Puslapio vaizdai

the fifteenth, and the nineteenth centuries are the four great periods of transition. Who can doubt that the fifteenth century was one of those predestined to bring about radical and profound changes? Paganizing influences were stealing over the pontificate, to such a degree even that the popes seemed to be high priests of Jupiter and religion itself an art, a plastic art. Poets, painters, sculptors, true ministering spirits of this new heaven, reawakened the olden gods amid the scenes of nature, and revived the ancient idolatry beneath the arches of the churches. The empire became a mere empty show; the German kaisers seemed to be little more than bespangled and unreal players; feudal society fell, overthrown by the successful power of labor. The ancient Lombard leagues, the old military framework of society, and the outworn feudal States were succeeded by the dominion of the mercantile cities, whose fleets were such as empires never owned, and who rewarded their artists as emperor never did. These cities made use of their garnered wealth to convert the palaces of their gilds and corporations into museums, and, resting from their world-wide barter, devoted their whole existence to continual artistic tourneys, Olympic games, and poetic contests, in which the days of ancient Greece seemed to be revived, and the Muses who perished at the feet of Hellenic altars to be once more restored to our world. This fifteenth century is the springtime of modern history. Industrial art brings forth the printing-press, which helps to immortalize the thoughts of men; old ruins crowned with the wild thyme and rue give up, like the tomb, their treasure of life, the perfect statue that affords a type for the perfection of new-born art; the dry shell of scholastic philosophy produces, like some bright insect, the pure Florentine Platonism, and finally the ocean, in order that all may be marvelous, that all may be regeneration and progress, brings far-off America to light, renovating nature itself, as by another and greater miracle, with her virgin forests and her fullness of life.

This age of the Renaissance seems to have delighted in satisfying every need and aspiration of the spirit of man. A means was required to rend and crush the feudal rock, and gunpowder appeared in the fourteenth century. To lay bare the secrets of the planet, to accomplish the legendary voyages of the new Argonauts, a fixed point in the sky corresponding to another fixed point in the ship was demanded, and the mariner's compass was providentially vouchsafed. A new type of art was required, and the long-forgotten statue came forth to hold the post of honor in our cathedrals and in the palaces of our popes. A new social organization was demanded, whereupon the municipalities arose to institute democra

cies, and monarchies to organize states. A new sense was needed to pierce the further heights of heaven, even as the printing-press had vanquished devouring time and the compass conquered space, and straightway the chance dropping of a few bits of glass into an organtube revealed the telescope and overthrew the senile astronomy of Alexandria. Conscience, too, needed to be renovated; the Church to be reconstructed; Christianity to be reformed, and the beliefs of man idealized. And to fulfil this mission without abandoning the traditional ideas and dogmas of the faith, the strong intellect of the immortal Savonarola and the reformatory doctrines of Luther were brought forth. So, too, nature must needs be new-born, and Columbus appeared. Examine the record of all discoveries and inventions, and you will see how that of the great mariner makes its advent in the appointed hour, when our earth and our intellect demanded it with one accord.

An event took place in the century of Columbus which aroused the minds of men and overwhelmed their souls with dread. Constantinople, the holy city, set at the very portal of Asia, found herself suddenly surprised by the hordes which had escaped three centuries before from the Mongolian plains, and was forced to bow beneath the yoke, like Jerusalem of the prophets, until the crescent replaced the Christian cross upon the minarets of Saint Sophia, and the muezzin uttered his cry where hitherto the priest had offered his prayer. This great empire of the East had endured for eleven centuries; yet in its agony it held aloof from the West, and from the West received no succor, merely on account of wretched theological controversies. It is impossible to conceive how potently and imperiously Columbus was inspired by that other semi-religious impulse of a new crusade, except by sharing the impression left on his soul and the thoughts aroused in his mind by events like the taking of Byzantium, mourned in the chiefest elegiac poems of the age. In like manner as the yearning for a new life and new discoveries filled the minds of men in that Easter-time of the Renaissance, and as the desire to revive the crusades was excited by the fall of Constantinople, so the zeal for traffic that possessed him had its origin in the mercantile cities of Italy; the desire to seek commercial gain through great maritime expeditions originated in the marvelous spectacle of the Portuguese discoveries of that time; the resolve to essay fabulous and impossible deeds sprang from the successful end of that great campaign against the Arab invader, accomplished after seven centuries of effort by Spain on the beauteous Vega of Granada.

