« ZurückWeiter »
injustice of the nation, to which he had been such an eminent benefactor, as well as against the ingratitude of the princes whose reign he had rendered illustrious. Ashamed of their own conduct, and eager not only to make some reparation for this injury, but to efface the liain which it might fix upon their character, they instantly issued orders to set Columbus at liberty, on December the seventeenth, invited him to court, and remitted money to enable him to appear there in a manner suitable to his rank. When he entered the royal presence, Columbus threw himself at the feet of his sovereigns. He remained for some time silent; the various paflions which agitated his mind suppressing his power of utterance. At length he recovered himself, and vindicated his conduct in a long discourse, producing the most satisfying proofs of his own integrity as well as good intention, and evidence, no less clear, of the maevolence of his enemies, who, not satisfied with having ruined his fortune, laboured to deprive him of what alone was now left, his honour and his fame. Ferdinand received him with decent civility, and Isabella with tenderness and respect. They both expressed their sorrow for what had happened, disavowed their knowledge of it, and joined in promising him protection and future favour. But though they inftantly degraded Bovadilla, in order to remove from themselves
fufpicion of having authorised his violent proceedings, they did not restore to Columbus his jurisdiction and privileges as viceroy of those countries which he had discovered. Though willing to appear the avengers of Columbus's wrongs, that illiberal jealousy which prompted them to inreft Bovadilla with such authority as put it in his power to treat the admiral with indignity still subfifted. They were afraid to trust a man to whom they had been so highly indebted, and retaining him at court under various pretexts, they appointed Nicholas de Ovando, a knight of the military order of Alcantara, governor of Hispaniola.
Columbus was deeply affected with this new injury, which came from hands that seemed to be employed in making reparation for his past sufferings. The sensibility with which great minds feel every thing that implies any fufpicion of their integrity, or that wears the aspect of an affront, is exquisite. Columbus had experienced both from the Spaniards; and their ungenerous conduct exasperated him to such a degree, that he could no longer conceal the sentiments which it excited. Whereever he went, he carried about with him, as a memorial of their ingratitude, those fetters with which he had been loaded. They were conftantly hung up in his chamber, and he gave orders that when he died they should be buried in his grave.
Meanwhile, in the year one thousand five hundred and one, the spirit of discovery, notwithstanding the severe check which it received by the ungenerous treatment of the man, who first excited it in Spain, continued active and vigorous. Roderigo de Bastidas, a person of diftinction, fitted out two ships, in January, in co-partnery with John de la Cofa, who having served under the admiral in two of his voyages,
deemed the most skilful pilot in Spain. They steered directly towards the continent, arrived on the coast of Paria, and proceeding to the west, discovered all the coast of the province now known by the name of Tierra Firmè, from Cape de Vela to the gulf of Darien. Not long after Ojeda, with his former associate Amerigo Vespucci, set out upon a second voyage, and being unacquainted with the destination of Paftidas, held the same course, and touched at the same places. The voyage of Baftidas was prosperous and lucrative, that of Ojeda unfortunate. But both tended to increase the ardour of discovery ; for in proportion as the Spaniards acquired a more extensive knowledge of the American continent, their idea of its opulence and fertility increased.
Before these adventurers returned froin their voyages, a fleet was equipped, at the public expence, for carrying over Ovando, the new governor to Hispaniola. His presence there was extremely requisite, in order to stop the inconsiderate career of Bovadilla, whose imprudent administration threatened the settlement with ruin. Conscious of the violence and iniquity of his proceedings against Columbus, he continued to make it his fole object to gain the favour and support of his countrymen, by accommodating himself to their passions and prejudices. With this view, he established regulations, in every point the reverse of those which Columbus deemed essential to the prosperity of the colony. Instead of the severe discipline, necessary in order to habituate the diffolute and corrupted members of which the society was composed to the restraints of law and subordination, he suffered them to enjoy such uncontrouled licence, as encouraged the wildelt exceffes. Instead of protecting the Indians, he gave a legal fanction to the oppresfion of that unhappy people. He took the exact number of such as furvived their past calamities, divided them into diftinct classes, distributed them in property among his adherents, and reduced all the people of the island to a state of complete servitude. As the avarice of the Spaniards was too rapacious and iinpatient to try any method of acquiring wealth but that of searching for gold, this fervitude became as grievous as it was unjust. The Indians were driven in crowds to the mountains, and compelled to work in the mines by masters, who imposed their tasks without mercy or discretion. Labour, fo dispropor3
tioned to their strength and former habits of life, wasted that feeble race of men with such rapid consumption, as must have foon terminated in the utter extinction of the ancient inhabitants of the country,
The necessity of applying a speedy remedy to those disorders, haft. ened Ovando's departure. He had the command of the most respectable armament hitherto fitted out for the New World. It consisted of thirtytwo ships, on board of which two thousand five hundred persons enbarked, with an intention of settling in the country. Upon the arrival of the new governor with this powerful reinforcement to the colony, in the year one thousand five hundred and two, Bovadilla resigned his charge, and was commanded to return instantly to Spain, in order to answer for his conduct. Roldan, and the other ringleaders of the mutineers, who had been most active in opposing Columbus, were required to leave the island at the same time. A proclamation was issued, declaring the natives to be free subjects of Spain, of whom no service was to be exacted contrary to their own inclination, and without paying them an adequate price for their labour. With respect to the Spaniards themselves, various regulations were made, tending to suppress the licentious fpirit which had been so fatal to the colony, and to establish that reverence for law and order on which society is founded, and to which it is indebted for its increase and stability. In order to limit the exorbitant gain which private persons were supposed to make by working the mines, an ordinance was published, directing all the gold to be brought to a public smelting-house, and declaring one half of it to be the
property of the crown. While these steps were taking for securing the tranquillity and welfare of the colony which Columbus had planted, he himself was engaged in the unpleasant employment of foliciting the favour of an ungrateful court, and, notwithstanding all his merits and services, he solicited in vain. He demanded, in terms of the original capitulation in one thousand four hundred and ninety-two, to be reinstated in his office of vicetoy oyer the countries which he had discovered. By a strange fatality, the circumstance which he urged in support of his claim, determined a jealous monarch to reject it. The greatness of his discoveries, and the prospect of their increasing value, made Ferdinand consider the conceffiors in the capitulation as extravagant and impolitic. He was afraid of entrusting a subject with the exercise of a jurisdiction that now appeared to be so truly extensive, and might grow no less formidable. He inspired Isabella with the same fufpicions; and under various pretexts, equally frivolous and unjust, they eluded all Columbus's requisitions to perform that which a folemn compact bound them to accomplish. After
attending the court of Spain for near two years, as an humble fuitor, he found it impoffible to remove Ferdinand's prejudices and apprehenfions; and perceived, at length, that he laboured in vain, when he urged a claim of justice or merit with an interested and unfeeling prince.
