TRUE STORIES OF GREAT AMERICANS
Whatever can be known of earth we know, Sneered Europe's wise men, in their snail shells curled; No! said one man in Genoa, and that No Out of the dark created the New World.
—JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
CHAPTER I COLUMBUS BEFRIENDED BY ROYALTY
CHAPTER II THE YOUTH OF COLUMBUS
CHAPTER III "LANDS IN THE WEST"
CHAPTER IV THE SOJOURN IN MADEIRA
CHAPTER V A SEASON OF WAITING
CHAPTER VI A RAY OF HOPE
CHAPTER VII ISABELLA DECIDES
CHAPTER VIII OFF AT LAST!
CHAPTER IX "LAND! LAND!"
CHAPTER X NATIVES OF THE NEW LAND
CHAPTER XI THE RETURN IN THE NINA
CHAPTER XII DAYS OF TRIUMPH
CHAPTER XIII PREPARING FOR A SECOND VOYAGE
CHAPTER XIV FINDING NEW ISLANDS
CHAPTER XV ON A SEA OF TROUBLES
CHAPTER XVI THE THIRD VOYAGE
CHAPTER XVII A RETURN IN DISGRACE
CHAPTER XVIII PUBLIC SYMPATHY
CHAPTER XIX THE LAST VOYAGE
CHAPTER XX THE COURAGE OF DIEGO MENDEZ
CHAPTER XXI "INTO PORT"
COLUMBUS BEFRIENDED BY ROYALTY
Spain, as every one knows, was the country behind the discovery of America. Few people know, however, what an important part the beautiful city of Granada played in that famous event. It was in October, 1492, that Columbus first set foot on the New World and claimed it for Spain. In January of that same year another territory had been added to that same crown; for the brave soldier-sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella, had conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada in the south and made it part of their own country.
Nearly eight hundred years before, the dark-skinned Moors had come over from Africa and invaded the European peninsula which lies closest to the Straits of Gibraltar, and the people of that peninsula had been battling fiercely ever since to drive them back to where they came from. True, the Moor had brought Arabian art and learning with him, but he had brought also the Mohammedan religion, and that was intolerable not only to the Spaniards but to all Europeans. No Christian country could brook the thought of this Asiatic creed flourishing on her soil, so Spain soon set to work to get rid of it.
This war between the two religions began in the north near the Bay of Biscay whither the Christians were finally pushed by the invaders. Each century saw the Moors driven a little farther south toward the Mediterranean, until Granada, where the lovely Sierra Nevadas rise, was the last stronghold left them. Small wonder, then, that when Granada was finally taken the Spanish nation was supremely happy. Small wonder that they held a magnificent fete in their newly-won city in the "Snowy Mountains." The vanquished Moorish king rode down from his mountain citadel and handed its keys to Ferdinand and Isabella. Bells pealed, banners waved, and the people cheered wildly as their victorious sovereigns rode by.
And yet, so we are told by a writer who was present, in the midst of all this rejoicing one man stood aside, sad and solitary. While all the others felt that their uttermost desire had been granted in acquiring the Moorish kingdom, he knew that he could present them with a far greater territory than Granada if only they would give him the chance. What were these olive and orange groves beside the tropic fertility of the shores he longed to reach, and which he would have reached long ere this, he told himself regretfully, if only they had helped him! What was the Christianizing of the few Moors who remained in Spain compared with the Christianizing of all the undiscovered heathen across the Atlantic!
And so on that eventful January 2, 1492, when a whole city was delirious with joy,
"There was crying in Granada when the sun was going down, Some calling on the Trinity— some calling on Mahoun. Here passed away the Koran—there in the Cross was borne— And here was heard the Christian bell— and there the Moorish horn."
On that great day of jubilee one man, a stranger, but as devout a Christian as any of the conquerors, stood apart downcast, melancholy, saddened by years of fruitless waiting for a few ships. That man was Christopher Columbus.
When you know that Columbus was present by special invitation, that a friend of the queen's had secured him the promise of an interview with full consideration of his plans just as soon as the city surrendered, you may think he should have looked happy and hopeful with the rest; but the fact was, that for nearly seven years the monarchs had been holding out promises, only to put him off, until his faith in princes had dwindled to almost nothing.
But, as it happened, they really meant it this time. Moreover, it is only fair to Ferdinand and Isabella to believe that they had always meant it, but they had been so preoccupied with the enormous task of welding poor Spain, long harassed by misrule and war, into a prosperous nation, that they had neither time nor money for outside ventures. Certain it is that when Granada was really conquered and they had their first respite from worry, the man who was known at court as the "mad Genoese" was summoned to expound his plan of sailing far out into the west where he was certain of finding new lands.
Where this meeting took place is not known positively, but probably it was in the palace called the Alhambra, a marvelous monument of Arabian art which may be visited to-day. Columbus stood long in the exquisite audience chamber, pleading and arguing fervently; then he came out dejected, mounted his mule, and rode wearily away from Spain's new city; for Spain, after listening attentively to his proposals, had most emphatically refused to aid him. It was surely a sorry reward, you will say, for his six years' waiting. And yet the man's courage was not crushed; he started off for France, to try his luck with the French king.
This is what had happened at the Spanish court. The great navigator talked clearly and convincingly about the earth being round instead of flat as most people still supposed; and how, since Europe, Asia, and Africa covered about six sevenths of the globe's surface, and the Atlantic Ocean the remaining seventh (here he quoted the prophet Esdras), [Footnote: "Upon the third day thou didst command that the waters should be gathered in the seventh part of the earth. Six parts hast thou dried up and kept them to the intent that of these some being planted of God and tilled might serve thee.... Upon the fifth day thou saidst unto the seventh part where the waters were gathered that it should bring forth living creatures, fowls and fishes, and so it came to pass." Apocrypha, 2 Esdras vi. 42, 47.] any one by sailing due west must surely come to land. So clear was his own vision of this land that he almost saw it as he spoke; and his eloquence made his hearers almost see it too. One after another they nodded their approval, and approval had never before been won when he addressed a Spanish audience. But when Archbishop Talavera, who was spokesman for King Ferdinand, asked the would-be discoverer what reward he expected in case his voyage was successful, the answer was so unexpected that nearly every man in the room was indignant.
This answer is worth looking into carefully if one is to understand why the Spanish nobility thought that Columbus drove a hard bargain. He demanded of their Highnesses,
First: That he should be made Admiral over all seas and territories he might discover, the office to continue for life and to descend to his heirs forever, with all its dignities and salaries.
Second: That he should be made Viceroy and Governor-General of all new territories, and should name the officers under him.
Third: That he should have one tenth part of all merchandise, pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, or spices acquired by trade, discovery, or any other method.
Fourth: That if any controversy or lawsuit should arise over such goods, he or his officer should be the only judge in the matter.
Fifth: That in fitting out all expeditions for trade or discovery he should be allowed to furnish one eighth of the cost and receive one eighth of the profit.
On these conditions and no others would Christopher Columbus undertake his perilous journey into unknown seas; and the grandees of Spain walked indignantly away from him.
"Lord High Admiral!" murmured one. "An office second only to royalty! This foreigner demands promotion over us who have been fighting and draining our veins and our purses for Spain this many a year!" "Governor-General with power to select his own deputies!" murmured another. "Why, he would be monarch absolute! What proof has he ever given that he knows how to govern!" "One tenth of all goods acquired by trade or any other method," protested still another. "What other method has he in mind?—robbery, piracy, murder, forsooth? And then, when complaints of his 'other method' are made, he alone is to judge the case! A sorry state of justice, indeed!"
Now, when you see this from the Spaniards' point of view, can you not understand their indignation? Yet Columbus, too, had cause for indignation. True, these soldiers of Spain had risked much, but on land, and aided by powerful troops. He was offering to go with a few men on a small ship across a vast unexplored sea; and that seemed to him a far greater undertaking than a campaign against the Moors. His position was much like that of the modern inventor who resents having the greater part of the profits of his invention given to those who promote it. Columbus's friends, the few men who had encouraged him and believed in him ever since he came to Spain, begged him to accept less, but he was inflexible. He was prepared to make the biggest journey man had ever dreamed of, and not one iota less would he take for it. But no such rewards would Talavera promise, and thus ended the interview for which Columbus had waited nearly seven years!
