« IndietroContinua »
of less immediate importance. It has generally been supposed that these years of irksome solicitation were spent by Columbus in the drowsy attendance of antechambers; but, on the contrary, they were passed amidst scenes of peril and adventure, and in following the court, he was led into some of the most striking situations of this wild, rugged, and mountainous war. In one of the severest campaigns, he is said to have distinguished himself by his personal prowess. He was present at the sieges and surrenders of Malaga and Baza, and beheld El Zɛgal, the elder of the two rival kings of Granada, yield up his crown and possessions to the Spanish sovereigns. During the siege of Baza, two reverend friars, guardians of the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem, arrived in the Spanish camp, bearing a menace from the Grand Soldan of Egypt, that he would put to death all the Christians in his dominions, and destroy the sepulchre, if the sovereigns did not desist from the war against the Moslems of Granada. It is probable that the pious indignation excited by this threat in the bosom of Columbus gave the first rise to a resolution which he entertained to the day of his death; this was, to devote the profits which he anticipated from his discoveries to a crusade for the rescue of the holy sepulchre.
During this long course of application, Columbus partly defrayed his expenses by making maps and charts. He was occasionally assisted, also, by the purse of the worthy Friar Diego de Deza, and was sometimes a guest of Alonzo de Quintanilla. It is due to the sovereigns to say, also, that he was attached to the royal suite, and sums issued to defray his expenses, and lodgings provided for him, when summoned to follow this rambling and warlike
court. Whenever the sovereigns had an interval of leisure, there seems to have been a disposition to attend to his proposition; but the hurry and tempest of the war returned, and the question was again swept away.
At length, in the winter of 1491, when the sovereigns were preparing to depart on their final campaign in the vega of Granada, Columbus, losing all patience, pressed for a decisive reply, and Fernando de Talavera was ordered, therefore, to hold a final conference, and to report the decision of his learned brethren. He obeyed, and informed their majesties that the majority of the junto condemned the scheme as vain and impossible, and considered it unbecoming such great princes to engage in an undertaking of the kind, on such weak grounds as had been advanced.
A degree of consideration, however, had gradually grown up at court for the enterprise, and notwithstanding this unfavourable report, the sovereigns were unwilling to close the door on a project which might be of such important advantages. They informed Columbus, therefore, that the great cares and expenses of the war rendered it impossible for them to engage in any new enterprises for the present; but that, when the war should be concluded, they would have leisure and inclination to treat with him concerning his propositions.
This was but a starved reply to receive after so many years of weary attendance: Columbus considered it a mere evasion of the sovereigns to relieve themselves from his importunity, and giving up all hope of countenance from the throne, he turned his back upon Seville, filled with disappointment and indignation.
Columbus seeks Patronage amongst the Spanish Grandees —Returns to the Convent of La Rabida—Resume his Negotiations with the Sovereigns.
COLUMBUS now looked round in search of some other source of patronage. He had received favourable letters both from the Kings of England and of France; the King of Portugal, also, had invited him to return to his court; but he appears to have become attached to Spain, probably from its being the residence of Beatrix Enriquez, and his children. He sought, therefore, to engage the patronage of some one of those powerful Spanish grandees, who had vast possessions, exercised feudal rights, and were petty sovereigns in their domains. Among these were the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, and Medina Celi: both had principalities lying along the seaboard, with armies of vassals, and ports and shipping at their command. Columbus had many interviews with the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who was tempted for a time by the splendid prospects held out; but their very splendour threw a colouring of exaggeration over the enterprise, and he finally rejected it as the dream of an Italian visionary.
The Duke of Medina Celi was still more favourable, and was actually on the point of granting him three or four caravals which lay ready for sea, in
his harbour of Port St. Mary; but he suddenly changed his mind, fearing to awaken the jealousy of the crown, and to be considered as interfering with the views of the sovereigns, who he knew had been treating with Columbus. He advised him, therefore, to return once more to court, and he wrote a letter to the queen in favour of his project.
Columbus felt averse to the idea of subjecting himself again to the tantalizing delays and disappointments of the court, and determined to repair to Paris. He departed, therefore, for the convent of La Rabida, to seek his oldest son Diego, and leave him with his other son at Cordova.
When the worthy Friar Juan Perez de Marchena beheld Columbus arrive once more at the gate of his convent, after nearly seven years' fruitless solicitation at the court, and saw, by the humility of his garb, the poverty he had experienced, he was greatly moved; but when he found that he was on the point of leaving Spain, and carrying his proposition to another country, his patriotism took the alarm. He had been confessor to the queen, and knew her to be always accessible to persons of his sacred calling. He wrote a letter to her, therefore, earnestly vindicating the proposed scheme, and conjuring her not to turn a deaf ear to a matter of such vast importance; and he prevailed upon Columbus to delay his journey until an answer should be received.
The ambassador chosen by the little junto of the convent was one Sebastian Rodriguez, a pilot of Lepe, who acquitted himself faithfully, expeditiously, and successfully, in his embassy. He found access to the benignant princess in the royal camp at Santa Fé, before Granada, and delivered
the epistle of the friar. He returned in fourteen days, with a letter from the queen, thanking Juan Perez for his timely services, and requesting him to repair immediately to the court, leaving Columbus in confident hope of hearing farther from her. This royal epistle caused great exultation in the convent. No sooner did the warm-hearted friar receive it, than he procured a mule, and departed instantly, before midnight, for the court. sacred office, and his former relation as father confessor, gave him immediate admission to the queen, and great freedom of counsel. It is probable Isabella had never heard the proposition of Columbus urged with such honest zeal and impressive eloquence. She was naturally more sanguine and susceptible than the king, and more open to warm and generous impulses. Moved by the representations of Juan Perez, she requested that Columbus might be again sent to her, and kindly bethinking herself of his poverty, and his humble plight, ordered that a sufficient sum of money should be forwarded to him, to defray his travelling expenses, to provide him with a mule for his journey, and to furnish him with decent raiment, that he might make a respectable appearance at the court. Columbus lost no time in complying with the commands of the queen. He exchanged his threadbare garment for one of more courtly texture, and, purchasing a mule, set out once more, re-animated by fresh hopes, for the camp before Granada.
He arrived in time to witness the memorable surrender of that capital to the Spanish arms. He beheld Boabdil el Chico, the last of the Moorish kings, sally forth from the Alhambra, and yield up