MoboReader > Literature > Christopher Columbus and How He Received and Imparted the Spirit of Discovery

   Chapter 18 COLUMBUS AGAIN IN SPAIN.

Christopher Columbus and How He Received and Imparted the Spirit of Discovery By Justin Winsor Characters: 60050

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


1500-1502.

1500. October. Columbus reaches Cadiz.

Public sympathy at his degradation.

It was in October, 1500, after a voyage of less discomfort than usual, that the ships of Villejo, carrying his manacled prisoners, entered the harbor of Cadiz. If Bobadilla had precipitately prejudged his chief prisoner, public sentiment, when it became known that Columbus had arrived in chains, was not less headlong in its sympathetic revulsion. Bobadilla would at this moment have stood a small chance for a dispassionate examination. The discoverer of the New World coming back from it a degraded prisoner was a discordant spectacle in the public mind, filled with recollections of those days of the first return to Palos, when a new range had been given to man's conceptions of the physical world. This common outburst of indignation showed, as many times before and since, how the world's sense of justice has in it more of spirit than of steady discernment. The hectic flush was sure to pass,-as it did.

Columbus's letter to the nurse of Prince Juan.

It was while on his voyage, or shortly after his return, that Columbus wrote the letter to the lady of the Court usually spoken of as the nurse of Prince Juan, which has been already considered. Before the proceedings of the inquest which Bobadilla had forwarded by the ship were sent to the Court, then in the Alhambra, Columbus, with the connivance of Martin, the captain of his caravel, had got this exculpatory letter off by a special messenger. The lady to whom it was addressed was, it will be remembered, Do?a Juana de la Torre, an intimate companion of the Queen, with whom the Admiral's two sons, as pages of the Queen, had been for some months in daily relations. The text of this letter has long been known. Las Casas copied it in his Historia. Navarrete gives it from another copy, but corrected by the text preserved at Genoa; while Harrisse tells us that the text in Paris contains an important passage not in that at Genoa.

The sovereigns order Columbus to be released.

While its ejaculatory arguments are not well calculated to impose on the sober historian, there was enough of fervor laid against its background of distressing humility to work on the sympathies of its recipient, and of the Queen, to whom it was early and naturally revealed. "I have now reached that point that there is no man so vile, but thinks it his right to insult me," was the language, almost at its opening, which met their eyes. The further reading of the letter brought up a picture of the manacled Admiral. Very likely the rumor of the rising indignation spreading from Cadiz to Seville, and from Seville elsewhere, as well as the letters of the alcalde of Cadiz, into whose hands Columbus had been delivered, and of Villejo, who had had him in custody, added to the tumult of sensations mutually shared in that little circle of the monarchs and the Do?a Juana. If we take the prompt action of the sovereigns in ordering the immediate release of Columbus, their letter of sympathy at the baseness of his treatment, the two thousand ducats put at his disposal to prepare for a visit to the Court, and the cordial royal summons for him to come,-if all these be taken at their apparent value, the candid observer finds himself growing distrustful of Bobadilla's justification through his secret instructions. As the observer goes on in the story and notes the sequel, he is more inclined to believe that the sovereigns, borne on the rising tide of indignant sympathy, had defended themselves at the expense of their commissioner. We may never know the truth.

1500. December 17. Columbus at Court.

That was a striking scene when Columbus, delivered from his irons on the 17th of December, 1500, held his first interview with the Spanish monarchs. Oviedo was an eyewitness of it; but we find more of its accompaniments in the story as told by Herrera than in the scant narrative of the Historie. Humboldt fancies that it was the Admiral's son who wrote it. The author of that book had no heart to record at much length the professions of regret on the part of the King, since they were not easily reconcilable with what, in that writer's judgment, would have been the honorable reception of Bobadilla and Roldan, had they escaped the fate of the tempests which later overwhelmed them. When the first warmth of Columbus's reception had subsided, there would have been no reason to suspect that those absent servants of the Crown would have been denied a suitable welcome.

Herrera tells us of the touching character of this interview of December 17; how the Queen burst into tears, and the emotional Admiral cast himself on the ground at her feet. When Columbus could speak, he began to recall the reasons for which he had been imprisoned, and rehearsed them with humble and exculpatory professions. He forgot that in the letter which so excited their sympathy he had denied that he knew any such reasons, and the sovereigns forgot it too. The meeting had awakened the tenderer parts of their natures, and their hearts went out to him. They made verbal promises of largesses and professions of restitution, but Harrisse could find no written expressions of this kind, till in the instructions of March 14, 1502, when they expressed their directions for his guidance during his next voyage. The Admiral grew confident, as of old, in their presence. He had always reached a coign of vantage in his personal intercourse with the Queen. He had evidently not lost that power. He began to picture his return to Santo Domingo with the triumph that he now enjoyed. It was a hollow hope. He was never again to be Viceroy of the Indies.

Columbus suspended from power.

Other explorers in American waters.

Portuguese claims.

The disorders in Espa?ola were but a part of the reasons why it was now decided to suspend the patented rights of the Admiral, if not permanently to deny the further exercise of them. We have seen how the government had committed itself to other discoveries, profiting, as it did, by the maps which Columbus had sent back to Spain. These discoveries were a new source of tribute which could not be neglected. Rival nations too were alert, and ships of the Portuguese and of the English had been found prowling about within the unquestioned limits allowed to Spain by the new treaty line of Tordesillas. At the north and at the south these same powers were pushing their search, to see if perchance portions of the new regions could not be found to project so far east as to bring them on the Portuguese side of that same line. Portugal had already claimed that Cabral had found such territory under the equator and south of it. An eastward projection of Brazil at the south, twenty degrees and more, is very common in the contemporary Portuguese maps.

1501. May 13. Coelho's voyage.

Was Vespucius on this voyage?