And so he rode away from the lovely Moorish city, weary and dejected, yet hoping for better treatment when he should lay his plans before the French king. His ride took him across the fertile Vega (plain) of Granada and into a narrow mountain pass where the bleak Elvira Range towers three thousand feet above the road. But smiling plain and frowning mountain were alike to the brooding traveler. He noticed neither; nor, when he started across the ancient stone bridge of Pinos, did he notice that horsemen were galloping after him. They were Queen Isabella's messengers sent to bid the bold navigator return. They overtook him in the middle of the bridge, and then and there his trip to France ended.
The queen, they told him, would accept his terms unconditionally. And Isabella kept her word. The next time Christopher Columbus rode forth from Granada it was not with bowed head and heavy heart, but with his whole soul rejoicing. We may be sure that he turned back for a last affectionate look at the lovely mountain city; for it had given him what historians now call "the most important paper that ever sovereign put pen to, "—a royal order for the long-desired ships and men with which to discover "lands in the west."
THE YOUTH OF COLUMBUS
Having seen how that great event in Spanish history, the fall of Granada, set the date for the discovery of America, let us see how it was that a humble Italian sailor came to be present among all those noble Spanish soldiers and statesmen. Let us see why he had brought to Spain the idea of a round world, when most Spaniards still believed in a flat one; and why his round world was perfectly safe to travel over, even to its farthest point, while their flat one was edged with monsters so terrible that no man had ever sought their evil acquaintance.
The amount of really reliable information which we possess concerning the childhood of Christopher Columbus could be written in a few lines. We do not know accurately the date of his birth, though it was probably 1451. Sixteen Italian cities have claimed him as a native; and of these Genoa in northern Italy offers the best proofs. Papers still exist showing that his father owned a little house there. Men who have studied the life of Columbus, and who have written much about him, say that he was born in the province, not the city, of Genoa; but Columbus himself says in his diary that he was a native of Genoa city; and present-day Genoese have even identified the very street where he was born and where he played as a child—the Vico Dritto di Ponticello. In the wall of the house in which he is believed to have lived is placed an iron tablet containing an inscription in Latin. It tells us that "no house is more to be honored than this, in which Christopher Columbus spent his boyhood and his early youth."
More important than the exact spot of his birth would be a knowledge of the sort of childhood he passed and of the forces that molded his character. To learn this we must look into the condition of civilization, and particularly of Italian civilization, in the middle sixteenth century.
Columbus was born in a brilliant period known now as the Renaissance—a French word meaning re-birth—which marks the beginning of modern history. It followed a long, painful period known to us as the Dark Ages, or Middle Ages, namely, the period between ancient and modern times. In the Middle Ages humanity was very ignorant, hampered by all sorts of evil superstitions; while the daily life of the people was miserable and without comforts, lacking many things which we consider necessities. Yet even in those far-away days things were improving, because man has always felt the desire to make his lot better; and the constant effort of these people of the Middle Ages led to that beautiful awakening which we call the Renaissance.
One of the first glimmers of this new life may be said to have come from the Crusades. The Europeans who had journeyed down into Asia to drive the Mohammedans, or Saracens, out of the Holy Land, came back impressed with the fact that these infidel Asiatics had more refinement and courtesy than Christian Europe knew. The returning Crusaders introduced some of this refinement into their own countries, and it caused people to abandon some of their rude ways. Of course there were many more influences working toward the great awakening, principally the growth of commerce. All Europe became alive with the desire for progress; many new things were invented, many old ones perfected; and before the Renaissance ended it had given us some wonderful discoveries and achievements—paper and printing; the mariner's compass; an understanding of the solar system; oil painting, music, and literature; and lastly, the New World.
Why, then, if it brought all these arts and inventions and discoveries, do we not call it the birth, instead of the re-birth? Because many of the beautiful elements of the Renaissance, such as art, science, and poetry, enjoyment of life, freedom to investigate and study nature— all these had existed in the days of ancient Greece and Rome; but after the fall of Roman civilization it took the barbarian peoples of other portions of Europe a long, long time to grow civilized, and to establish some sort of order out of their jumbled affairs; and while they were slowly learning lessons of government and nationality, the culture of the antique world was lost sight of. When it was found again, when young men wished to learn Latin and Greek so that they could read the long- neglected books and poetry of the ancients, human life was made much richer and happier.
This desire came first to the people of Italy. It was very natural, for ancient Rome, where great learning had last flourished, was in Italy; furthermore, the Italian peninsula, jutting out into the much-navigated Mediterranean, was full of seaports, to which came vessels with the merchandise, the language, and the legends of other countries; and when we learn of other countries, we broaden our ideas.
Add to Italy's favorable geographical position the fact that her people were unusually quick of intellect, and were gifted with great imagination, and you will see how natural it was that the Renaissance should have started there. Also, you will see why the great discoverer was a very natural product of Italy and its Renaissance.
* * * * *
Genoa, like other large Italian cities, was teeming with this new spirit of investigation and adventure when Cristoforo Colombo (in his native land his name was pronounced Cristof'oro Colom'bo) was born there or first came there to live. Long before, Genoa had taken an active part in the Crusades, and every Genoese child knew its story. It had carried on victorious wars with other Italian seaports. It had an enormous commerce. It had grown rich, it was so full of marble palaces and churches, and it had such a glorious history, that its own people loved to call it Genova la Superba (Superb Genoa).
Although Cristoforo's family were humble people of little or no education, the lad must have had, or made, many opportunities for acquiring knowledge. Probably he made them; for, as a boy in those days generally followed his father's trade, Cristoforo must have spent a good deal of time in "combing" wool; that is, in making the tangled raw wool ready for weaving. Perhaps he was sent to school, the school supported by the "Weavers' Guild." But between working at home and going to school, he evidently made many little trips down to the busy wharves.
Was there ever any spot more fascinating than the wharves in olden days —in that far-off time when there were no books to read, and when a boy's only chance of hearing about other countries was to go and talk to the crew of each vessel that came into port? The men to whom our lad talked had sailed the whole length and breadth of the biggest body of explored water, the Mediterranean. Some had gone farther east, into the Black Sea; and still others—bravest of all—had passed beyond the Straits of Gibraltar and out on to the great unknown ocean. It was to these last, we may be sure, that the adventurous boy listened most eagerly.
Those hardy sailors were the best possible professors for a boy who intended to follow the sea. They were, doubtless, practical men who never talked much about the sea-monsters and other nonsense that many landsmen believed in; nor did they talk of the world being flat, with a jumping-off place where the sun set. That belief was probably cherished by men of book-learning only, who lived in convents and who never risked their lives on the waves. Good men these monks were, and we are grateful to them for keeping alive a little spark of learning during those long, rude Middle Ages; but their ideas about the universe were not to be compared in accuracy with the ideas of the practical mariners to whom young Cristoforo talked on the gay, lively wharves of Genova la Superba.
Many years after Columbus's death, his son Fernando wrote that his father had studied geography (which was then called cosmogony) at the University of Pavia. Columbus himself never referred to Pavia nor to any other school; nor was it likely that poor parents could afford to send the eldest of five children to spend a year at a far-off university. Certain it is that he never went there after his seafaring life began, for from then on his doings are quite clearly known; so we must admit that while he may have had some teaching in childhood, what little knowledge he possessed of geography and science were self-taught in later years. The belief in a sphere-world was already very ancient, but people who accepted it were generally pronounced either mad or wicked. Long before, in the Greek and Roman days, certain teachers had believed it without being called mad or wicked. As far back as the fourth century B.C. a philosopher named Pythagoras had written that the world was round. Later Plato, and next Aristotle, two very learned Greeks, did the same; and still later, the Romans taught it. But Greece and Rome fell; and during the Dark Ages, when the Greek and Roman ideas were lost sight of, most people took it for granted that the world was flat. After many centuries the "sphere" idea was resurrected and talked about by a few landsmen, and believed in by many practical seamen; and it is quite possible that the young Cristoforo had learned of the theory of a sphere-world from Genoese navigators even before he went to sea. Wherever the idea originated is insignificant compared with the fact that, of all the men who held the same belief, Columbus alone had the superb courage to sail forth and prove it true.
Columbus, writing bits of autobiography later, says that he took to the sea at fourteen. If true, he did not remain a seafarer constantly, for in 1472-73 he was again helping his father in the weaving or wool- combing business in Genoa. Until he started on his famous voyage, Columbus never kept a journal, and in his journal we find very little about those early days in Genoa. While mentioning in this journal a trip made when he was fourteen, Columbus neglects to state that he did not definitely give up his father's trade to become a sailor until 1475. Meanwhile he had worked as clerk in a Genoese bookshop. We know he must have turned this last opportunity to good account. Printing was still a very young art, but a few books had already found their way to Genoa, and the young clerk must have pored over them eagerly and tried to decipher the Latin in which they were printed.
