Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]

to navigation, he must have acquired some authority among his companions, that they willingly allowed him to have a chief share in directing their operations during the voyage. Soon after his return, he transmitted an account of his adventures and discoveries to one of his countrymen; and labouring with the vanity of a traveller to magnify his own exploits, he had the address and confidence to frame his narrative, so as to make it appear that he had the glory of having first discovered the continent in the New World. Amerigo's account was drawn up not only with art, but with some elegance. It contained an amusing history of his voyage, and judicious observations upon the natural productions, the inhabitants, and the customs of the countries which he had visited. As it was the first description of any part of the New World that was published, a performance fo well calculated to gratify the passion of mankind for what is new and marvellous, circulated rapidly, and was read with admiration. The country, of which Amerigo was supposed to be the discoverer, came gradually to be called by his name. The caprice of mankind, often as unaccountable as unjust, has perpetuated this error. By the universal consent of nations, AMERICA is the name bestowed on this new quarter of the globe. The bold pretensions of a fortunate impoftor have robbed the discoverer of the New World of a distinction which belonged to him. The name of Amerigo has supplanted that of Columbus ; and mankind may regret an act of injustice, which, having received the fanction of time, it is now too late to redress. During the same year, another voyage of discovery was undertaken.

. Columbus not only introduced the spirit of naval enterprise into Spain, þut all the first adventurers who distinguished themselves in this new career, were formed by his instructions, and acquired in his voyages the skill and information which qualified them to imitate his example. Alonzo Nigno, who had served under the admiral in his last expedition, fitted out a fingle ship, in conjunction with Christopher Guerra, a merchant of Seville, and failed to the coast of Paria. This voyage seems to have been conducted with greater attention to private emolument, than to any general or national object, Nigno and Guerrá made no discoveries of any importance; but they brought home such a return of gold and pearls, as inflamed their countrymen with the desire of engaging in similar adventures.

Soon after, Vincent Yanez Pinzon, one of the admiral's companions in his fir voyage, failed from Palos with four ships. He stood boldly towards the south, and was the first Spaniard who ventured to cross the equinoctial line ; but he seems to have landed on no part of the coast


the com

[ocr errors]

beyond the mouth of the Maragnon, or river of the Amazons. All these navigators adopted the erroneous theory of Columbus, and believed that the countries which they had discovered were part of the vast continent of India.

During the last year of the fifteenth century, that fertile district of America, on the confines of which Pinon had stopt short, was more fully discovered. The successful voyage of Gama to the East Indies having encouraged the king of Portugal to fit out a fleet so powerful, as not only to carry on trade, but to attempt conqueft, he gave mand of it to Pedro Alvarez Cabral. In order to avoid the coast of Africa, where he was certain of meeting with variable breezes, or frequent calms, which might retard his voyage, Cabral stood out to fea, and kept so far to the west, that, to his surprise, he found himself upon the thore of an unknown country, in the tenth degree beyond the line. He imagined, at first, that it was some island in the Atlantic ocean hitherto unobserved ; but, proceeding along its coaft for several days, he was led gradually to believe, that a country so extensive formed a part of fome great continent. This latter opinion was well founded. The country with which he fell in belongs to that province in South America, now known by the name of Brasil. He landed; and having formed a very high idea of the fertility of the foil, and agreeableness of the climate, he took possession of it for the crown of Portugal, and dispatched a ship to Lisbon with an account of this event, which appeared to be no less important than it was unexpected. Columbus's discovery of the New World was the effort of an active genius, enlightened by science, guided by experience, and acting upon a regular plan, executed with no less courage than perseverance. But from this adventure of the Portuguese, it appears that chance might have accomplished that great design which it is now the pride of human reason to have formed and perfected. If the fagacity of Columbus had not conducted mankind to America, Cabral, by a fortunate accident, might have led them, a few years later, to the knowledge of that extenfive continent.

While the Spaniards and Portuguese, by those successive voyages, were daily acquiring more enlarged ideas of the extent and opulence of that quarter of the globe which Columbus had made known to them, he himself, far from enjoying the tranquillity and honours with which his services should have been recompensed, was struggling with every dif. tress in which the envy and malevolence of the people under his com. mand, or the ingratitude of the court which he served, could involve him. Though the pacification with Roldan broke the union and weakened the force of the mutineers, it did not extirpate the seeds of discord

[ocr errors]

out of the island. Several of the malcontents continued in arms, nes
fusing to submit to the admiral. He and his brothers were obliged to
take the field alternately, in order to check their incursions, or to pu-
nish their crimes. The perpetual occupation and difquiet which this
created; prevented him from giving due attention to the dangerous ma-
chinations of his enemies in the court of Spain. A good number of
such as were most diffatisfied with his adminiftration, had embraced the
opportunity of returning to Europe with the ships which he dispatched
from St. Domingo. The final disappointment of all their hopes in-
famed the rage of these unfortunate adventurers against Columbus to
the utmost pitch. Their poverty and distress, by exciting compassion,
rendered their accusations credible, and their complaints interesting.
They teazed Ferdinand and Isabella incessantly with memorials, con-
taining the detail of their own grievances, and the articles of their
charge agaiift Columbus. Whenever either the king or queen ap-
peared in public, they surrounded them in a tumultuarý manner, in-
fisting with importunate clamours for payment of the arrears due to
them, and demanding vengeance upon the author of their sufferings.
They insulted the admiral's sons wherever they met them, reproaching
them as the offspring of the projector, whose fatal curiofity had dif-
covered those pernicious regions which drained Spain of its wealth, and


of its people. These avowed endeavours of the malcontents from America to ruin Columbus, were seconded by the fe. cret, but more dangerous insinuations of that party among the courtiers, which had always thwarted his schemes, and envied his success and credit.

