By Joel Barlow.
Tu spiegherai, Colombo, a un novo polo Lontane si le fortunate antenne, Ch'a pena seguira con gli occhi il volo La Fama, ch' ha mille occhi e mille penne. Canti ella Alcide, e Bacco; e di te solo Basti a i posteri tuoi, ch' alquanto accenne: Che quel poco dara lunga memoria Di poema degnissima, e d'istoria.
Gierus, Lib. Can. xv.
In preparing this work for publication it seems proper to offer some observations explanatory of its design. The classical reader will perceive the obstacles which necessarily presented themselves in reconciling the nature of the subject with such a manner of treating it as should appear the most poetical, and at the same time the most likely to arrive at that degree of dignity and usefulness to which it ought to aspire.
The Columbiad is a patriotic poem; the subject is national and historical. Thus far it must be interesting to my countrymen. But most of the events were so recent, so important and so well known, as to render them inflexible to the hand of fiction. The poem therefore could not with propriety be modelled after that regular epic form which the more splendid works of this kind have taken, and on which their success is supposed in a great measure to depend. The attempt would have been highly injudicious; it must have diminished and debased a series of actions which were really great in themselves, and could not be disfigured without losing their interest.
I shall enter into no discussion on the nature of the epopea, nor attempt to prove by any latitude of reasoning that I have written an Epic Poem. The subject indeed is vast; far superior to any one of those on which the celebrated poems of this description have been constructed; and I have no doubt but the form I have given to the work is the best that the subject would admit. It may be added that in no poem are the unities of time, place and action more rigidly observed: the action, in the technical sense of the word, consisting only of what takes place between Columbus and Hesper; which must be supposed to occupy but few hours, and is confined to the prison and the mount of vision.
But these circumstances of classical regularity are of little consideration in estimating the real merit of any work of this nature. Its merit must depend on the importance of the action, the disposition of the parts, the invention and application of incidents, the propriety of the illustrations, the liveliness and chastity of the images, the suitable intervention of machinery, the moral tendency of the manners, the strength and sublimity of the sentiments; the whole being clothed in language whose energy, harmony and elegance shall constitute a style every where suited to the matter they have to treat. It is impossible for me to determine how far I may have succeeded in any of these particulars. This must be decided by others, the result of whose decision I shall never know. But there is one point of view in which I wish the reader to place the character of my work, before he pronounces on its merit: I mean its political tendency. There are two distinct objects to be kept in view in the conduct of a narrative poem; the poetical object and the moral object. The poetical is the fictitious design of the action; the moral is the real design of the poem.
In the Iliad of Homer the poetical object is to kindle, nourish, sustain and allay the anger of Achilles. This end is constantly kept in view; and the action proper to attain it is conducted with wonderful judgment thro a long series of incidents, which elevate the mind of the reader, and excite not only a veneration for the creative powers of the poet, but an ardent emulation of his heroes, a desire to imitate and rival some of the great actors in the splendid scene; perhaps to endeavor to carry into real life the fictions with which we are so much enchanted.
Such a high degree of interest excited by the first object above mentioned, the fictitious design of the action, would make it extremely important that the second object, the real design of the poem, should be beneficial to society. But the real design in the Iliad was directly the reverse. Its obvious tendency was to inflame the minds of young readers with an enthusiastic ardor for military fame; to inculcate the pernicious doctrine of the divine right of kings; to teach both prince and people that military plunder was the most honorable mode of acquiring property; and that conquest, violence and war were the best employment of nations, the most glorious prerogative of bodily strength and of cultivated mind.
How much of the fatal policy of states, and of the miseries and degradations of social man, have been occasioned by the false notions of honor inspired by the works of Homer, it is not easy to ascertain. The probability is, that however astonishing they are as monuments of human intellect, and how long soever they have been the subject of universal praise, they have unhappily done more harm than good. My veneration for his genius is equal to that of his most idolatrous readers; but my reflections on the history of human errors have forced upon me the opinion that his existence has really proved one of the signal misfortunes of mankind.
The moral tendency of the Eneid of Virgil is nearly as pernicious as that of the works of Homer. Its poetical or fictitious design, the settlement of his hero in Italy, is well delineated and steadily pursued. This object must have been far more interesting to the Romans than the anger of Achilles could have been to the Greeks. Had Virgil written his poem one or two centuries earlier than he did, while his countrymen felt that they had a country and were not themselves the property of a master, they must have glowed with enthusiasm in reciting the fabulous labors of their ancestors, and adored the songster who could have thus elevated so endearing a subject; who could have adorned it with such an interesting variety of incidents, such weight of pathos, such majesty of sentiment and harmony of verse. But Virgil wrote and felt like a subject, not like a citizen. The real design of his poem was to increase the veneration of the people for a master, whoever he might be, and to encourage like Homer the great system of military depredation.
Lucan is the only republican among the ancient epic poets. But the action of his rambling tho majestic poem is so badly arranged as to destroy, in a poetical sense, the life and interest of the great national subject on which it is founded; at the same time that it abounds in the most exalted sentiments and original views of manners, highly favorable to the love of justice and the detestation of war. If a mind, formed like that of Lucan, as to its moral and political cast, and endowed with the creative energy of Homer, had sung to the early Greeks the fall of Troy or the labors of Hercules, his work (taking the place which those of Homer have unfortunately occupied) as a splendid model for all succeeding ages, would have given a very different turn to the pursuits of heroes and the policy of nations. Ambition might then have become a useful passion, instead of a destructive disease.
In the poem here presented to the public the objects, as in other works of the kind, are two, the fictitious object of the action and the real object of the poem. The first of these is to sooth and satisfy the desponding mind of Columbus; to show him that his labors, tho ill rewarded by his cotemporaries, had not been performed in vain; that he had opened the way to the most extensive career of civilization and public happiness; and that he would one day be recognised as the author of the greatest benefits to the human race. This object is steadily kept in view; and the actions, images and sentiments are so disposed as probably to attain the end. But the real object of the poem embraces a larger scope; it is to inculcate the love of rational liberty, and to discountenance the deleterious passion for violence and war; to show that on the basis of the republican principle all good morals, as well as good government and hopes of permanent peace, must be founded; and to convince the student in political science, that the theoretical question of the future advancement of human society, till states as well as individuals arrive at universal civilization, is held in dispute and still unsettled only because we have had too little experience of organized liberty in the government of nations to have well considered its effects.
I cannot expect that every reader, nor even every republican reader, will join me in opinion with respect to the future progress of society and the civilization of states; but there are two sentiments in which I think all men will agree: that the event is desirable, and that to believe it practicable is one step towards rendering it so. This being the case, they ought to pardon a writer, if not applaud him, for endeavoring to inculcate this belief.
I have taken the liberty, notwithstanding the recency of the events, to make some changes in the order of several of the principal battles described in this poem. I have associated the actions of Starke, Herkimer, Brown and Francis in the battle of Saratoga, tho they happened at some distance from that battle, both as to time and place. A like circumstance will be noticed with respect to Sumter, Jackson of Georgia and some others in the battle of Eutaw. I have supposed a citadel mined and blown up in the siege of York, and two ships of war grappled and blown up in the naval battle of Degrasse and Graves. It is presumed that these circumstances require no apology; as in the two latter cases the events are incidental to such situations, and they here serve the principal purpose, being meant to increase our natural horror for the havoc and miseries of war in general. And with regard to the two former cases we ought to consider that, in the epic field, the interest to be excited by the action cannot be sustained by following the gazette, as Lucan has done. The desultory parts of the historical action must be brought together and be made to elevate and strengthen each other, so as to press upon the mind with the full force of their symmetry and unity. Where the events are recent and the actors known, the only duty imposed by that circumstance on the poet is to do them historical justice, and not ascribe to one hero the actions of another. But the scales of justice in this case are not necessarily accompanied by the calendar and the map.
It will occur to most of my readers that the modern modes of fighting, as likewise the instruments and terms now used in war, are not yet rendered familiar in poetical language. It is doubtless from an unwarrantable timidity, or want of confidence in their own powers of description, that modern poets have made so little use of this kind of riches that lay before them. I confess that I imbibed the common prejudice, and remained a long time in the error of supposing that the ancients had a poetical advantage over us in respect to the dignity of the names of the weapons used in war, if not in their number and variety. And when I published a sketch of the present poem, under the title of The Vision of Columbus, I labored under the embarrassment of that idea. I am now convinced that the advantage, at least as to the weapons, is on the side of the moderns. There are better sounding names and more variety in the instruments, works, stratagems and other artifices employed in our war system than in theirs. In short, the modern military dictionary is more copious than the ancient, and the words at least as poetical.
