract and reflect the
light from other minds; a man who must be tried in large circumstances,
and placed in a big setting, if his qualities are to be seen to advantage
.  .  .  .  I seem to see him walking up from the shop near the harbour
at Lisbon towards the convent of Saints; walking gravely and firmly, with
a dignified demeanour, with his best clothes on, and glad, for the
moment, to be free of his sea acquaintances, and to be walking in the
direction of that upper-class world after which he has a secret hankering
in his heart.  There are a great many churches in Lisbon nearer his house
where he might hear Mass on Sundays; but he prefers to walk up to the
rich and fashionable convent of Saints, where everybody is well dressed,
and where those kindling eyes of his may indulge a cool taste for
feminine beauty.


While the chapel bell is ringing other people are hurrying through the
sunny Lisbon streets to Mass at the convent.  Among the fashionable
throng are two ladies, one young, one middle-aged; they separate at the
church door, and the younger one leaves her mother and takes her place in
the convent choir.  This is Philippa Moniz, who lives alone with her
mother in Lisbon, and amuses herself with her privileges as a cavaliera,
or dame, in one of the knightly orders attached to the rich convent of
Saints.  Perhaps she has noticed the tall figure of the young Genoese in
the strangers' part of the convent, perhaps not; but his roving blue eye
has noticed her, and much is to come of it.  The young Genoese continues
his regular and exemplary attendance at the divine Office, the young lady
is zealous in observing her duties in the choir; some kind friend
introduces them; the audacious young man makes his proposals, and,
in spite of the melancholy protests of the young lady's exceedingly
respectable and highly-connected relatives, the young people are
betrothed and actually married before the elders have time to recover
breath from their first shock at the absurdity of the suggestion.

There is a very curious fact in connection with his marriage that is
worthy of our consideration.  In all his voluminous writings, letters,
memoirs, and journals, Columbus never once mentions his wife.  His sole
reference to her is in his will, made at Valladolid many years later,
long after her death; and is contained in the two words "my wife."
He ordains that a chapel shall be erected and masses said for the repose
of the souls of his father, his mother, and his wife.  He who wrote so
much, did not write of her; he who boasted so much, never boasted of her;
he who bemoaned so much, never bemoaned her.  There is a blank silence
on his part about everything connected with his marriage and his wife.
I like to think that it was because this marriage, which incidentally
furnished him with one of the great impulses of his career, was in itself
placid and uneventful, and belongs to that mass of happy days that do not
make history.  Columbus was not a passionate man.  I think that love had
a very small place in his life, and that the fever of passion was with
him brief and soon finished with; but I am sure he was affectionate, and
grateful for any affection and tenderness that were bestowed upon him.
He was much away too, at first on his voyages to Guinea and afterwards on
the business of his petitions to the Portuguese and Spanish Courts; and
one need not be a cynic to believe that these absences did nothing to
lessen the affection between him and his wife.  Finally, their married
life was a short one; she died within ten years, and I am sure did not
outlive his affections; so that there may be something solemn, some
secret memories of the aching joy and sorrow that her coming into his
life and passing out of it brought him, in this silence of Columbus
concerning his wife.


This marriage was, in the vulgar idiom of to-day, a great thing for
Columbus.  It not only brought him a wife; it brought him a home,
society, recognition, and a connection with maritime knowledge and
adventure that was of the greatest importance to him.  Philippa Moniz
Perestrello was the daughter of Bartolomeo Perestrello, who had been
appointed hereditary governor of the island of Porto Santo on its
colonisation by Prince Henry in 1425 and who had died there in 1457.
Her grandfather was Gil Ayres Moniz, who was secretary to the famous
Constable Pereira in the reign of John I, and is chiefly interesting to
us because he founded the chapel of the "Piedad" in the Carmelite
Monastery at Lisbon, in which the Moniz family had the right of interment
for ever, and in which the body of Philippa, after her brief pilgrimage
in this world was over, duly rested; and whence her son ordered its
disinterment and re-burial in the church of Santa Clara in San Domingo.
Philippa's mother, Isabel Moniz, was the second or third wife of
Perestrello; and after her husband's death she had come to live in
Lisbon.  She had another daughter, Violante by name, who had married one
Mulier, or Muliartes, in Huelva; and a son named Bartolomeo, who was the
heir to the governorship of Porto Santo; but as he was only a little boy
at the time of his father's death his mother ceded the governorship to
Pedro Correa da Cunha, who had married Iseult, the daughter of old
Bartolomeo by his first wife.  The governorship was thus kept in the
family during the minority of Bartolomeo, who resumed it later when he
came of age.

