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A Book of Discovery by  M. B. Synge

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A GREAT NEW WORLD

[165] THE departure of Columbus six months later on his second voyage was a great contrast to the uncertain start of a year ago. The new fleet was ready by September 1493. The three largest ships were some four hundred tons' burden, with fourteen smaller craft and crews of fifteen thousand men. There was no dearth of volunteers this time. High-born Spaniards, thirsting for the wealth of the Indies, offered their services, while Columbus took his brother James and a Benedictine monk chosen by the Pope. They took orange and lemon seeds for planting in the new islands, horses, pigs, bulls, cows, sheep, and goats, besides fruit and vegetables.

So, full of hope and joyful expectation, they set sail; and so well had Columbus calculated his distance and direction with but imperfect instruments at his disposal, that he arrived at the islands again on 3rd November. It was another new island, which he named Domenica, as the day was Sunday. Making for the island of Hayti, where he had left his little Spanish colony, he passed many islands, naming Guadeloupe, San Martin, Santa Cruz, and others. Porto Rico was also found, but they arrived at Hayti to find no trace of Spaniards. Disaster had overtaken the colony, and the deserted men had been killed by the natives who had apparently been so friendly. Another spot was selected by Columbus, and a town was soon built to which he gave the name of Isabella.


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THE TOWN OF ISABELLA AND THE COLONY FOUNDED BY COLUMBUS.

[166] This is not the place to tell of the miserable disputes and squabbles that befell the little Spanish colony. We are here concerned with the fuller exploration of the West Indies by Columbus. Taking three ships provisioned for six months, with a crew of fifty-two, he set out for the coast of Cathay. Instead of this, he found the island of Jamaica, with its low, hazy, blue coast of extreme beauty. Still convinced that he was near the territory of the Great Khan, he explored the coast of Cuba, not realising that it was an island. He sailed about among the islands, till he became very ill, fever seized him, and at last his men carried him ashore at Isabella, thinking that he must die. He recovered to find a discontented colony, members of which had already sent back stories to Spain of the misdeeds of their founder. Columbus made up his mind to return to Spain to carry a true report of the difficulties of colonisation in the Indies.

"It was June 1496 before he found himself again in the harbour of Cadiz. People had crowded down to greet the great discoverer, but instead of a joyous crew, flushed with new success and rich with the spoils of the golden Indies, a feeble train of wretched men crawled on shore—thin, miserable, and ill. Columbus himself was dressed as a monk, in a long gown girded with a cord. His beard was long and unshaven. The whole [167] man was utterly broken down with all he had been through.

But after a stay of two years in Spain, Columbus again started off on his third voyage. With six ships he now took a more southerly direction, hoping to find land to the south of the West Indies. And this he did, but he never lived to know that it was the great continent of South America. Through scorching heat, which melted the tar of their rigging, they sailed onwards till they were rewarded by the sight of land at last. Columbus had promised to dedicate the first land he saw to the Holy Trinity. What, then, was his surprise when land appeared from which arose three distinct peaks, which he at once named La Trinidad. The luxuriance of the island pleased the Spaniards, and as they made their way slowly along the shore their eyes rested for the first time, and unconsciously, on the mainland of South America. It appeared to the explorer as a large island which he called Isla Santa. Here oysters abounded and "very large fish, and parrots as large as hens." Between the island and the mainland lay a narrow channel through which flowed a mighty current. While the ships were anchoring here a great flood of fresh water came down with a great, roar, nearly destroying the little Spanish ships and greatly alarming both Columbus and his men. It was one of the mouths of the river Orinoco, to which they gave the name of the Dragon's Mouth. The danger over, they sailed on, charmed with the beautiful shores, the sight of the distant mountains, and the sweetness of the air.


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"THE UNROLLING OF THE CLOUDS"—IV.
THE WORLD AS KNOWN AT THE END OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY AFTER THE DISCOVERIES OF COLUMBUS AND HIS AGE.