As to the mode of fighting, we have, poetically speaking, lost something in one respect, but we have gained much in another. Our battles indeed admit but few single combats, or trials of individual prowess. They do admit them however; and it is not impossible to describe them with as much detail and interest as the nature of the action requires; as Voltaire has proved in the single combat of Aumale and Turenne in the Henriad. Had he managed his general descriptions and the other parts of the conduct of his poem as well, he would have made it a far more interesting work than he has. However, since our single combats must be insignificant in their consequences, not deciding any thing as to the result of the battle, it would be inconvenient and misplaced to make much use of them in our descriptions. And here lies our disadvantage, compared with the ancients.
But in a general engagement, the shock of modern armies is, beyond comparison, more magnificent, more sonorous and more discoloring to the face of nature, than the ancient could have been; and is consequently susceptible of more pomp and variety of description. Our heaven and earth are not only shaken and tormented with greater noise, but filled and suffocated with fire and smoke. If Homer, with his Grecian tongue and all its dialects, had had the battle of Blenheim to describe, the world would have possessed a picture and a piece of music which now it will never possess. The description would have astonished all ages, and enriched every language into which it might have been translated.
With regard to naval battles the moderns have altogether the advantage. But there has been no naval battle described in modern poetry; neither is there any remaining to us from the ancients, except that in the bay of Marseilles by Lucan, and that near Syracuse by Silius. It would seem strange indeed that Homer, whose wonderful powers of fiction were not embarrassed by historical realities, and who in other respects is so insatiable of variety, did not introduce a sea fight either in the defence of Troy, or in the disastrous voyages of Ulysses. But the want of this in Homer's two poems amounts almost to a proof that in his time the nations had not yet adopted any method of fighting at sea; so that the poet could have no such image in his mind.
The business of war, with all its varieties, makes but a small part of the subject of my poem; it ought therefore to occupy but a small portion of its scenery. This is the reason why I have not been more solicitous to vary and heighten the descriptions of battles and other military operations. I make this observation to satisfy those readers who being accustomed to see a long poem chiefly occupied with this sort of bustle conceive that the life and interest of such compositions depend upon it. How far the majesty or interest of epic song really depends upon the tumultuous conflicts of war I will not decide; but I can assure the reader, so far as my experience goes, that these parts of the work are not the most difficult to write. They are scenes that exhibit those vigorous traits of human character which strike the beholder most forcibly and leave the deepest impression. They delight in violent attitudes; and, painting themselves in the strongest colors on the poet's fancy, they are easy at any time to recal. He varies them at pleasure, he adorns them readily with incidents, and imparts them with spirit to the reader.
My object is altogether of a moral and political nature I wish to encourage and strengthen in the rising generation, a sense of the importance of republican institutions; as being the great foundation of public and private happiness, the necessary aliment of future and permanent ameliorations in the condition of human nature.
This is the moment in America to give such a direction to poetry, painting and the other fine arts, that true and useful ideas of glory may be implanted in the minds of men here, to take place of the false and destructive ones that have degraded the species in other countries; impressions which have become so wrought into their most sacred institutions, that it is there thought impious to detect them and dangerous to root them out, tho acknowledged to be false. Wo be to the republican principle and to all the institutions it supports, when once the pernicious doctrine of the holiness of error shall creep into the creed of our schools and distort the intellect of our citizens!
The Columbiad, in its present form, is such as I shall probably leave it to its fate. Whether it be destined to survive its author, is a question that gives me no other concern than what arises from the most pure and ardent desire of doing good to my country. To my country therefore, with every sentiment of veneration and affection I dedicate my labors.
Every circumstance relating to the discovery and settlement of America is an interesting object of inquiry, especially to the great and growing nations of this hemisphere, who owe their existence to those arduous labors. Yet it is presumed that many persons, who might be entertained with a poem on this subject, are but slightly acquainted with the life and character of the hero whose extraordinary genius led him to discover the continent, and whose singular sufferings, arising from that service, ought to excite the indignation of the world.
Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa about the year 1447, when the navigation of Europe was scarcely extended beyond the limits of the Mediterranean and the other narrow seas that border the great ocean. The mariner's compass had been invented and in common use for more than a century; yet with the help of this sure guide, and prompted by a laudable spirit of discovery, the mariners of those days rarely ventured from the sight of land.
They acquired wonderful applause by sailing along the coast of Africa, and discovering some of the neighboring islands; and after pushing their researches with great industry for half a century, the Portuguese, who were the most fortunate and enterprising, extended their voyages southward no farther than the equator.
The rich commodities of the East had, for several ages, been brought into Europe by the Red Sea and the Mediterranean; and it had now become the object of the Portuguese to find a passage to India by sailing round the southern extremity of Africa, and then taking an eastern course. This great object engaged the general attention, and drew into the Portuguese service adventurers from the other maritime nations of Europe. Every year added to their experience in navigation, and seemed to promise some distant reward to their industry. The prospect however of arriving at India by that route was still by no means encouraging. Fifty years perseverance in the same track having brought them only to the equator, it was probable that as many more would elapse before they could accomplish their purpose.
But Columbus, by an uncommon exertion of genius, formed a design no less astonishing to the age in which he lived than beneficial to posterity. This design was to sail to India by taking a western direction. By the accounts of travellers who had visited that part of Asia, it seemed almost without limits on the east; and by attending to the spherical figure of the earth Columbus drew the natural conclusion, that the Atlantic ocean must be bounded on the west either by India itself, or by some continent not far distant from it.
This illustrious navigator, who was then about twenty-seven years of age, appears to have possessed every talent requisite to form and execute the greatest enterprises. He was early educated in such of the useful sciences as were taught in that day. He had made great proficiency in geography, astronomy and drawing, as they were necessary to his favorite pursuit of navigation. He had been a number of years in the service of the Portuguese, and had acquired all the experience that their voyages and discoveries could afford. His courage had been put to the severest test; and the exercise of every amiable as well as heroic virtue, the kindred qualities of a great mind, had secured him an extensive reputation. He had married a Portuguese lady, by whom he had two sons, Diego and Ferdinand; the younger of these is the historian of his life.
Such was the situation of Columbus, when he formed and digested a plan, which, in its operation and consequences, has unfolded to the view of mankind one half of the globe, diffused wealth and industry over the other, and is extending commerce and civilization thro the whole. To corroborate the theory he had formed of the existence of a western continent, his discerning mind, which knew the application of every circumstance that fell in his way, had observed several facts which by others would have passed unnoticed. In his voyages to the African islands he had found, floating ashore after a long western storm, pieces of wood carved in a curious manner, canes of a size unknown in that quarter of the world, and human bodies with very singular features.
The opinion being well established in his mind that a considerable portion of the earth still remained to be discovered, his temper was too vigorous and persevering to suffer an idea of this importance to rest merely in speculation, as it had done with Plato and Seneca, who seem to have entertained conjectures of a similar nature. He determined therefore to bring his theory to the test of experiment. But an object of that magnitude required the patronage of a prince; and a design so extraordinary met with all the obstructions that an age of superstition could invent, and personal jealousy enhance.
It is happy for mankind that, in this instance, a genius capable of devising the greatest undertakings associated in itself a degree of patience and enterprise, modesty and confidence, which rendered him superior to these misfortunes, and enabled him to meet with fortitude all the future calamities of his life. Excited by an ardent enthusiasm to become a discoverer of new countries, and fully sensible of the advantages that would result to mankind from such discoveries, he had the cruel mortification to wear away eighteen years of his life, after his system was well established in his own mind, before he could obtain the means of executing his projected voyage. The greatest part of this period was spent in successive solicitations in Genoa, Portugal and Spain.
As a duty to his native country he made his first proposal to the senate of Genoa, where it was soon rejected. Conscious of the truth of his theory, and of his own abilities to execute his plan, he retired without dejection from a body of men who were incapable of forming any just ideas upon the subject, and applied with fresh confidence to John Second, king of Portugal; who had distinguished himself as the great patron of navigation, and in whose service Columbus had acquired a reputation which entitled him and his project to general confidence. But here he experienced a treatment much more insulting than a direct refusal. After referring the examination of his scheme to the council who had the direction of naval affairs, and drawing from him his general ideas of the length of the voyage and the course he meant to take, that splendid monarch had the meanness to conspire with this council to rob Columbus of the glory and advantage he expected to derive from his undertaking. While Columbus was amused with the negotiation, in hopes of having his scheme adopted, a vessel was secretly dispatched by order of the king to make the intended discovery. Want of skill or courage in the pilot rendered the plot unsuccessful; and Columbus, on discovering the treachery, retired with an ingenuous indignation from a court which could be capable of such duplicity.