This Isabel, mother of Philippa, was a very important acquaintance indeed
for Columbus.  It must be noted that he left the shop and poor
Bartholomew to take care of themselves or each other, and went to live in
the house of his mother-in-law.  This was a great social step for the
wool-weaver of Genoa; and it was probably the result of a kind of
compromise with his wife's horrified relatives at the time of her
marriage.  It was doubtless thought impossible for her to go and live
over the chart-maker's shop; and as you can make charts in one house as
well as another, it was decided that Columbus should live with his
mother-in-law, and follow his trade under her roof.  Columbus, in fact,
seems to have been fortunate in securing the favour of his female
relatives-in-law, and it was probably owing to the championship of
Philippa's mother that a marriage so much to his advantage ever took
place at all.  His wife had many distinguished relatives in the
neighbourhood of Lisbon; her cousin was archbishop at this very time;
but I can neither find that their marriage was celebrated with the
archiepiscopal blessing or that he ever got much help or countenance from
the male members of the Moniz family.  Archbishops even today do not much
like their pretty cousins marrying a man of Columbus's position, whether
you call him a woolweaver, a sailor, a map-maker, or a bookseller.
"Adventurer" is perhaps the truest description of him; and the word was
as much distrusted in the best circles in Lisbon in the fifteenth century
as it is to-day.

Those of his new relatives, however, who did get to know him soon began
to see that Philippa had not made such a bad bargain after all.  With the
confidence and added belief in himself that the recognition and
encouragement of those kind women brought him, Columbus's mind and
imagination expanded; and I think it was probably now that he began to
wonder if all his knowledge and seamanship, his quite useful smattering
of cartography and cosmography, his real love of adventure, and all his
dreams and speculations concerning the unknown and uncharted seas, could
not be turned to some practical account.  His wife's step-sister Iseult
and her husband had, moreover, only lately returned to Lisbon from their
long residence in Porto Santo; young Bartolomeo Perestrello, her brother,
was reigning there in their stead, and no doubt sending home interesting
accounts of ships and navigators that put in at Madeira; and all the
circumstances would tend to fan the spark of Columbus's desire to have
some adventure and glory of his own on the high seas.  He would wish
to show all these grandees, with whom his marriage had brought
him acquainted, that you did not need to be born a Perestrello
--or Pallastrelli, as the name was in its original Italian form--to make
a name in the world.  Donna Isabel, moreover, was never tired of talking
about Porto Santo and her dead husband, and of all the voyages and sea
adventures that had filled his life.  She was obviously a good teller of
tales, and had all the old history and traditions of Madeira at her
fingers' ends; the story of Robert Machin and Anne Dorset; the story of
the isle of Seven Cities; and the black cloud on the horizon that turned
out in the end to be Madeira.  She told Christopher how her husband, when
he had first gone to Porto Santo, had taken there a litter of rabbits,
and how the rabbits had so increased that in two seasons they had eaten
up everything on the island, and rendered it uninhabitable for some time.

She brought out her husband's sea-charts, memoranda, and log-books,
the sight of which still farther inflamed Christopher's curiosity and
ambition.  The great thing in those days was to discover something, if it
was only a cape down the African coast or a rock in the Atlantic.  The
key to fame, which later took the form of mechanical invention, and later
still of discovery in the region of science, took the form then of actual
discovery of parts of the earth's surface.  The thing was in the air;
news was coming in every day of something new seen, something new
charted.  If others had done so much, and the field was still half
unexplored, could not he do something also?  It was not an unlikely
thought to occur to the mind of a student of sea charts and horizons.




