« ZurückWeiter »
danger, and tediousness of the course which the BOOK Portuguese were pursuing, naturally led Co. m lumbus to consider whether a shorter and more direct passage to the East Indies might not be found out. After revolving long and seriously every circumstance suggested by his superior knowledge in the theory as well as practice of navigation ; after comparing attentively the observations of modern pilots with the hints and conjectures of ancient authors, he at last concluded, that by failing directly towards the west, across the Atlantic ocean, new countries, which probably formed a part of the great continent of India, must infallibly be discovered.
PRINCIPLES and arguments of various kinds, The prinand derived from different sources, induced him which his
theory was to adopt this opinion, seemingly as chimerical as fou it was new and extraordinary. The spherical figure of the earth was known, and its magnitude ascertained with some degree of accuracy. From this it was evident, that the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, as far as they were known at that time, formed but a small portion of the terraqueous globe. It was suitable to our ideas concerning the wisdom and beneficence of the Author of Nature, to believe that the vast space still unexplored was not covered entirely by a waste unprofitable ocean, but occupied by
BOOK countries fit for the habitation of man. It ap
peared likewise extremely probable, that the continent, on this side of the globe, was balanced by a proportional quantity of land in the other hemisphere. These conclusions concerning the existence of another continent, drawn from the ,figure and structure of the globe, were confirmed by the observations and conjectures of modern navigators. A Portuguese pilot, having stretched farther to the west than was usual at that time, took up a piece of timber artificially carved, floating upon the sea; and as it was driven towards him by a westerly wind, he concluded that it came from some unknown land situated in that quarter. Columbus's brother-in-law had found, to the west of the Madeira isles, a piece of timber fashioned in the same manner, and brought by the same wind; and had seen likewise canes of an enormous size floating upon the waves, which resembled those described by Ptolemy as productions peculiar to the East Indies d. After a course of westerly winds, trees, torn up by the roots, were often driven upon the coasts of the Azores ; and at one time, the dead bodies of two men with singular features, refembling neither the inhabitants of Europe nor of Africa, were cast ashore there.
Lib. i. c. 17
As the force of this united evidence, arising BOOK
18 II. from theoretical principles and practical observ. ations, led Columbus to expect the discovery of new countries in the western ocean, other reasons induced him to believe that these must be connected with the continent of India. Though the ancients had hardly ever penetrated into India farther than the banks of the Ganges, yet some Greek authors had ventured to describe the provinces beyond that river. As men are prone, and at liberty, to magnify what is remote or unknown, they represented them as regions of an immense extent. ' Ctefias affirmed that India was as large as all the rest of Asia. Oneficritus, whom Pliny the naturalist follows', contended that it was equal to a third part of the habitable earth. Nearchus asserted, that it would take four months to march in a straight line from one extremity of India to the other f. The journal of Marco Polo, who had proceeded towards the East far beyond the limits to which any European had ever advanced, seemed to confirm these exaggerated accounts of the ancients. By his magnificent descriptions of the kingdoms of Cathay and Cipango, and of many other countries, the names of which were unknown in Europe, India appeared to be a region of vast
• Nat. Hist. lib. vi. c. 17.
K extent. From these accounts, which, however
defective, were the most accurate that the people of Europe had received at that period, with respect to the remote parts of the East, Columbus drew a just conclufion. He contended, that, in proportion as the continent of India stretched out towards the East, it must, in consequence of the spherical figure of the earth, approach nearer to the islands which had lately been discovered to the west of Africa; that the distance from the one to the other was probably not very considerable; and that the most direct, as well as shortest course to the remote regions of the east, was to be found by failing due west %. This notion concerning the vicinity of India to the western parts of our continent, was countenanced by some eminent writers among the ancients, the sanction of whose authority was necessary, in that age, to procure a favourable reception to any tenet. Aristotle thought it probable that the Columns of Hercules, or Straits of Gibraltar, were not far removed from the East Indies, and that there might be a communication by sea between them". Seneca, in terms still more explicit, affirms, that, with a fair wind, one
See NOTE XII.
Aristot. de Cælo, lib. ï. c. 14. edit. Du Val, Par. 1629. vol. i. p. 472.
might fail from Spain to India, in a few days! BOOK The famous Atlantic island described by Plato, and supposed by many to be a real country, beyond which an unknown continent was fitu. ated, is represented by him as lying at no great distance from Spain. After weighing all these particulars, Columbus, in whose character the modesty and diffidence of true genius was united with the ardent enthusiasm of a projector, did not rest with such absolute assurance either upon his own arguments, or upon the authority of the ancients, as not to consult fuch of his contem. poraries as were capable of comprehending the nature of the evidence which he produced in fupport of his opinion. As early as the year one thousand four hundred and seventy-four, he communicated his ideas concerning the probability of discovering new countries, by failing westwards, to Paul, a physician of Florence, eminent for his knowledge of cosmography, and who, from the learning as well as candour which he discovers in his reply, appears to have been well entitled to the confidence which Co. lumbus placed in him. He warmly approved of the plan, suggested several facts in confirmation of it, and encouraged Columbus to persevere in an undertaking so laudable, and which must
red his ideas come leventy-four",
Senec. Quæst. Natur. lib.i. in proem.