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Voyages of the Northmen—Winland—State of Knowledge on this Subject in the 15th century — Christopher Columbus — His early life, his genius, labors and success — Discovery of America — Origin of the name — Amerigo Vespucci – Sebastian Cabot's voyages — Cortereal –Ponce de Leon — Verrazzani — Cartier — Robertval–De Soto — Ribault, Melendez, De Gourges — Champlain — Canada, Acadie, New France.
which were made to the region “Vinland,” produced no impression upon the old world, and ere long everything connected with the Northmen and their voyages was buried in oblivion; moreover, as Mr. Wheaton justly observes, “there is not the slightest reason to believe that the illustrious Genoese was acquainted with the Discovery of North America by the Normans five centuries before his time, however well authenticated that fact now appears to be by the Icelandic records to which we have referred.”
* “History of the Northmen, or Danes and Normans, from the Earliest Times to the Conquest of England by William of Normandy:” By Henry Wheaton, LL.D., p. 31. The reader who wishes further information may consult Wheaton's volume to advantage ; also the “Antiquitates Americanae,” edited by Prof. Rafn, 1837.
trate, and enterprise feared to adventure.” Few, at that time, dared, even in dreams, to think of venturing forth upon the great and stormy ocean, and no man living probably ever imagined the existence of those vast regions which lay beyond the Atlantic. Doubtless many a one thought, and thought deeply and earnestly, upon these things, and we may well believe that many a one desired much to know what it was deemed almost presumption to suppose could ever be known by mortal man. But there was no man who determined resolutely, and with unflinching intrepidity, which we at this day cannot at all adequately appreciate, to launch forth upon the unknown and trackless waste of waters, before the illustrious, enthusiastic, and noble-hearted CHRISTOPHER Colums BUs arose to set his face
* Irving’s “Life and Voyages of Columbus,” vol. i.,
p. 20. In proof of the statement made above, the author cites a passage from Xerif al Edrisi, a distinguished Arabian writer, which is a curious illustration of the views and feelings of even well-informed and intelligent men of that day.
westward, and open for ever after the pathway to the New World. This truly great man was born in the city of Genoa about the year 1435, and had two brothers and one sister younger than himself. His parents were poor, but they were able to give him, at the University of Pavia, the advantage of instruction in the Latin language, geometry, cosmography, astronomy, and drawing. His progress was rapid and successful. Strongly bent upon becoming a sailor, at the early age of fourteen, he made his first voyage in company with a hardy old Sea captain of the same name as his father. After many years of adventure and various fortunes Columbus, in 1470, removed to Lisbon, which city, at that time, owing to the ability and sagacity of Prince Henry of Portugal, was the most busy port in Europe for commercial enterprise. He shortly after was married to the daughter of a distinguished navigator recently deceased. The active and ardent spirit of Columbus was deeply stirred within him by reflection and study, respecting the possibility of reaching the rich and attractive East Indies by sailing directly across the Western Ocean. Heretofore the commodities of the far East had been brought overland by a long, tedious and expensive journey; if a new route could be struck out, especially by water, and if the distance could be shortened—as was then currently believed to be possible in a westerly direction—it was certain to bring untold wealth into the hands
of that nation which first succeeded in
opening the pathway to the Indies. Columbus was sure that, as the earth was spherical, if one sailed directly West he must in due time reach the lands of the East, and discover also any islands or lands which might lie between Europe and Asia. The more he thought of the matter the more sure he became, and when once he had reached a conclusion, it was with him a fixed and unalterable conclusion. Henceforth his only aim was how to get the means to prove the truth of his convictions, by actually sailing over the Atlantic Ocean to find the land of Cathay, or the easternmost regions of Asia. “It is singular,” as Mr. Irving remarks in this connection, “how much the success of this great undertaking depended upon two happy errors, the imaginary extent of Asia to the East, and the supposed smallness of the earth ; both, errors of the most learned and profound philosophers, but without which Columbus would hardly have ventured upon his enterprise.” He offered his services first to John II, king of Portugal; but having been deceived and very unhandsomely treated by the king and his advisers, and also having, some time before, lost his wife, he took his son Diego, and in 1484, bade adieu to Portugal. Columbus next repaired to Spain, and made his suit at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. The weary years of waiting upon the court of the impassive, calculating Ferdinand, the coldness, the repulses, the neglect, the sneers of contempt, the absurd preju
dice and conceited ignorance which he encountered, might well have worn out a man less resolute and determined than was Columbus; but he never faltered in his course; he never gave up his great plan and purpose; and his constancy and courage finally obtained their just reward. “Let those, then, who are disposed to faint under difficulties, in the prosecution of any great and worthy undertaking, remember that eighteen years elapsed after the time that Columbus conceived his enterprise, before he was enabled to carry it into effect; that the greater part of that time was passed in almost hopeless solicitation, amidst poverty, neglect, and taunting ridicule; that the prime of his life had wasted away in the struggle, and that when his perseverance was finally crowned with success, he was about his fifty-sixth year. His example should encourage the enterprising never to despair.” At last, through the generous impulses of the noble-hearted Isabella,
and the substantial seconding of the
family of the Pinzons, Columbus was enabled, on Friday, August 3d, 1492, to embark on his adventurous voyage. His expedition consisted of only three caravels or small vessels, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Niña.
Happily preserved from the vio
lence of storms, on Friday, the 12th of October, 1492, the eyes of Columbus were gladdened by the full view of land: the great mystery of the ocean lay revealed before him; the theory which wise and learned men had scoffed
* Irving’s “Life and Voyages of Columbus,” vol. i., p. 53.
* Irving’s “ Life and Voyages of Columbus,” vol.
| i., p. 118.