At any rate, it is certain that in 1474 or 1475 Cristoforo hired out as an ordinary sailor on a Mediterranean ship going to Chios, an island east of Greece. In 1476 we find him among the sailors on some galleys bound for England and attacked by pirates off the Portuguese Cape St. Vincent.
About Columbus's connection with these pirates much romance has been written,—so much, indeed, that the simple truth appears tame by comparison. One of these two pirates was named Colombo, a name common enough in Italy and France. Both pirates were of noble birth, but very desperate characters, who terrorized the whole Mediterranean, and even preyed on ships along the Atlantic coast. Columbus's son, Fernando, in writing about his father, foolishly pretended that the discoverer and the noble-born corsairs were of the same family; but the truth is, one of the corsairs was French and the other Greek; they were not Italians at all. Fernando further says that his father was sailing under them when the battle off Cape St. Vincent was fought; that when the vessels caught fire, his father clung to a piece of wreckage and was washed ashore. Thus does Fernando explain the advent of Columbus into Portugal. But all this took place years before Fernando was born.
What really appears to have happened is that Columbus was in much more respectable, though less aristocratic, company. It was not on the side of the pirates that he was fighting, but on the side of the shipowner under whom he had hired, and whose merchandise he was bound to protect, for the Genoese galleys were bound for England for trading purposes. Some of the galleys were destroyed by the lawless Colombo, but our Colombo appears to have been on one that escaped and put back into Cadiz, in southern Spain, from which it later proceeded to England, stopping first at Lisbon. This is a less picturesque version, perhaps, than Fernando's, but certainly it shows Columbus in a more favorable light. Late the next year, 1477, or early in 1478, Cristoforo went back to Lisbon with a view to making it his home.
Besides this battle with corsairs, Columbus had many and varied experiences during his sea trips, not gentle experiences either. Even on the huge, palatial steamships of to-day the details of the common seaman's life are harsh and rough; and we may be sure that on the tiny, rudely furnished, poorly equipped sailboats of the fifteenth century it was a thousand times harsher and rougher. Then, too, the work to be done in and around the Mediterranean was no occupation for children; it quickly turned lads into men. Carrying cargo was the least of a shipowner's business; he was more often hiring out vessels and crews to warring kings, to Portuguese who carried on a slave trade, or to fight pirates, the dread of the Mediterranean. Slaves rowed the Mediterranean galleys, and in the bow stood a man with a long lash to whip the slaves into subjection. With all these matters did Christopher Columbus become acquainted in the course of time, for they were everyday matters in the maritime life of the fifteenth century; but stern though such experiences were, they must have developed great personal courage in Christopher, a quality he could have none too much of if he was to lead unwilling, frightened sailors across the wide unknown sea.
"LANDS IN THE WEST"
By moving from Genoa to Lisbon, Columbus found himself in a much better atmosphere for developing into a discoverer. The genius of a discoverer lies in the fact that he yearns for the unknown; and Portugal faced the Atlantic Ocean, that immense unexplored "Sea of Darkness" as it was then called. Italy, as we know, was the greater country, but it faced the Mediterranean, and every nook and corner of the Mediterranean were known and explored.
For any man thirsting to learn more about geography and exploration, there was no more vital spot in Europe than Lisbon in the fifteenth century. Why it was so is such an interesting story that it must be told. We have read how zealously the Spaniards had been striving for centuries to drive out the Moors, whom they considered the arch enemies of Christian Europe. Portugal, being equally near to Africa, was also overrun by Moors, and for ages the Portuguese had been at war with them, finally vanquishing them early in Columbus's century. A wise Portuguese prince then decided on a scheme for breaking their power utterly; and that was to wrest from them their enormous trade with Arabia and India; for their trade made their wealth and their wealth was their power.
This trade was known as the Indian trade, and was carried on by overland caravans up through Asia and Northern Africa to the Mediterranean coasts. The goods brought into Europe by this means—gold, pearls, spices, rare woods—naturally set Europe to thinking that the lands producing them must be the most favored part of the world, and "the Indies" stood for wealth of all kinds. No one knew precisely where "the Indies" lay; no one knew about the Indian Ocean or the shape of Southern Africa; "the Indies" was simply an indefinite term for the rich and mysterious regions from which the caravans came.
The old maps of the fifteenth century show three different countries of this name—Far India, beyond the Ganges River; Middle India, between the Ganges and the Indus; and Lesser India, including both sides of the Red Sea. On the African side of the Red Sea was located the legendary kingdom of a great monarch known as Prester John. Prester is a shortening of Presbyter, for this John was a Christian priest as well as a king. Ever since the twelfth century there had been stories circulated through Europe about the enormously wealthy monarch who ruled over a vast number of Christians "in the Indies." At first Prester John's domain was supposed to be in Asia; later the legends shifted it over to Africa, Abyssinia probably; and it was with this division of "India" that the Portuguese Prince Henry hoped to establish a trade; not, at first, by rounding Africa and sailing up its east coast to Abyssinia, but by merely cruising down the coast of Western Africa till Abyssinia's Atlantic shores were reached; for so vague was the geography of that far-away day that Abyssinia was supposed to stretch from Ethiopia to the Atlantic. "If," reasoned Prince Henry, "my sailors can feel their way down Africa till they come to Prester John's territory, not only could our nation secure the rich trade which now goes to the Moors, but we could form a treaty with the African Christians and ask them to come to Europe and help us should the Moors ever again advance against us." This plan was approved by Pope Nicholas V., who sanctioned Prince Henry's enterprise in the hope of "bringing the people of India, who are reputed to honor Christ, to the aid of European Christians against Saracens and other enemies." This projected exploration of the African coast by "Henry the Navigator" was the whole foundation for the mistaken statements that Christopher Columbus was trying to find "a sea route to India." Prince Henry was trying to find a sea route to an African India which he supposed lay about where Guinea lies; and as for Christopher, he never undertook to find either this African India, nor the true Asiatic India; he only promised the Spanish sovereigns that he would find "lands in the west."
Having straightened out the long-lived confusion about "the short route to India," let us see how Prince Henry went to work. Northern or Mediterranean Africa was well known to Europe, but not the Atlantic coast. There was an ancient belief that ships could not enter tropic seas because the intensely hot sun drew up all the water and left only the slimy ooze of the bottom of the ocean. Cape Nun, of Morocco, was the most southerly point of Africa yet reached; and about it there was a discouraging saying,
"Who pass Cape Nun Must turn again or else be gone."
Prince Henry, who was called the "Protector of Studies in Portugal," did not believe that rhyme, and determined to show how foolish and untrue it was. His first step was to establish an observatory and a school for navigation at Cape St. Vincent, the most westerly point of Europe and the most southwesterly point of Portugal. To this observatory the prince invited the most learned astronomers, geographers, and instrument-makers then living, that they might all work together with him; and from the little fishing village of Sagres, close to his great observatory, he sent out sailors who, according to an old writer, "were well taught in all rules which sailors ought to know, and provided with the best instruments for navigation."
These expeditions began fifty years before Columbus came to Lisbon. Most of them sailed south; out there had always been legends of lands in the west, so westward some of them sailed and found the Azores and the Madeira Islands. These last had been known to English navigators more than a century before, but as England sent no people to occupy and claim them, Portugal took possession of them.
How the ownership of all newly-found portions of the globe came to be determined is worth looking into. Ever since the time of the Crusades it was recognized as right that any European Christian ruler might seize the land and property of any Asiatic infidel. If two or three Christian rulers united to seize Mohammedan territory and were victorious, the Pope was to decide which one should own it. But the Crusades were unsuccessful, and so the question of ownership of land outside of Europe never came up until Prince Henry sent out his discoverers. Then, in order to make Portugal's claim very sure to whatever she might find, Pope Martin V. issued an order that all land which might be discovered between Cape Bojador (on the most southerly point of the Morocco coast) and the Indies should belong to Portugal, no matter what navigator discovered it. This was in 1479. Naturally, when his turn came to navigate, Columbus would not be interested in taking the Portuguese path, since, by papal order, he would have to turn over to Portugal whatever he might discover.