But our principal need, in order to understand

one of the phases of the mind of Columbus, is to study the mercantile cities of Italy at that day. None was so active as Genoa. By its internal constitution it ranked among the republican municipalities, in which upon a solid basis of genuine democracy there was often reared a certain noble class; not, we may say, of true election, but of true selection, charged by common consent and by long usage with the functions of direction and government. But the Genoese democracy had become split up into such a number of factions, and so many leaders had arisen among its nobility, that Genoa was compelled to deliver one of her fortresses to the Duke of Milan; in order that, by maintaining a garrison and a standard there, he might impose upon all the mutual respect and consideration due among free and genuine citizens. And as in the commercial republic of the Carthage of old foreign mercenaries were employed, and as in the no less commercial monarchy of England there exists even in our day a hired soldiery, so in those mercantile cities, in accordance with the axiom that nature produces the thing of which she stands in need, there was evolved a class of soldiers of fortune, who of fered their swords to the highest bidder, in return for favors or money, for the defense of any principles and any cause. Thus, and only thus, in those terrible ages of everlasting war when civil discords often coincided with foreign discords, could governing families arise like the Medici in Florence or the Dorias in Genoa; or manufactories be established for the fabrication of countless products that even to-day amaze us; or the exchanges of commerce be effected as a stimulus to labor; or a peaceful existence be assured to the tillers of the soil, who were exempt from all other service provided they would give the proprietor one half of their crops; or the lyre resound, the canvas yield to the brush, the marble to the chisel, and the rough stone be wrought into the stately piles of those splendid cities, filled with bright colors and vocal with the chants of triumph. The gorgeous churches of Genoa made of Columbus a crusader, its schools a geographer, its palaces filled with paintings and statues an artist, its shores a mariner, its industries and commerce a shrewd calculator and thoroughgoing man of business.

In the same way as Genoa must have exerted an influence upon the character of one like Columbus, so also Pavia, the universitycity, to which his parents sent him in his early youth, was calculated to influence his psychological and moral nature. In truth, the universities of that time took rank as great intellectual capitals and as centers of converging ideas. Columbus, after three years' residence, abandoned the university; and we may there

fore disregard its possible influence when we endeavor to follow out and estimate the various developments of his mind. From a very early age, like all those who are under the sway of a sovereign vocation, the great pilot took the highest mental delight in the study of geography and charts, while his principal physical occupation was in the combats and perils of the sea.

Although the story of the youth of Columbus, after all that is known of it has been scrupulously sifted, can hardly be vouched for as historically certain, mixed as it is with a thousand wild traditions originated after he had become famous, and mainly due to interested kinsmen, or resting on mere tales devised to fit his career and his achievements, it cannot be denied that he was indeed a part of the stormy maritime life of his time. John of Anjou, Duke of Calabria, took Columbus with him in the fleet of galleys sent to win the Neapolitan throne for René, Count of Provence. And in these expeditions he made good use of the two great virtues of the true sailor, courage and sagacity. Columbus himself tells that when René sent him to Tunis in search of the galiot Fernandina, and when, in the neighborhood of San Pietro in Sardinia, the crew mutinied and sought to force him to set sail for Marseilles, he contrived, under cover of the darkness of the night, to change his course, so that at daybreak the mutineers found themselves, against their will and without having suspected the trick played upon them, within sight of the headland of Carthagena. It need, therefore, seem to us no great thing for him to have sailed from Cyprus to Lisbon, and at last to have passed, in the prime of life, about the year 1454, to the dominions of Portugal, a nation much in harmony at that time with the propensities of his temperament and with the dreams of his farreaching imagination.

Although the fame of Columbus would rightly seem to stand alone and incontestable in human annals, it has in reality been one of the most contested. The erudite advocates of new-fangled theories appear to think that the highest merit in their trade is to dispute the indisputable: and so some of them attribute to the earliest Icelander they come across in the sea-legends of ancient Scandinavia the discovery that was made by Columbus; and some to the chance event of a direful shipwreck in the waters of Portugal, where Columbus was at the time, and to the tale whispered in our pilot's ear by a poor wrecked sailor who lay dying in consequence of that shipwreck and of his bitter sufferings. In Spain, where the most familiar proverbs are instinct with the highest philosophy, when one is persecuted by the breath of slander or calumny he is told, by

