« ForrigeFortsett »
must have always obtained the preference with contracted observers. But as the idea of an interminable world is not easily entertained, it was natural to believe that the terrestrial habitation of man was bounded by the ocean. In order to fix limits, however, to the ocean, it was again necessary to have recourse to another solid region. Thus the rings of land and water continually alternate; the limit which reason cannot find is fixed by superstition, and a peculiarly sacred number, as in the system of the Hindoos, determines the limits of the universe. This process of speculation is so natural, that it would be surprising if the ancients had not made any allusion to regions beyond the ocean ; and it appears a strange inattention to the activity of the human mind in the early stages of civilisation to mistake these hints for any thing but the offspring of primitive philosophy." It has been seen in a previous part of this work, that the northern nations ventured at a very early age on some bold maritime excursions; that they reached Greenland, and probably were not strangers to the adjoining coast of North America. Notwithstanding the loss of the Greenland colony, it is not likely that seas once navigated were ever utterly abandoned; and there is some reason to suspect that the fisheries of Newfoundland were frequented before the time of Columbus. The Normans and Bretons visited the same seas as early at least as 1504, or only twelve years after the first voyage of Columbus; and it is not very probable that a fishery at so great a distance should have been commenced only a few years after the discovery of the banks. The ablest geographers of the sixteenth century, such as Ortelius, Mercator, Witfliet, Pontanus, and others, looked upon it as indisputable, that the Basques of Cape Breton near Bayonne, and the other cod-fishers of the same province, had discovered Newfoundland before the time of Columbus ; and they * Autonio Ribeiro dos Santos has collected the various passages of the ancient writers, which may be supposed to have a reference to trans
Atlantic countries, in the Memoirs of the Academy of Sciences at Lisbon, tom. v. p. 101.
venture even to assert, that these bold navigators had penetrated as far as Canada, and that Columbus had information of their route from a Basque pilot. These opinions were chiefly grounded on traditions preserved among the fishermen of Biscay.” There is, however, a want of clear and authentic testimony in support of those early discoveries. Don M. de Navarrete, whose authority on this point seems conclusive, is disposed to think that the Biscayans did not discover Newfoundland till 1526, and he shows that they did not frequent the banks till 1540.t A bolder claim to the honour of discovering America has been recently advanced in favour of the inhabitants of Dieppe, who were reckoned, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, among the most expert and hardy navigators of Europe. It is said that one Cousin, an inhabitant of Dieppe, influenced by the conjectures or speculation of a townsman named Dechaliers, whom the Normans regarded as the founder of hydrographical science, undertook some voyages of great length, and discovered, in 1488, the mouth of the river of Amazons, whence he returned the following year, touching on his way homeward at the coasts of Africa. It is also stated, that one Pinçon, who commanded a small vessel in Cousin's expedition, was tried on his return, and dismissed from the service of the city, for his turbulent behaviour and disobedience to his commander. Those who credit the story of Cousin's voyage conjecture this Pinçon to have been one of that family who sailed with Columbus from the port of Palos, and perhaps the same individual who equipped an expedition in 1499, with which he directed his course to the river of Amazons. This last circumstance, united to the identity of name and resemblance of character, give to the conjecture an air of probability. Yet as the archives of Dieppe were all destroyed by fire in 1694, and no original documents relating to Cousin's voyage are at present extant, the whole
* Diccion. Geog. Hist. de España, por la Academia de la Historia, tom. ii. p. 313. Art. St. tian. + Navarrete, tom. iii. p. 179.