On the 13th of May, 1501, a new Portuguese fleet of three ships, under the command of Gon?alo Coelho, sailed from Lisbon to develop the coast of the southern Vera Cruz, as South America was now called, and to see if a way could be found through it to the Moluccas. In June, the fleet, while at the Cape de Verde Islands, met Cabral with his vessels on their return from India. Here it was that Cabral's interpreter, Gasparo, communicated the particulars of Cabral's discovery to Vespucius, who was, as seems pretty clear, though by no means certain, on board this outward-bound fleet. A letter exists, brought to light by Count Baldelli Boni, not, however, in the hand of Vespucius, in which the writer, under date of June 4, gave the results of his note-takings with Cabral to Pier Francisco de Medici. Varnhagen is in some doubt about the genuineness of this document. Indeed, the historian, if he weighs all the testimony that has been adduced for and against the participancy of Vespucius in this voyage, can hardly be quite sure that the Florentine was aboard at all, and Santarem is confident he was not. Navarrete thinks he was perhaps there in some subordinate capacity. Humboldt is staggered at the profession of Vespucius in still keeping the Great Bear above the horizon at 32° south, since it is lost after reaching 26°.

The Mundus Novus of Vespucius.

With all this doubt, we have got to make something out of another letter, which in the published copy purports to have been written in 1503 about this voyage by Vespucius himself, and from it we learn that his ship had struck the coast at Cape St. Roque, on August 17, 1501. The discoverers reached and named Cape St. Augustine on August 28. On November 1, they were at Bahia. By the 3d of April, 1502, they had reached the latitude of 52° south, when, driven off the coast in a severe gale, they made apparently the island of Georgia, whence they stood over to Africa, and reached Lisbon on September, 7, 1502. By what name Vespucius called this South American coast we do not know, for his original Italian text is lost, but the Mundus Novus of the Latin paraphrase or version raised a feeling of expectancy that something new had really been found, distinct from the spicy East. Varnhagen is convinced that Vespucius, different from Columbus, had awakened to the conception of an absolutely new quarter of the earth. There is little ground for the belief, however, in its full extent and confidence. The little tract had in it the elements of popularity, and in 1504 and 1505 the German and French presses gave it currency in several editions in the Latin tongue, whence it was turned into Italian, German, and Dutch, spreading through Europe the fame of Vespucius. We trace to this voyage the origin of the nomenclature of the coast of the South American continent which then grew up, and is represented in the earlier maps, like that of Lorenz Fries, for instance, in 1504.

MUNDUS NOVUS, first page.

Discoveries of Vespucius.

Maps of early voyages.

A letter dated August 12, 1507, preserved in Tritemius's Epistolarum familiarum libri duo (1536), has been thought to refer to a printed map which showed the discoveries of Vespucius down to 10° south. This map is unknown, apparently, as the particulars given concerning it do not agree with the map of Ruysch, the only one, so far as known, to antedate that epistle. It is possibly the missing map which Waldseemüller is thought to have first made, and which became the prototype of the recognized Waldseemüller map of the Ptolemy of 1513, and was possibly the one from which the Cantino map, yet to be described, was perfected in other parts than those of the Cortereal discoveries. This anterior map may have been merely an early state of the plate, and Lelewel gives reasons for believing that early impressions of this map were in the market in 1507.

Columbus and Vespucius.

Thus while Columbus was nurturing his deferred hopes, neglected and poor, and awaiting what after all was but a tantalizing revival of royal interest, the rival Portuguese, acting most probably under the influences of Columbus's own countryman, this Florentine, were stretching farther towards the true western route to the Moluccas than the Admiral had any conception of. Vespucius was also at the same time unwittingly asserting claims which should in the end rob the Great Discoverer of the meed of bestowing his name on the new continent which he had just as unwittingly discovered. The contrast is of the same strange impressiveness which marks so many of the improbable turns in the career of Columbus.

* * *

1500. Spanish purposes at the north.

Meanwhile, what was going on in the north, where Portugal was pushing her discoveries in the region already explored by Cabot? The Spaniards had been dilatory here. The monarchs, May 6, 1500, while they were distracted with the reports of the disquietude of Espa?ola, had turned their attention in this direction, and had thought of sending ships into the seas which "Sebastian Cabot had discovered." They had done nothing, however, though Navarrete finds that explorations thitherward, under Juan Dornelos and Ojeda, had been planned.

STRAITS OF BELLE ISLE, SHOWING SITE OF EARLY NORMAN FISHING STATION AT BRADORE.

[After Reclus's L'Amerique.]

MS. OF GASPAR CORTEREAL.

[From Harrisse's Cortereal, Postscriptum, 1883.]

Bretons and Normans at the north.

If we may believe some of the accounts of explorations this way on the part of the Bretons and Normans, they had founded a settlement called Brest on the Labrador coast, just within the Straits of Belle Isle, on a bay now called Bradore, as early as 1500. It is said that traces of their houses can be still seen there. But there is no definite contemporary record of their exploits. We have such records of the Portuguese movements, though not through Spanish sources. Unaccountably, Peter Martyr, who kept himself alert for all such impressions, makes no reference to any Portuguese voyages; and it is only when we come down to Gomara (1551) that we find a Spanish writer reverting to the narratives. In doing so, Gomara makes, at the same time, some confusion in the chronology.

Cortereal voyages.

Portugal had missed a great opportunity in discrediting Columbus, but she had succeeded in finding one in Da Gama. She was now in wait for a chance to mate her southern route with a western, or rather with a northern,-at any rate, with one which would give her some warrant for efforts not openly in violation of the negotiations which had followed upon the Bull of Demarcation. Opportunely, word came to Lisbon of the successes of the Cabot voyages, and there was the probability of islands and interjacent passages at the north very like the geographical configuration which the Spaniards had found farther south. To appearances, Cabot had met with such land on the Portuguese side of the division line of the treaty of Tordesillas.

