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of this famous book and it is still preserved in the Columbian library at Seville with his own marginal notes.
The influence upon Columbus of his reading upon the subject of physical geography is clearly indicated in the following extract from the narrative of his third voyage, sent to Ferdinand and Isabella from the Island of Hispaniola : “I have always read, that the world comprising the land and the water was spherical, and the recorded experiences of Ptolemy and all others, have proved this by the eclipses of the moon, and other observations made from east to west, as well as by the elevation of the pole from north to south. But as I have already described, I have now seen so much irregularity, that I have come to another conclusion respecting the earth, namely, that it is not round as they describe, but of the form of a pear, which is very round except where the stalk grows, at which part it is most prominent.”]
In one of his letters Columbus thus summarizes his reading of classical and Arabian authorities through the medium of the Imago Mundi of Cardinal D'Ailly : “Pliny writes that the sea and land together form a sphere, but that the ocean forms the greatest mass, and lies uppermost, while the earth is below and supports the ocean, and that the two afford a mutual support to each other, as the kernel of a nut is confined by its shell. The Master of scholastic history, in commenting upon Genesis, says, that the waters are not very extensive; and that although when they were first created they covered the earth, they were yet vaporous like a cloud, and that afterwards they became condensed, and occupied but small space : and in this notion Nicolas de Lira agrees. Aristotle says that the world is small, and the water very limited in extent, and that it is easy to pass from Spain to the Indies; and this is confirmed by Averrhoes, and by the Cardinal Pedro de Aliaco, who, in supporting this opinion,
Select Letters of Christopher Columbus, translated and edited by R. H. Major, p. 134. Edition of 1870.
shows that it agrees with that of Seneca, and says that Aristotle had been enabled to gain information respecting the world by means of Alexander the Great, and Seneca by means of the Emperor Nero, and Pliny through the Romans; all of them having expended large sums of money, and employed a vast number of people, in diligent inquiry concerning the secrets of the world, and in spreading abroad the knowledge thus obtained. The said cardinal allows to these writers greater authority than to Ptolemy, and other Greeks and Arabs; and in confirmation of their opinion concerning the small quantity of water on the surface of the globe, and the limited amount of land covered by that water, in comparison of what had been related on the authority of Ptolemy and his disciples, he finds a passage in the third book of Esdras, where that sacred writer says, that of seven parts of the world six are discovered, and the other is covered with water."
All science, like all literature, simply combines existing elements into fresh forms. Columbus breathed upon the dry bones of ancient and mediaeval geography, and they sprang together into vital form. A towering genius for discovery, beckoning him westward, seemed to arise before the mind's eye of that simple Genoese sailor, as he read the pages of the Imago Mundi, in which the geographical wisdom of the ancients had drifted to the western shore of Europe. Mr. Winsor, in his critical work on “Christopher Columbus : how he received and imparted the spirit of discovery,” says, p. 457 : “ Bacon it was who gave that tendency to thought which, seized by Cardinal Pierre D'Ailly, and incorporated by him in his Imago Mundi (1410), became the link between Bacon and Columbus.”
In an address before the Royal Geographical Society, in June, 1892, Mr. Clements R. Markham, an English naval officer, and a leading authority upon Columbus, represents him as one of the most skilful navigators of his time.
Select Letters of Christopher Columbus, pp. 144-146.
republic of Genoa was the centre of nautical science, and Columbus early became versed in all the mathematical and astronomical knowledge necessary for a good pilot and captain. It is very doubtful whether Columbus was educated, as some have said, at the University of Pavia; but he was an intelligent student and a persistent reader of cosmographical science. In 1501 he wrote: “At a very early age I became a sailor, and a sailor I have been ever since. ... For forty years have I followed this calling. Whithersoever men have sailed to this day, thither have I also sailed. I have held traffic and converse with the wise and prudent, churchmen and laymen, Latins and Greeks, Jews and Moors. . . . During this time have I seen and made it my study to see, all writings, cosmography, histories, chronicles, philosophy and other arts, so that the hand of the Lord plainly opened my understanding to see that it was possible to sail from hence to the Indies, and set on fire my will for the execution thereof."