CHAPTER VIII

THE FIRE KINDLES

The next step in Columbus's career was a move to Porto Santo, which
probably took place very soon after his marriage--that is to say, in the
year 1479.  It is likely that he had the chance of making a voyage there;
perhaps even of commanding a ship, for his experience of the sea and
skill as a navigator must by this time have raised him above the rank of
an ordinary seaman; and in that case nothing would be more natural than
that he should take his young wife with him to visit her brother
Bartolomeo, and to see the family property.  It is one of the charms of
the seaman's profession that he travels free all over the world; and if
he has no house or other fixed possessions that need to be looked after
he has the freedom of the world, and can go where he likes free of cost.
Porto Santo and Madeira, lying in the track of the busiest trade on the
Atlantic coast, would provide Columbus with an excellent base from which
to make other voyages; so it was probably with a heart full of eager
anticipation for the future, and sense of quiet happiness in the present,
that in the year 1479 Signor Cristoforo Colombo (for he did not yet call
himself Senor Cristoval Colon) set out for Porto Santo--a lonely rock
some miles north of Madeira.  Its southern shore is a long sweeping bay
of white sand, with a huddle of sand-hills beyond, and cliffs and peaks
of basalt streaked with lava fringing the other shores.  When Columbus
and his bride arrived there the place was almost as bare as it is to-day.
There were the governor's house; the settlement of Portuguese who worked
in the mills and sugar-fields; the mills themselves, with the cultivated
sugar-fields behind them; and the vineyards, with the dwarf Malmsey vines
pegged down to the ground, which Prince Henry had imported from Candia
fifty years before.  The forest of dragon-trees that had once covered the
island was nearly all gone.  The wood had all been used either for
building, making boats, or for fuel; and on the fruit of the few trees
that were left a herd of pigs was fattened.  There was frequent
communication by boat with Madeira, which was the chief of all the
Atlantic islands, and the headquarters of the sugar trade; and Porto
Santo itself was a favourite place of call for passing ships.  So that it
was by no means lonely for Christopher Columbus and his wife, even if
they had not had the society of the governor and his settlement.


We can allow him about three years in Porto Santo, although for a part of
this time at least he must have been at sea.  I think it not unlikely
that it was the happiest time of his life.  He was removed from the
uncomfortable environment of people who looked down upon him because of
his obscure birth; he was in an exquisite climate; and living by the
sea-shore, as a sailor loves to do; he got on well with Bartolomeo, who
was no doubt glad enough of the company of this grave sailor who had
seen so much and had visited so many countries; above all he had his
wife there, his beautiful, dear, proud Philippa, all to himself, and out
of reach of those abominable Portuguese noblemen who paid so much
attention to her and so little to him, and made him so jealous; and
there was a whispered promise of some one who was coming to make him
happier still.  It is a splendid setting, this, for the sea adventurer;
a charming picture that one has of him there so long ago, walking on the
white shores of the great sweeping bay, with the glorious purple
Atlantic sparkling and thundering on the sands, as it sparkles and
thunders to-day.  A place empty and vivid, swept by the mellow winds;
silent, but for the continuous roar of the sea; still, but for the
scuttling of the rabbits among the sand-hills and the occasional passage
of a figure from the mills up to the sugar-fields; but brilliant with
sunshine and colour and the bright environment of the sea.  It was upon
such scenes that he looked during this happy pause in his life; they
were the setting of Philippa's dreams and anxieties as the time of
motherhood drew near; and it was upon them that their little son first
opened his eyes, and with the boom of the Atlantic breakers that he
first mingled his small. voice.

It is but a moment of rest and happiness; for Christopher the scene is
soon changed, and he must set forth upon a voyage again, while Philippa
is left, with a new light in her eyes, to watch over the atom that wakes
and weeps and twists and struggles and mews, and sleeps again, in her
charge.  Sleep well, little son!  Yet a little while, and you too shall
make voyages and conquests; new worlds lie waiting for you, who are so
greatly astonished at this Old World; far journeys by land and sea, and
the company of courtiers and kings; and much honour from the name and
deeds of him who looked into your eyes with a laugh and, a sob, and was
so very large and overshadowing!  But with her who quietly sings to you,
whose hands soothe and caress you, in whose eyes shines that wonderful
light of mother's love--only a little while longer.