1500. Gaspar Cortereal.

1501. Gaspar Cortereal again.

King Emanuel had a vassal in Gaspar Cortereal, who at this time was a man about fifty years old, and he had already in years past conducted explorations oceanward, though we have no definite knowledge of their results. It has been conjectured that Columbus may have known him; but there is nothing to make this certain. At any rate, there was little in the surroundings of Columbus at Espa?ola, when he was subjected to chains in the summer of 1500, to remind him of any northern rivalry, though the visits of Ojeda and Pinzon to that island were foreboding. It was just at that time that Cortereal sailed away from Portugal to the northwest. He discovered the Terra do Labrador, which he named apparently because he thought its natives would increase very handily the slave labor of Portugal. To follow up this quest, Gaspar sailed again with three ships, May 15, 1501, which is the date given by Damian de Goes. Harrisse is not so sure, but finds that Gaspar was still in port April 21, 1501. Cortereal ran a course a little more to the west, and came to a coast, two thousand miles away, as was reckoned, and skirted it without finding any end. He decided from the volume of its rivers, that it was probably a continental area. The voyagers found in the hands of some natives whom they saw a broken sword and two silver earrings, evidently of Italian make. The natural inference is that they had fallen among tribes which Cabot had encountered on his second voyage, if indeed these relics did not represent earlier visitors. Cortereal also found in a high latitude a country which he called Terra Verde. Two of the vessels returned safely, bringing home some of the natives, and the capture of such, to make good the name bestowed during the previous voyage, seems to have been the principal aim of the explorers. The third ship, with Gaspar on board, was never afterwards heard of.

MS. OF MIGUEL CORTEREAL.

[From Harrisse's Cortereal, Postscriptum.]

Original sources on the Cortereal voyages.

Portuguese habit of concealing information.

It so happened that Pasqualigo, the Venetian ambassador in Lisbon, made record of the return of the first of these vessels, in a letter which he wrote from Lisbon, October 19, 1501; and it is from this, which made part of the well-known Paesi novamente retrovati (Vicenza, 1507), that we derive what little knowledge we have of these voyages. The reports have fortunately been supplemented by Harrisse in a dispatch dated October 17, 1501, which he has produced from the archives of Modena, in which one Alberto Cantino tells how he heard the captain of the vessel which arrived second tell the story to the king. This dispatch to the Duke of Ferrara was followed by a map showing the new discoveries. This cartographical record had been known for some years before it was reproduced by Harrisse on a large scale. It is apparent from this that the discoverers believed, or feigned to believe, that the new-found regions lay westward from Ireland half-way to the American coasts. The evidence that they feigned to believe rather than that they knew these lands to be east of their limitary line may not be found; but it was probably some such doubt of their honesty which induced Robert Thorne, of Bristol, to speak of the purpose which the Portuguese had in falsifying their maps. Nor were the frauds confined to maps. Translations were distorted and narratives perverted. Biddle, in his Life of Cabot, points out a marked instance of this, where the simple language of Pasqualigo is twisted so as to convey the impression of a long acquaintance of the natives with Italian commodities, as proving that the Italians had formerly visited the region,-a hint which Biddle supposed the Zeni narrative at a later date was contrived to sustain, so as to deceive many writers. We shall soon revert to this Cantino map.

1501. Miguel Cortereal.

The voyage which Miguel Cortereal is known to have undertaken in the summer of 1501, which has been connected with this series of northwest voyages, is held by Harrisse, in his revised opinions, not to have been to the New World at all, but to have been conducted against the Grand Turk, and Cortereal returned from it on November 4, 1501.

1502. Miguel Cortereal again.

To search for the missing Gaspar Cortereal, Miguel, on May 10, 1502, again sailed to the northwest with two or three ships. They found the same coast as before, searched it without success, and returned again without a leader; for Miguel's ship missed the others at a rendezvous and was never again heard of.

Terre des Cortereal.

Straits of Anian.

The endeavors of the Portuguese in this direction did not end here; and the region thus brought by them to the attention of the cartographer soon acquired in their maps the name of Terre des Cortereal, or Terra dos Corte reals, or, as Latinized by Sylvanus, Regalis Domus. There is little, however, to connect these earliest ventures with later history, except perhaps that from their experiences it is that a vague cartographical conception of the fabled Straits of Anian confronts us in many of the maps of the latter half of the sixteenth century. No one has made it quite sure whence the appellation or even the idea of such a strait came. By some it has been thought to have grown out of Marco Polo's Ania, which was conceived to be in the north. By Navarrete, Humboldt, and others it has been made to grow in some way out of these Cortereal voyages, and Humboldt supposes that the entrance to Hudson Bay, under 60° north latitude, was thought at that time to lead to some sort of a transcontinental passage, going it is hardly known where. The name does not seem at first to have been magnified into all its later associations of a kingdom, or "regnum" of Anian, as the Latin nomenclature then had it. Its great city of Quivira did not appear till some time after the middle of the sixteenth century, and then it was not always quite certain to the cosmographical mind whether all this magnificence might not better be placed on the Asiatic side of such a strait. This imaginary channel was made for a long period to run along the parallels of latitudes somewhere in the northern regions of the New World, after America had begun generally to have its independent existence recognized, south of the Arctic regions at least. The next stage of the belief violently changed the course of the straits across the parallels, prefiguring the later discovered Bering's Straits; and this is made prominent in maps of Zalterius (1566) and Mercator (1569), and in the maps of those who copied these masters.

Spanish maps.

Maps of the Cortereal discoveries.

It took thirty years for the Cortereal discoveries to work their way into the conceptions of the Spanish map makers. Whether this dilatory belief came from lack of information, obliviousness, or simply from an heroic persistence in ignoring what was not their boast, is a question to be decided through an estimate of the Spanish character. There seems, however, to have been interest enough on the part of a single Italian noble to seek information at once, as we see from the Cantino map; but the knowledge was not, nevertheless, apparently a matter of such interest but it could escape Ruysch in 1508. Not till Sylvanus issued his edition of Ptolemy, in 1511, did any signs of these Cortereal expeditions appear on an engraved map.

THE CANTINO MAP.

The Cantino map. 1502.

Only a few years have passed since students of these cartographical fields were first allowed free study of this Cantino map. It is, after La Cosa, the most interesting of all the early maps of the American coast as its configuration had grown to be comprehended in the ten years which followed the first voyage of Columbus.

The Cortereal discoveries east of the line of demarcation.

Terra Verde.