Having now performed what was due to the country that gave him birth, and to the one that had adopted him as a subject, he was at liberty to court the patronage of any other which should have the wisdom to accept his proposals. He had communicated his ideas to his brother Bartholomew, whom he sent to England to negotiate with Henry Seventh; at the same time he went himself into Spain to apply in person to Ferdinand and Isabella, who governed the united kingdoms of Arragon and Castile.
The circumstances of his brother's application in England, which appears to have been unsuccessful, are not to my purpose to relate; and the limits prescribed to this biographical sketch will prevent the detail of particulars respecting his own negotiation in Spain. This occupied him eight years; in which the various agitations of suspense, expectation and disappointment must have borne hard upon his patience. At length his scheme was adopted by Isabella; who undertook, as queen of Castile, to defray the expenses of the expedition, and declared herself ever after the friend and patron of the hero who projected it.
Columbus, who during his ill success in the negotiation never abated any thing of the honors and emoluments which he expected to acquire in the expedition, obtained from Ferdinand and Isabella a stipulation of every article contained in his first proposals. He was constituted high admiral and viceroy of all the seas, islands and continents which he should discover; with power to receive one tenth of the profits arising from their productions and commerce. Which offices and emoluments were to be made hereditary in his family.
These articles being adjusted, the preparations for the voyage were brought forward with rapidity; but they were by no means adequate to the importance of the expedition. Three small vessels, scarcely sufficient in size to be employed in the coasting business, were appointed to traverse the vast Atlantic, and to encounter the storms and currents always to be expected in tropical climates, uncertain seasons and unknown seas. These vessels, as we must suppose them in the infancy of navigation, were ill constructed, in a poor condition, and manned by seamen unaccustomed to distant voyages. But the tedious length of time which Columbus had passed in solicitation and suspense, and the prospect of being able soon to obtain the object of his wishes, induced him to overlook what he could not easily remedy; and led him to disregard those circumstances which would have intimidated any other mind. He accordingly equipped his small squadron with as much expedition as possible, manned with ninety men and victualled for one year. With these, on the third of August 1492, amidst a vast crowd of spectators, he set sail on an enterprise which, if we consider the ill condition of his ships, the inexperience of his sailors, the length and precarious nature of his voyage, and the consequences that flowed from it, was the most daring and important that ever was undertaken. He touched at some of the Portuguese settlements in the Canary Isles; where, altho he had been but a few days at sea, he found his vessels needed refitting. He soon made the necessary repairs, and took his departure from the westermost islands that had hitherto been discovered. Here he left the former track of navigation, and steered his course due west. Not many days after he laid this course he perceived the symptoms of a new scene of difficulty. The sailors now began to contemplate the dangers and uncertain issue of a voyage, the nature and length of which were left entirely open to conjecture. Besides the fickleness and timidity natural to men unaccustomed to the discipline of a seafaring life, several circumstances contributed to inspire an obstinate and mutinous disposition; which required the most consummate art as well as fortitude in the admiral to control. Having been three weeks at sea, and experienced the uniform course of the trade winds, they contended that, should they continue the same course for a longer time, the same winds would never permit them to return to Spain. The magnetic needle began to vary its direction. This being the first time that this phenomenon was ever noticed, it was viewed by the sailors with astonishment; they thought it an indication that nature itself had changed its laws, and that Providence was about to punish their audacity in venturing so far beyond the bounds of man. They declared that the commands of the government had been fully obeyed in their proceeding so many days in the same course, and so far surpassing all former navigators in quest of discoveries.
Every talent requisite for governing, soothing and tempering the passions of men is conspicuous in the conduct of Columbus on this occasion. The dignity and affability of his manners, his surprising knowledge and experience in naval affairs, his unwearied and minute attention to the duties of his command, gave him a great ascendency over the minds of his men, and inspired that degree of confidence which would have maintained his authority in almost any circumstances. But here, from the nature of the undertaking, every man had leisure to feed his imagination with the gloominess and uncertainty of the prospect. They found from day to day the same steady gales wafting them with rapidity from their native country, and indeed from all countries of which they had any knowledge.
He addressed himself to their passions with all the variety of management that the situation would admit, sometimes by soothing them with the prognostics of approaching land, sometimes by flattering their ambition and feasting their avarice with the glory and wealth they would acquire from discovering the rich countries beyond the Atlantic, and sometimes by threatening them with the displeasure of their king, should their disobedience defeat so great an object. But every argument soon lost its effect; and their uneasiness still increased. From secret whisperings it arose to open mutiny and dangerous conspiracy. At length they determined to rid themselves of the remonstrances of Columbus by throwing him into the sea. The infection spread from ship to ship, and involved officers as well as sailors. They finally lost all sense of subordination and addressed their commander in an insolent manner, demanding to be conducted immediately back to Spain; or, they assured him, they would seek their own safety by taking away his life.
Columbus, whose sagacity had discerned every symptom of the disorder, was prepared for this last stage of it; and was sufficiently apprized of the danger that awaited him. He found it vain to contend with passions he could no longer control. He therefore proposed that they should obey his orders for three days longer; and should they not discover land in that time, he would then direct his course for Spain. They complied with his proposal; and, happily for mankind, in three days they discovered land. This was a small island, to which he gave the name of San Salvador. His first interview with the natives was a scene of compassion on the one part and astonishment on the other, but highly interesting to both. The natives were entirely naked, simple and timorous; and they viewed the Spaniards as a superior order of beings descended from the sun; which, in that island and in most parts of America, was worshipped as a Deity. By this it was easy for Columbus to perceive the line of conduct proper to be observed toward that simple and inoffensive people. Had his companions and successors of the Spanish nation possessed the wisdom and humanity of this great discoverer, the benevolent mind would have had to experience no sensations of regret in contemplating the extensive advantages arising to mankind from the discovery of America.
In this voyage Columbus discovered the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola, on the latter of which he erected a small fort; and having left a garrison of thirty-eight men he set sail for Spain. Returning across the Atlantic, he was overtaken by a violent storm, which lasted several days, and increased to such a degree as baffled his naval skill and threatened immediate destruction. In this situation when all were in a state of despair, and it was expected that every sea would swallow up the crazy vessel, he manifested a serenity and presence of mind seldom equalled in cases of like extremity. He wrote a short account of his voyage and of the discoveries he had made; this he hastily wrapt in an oiled cloth, then enclosed it in a cake of wax and put it into an empty cask, which he threw overboard, in hopes that some fortunate accident might preserve a deposit of so much importance to the world.
The storm however abated, and he at length arrived in Spain, after having been driven by stress of weather into the port of Lisbon; where he had opportunity, in an interview with the king of Portugal, to prove the truth of his system by arguments more convincing than those he had before advanced in the character of a bold projector but humble suitor. He was received every where in Spain with royal honors; his family was ennobled, and his former stipulation respecting his offices and emoluments was ratified in the most solemn manner by Ferdinand and Isabella; while all Europe resounded his praises, and reciprocated their joy and congratulations on the discovery of what they called a new world.
The immediate consequence was a second voyage, in which Columbus took charge of a squadron of seventeen ships of considerable burden. Volunteers of all ranks solicited to be employed in this expedition. He carried over fifteen hundred persons, with the necessaries for establishing a colony and extending his discoveries. In this voyage he explored most of the West India islands; but on his arrival at Hispaniola he found that the garrison he had left there had been all destroyed by the natives, and the fort demolished. He proceeded however in the planting of his colony; and by his prudent and humane conduct towards the natives he effectually established the Spanish authority in that island. But while he was thus laying the foundation of European dominion in America, some discontented persons, who had returned to Spain, uniting with his former opponents and powerful enemies at court, conspired to accomplish his ruin.
They represented his conduct in such a light as to create uneasiness in the jealous mind of Ferdinand, and make it necessary for Columbus again to return to Spain, to counteract their machinations and obtain such farther supplies as were necessary to his great political and beneficent purposes. On his arriving at court, and stating with his usual dignity and confidence the whole history of his transactions abroad, every thing wore a favorable appearance. He was received with the same honors as before, and solicited to take charge of another squadron, to carry out farther supplies, to pursue his discoveries, and in every respect to use his discretion in extending the Spanish empire in the new world.
In this third voyage he discovered the continent of America at the mouth of the river Orinoco. He rectified many disorders in his government of Hispaniola, which had happened in his absence; and every thing was going on in a prosperous train, when an event was announced to him, which completed his own ruin and gave a fatal turn to the Spanish policy and conduct in America. This was the arrival of Francis de Bovadilla, with a commission to supersede Columbus in his government, to arraign him as a criminal, and pronounce judgment on all his former administration.
