and retarded so long the negociation with Co. lumbus, the sum employed in fitting out this squadron did not exceed four thousand pounds.

As the art of ship-building in the fifteenth century was extremely rude, and the bulk of vefsels was accommodated to the short and easy voyages along the coast which they were accustomed to perform, it is a proof of the cou.' rage as well as enterprising genius of Columbus, that he ventured, with a fleet so unfit for a distant navigation, to explore unknown seas, where he had no chart to guide him, no knowledge of the tides and currents, and no experience of the dangers to which he might be exposed. His eagerness to accomplish the great design which had so long engrossed his thoughts, made him overlook or disregard every circumstance that would have intimidated a mind less adventurous. He pushed forward the preparations with such ardour , and was seconded so effectually by the persons to whom Isabella committed the superintendence of this business, that every thing was foon in readiness for the voyage. But as Columbus was. deeply impressed with sentiments of religion, he would not set out upon an expedition fo arduous, and of which one great object was to extend the knowledge of the Christian faith, without imploring publickly the guidance and protection of Heaven. With this view, he, together with all the persons under his com

mand, marched in folemn procession to the monastery of Rabida. After confessing their fins, and obtaining absolution, they received the holy facrament from the hands of the guardian, who joined his prayers to theirs for the success of an enterprise which he had so zealously patronized.

ourly not an add his

His departure from Spain.

Next morning, being Friday the third day of August, in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety two, Columnbus set fail, a little before sun rise, in presence of a vast crowd of spectators, who sent up their supplications to Heaven for the prosperous issue of the voyage, which they wished, rather than expected. 1492. Columbus steered directly for the Canary Islands, and arrived there without any occurrence that would have deserved notice on any other occasion. 13 Auguft. But, in a voyage of such expectation and importance, every circumstance was the object of attention. The rudder of the Pinta broke loose, the day after she left the harbour, and that accident alarmned the crew , no less superstitious than unskilful, as a certain omen of the unfortunate destiny of the expedition. Even in the short run to the Canaries, the ships were found to be so crazy and ill appointed, as to be very improper for a navigation which was expected to be both long and dangerous. Columbus re

fitted them, however, to the best of, his power, and having supplied himself with fresh provisions, he took his departure from Gomera, one of the most welterly of the Canary islands, on the fixth day of September.

[blocks in formation]

Here the voyage of discovery may properly be said to begin ; for Columbus holding his course to the west , left immediately the usual track of navigation, and stretched into unfrequented and unknown seas. The first day , as it was very calm , he made but little way ; but on the second, he lost sight of the Canaries, and many of the sailors, dejected already and dismayed, when they contemplated the boldnefs of the undertaking, began to beat their breasts, and tho shed tears, as if they were never more to behold land. Columbus comforted them with assurances of success, and the prospect of past wealth, in those opulent regions whither he was conducting them. This early discovery of the fpirit of his followers taught Columbus, that he must prepare to struggle, not only with unavoidable difficulties which might be expected from the nature of his undertaking, but with such as were likely to arise from the ignorance and timidity of the people under his command; and he perceived that the art of governing the minds of men would be no less requisite for accomplishing the discoveries which he had in view, than naval skill and an. daunted courage. Happily for himself, and for the country by which he was employed, he joined to the ardent temper and inventive genius of a projector, virtues of another species, which are rarely united with them. He posleffed a thorough knowledge of mankind, an infinuating adress, a patient perseverance in executing any plan, the perfect government of his own pafsions, and the talent of acquiring an afcendant over those of other men.

Vigilance and attention of Columbus.

(1492) All these qualities, which formed him for command, were accompanied with that superior knowledge of his profession, which begets confidence in times of difficulty and danger. To unskilful Spanish failors, accuftomed only to coafting voyages in the Mediterranean, the maritime science of Columbus, the fruit of thirty years experience, improved by an acquaintance with all the inventions of the Portuguese, appeared immense. As soon as they put to sea, he regulated every thing by his fole authority; he superintended the execution of every order; and allowing himself only a few hours for sleep, he was at all other times upon deck. As his course lay through seas which had not formerly been visited, the founding-line or inftruments for observation, were continually in his hands. After the example of the Portuguese discoverers,

he attended to the motion of tides and corrents, watched the flight of birds, the appearance of fishes, of seaweeds, and of every thing that floated on the waves, and entered every occurrence, with a minute exactness, in the journal which he kept. As the length of the voyage could not fail of alarming sailors habituated only to short excurfions, Columbus endeavoured to conceal from them the real progress which they made. With this view, though they run eighteen leagues on the second day after they left Gomera, he gave out that they had advanced only fifteen, and he uniformly employed the same artifice of reckoning short during the whole voyage. By the fourteenth of September, the fleet was above two hundred leagues to the weft of the Canary Isles, at a greater distance from land than any Spaniard had been before that time.

Apprehensions and alarms of his crew. There they were ftruck with an appearance no less astonishing than new. They observed, that the magnetic needle, in their compasses, did not point exactly to the polar ftar, but varied towards the weft; and as they proceeded, this yariation increased. This appearance, which is now familiar, though it still remains one of the mysteries of nature, into the cause of which the fagacity of man hath not been able to penetrate, filled the companions of Columbus with terror. They were now in a boundless unknown

[ocr errors]

that the altonithineoftruck witt

« ElőzőTovább »