But to return to Prince Henry. His successes began in 1422 when a Portuguese captain pushed past the high promontory of Cape Nun and did not "turn again" till he had gone far enough to see that the Southern Atlantic was as full of water as the Northern. After that these brave people kept sailing farther and farther south, down past Guinea and the mouth of the Congo, always asking for the India of Prester John; but the savage blacks at whose coasts they touched had never heard of it. Finally Bartholomew Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope and proved that the African India had no Atlantic coast; and he also proved that there existed a southern hemisphere of great possibilities. Then the question of reaching Asiatic India by sea loomed large in the Portuguese mind. Vasco da Gama, following Dias around the Cape of Good Hope, crossed the Indian Ocean and at last cast anchor in the dazzlingly rich city of Calcutta, the real India.
This last did not happen, however, till 1498, six years after Columbus discovered America. Long before this time the good Prince Henry had died; and though he did not live to learn of this sea route to India, he died knowing that the Madeiras and the Azores existed out in the open sea, while Africa stretched far south of the Equator. His devotion to navigation had imbued his countrymen with great enthusiasm, and placed little Portugal at the head of European nations in maritime matters. Not only did she discover how to sail to India, but to Siam, Java, China, and Japan as well.
From Prince Henry's day, Lisbon became the city where all men interested in the fascinating study of geography wished to dwell, in order that they might exchange ideas with navigators and get employment under the Crown. We can readily understand why Lisbon was a magnet to the ambitious Christopher Columbus; and we may feel sure that had the brave, intelligent "Protector of Studies in Portugal" been still alive when Columbus formed his plan for discovery, the intrepid discoverer would have been spared those weary years of waiting. He would have found America ten years sooner, and it would have been the Portuguese, and not the Spanish, flag that he would have carried westward to the New World.
Our young Genoese is supposed to have sailed to Iceland and even farther into the Polar regions, probably after continuing that trip to Bristol which the pirates interrupted off Cape St. Vincent. Many writers consider that it was in Iceland where he heard rumors of "land in the west." If the Iceland trip really was made, Christopher may indeed have heard the story; for long before, Icelanders, and Norsemen also, had discovered America.
These discoveries, as we now believe, took place in the far-away eleventh century; but they made no impression on Europeans of that time, because Iceland and Scandinavia were not in touch with other European countries. Civilization then had the Mediterranean for its center, and no one in Southern Europe ever heard of what the Icelanders or the Norsemen were doing. But these northern peoples did not entirely lose sight of their discoveries, for they sang about them from century to century in quaint and beautiful ballads called sagas. It was not until after Columbus revealed the west to European eyes that these sagas were published; nevertheless, it is not improbable that, if Columbus landed in Iceland, some inhabitant who knew the story of the far western country told it to him. He never refers to it in his writings, however, and one cannot help thinking that, if it really was true, he would have mentioned it, at least to those whom he was trying to persuade to help him. The only reference he ever made to the northern voyage is when writing his journal in 1492, where he states,
"I have seen all the Levant (where the sun rises); and the Ponent (where the sun sets); I have seen what is called The Northern Way, and England; and I have sailed to Guinea."
Columbus's elder brother, Bartholomew, who was a map-maker and a serious student of geography, also settled in Lisbon. The two either opened a book-and-map shop, or at least they worked in one at odd times, Christopher acting as a draftsman; for, as he himself quaintly expressed it, "God had endowed me with ingenuity and manual skill in designing spheres, and inscribing upon them in the proper places cities, rivers and mountains, isles and ports." He appears to have tried to earn a little money by commerce as well as by map-making. We have no exact record of this, but it is thought that he borrowed capital for trading purposes from rich Genoese merchants settled in Lisbon, and lost it. This we conclude because, in his will, he ordered certain sums to be paid to these merchants, without mentioning why. That he tried to add to the small profits of map-making by trading with sea captains is not surprising. We can only be sorry that he did not make a handsome profit out of his ventures, enough for himself and for those who lent him capital.
We have mentioned that all the men who had a scientific interest in navigation tried to get to Lisbon. Among those whom Columbus may have met there, was the great German cosmographer from Nuremburg, Martin Behaim. Martin helped to improve the old-fashioned astrolabe, an instrument for taking the altitude of the sun; more important still, toward the end of 1492 he made the first globe, and indicated on it how one might sail west and reach Asiatic India. This is the first record of that idea which was later attributed to Columbus, but which Columbus himself, until his return from his first voyage of discovery, never even mentioned. Whether he and Martin Behaim talked together about the route to India we shall never know. Probably they did not; for when Christopher importuned later for ships, it was only for the purpose of discovering "lands in the west" and not for finding a short route to India. Columbus, though he knew how to draw maps and design spheres, really possessed but little scientific knowledge. Intuition, plus tenacity, always did more for him than science; and so it is likely that he talked more with sailors than with scientists. While he may have known the learned Behaim, certain it is that, from his earliest days in Lisbon, he sought the society of men who had been out to the Azores or to Madeira; men who told him the legends, plentiful enough on these islands, of lands still farther out toward the setting sun, that no one had yet ventured to visit.
THE SOJOURN IN MADEIRA
Columbus had not been very long in Lisbon when he met, at church, a girl named Felipa Monez Perestrello. Felipa was of noble birth; Christopher was not; but he was handsome—tall, fair-haired, dignified,—and full of earnestness in his views of life. Felipa consented to marry him.
Felipa must have been a most interesting companion for a man who loved voyaging, for she had been born in the Madeiras. Her father, now dead, had been appointed governor, by Prince Henry, of a little island called Porto Santo, and Felipa and her mother (with whom the young couple went to live) had many a tale to tell about that far outpost of the Atlantic. This is probably what set Christopher yearning for the sea; and so, about 1479, he and his wife and her mother, Senora Perestrello, all sailed off for Porto Santo. The Senora must have liked her new son-in- law's enthusiasm for the sea, for she gave him the charts and instruments that had belonged to her husband; but as Governor Perestrello had never been a navigator, these could not have been either very numerous or very helpful.
From Porto Santo, Columbus made a voyage to Guinea and back; and after that he and his family went to live on the larger island of Madeira. There, according to many men who knew Columbus well, the following event happened.
One day a storm-tossed little caravel, holding four sick, battered, Portuguese sailors and a Spanish pilot, all of them little more than living skeletons, was blown on the Madeira shore near where Christopher dwelt. Their tale was a harrowing one. They had started, they said, months before from the Canaries for the Madeiras, but had been blown far, far, far, to the west; and then, when the wind quieted down so that they could try to get back, their ship became disabled and their food gave out. Starvation and exposure had nearly finished them; four, in fact, died within a day or two; but the Spanish pilot, the one who had kept his strength long enough to steer toward Madeira, lived longer. The kind-hearted Christopher, who was devoured with curiosity, had had the poor fellow carried to his own home. He and Felipa did all they could for him, but their nursing could not restore him. The pilot, seeing that he would never be able to make another voyage, added a last detail to the story he first told; namely, that his ship had actually visited a new land hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean! A proof of Christopher's own suspicions! Can you not see him, the evening after his talk with the pilot, standing at sunset on some high point of Madeira, and looking wistfully out over the western water, saying, "I must sail out there and find those lands. I know I can do it!" So he went back to Lisbon to try.
Certain it is that Columbus's absorbing interest in the unknown, mysterious west dates from his returning to Lisbon to live. Not only did he talk earnestly with men who had interests in the Atlantic isles, he studied all the available geographical works. Before the time came to leave for Spain he had read the wonderful "Relation" (or Narrative) of Marco Polo; the "Imago Mundi" (Image of the World) by Cardinal d'Ailly; the "Historia Rerum" (History of Things) by Pope Pius II.; and he had studied Ptolemy's "Geography." From this small library came all the scientific knowledge, true and false, that Christopher ever had. From these he built up whatever theories of the universe he may have laid before the sovereigns of Spain.
Marco Polo, the Venetian, had traveled, as every one knows, across Asia to Cathay (China) in the thirteenth century and had visited the Great Khan or Emperor. On his return he wrote the "Relation," a most exaggerated but fascinating account of the wealth of that remote land and of Cipango (Japan) also, which the Chinese had told him about. The "Imago Mundi" was certainly better reading for him, because less exaggerated; whatever myths and fables it contained, it was not the sort of book to turn a young man's thoughts toward amassing wealth. Instead, its author had gathered together all that was known or seriously argued concerning this world. On this curious old volume Christopher pinned his entire faith. It became his bedside companion; and his copy of it, full of notes in his own handwriting and in that of his brother Bartholomew as well, may be seen to-day in the Columbian Library in Sevilla.