There are three special points of interest in this chart. The first is the evident purpose of the maker, when sending it (1502) to his correspondent in Italy, to render it clear that the coasts which the Portuguese had tracked in the northwest Atlantic were sufficiently protuberant towards the rising sun to throw them on the Portuguese side of the revised line of demarcation. It is by no means certain, however, in doing so, that they pretended their discoveries to have been other than neighboring to Asia, since a peninsula north of these regions is called a "point of Asia." The ordinary belief of geographers at that time was that our modern Greenland was an extension of northern Europe. So it does not seem altogether certain that the Terra Verde of Cortereal can be held to be identical with its namesake of the Sagas.

Columbus and the Cantino map in the Paria region.

Columbus in want.

The second point of interest is what seems to be the connection between this map and those which had emanated from the results of the Columbus voyages, directly or indirectly. Columbus had made a chart of his track through the Gulf of Paria, and had sent it to Spain, and Ojeda had coursed the same region by it. We know from a letter of Angelo Trivigiano, the secretary of the Venetian ambassador in Spain, dated at Granada, August 21, 1501, and addressed to Domenico Malipiero, that at that time Columbus, who had ingratiated himself with the writer of the letter, was living without money, in great want, and out of favor with the sovereigns. This letter-writer then speaks of his intercession with Peter Martyr to have copies of his narrative of the voyages of Columbus made, and of his pleading with Columbus himself to have transcripts of his own letters to his sovereigns given to him, as well as a map of the new discoveries from the Admiral's own charts, which he then had with him in Granada.

There are three letters of Trivigiano, but the originals are not known. Foscarini in 1752 used them in his Della Letteratura veneziana, as found in the library of Jacopo Soranzo; but both these originals and Foscarini's copies have eluded the search of Harrisse, who gives them as printed or abstracted by Zurla.

What we have is not supposed to be the entire text, and we may well regret the loss of the rest. Trivigiano says of the map that he expected it to be extremely well executed on a large scale, giving ample details of the country which had been discovered. He refers to the delays incident to sending to Palos to have it made, because persons capable of such work could only be found there.

No such copy as that made for Malipiero is now known. Harrisse thinks that if it is ever discovered it will be very like the Cantino map, with the Cortereal discoveries left out. This same commentator also points out that there are certainly indications in the Cantino map that the maker of it, in drafting the region about the Gulf of Paria at least, worked either from Columbus's map or from some copy of it, for his information seems to be more correct than that which La Cosa followed.

What is the coast north of Cuba?

The third point of interest in this Cantino map, and one which has given rise to opposing views, respects that coast which is drawn in it north of the completed Cuba, and which at first glance is taken with little question for the Atlantic coast of the United States from Florida up. Is it such? Did the cartographers of that time have anything more than conjecture by which to run such a coast line?

A letter of Pasqualigo, dated at Lisbon, October 18, 1501, and found by Von Ranke at Venice in the diary of Marino Sanuto,-a running record of events, which begins in 1496,-has been interpreted by Humboldt as signifying that at this time it was known among the Portuguese observers of the maritime reports that a continental stretch of coast connected the Spanish discoveries in the Antilles with those of the Portuguese at the north. Harrisse questions this interpretation, and considers that what Humboldt thinks knowledge was simply a tentative conjecture. If this knowledge is represented in the Cantino map, there is certainly too great remoteness in the regions of the Cortereal discoveries to form such a connection. It is of course possible that the map is a falsification in this respect, to make the line of demarcation serve the Portuguese interests, and such falsification is by no means improbable.

The Cantino and La Cosa maps at variance.

Bimini.

It will be remembered that the La Cosa map showed no hesitancy in placing the Antilles on the coast of Asia, and put the region of the Cabot landfall on the coast of Cathay. Consequently, the difference between the La Cosa and the Cantino maps for this region north of Cuba is phenomenal. In these two or three years (1500-1502), something had come to pass which seemed to raise the suspicion that this northern continental line might possibly not be Asiatic after all, or at least it might not have the trend or contour which had before been given it on the Asiatic theory. It is an interesting question from whom this information could have come. Was this coast in the Cantino map indeed not North American, but the coast of Yucatan, misplaced, as one conjecture has been? But this involves a recognition of some voyage on the Yucatan coast of which we have no record. Was it the result of one of the voyages of Vespucius, and was Varnhagen right in tracking that navigator up the east Florida shore? Was it drawn by some unauthorized Spanish mariners, who were-we know Columbus complained of such-invading his vested rights, or perhaps by some of those to whom he was finally induced to concede the privilege of exploration? Was it found by some English explorer who answers the description of Ojeda in 1501, when he complains that people of this nation had been in these regions some years before? Was it the discovery of some of those against whom a royal prohibition of discovery was issued by the Catholic kings, September 3, 1501? Was it anything more than the result of some vague information from the Lucayan Indians, aided by a sprinkling of supposable names, respecting a land called Bimini lying there away? Eight or nine years later, Peter Martyr, in the map which he published in 1511, seems to have thought so, and certain stories of a fountain of youth in regions lying in that direction were already prevalent, as Martyr also shows us. The fact seems to be that we have no Spanish map between the making of La Cosa's in 1500 and this one of Peter Martyr in 1511, to indicate any Spanish acquaintance with such a northern coast.

Peter Martyr's map. 1511.

This map of 1511, if it is honest enough to show what the Spanish government knew of Florida, is indicative of but the vaguest information, and its divulgence of that coast may, in Brevoort's opinion, account for the rarity of the chart, in view of the determination of Spain to keep control as far as she could of all cartographical records of what her explorers found out.

It is evident, if we accept the theory of this Cantino map showing the coast of the United States, that we have in it a delineation nearer the source by several years than those which modern students have longer known in the Waldseemüller map of 1508, the Stobnicza map of 1512, the Reisch map of 1515, and the so-called Admiral's map of 1513,-all which arose, it is very clear, from much the same source as this of Cantino. What is that source? There are some things that seem to indicate that this source was the description of Portuguese rather than of other seamen. This belief falls in with what we know of the cordial relations of Portugal and Duke René, under whose auspices Waldseemüller at least worked. Thus it would seem that while Spain was impeding cartographical knowledge through the rest of Europe, Portugal was so assiduously helping it that for many years the Ptolemies and other central and southern European publications were making known the cosmographical ideas which originated in Portugal.

