Immagini della pagina

"The ocean," he observes, "encircles the ultimate bounds of the inhabited earth, and all beyond it is unknown. No one has been able to verify any thing concerning it, on account of its difficult and perilous navigation, its great obscurity, its profound depth, and frequent tempests; through fear of its mighty fishes, and its haughty winds; yet there are many islands in it, some of which are peopled, and others uninhabited. There is no mariner who dares to enter into its deep waters; or if any have done so, they have merely kept along its coasts, fearful of departing from them. The waves of this ocean, although they roll as high as mountains, yet maintain themselves without breaking; for if they broke, it would be impossible for a ship to plough them.”

It is the object of the following work to relate the deeds and fortunes of the mariner who first had the judgment to divine, and the intrepidity to brave, the mysteries of this perilous deep; and who, by his hardy genius, his inflexible constancy, and his heroic courage, brought the ends of the earth into communication with each other. The narrative of his troubled life is the link which connects the history of the old world with that of the new,






Birth, Parentage, Education, and early Life of

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, or Columbo, as the name is written in Italian, was born in the city of Genoa, about the year 1435, of poor but reputable and meritorious parentage. He was the son of Domenico Colombo, a wool-comber, and Susanna Fontanarossa, his wife; and his ancestors seem to have followed the same trade for several generations in Genoa. Attempts have been made to prove him of illustrious descent, and several noble houses have laid claim to him since his name has become so renowned as to confer rather than receive distinction. It is possible some of them may be in the right, for the feuds in Italy in those ages had broken down and scattered many of the noblest families, and while some branches remained in the lordly heritage of castles and domains, others were confounded with the humblest population of the cities. The fact, however, is not material to his fame; and it is a higher


proof of merit to be the object of contention among various noble families, than to be able to substantiate the most illustrious lineage. His son Fernando had a true feeling on the subject. "I am

of opinion," says he, "that I should derive less dignity from any nobility of ancestry, than from being the son of such a father."

Columbus was the oldest of four children; having two brothers, Bartholomew and Giacomo, or, as his name is translated into Spanish, Diego, and one sister, of whom nothing is known, excepting that she was married to a person in obscure life, called Giacomo Bavarello.

While very young, Columbus was taught reading, writing, grammar, and arithmetic, and made some proficiency in drawing. He soon evinced a strong passion for geographical knowledge, and an irresistible inclination for the sea; and in after life, when he looked back upon his career with a solemn and superstitious feeling, he regarded this early determination of his mind as an impulse from the deity, guiding him to the studies, and inspiring him with the inclinations, proper to fit him for the high decrees he was destined to accomplish. His father, seeing the bent of his mind, endeavoured to give him an education suitable for maritime life.


sent him, therefore, to the University of Pavia, where he was instructed in geometry, geography, astronomy, and navigation; he acquired also a familiar knowledge of the Latin tongue, which at that time was the medium of instruction, and the language of the schools. He remained but a short time at Pavia, barely sufficient to give him the rudiments of the necessary sciences; the thorough

acquaintance with them which he displayed in after life must have been the result of diligent selfschooling, and of casual hours of study, amidst the cares and vicissitudes of a rugged and wandering life. He was one of those men of strong natural genius, who appear to form themselves; who, from having to contend at their very outset with privations and impediments, acquire an intrepidity in braving, and a facility in vanquishing difficulties. Such men learn to effect great purposes with small means, supplying the deficiency of the latter by the resources of their own energy and invention. This is one of the remarkable features in the history of Columbus. In every undertaking, the scantiness and apparent insufficiency of his means enhance the grandeur of his achievements.

Shortly after leaving the university, he entered into nautical life, and, according to his own account, began to navigate at fourteen years of age. A complete obscurity rests upon this part of his history. It is supposed he made his first voyages with one Colombo, a hardy captain of the seas, who had risen to some distinction by his bravery, and who was a distant connexion of his family. This veteran is occasionally mentioned in old chronicles; sometimes as commanding a squadron of his own, sometimes as being an admiral in the Genoese service. He appears to have been bold and adventurous, ready to fight in any cause, and to seek quarrel wherever it might lawfully be found.

The seafaring life in those days was peculiarly full of hazard and enterprise. Even a commercial expedition resembled a warlike cruise, and the maritime merchant had often to fight his way from

« IndietroContinua »