For centuries it has been asserted by men who have written about Columbus that the most important event during his Lisbon days was his correspondence with a learned astronomer named Paolo Toscanelli. Columbus, they argue, having formed the plan of sailing west to discover a route to the Indies (which Columbus never thought of doing at that early day), wrote to ask Toscanelli's advice, and the wise Florentine approved most heartily. It appears from the astronomer's letter that he never dreamed, any more than did Columbus, that a whole continent lay far off in the unexplored western ocean. He supposed the world to be much smaller than it really is, with the ocean occupying only a seventh of it; and that if one sailed three or four thousand miles west, he would surely come to the islands of Cipango (pronounced in Italian Tchi- pango), or Japan, lying off the mainland of Cathay or China. Toscanelli, like Columbus, had read all about the Far East in Marco Polo's book, and was convinced that if the Venetian had reached it by going east overland, some one else might reach it by going west oversea. Accordingly he encouraged the aspiring young explorer. He told Columbus, furthermore, that he had talked with an ambassador from the Far East who came to the court of Pope Eugenius IV. "I was often in the Ambassador's company," he wrote, "and he told me of the immense rivers in his country, and of two hundred cities with marble bridges upon the banks of a single river." Of Cipango he wrote, "This island contains such an abundance of precious stones and metals that the temples and royal palaces are covered with plates of gold!"
The Toscanelli letter is dated 1474, and begins: "To Christopher Columbus, Paul the Physician, health: I see thy noble and great desire to go there where grow the spices." But the strange thing is that Columbus never made use of it in pleading before kings, nor did he even mention Toscanelli and the route to India. Neither in all his writings can the name of Toscanelli be found; and it was not till after Columbus's death (and Toscanelli's), when others began to write history, that the document was made public. Most Columbian scholars therefore doubt its genuineness, and think it was not written by Toscanelli in 1474, but by some one in Lisbon long after Columbus had actually made his discovery.
In any case, the pilot's story was a far more likely factor in sending Christopher west. Nor is it to his discredit that he was willing to risk his life on a dying sailor's wild, improbable tale, rather than on an astronomer's carefully worked out theory. Whether our navigator had theories or not is of little consequence compared to the fact that he had boldness, tenacity, and the spirit of adventure.
"The King of Portugal refused with blindness to second me in my projects of maritime discovery."
So Christopher declares in his Journal; but in spite of his way of putting it, King John did not blindly refuse to listen to him. Let us see what, according to two Portuguese historians, really happened when, on his return from Madeira about 1483, he solicited aid.
Columbus told the monarch, who himself knew a great deal about navigation, but who was not nearly as intelligent as his uncle, Prince Henry, how the persistent rumors he had heard at Madeira concerning land in the west made him eager to undertake a western voyage of discovery; and how, if only the king would give him a fleet and some sailors, he would lead them out until they found "lands." The king, who was really not so blind as Columbus thought, did not refuse, but said he must first submit the idea to his Council for Geographical Affairs. This Council consisted of two Jewish doctors and a bishop. The doctors were noted students of geography, yet they declared the scheme to be impossible, and Columbus to be a "visionary."
That such an answer could have been made by men whose nation had been so bold on the sea for fifty years past is at first glance surprising. But one must remember that the Portuguese had been merely feeling their way along Africa. They had perfect confidence in a southern route that hugged the shore. South was safe; but west beyond the Azores, where there was no shore to hug, was quite another matter; they felt that their own navigators, in finding the Azores, had reached the ultimate limits in that direction. Their disagreement may not have been caused by fear, but by realizing that the instruments and ships of the day were not sufficient for such hazardous undertakings. This fact Columbus realized too, and hence his greater bravery. Besides, argued the Portuguese, would there be any profit at the end of the enterprise? They felt sure that at the end of their own southern expeditions lay those same rich (but vague) Indies which Arab merchants reached by going overland southeast through Asia or south through Egypt; it was all "the Indies" to them, and their navigators were sure to come in touch with it. But who could possibly predict what would be reached far off in the vast west! Why, they wondered, was this Italian so sure of himself (for the story of the shipwrecked pilot had not yet come to their ears); and why, they further wondered, should he ask such large rewards for finding islands that would probably be nothing more than rocky points in the ocean, like the Azores. No, they concluded, the Italian was a "visionary," and the Council for Geographical Affairs advised the king accordingly.
Seeing that nothing was to be gained by remaining in Portugal, and having become involved soon after in some political trouble, Columbus decided to leave for Spain, and offer to Ferdinand and Isabella the western lands which King John of Portugal had refused.
A SEASON OF WAITING
Columbus by this time was about thirty-five. His reddish-brown hair had turned white. He had no money; on the contrary, he was in debt. His good wife Felipa had died, and he had to find some place where he could leave his little son Diego while he went to court to ask for ships. Felipa had a sister married to a Spaniard and living in Huelva. With this lady Columbus decided to leave the boy.
They left Lisbon by ship, it is supposed; but instead of taking a ship bound direct for Huelva, Christopher picked out one bound for Palos, a port not far from Huelva; moreover, on landing, instead of conducting the child at once to his aunt, he trudged a few miles back of Palos with him to a lonely old convent among the sand dunes, called La Rabida (pronounced Ra'bida). About his haste to reach this spot Christopher had not breathed a word in the town where he had just landed; in fact, he always remained silent about it; but it appears that he went there to question a Portuguese monk named Marchena whom he had known in Portugal. This monk was an excellent cartographer, or map-maker, and Christopher wished to talk with him about the western lands.
This good monk may have already heard in Portugal about the pilot. At any rate he was much interested in his visitor, and ordered that the monks should feed the hungry little Diego while he and Diego's father held council in one of the cool little cells of the convent.
"Tarry with us a while, Senor," said the monk, "and I will send for the learned Doctor Fernandez of Palos, who has read much science, and for the brave Captain Martin Alonzo Pinzon, who has made many voyages. Let us hear what they have to say about the possibility of finding this island which you believe to lie off in the western sea."
So a messenger was sent back over the dusty road to Palos, and soon Doctor Garcia Fernandez, mounted on his mule, appeared at the gate of La Rabida. The monks showed him in and made him acquainted with their visitor. The doctor was at once impressed and saw that this was no ordinary traveler. White hair surmounting a highly intelligent face, dreaming eyes, inspired voice—this combination did not come every day to La Rabida. He knew that the foreigner would prove interesting and he proceeded to explain that his friend Martin Alonzo Pinzon could not come, as he was at that moment away on a voyage.
"But you must remain with us till he comes back," declared the monk Marchena, "for no man in all Spain is more experienced in matters of navigation. You must tell him about this island you propose to discover." And Fernandez, when he heard Christopher's tale, said the same thing. Thus it was that little Diego never got to his aunt in Huelva; for by the time Martin Alonzo had returned, the monks had grown so fond of the child, and were so impressed with the great future that lay before his inspired father, that they offered to keep him and educate him free of all expense. This offer Columbus was glad to accept.
The man whose return Columbus awaited in the hospitable monastery of La Rabida belonged to the most influential family of Palos. For generations the Pinzons had all been sailor-merchants and had amassed considerable wealth. The head of the family still sailed the seas; and as, in Palos and in near-by Huelva, many Portuguese lived who boasted about the discoveries their country had made, his interest had been much piqued by their talk. He was educated and open-minded. Moreover, he was considered the best navigator of all who sailed from that important maritime region of Huelva.
When Pinzon got back to Palos, he learned that the monks of La Rabida had been eagerly awaiting him, in order that he might meet their interesting visitor. Off he hastened; and from the moment he and Columbus met, each recognized in the other a master spirit. Whether or not Columbus and Marchena told Pinzon at that time the story of the pilot is not known; but certainly he heard it later. We only know that they talked of lands to be discovered in the west, and that Pinzon offered to go on the expedition as captain in case Columbus should be successful in getting permission and help from the Spanish sovereigns.
From La Rabida Columbus went to the large and important city of Sevilla, carrying letters of introduction from the monk Marchena. In Sevilla he had an interview with the powerful Duke of Medina Sidonia who was much interested in his project at first, but soon gave it up. Next he met the Duke of Medina Celi, who was even more powerful, and with whom Columbus spent a year while waiting for a favorable opportunity to lay his plans before the court. When the proper moment came, the duke acquainted the queen with Columbus's matter, and she in answer invited the would-be explorer to come to Cordova. This was in January, 1486.