It has been already said that Humboldt in his Examen Critique (iv. 262) ref

ers to a letter which indicates that in October, 1501, the Portuguese had already learned, or it may be only conjectured, that the coast from the region of the Antilles ran uninterruptedly north till it united with the snowy shores of the northern discoveries. This, then, seems to indicate that it was a Portuguese source that supplied conjecture, if not fact, to the maker of the Cantino map. Harrisse's solution of this matter, as also mentioned already, is that the letter found by Von Ranke and the letter which we know Pasqualigo sent to Venice about the Cortereal voyages were one and the same, and that it was rather conjecture than fact that the Portuguese possessed at this time.

The obvious difficulty in the cartographical problem for the Portuguese was, as has been said, to make it appear that they were not disregarding the agreement at Tordesillas while they were securing a region for sovereignty. We have already said that this accounts for the extreme eastern position found in the Cantino and the cognate maps of the Newfoundland region, which, as thus drawn, it was not easy to connect with the coast line of eastern Florida. Hence the open sea-gap which exists between them in the maps, while the evidence of the descriptions would make the coast line continuous.

We have thus suggested possible solutions of this continental shore above Florida. It must be confessed that the truth is far from patent, and we must yet wait perhaps a long time before we discover, if indeed we ever do, to whom this mapping of the coast, as shown in the Cantino map, was due.

Was the Florida coast known?

There are evidences other than those of this Cantino map that the Portuguese were in this Floridian region in the early years of the sixteenth century, and Lelewel tried to work out their discoveries from scattered data, in a conjectural map, which he marks 1501-1504, and which resembles the Ptolemy map of 1513. The bringing forward of the Cantino map confirms much of the supposed cartography.

There is one theory which to some minds gives a very easy solution of this problem, without requiring belief in any knowledge, clandestine or public, of such a land.

Brevoort in his Verrazano had already been inclined to the view later emphasized by Stevens in his Sch?ner, and reiterated by Coote in his editorial revision of that posthumous work.

Stevens is content to allow Ocampo, in 1508, to have been the earliest probable discoverer of this coast, and Ponce de Leon as the original attested finder in 1513.

This Cantino coast a duplicated Cuba.

The Stevens theory is that this seeming Florida arose from a Portuguese misconception of the first two voyages of Columbus, by which two regions were thought to have been coasted instead of different sides of the same, and that what others consider an early premonition of Florida and the upper coasts was simply a duplicated Cuba, to make good the Portuguese conception. It is not explained how so strange a misconception of very palpable truths could have arisen, or how a coast trending north and south so far could have been confounded with one stretching at right angles to such a course for so short a distance.

Stevens traces the influence of his "bogus Cuba" in a long series of maps based on Portuguese notions, in which he names those of Waldseemüller (1513), Stobnicza (1512), Sch?ner (1515, 1520), Reisch (1515), Bordone (1528), Solinus (1520), Friess (1522), and Gryn?us (1532-made probably earlier), as opposed to the Spanish and more truthful view, which is expressed by Ruysch (1507-8) and Peter Martyr, (1511).

It is a proposition not to be dismissed lightly nor accepted triumphantly on our present knowledge. We must wait for further developments.

The fancy that this coast was Asia and that Cuba was Asia might, indeed, have led to the transfer to it at one time of the names which Columbus had placed along the north coast of his supposed peninsular Cuba; but that proves a misplacement of the names, and not a creation of the coast. For a while this continental land was backed up on the maps against a meridian scale, which hid the secret of its western limits, and left it a possible segment of Asia. Then it stood out alone with a north and southwestern line, but with Asia beyond, just as if it were no part of it, and this delineation was common even while there was a division of geographical belief as to North America and Asia being one.

Cuba an island.

The fact that Cuba, in the drafting of the La Cosa and Cantino maps, is represented as an island has at times been held to signify that the views of Columbus respecting its peninsular rather than its insular character were not wholly shared by his contemporaries. That foolish act by which, under penalty, the Admiral forced his crew to swear that it was a part of the main might well imply that he expected his assertions would be far from acceptable to other cosmographers. If Varnhagen's opinion as to the track of Vespucius in his voyage of 1497, following the contour of the Gulf of Mexico, be accepted as knowledge of the time, the insularity of Cuba was necessarily proved even at that early day; but it is the opinion of Henry Stevens, as has been already shown, that the green outline of the western parts of Cuba in La Cosa's chart was only the conventional way of expressing an uncertain coast. Consequently it did not imply insularity. If it is to be supposed that the Portuguese had a similar method of expressing uncertainties of coast, they did not employ it in the Cantino map, and Cuba in 1502 is unmistakably an island. It is, moreover, sufficiently like the Cuba of La Cosa to show it was drawn from one and the same prototype. If the maker of the Cantino map followed La Cosa, or a copy of La Cosa, or the material from which La Cosa worked, there is no proof that he ever suspected the peninsularity of Cuba.

* * *

Columbus looking on at other explorations.

Columbus, in his hours of neglect, and amid his unheeded pleas for recognition, during these two grewsome years in Spain, may never have comprehended in their full significance these active efforts of the Portuguese to anticipate his own hopes of a western passage beyond the Golden Chersonesus; but the doings of Mendoza, Cristobal Guerra, and other fellow-subjects of Spain were not wholly unknown to him.

1500. October. Bastidas's expedition.

In October, 1500, and before Columbus knew just what his reception in Spain was going to be, Rodrigo de Bastidas, accompanied by La Cosa and Vasco Nu?ez Balboa, sailed from Cadiz on an expedition that had for its object to secure to the Crown one quarter of the profits, and to make an examination of the coast line beyond the bay of Venezuela, in order that it might be made sure that no channel to an open sea lay beyond. The two caravels followed the shore to Nombre de Dios, and at the narrowest part of the isthmus, without suspecting their nearness to the longed-for sea, the navigators turned back. Finding their vessels unseaworthy, for the worms had riddled their bottoms, they sought a harbor in Espa?ola, near which their vessels foundered after they had saved a part of their lading. A little later, this gave Bobadilla a chance to arrest the commander for illicit trade with the natives. This transaction was nothing more, apparently, than the barter of trinkets for provisions, as he was leading his men across the island to the settlements.

