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projects. Vinland and Drogeo acquire their interest for us from the certainty of the continuity of the coast from Cape Paria to the mouth of the St. Lawrence. Till the discoveries of Columbus, and the light thrown by them upon the geography of the newly discovered Atlantic regions, the traditions of the Northern discoverers would, even on the part of those who most firmly believed them, have been supposed to refer to some region of limited extent in the Northern or Western Sea bearing the like relations as Iceland, Greenland, and Ireland, to the rest of the world. It is distinctly related in the accounts we have cited, that Thorhall and his eight companions, who left the main body under Thorfinn, to seek in a boat the former settlements of Leif, were blown upon the coast of Ireland. No person whose whole knowledge of Vinland was derived from these traditions, would have formed the slightest conception of the magnitude of the American continent, of its distance from Europe, or its relations to the geography of the world. It may be said, that this reflection neutralizes the force of the argument against the probability that Columbus had heard of the discovery of Vinland, drawn from the fact, that he did not appeal to that discovery in support of his own project. This is true ; but supposing Columbus, while in Iceland, to have heard of Vinland, it either did or it did not appear to him to confirm, by actual experience, the truth of his great theory. If it did, then it is inexplicable that he should have made no use of these discoveries, in sustaining his own projects; if it did not, then it is of no interest to establish the fact, that he acquired a knowledge of these discoveries on his visit to Iceland. In concluding this topic, we ought to say that nothing is farther from our purpose, than to impute to Messrs. Rafn or Magnussen a design to detract from the glory of Columbus. All that they appear desirous of rendering probable is, that “bis opinions, previously formed,” (as we know they were, by his letter to Toscanelli of 1474,*) “ were confirmed,” by the knowledge of the discovery of Vinland.
With these remarks, we dismiss the subject for the present, renewing our thanks to M. Rafn, the learned and indefatigable editor of the volume before us, and to the Royal
* Irving's Columbus, Vol. I. p. 35
Society of Danish Antiquaries, under whose patronage he has been enabled to bring it before the public, in so handsome a style of typography. It is one of the most valuable contributions ever made to the study of the history and geography of our continent. We trust that some zealous student of these subjects will be immediately sound, who will put the Icelandic authorities into an English dress, and prepare them, with a proper literary apparatus, for the perusal of the general reader.
Art. X. - History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella,
the Catholic. By William H. PRESCOTT, In Three Volumes. Boston ; American Stationers' Company. John B. Russell.
The reign of Ferdinand and Isabella has been diu desideratum in English, indeed we may say, European literature. Saving the invidiousness of national distinctions in Anglo-Saxon literature, we might add American ;– for it seems now to be fairly admitted, that some faint gleams of a literary dawning in the West, have at last, reversing Nature's order, become distinctly visible to foreign optics. It is certainly astonishing that the most brilliant page of modern European history (for such we esteem this era of Spain,) should have been left unwritten for three centuries. Equally astonishing it may be abroad, that it should have been first written on this speculating side of the Atlantic, and in this monetary age, (a vile invention,) by a scholar heretofore unheard of in the world of letters.
We have said, unwritten. In our own language this is literally true ; and almost equally so in any language of Europe, unless we go back to the old contemporary chroniclers, - mere malleable materials, - or to the Spanish historiographers of the sixteenth century, who wrote not even in their mother tongue, but in the universal language of the learned in that day; a dead language then, vainly attempted to be revived, since buried, and in great danger, alas! of being absolutely forgotten. Within human memory, two petty works only have appeared upon the transatlantic continent, professing to be histories of this reign ; one in French, and one in German. Our author,
lished in the previously exhibited documents, by pointing out their conformity with the present features of the coast, quality of the soil, and character of the climate. So happily is this part of the discussion managed, that the reader is irresistibly borne along with the commentator, and finds it hard to withhold his assent, even on points where the imagination seems to have contributed some share to the resemblance. Several genealogical tables, in the Appendix, deduce the descent of many families and individuals of eminence at the present day, from the discoverers of Vinland. Fac-similes of the most important manuscripts cited enable the reader to form a satisfactory judgment of their age ; and engravings of the Runic inscriptions and monuments above cited; transcripts of all the known copies of the Dighton Rock ; a map of Iceland in the year 1000; a map of Greenland, of the navigation of the Northmen, and of Vinland, conclude this highly important and valuable publication.
Having thus presented our readers with an analysis of this learned and interesting work, as full as our limits and leisure permit, it may be expected of us, in drawing our article to a close, to express an opinion on the main point, which it is intended to establish and illustrate.