It seems that by this time the enemies of Columbus, despairing to complete his overthrow by groundless insinuations of malconduct, had taken the more effectual method of exciting the jealousy of their sovereigns. From the promising samples of gold and other valuable commodities brought from America, they took occasion to represent to the king and queen that the prodigious wealth and extent of the countries he had discovered would soon throw such power into the hands of the viceroy, that he would trample on the royal authority and bid defiance to the Spanish power. These arguments were well calculated for the cold and suspicious temper of Ferdinand; and they must have had some effect upon the mind of Isabella. The consequence was the appointment of Bovadilla, the inveterate enemy of Columbus, to take the government from his hands. This first tyrant of the Spanish nation in America began his administration by ordering Columbus to be put in chains on board of a ship, and sending him prisoner to Spain. By relaxing all discipline he introduced disorder and licentiousness thro the colony. He subjected the unhappy natives to a most miserable servitude, and apportioned them out in large numbers among his adherents. Under this severe treatment perished in a short time many thousands of those innocent people.
Columbus was carried in his fetters to the Spanish court, where the king and queen either feigned or felt a sufficient regret at the conduct of Bovadilla towards their illustrious prisoner. He was not only released from confinement; he was treated with all imaginable respect. But, altho the king endeavored to expiate the offence by censuring and recalling Bovadilla, yet we may judge of his sincerity from his appointing Nicholas de Ovando, another well known enemy of Columbus, to succeed in the government; and from his ever after refusing to reinstate Columbus, or to fulfil any of the conditions on which the discoveries had been undertaken.
After two years of solicitation for this or some other employment, he at length obtained a squadron of four small vessels to attempt new discoveries. He then set out, with the enthusiasm of a young adventurer, in quest of what was always his favorite object, a passage into the South Sea, by which he might sail to India. He touched at Hispaniola, where Ovando the governor refused him admittance on shore, even to take shelter during a hurricane, the prognostics of which his experience had taught him to discern. By putting into a creek he rode out the storm, and then bore away for the continent. He spent several months, the most boisterous of the year, in exploring the coast round the gulph of Mexico, in hopes of finding the intended navigation to India. At length he was shipwrecked, and driven ashore on the island of Jamaica.
His cup of calamities seemed now to be full. He was cast upon an island of savages, without provisions, without a vessel, and thirty leagues from any Spanish settlement. But the greatest physical misfortunes are capable of being embittered by the insults of our fellow creatures. A few of his companions generously offered, in two Indian canoes, to attempt a voyage to Hispaniola, in hopes of obtaining a vessel for the relief of the unhappy crew. After suffering every extremity of danger and fatigue, they arrived at the Spanish colony in ten days. Ovando, excited by personal malice against Columbus, detained these messengers for eight months, and then despatched a vessel to Jamaica to spy out the condition of Columbus and his crew, with positive instructions to the captain not to afford them any relief. This order was punctually executed. The captain approached the shore, delivered a letter of empty compliment from Ovando to the admiral, received his answer and returned. About four months afterwards a vessel came to their relief; and Columbus, worn out with fatigues and broken by misfortunes, returned for the last time to Spain. Here a new distress awaited him, which he considered as one of the greatest of his whole life: this was the death of queen Isabella, his last and most powerful friend.
He did not suddenly abandon himself to despair. He called upon the gratitude and justice of the king; and in terms of dignity demanded the fulfilment of his former contract. Notwithstanding his age and infirmities, he even solicited to be farther employed in extending the career of discovery, without a prospect of any other reward than the pleasure of doing good to mankind. But Ferdinand, cold ungrateful and timid, dared not comply with any proposal of this kind, lest he should increase his own obligations to a man, whose services he thought it dangerous to reward. He therefore delayed and avoided any decision on these subjects, in hopes that the declining health of Columbus would soon rid the court of the remonstrances of a suitor, whose unexampled merit was, in their opinion, a sufficient reason for destroying him. In this they were not disappointed. Columbus languished a short time, and gladly resigned a life which had been worn out in the most signal services perhaps that have been rendered by any one man to an ungrateful world.
Posterity is sometimes more just to the memory of great men than contemporaries were to their persons. But even this consolation, if it be one, has been wanting to the discoverer of our hemisphere. The continent, instead of bearing his name, has been called after one of his followers, a man of no particular merit. And in the modern city of Mexico there is instituted and perpetuated, by order of government, an annual festival in honour of Hernando Cortez, the perfidious butcher of its ancient race; while no public honors have been decreed to Christopher Columbus, one of the wisest and best among the benefactors of mankind.
After his last return from America he seems to have past the short remainder of his life at Valladolid, the capital of Old Castile, and then the seat of the Spanish government. He died in that city on the twentieth of August 1506, and was buried in one of its churches. Over his body is a plain stone inscribed simply with his name, as it is written in Spanish, CHRISTOVAL COLON.
His son, who wrote his life, has left us a particular description of his person, manners and private character; all of which were agreeable and interesting. His portrait is in possession of the author of this poem. It is painted in oil, half length and the size of life, copied from an original picture in the gallery of Florence.
Subject of the Poem, and invocation to Freedom. Condition of Columbus in a Spanish prison. His monologue on the great actions of his life, and the manner in which they had been rewarded. Appearance and speech of Hesper, the guardian Genius of the western continent. They quit the dungeon, and ascend the mount of vision, which rises over the western coast of Spain; Europe settling from their sight, and the Atlantic ocean spreading far beneath their feet. Continent of America draws into view, and is described by its mountains, rivers, lakes, soil and some of the natural productions.
I sing the Mariner who first unfurl'd An eastern banner o'er the western world, And taught mankind where future empires lay In these fair confines of descending day; Who sway'd a moment, with vicarious power, Iberia's sceptre on the new found shore, Then saw the paths his virtuous steps had trod Pursued by avarice and defiled with blood, The tribes he foster'd with paternal toil Snatch'd from his hand, and slaughter'd for their spoil.
Slaves, kings, adventurers, envious of his name, Enjoy'd his labours and purloin'd his fame, And gave the Viceroy, from his high seat hurl'd. Chains for a crown, a prison for a world Long overwhelm'd in woes, and sickening there, He met the slow still march of black despair, Sought the last refuge from his hopeless doom, And wish'd from thankless men a peaceful tomb: Till vision'd ages, opening on his eyes, Cheer'd his sad soul, and bade new nations rise; He saw the Atlantic heaven with light o'ercast, And Freedom crown his glorious work at last.
Almighty Freedom! give my venturous song The force, the charm that to thy voice belong; Tis thine to shape my course, to light my way, To nerve my country with the patriot lay, To teach all men where all their interest lies, How rulers may be just and nations wise: Strong in thy strength I bend no suppliant knee, Invoke no miracle, no Muse but thee.
Night held on old Castile her silent reign, Her half orb'd moon declining to the main; O'er Valladolid's regal turrets hazed The drizzly fogs from dull Pisuerga raised; Whose hovering sheets, along the welkin driven, Thinn'd the pale stars, and shut the eye from heaven. Cold-hearted Ferdinand his pillow prest, Nor dream'd of those his mandates robb'd of rest, Of him who gemm'd his crown, who stretch'd his reign To realms that weigh'd the tenfold poise of Spain; Who now beneath his tower indungeon'd lies, Sweats the chill sod and breathes inclement skies.
His feverish pulse, slow laboring thro his frame, Feeds with scant force its fast expiring flame; A far dim watch-lamp's thrice reflected beam Throws thro his grates a mist-encumber'd gleam, Paints the dun vapors that the cell invade, And fills with spectred forms the midnight shade; When from a visionary short repose, That nursed new cares and temper'd keener woes, Columbus woke, and to the walls addrest The deep felt sorrows bursting from his breast:
Here lies the purchase, here the wretched spoil Of painful years and persevering toil. For these damp caves, this hideous haunt of pain, I traced new regions o'er the chartless main, Tamed all the dangers of untraversed waves, Hung o'er their clefts, and topt their surging graves, Saw traitorous seas o'er coral mountains sweep, Red thunders rock the pole and scorch the deep, Death rear his front in every varying form, Gape from the shoals and ride the roaring storm, My struggling bark her seamy planks disjoin, Rake the rude rock and drink the copious brine. Till the tired elements are lull'd at last, And milder suns allay the billowing blast, Lead on the trade winds with unvarying force, And long and landless curve our constant course.