Ferdinand was disposed to liften, not only with a willing, but with a partial ear, to these accusations. Notwithstanding the flattering accounts which Columbus had given of the riches of America, the remittances from it had hitherto been so scanty, that they fell far short of the expence

of the armaments fitted out. The glory of the discovery, together with the prospect of remote commercial advantages, was all that Spain had yet received in return for the efforts which she had made. But time had already diminished the first sensations of joy which the discovery of a New World occasioned, and fame alone was not an object to satisfy the cold interested mind of Ferdinand. The nature of commerce was then so little understood, that, where immediate gain was not acquired, the hope of distant benefit, or of flow and moderate returns, was totally disregarded. Ferdinand considered Spain, on this account, as having loft by the enterprise of Columbus, and imputed it to his misconduct and incapacity for government, that a country abound


ing in gold had yielded nothing of value to its conquerors. Even Ifabella, who from the favourable opinion which she entertained of Co. lumbus, had uniformly protected him, was fhaken at length by the number and boldness of his accusers, and began to suspect that a difaffection fo general must have been occasioned by real grievances, which called for redress. The bishop of Bajados, with his usual animosity against Columbus, encouraged these suspicions, and confirmed them.

As soon as the queen began to give way to the torrent of calumny, a resolution fatal to Columbus was taken. Francis de Bovadilla, a knight of Calatrava, was appointed to repair to Hispaniola, with full powers to enquire into the conduct of Columbus, and, if he should find the charge of mal-administration proved, to supersede him, and assume the government of the island. It was impoflible to escape condemnation, when this preposterous commission made it the interest of the judge to pronounce the person, whom he was sent to try, guilty. Though Columbus had now composed all the dissentions in the island; though he had brought both Spaniards and Indians to submit peaceably to his vernment; though he had made fuch effectual provision for working the mines, and cultivating the country, as would have secured a confiderable revenue to the king, as well as large profits to individuals; Bovadilla, without deigning to attend to the nature or merit of those fervices

, discovered, from the moment that he landed in Hispaniola, a determined purpose of treating him as a criminal. He took poffeffion of the admiral's house in St. Domingo, from which its matter happened at that time to be abfent, and seized his effects, as if his guilt had been already fully proved; he rendered himself master of the fort and of the king's ftores by violence; he required all persons to acknowledge him as fupreme governor; he fet at liberty the prisoners confined by the admiral, and summoned him to appear before his tribunal, in order to answer for his condua; transmitting to him, together with the summons, a copy of the royal mandate, by which Columbus was enjoined to yield implicit obedience to his commands.

Columbus, though deeply affected with the ingratitude and injustice of Ferdinand and Isabella, did not hesitate a moment about his own conduct. He fubmitted to the will of his sovereigns with a respectful filence, and repaired directly to the court of that violent and partial judge whom they had authorised to try him. Bovadilla, without admitting him into his presence, ordered him instantly to be arreted, to be loaded with chains, and hurried on board a ship. Even under this humiliating reverse of fortune, the firmness of mind which diftinguishes the character of Columbus, did not forsake him. Conscious of his own No. II.




integrity, and folacing himself with reflecting upon the great things which he had achieved, he endured this insult offered to his character, not only with composure, but with dignity. Nor had he the confolation of fympathy to mitigate his sufferings. Bovadilla had already rendered himself so extremely p pular, by granting various immunities to the colony, by liberal donations of Indians to all who applied for them, and by relaxing the reins of discipline and government, that the Spaniards, who were mostly adventurers, whom their indigence or crimes had impelled to abandon their native country, expressed the most indecent satisfaction with the disgrace and imprisonment of Columbus. They flattered themselves, that now they should enjoy an uncontrouled liberty, more suitable to their disposition and former habits of life. Among persons thus prepared to censure the proceedings, and to asperse the character of Columbus, Bovadilla collected materials for a charge against him. All accusations, the most improbable, as well as inconfistent, were received. No informer, however infamous, was rejected. The result of this inquest, no less indecent than partial, he transmitted to Spain. At the same time, he ordered Columbus, with his two brothers, to be carried thither in fetters; and, adding cruelty to insult, he confined them in different ships, and excluded them from the comfort of that friendly intercourse which might have foothed their common distress. But while the Spaniards in Hifpaniola viewed the arbitrary and insolent proceedings of Bovadilla with a general approbation, which reflects dishonour upon their name and country, one man still retained a proper sense of the great actions which Columbus had performed, and was touched with the sentiments of veneration and pity due to his rank, his age,

and his merit. Alonso de Vallejo, the captain of the vessel on board which the admiral was confined, as soon as he was clear of the island, approached the prisoner with great respect, and offered to release him from the fetters with which he was unjustly loaded. “ No, replied Columbus, with a generous indignation, “ I wear these irons in consequence of an order from my sovereigns. They shall find me as obedient to this as to their other injunctions. By their command I have been confined, and their command alone shall set me at liberty.”

Fortunately, the voyage to Spain was extremely short. As soon as Ferdinand and Isabella were informed that Columbus was brought home a prisoner, and in chains, they perceived at once what universal aftonishment this event must occasion, and what an impression to their disadvantage it must make. All Europe, they foresaw, would be filled with indignation at this ungenerous requital of a man who had performed actions worthy of the highest recompence, and wculd exclaim against the


« ZurückWeiter »