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PERIOD OF MODERN DISCOVERY.
We now come to a period at which may be dated the real discovery of the American Continente The invention of the compass had given courage to the timid navigators of the fifteenth century. They no longer coasted along the shores, and sought popularity and applause by visiting Islands adjoining the continent of Africa. The discoverer of unknown regions, ardent in the pursuit of knowledge, of glory, and of gain, and proud in the patronage of princes, verified the description of Horace, and launched boldly into the Atlantic main :
Illi robur et æs triplex
Commisit pelago ratem
Quem mortis timuit gradum
Qui vidit mare turgidum et
Infames scopulos ?
What various forms of death could fright
Although the honor of the discovery of the New World may be divided among three powers of Europe, and each be content with a share of the fame -the West Indies having been discovered by the great Columbus, in 1492, for the Spaniards-Newfoundland, and the continent now called the United States, by the English, under John and Sebastian Cabot, in 1497 and 1498—and Canada by the French, under Jacques Cartier, in 1535, we are nevertheless disposed to claim for the English the principal merit of the discovery. We contend, that independently of England having first entertained the propositions of Columbus in 1488, the absolute discovery of Newfoundland, by John Cabot, in 1497, a year before Columbus discovered South America at the mouth of the Orinoco, gives to the English an indefeasible title to the first discovery of the American Continent, although no steps were taken until many years afterwards to establish the British ascendancy over the countries in question.
It is generally known, that the object which engaged the ambition, excited the cupidity, and stimulated the adventures of the early navigators, was the discovery of a passage to India and the spice countries, by sailing round the Southern extremity of Africa ; and thence taking an Eastern course passage which was afterwards successfully effected by Vasco de Gama, the famous Portuguese navigator, in 1497. The Venetians are said to have had some information about the West Indies in the year 1424. It is certain that about the year 1474, the renowned Columbus, Colombo, or Colon, as he is respectively
called, a native of the Genoese territory, struck out a new and ingenious theory; by which he contended on rational and philosophical principles, drawn from the sphericity and magnitude of the earth, which at that period had been ascertained—that a shorter and more direct passage to the East Indies might be found by steering across the Atlantic due West. After first offering the result of his conviction to the Genoese Republic, his native land, by which it was neglected-afterwards to the King of Portugal, who basely endeavored to take advantage of the project without employing its author in the executionColumbus proceeded to Spain, having first sent his brother Bartholomew to England: where, after residing for some time in poverty and neglect, owing to his capture by pirates on the voyage, he succeeded in completing and publishing a Map of the World, dated 21st February, 1480, which he afterwards found means to present to the King, Henry VII. The following lines more remarkable for their subject and their antiquity than for any poetical merit, were inscribed upon this Map.
Terrarum quicunque cupis feliciter oras
Pro autore, sive pictore.
Genoa cui patria est, nomen cui Bartholomæus,
The sense of these lines is to this effect:
66 Who“soever may desire to obtain a correct knowledge “ of the coasts of countries, may learn from this “ elegant engraving, all that Strabo, Ptolemy, Pliny, “and Isidorus assert on this subject, although they do “ not agree on all points. Here is also set down the “ Torrid Zone, formerly unknown, but lately sailed
over by Spanish ships, and now known to many. “A Genoese by birth, Bartholomew Colombo, of “the red earth, published this work at London, on " the 21st day of February, 1480. Praise be to “ Christ.”
It appears that in consequence of this application, the King was desirous of having the subject fully explained to him; and with his usual sagacity seeing the merits of the proposal, he assented to it, and despatched Bartholomew in search of his brother Columbus, with an invitation to the English Court. An agreement was actually entered into between the King and Bartholomew in 1488, four years before the voyage of Columbus in the service of Isabella of Castile. The latter in the mean time was engaged in negociations with the Spanish Princes, and so continued until 1492; when wearied and disgusted by vexatious delays, he was on the point of returning to England and availing himself of the patronage of its Monarch. At this critical juncture, Isabella determined to patronise and forward the discoveries anticipated by Columbus, out of her own resources, generously offering her jewels towards defraying the expense—while her thrifty spouse, Ferdinand of
Arragon, refused to bear any portion of the charges, i which were supplied from the treasury of Castile
only. Thus it appears that England had the honor of first admitting the proposals of Columbus ; and
that it was by mere accident that the discovery of the West Indies, was subsequently made by Columbus in 1492 under Spanish, and not under British auspices.
JOHN AND SEBASTIAN CABOT.
Henry VII. having been thus disappointed, endeavored to procure the services of other mariners of experience, for the purpose of making discoveries on the plan submitted by Bartholomew Columbus. In the year 1494, two years after the discovery of the West Indies, John Cabot, a Venetian Merchant, was resident in Bristol : upon whose enthusiastic spirit the deeds of Columbus had made a deep impression; and who thought himself capable of performing exploits as a seaman equal to those of the great Genoese. Fired with this ambition, he made application to the King, Henry VII., who readily granted him Letters Patent, dated March 5th, 1495, authorizing the said John Cabot, or Kabotto, and his sons Louis, Sebastian and Sanchez, to sail with five ships for the discovery of unknown regions in any part of the globe. They were empowered to subdue and possess them as the King's Lieutenants, stipulating to pay to the Crown one-fifth part of the net profits of the adventure, and to return with their vessels to the port of Bristol. The result of this voyage was without doubt the discovery
of North America. On the 24th day of June, 1497, they discovered the coast of Labrador, to which they gave the name of Terra primum visa, or Primavista. The opposite Island they called St. John's, having landed there on St. John's day, the 24th June. This is now the Island of Newfoundland. Prince says, that the land discovered by Cabot was