It has often been stated that Columbus, while still in Lisbon, had applied both to Genoa and to Venice for aid. This is no longer believed, as no proofs can be found. There is, however, some reason for believing that he sent his brother Bartholomew to England and France to urge the matter. Columbus himself nowhere gives the details of these missions, though he does say, in a letter to the Spanish monarchs, "In order to serve your Highnesses, I listened neither to England nor France, whose princes wrote me letters." Another bit of evidence regarding the French appeal is a letter, written after the discovery, by the Duke of Medina Celi to Cardinal Mendoza. Cardinal Mendoza was King Ferdinand's prime minister, and the duke, having befriended Columbus soon after his arrival from Portugal, and again some years afterward, asked a favor of the cardinal, saying, "You must remember that I prevented Columbus from going into the service of France and held him here in Spain."
Perhaps some scholar may some day unearth the correspondence between Columbus and the French king; but at present we have only the hints given above, along with the fact that Columbus, when finally dismissed from Granada in 1492, started for France.
In describing Columbus's suit in Spain the names of great churchmen— cardinals, bishops, priests, monks,—will frequently appear, and it will be well to understand why his fate so often lay in their hands. During the Dark Ages the only people who received any education were the clergy. Their education gave them great power over the ignorant; and even after the dawn of the Renaissance, when other classes began to demand education, the clergy were still looked up to as possessing the bulk of the world's wisdom.
Thus every king's counselors were mostly churchmen. If those ecclesiastics had always tried to deserve their reputation for wisdom, it might have been a good arrangement. Unfortunately, some were narrow- minded and gave their king bad advice; happily, some were wise and good as well as powerful, and a few of this sort in Spain helped Christopher Columbus to make his dreams come true.
Many writers speak bitterly of the way in which King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella temporized with Columbus. It was hard, indeed, for a man burning up with a great and glorious plan to be kept so long from executing it; but a glance into Spanish affairs at the moment when the man brought his idea into Spain will show that its rulers were not so culpable after all. We have already seen how long and how vigorously the sovereigns were pushing the Moorish war; but this was not their only anxiety. Spain's finances, owing to the misrule of previous kings, were in a very bad way. To get money, taxes were raised; and high taxes, as we know, always cause dissatisfaction among the people. Then, too, a death-dealing pestilence swept over the land and claimed thousands of victims.
This is only a partial account of Spain's woes at the time when the man with the idea arrived; but it shows clearly how the king and queen may have been too busy and too worried to give much time or money to a "dreaming foreigner." They gave him just enough of each to keep up his hopes and prevent him from going elsewhere. Columbus himself must have realized that he had not come at a fortunate time, and that there was nothing to do but to wait patiently.
Spain in those days had no capital. Both Ferdinand and Isabella led the army and established themselves in whatever city was most convenient for their military operations. At the time they heard, through the Duke of Medina Celi, of the Genoese navigator who had a great plan for discovery to unfold to them, they were in the ancient city of Cordova; but, even after requesting that Columbus be sent to Cordova, they could not give much heed to him because they had to hasten to the Moorish frontier and open their campaign against the kingdom of Granada. After a time they returned to Cordova, but only to start immediately for the north, where one of their nobles had raised a rebellion. During these months, all that Columbus could do to further his cause was to make the acquaintance of a favorite of the king named Alonzo de Quintanilla. This gentleman proved friendly, and invited Columbus to accompany him to the city of Salamanca. The court was to pass the winter there, and Quintanilla hoped to secure an audience for his new friend.
He was successful. Columbus spoke to King Ferdinand, and spoke eloquently. He himself has described his enthusiasm by saying he felt "kindled with fire from on high." This fire, unfortunately, did not spread to his listener. The man to whom Columbus spoke was not given to warm impulses. On the contrary, he was cold and shrewd. He never decided matters hastily; least of all a matter that involved expenses. We do not know exactly what answer Ferdinand made to the impassioned pleader, but we do know that he first sought the opinions of the learned men of Salamanca.
Concerning these opinions there are contradictory reports, just as there are about all of Columbus's actions in Spain. Some say that the ecclesiastics (who were also professors at the renowned university in Salamanca) and a few scientific men besides met in the Convent of San Esteban (St. Stephen) to discuss Columbus's project. To-day the monks in San Esteban show tourists the very room in which the meeting was held; yet there is not an atom of real proof that any such meeting took place there. We only know that an informal gathering was called, and that whoever the professors and churchmen were who listened to Columbus's story, they were mostly narrow-minded; they had no imagination. Instead of trying to see the bigness and the wonder of his belief, they looked at Columbus suspiciously and said that they could find no mention of a round world in the Bible, and it was heresy to believe anything that could not be found in the Bible. Others, believing in the sphere, still could not find in Christopher's reference to the rumors current in Madeira sufficient reason for giving him ships to test the truth of those rumors.
Certainly the majority looked upon him as either a heretic or a foolish dreamer, or perhaps a bold adventurer trying to get money from their king; but happily a few believed in him, argued on his side, and became his steadfast friends. The most noted of these was the learned monk, Diego de Deza. He was intelligent, broad-minded, and generous; and though he was not able to prevail upon the other professors nor upon the king, still it must have helped Columbus's cause to have such a distinguished churchman for his friend.
In the spring of 1487 the monarchs left Salamanca without giving a definite answer to the anxious man. They were about to begin a campaign against the Moors in Malaga, down on the Mediterranean coast, and thither Columbus followed them. Once, when there was a lull in the siege, he was summoned to the royal tent. Again no definite answer was given, but again he made a powerful friend. This time it was the Marchioness of Moya, the queen's dearest companion; and when, soon after, this lady was wounded by a Moorish assassin who mistook her for the queen, we may be sure that Isabella's affection deepened; and that, in gratitude, she listened readily when the kind-hearted marchioness praised the Genoese navigator.
From the surrender of Malaga until that of Granada, the last Moorish city, Ferdinand and Isabella were ever busy,—sometimes in the south with their armies, sometimes attending to general government affairs in various cities of the north. All this time they were having hard work to raise war funds. It would not be strange, therefore, if they felt unable to spend money on Columbus's doubtful scheme, or if they told him that it would be impossible further to consider his project until the Moorish war should terminate.
A RAY OF HOPE
Until the Moorish war should end!
Imagine the disappointment of this man who had been trying for years to prove that lands lay far across the Atlantic, yet no one cared enough about his grand idea to give him a few ships! Who could tell when the Moorish war would end? And who could tell whether it would end in favor of the Spanish? Why, he must have asked himself, should he, no longer young, wait to see?
Accordingly, in the spring of 1488 he wrote, so he says, to the king of Portugal asking permission to return. King John not only invited him to come back, but promised that no one should be allowed to bring any lawsuit against him. This refers, perhaps, to the sums Columbus had borrowed for trading purposes and had lost. About the same time came a message from the English king, whom Bartholomew Columbus had visited. Neither letter contained any definite promise of assistance; but the mere fact that other countries were interested caused Ferdinand and Isabella some anxiety. They must have considered how humiliating it would be for them to turn away this opportunity that was knocking at their door, and send it to rival kingdoms. They decided, war or no war, to have all the learned men of Spain come together and listen to the Italian's project. If a majority of these wise men thought the voyage might prove profitable, then they would immediately give Columbus the necessary ships and men. Accordingly they issued three important orders: one, bidding Columbus to appear before a learned council in Sevilla; another, commanding every town through which he might pass in reaching Sevilla to give him hospitality; a third, commanding Sevilla itself to give him lodging and to treat him as if he were a government official. All this must have looked so promising, so much in earnest, that Columbus willingly put off his return to Portugal. In spite of the narrow-mindedness he had encountered in the learned men of Salamanca, he started off, full of hope, to talk to the same sort of learned men of Sevilla. But it all came to naught. For some reason now unknown the meeting was postponed; and the summer campaign starting soon after, the government had other matters to consider.
In August of that year, 1488, Columbus's younger son Fernando, whose mother was a Spanish woman, was born in Cordova, and soon after the father appears to have returned to Lisbon.
Here again we do not know what happened; the only proof we have that he made the journey at all is a memorandum written by him in his copy of the "Imago Mundi." It is dated Lisbon, December, 1488, and states that Bartholomew Dias had just rounded southern Africa—the Cape of Good Hope. Whether Columbus made another fruitless appeal to Portugal we shall never know. We only know that, instead of going from Lisbon to England, he went back to procrastinating Spain. That he came back by King Ferdinand's summons is almost positive, for another royal decree was issued for every city through which he passed to furnish him with board and lodging at the king's expense. This was in May, 1489, which means that another summer campaign was in progress when Columbus entered Spain. The monarchs who took the trouble to bring him back had no time for his project after he reached Spain.