Columbus went to Portugal in 1472, at the age of 25. He went as young men now go to Chicago and the west. Lisbon was a city of enterprise and bold endeavor. For more than a hundred years skilful Genoese pilots, the best navigators of their time, had been in the service of the Portuguese government. They had found anew those long-lost sunset Islands of the Blest, now known as the Madeira and Canary Islands. Genoese sailors had even discovered the Azores, a thousand miles to the westward, half way across the broad Atlantic. Down the western coast of Africa had pushed those bold pilots from Genoa in the service of the most western State in continental Europe. Already in the thirteenth century Portuguese expeditions had passed Cape Non, a promontory so dangerous to navigators that men used grimly to say, “Whoever passes Cape Non will return or not.” In 1435 Cape Bojador was doubled, and thus headland after headland was conquered as Portuguese discovery crept past Cape Blanco, Cape Verde and ever southwards to the region of Sierra Leone, where Hanno, the Carthaginian, had seen negroes and gorillas two thousand
years before. What motives lured men ever onward ? Love of adventure, the hunt for gold, the trade in slaves and ivory. The Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Arabians, and the Moors had all been engaged in the business of slave dealing. The Mohammedans taught it to the Portuguese and they taught it to the English.
A noble, scientific example to Columbus was his early contemporary, Prince Henry, the navigator, who sought a new route to India by way of the west coast of Africa. He had established a naval observatory at Sagres, the land's end of Portugal, the Sacred Promontory of the ancients, who supposed it to be the point farthest west on the habitable earth. There Prince Henry founded not only an observatory, but a school of geography. Thither like sea-gulls around a light-house flocked scholars, teachers, map-makers, and adventurous mariners. There, says John Fiske in his Discovery of America, I, 319, Prince Henry “spent the greater part of his life; thence he sent forth his captains to plough the southern seas; and as year after year the weather-beaten ships returned from their venturesome pilgrimage, the first glimpse of home that greeted them was likely to be the beacon-light in the tower where the master sat poring over problems of Archimedes or watching the stars."
Was there ever such a seminary for the training of geographers and discoverers of new lands? Prince Henry died in 1463, nine years before Columbus came to Portugal, but that scientific and adventurous spirit lived on in Lisbon, which was now the centre of geographical science. Bartholomew, the brother of Columbus, was already established there as a maker and publisher of maps recording Portuguese discoveries. Columbus himself was skilled in this art. He once said, “God gave me ingenuity and skill in designing charts and inscribing upon them, in the proper places, cities, rivers, mountains, isles, and ports.” Indeed, he joined in many of those Portuguese maritime expeditions, and speaks of voyages to Guinea. Shortly before Columbus came to Lisbon, two Portuguese noblemen, Santaren and Escobar, had sailed down the Gold Coast and crossed the equator. Thence the land was found to bear away southwards. The Portuguese began to despair of ever doubling the continent of Africa and of reaching India by an eastern route.
Just here the grand idea of Columbus, of Cardinal D'Ailly, of Roger Bacon, and of Aristotle sprang into new life. It became clear to the Genoese pilot that the problem of a quick route to India was to be solved not by further and interminable groping down the African coast, but by boldly sailing westward around the globe. In 1474 the King of Portugal sought the advice of Paul Toscanelli, the great physicist in the republic of Florence, concerning a possible route to India. Shortly afterwards Colunibus appealed to the same authority, and Toscanelli's answer is preserved. It is a clear and scientific statement of the whole case :
“Paul, the physicist, to Christopher Columbus, greeting. I perceive your great and noble desire to go to the place where the spices grow; wherefore in reply to a letter of yours, I send you a copy of another letter, which I wrote some time ago to a friend of mine, a gentleman of the household of the most gracious King of Portugal, ... in reply to another, which by command of His Highness he wrote me concerning that matter : and I send you another sailing chart, similar to the one I sent him, by which your demands will be satisfied. The copy of that letter of mine is as follows:
“Paul, the physicist, to Fernando Martinez, canon, at Lisbon, greeting I have formerly spoken with you about a shorter route to the places of Spices by ocean navigation than that which you are pursuing by Guinea. The most gracious king now desires from me some statement, or rather an exhibition to the eye, so that even slightly educated persons can grasp and comprehend that route. Although I am well aware that this can be proved from the spherical shape of the earth, nevertheless, in order to make the point clearer and to facilitate the enterprise, I have decided to exhibit that route