Portuguese and English in these regions.

It was while with Bastidas, in 1501-2, that La Cosa reports seeing the Portuguese prowling about the Caribbean and Mexican waters, seeking for a passage to Calicut. It was while on a mission of remonstrance to Lisbon that La Cosa was later arrested and imprisoned, and remained till August, 1504, a prisoner in Portugal.

1502. January. Ojeda's voyage.

We have seen that in 1499 Ojeda had met or heard of English vessels on the coast of Terra Firma, or professed that he had. The Spanish government, suspecting they were but precursors of others who might attempt to occupy the coast, determined on thwarting such purposes, if possible, by anticipating occupation. Ojeda was given the power to lead thither a colony, if he could do it without cost to the Crown, which reserved a due share of his profits. He obtained the assistance of Juan de Vegara and Garcia de Ocampo, and with this backing he sailed with four ships from Cadiz in January, 1502, while Columbus was preparing his own little fleet for his last voyage. It was a venture, however, that came to naught. The natives, under ample provocation, proved hostile, food was lacking, the leaders quarreled, and the partners of Ojeda, combining, overpowered (May, 1502) their leader, and sent him a prisoner to Espa?ola, where he arrived in September, 1502.

English in the West Indies.

There has never been any clear definition as to who these Englishmen were, or what was their project, during these earliest years of the sixteenth century. There is evidence that Henry VII. about this time authorized some ventures in which his countrymen were joint sharers with the Portuguese, but we know nothing further of the regions visited than that the Privy Purse expenses show how some Bristol men received a gratuity for having been at the "Newefounde Launde." There is also a vague notion to be formed from an old entry that Sebastian Cabot himself again visited this region in 1503, and brought home three of the natives,-to say nothing of additional even vaguer suspicions of other ventures of the English at this time.

* * *

In enumerating the ocean movements that were now going on, some intimation has been given of the tiresome expectancy of something better which was intermittently beguiling the spirits of Columbus during the eighteen months that he remained in Spain. It is necessary to trace his unhappy life in some detail, though the particulars are not abundant.

Columbus's life in Spain. 1500-1502.

Ferdinand had not been unobservant of all these expeditionary movements, and they were quite as threatening to the Spanish supremacy in the New World as his own personal defection was to the dejected Admiral. It had become very clear that by tying his own hands, as he had in the compact which Columbus was urging to have observed, the King had allowed opportunities to pass by which he could profit through the newly aroused enthusiasm of the seaports.

Ferdinand allows other expeditions.

We have seen that he had, nevertheless, through Fonseca sanctioned the expeditions of Ojeda, Pinzon, and others, and had notably in that of Ni?o got large profits for the exchequer. He had done this in defiance of the vested rights of Columbus, and there is little doubt that to bring Columbus into disgrace by the loss of his Admiral's power served in part to open the field of discovery more as Ferdinand wished. With the Viceroy dethroned and become a waiting suitor, there was little to stay Ferdinand's ambition in sending out other explorers. His experience had taught him to allow no stipulations on which explorers could found exorbitant demands upon the booty and profit of the ventures. Anybody could sail westward now, and there was no longer the courage of conviction required to face an unknown sea and find an opposite shore. Columbus, who had shown the way, was now easily cast off as a useless pilot.

It was not difficult for the King to frame excuses when Columbus urged his reinstatement. There was no use in sending back an unpopular viceroy before the people of the colony had been quieted. Give them time. It might be seasonable enough to send to them their old master when they had forgotten their misfortunes under him. Perhaps a better man than Bobadilla could be found to still the commotions, and if so he might be sent. In the face of all this and the King's determination, Columbus could do nothing but acquiesce, and so he gradually made up his mind to bide his time once more. It was not a new discipline for him.

Bobadilla's rule in Espa?ola.

It was clear from the intelligence which was reaching Spain that Bobadilla would have to be superseded. Freed from the restraints which had created so much complaint during the rule of Columbus, and even courted with offers of indulgence, the miserable colony at Espa?ola readily degenerated from bad to worse. The new governor had hoped to find that a lack of constraint would do for the people what an excess of it had failed to do. He erred in his judgment, and let the colony slip beyond his control. Licentiousness was everywhere. The only exaction he required was the tribute of gold. He reduced the proportion which must be surrendered to the Crown from a third to an eleventh, but he so apportioned the labor of the natives to the colonists that the yield of gold grew rapidly, and became more with the tax an eleventh than it had been when it was a third. This inhuman degradation of the poor natives had become an organized misery when, a little later, Las Casas arrived in the colony, and he depicts the baleful contrasts of the Indians and their attractive island. Gold was potent, but it was not potent enough to keep Bobadilla in his place. The representations of the agony of life among the natives were so harrowing that it was decided to send a new governor at once.

Ovando sent to Espa?ola.

The person selected was Nicholas de Ovando, a man of whom Las Casas, who went out with him, gives a high character for justice, sobriety, and graciousness. Perhaps he deserved it. The sympathizers with Columbus find it hard to believe such praise. Ovando was commissioned as governor over all the continental and insular domains, then acquired or thereafter to be added to the Crown in the New World. He was to have his capital at Santo Domingo. He was deputed, with about as much authority as Bobadilla had had, to correct abuses and punish delinquents, and was to take one third of all gold so far stored up, and one half of what was yet to be gathered. He was to monopolize all trade for the Crown. He was to segregate the colonists as much as possible in settlements. No supplies were to be allowed to the people unless they got them through the royal factor. New efforts were to be made through some Franciscans, who accompanied Ovando, to convert the Indians. The natives were to be made to work in the mines as hired servants, paid by the Crown.

Negro slaves to be introduced.