way of consolation, that "they would say it of God." It is impossible for Columbus to be exempt from the common lot that befalls our shortcomings and chance acts. Many concurrent causes explain this contradictory judgment in regard to a personality so distinct in itself and so positively historical. At the beginning of the century, and indeed far into it, history was largely governed by a diseased standard of criticism, which mistook scurrility and censoriousness for healthy judgment, much as though in the domain of justice the judge were to be confounded with the hangman. In the second place, it has been the fate of our generation to undergo a dismal succession of reactionary movements, outdoing each other in extravagance and unexpectedness. The ultra-reactionists of our religion had long felt the need of new saints to renovate their time-worn calendar; they hunted far and wide to find some personage possessed of the gift of miracles, and finally they set to work to proclaim the impeccability of Columbus, and to raise him to the category of the immaculate conception as being without the stain of original sin. In order to confer, with any show of reason, the saintly title upon him, the Ultramontanes exaggerated his domestic virtues; while on the other hand the opposing rationalists dragged him in the mire by their merciless attacks, not so much with intent to degrade the man himself as to open the eyes of the devout to the facility with which the Church can swallow anything when it sets to work to make, for its own advantage, a popular and miracle-working saint. The upshot of this scandalous quarrel went to prove that Columbus sinned in his love-affairs and in his pecuniary transactions, that he was a greedy adventurer, and that he was fond of gold and sensuality. None of this would ever have been thought of had due heed been given to what the immortal pilot really was-by atavism, by birth, by vocation, by natural bent, by education and by the whole tenor of his life. What, then, was he in truth? Columbus was, purely and simply, an Argonaut.

Our Argonaut is seen to be very complex when contrasted with him of old. The minds most difficult to comprehend are the most complex. Columbus, seer and trader, visionary and calculator, crusader and mathematician, a sort of Isaiah in his prophetic insight and banker in his computations, his thoughts set upon religion and business alike; a sublime oracle from whose lips predictions fall in impetuous torrent, and a singularly bad governor, resorting to irregular and arbitrary measures; advocating the reconquest of the Holy Sepulcher through a mighty effort of his devout will, and of the mines of Golconda by a shorter road to India than any then known; ever in suspense between lofty

ideals and idle fables; able to create a new world through the strength of his intellectual vision, only to ruin it forthwith by his improvident schemes and his wretched administration; mathematician and soothsayer; believer in magic and student of nature; mystic and astronomer; so multiplex and various are his traits that they scarcely come within the grasp of any logical chain of reasoning. He who regards not the supplications of Columbus, his visions, his predictions, his schemes of evangelization, his dream of winning back the Holy Sepulcher and his irrepressible tendency to oracular and prophetic utterances, ignores a most important element of his being; but he who leaves out of sight his Italian refinement, his Genoese shrewdness in trade, his fifteenth-century diplomacy, his inordinate thirst for wealth, his stratagems in seamanship, his Florentine duplicity as a schemer, his propensity to sell himself body and soul to the highest bidder, his continual bargaining, ignores on the other hand an aspect no less singular than the first, and of no less decisive influence toward the accomplishment of his great end, and toward the realization of his marvelous achievement. What a strange mingling of science and sorcery he appears to us; now wholly a philosopher, like Copernicus, his contemporary; now a knighterrant, like those depicted by Pulci or Ariosto. At one moment you would deem his mind stored with the most perfect astronomical tables; at another you would hold out your palm to him that he might read your horoscope by chiromancy. There is in him somewhat of those positive algebraists of Cordova who revived the mathematical sciences by their own researches and by the aid of Alexandrine traditions, as there is also something of the alchemists who found, not gold indeed, but chemistry, the peer of gold, in their retorts. And all this is in him and of him, for with him the middle ages end and modern times begin.

We must not be misled by the magnitude of the event to imagine that the advent of Columbus and the discovery of the New World were sudden happenings, unheralded by the teachings of science or by the evolutions of time. As the productions of Central Asia tempted trade and barter in those days, so likewise did minds of a certain type and class devote their unflagging energies to seeking the shortest possible pathway to that miraculous fountain-head of wealth. The whole world dreamed of India, and therefore all explorers sought the Indies by way of every sea. The ancient Fleece of Gold was revived in the tomes of the Venetian, Marco Polo, which were written in haste and spread among the people as no book had ever spread before. In her eternal rivalry with Venice, Genoa, the home of