For almost two years, that is, till the end of 1491, the waiting navigator again resided with the Duke of Medina Celi who still had faith in his proposed explorations.
The duke was by far the most powerful friend Columbus had made in Spain, for he possessed and governed a large principality that was practically independent of the Crown. He lived in royal splendor and held court like a king. When Spain went to war, the duke could fit out a whole army from his own dominions and send them forth under his own banner to fight for the king. Columbus must have felt greatly encouraged over retaining the good will of such a mighty personage; indeed, the duke himself was quite rich enough to give the necessary ships.
But, somehow, he failed to do so; probably because he feared that the sovereigns might object to having a private individual steal away the glory they themselves had no time to reap. Our navigator, again disheartened because the years were slipping away, announced to his host that he would start for France. At this the duke wrote to the queen personally, telling her what a pity it would be to let France have the profits of such a discovery. Also, he wrote a very kind letter of commendation for Columbus to take to her Majesty, a letter which is still preserved; but even with this powerful backing Columbus got no help, as we shall see.
The monarchs, having conquered most of the Moorish cities, were preparing to lay siege to the last stronghold, Granada. Columbus craved an answer from them before the siege began. They requested Bishop Talavera to immediately obtain opinions from the wisest men he could reach, and report their verdict. The majority of wise men, it is sad to relate, again pronounced Columbus's enterprise vain and impossible; the Atlantic Ocean could not be crossed; but the minority, headed by the wise monk, Diego de Deza of Salamanca, who was now tutor to young Prince John, upheld it vigorously, and told the queen that the plan was perfectly feasible. The poor sovereigns, who were neither scientists nor churchmen, but merely hard-working soldiers and governors, did not know which view to take. Again they evaded a positive answer, making the war their excuse; and again Columbus, indignant at their evasion, determined to go to France.
Right here we come to one of the most picturesque incidents in this checkered life,—an incident that takes us again to that hot, dusty, southwestern corner where we saw him first enter Spain with the child trudging by his side.
Columbus appears to have decided that, before starting for France, it would be well to remove Diego from La Rabida and place him with the baby step-brother Fernando in Cordova, so that Fernando's mother might bring up the two lads together. With this end in view, he again presented himself (and again afoot, for he was far too poor to ride a mule) before the gate of the low, white monastery near Palos. The first time he had rung that bell it was with hope in his heart; this time he was dejected. He had no hope, so far as Spain was concerned. The good monk Marchena had certainly done his best, but it had come to naught. There was nothing left but to thank them all and get to France as soon as possible. So mused Christopher sadly as he waited for the gate to open.
But Christopher did not know that there had recently come to La Rabida a new prior or chief monk. This prior, whose name was Juan Perez (pronounced Hwan Pair'eth), possessed, fortunately, an imagination and a certain amount of influence at court. Having imagination, he loved an occasional bit of news from the outside world. Therefore, when he heard a stranger talking to the monks in the outer courtyard, he listened.
"That man is no ordinary beggar asking alms," said the sympathetic prior to himself. "He seems to be a foreigner, and he is talking about the king and queen, and the conquest of Malaga; and now he is asking for our little pupil Diego—why, it is the child's father!—I must go and speak to him myself!" and out he went and joined the group in the courtyard.
And so it came about that as soon as Christopher had greeted his boy, now grown into a tall, intelligent lad of ten or eleven, he repaired to the cell of Juan Perez and told all that had happened to him during his various sojourns at court. At last (for Christopher was very wordy) he came to his final dismissal. "They say the Atlantic cannot be crossed," he cried desperately, "but I say it can! Aye, and I shall do it, too!"
Never had such stirring words rung out in that peaceful little cell. The prior himself caught their electricity and became quite excited. Although the monk Marchena appears to have left the convent before Christopher's second coming, the prior had learned all about the Italian navigator from the other brothers. The story had interested him greatly, for he too had studied geography; and now, as the Italian stood before him, declaring that he would find those western lands, the prior realized that it would be a pity for Spain to allow the man to carry his idea off to France.
"Linger yet a few days with us, senor," he urged, "that I may learn from Pinzon and Doctor Fernandez what they think of your scheme. If they still regard it favorably, I myself will go to the queen, in your behalf."
Perhaps just here the senor shook his head sadly and said, "No, no; it is not worth the trouble. The queen is interested only in the Moorish war. Not even the great Diego de Deza, nor the Marchioness of Moya, nor the Duke of Medina Celi, have been able to prevail on her."
And perhaps just here the good prior smiled knowingly and replied modestly, "I once had the honor of being Queen Isabella's confessor, and had great influence with her. If"—and here he leaned close to Christopher and whispered something—"I think I might persuade her."
We did not catch that whispered sentence quite clearly, but we believe it to have been, "If I tell her the story of the shipwrecked pilot." Up to this time Christopher had not referred to it in his pleadings, for fear, perhaps, that it would sound too improbable; but down in this corner of Spain, where all men followed the sea, the story had got about (whether through the monk Marchena, or through sailors who had been to Madeira, is uncertain) and nearly everybody believed it. So now Juan Perez appears to have persuaded Christopher to use it as a last argument. This we may reasonably conclude, since the Rabida monk's intercession with the queen succeeded where all previous efforts had failed.
Martin Alonzo Pinzon, it turns out, is in Rome; so Christopher has to wait until his return. Another delay, but he is well used to that. Meanwhile he turns it to profit by making trips to Palos, Huelva, Moguer, and other ports where he can question sailors newly returned from the west. For half a dozen years he has been out of touch with mariners and their doings, and these trips must have given him deep pleasure. For this is his true place,—among men who have known the rough hardships of seafaring life, and not among grandees and courtiers. He breathes in the salt air and chats with every man he meets. A pilot of Palos, Pedro de Velasco by name, tells him that he too once thought of going into the west, but after sailing one hundred and fifty leagues southwest of Fayal (one of the Azores), and seeing nothing but banks of seaweed, he turned north and then northwest, only to again turn back; but he is sure, he adds, that if only he had kept on he would have found land.
Christopher, also, as we know, is quite sure of it, and says so. Another day, in a seaport near Cadiz, he meets another pilot who tells him that he sailed far west from the Irish coast and saw the shores of Tartary! Christopher probably has some doubts of this, so he merely shrugs his shoulders and walks off. He is impatient for Martin Alonzo Pinzon to return. It is disturbing to learn that other men have been getting nearer and nearer to his land.
At last Pinzon comes and announces, to add to Christopher's uneasiness, that he has been searching in the Pope's library, in Rome, for information regarding that enormously rich Asiatic island called Cipango. As they all sit in the little cell at La Rabida, talking about the proposed western voyage of discovery, Pinzon cannot help throwing in a word occasionally about Cipango. He has been reading Marco Polo, and Japan, or Cipango, is very much on his mind. Perhaps on Christopher's, also, but he is content to stick to his "western lands." About this scheme the two men of Palos, Pinzon and Doctor Fernandez, are as enthusiastic as ever; Martin Alonzo Pinzon repeats his offer to sail as captain of one of the ships; he even goes further, for he offers to advance money for the venture in case the Crown is unwilling or unable to provide the entire sum necessary. All this sounds very promising to the good prior, who vows that he is willing to speak with the queen if Christopher will give up forever his idea of going to France. It is a last ray of hope to the discouraged man, and he agrees.
And so that very day a courier started out from the white monastery among the dark pine trees to find the queen at Granada, and give her Friar Juan's letter craving an interview on "an important matter." In those days it took two weeks, at least, for a courier to ride from Palos to Granada and back. On the fourteenth day, we may be sure, the prior and his guest kept scanning the eastern horizon anxiously. That very evening the man returned. He brought a royal letter granting the monk's request.
"Splendid!" cried the old monk. "I shall start this very night! Find me a mule, some one."
So everybody scurried around the neighborhood to see who would lend the prior a mule; and finally a man of Moguer said he would spare his beast awhile, though he never would have lent him to any other man than the good prior of La Rabida! Then he ventured to hope that the prior would not ride him too hard; as if any one, even an enthusiast helping to discover America, could ride a mule "too hard"!
