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Fruitless Application of Columbus to be reinstated in his Government-His last Illness and Death.
THE residence of Columbus during the winter at Seville has generally been represented as an interval of repose. Never was honourable repose more merited, more desired, and less enjoyed. Care and sorrow were destined to follow him by sea and land; and in varying the scene, he but varied the nature of his afflictions. Ever since his memorable arrest by Bobadilla, his affairs had remained in confusion, and his rents and dues had been but partially and irregularly collected, and were detained in intermediate hands. The last voyage had exhausted his finances, and involved him in embarrassments. All that he had been able to collect of the money due to him in Hispaniola had been expended in bringing home many of his late crew, and for the greater part the crown remained his debtor. The world thought him possessed of countless wealth, while, in fact, he was suffering pecuniary want.
In letters written at this time to his son Diego, he repeatedly urges to him the necessity of practising extreme economy, until the arrears due to him should be paid. "I receive nothing of the revenue due to me," says he, on another occasion, "but live by borrowing. Little have I profited by
twenty years of toils and perils, since at present I do not own a roof in Spain. I have no resort but an inn, and, for the most times, have not wherewithal to pay my bill."
Being unable, from his infirmities, to go to court, he had to communicate with the sovereigns by letter, or through the intervention of friends, and exerted himself strenuously, but ineffectually, to draw their attention to the disastrous state of Hispaniola under the administration of Ovando, to obtain the restitution of his honours, and the payment of his arrears, and what seemed to lie equally near his heart, to obtain relief for his unfortunate seamen.
His letters were unregarded, or at least unanswered, his claims remained unsatisfied, and a cold indifference and neglect appeared to prevail towards him. All the tidings from the court filled him with uneasiness. Porras, the ringleader of the late faction, had been sent home by Ovando to appear before the council of the Indies, but the official documents in his cause had not arrived. He went at large, and being related to Morales the royal treasurer, had access to people in place, and an opportunity of inlisting their opinions and prejudices on his side. Columbus began to fear that the violent scenes in Jamaica might, by the perversity of his enemies and the effrontery of the delinquents, be wrested into matters of accusation against him, as had been the case with the rebellion of Roldan. The faithful and indefatigable Diego Mendez was at this time at court, and he trusted to his honest representations to counteract the falsehoods of Porras. Nothing can surpass the affecting earnestness and simplicity with which, in one of his letters, he declares his
loyalty. "I have served their majesties," says he, "with as much zeal and diligence as if it had been to gain paradise; and if I have failed in any thing, it has been because my knowledge and powers went no further." Whilst reading this touching appeal, we can scarcely realize the fact, that it was written by Columbus; the same extraordinary man who, but a few years before, had been idolized at this court as a benefactor, and received with almost royal honours.
His anxiety to have a personal interview with the sovereigns became every day more intense; he felt the inefficacy of letter-writing, and indeed, even that resource began to fail him, for the severity of his malady for a great part of the time deprived him of the use of his hands. He made repeated attempts to set off for the court; a litter was once actually at the door to convey him thither, but his increasing infirmities, and the inclemency of the season, obliged him to abandon the journey. In the mean time, the intrigues of his enemies appeared to be prevailing; the cold-hearted Ferdinand treated all his applications with indifference; on the justice and magnanimity of Isabella alone he relied for the redress of his grievances, but she lay dangerously ill. “ May it please the Holy Trinity," says he, "to restore our sovereign queen to health; for by her will every thing be adjusted which is now in confusion." Alas! while writing that letter, his noble benefactress was a corpse !
The health of Isabella had long been undermined by repeated shocks of domestic calamities. The death of her only son, the Prince Juan, of her beloved daughter, and bosom friend, the Princess Isabella,
and of her grandson and prospective heir, Prince Miguel, had been three cruel wounds to her maternal heart. To these were added the constant grief caused by the infirmity of intellect of her daughter Juana, and the domestic unhappiness of that princess with her husband the archduke Philip. The desolation which walks through palaces admits not the familiar sympathies and sweet consolations which alleviate the sorrows of common life. Isabella pined in state, amidst the obsequious homage of a court, surrounded by the trophies of a glorious and successful reign, and placed at the summit of earthly grandeur. A deep and incurable melancholy settled upon her, which undermined her constitution, and gave a fatal acuteness to her bodily maladies. After four months of illness, she died on the 26th of November, 1504, at Medina del Campo, in the fifty-fourth year of her age; but long before her eyes closed upon the world, her heart had closed upon all its pomps and vanities. "Let my body," said she, in her will," be interred in the monastery of San Francisco, in the alhambra of the city of Granada, in a low sepulchre, with no other monument than a plain stone, and an inscription. But I desire and command, that if the king, my lord, should choose a sepulchre in any church or monastery, in any other part or place of these my kingdoms, that my body be transported thither, and buried beside the body of his highness; so that the union we have enjoyed while living, and which, through the mercy of God, we hope our souls will experience in heaven, may be represented by our bodies in the earth *.”
*The dying command of Isabella has been obeyed. The author of this work has seen her tomb in the royal chapel of the cathedral of Granada, in which her remains are interred
Such was one of several passages in the will of this admirable woman, which bespoke the chastened humility of her heart, and in which, as has been well observed, the affections of conjugal love were delicately entwined with fervent religion and the most tender melancholy. She was one of the purest spirits that ever ruled over the destinies of a nation. Had she been spared, her benignant vigilance would have prevented many a scene of horror in the colonization of the new world, and might have softened the lot of its native inhabitants. As it is, her fair name will ever shine with celestial radiance in the early dawning of its history.
The news of the death of Isabella reached Columbus while he was writing a letter to his son. He notices it in a postscript or memorandum, written in the haste and brevity of the moment, but in beautifully touching and mournful terms. "A memorial," he writes, "for thee, my dear son Diego, of what is at present to be done. The principal thing is to commend affectionately, and with great devotion, the soul of the queen, our sovereign, to God. Her life was always catholic and pious, and prompt to all things in his holy service; for this reason we may rest assured that she is received into his glory, and beyond the cares of this rough and weary world. The next thing is, to watch and labour in all matters for the service of our sovereign, the king, and to endeavour to alleviate his grief. His majesty is the head of Christendom. Remember the proverb,
with those of Ferdinand. Their effigies, sculptured in white marble, lie side by side, on a magnificent sepulchre. The altar of the chapel is adorned with bas reliefs, representing the conquest and surrender of Granada,