Immagini della pagina

spheres by a region of impassable heat; and they had a superstitious belief, that whoever doubled Cape Bojador would never return.

Prince Henry called in the aid of science to dispel these errors. He established a naval college and observatory at Sagres, and invited thither the most eminent professors of the nautical faculties. The effects of this establishment were soon apparent. A vast improvement took place in maps and charts; the compass was brought into more general use; the Portuguese marine became signalised for its hardy enterprises; Cape Bojador was doubled; the region of the tropics penetrated and divested of its fancied terrors; the greater part of the African coast, from Cape Blanco to Cape de Verde, explored, and the Cape de Verde and Azore islands discovered. To secure the full enjoyment of these territories, Henry obtained a papal bull, investing the crown of Portugal with sovereign authority over all the lands it might discover in the Atlantic, to India inclusive. Henry died on the 13th of November, 1473, before he had accomplished the great object of his ambition; but he had lived long enough to behold, through his means, his native country in a grand career of prosperity. He has been well described, as "full of thoughts of lofty enterprise, and acts of generous spirit.' "He bore for his device the magnanimous motto," the talent to do good," the only talent worthy the ambition of princes.

The fame of the Portuguese discoveries drew the attention of the world; and the learned, the curious, and the adventurous, resorted to Lisbon to engage in the enterprises continually fitting out. Among the rest, Columbus arrived there about the year

1470. He was at that time in the full vigour of manhood, and of an engaging presence; and here it may not be improper to draw his portrait, according to the minute descriptions given of him by his contemporaries. He was tall, well formed, and muscular, and of an elevated and dignified demeanour. His visage was long, and neither full nor meagre ; his complexion fair and freckled, and inclined to ruddy; his nose aquiline, his cheek bones were rather high, his eyes light gray, and apt to enkindle; his whole countenance had an air of authority. His hair, in his youthful days, was of a light colour, but care and trouble soon turned it gray, and at thirty years of age it was quite white He was moderate and simple in diet and apparel, eloquent in discourse, engaging and affable with strangers, and of an amiableness and suavity in domestic life that strongly attached his household to his person. His temper was naturally irritable; but he subdued it by the magnanimity of his spirit, comporting himself with a courteous and gentle gravity, and never indulging in any intemperance of language. Throughout his life, he was noted for a strict attention to the offices of religion; nor did his piety consist in mere forms, but partook of that lofty and solemn enthusiasm with which his whole character was strongly tinctured.

While at Lisbon, he was accustomed to attend religious service at the chapel of the convent of All Saints. Here he became acquainted with a lady of rank, named Doña Felipa, who resided in the convent. She was the daughter of Bartolomeo Monis de Palestrello, an Italian cavalier, lately deceased, who had been one of the most distinguished

navigators under Prince Henry, and had colonized and governed the island of Porto Santo. The acquaintance soon ripened into attachment, and ended in marriage. It appears to have been a match of mere affection, as the lady had little or no fortune.

The newly married couple resided with the mother of the bride. The latter perceiving the interest which her son-in-law took in nautical affairs, used to relate to him all she knew of the voyages and expeditions of her late husband, and delivered to him all his charts, journals, and other manuscripts. By these means, Columbus became acquainted with the routes of the Portuguese, and their plans and ideas; and, having by his marriage and residence become naturalized in Portugal, he sailed occasionally in the expeditions to the coast of Guinea. When at home, he supported his family by making maps and charts; and though his means were scanty, he appropriated a part to the education of his younger brothers, and the succour of his aged father at Genoa. From Lisbon he removed for a time to the recently discovered island of Porto Santo, where his wife had inherited some property, and during his residence there she bore him a son, whom he named Diego. His wife's sister was married to Pedro Correo, a navigator of note, who had at one time been governor of Porto Santo. In the familiar intercourse of domestic life, their conversation frequently turned upon the discoveries of the Atlantic islands, and the African coasts, upon the long-sought-for route to India, and upon the possibility of unknown lands existing in the west. It was a period of general excitement, with all who were connected with ma

ritime life, or who resided in the vicinity of the ocean. The recent discoveries had inflamed their imaginations, and had filled them with ideas of other islands of greater wealth and beauty, yet to be discovered in the boundless wastes of the Atlantic. The opinions and fancies of the ancients were again put into circulation: the island of Antilla, and Plato's imaginary Atalantis, once more found firm believers; and a thousand rumours were spread of unknown islands casually seen in the ocean. Many of these were mere fables; many of them had their origin in the self-deception of voyagers, whose heated fancies beheld islands in those summer clouds which lie along the horizon, and often beguile the sailor with the idea of distant land. The most singular instance of this kind of self-deception, or rather of optical delusion, is that recorded of the inhabitants of the Canaries. They imagined that from time to time they beheld a vast island to the westward, with lofty mountains and deep valleys. Nor was it seen in cloudy or dubious weather, but with all the distinctness with which distant objects may be discerned in the transparent atmosphere of a tropical climate. It is true, it was only seen transiently, and at long intervals; while at other times, and in the clearest weather, not a vestige of it was visible; but so persuaded were the people of the Canaries of its reality, that they obtained permission from the King of Portugal to fit out various expeditions in search of it. The island, however, was never to be found, though it still continued occasionally to cheat the eye; many identified it with a legendary island, said to have been discovered in the sixth century, by a Scottish

priest of the name of St. Brandan, and it was actually laid down in many maps of the times, by the name of St. Brandan, or St. Borondon.

All these tales and rumours were noted down with curious care by Columbus, and may have had some influence over his imagination; but, though of a visionary spirit, his penetrating genius sought in deeper sources for the aliment of its meditations. The voyages he had made to Guinea, and his frequent occupation in making maps and charts, had led him more and more to speculate on the great object of geographical enterprise; but while others were slowly and painfully seeking a route to India, by following up the coast of Africa, his daring genius conceived the bold idea of turning his prow directly to the west, and seeking the desired land by a route across the Atlantic. Having once conceived this idea, it is interesting to notice from what a mass of acknowledged facts, rational hypotheses, fanciful narrations, and popular rumours, his grand project of discovery was wrought out by the strong workings of his vigorous mind.

« IndietroContinua »