Columbus, spurred on by the lust of gain, explored land and sea in every possible direction. The embassies despatched by Henry III. from his Castilian realms, of which Clavijo tells with such delightful ingenuousness; the pilgrimage of that adventurous Venetian, Nicolas Conti, undertaken in the lifetime of Columbus; the swarm of explorations chronicled by countless explorers did not, like the crusades, obey a religious motive and purpose; they were solely instigated by mercantile interest, and sought markets, not tombs. Coincident with all this were a greater zeal and persistence in geographical research. Chartography thrived most remarkably. The barks of Catalonia, in their civilizing mission along the Mediterranean strands, carried tolerably correct charts of the world as it was then known, planned in those splendid centers of culture, Barcelona and Mallorca. The genius of glory will give an eternal place on her roll of fame to that Catalan chart of the world, called in every scientific treatise the Great Map, and drawn in the seventy-fifth year of the fourteenth century, for which reason that year is to be counted among the most brilliant in the pathways of time, and among the most sacred memories preserved in the annals of the world. The terrestrial planispheres so graphically instructed the sailor that they might almost be termed text-books, showing how closely the great and marvelous discovery of the mariner's compass had been followed by man's domination of the sea. In this wise the planisphere designed in the library of the Borgias, and the chart traced by the monks of San Michele on the walls of their monastery in the lagoons of Venice near Murano, both of which were constructed in the time of Columbus, summed up and exhibited all the chartographical knowledge of that day, and gave practical teaching in geography, with all the accuracy then possible, to the travelers and explorers of that most eventful age. But the richest store of the knowledge so essential to his mission and his profession was, perhaps, found by Columbus in Genoa, at that time as celebrated as Barcelona and Palma for its maritime charts. They were called by the same Greek name, Periplus, which was rendered so famous by the cruise of Hanno the Carthagina. Vivien attributes to the Genoese, Pietro Vasconti, a very skilful navigator, the first perplus constructed in the middle ages. The charts of Pizzagni, of Bianco, of our Balearic countryman Valseca, served not alone to perfect Columbus both in his calling and in his knowledge; they likewise helped to win for him the means of subsistence, for he copied them and sold them after he had made use of them in his own voyages. An examination of these charts at once reveals indefiniteness and


blank spaces in regard to seas other than the Mediterranean, which was then as well explored and known as in our own times. In addition to all this, the first fruits of the printing-press were seen in the publication of various works on astronomy, cosmography and geography. By a thousand different roads learning had reached its apogee. Then it was that Columbus, deeming the Mediterranean too narrow a field for his genius, took his way, we know not now whether in obedience to deeply reasoned motives or to some swift inspiration, to the extremity of the Iberian peninsula,― to that Portugal which was then exploring Africa and bringing oriental Asia anew within the range of life and history,-to fulfil his design of rounding and perfecting all this by the discovery of America.

THE harmony between the individual vocations of men and their destinies cannot be ignored. Columbus would not have ranked among the foremost of navigators but for the influence of Lisbon; that city whence voyages first were undertaken upon the high seas, which as far excelled in effort and extent the petty Mediterranean cruises as the latter exceeded the ancient navigation of rivers. Columbus the Genoese went to Lisbon; for there was the fane of science, and all roads then led to the mouth of the Tagus. From the Normans to the Mallorcans, all sought at Lisbon opportunities of commerce and nautical instruction. And this decision of his, reached by deliberate and conscious reflection, was inspired by the inward voice, ceaselessly heard, of earnest thought moving him and guiding him in his work. It was not a mere chance, as those historians hold who see him cast upon the Portuguese coasts by destroying tempests and fatal shipwreck.

The relations between the western cities of the Italian peninsula and the western cities of the Iberian peninsula during the middle ages appear to have been very close. This contact of Catalonia with Italy explains how heroic men like Roger de Lauria became admirals of Aragon; the dominion of Charles V. over continental Europe explains how the office of high admiral of Spain was filled by a Genoese sailor, Andrea Doria; the presence of the Genoese in Galicia and Portugal is explicable only by the high reputation won by the Genoese among the Galicians and Lusitanians. Certain it is, as Oliveira Martins, the great Portuguese historian, declares, that in seamanship Genoa held the mastery over Lisbon. In fact, in the eleventh century, the bishop of Compostela or Santiago procured pilots from Liguria; and later, so wise a king as Dom Denis of Portugal bestowed the Portuguese high-admiralship on the illustrious