While Diego, as this son was christened, was yet only a baby in his
cradle, Columbus made an important voyage to the, coast of Guinea as all
the western part of the African continent was then called.  His solid and
practical qualities were by this time beginning to be recognised even by
Philippa's haughty family, and it was possibly through the interest of
her uncle, Pedro Noronhas, a distinguished minister of the King of
Portugal, that he got the command of a caravel in the expedition which
set out for Guinea in December 1481.  A few miles from Cape Coast Castle,
and on the borders of the Dutch colony, there are to-day the ruined
remains of a fort; and it is this fort, the fortress of St. George, that
the expedition was sent out to erect.  On the 11th of December the little
fleet set sail for [from?  D.W.] Lisbon--ten caravels, and two barges or
lighters laden with the necessary masonry and timber-work for the fort.
Columbus was in command of one of the caravels, and the whole fleet was
commanded by the Portuguese Admiral Azumbaga.  They would certainly see
Porto Santo and Madeira on their way south, although they did not call
there; and Philippa was no doubt looking out for them, and watching from
the sand-hills the fleet of twelve ships going by in the offing.  They
called at Cape Verde, where the Admiral was commissioned to present one
of the negro kings with some horses and hawks, and incidentally to obtain
his assent to a treaty.  On the 19th of January 1482, having made a very
good voyage, they, landed just beyond the Cape of the Three Points, and
immediately set about the business of the expedition.

There was a state reception, with Admiral Azumbaga walking in front in
scarlet and brocade, followed by his captains, Columbus among them,
dressed in gorgeous tunics and cloaks with golden collars and, well
hidden beneath their finery, good serviceable cuirasses.  The banner of
Portugal was ceremoniously unfurled and dis played from the top of a tall
tree.  An altar was erected and consecrated by the chaplain to the
expedition, and a mass was sung for the repose of the soul of Prince
Henry.  The Portugal contingent were then met by Caramansa, the king of
the country, who came, surrounded by a great guard of blacks armed with
assegais, their bodies scantily decorated with monkey fur and palm
leaves.  The black monarch must have presented a handsome appearance,
for his arms and legs were decked with gold bracelets and rings, he had
a kind of dog-collar fitted with bells round his neck, and some pieces of
gold were daintily twisted into his beard.  With these aids to diplomacy,
and doubtless also with the help of a dram or two of spirits or of the
wine of Oporto, the treaty was soon concluded, and a very shrewd stroke
of business accomplished for the King of Portugal; for it gave him the
sole right of exchanging gaudy rubbish from Portugal for the precious
gold of Ethiopia.  When the contents of the two freight-ships had been
unloaded they were beached and broken up by the orders of King John, who
wished it to be thought that they had been destroyed in the whirlpools of
that dangerous sea, and that the navigation of those rough waters was
only safe for the caravels of the Navy.  The fort was built in twenty
days, and the expedition returned, laden with gold and ivory; Admiral
Azumbaga remained behind in command of the garrison.

This voyage, which was a bold and adventurous one for the time, may be
regarded as the first recognition of Columbus as a man of importance,
for the expedition was manned and commanded by picked men; so it was for
all reasons a very fortunate one for him, although the possession of the
dangerous secret as to the whereabouts of this valuable territory might
have proved to be not very convenient to him in the future.


Columbus went back to Porto Santo with his ambitions thoroughly kindled.
He had been given a definite command in the Portuguese Navy; he had been
sailing with a fleet; he had been down to the mysterious coast of Africa;
he had been trafficking with strange tribes; he had been engaged in a
difficult piece of navigation such as he loved; and on the long dreamy
days of the voyage home, the caravels furrowing the blue Atlantic before
the steady trade-wind, he determined that he would find some way of
putting his knowledge to use, and of earning distinction for himself.
Living, as he had been lately, in Atlantic seaports overlooking the
western ocean it is certain that the idea of discovering something in
that direction occupied him more and more.  What it was that he was to
discover was probably very vague in his mind, and was likely not
designated by any name more exact than "lands."  In after years he tried
to show that it was a logical and scientific deduction which led him to
go and seek the eastern shore of the Indian continent by sailing west;
but we may be almost certain that at this time he thought of no such
thing.  He had no exact scientific knowledge at this date.  His map
making had taught him something, and naturally he had kept his ears open,
and knew all the gossip and hearsay about the islands of the West; and
there gradually grew in his mind the intuition or conviction--I refuse to
call it an opinion--that, over that blue verge of the West, there was
land to be found.  How this seed of conviction first lodged in his mind
it would be impossible to say; in any one of the steps through which we
have followed him, it might have taken its root; but there it was,
beginning to occupy his mind very seriously indeed; and he began to look
out, as all men do who wish to act upon faith or conviction which they
cannot demonstrate to another person, for some proofs that his conviction
was a sound one.

