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ly by steering towards the south, in hopes of arriving at India, by turning to the east, after they had failed round the farther extremity of Africa. This course was still unknown, and, even if discovered, was of such immense length, that a, voyage from Europe to India must have appeared an undertaking extremely arduous, and of very uncertain issue. More than half a century had been employed in advancing from Cape Non to the equator; a much longer space of time might elapse before the more extensive navigation from that to India could be accomplished. These reflections upon the uncertainty, the danger and tediousness of the course which the Portuguese were pursuing, naturally led Columbus 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 fuperior knowledge in the theory as well as practice of navigation, after comparing attentively the observations of modern pilots which the hints and conjectures of ancient authors, he at laft concluded, that by failing directly towards the weft, across the Atlantic ocean, new countries, which probably formed a part of the vast continent of India, must infallibly be discovered.
The principles on which his theory was founded. . .
Principles and arguments of various kinds, and deriyed from different sources, induced him
; to adopt this opinion, seemingly as chimerical He as it was new and extraordinary. The spheriis cal figure of the earth was known, and its magau nitude ascertained with fome degree of accura
cy. From this it was evident, that the conti* nent of Europe, Asia, and Africa, formed but * a small portion of the terraqueous globe. It CB was suitable to our ideas concerning the wisdom
and beneficence of the Author of Nature, to be
lieve that the vast space, still unexplored, was :) not covered entirely by a waste unprofitable
ocean, but occupied by countries fit for the habitation of man. It appeared likewise extreme. ly probable, that the continent, on this side of the globe, was balanced by a proportional quan. tity 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 piecə of timber artificially carved, floating upon the sea; and as it was driven towards him by a we. fterly wind, he concluded that it came from fo. me unknown land, situated in that quarter. Columbus brother in law had found, to the west of the Madeira ifles, a piece of timber fafnioned
in the same manner, and brought by the sama - wind; and had seen likewise canes of an enorm
ous lize floating upon the waves, which re
sembled those described by Ptolemy as produc.. tions 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 fingular features, resembling neither the inhabitants of Europe nor of Africa, were cast ashore there.
As the force of this united evidence, arising from theoretical principles and practical observations, led Columbus to expect the discovery of new countries in the Western Ocean, othe: reasons induced him to believe that these mui; be connected with the continent of India. Though the ancients had hardly ever penetrated into India farther than the banks of the Ganges, yer fome Greek authors had ventured to describe the provinces beyond that river. As men are prone, and in liberty, to magnify what is remote o: 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 naturalift follows e), contended that it was equal to a third part of the habitable i earth. Nearchus asserted, that it would take four months to march in a straight'line from one extremity of it to the other f). The journal of | Marco Polo, who had proceeded towards the
d) Lib. I, c. 17,
Strab, Geogr. lib. xy, p. 101f.
East far beyond the limits to which any Euro- pean 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 extent. From these accounts, which, however defective, were the most accurate that the people of Europe had at that period received, with respect to the remote parts of the Eaft, Columbus drew a juft conclusion. He contended, that, in pro. portion as the continent of India stretched out towards the East, it must, in consequence of the spherical figure of the earth, approach nea rer to the islands which had lately been disco, vered to the west of Africa; that the distance
from the one to the other was probably not very i confiderable, and that the most direct, as well
as shortest course, to the remote regions of the East, was to be found by failing to the weft g). This notion concerning the vicinity of India to the western parts of our continent, was coun
tenanced by fome 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 communica
) Seo NOTE XII.
tion by sea between them h). Seneca, in terms ftill more explicit, affirms, that, with a fair wind, one might fail from Spain to India in a few days i). The famous Atlantic island described by Plato, and supposed by many to be a real country, beyond which a vast unknown continent was situated, 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 enthufiasm 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 contemporaries as were capable of comprehending the nature of the evia derice which he produced in support 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 intitled to the confidence which Columbus placed in him. He warmly approved of the plan, suggested several facts in confirmation of it, and encouraged Co.
h) Aristot. de cælo, lib. ii. c. 14. edit. Du Val, Par. 1629.
vol. 1, p. 472. D) Senec. Quæst. Natur. lib. 1. in proem.