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There was something wonderfully grand in the idea of introducing new races of animals and plants, of building cities, extending colonies, and sowing the seeds of civilization and of enlightened empire in this beautiful but savage world. It struck the minds of learned and classical men with admiration, filling them with pleasant dreams and reveries, and seeming to realise the poetical pictures of the olden time; of Saturn, Ceres, and Triptolemus, travelling about the earth to spread new inventions among mankind, and of the colonising enterprises of the Phoenicians.
But while such sanguine anticipations were indulged in Europe, murmuring and sedition began to prevail among the colonists. Disappointed in their hopes of wealth, disgusted with the labours imposed upon them, and appalled by the prevalent maladies, they looked with horror upon the surrounding wilderness, and became impatient to return to Spain. Their discontents were increased by one Firmin Cado, a wrong-headed and captious man, who had come out as assayer and purifier of metals, but whose ignorance in his art equalled his obstinacy of opinion. He pertinaciously insisted that there was scarcely any gold in the island, and that all the specimens brought by the natives had been accumulated in the course of several generations, and been handed down from father to son in their families.
At length a conspiracy was formed, headed by Bernal Diaz de Pisa, the comptroller, to take advantage of the illness of Columbus, to seize upon the ships remaining in the harbour, and to return to Spain; where they thought it would be easy to justify their conduct, by accusing Columbus of gross
deceptions and exaggerations concerning the countries he had discovered. Fortunately Columbus received information in time, and arrested the ringleaders of the conspiracy. Bernal Diaz was confined on board of one of the ships, to be sent to Spain for trial; and several of the inferior mutineers were punished, but not with the severity their offence deserved. This was the first time Columbus exercised the right of punishing delinquents in his new government, and it immediately caused a great clamour against him. Already the disadvantage of being a foreigner was clearly manifested. He had no natural friends to rally round him; whereas the mutineers had connexions in Spain, friends in the colony, and met with sympathy in every discontented mind.
Expedition of Columbus into the Interior of Hispaniola. [1494.]
As the surest means of quieting the murmurs and rousing the spirits of his people, Columbus, as soon as his health permitted, made preparations for an expedition to the mountains of Cibao, to explore the country, and establish a post in the vicinity of the mines. Placing his brother Diego in command at Isabella, during his absence, and taking with him every person in health that could be spared from the settlement, and all the cavalry, he departed, on the 12th of March, at the head of four hundred men, armed with helmets and corslets, with arquebuses, lances, swords, and crossbows, and followed by labourers and miners, and a multitude of the neighbouring Indians. After traversing a plain, and fording two rivers, they encamped in the evening at the foot of a wild and rocky pass of the mountains.
The ascent of this defile presented formidable difficulties to the little army, which was encumbered with various munitions, and with mining implements. There was nothing but an Indian footpath winding among rocks and precipices, and the entangled vegetation of a tropical forest. A number of high-spirited young cavaliers, therefore, threw
themselves in the advance, and aiding the labourers and pioneers, and stimulating them with promises of liberal reward, they soon constructed the first road formed by Europeans in the new world, which, in commemoration of their generous zeal, was called El Puerto de los Hidalgos, or the Pass of the Hidalgos.
On the following day the army toiled up this steep defile, and arrived where the gorge of the mountain opened into the interior. Here a glorious prospect burst upon their view. Below lay a vast and delicious plain, enamelled with all the rich variety of tropical vegetation. The magnificent forests presented that mingled beauty and majesty of vegetable forms peculiar to these generous climates. Palms of prodigious height, and spreading mahogany trees, towered from amid a wilderness of variegated foliage. Universal freshness and verdure were maintained by numerous streams which meandered gleaming through the deep bosom of the woodland, while various villages and hamlets seen among the trees, and the smoke of others rising out of the forests, gave signs of a numerous population. The luxuriant landscape extended as far as the eye could reach, until it appeared to melt away and mingle with the horizon. The Spaniards gazed with rapture upon this soft voluptuous country, which seemed to realise their ideas of a terrestrial paradise; and Columbus, struck with its vast extent, gave it the name of the Vega Real, or Royal Plain. Having descended the rugged pass, the army issued upon the plain, in military array, with great clangour of warlike instruments. When the Indians beheld this band of warriors, glittering in steel,
emerging from the mountains with prancing steeds and floating banners, and heard, for the first time, their rocks and forests echoing to the din of drum and trumpet, they were bewildered with astonishment. The horses, especially, excited their terror and admiration. They at first supposed the rider and his steed to be one animal, and nothing could exceed their surprise on seeing the horseman dis
On the approach of the army the Indians generally fled with terror, but their fears were soon dispelled; they then absolutely retarded the march of the army by their kindness and hospitality; nor did they appear to have any idea of receiving a recompense for the provisions they furnished in abundance. The untutored savage, in almost every part of the world, scorns to make a traffic of hospitality.
For two or three days they continued their march across this noble plain, where every scene presented the luxuriance of wild uncivilized nature. They crossed two large rivers; one, called the Yagui by the natives, was named by the admiral the River of Reeds; to the other he gave the name of Rio Verde, or Green River, from the verdure and freshness of its banks. At length they arrived at a chain of lofty and rugged mountains, which formed a kind of barrier to the vega, and amidst which lay the golden region of Cibao. On entering this vaunted country, the whole character of the scenery changed, as if nature delighted in contrarieties, and displayed a miser-like poverty of exterior when teeming with hidden treasures. Instead of the soft, luxuriant landscape of the vega, nothing was to be seen but