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Birth and education of Columbus.
mong the foreigners whom the fame of
the discoveries made by the Portuguese had allured into their service, was Christopher Colon or Columbus, a subject of the republic
of Genoa. Neither the time nor place of his E birth are known with certainty (a); but he was
descended of an honourable family, though re* duced to indigence by various misfortunes. His
ancestors having betaken themselves for fubfi-' * ftence to a sea faring life, Columbus discovered, a in his early youth, the peculiar character and he talents which mark out a man for that profession.
His parents, instead of thwarting this original propensity of his mind, seem to have encouraged and confirmed it, by the education which they gave him. After acquiring fome knowledge of the Latin tongue, the only language in which science was taught at that time, he was instructed in geometry, cosmography, astronomy, and the art of drawing. To these he applied with such ardour and predilection, on account of their connection with navigation, . his favourite object, that he advanced with rapid proficiency in the study of them. (1461) Thus qualified, he went to sea at the age of fourteen,
a) See NOTE XI.
and began his career on that element which con. ducted him to so much glory. His early voya. ges were to those ports in the Mediterranean which his countrymen the Genoefe frequented. (1467.) This being a sphere to narrow for his active mind, he made an excursion to the northern seas, and visited the coasts of Iceland, to which the English and other nations had begun to resort on account of its fishery. As navigation, in every direction, was now become enterprising, he proceeded beyond that island, the Thule of the ancients, and advanced several degrees within the polar circle. Having satisfied his curiosity by a voyage which tended more to enlarge his knowledge of naval affairs, than to improve his fortune, he entered into the service of a famous fea captain, of his own name
and family. This man commanded a small · squadron, fitted out at his own expence, and by cruising sometimes against the Mahometans, sometimes against the Venetians, the rivals of his country in trade, had acquired both wealth and reputation. With him Columbus continued for several years, no less distinguished for his courage, than for his experience as a sailor. At length, in an obstinate engagement, of the coast of Portugal, with some Venetian caravels, returning richly laden from the Low Countries, the vessel on board which he served took fire, together with one of the enemy's fnips, to which it was fast grappled. In this dreadful
extremity his intrepidity and presence of mind did not forsake him. He threw himself into the fea, laid hold of a floating oar, and by the support of it, and his dexterity in swimming , be reached the shore, though above two leagues diftant, and saved a life reserved for great undertakings b).
He enters into the Portaguese service. As soon as he recovered strength for the journey, he repaired to Lisbon, where many of his countrymen were fettled. They foon conceived such a favourable opinion of his merit, as well as talents, that they warmly folicited him to remain in that kingdom, where his naval skill and experience could not fail of rendering him confpicuous, To every adventuter, animated either with curiosity to visit new countries, or with ambition to distinguish himself, the Portuguese service was at that time extremely inviting. Columbus liftened with a favourable ear to the advice of his friends, and having gained the efteem of a Portuguese lady, whom he married, fixed his residence in Lisbon, This alliance, instead of detaching him from a sea faring life , contributed to enlarge the sphere of his naval knowledge, and to excite a desire of extending it still farther. His wife was a daughter of Bartolomew Perestrello, one of the captains employed by prince Henry in his navigations, and who z under bis protection
» Lifg of Columbus Cry
had discovered and planted the islands of Pora to Santo and Madeira. Columbus got poffeffion of the journals and charts of this experienced navigator , and from them he learned the course which the Portuguese had held in making their discoveries, as well as the various circumstances which guided or encouraged them in their attempts. The study of these foothed and inflamed his favourite passion; and while he contemplated the maps, and read the descriptions of the new countries which Perestrel-. lo had seen, his impatience to visit them bebecame irresistible. In order to indulge it, he made a voyage to Madeira, and continued during several years to trade with that island , with the Canaries, the Azores, the settlements in Guinea, and all the other places which the Portuguese had discovered on the continent of Africa c),
The effe&s of their discoveries upon him.
By the experience which Columbus acqui. red, during such a variety of voyages to almost every part of the globe with which, at that time, any intercourse was carried on by sea, he was now become one of the most skilful navigators in Europe. But, not satisfied with that
praise, his ambition aimed at something more. : The successful progress of the Portuguese navi. gators had awakened a spirit of curiosity and
6) Life of Columbus, S. iv. v. .
emulation, which fed every man of science upon examining all the circumstances that led to the discoveries which they had made, or that afforded a prospect of succeeding in any new and bolder undertaking. The mind of Columbus, naturally inquisitive, capable of deep reflection, and turned to speculations of this kind,
was so often employed in revolving the princiE ples upon which the Portuguese had founded
their schemes of discovery, and the mode in which they had carried them on, that he gradually began to form an idea of improving upon their plan, and of accomplishing discoveries which hitherto they had attempted in vain...
He forms the idea of a new course to India. To find out a passage by sea, to the East Indies, was the great object in view at that pe3 riod. From the time that the Portuguese doub
led Cape de Verd, this was the point at which they aimed in all their navigations, and, in
comparison with it, all their discoveries in Af5rica, appeared inconfiderable. The fertility and
I riches of India had been known for many ages; Bits fpices and other valuable commodities were e in high request through out Europe, and the vast di wealth of the Venetians arising from their hay
ing engrossed this trade, had raised the envy of
all nations. But how intent so ever the Portu. - guese were upon discovering a new route to those desirable regions, they searched for it on
ROBERTSON Vol. In