We have already observed, that the great fact asserted in these Icelandic accounts, is in itself in no degree improbable. That the greatest navigating people, who, before the invention of the mariner's compass, traversed the ocean, and who are known to have visited every part of the North sea, should, in their voyages to Iceland, Greenland, and Ireland, have been carried by northeastern winds to the coast of North America, is so far from being unlikely, that it is almost impossible it should not have taken place. With the settlement of Greenland the first step, of course, was taken toward the discovery of the American continent. If not a part of that continent, it is separated from it only by a narrow arm of the sea. Ten degrees of latitude, on the coast of Labrador, lie within a radias of six hundred and fifty miles from Cape Farewell. The distance from the same cape to Newfoundland is not greater than that from Iceland to Greenland; from Norway to Iceland; or from Norway to the northwestern coasts of England. To pilots, accustomed to make the last-named voyages, and in strong and substantial vessels, such as we know were built by the Scandinavian shipwrights, (whose mythic prototype,
Völundr, was deemed, by the enthusiasm of a simple age, to be endowed with more than mortal skill, there is, certainly, nothing extraordinary or formidable, in running down from Cape Farewell in Greenland to Newfoundland. It is precisely 'the same distance as from Halifax to the entrance of Chesa
peake Bay; and a navigation, as far as we know, in no degree more difficult.
The ancient accounts of these voyages contain nothing which, when rightly considered, ought to impair their substantial credibility on the score of extravagance. They present many of the characteristics of the legendary tales of rude ages; of the narratives of credulous mariners, relating their exploits in distant and newly-discovered countries. The German, Tyrker, whose discovery of the grape gave the name of Winland to the region, is represented as having lost his way from the exhilarating effect of the fruit which he had eaten, and recovering himself but slowly on his return. In the image of a German sea-rover intoxicated with eating fox grapes, there is indeed a ludicrous extravagance. So, too, the savage who shot Thorwald, is described as a one-legged animal, a phenomenon which awakens a burst of poetical admiration on the part of one of the company. On the death of Thorstein, in Greenland, while his wife, Gudrida, is holding the lykewake, the dead body enters into a conversation with her, and relates her future fortunes in the style of the epic visions of Greece and Rome. These are the ornaments, with which a traditionary tale is clothed by minstrels and rhapsodists; they are the superstitions of a credulous age; they are the romantic creations of weather-beaten mariners, sitting with their skinnyhanded crones, around a drift-wood fire, for the live-long Arctic night, and rehearsing the wonders of the sea. Rude but vigorous fancy redeems the frozen and homely poverty of real life. The poor seaman's cabin, excavated under the comfortable lee of a glacier, one half sunk into a frozen soil, the other covered with eternal snow, warms and fashes up with a strange pageantry. Its inmates have seen spirits dancing on the northern lights ; they have beheld wild eyes glaring out of the ice-blink ; have looked, with amazement, at the sea serpent, as he curls up and overtops the mainmaist *; have cast
* The belief in portents of this description is not confined to the Northmen of the eleventh century. Crantz, a worthy Moravian missionary, in his “History of Greenland,” Vol. I. p. 116, quotes the following description
lightly over the reign of Isabella, and might ruffle a little the old pride of Castile. Still it is all 56 sat bene ” for five hundred small duodecimo pages of large German print ; and our reader has already spent on it quite as much time as it deserves.
But if France and Germany have done little, Great Britain has added nothing. There is no history of this reign in English. Dr. Robertson, in the first chapter of his “Charles the Fifth,” despatches Ferdinand and Isabella in about twenty pages, in which he has recorded at least half as many errors.
The clever “ History of Spain and Portugal," in five duodecimos, prepared for Lardner's “ Cabinet Cyclopædia,” doles out to the illustrious pair four and twenty pages in Castile, and five for Ferdinand alone in Aragon. There are a few other glimpses here and there in English literature of great things done in Spain in those days; and there has always been a sort of vague tradition that Ferdinand and Isabella were a very remarkable brace of sovereigns. But wherein their greatness consisted, unless it were in the discovery of America by a duly authorized agent, has been left by the British writers mainly to conjecture, or at best to loose inference from sweeping assertions and obscure hints.
America, even before the publication of the history now under review, has done something more than this. Irving's lives of Columbus and the other Spanish voyagers of that age, gracefully and thoroughly illustrate these foreign adventures ; and his Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada gives a glowing picture, something between history and romance, of one other brilliant achievement in the administration of the Catholic sovereigns. So several European writers of eminence, Hallam, Roscoe, Milman, Fléchier, Sismondi, have treated, in a popular historical form, particular topics involving at times partial views of Spanish affairs under this administration. It is from such incidental notices concerning Spain, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, that a few scattered rays of light have occasionally broken in upon the general reader, serving only to make the surrounding darkness visible and palpable. There has been no comprehensive history of that age and country. The succeeding reigns, from Ferdinand and Isabella downward, through the long lines of the House of Austria, and the House of Bourbon, have all been copiously narrated, with more or less of accuracy, and various degrees of literary merit,