story must be regarded as apocryphal, notwithstanding the ingenuity with which the testimonies of contemporary writers are sought to be collected in its favour.” Thus it appears that the honour of having discovered the New World is disputed with Columbus on insufficient grounds. Whatever speculative opinions may have been afloat in his time respecting the existence of trans-Atlantic countries, very little can be detracted from that originality of conception which marks his strong persuasion; and nothing at all from the boldness of his enterprise. The number of those who ventured to follow his traces across the ocean was soon considerable ; and, independent of the success or personal qualities of those daring mariners, the rapidity with which these expeditions succeeded one another deserves especial notice in the History of Maritime Discovery. Among those who accompanied Columbus to Hispaniola in his second voyage was Alonzo de Hojeda, a young and handsome cavalier, small of stature, but possessing wonderful strength and activity of body, and with courage equal to the most desperate enterprise. He had distinguished himself in the wars with the Moors of Grenada, and exhibited before the queen some feats of personal prowess. In Hispaniola he soon became conspicuous for his boldness and dexterity, and rendered a most important service to the colony by seizing and carrying off from the midst of his people Caonabo, the Carib chief of the interior. Hojeda happened to be at the court of Spain, when intelligence arrived from Columbus respecting the discoveries made by him in his third voyage; his route along the coast of Paria, which he justly conjectured to be the continent, and the quantity of pearls he saw with the natives. Hojeda immediately conceived the design of following the traces of the admiral, so as to profit at once from the discovery; and, as he enjoyed the favour of Fonseca, his project was immediately approved of. He accordingly fitted out an expedition of four ships, with which he reached the continent of South America, at no great distance from the equator; then keeping the coast always in view, he passed the mouths of the rivers Essequibo and Orinoco. From Margarita he steered westward, and examined the whole coast of Venezuela, as far as Cape Vela, whence he directed his course to Hispaniola. Hojeda was accompanied in his first expedition by Amerigo Vespucci, a native of Florence, who, by affixing his name to the new continent, has surreptitiously obtained that testimony of fame which was unquestionably due to Columbus. Vespucci was a man of considerable talents and acquirements; an experienced mariner, and a good cosmographer. Some writers suppose that he attended Columbus in the first voyage of that great man to the New World; but the earliest authentic mention of him in Spain occurs in official documents of the year 1495. At that time he appears to have been an agent or partner of Berardi, a Florentine merchant, established at Seville, who was a confidential friend of Columbus, and who, from his intimacy with the admiral or on account of his great wealth, was usually commissioned by the government to equip the armaments destined for Hispaniola. From the year 1500, when Amerigo Vespucci returned from his voyage with Hojeda, to the beginning of 1505, he appears to have been engaged in the service of the king of Portugal, and during this period he may have visited the East Indies, or the coast of Brazil. He afterwards returned to Spain, where he was very favourably received; the value of his intrinsic merits, his great experience as a navigator, his commercial knowledge, and his steady conduct, being perhaps enhanced by the circumstance of his having been won from a rival court. On the death of Columbus, the king of Spain endeavoured to supply so great a loss by attaching to his service the ablest navigator of the time, and accordingly named Vespucci his chief pilot. But no enterprise of any moment resulted from this appointment; an expedition, prepared in 1507, for the discovery of a western passage to the Spice Islands, and which was to have been entrusted to Amerigo Vespucci and Vincent Yanez Pinzon, having been abandoned in consequence of remonstrances made by the king of Portugal. Amerigo died in the service of Spain in the year 1512. The claim of Amerigo Vespucci to the honour of having discovered the continent of the New World has been strenuously advocated by many learned men, even of the present age.” The Florentine pilot lost no time in cultivating the favour of the literary world, and in 1507 the account which he had written of his four voyages was already printed in Latin; having been previously translated into French and Spanish from the original Italian. There are many circumstances in his narrative calculated to alarm a suspicious critic, and it may be even doubted whether he ever actually performed the four voyages he describes. The date which he assigns to the commencement of his first voyage, May, 1497, is the foundation on which rests all his title as a discoverer; yet this is evidently an artful falsification. It is admitted on all hands that he accompanied Hojeda ; and the first voyage of discovery made by this commander is fixed unanimously by all the Spanish writers in 1499, or a year later than the voyage in which Columbus fell in with the coast of Paria. In the tedious lawsuit which took place a few years later between the royal fiscal and Don Diego Columbus, all the circumstances of the first voyages to the New World were brought into full light by examination of the most eminent navigators alive, many of whom had been the companions of Columbus. In documents which are still in existence, Hojeda declares that he sailed in 1499, taking with him Juan de la Cosa and Amerigo Vespucci as pilots, and that he was the first who made a voyage of discovery after the admiral. He made the voyage, he says, because he had seen the drawings or maps of his discoveries which Columbus had sent home; and he adds a particular,
* Journ. Asiatique, tom. ix. p. 324. ; and in the French translation of Navarrete, tom. i. p. 343. note. ,