Our homeward heaven recoils; each night forlorn Calls up new stars, and backward rolls the morn; The boreal vault descends with Europe's shore, And bright Calisto shuns the wave no more, The Dragon dips his fiery-foaming jole, The affrighted magnet flies the faithless pole; Nature portends a general change of laws, My daring deeds are deemed the guilty cause; The desperate crew, to insurrection driven, Devote their captain to the wrath of heaven, Resolve at once to end the audacious strife, And buy their safety with his forfeit life.
In that sad hour, this feeble frame to save, (Unblest reprieve) and rob the gaping wave, The morn broke forth, these tearful orbs descried The golden banks that bound the western tide. With full success I calm'd the clamorous race, Bade heaven's blue arch a second earth embrace; And gave the astonish'd age that bounteous shore, Their wealth to nations, and to kings their power.
Land of delights! ah, dear delusive coast, To these fond aged eyes forever lost! No more thy flowery vales I travel o'er, For me thy mountains rear the head no more, For me thy rocks no sparkling gems unfold, Nor streams luxuriant wear their paths in gold; From realms of promised peace forever borne, I hail mute anguish, and in secret mourn.
But dangers past, a world explored in vain, And foes triumphant show but half my pain. Dissembling friends, each early joy who gave, And fired my youth the storms of fate to brave, Swarm'd in the sunshine of my happier days, Pursued the fortune and partook the praise, Now pass my cell with smiles of sour disdain, Insult my woes and triumph in my pain.
One gentle guardian once could shield the brave; But now that guardian slumbers in the grave. Hear from above, thou dear departed shade; As once my hopes, my present sorrows aid, Burst my full heart, afford that last relief, Breathe back my sighs and reinspire my grief; Still in my sight thy royal form appears, Reproves my silence and demands my tears. Even on that hour no more I joy to dwell, When thy protection bade the canvass swell; When kings and churchmen found their factions vain, Blind superstition shrunk beneath her chain, The sun's glad beam led on the circling way, And isles rose beauteous in Atlantic day. For on those silvery shores, that new domain, What crowds of tyrants fix their murderous reign! Her infant realm indignant Freedom flies, Truth leaves the world, and Isabella dies.
Ah, lend thy friendly shroud to veil my sight, That these pain'd eyes may dread no more the light; These welcome shades shall close my instant doom, And this drear mansion moulder to a tornb.
Thus mourn'd the hapless man: a thundering sound Roll'd thro the shuddering walls and shook the ground; O'er all the dungeon, where black arches bend, The roofs unfold, and streams of light descend; The growing splendor fills the astonish'd room, And gales etherial breathe a glad perfume. Robed in the radiance, moves a form serene, Of human structure, but of heavenly mien; Near to the prisoner's couch he takes his stand, And waves, in sign of peace, his holy hand. Tall rose his stature, youth's endearing grace Adorn'd his limbs and brighten'd in his face; Loose o'er his locks the star of evening hung, And sounds melodious moved his cheerful tongue:
Rise, trembling chief, to scenes of rapture rise; This voice awaits thee from the western skies; Indulge no longer that desponding strain, Nor count thy toils, nor deem thy virtues vain. Thou seest in me the guardian Power who keeps The new found world that skirts Atlantic deeps, Hesper my name, my seat the brightest throne In night's whole heaven, my sire the living sun, My brother Atlas with his name divine Stampt the wild wave; the solid coast is mine.
[Note: Atlas and Hesper were of the race of Titans. They were sons of Uranus, or of Japetus, according as the fable is traced to different countries, whose supreme God (originally the sun) was called by different names. Atlas, from being king of Mauritania, became a mountain to support the heavens, and gave his name to the western ocean. Hesper frequented that mountain in the study of astronomy; till one evening he disappeared, and returned no more. He was then placed in the western heaven; and, having been a beautiful young man, he became a beautiful planet, called the evening star. This circumstance gave his name to the western regions of the earth indefinitely. Italy was called Hesperia by the Greeks, because it lay west from them, and seemed under the influence of the star of evening; Spain was called Hesperia by the Romans, for the same reason.
If the nations which adopted this fable had known of a country west of the Atlantic, that country must have been Hesperia to them all; and pursuing this analogy I have so named it, in several instances, in the course of this poem. Considering Hesper as the guardian Genius, and Columbus as the Discoverer, of the western continent, it may derive its name, in poetical language, from either of theirs indifferently, and be called Hesperia or Columbia.
Atlas is considered in this poem as the guardian Genius of Africa. See his speech, in the eighth book, on the slavery of his people.
This explanation seemed of such immediate importance for understanding the machinery of the poem, as to require its being placed here. The other notes, being numerous and some of them long, have been forced to yield to typographical elegance; and are placed at the end of the volume, with suitable reference to the passages to which they belong.]
This hand, which form'd, and in the tides of time Laves and improves the meliorating clime, Which taught thy prow to cleave the trackless way, And hail'd thee first in occidental day, To all thy worth shall vindicate thy claim, And raise up nations to revere thy name.
In this dark age tho blinded faction sways, And wealth and conquest gain the palm of praise; Awed into slaves while groveling millions groan, And blood-stain'd steps lead upward to a throne; Far other wreaths thy virtuous temples twine, Far nobler triumphs crown a life like thine; Thine be the joys that minds immortal grace, As thine the deeds that bless a kindred race. Now raise thy sorrowed soul to views more bright, The vision'd ages rushing on thy sight; Worlds beyond worlds shall bring to light their stores, Time, nature, science blend their utmost powers, To show, concentred in one blaze of fame, The ungather'd glories that await thy name.
As that great seer, whose animating rod Taught Jacob's sons their wonder-working God, Who led thro dreary wastes the murmuring band, And reach'd the confines of their promised land, Opprest with years, from Pisgah's towering height, On fruitful Canaan feasted long his sight; The bliss of unborn nations warm'd his breast, Repaid his toils and sooth'd his soul to rest; Thus o'er thy subject wave shalt thou behold Far happier realms their future charms unfold, In nobler pomp another Pisgah rise, Beneath whose foot thy new found Canaan lies; There, rapt in vision, hail my favorite clime, And taste the blessings of remotest time.
So Hesper spoke; Columbus raised his head; His chains dropt off; the cave, the castle fled. Forth walked the Pair; when steep before them stood; Slope from the town, a heaven-illumined road; That thro disparting shades arose on high, Reach'd o'er the hills, and lengthen'd up the sky, Show'd a clear summit, rich with rising flowers, That breathe their odors thro celestial bowers. O'er the proud Pyrenees it looks sublime, Subjects the Alps, and levels Europe's clime; Spain, lessening to a chart, beneath it swims, And shrouds her dungeons in the void she dims.
Led by the Power, the Hero gain'd the height, New strength and brilliance flush'd his mortal sight; When calm before them flow'd the western main, Far stretch'd, immense, a sky-encircled plain. No sail, no isle, no cloud invests the bound, Nor billowy surge disturbs the vast profound; Till, deep in distant heavens, the sun's blue ray Topt unknown cliffs and call'd them up to day; Slow glimmering into sight wide regions drew, And rose and brighten'd on the expanding view; Fair sweep the waves, the lessening ocean smiles, In misty radiance loom a thousand isles; Near and more near the long drawn coasts arise, Bays stretch their arms and mountains lift the skies, The lakes, high mounded, point the streams their way, Slopes, ridges, plains their spreading skirts display, The vales branch forth, high walk approaching groves, And all the majesty of nature moves.
O'er the wild hemisphere his glances fly, Its form unfolding as it still draws nigh, As all its salient sides force far their sway, Crowd back the ocean and indent the day. He saw, thro central zones, the winding shore Spread the deep Gulph his sail had traced before, The Darien isthmus check the raging tide, Join distant lands, and neighboring seas divide; On either hand the shores unbounded bend, Push wide their waves, to each dim pole ascend; The two twin continents united rise, Broad as the main, and lengthen'd with the skies.
Long gazed the Mariner; when thus the Guide: Here spreads the world thy daring sail descried, Hesperia call'd, from my anterior claim; But now Columbia, from thy patriarch name. So from Phenicia's peopled strand of yore Europa sail'd, and sought an unknown shore; There stampt her sacred name; and thence her race, Hale, venturous, bold, from Jove's divine embrace, Ranged o'er the world, predestined to bestride Earth's elder continents and each far tide.
Ages unborn shall bless the happier day, That saw thy streamer shape the guideless way, Their bravest heroes trace the path you led, And sires of nations thro the regions spread. Behold yon isles, where first thy flag unfurl'd In bloodless triumph o'er the younger world; As, awed to silence, savage bands gave place, And hail'd with joy the sun-descended race.
Retrace the banks yon rushing waters lave; There Orinoco checks great ocean's wave; Thine is the stream; it cleaves the well known coast, Where Paria's walks thy former footsteps boast. But these no more thy wide discoveries bound; Superior prospects lead their swelling round; Nature's remotest scenes before thee roll, And years and empires open on thy soul.