And now, just at the moment when he needs it most, comes an incident
that, to a man of his religious and superstitious habit, seems like the
pointing finger of Providence.  The story of the shipwrecked pilot has
been discredited by nearly all the modern biographers of Columbus,
chiefly because it does not fit in with their theory of his scientific
studies and the alleged bearing of these on his great discovery; but it
is given by Las Casas, who says that it was commonly believed by
Columbus's entourage at Hispaniola.  Moreover, amid all the tangles of
theory and argument in which the achievement of Columbus has been
involved, this original story of shipwrecked mariners stands out with a
strength and simplicity that cannot be entirely disregarded by the
historian who permits himself some light of imagination by which to work.
It is more true to life and to nature that Columbus should have received
his last impulse, the little push that was to set his accumulated energy
and determination in motion, from a thing of pure chance, than that he
should have built his achievement up in a logical superstructure resting
on a basis of profound and elaborate theory.

In the year following Columbus's return from Guinea, then, he, and
probably his family, had gone over to Madeira from Porto Santo, and were
staying there.  While they were there a small ship put in to Madeira,
much battered by storms and bad weather, and manned by a crew of five
sick mariners.  Columbus, who was probably never far from the shore at
Funchal when a ship came into the harbour, happened to see them.  Struck
by their appearance, and finding them in a quite destitute and grievously
invalid condition, he entertained them in his house until some other
provision could be made for them.  But they were quite worn out.  One by
one they succumbed to weakness and illness, until one only, a pilot from
Huelva, was left.  He also was sinking, and when it was obvious that his
end was near at hand, he beckoned his good host to his bedside, and, in
gratitude for all his kindness, imparted to him some singular knowledge
which he had acquired, and with which, if he had lived, he had hoped to
win distinction for himself.