Genoese family of the Pezzagnas, and made the rank hereditary. So many foreigners dwelt in Lisbon in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that its chronicler calls it a vast city of many and widely diverse inhabitants. It differed from Venice, where three elements predominatedthe Greek, the Slav and the Latin. It must rather have been like such modern cities as Buenos Ayres, New York, and many others of America, peopled by immigrants from the four quarters of the globe. To me, Lisbon exerts a decisive influence on the mind of Columbus,and invests it with the traits of universality which Lisbon had possessed from the fourteenth century, and with that dreamy farsightedness that kept it in a perpetual fever of illusion and anticipation. Beholding the ships of every port, associating with men of every clime, hearing the accents of every tongue, taking part in the barter of the wares of all countries, breathing the spirit of all peoples and brought in contact with the large results of universal commerce, a comprehensive and brilliant intellect one which assimilates converging currents of ideas-molds all into a supreme and universal whole.

The world was growing broader under the influence of Lisbon, and the mind of man was expanding under the influence of a widened sky and earth; while, beyond a doubt, ancient interests and beliefs were dwindling in proportion to the world's advance and the growth of human intellect. As modern astronomy has dethroned our planet from its station as the center of the universe, where it was set by the superstition of old times in obedience to the evidence of the senses; so the ascendancy of Lisbon was lessening, little by little, the influence of Venice and Genoa, in like manner as the discovery of new regions and cities was perforce to lessen in the course of time the sovereign influence wielded by Lisbon in the last years of the middle ages.

There is a mysterious relation between the art-schools of the Renaissance, founded by the Medici in Florence, and the schools of practical seamanship founded by the sons of Dom John I. at Cape Sagres. The academies on the banks of the Arno looked backward to the past, while the schools by the ocean's side looked toward the future. In the former prevailed the inward astronomy of the thoughts; in the latter, the outward astronomy of the heavens. As the Florentine artists were destined to revive the world of history and tradition, so was Columbus destined to reveal the world of nature and of liberty.

The whole of the Lusitanian fifteenth century is filled with the universal aspiration to search and dominate Africa, giving rise to daring voyages and explorations more or less

continuously carried on. The Azores and the Guinea coast, discovered after so many futile attempts, were to the imagination paradises while sought, but proved to be but untilled wastes when found. Turning from the newfound Azores and the western shores of Africa, desire ardently sought to win a foothold on the African continent itself. This desire was personified in the infante Dom Henry, the third son of the king Dom John, belonging to the dynasty of Aviz, successor to the Burgundians and forerunner of the houses of Austria and Braganza, a dynasty that began in Castile with a half-learned, half-feudal noble, and ended with that sublime madman the king Dom Sebastian in the war against the Moors for the coveted sands of Africa. Henry seemed to be not a man, but a cipher. No human passion swerved him from his providential and historic aim. A persistent yearning for voyages filled his breast, and wholly subjugated his will to his ideal. The measureless ocean that stretched at the foot of Cape Sagres was for him crowded with the same fantastic objects and the same idealized visions that his inward soul discerned. Portugal, hemmed in on the landward by the power of Castile, had no resource but to turn to the ocean for broader dominion. Her material growth and her intellectual progress demanded this. Dom Henry, being a Lusitanian, was a born discoverer. This vocation, due to the paternal stock, was fortified by the powerful influence of the maternal line. The mother of Dom Henry of Aviz, being of English birth, was both Saxon and Norman by temperament. Her name was Philippa of Lancaster. Until well advanced in age she bore to her husband, the king Dom John, a child every year. This offspring turned to the sea spontaneously, like aquatic creatures seeking their element; and, being good princes and kings, they aspired to conquest. The infante Dom Henry, therefore, by the double force of his will and his intelligence, imposed an African conquest upon his people, deeming that he might thus penetrate by land to the dominions of the Great Mogul, and become enriched by his measureless store of pearls and diamonds. Cathay, the palacecity, described in all the legends of that time; paved with silver and overlaid with beaten gold; perfumed by odorous waters flowing from fountains of mother-of-pearl and giant opals; crestcrowned by pinnacles of rubies and emeralds; with agate turrets and porphyry walls, upon which seed-pearls fell in gentle shower, rose in a dream-vision beyond the Strait of Cadiz, beyond the Isthmus of Suez, beyond the Arabian deserts, away in far Mongolia where Alexander the Great effected the transfusion of blood from vein to vein among his warriors, and brought about a blending of races whereby

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