To yon dim rounds first elevate thy view; See Quito's plains o'erlook their proud Peru; On whose huge base, like isles amid sky driven, A vast protuberance props the cope of heaven; Earth's loftiest turrets there contend for height, And all our Andes fill the bounded sight. From south to north what long blue swells arise, Built thro the clouds, and lost in ambient skies! Approaching slow they heave expanding bounds, The yielding concave bends sublimer rounds; Whose wearied stars, high curving to the west, Pause on the summits for a moment's rest; Recumbent there they renovate their force, And roll rejoicing on their downward course.
Round each bluff base the sloping ravine bends; Hills forms on hills, and croupe o'er croupe extends; Ascending, whitening, how the crags are lost, O'erhung with headcliffs of eternal frost! Broad fields of ice give back the morning ray, Like walls of suns, or heaven's perennial day.
There folding storms on eastern pinions ride, Veil the black void, and wrap the mountains side, Rude thunders rake the crags, the rains descend, And the long lightnings o'er the vallies bend; While blasts unburden'd sweep the cliffs of snow, The whirlwinds wheel above, the floods convolve below.
There molten rocks explosive rend their tomb; Volcanos, laboring many a nation's doom, Wild o'er the regions pour their floods of fire; The shores heave backward, and the seas retire. There lava waits my late reluctant call, To roar aloft and shake some guilty wall; Thy pride, O Lima, swells the sulphurous wave, And fanes and priests and idols crowd thy grave.
But cease, my son, these dread events to trace, Nor learn the woes that here await thy race. Anorth from that broad gulph, where verdant rise Those gentler mounds that skirt the temperate skies, A happier hemisphere invites thy view; Tis there the old world shall embrace the new: There Europe's better sons their seat shall trace, And change of government improve the race. Thro all the midsky zones, to yon blue pole, Their green hills lengthen, their bright rivers roll; And swelling westward, how their champaigns run! How slope their uplands to the morning sun!
So spoke the blest Immortal; when more near His northern wilds in all their breadth appear; Lands yet unknown, and streams without a name Rise into vision and demand their fame. As when some saint first gains his bright abode, Vaults o'er the spheres and views the works of God, Sees earth, his kindred orb, beneath him roll, Here glow the centre, and there point the pole; O'er land and sea his eyes delighted rove, And human thoughts his heavenly joys improve; With equal scope the raptured Hero's sight Ranged the low vale, or climb'd the cloudy height, As, fixt in ardent look, his opening mind, Explored the realms that here invite mankind.
From sultry Mobile's gulph-indented shore To where Ontario hears his Laurence roar, Stretch'd o'er the broadback'd hills, in long array. The tenfold Alleganies meet the day. And show, far sloping from the plains and streams, The forest azure streak'd with orient beams. High moved the scene, Columbus gazed sublime, And thus in prospect hail'd the happy clime: Blest be the race my guardian guide shall lead Where these wide vales their various bounties spread! What treasured stores the hills must here combine! Sleep still ye diamonds, and ye ores refine; Exalt your heads ye oaks, ye pines ascend, Till future navies bid your branches bend; Then spread the canvass o'er the watery way, Explore new worlds and teach the old your sway.
He said, and northward cast his curious eyes On other cliffs of more exalted size. Where Maine's bleak breakers line the dangerous coast, And isles and shoals their latent horrors boast, High lantern'd in his heaven the cloudless White Heaves the glad sailor an eternal light; Who far thro troubled ocean greets the guide, And stems with steadier helm the stormful tide.
Nor could those heights unnoticed raise their head, That swell sublime o'er Hudson's shadowy bed; Tho fiction ne'er has hung them in the skies, Tho White and Andes far superior rise, Yet hoary Kaatskill, where the storms divide, Would lift the heavens from Atlas' laboring pride.
Land after land his passing notice claim, And hills by hundreds rise without a name; Hills yet unsung, their mystic powers untold; Celestials there no sacred senates hold; No chain'd Prometheus feasts the vulture there, No Cyclop forges thro their summits glare, To Phrygian Jove no victim smoke is curl'd, Nor ark high landing quits a deluged world. But were these masses piled on Asia's shore, Taurus would shrink, Hemodia strut no more, Indus and Ganges scorn their humble sires, And rising suns salute superior fires; Whose watchful priest would meet, with matin blaze, His earlier God, and sooner chaunt his praise. For here great nature, with a bolder hand, Roll'd the broad stream, and heaved the lifted land; And here from finish'd earth, triumphant trod The last ascending steps of her creating God.
He saw these mountains ope their watery stores, Floods quit their caves and seek the distant shores; Wilcl thro disparting plains their waves expand, And lave the banks where future towns must stand. Whirl'd from the monstrous Andes' bursting sides, Maragnon leads his congregating tides; A thousand Alps for him dissolve their snow, A thousand Rhones obedient bend below, From different zones their ways converging wind, Sweep beds of ore, and leave their gold behind, In headlong cataracts indignant rave, Rush to his banks and swell the swallowing wave. Ucayla, first of all his mighty sons, From Cusco's walls a wearied journey runs; Pastaza mines proud Pambamarca's base, And holds thro sundering hills his lawless race; Aloft, where Cotopaxa flames on high, The roaring Napo quits his misty sky, Down the long steeps in whitening torrents driven, Like Nile descending from his fabled heaven; Mound after mound impetuous Tigris rends, Curved Ista folds whole countries in his bends; Vast Orinoco, summon'd forth to bring His far fetch'd honors to the sateless king, Drives on his own strong course to gain the shore, But sends Catuba here with half his store; Like a broad Bosphorus here Negro guides The gather'd mass of fifty furious tides; From his waste world, by nameless fountains fed, Wild Purus wears his long and lonely bed; O'er twelve degrees of earth Madera flows, And robs the south of half its treasured snows; Zingus, of equal length and heavier force, Rolls on, for months, the same continuous course To reach his master's bank; that here constrains Topayo, charged with all Brazilians rains; While inland seas, and lakes unknown to fame, Send their full tributes to the monarch stream; Who, swell'd with growing conquest, wheels abroad, Drains every land, and gathers all his flood; Then far from clime to clime majestic goes, Enlarging, widening, deepening as he flows; Like heaven's broad milky way he shines alone, Spreads o'er the globe its equatorial zone, Weighs the cleft continent, and pushes wide Its balanced mountains from each crumbling side. Sire Ocean hears his proud Maragnon roar, Moves up his bed, and seeks in vain the shore, Then surging strong, with high and hoary tide, Whelms back the Stream and checks his rolling pride. The stream ungovernable foams with ire, Climbs, combs tempestuous, and attacks the Sire; Earth feels the conflict o'er her bosom spread, Her isles and uplands hide their wood-crown'd head; League after league from land to water change, From realm to realm the seaborn monsters range; Vast midland heights but pierce the liquid plain, Old Andes tremble for their proud domain; Till the fresh Flood regains his forceful sway, Drives back his father Ocean, lash'd with spray; Whose ebbing waters lead the downward sweep, And waves and trees and banks roll whirling to the deep. Where suns less ardent cast their golden beams, And minor Andes pour a waste of streams, The marsh of Moxoe scoops the world, and fills (From Bahia's coast to Cochabamba's hills) A thousand leagues of bog; he strives in vain Their floods to centre and their lakes retain; His gulphs o'ercharged their opening sides display, And southern vales prolong the seaward way. Columbus traced, with swift exploring eye, The immense of waves that here exalted lie, The realms that mound the unmeasured magazine, The far blue main, the climes that stretch between. He saw Xaraya's diamond banks unfold, And Paraguay's deep channel paved with gold, Saw proud Potosi lift his glittering head, And pour down Plata thro his tinctured bed. Rich with the spoils of many a distant mine, In his broad silver sea their floods combine; Wide over earth his annual freshet strays, And highland drains with lowland drench repays; Her thirsty regions wait his glad return, And drink their future harvest from his urn.
Where the cold circles gird the southern sky. Brave Magellan's wild channel caught his eye; The long cleft ridges wall'd the spreading way. That gleams far westward to an unknown sea. Soon as the distant swell was seen to roll, His ancient wishes reabsorb'd his soul; Warm from his heaving heart a sudden sigh Burst thro his lips; he turn'd his moisten'd eye, And thus besought his Angel: speak, my guide, Where leads the pass? and what yon purple tide? How the dim waves in blending ether stray! No lands behind them rise, no pinions on them play. There spreads, belike, that other unsail'd main I sought so long, and sought, alas, in vain; To gird this watery globe, and bring to light Old India's coast; and regions wrapt in night. Restore, celestial friend, my youthful morn, Call back my years, and let my fame return; Grant me to trace, beyond that pathless sea, Some happier shore from lust of empire free; To find in that far world a peaceful bower, From envy safe and curst Ovando's power. Earth's happiest realms let not their distance hide, Nor seas forever roll their useless tide. For nations yet unborn, that wait thy time, Demand their seats in that secluded clime; Ah, grant me still, their passage to prepare. One venturous bark, and be my life thy care.