The pilot's story, in so far as it has been preserved, and taking the
mean of four contemporary accounts of it, was as follows.  This man,
whose name is doubtful, but is given as Alonso Sanchez, was sailing on a
voyage from one of the Spanish ports to England or Flanders.  He had a
crew of seventeen men.  When they had got well out to sea a severe
easterly gale sprung up, which drove the vessel before it to the
westward.  Day after day and week after week, for twenty-eight days, this
gale continued.  The islands were all left far behind, and the ship was
carried into a region far beyond the limits of the ocean marked on the
charts.  At last they sighted some islands, upon one of which they landed
and took in wood and water.  The pilot took the bearings of the island,
in so far as he was able, and made some observations, the only one of
which that has remained being that the natives went naked; and, the wind
having changed, set forth on his homeward voyage.  This voyage was long
and painful.  The wind did not hold steady from the west; the pilot and
his crew had a very hazy notion of where they were; their dead reckoning
was confused; their provisions fell short; and one by one the crew
sickened and died until they were reduced to five or six--the ones who,
worn out by sickness and famine, and the labours of working the ship
short-handed and in their enfeebled condition, at last made the island of
Madeira, and cast anchor in the beautiful bay of Funchal, only to die
there.  All these things we may imagine the dying man relating in
snatches to his absorbed listener; who felt himself to be receiving a
pearl of knowledge to be guarded and used, now that its finder must
depart upon the last and longest voyage of human discovery.  Such
observations as he had made--probably a few figures giving the bearings
of stars, an account of dead reckoning, and a quite useless and
inaccurate chart or map--the pilot gave to his host; then, having
delivered his soul of its secret, he died.  This is the story; not an
impossible or improbable one in its main outlines.  Whether the pilot
really landed on one of the Antilles is extremely doubtful, although it
is possible.  Superstitious and storm-tossed sailors in those days were
only too ready to believe that they saw some of the fabled islands of the
Atlantic; and it is quite possible that the pilot simply announced that
he had seen land, and that the details as to his having actually set foot
upon it were added later.  That does not seem to me important in so far
as it concerns Columbus.  Whether it were true or not, the man obviously
believed it; and to the mind of Columbus, possessed with an idea and a
blind faith in something which could not be seen, the whole incident
would appear in the light of a supernatural sign.  The bit of paper or
parchment with the rude drawing on it, even although it were the drawing
of a thing imagined and not of a thing seen, would still have for him a
kind of authority that he would find it hard to ignore.  It seems
unnecessary to disbelieve this story.  It is obviously absurd to regard
it as the sole origin of Columbus's great idea; it probably belongs to
that order of accidents, small and unimportant in themselves, which are
so often associated with the beginnings of mighty events.  Walking on the
shore at Madeira or Porto Santo, his mind brooding on the great and
growing idea, Columbus would remember one or two other instances which,
in the light of his growing conviction and know ledge, began to take on a
significant hue.  He remembered that his wife's relative, Pedro Correa,
who had come back from Porto Santo while Columbus was living in Lisbon,
had told him about some strange flotsam that came in upon the shores of
the island.  He had seen a piece of wood of a very dark colour curiously
carved, but not with any tool of metal; and some great canes had also
come ashore, so big that, every joint would hold a gallon of wine.  These
canes, which were utterly unlike any thing known in Europe or the islands
of the Atlantic, had been looked upon as such curiosities that they had
been sent to the King at Lisbon, where they remained, and where Columbus
himself afterwards saw them.  Two other stories, which he heard also at
this time, went to strengthen his convictions.  One was the tale of
Martin Vincenti, a pilot in the Portuguese Navy, who had found in the
sea, four hundred and twenty leagues to the west of Cape St. Vincent,
another piece of wood, curiously carved, that had evidently not been
laboured with an iron instrument.  Columbus also remembered that the
inhabitants of the Azores had more than once found upon their coasts the
trunks of huge pine-trees, and strangely shaped canoes carved out of
single logs; and, most significant of all, the people of Flares had taken
from the water the bodies of two dead men, whose faces were of a strange
broad shape, and whose features differed from those of any known race of
mankind.  All these objects, it was supposed, were brought by westerly
winds to the shores of Europe; it was not till long afterwards, when the
currents of the Atlantic came to be studied, that the presence of such
flotsam came to be attributed to the ocean currents, deflected by the
Cape of Good Hope and gathered in the Gulf of Mexico, which are sprayed
out across the Atlantic.

The idea once fixed in his mind that there was land at a not impossible
distance to the west, and perhaps a sea-road to the shores of Asia
itself, the next thing to be done, was to go and discover it.  Rather a
formidable task for a man without money, a foreigner in a strange
land, among people who looked down upon him because of his obscure birth,
and with no equipment except a knowledge of the sea, a great mastery of
the art and craft of seamanship, a fearless spirit of adventure, and an
inner light!  Some one else would have to be convinced before anything
could be done; somebody who would provide ships and men and money and
provisions.  Altogether rather a large order; for it was not an unusual
thing in those days for master mariners, tired of the shore, to suggest
to some grandee or other the desirability of fitting out a ship or two to
go in search of the isle of St. Brandon, or to look up Antilia, or the
island of the Seven Cities.  It was very hard to get an audience even for
such a reasonable scheme as that; but to suggest taking a flotilla
straight out to the west and into the Sea of Darkness, down that curving
hill of the sea which it might be easy enough to slide down, but up which
it was known that no ship could ever climb again, was a thing that hardly
any serious or well-informed person would listen to.  A young man from
Genoa, without a knowledge either of the classics or of the Fathers, and
with no other argument except his own fixed belief and some vague talk
about bits of wood and shipwrecked mariners, was not the person to
inspire the capitalists of Portugal.  Yet the thing had to be done.
Obviously it could not be done at Porto Santo, where there were no ships
and no money.  Influence must be used; and Columbus knew that his
proposals, if they were to have even a chance of being listened to, must
be presented in some high-flown and elaborate form, giving reasons and
offering inducements and quoting authorities.  He would have to get some
one to help him in that; he would have to get up some scientific facts;
his brother Bartholomew could help him, and some of those disagreeable
relatives-in-law must also be pressed into the service of the Idea.
Obviously the first thing was to go back to Lisbon; which accordingly
Columbus did, about the year 1483.





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