Columbus decided that this must be the centre of the earth's surface, and with its mighty rivers surely it was none other than the earthly Paradise with the rivers of the Garden of Eden, that "some of the Fathers had declared to be situated in the extreme east of the Old World, and in a region so high that the flood had not over- [168] whelmed it." The world then, said Columbus, could not be a perfect round, but pear-shaped. With these conclusions he hastened across to Hayti where his brother was ruling over the little colony in his absence. But treachery and mutiny had been at work. Matters had gone ill with the colony, and Columbus did not improve the situation by his presence. He was a brilliant navigator, but no statesman. Complaints reached Spain, and a Spaniard was sent out to replace Columbus. This high-handed official at once put the poor navigator in chains and placed him on board a ship bound for Spain. Queen Isabella was overwhelmed with grief when the snowy-haired explorer once again stood before her, his face lined with suffering. He was restored to royal favour and provided with ships to sail forth on his fourth and last voyage. But his hardships and perils had told upon him, and he was not really fit to undertake the long voyage to the Indies. However, he arrived safely off the coast of Honduras and searched for the straits that he felt sure existed, but which were not to be found till some eighteen years later by Magellan. The natives brought him cocoanuts, which the Spaniards now tasted for the first time; they also brought merchandise from a far land denoting some high civilisation. Columbus believed that he had reached the golden east, whence the gold had been obtained for Solomon's temple.


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MAP OF THE WORLD, DRAWN IN 1500, THE FIRST TO SHOW AMERICA.

Had Columbus only sailed west he might have discovered Mexico with all its wealth, and "a succession of splendid discoveries would have shed fresh glory on his declining age, instead of his sinking amidst gloom, neglect, and disappointment." At the isthmus of Darien, Columbus gave up the search. He was weary of the bad weather. Incessant downpours of rain, storms of thunder and lightning with terrific seas—these discouraged him. Disaster followed disaster. The food was nearly finished; [169] the biscuit "was so full of maggots that the people could only eat it in the dark, when they were not visible." Columbus himself seemed to be at the point of death. "Never," he wrote, "was the sea seen so high, so terrific, so covered with foam; the waters from heaven never ceased—it was like a repetition of the deluge."

He reached Spain in 1504 to be carried ashore on a litter, and to learn that the Queen of Spain was dead. He was friendless, penniless, and sick unto death.

"After twenty years of toil and peril," he says pitifully, "I do not own a roof in Spain."

"I, lying here, bedridden and alone,

Cast oft, put by, scouted by count and king,

The first discoverer starves."

And so the brilliant navigator, Christopher Columbus, passed away, all unconscious of the great New World he had reached. Four centuries have passed away, but

"When shall the world forget

The glory and the debt,

Indomitable soul,

Immortal Genoese?

Not while the shrewd salt gale

Whines amid shroud and sail,

Above the rhythmic roll

And thunder of the seas."

It has been well said, "injustice was not buried with Columbus," and soon after his death an attempt was made, and made successfully, to name the New World after another—a Florentine pilot, Amerigo Vespucci.

It was but natural that when the first discoveries by Columbus of land to westward had been made known, that others should follow in the track of the great navigator. Among these was a handsome young Spaniard—one Hojeda—who had accompanied Columbus on his second voyage. Soon after, he fitted out an expedi- [170] tion, 1499, reaching the mainland of the yet unknown continent near the Trinidad of Columbus. With him was Amerigo Vespucci. Here they found a native village with houses built on tree trunks and connected by bridges. It was so like a bit of old Venice that the explorers named it Little Venice or Venezuela, which name it bears to-day.

Nothing was publicly known of this voyage till a year after the death of Columbus, when men had coasted farther to the south of Venezuela and discovered that this land was neither Asia nor Africa, that it was not the land of Marco Polo, but a new continent indeed.


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FROM THE SCULPTURE BY GRAZZINI IN THE UFFIZI GALLERY, FLORENCE.

"It is proper to call it a New World," says Amerigo Vespucci. "Men of old said over and over again that there was no land south of the Equator. But this last voyage of mine has proved them wrong, since in southern regions I have found a country more thickly inhabited by people and animals than our Europe or Asia or Africa."

These words among others, and an account of his voyages published in Paris, 1507, created a deep impression. A letter from Columbus announcing his discoveries had been published in 1498, but he said nothing, because he knew nothing, of a New World. Men therefore said that Amerigo Vespucci had discovered a new continent, "wherefore the new continent ought to be called America from its discoverer Amerigo, a man of rare ability, inasmuch as Europe and Asia derived their names from women."


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