So pray'd the Hero; Hesper mild replies, Divine compassion softening in his eyes, Tho still to virtuous deeds thy mind aspires, And these glad visions kindle new desires, Yet hear with reverence what attends thy state, Nor wish to pass the eternal bounds of fate. Led by this sacred light thou soon shalt see That half mankind shall owe their seats to thee, Freedom's first empire claim its promised birth In these rich rounds of sea-encircled earth; Let other years, by thine example prest, Call forth their heroes to explore the rest.
Thro different seas a twofold passage lies To where sweet India scents a waste of skies. The circling course, by Madagascar's shores, Round Afric's cape, bold Gama now explores; Thy well plann'd path these gleamy straits provide, Nor long shall rest the daring search untried. This idle frith must open soon to fame, Here a lost Lusitanian fix his name, From that new main in furious waves be tost, And fall neglected on the barbarous coast.
But lo the Chief! bright Albion bids him rise, Speed in his pinions, ardor in his eyes! Hither, O Drake, display thy hastening sails, Widen ye passes, and awake ye gales, March thou before him, heaven-revolving sun, Wind his long course, and teach him where to run; Earth's distant shores, in circling bands unite, Lands, learn your fame, and oceans, roll in light, Round all the watery globe his flag be hurl'd, A new Columbus to the astonish'd world.
He spoke; and silent tow'rd the northern sky Wide o'er the hills the Hero cast his eye, Saw the long floods thro devious channels pour, And wind their currents to the opening shore; Interior seas and lonely lakes display Their glittering glories to the beams of day. Thy capes, Virginia, towering from the tide, Raise their blue banks, and slope thy barriers wide, To future sails unfold an inland way, And guard secure thy multifluvian Bay; That drains uncounted realms, and here unites The liquid mass from Alleganian heights. York leads his wave, imbank'd in flowery pride, And nobler James falls winding by his side; Back to the hills, thro many a silent vale, While Rappahanok seems to lure the sail, Patapsco's bosom courts the hand of toil, Dull Susquehanna laves a length of soil; But mightier far, in sealike azure spread, Potowmak sweeps his earth disparting bed.
Long dwelt his eye where these commingling pour'd, Their waves unkeel'd, their havens unexplored; Where frowning forests stretch the dusky wing, And deadly damps forbid the flowers to spring; No seasons clothe the field with cultured grain, No buoyant ship attempts the chartless main; Then with impatient voice: My Seer, he cried, When shall my children cross the lonely tide? Here, here my sons, the hand of culture bring, Here teach the lawn to smile, the grove to sing: Ye laboring floods, no longer vainly glide, Ye harvests load them, and ye forests ride; Bear the deep burden from the joyous swain, And tell the world where peace and plenty reign.
Hesper to this return'd him no reply, But raised new visions to his roving eye. He saw broad Delaware the shores divide, He saw majestic Hudson pour his tide; Thy stream, my Hartford, thro its misty robe, Play'd in the sunbeams, belting far the globe; No watery glades thro richer vallies shine, Nor drinks the sea a lovelier wave than thine.
Mystick and Charles refresh their seaward isles, And gay Piscateway pays his passing smiles; Swift Kenebec, high bursting from his lakes, Shoots down the hillsides thro the clouds he makes; And hoarse resounding, gulphing wide the shore, Dread Laurence labors with tremendous roar; Laurence, great son of Ocean! lorn he lies, And braves the blasts of hyperborean skies. Where hoary winter holds his howling reign, And April flings her timid showers in vain, Groans the choked Flood, in frozen fetters bound, And isles of ice his angry front surround.
As old Enceladus, in durance vile, Spreads his huge length beneath Sicilia's isle, Feels mountains, crush'd by mountains, on him prest, Close not his veins, nor still his laboring breast; His limbs convulse, his heart rebellious rolls, Earth shakes responsive to her utmost poles, While rumbling, bursting, boils his ceaseless ire, Flames to mid heaven, and sets the skies on fire. So the contristed Laurence lays him low, And hills of sleet and continents of snow Rise on his crystal breast; his heaving sides Crash with the weight, and pour their gushing tides, Asouth, whence all his hundred branches bend, Relenting airs with boreal blasts contend; Far in his vast extremes he swells and thaws, And seas foam wide between his ice-bound jaws. Indignant Frost, to hold his captive, plies His hosted fiends that vex the polar skies, Unlocks his magazines of nitric stores, Azotic charms and muriatic powers; Hail, with its glassy globes, and brume congeal'd, Rime's fleecy flakes, and storm that heaps the field Strike thro the sullen Stream with numbing force, Obstruct his sluices and impede his course. In vain he strives; his might interior fails; Nor spring's approach, nor earth's whole heat avails; He calls his hoary Sire; old Ocean roars Responsive echoes thro the Shetland shores. He comes, the Father! from his bleak domains, To break with liquid arms the sounding chains; Clothed in white majesty, he leads from far His tides high foaming to the wintry war. Billows on billows lift the maddening brine, And seas and clouds in battling conflict join, O'erturn the vast gulph glade with rending sweep, And crash the crust that bridged the boiling deep; Till forced aloft, bright bounding thro the air, Moves the blear ice, and sheds a dazzling glare; The torn foundations on the surface ride, And wrecks of winter load the downward tide.
The loosen'd ice-isles o'er the main advance, Toss on the surge, and thro the concave dance; Whirl'd high, conjoin'd, in crystal mountains driven, Alp over Alp, they build a midway heaven; Whose million mirrors mock the solar ray, And give condensed the tenfold glare of day. As tow'rd the south the mass enormous glides. And brineless rivers furrow down its sides; The thirsty sailor steals a glad supply, And sultry trade winds quaff the boreal sky.
But oft insidious death, with mist o'erstrown, Rides the dark ocean on this icy throne; When ships thro vernal seas with light airs steer Their midnight march, and deem no danger near. The steerman gaily helms his course along, And laughs and listens to the watchman's song, Who walks the deck, enjoys the murky fog, Sure of his chart, his magnet and his log; Their shipmates dreaming, while their slumbers last, Of joys to come, of toils and dangers past. Sudden a chilling blast comes roaring thro The trembling shrouds, and startles all the crew; They spring to quarters, and perceive too late The mount of death, the giant strides of fate. The fullsail'd ship, with instantaneous shock, Dash'd into fragments by the floating rock, Plunges beneath its basement thro the wave, And crew and cargo glut the watery grave.
Say, Palfrey, brave good man, was this thy doom? Dwells here the secret of thy midsea tomb? But, Susan, why that tear? my lovely friend, Regret may last, but grief should have an end. An infant then, thy memory scarce can trace The lines, tho sacred, of thy father's face; A generous spouse has well replaced the sire; New duties hence new sentiments require.
Now where the lakes, those midland oceans, lie, Columbus turn'd his heaven-illumined eye. Ontario's banks, unable to retain The five great Caspians from the distant main, Burst with the ponderous mass, and forceful whirl'd His Laurence forth, to balance thus the world. Above, bold Erie's wave sublimely stood, Look'd o'er the cliff, and heaved his headlong flood; Where dread Niagara bluffs high his brow, And frowns defiance to the world below. White clouds of mist expanding o'er him play, That tinge their skirts in all the beams of day; Pleased Iris wantons in perpetual pride, And bends her rainbows o'er the dashing tide. Far glimmering in the north, bleak Huron runs, Clear Michigan reflects a thousand suns, And bason'd high, on earth's broad bosom gay, The bright Superior silvers down the day.
Blue mounds beyond them far in ether fade, Deep groves between them cast a solemn shade, Slow moves their settling mist in lurid streams, And dusky radiance streaks the solar beams. Fixt on the view the great discoverer stood, And thus addrest the messenger of good: But why these seats, that seem reserved to grace The social toils of some illustrious race, Why spread so wide and form'd so fair in vain? And why so distant rolls the bounteous main? These happy regions must forever rest, Of man unseen, by native beasts possest; And the best heritage my sons could boast Illude their search in far dim deserts lost, For see, no ship can point her pendants here, No stream conducts nor ocean wanders near; Frost, crags and cataracts their north invest, And the tired sun scarce finds their bounds awest.