By midnight the mule was brought up, and off started the prior, followed by the good wishes of everybody who was in the secret. Queen Isabella received him the moment he arrived at her camp of Santa Fe (Holy Faith) below the walls of Granada. With intense fervor he pleaded Columbus's cause. The Marchioness of Moya—the lady who had been wounded by the Moor at Malaga in mistake for the queen—was present, and she added her persuasions. The result was that Isabella not only commanded Columbus to appear before her, but she sent him money to buy suitable court raiment and to travel to Granada in comfort. How happy Friar Juan must have been when he sent the following letter back by royal courier to the waiting guest in La Rabida:—
"All has turned out well. Far from despising your project, the queen has adopted it from this time. My heart swims in a sea of comfort and my spirit leaps with joy in the Lord. Start at once, for the queen waits for you, and I more than she. Commend me to the prayers of my good brethren and of your little boy Diego."
What a dear, human, lovable old gentleman was that Rabida prior! May his spirit still "leap with joy in the Lord!"
Columbus was buoyed up again. To be sure the queen promised nothing definite; but she had always told him that she would give him more attention when the war was over, and the courier declared that things were going very badly for the beleaguered Moorish city of Granada. It was the enemy's last citadel and, said he, it could not hold out much longer. Columbus, perhaps, took the news with moderation, for he was used to having things go wrong; but if only for the sake of the good brethren, he must have tried to look happy as he put on his new garments and rode out of La Rabida for Granada.
We have now come to that famous Granada interview described in the first chapter,—a moment so important that Columbus, when he decided to keep a journal, opened it with this paragraph:—
"In the present year, 1492, after Your Highnesses had concluded that warfare in the great city of Granada where I saw the royal banners of Your Highnesses placed by force of arms on the towers of the Alhambra, and where I beheld the Moorish King go forth from the gates of his city...."
How Columbus arrived during the surrender we have already seen; how everybody of importance at the Spanish court—priests, military leaders, and government officials—gathered to hear him speak; and how, for the first time, the majority of his listeners were won over to his unpopular ideas. We know, too, how their admiration turned to distrust when he demanded large rewards should his voyage of discovery be successful; and we know how he was obstinate, and rode away, only to be overtaken by the queen's messenger at Pinos bridge below the high Elvira Mountains and brought back. And this is how Queen Isabella happened to recall him.
Those friends who had been encouraging him for the last few years were deeply distressed over his departure and over the bad impression he had left at court. They felt that their beloved country was losing a wonderful opportunity of becoming the foremost power in Europe. England, France, Italy, all were greater than Spain because they had been forging ahead while Spain had been hampered by Moorish wars. Even Portugal, Spain's very small neighbor, had forged ahead by reason of her unequaled maritime enterprise. One of these countries was sure to grow even more important through giving Columbus a few ships and a few titles. Said this little group to each other, "No matter what the man's price, Spain will have to pay it!"
Luis de Santangel, treasurer of King Ferdinand's realm of Aragon, determined to go and talk it over with the queen who, apparently, had not been present at the recent hearing of Columbus. To apply further to Ferdinand would have been useless, for he had vowed he would have nothing more to do with the matter. Isabella possessed more imagination than her husband, and to this imagination Santangel thought he could appeal.
First he pointed out that Columbus's very stubbornness about rewards might be taken as proof that he was certain to find whatever he promised to find; then he reminded her that the navigator was a very devout man, and that in his enterprise there was a strong religious motive; should he discover new lands, not only would their heathen population be converted to Christianity, but their commerce would make Spain so wealthy that she could undertake a new crusade and conquer the infidels who held the Holy Sepulchre. This possibility impressed Isabella profoundly, for she and her husband were the stanchest defenders of Christianity in all Europe. Now that Santangel had roused her imagination, he proceeded to make the whole matter clear by a practical suggestion as to ways and means. He reminded his royal listener that Columbus had offered to raise one eighth of the expense of the expedition (Columbus having repeated the offer made at La Rabida by Pinzon); and as for the remainder, he, Santangel, would be responsible for it. Either he would lend it himself (he belonged to one of the rich Jewish families that had become Christian) or he would induce King Ferdinand to allow it to be taken from the Aragon treasury and repaid later. (Ferdinand, apparently, was not such an unmanageable person, after all.)
Right here is where the story of Isabella pledging her jewels would come in if there were sufficient reasons for believing it, but there is little proof of it; indeed, rather more against it. Not only did Santangel show the queen how the money could be obtained otherwise, but, as she had already pledged much of her jewelry in Valencia and Barcelona in order to aid the Moorish war, her husband's treasurer would surely have deterred her from parting with more. However, she was now so enthusiastic over Columbus's affair that she undoubtedly would have made some such offer had no other means of raising the money been found.
The queen knew that her husband disapproved of the would-be discoverer's high terms; she knew that all the grandees of the kingdom disapproved; she knew that the expedition might end in failure and bring down ridicule on her head; and yet she rose and cried in ringing tones, "Bring the man back! I will undertake this thing for my own crown of Castile."
Isabella, we must remember, was queen of Castile and Leon, and Ferdinand was king of Aragon, each still ruling his own portion, although their marriage had united these portions into one kingdom. Hence, though Ferdinand had lost interest in Columbus's affair, Isabella was quite free to aid him. It was to commemorate her personal venture that later, after they had allowed Columbus to adopt a coat of arms, some poet wrote on its reverse side the famous couplet which excluded Aragon from a share in the discovery:—
A Castilla y a Leon Nuevo mundo dio Colon.
To Castile and to Leon Columbus gave a new world.
The great moment having come when a Spanish sovereign cried out, "Bring the man back! The thing shall be done!" it was done. Columbus, on hearing these things from the messengers, turned his mule back to Granada. The necessary papers were drawn up to provide ships and men; also, an order creating Christopher Columbus, or Cristobal Colon as he was called in Spain, Admiral and Viceroy, and granting all the other demands he had made in the event of his voyage being successful. Even the reluctant Ferdinand now fell in with his wife's schemes and signed the order along with her.
The preparing of these papers took some time. Columbus had returned to Granada in late December, 1491, and it was not until April 17 the following year that "the greatest paper monarch ever put pen to" was signed. The fact that it refers to discoveries already made and discoveries to be made in the Ocean Sea is our strongest reason for believing that the pilot's story had been laid before the sovereigns. Christopher's long years of uncertainty were ended; the man's great perseverance had won out at last; and the weary petitioner who, some months before, had ridden doubtingly forth from La Rabida now rode back, bursting with joy, to fall on the good prior's neck and weep out his gratitude.
OFF AT LAST!
Oddly enough, the ships Columbus was to take on his voyage were, according to royal command, to be supplied by that very seaport of Palos by which he is supposed to have entered Spain. Palos, Huelva, and Moguer, all thriving maritime cities in Columbus's day, are grouped at the mouth of the Rio Tinto. Tinto means deep-colored, like wine; and as this river flows through the richest copper region in the whole world, it is not surprising that its waters are reddish, nor that the copper trade enriched the neighboring towns. How the now unimportant Palos at the mouth of the Rio Tinto came to be chosen as the seaport from which Columbus should embark is an amusing story.
Some time before, its inhabitants had, through disobedience or some other offense, incurred the displeasure of their sovereigns. By way of punishment, the Crown ordered that Palos should fit out two caravels at its own expense and lend them to the government for a year whenever the government should call for them. The royal intention was, no doubt, to use the boats against Naples and Sicily, which they hoped to conquer after finishing the Moorish war. But when they decided finally to help Columbus, they remembered the punishment due Palos, and called upon it to give the two caravels to "Cristobal Colon, our captain, going into certain parts of the Ocean Sea on matters pertaining to our service."
Thus while Ferdinand and Isabella meant to punish the little town, they instead conferred a great honor upon it. Little did Columbus dream, the day on which he and his boy approached it so empty-handed five years before, that he was to make it forever famous. Palos to-day is a miserably poor, humble little place; but its people, especially the Pinzon family who still live there, are very proud that it was the starting-point of the momentous voyage of discovery; and hundreds of tourists visit it who never know that the sovereigns had intended punishing, instead of glorifying, the port.
In May, 1492, however, when Columbus returned from Granada, the Palos inhabitants did not see any glory at all! They saw nothing but the heavy penalty. Not only did this royal command mean that every citizen of Palos must furnish money to buy the ships and pay the crew, it meant that the ships and crew would never come back again from the "Sea of Darkness"! An expedition through the well-known Mediterranean to Sicily or Naples would have seemed like a pleasure trip compared with the terrifying one now contemplated! They were handing over the equipment to a madman! Poor little Palos was filled with misgiving, and we may be sure that Columbus, as he passed through the streets, was looked upon as the common enemy.