But even this ungenerous return did not discourage him from pursuing the great object which first called forth his inventive genius, and excited him to attempt discovery. To open a new passage to the East Indies was his original and favourite scheme. This still engrossed his thoughts; and either from his own observations in his
voyage to Paria, or from some obscure hint of the natives, or from the accounts given by Bastidas and de la Cofa, of their expedition, he conceived an opinion that, beyond the continent of America, there was a fea which extended to the East Indies, and hoped to find some narrow strait or narrow neck of land, by which a communication might be opened with it and the part of the ocean already known. By a very fortunate conjecture, he fupposed this strait or isthmus to be situated near the gulf of Darien, Full of this idea, though he was now of an advanced age, worn out with fatigue, and broken with infirmities, he offered, with the alacrity of a youthful adventurer, to undertake a voyage which would ascertain this important point, and perfect the grand fcheme which from the beginning he proposed to acomplish. Several circumstances concurred in difpofing Ferdinand and Isabella to lend a favourable ear to this proposal. They were glad to have the pretext of any honourable employment for removing from court a man with whose demands they deemed it impolitic to comply, and whose services it was indecent to neglect. Though unwilling to reward Columbus, they were not insensible of his merit, and from their experience of his skill and conduct, had reason to give credit to his conjectures, and to confide in his success. To these cons fiderations, a third must be added of ftill more powerful influence. About this time the Portuguese flect, under Cabral, arrived from the Indies; and, by the richness of its cargo, gave the people of Europe a more perfect idea, than they had hitherto been able to form, of the opulence and fertility of the eaft. The Portuguese had been more fortunate in their discoveries than the Spaniards. They had opened a communication with countries where industry, arts, and elegance flourished; and where commerce had been longer established, and carried to greater extent, than in any region of the carth. Their first voyages thither yielded immediate, as well as vast returns of profit, in commodities extremely precious and in great request. Lisbon became immediately the feat of commerce and of wealth; while Spain had only the expectation of remote benefit, and of future gain, from the western world. No
thing, then, could be more acceptable to the Spaniards than Columbus's offer to conduct them to the eait, by a route which he expected to be forter, as well as less dangerous, than that which the Portuguese had taken. Even Ferdinand was roused by such a prospect, and warmly approved of the undertaking.
But, interesting as the object of his voyage was to the nation, Columbus could procure only four small barks, the largest of which did not exceed feventy tons in burden, for performing it. Accustomed to brave danger, and to engage in arduous undertakings with inadequate force, he did not hesitate to accept the command of this pitiful squadron. His brother Bartholomew, and his second son Ferdinand, the historian of his actions, accompanied him. He failed from Cadiz on the ninth of May, and touched, as usual, at the Canary Islands; from thence he purposed to have stood directly for the continent; but his largest vefsel was so clumsy and unfit for service, as constrained him to bear away for Hispaniola, in hopes of exchanging her for some ship of the fleet that had carried out Ovando. When he arrived off St. Do-. mingo, on June the twenty-ninth, he found eighteen of these ships ready loaded, and on the point of departing for Spain. Columbus immediately acquainted the governor with the destination of his voyage, and the accident which had obliged him to alter his route.
He requested permision to enter the harbour, not only that he might negociate the exchange of his ship, but that he might take shelter during a violent hurricane, of which he discerned the approach from various prognoftics, which his experience and fagacity had taught him to observe. On that account, he advised him likewise to put off for some days the departure of the fleet bound for Spain. But Ovando refused his request, and despised his counsel. Under circumstances in which humanity would have afforded refuge to a stranger, Columbus was denied admittance into a country of which he had discovered the existence and acquired the possession. His falutary warning, which merited the greateti attention,
was regarded as the dream of a visionary prophet, who arro. gantly pretended to predict an event beyond the reach of human forekght. The fleet set sail for Spain. Next night the hurricane came on with dreadful impetuosity. Columbus, aware of the danger, took precautions against it, and saved his little squadron. The fleet destined for Spain met with the fate which the rashness and obstinacy of its commanders deserved. Of eighteen ships two or three only escaped. In this general wreck perished Bovadilla, Roldan, and the greater part of those who had been the most active in perfecuting Columbus, and oppredling the Indians. Together with themselves, all the wealth which