It had already become evident that such labor as the mining of gold required was too exhausting for the natives, and the death-rate among them was such that eyes were already opened to the danger of extermination. By a sophistry which suited a sixteenth-century Christian, the existence of this poor race was to be prolonged by introducing the negro race from Africa, to take the heavier burden of the toil, because it was believed they would die more slowly under the trial. So it was royally ordered that slaves, born of Africans, in Spain, might be carried to Espa?ola. The promise of Columbus's letter to Sanchez was beginning to prove delusive. It was going to require the degradation of two races instead of one. That was all!

1501. Columbus's property restored.

His factor.

To assuage the smart of all this forcible deprivation of his power, Columbus was apprised that under a royal order of September 27, 1501, Ovando would see to the restitution of any property of his which Bobadilla had appropriated, and that the Admiral was to be allowed to send a factor in the fleet to look after his interests under the articles which divided the gold and treasure between him and the Crown. To this office of factor Columbus appointed Alonso Sanchez de Carvajal.

Ovando's fleet.

1502. February 3. It sails.

The pomp and circumstance of the fleet were like a biting sarcasm to the poor Admiral. One might expect he could have no high opinions of its pilots, for we find him writing to the sovereigns, on February 6, a letter laying before them certain observations on the art of navigation, in which he says: "There will be many who will desire to sail to the discovered islands; and if the way is known those who have had experience of it may safest traverse it." Perhaps he meant to imply that better pilots were more important than much parade. He in his most favored time had never been fitted out with a fleet of thirty sail, so many of them large ships. He had never carried out so many cavaliers, nor so large a proportion of such persons of rank, as made a shining part of the 2,500 souls now embarked. He could contrast his Franciscan gown and girdle of rope with Ovando's brilliant silks and brocades which the sovereigns authorized him to wear. There was more state in the new governor's bodyguard of twenty-two esquires, mounted and foot, than Columbus had ever dreamed of in Santo Domingo. Instead of vile convicts there were respectable married men with their families, the guaranty of honorable living. So that when the fleet went to sea, February 13, 1502, there were hopes that a right method of founding a colony on family life had at last found favor.

1502. April. Reaches Santo Domingo.

The vessels very soon encountered a gale, in which one ship foundered, and from the deck-loads which were thrown over from the rest and floated to the shore it was for a long time apprehended that the fleet had suffered much more severely. A single ship was all that failed finally to reach Santo Domingo about the middle of April, 1502.

Let us turn now to Columbus himself. He had not failed, as we have said, to reach something like mental quiet in the conviction that he could expect nothing but neglect for the present. So his active mind engaged in those visionary and speculative trains of thought wherein, when his body was weary and his spirits harried, he was prone to find relief.

Columbus's Libros de las proficias.

He set himself to the composition of a maundering and erratic paper, which, under the title of Libros de las proficias, is preserved in the Biblioteca Colombina at Seville. The manuscript, however, is not in the handwriting of Columbus, and no one has thought it worth while to print the whole of it.

Isaiah's prophecy.

Conquest of the Holy Land.

In it there is evidence of his study, with the assistance of a Carthusian friar, of the Bible and of the early fathers of the Church, and it shows, as his letter to Juan's nurse had shown, how he had at last worked himself into the belief that all his early arguments for the westward passage were vain; that he had simply been impelled by something that he had not then suspected; and that his was but a predestined mission to make good what he imagined was the prophecy of Isaiah in the Apocalypse. This having been done, there was something yet left to be accomplished before the anticipated eclipse of all earthly things came on, and that was the conquest of the Holy Land, for which he was the appointed leader. He addressed this driveling exposition, together with an urgent appeal for the undertaking of the crusade, to Ferdinand and Isabella, but without convincing them that such a self-appointed instrument of God was quite worthy of their employment.

End of the world.

The great catastrophe of the world's end was, as Columbus calculated, about 155 years away. He based his estimate upon an opinion of St. Augustine that the world would endure for 7,000 years; and upon King Alfonso's reckoning that nearly 5,344 years had passed when Christ appeared. The 1,501 years since made the sum 6,845, leaving out of the 7,000 the 155 years of his belief.

Defeated by Satan.

He also fancied, or professed to believe, in a letter which he subsequently wrote to the Pope, that the present deprivation of his titles and rights was the work of Satan, who came to see that the success of Columbus in the Indies would be only a preparation for the Admiral's long-vaunted recovery of the Holy Land. The Spanish government meanwhile knew, and they had reason to know, that their denial of his prerogatives had quite as much to do with other things as with a legion of diabolical powers. Unfortunately for Columbus, neither they nor the Pope were inclined to act on any interpretation of fate that did not include a civil policy of justice and prosperity.

His geographical whimsies.

Would seek a passage westerly through the Caribbean Sea.

Columbus misunderstands the currents.

These visions of Columbus were harmless, and served to beguile him with pious whimsies. But the mood did not last. He next turned to his old geographical problems. The Portuguese were searching north and south for the passage that would lead to some indefinite land of spices, and afford a new way to reach the trade with Calicut and the Moluccas, which at this time, by the African route, was pouring wealth into the Portuguese treasury in splendid contrast to the scant return from the Spanish Indies. He harbored a belief that a better passage might yet be found beyond the Caribbean Sea. La Cosa, in placing that vignette of St. Christopher and the infant Christ athwart the supposed juncture of Asia and South America, had eluded the question, not solved it. Columbus would now go and attack the problem on the spot. His expectation to find a desired opening in that direction was based on physical phenomena, but in fact on only partial knowledge of them. He had been aware of the strong currents which set westward through the Caribbean Sea, and he had found them still flowing west when he had reached the limit of his exploration of the southern coast of Cuba. Bastidas, who had just pushed farther west on the main coast, had turned back while the currents were still flowing on, along what seemed an endless coast beyond. Bastidas did not arrive in Spain till some months after Columbus had sailed, for he was detained a prisoner in Espa?ola at this time. Some tidings of his experiences may have reached Spain, however, or the Admiral may not have got his confirmation of these views till he found that voyager at Santo Domingo, later. Columbus had believed Cuba to be another main, confining this onward waste of waters to the south of it.

Gulf Stream.