To whom the Seraph: Here indeed retires The happiest land that feels my fostering fires; Here too shall numerous nations found their seat, And peace and freedom bless the kind retreat. Led by this arm thy sons shall hither come, And streams obedient yield the heroes room, Spread a broad passage to their well known main, Nor sluice their lakes, nor form their soils in vain.
Here my bold Missisippi bends his way, Scorns the dim bounds of yon bleak boreal day, And calls from western heavens, to feed his stream, The rains and floods that Asian seas might claim. Strong in his march, and charged with all the fates Of regions pregnant with a hundred states. He holds in balance, ranged on either hand, Two distant oceans and their sundering land; Commands and drains the interior tracts that lie Outmeasuring Europe's total breadth of sky.
High in the north his parent fountains wed, And oozing urns adorn his infant head; In vain proud Frost his nursing lakes would close, And choke his channel with perennial snows; From all their slopes he curves his countless rills, Sweeps their long marshes, saps their settling hills; Then stretching, straighteningsouth, he gaily gleams, Swells thro the climes, and swallows all their streams; From zone to zone, o'er earth's broad surface curl'd, He cleaves his course, he furrows half the world, Now roaring wild thro bursting mountains driven, Now calm reflecting all the host of heaven; Where Cynthia pausing, her own face admires, And suns and stars repeat their dancing fires. Wide o'er his meadowy lawns he spreads and feeds His realms of canes, his waving world of reeds; Where mammoth grazed the renovating groves, Slaked his huge thirst, and chill'd his fruitless loves; Where elks, rejoicing o'er the extinguished race, By myriads rise to fill the vacant space. Earth's widest gulph expands to meet his wave, Vast isles of ocean in his current lave; Glad Thetis greets him from his finish'd course, And bathes her Nereids in his freshening source.
To his broad bed their tributary stores Wisconsin here, there lonely Peter pours; Croix, from the northeast wilds his channel fills, Ohio, gather'd from his myriad hills, Yazoo and Black, surcharged by Georgian springs, Rich Illinois his copious treasure brings; Arkansa, measuring back the sun's long course, Moine, Francis, Rouge augment the father's force. But chief of all his family of floods Missouri marches thro his world of woods; He scorns to mingle with the filial train, Takes every course to reach alone the main; Orient awhile his bending swreep he tries, Now drains the southern, now the northern skies, Searches and sunders far the globe's vast frame, Reluctant joins the sire, and takes at last his name.
There lies the path thy future sons shall trace, Plant here their arts, and rear their vigorous race: A race predestined, in these choice abodes, To teach mankind to tame their fluvial floods, Retain from ocean, as their work requires, These great auxiliars, raised by solar fires, Force them to form ten thousand roads, and girth With liquid belts each verdant mound of earth, To aid the colon's as the carrier's toil, To drive the coulter, and to fat the soil, Learn all mechanic arts, and oft regain Their native hills in vapor and in rain.
So taught the Saint. The regions nearer drew, And raised resplendent to their Hero's view Rich nature's triple reign; for here elate She stored the noblest treasures of her state, Adorn'd exuberant this her last domain, As yet unalter'd by her mimic man, Sow'd liveliest gems, and plants of proudest grace, And strung with strongest nerves her animated race.
Retiring far round Hudson's frozen bay, Earth's lessening circles shrink beyond the day; Snows ever rising with the toils of time Choke the chill shrubs that brave the dismal clime; The beasts all whitening roam the lifeless plain, And caves unfrequent scoop the couch for man.
Where Spring's coy steps in cold Canadia stray, And joyless seasons hold unequal sway, He saw the pine its daring mantle rear, Break the rude blast, and mock the brumal year, Shag the green zone that bounds the boreal skies, And bid all southern vegetation rise. Wild o'er the vast impenetrable round The untrod bowers of shadowy nature frown'd; Millennial cedars wave their honors wide, The fir's tall boughs, the oak's umbrageous pride, The branching beech, the aspen's trembling shade Veil the dim heaven, and brown the dusky glade. For in dense crowds these sturdy sons of earth, In frosty regions, claim a stronger birth; Where heavy beams the sheltering dome requires, And copious trunks to feed its wintry fires.
But warmer suns, that southern zones emblaze, A cool thin umbrage o'er their woodland raise; Floridia's shores their blooms around him spread. And Georgian hills erect their shady head; Whose flowery shrubs regale the passing air With all the untasted fragrance of the year. Beneath tall trees, dispersed in loose array, The rice-grown lawns their humble garb display; The infant maize, unconscious of its worth, Points the green spire and bends the foliage forth; In various forms unbidden harvests rise, And blooming life repays the genial skies.
Where Mexic hills the breezy gulph defend, Spontaneous groves with richer burdens bend. Anana's stalk its shaggy honors yields, Acassia's flowers perfume a thousand fields, Their cluster'd dates the mast-like palms unfold, The spreading orange waves a load of gold, Connubial vines o'ertop the larch they climb, The long-lived olive mocks the moth of time, Pomona's pride, that old Grenada claims, Here smiles and reddens in diviner flames; Pimento, citron scent the sky serene, White woolly clusters fringe the cotton's green, The sturdy fig, the frail deciduous cane And foodful cocoa fan the sultry plain.
Here, in one view, the same glad branches bring The fruits of autumn and the flowers of spring; No wintry blasts the unchanging year deform, Nor beasts unshelter'd fear the pinching storm; But vernal breezes o'er the blossoms rove, And breathe the ripen'd juices thro the grove.
Beneath the crystal wave's inconstant light Pearls burst their shells to greet the Hero's sight; From opening earth in living lustre shine The various treasures of the blazing mine; Hills cleft before him all their stores unfold, The pale platina and the burning gold; Silver whole mounds, and gems of dazzling ray Illume the rocks and shed the beams of day.
Natives of America appear in vision. Their manners and characters. Columbus demands the cause of the dissimilarity of men in different countries, Hesper replies, That the human body is composed of a due proportion of the elements suited to the place of its first formation; that these elements, differently proportioned, produce all the changes of health, sickness, growth and decay; and may likewise produce any other changes which occasion the diversity of men; that these elemental proportions are varied, not more by climate than temperature and other local circumstances; that the mind is likewise in a state of change, and will take its physical character from the body and from external objects: examples. Inquiry concerning the first peopling of America. View of Mexico. Its destruction by Cortez. View of Cusco and Quito, cities of Peru. Tradition of Capac and Oella, founders of the Peruvian empire. Columbus inquires into their real history. Hesper gives an account of their origin, and relates the stratagems they used in establishing that empire.
High o'er his world as thus Columbus gazed, And Hesper still the changing scene emblazed, Round all the realms increasing lustre flew, And raised new wonders to the Patriarch's view.
He saw at once, as far as eye could rove, Like scattering herds, the swarthy people move In tribes innumerable; all the waste, Wide as their walks, a varying shadow cast. As airy shapes, beneath the moon's pale eye, People the clouds that sail the midnight sky, Dance thro the grove and flit along the glade, And cast their grisly phantoms on the shade; So move the hordes, in thickets half conceal'd, Or vagrant stalking thro the fenceless field, Here tribes untamed, who scorn to fix their home, O'er shadowy streams and trackless deserts roam; While others there in settled hamlets rest, And corn-clad vales a happier state attest.
The painted chiefs, in guise terrific drest, Rise fierce to war, and beat their savage breast; Dark round their steps collecting warriors pour, Some fell revenge begins the hideous roar; From hill to hill the startling war-song flies, And tribes on tribes in dread disorder rise, Track the mute foe and scour the howling wood, Loud as a storm, ungovern'd as a flood; Or deep in groves the silent ambush lay, Lead the false flight, decoy and seize their prey, Their captives torture, butcher and devour, Drink the warm blood and paint their cheeks with gore.
Awhile he paused, with dubious thoughts opprest, And thus to Hesper's ear his doubts addrest: Say, to what class of nature's sons belong The countless tribes of this untutor'd throng? Where human frames and brutal souls combine, No force can tame them, and no arts refine. Can these be fashion'd on the social plan, Or boast a lineage with the race of man? When first we found them in yon hapless isle, They seem'd to know and seem'd to fear no guile; A timorous herd, like harmless roes, they ran, And call'd us Gods, from whom their tribes began. But when, their fears allay'd, in us they trace The well-known image of a mortal race, When Spanish blood their wondering eyes beheld, A frantic rage their changing bosoms swell'd; They roused their bands from numerous hills afar, To feast their souls on ruin, waste and war. Nor plighted vows nor sure defeat control The same indignant savageness of soul.