It was clear to him that such currents must find an outlet to the west, and if found, such a passage would carry him on to the sea that washed the Golden Chersonesus. He indeed died without knowing the truth. This same current, deflected about Honduras and Yucatan, sweeps by a northerly circuit round the great Gulf of Mexico, and, passing out by the Cape of Florida, flows northward in what we now call the Gulf Stream.

There is nothing in all the efforts of the canonizers more absurdly puerile than De Lorgues's version of the way in which Columbus came to believe in this strait. He had a vision, and saw it! The only difficulty in the matter was that the poor Admiral was so ecstatic in his hallucination that he mistook the narrowness of an isthmus for the narrowness of a strait!

A convenient relief to Ferdinand to send Columbus on such a search.

1501. Columbus prepares to equip his ships.

1502. February. Columbus writes to the Pope.

The proposition of such a search was not inopportune in the eyes of Ferdinand. There were those about the Court who thought it unwise to give further employment to a man who was degraded from his honors; but to the King it was a convenient way of removing a persistent and active-minded complainant from the vicinity of the Court, to send him on some quest or other, and no one could tell but there was some truth in his new views. It was worth while to let him try. So once again, by the royal permission, Columbus set himself to work equipping a little fleet. It was the autumn of 1501 when he appeared in Seville with the sovereign's commands. He varied his work of preparing the ships with spending some part of his time on his treatise on the prophecies, while a friar named Gaspar Gorricio helped him in the labor. Early in 1502 he had got it into shape to present to the sovereigns, and in February he wrote the letter to Pope Alexander VII. which has already been mentioned.

Forbidden to touch at Espa?ola.

As the preparations went on, he began to think of Espa?ola, and how he might perhaps be allowed to touch there; but orders were given to him forbidding it on the outward passage, though suffering it on the return, for it was hoped by that time that the disorders of the island would be suppressed. It was arranged that the Adelantado and his own son Ferdinand should accompany him, and some interpreters learned in Arabic were put on board, in case his success put him in contact with the people of the Great Khan.

The suspension of his rights lay heavily on his mind, and early in March, 1502, he ventured to refer to the subject once more in a letter to the sovereigns. They replied, March 14, in some instructions which they sent from Valencia de Torre, advising him to keep his mind at ease, and leave such things to the care of his son Diego. They assured him that in due time the proper restitution of all would be made, and that he must abide the time.

1502. January 5. Columbus's care to preserve his titles, etc.

He had already taken steps to secure a perpetuity of the record of his honors and deeds, if nothing else could be permanent. It was at Seville, January 5, 1502, that Columbus, appearing before a notary in his own house, attested that series of documents respecting his titles and prerogatives which are so religiously preserved at Genoa. These papers, as we have seen, were copies which Columbus had lately secured from the documents in the Spanish Admiralty, among which he was careful to include the revocation of June 2, 1497, of the licenses which, much to Columbus's annoyance, had been granted in 1495, to allow others than himself to explore in the new regions. We may not wonder at this, but we can hardly conjecture why a transaction of his which had caused as much as anything his wrongs, mortification, and the loss of his dignities should have been as assiduously preserved. These are the royal orders which enabled Columbus, at his request, to fill up his colony with unshackled convicts. This he might as well have let the world forget. The royal order requiring Bobadilla or his successor to restore all the sequestered property of Columbus, and the new declaration of his rights, he might well have been anxious to preserve.

Columbus and the Bank of St. George.

There was one other act to be done which lay upon his mind, now that the time of sailing approached. He wished to make provision that his heirs should be able to confer some favor on his native city, and he directed that investments should be made for that purpose in the Bank of St. George at Genoa. He then notified the managers of that bank of his intention in a letter which is so characteristic of his moods of dementation that it is here copied as Harrisse translates it:-

High Noble Lords:-Although the body walks about here, the heart is constantly over there. Our Lord has conferred on me the greatest favor to any one since David. The results of my undertaking already appear, and would shine greatly were they not concealed by the blindness of the government. I am going again to the Indies under the auspices of the Holy Trinity, soon to return; and since I am mortal, I leave it with my son Diego that you receive every year, forever, one tenth of the entire revenue, such as it may be, for the purpose of reducing the tax upon corn, wine, and other provisions. If that tenth amounts to something, collect it. If not, take at least the will for the deed. I beg of you to entertain regard for the son I have recommended to you. Nicolo de Oderigo knows more about my own affairs than I do myself, and I have sent him the transcripts of any privileges and letters for safe-keeping. I should be glad if you could see them. My lords, the King and Queen endeavor to honor me more than ever. May the Holy Trinity preserve your noble persons and increase your most magnificent House. Done in Sevilla, on the second day of April, 1502.

The chief Admiral of the ocean, Viceroy and Governor-General of the islands and continent of Asia and the Indies, of my lords, the King and Queen, their Captain-General of the sea, and of their Council.

S.

.S.A.S.

X M Y

χρ?ο Ferens.

1502. December 8. The bank's reply.

The letter was handed by Columbus to a Genoese banker, then in Spain, Francisco de Rivarolla, who forwarded it to Oderigo; but as this ambassador was then on his way to Spain, Harrisse conjectures that he did not receive the letter till his return to Genoa, for the reply of the bank is dated December 8, 1502, long after Columbus had sailed. This response was addressed to Diego, and inclosed a letter to the Admiral. The great affection and good will of Columbus towards "his first country" gratified them inexpressibly, as they said to the son; and to the father they acknowledged the act of his intentions to be "as great and extraordinary as that which has been recorded about any man in the world, considering that by your own skill, energy, and prudence, you have discovered such a considerable portion of this earth and sphere of the lower world, which during so many years past and centuries had remained unknown to its inhabitants."

The letter of Columbus to the bank remained on the files of that institution-a single sheet of paper, written on one side only, and pierced in the centre for the thread of the file-undiscovered till the archivist of the bank, attracted by the indorsement, M D II, Epla D. Admirati Don Xrophori Columbi, identified it in 1829, when, at the request of the authorities of Genoa, it was transferred to the keeping of its archivists. It is to be seen at the city hall, to-day, placed between two glass plates, so that either side of the paper can be read.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares