since his name has become so renowned as to confer rather than receive distinction. It is possible some of them may be in the right, for the feuds in Italy in those ages had broken down and scattered many of the noblest families, and while some branches remained in the

lordly heritage of castles and domains, others were con3 founded with the humblest population of the cities. The

fact, however, is not material to his fame; and it is a higher proof of merit to be the object of contention among various noble families than to be able to substantiate the most illustrious lineage. His son Fernando had a true feeling on the subject. “I am of opinion,” says he, “that I should derive less dignity from any nobility of ancestry than from being the son of such a father."

Columbus was the oldest of four children, having two brothers, Bartholomew and Giacomo, or James (written Diego in Spanish), and one sister, of whom nothing is

known but that she was married to a person in obscure 4 life, called Giacomo Bavarello. At a very early age Co

lumbus evinced a decided inclination for the sea; his education, therefore, was mainly directed to fit him for maritime life, but was as general as the narrow means of his father would permit. Besides the ordinary branches of reading, writing, grammar, and arithmetic, he was in

structed in the Latin tongue, and made some proficiency 5 in drawing and design. For a short time, also, he was

sent to the University at Pavia, where he studied geometry, geography, astronomy, and navigation. He then turned to Genoa, where, according to a contemporary historian, he assisted his father in his trade of wool-combing. This assertion is indignantly contradicted by his son Fernando, though there is nothing in it improbable, and he gives us no information of his father's occupation to supply its place. He could not, however, have remained


long in this employment, as, according to his own account, he entered upon a nautical life when but fourteen years

of age.

In tracing the early history of a man like Columbus, 6 whose actions have had a vast effect on human affairs, it is interesting to notice how much has been owing to external influences, how much to an inborn propensity of the genius. In the latter part of his life, when, impressed with the sublime events brought about through his agency, Columbus looked back upon his career with a solemn and superstitious feeling, he attributed his early and irresistible inclination for the sea, and his passion for geographical studies, to an impulse from the Deity preparing him for the high decrees he was chosen to accomplish.

The nautical propensity, however, evinced by Colum-7 bus in early life, is common to boys of enterprising spirit and lively imagination brought up in maritime cities, to whom the sea is the high-road to adventure and the region of romance. Genoa, too, walled in and straitened on the land side by rugged mountains, yielded but little scope for enterprise on shore, while an opulent and widely extended commerce, visiting every country, and a roving marine, battling in every sea, naturally led forth her children upon the waves, as their propitious element. Many, 8 too, were induced to emigrate by the violent factions which raged within the bosom of the city, and often dyed its streets with blood. A historian of Genoa laments this proneness of its youth to wander. “They go," said he, “ with the intention of returning when they shall have acquired the means of living comfortably and honorably in their native place; but we know from long experience that, of twenty who thus depart, scarce two return, either dying abroad, or taking to themselves foreign wives, or


being loath to expose themselves to the tempest of civil

discords which distract the republic.” 9 The strong passion for geographical knowledge, also,

felt by Columbus in early life, and which inspired his after-career, was incident to the age in which he lived. Geographical discovery was the brilliant path of light which was for ever to distinguish the fifteenth century. During a long night of bigotry and false learning, geography, with the other sciences, had been lost to the European nations. Fortunately, it had not been lost to mankind; it had taken refuge in the bosom of Africa. While the pedantic schoolmen of the cloisters were wasting time and talent, and confounding erudition by idle reveries and sophistical dialectics, the Arabian sages assembled at Sennaar were taking the measurement of a degree of latitude, and calculating the circumference of the earth on the vast

plains of Mesopotamia. 10 True knowledge, thus happily preserved, was now

making its way back to Europe. The revival of science accompanied the revival of letters. Among the various authors which the awakening zeal for ancient literature had once more brought into notice were Pliny, Pomponius Mela, and Strabo. From these was regained a fund of

geographical knowledge which had long faded from the 11 public mind. Curiosity was aroused to pursue this for

gotten path thus suddenly reopened. A translation of the work of Ptolemy had been made into Latin at the commencement of the century by Emanuel Chrysoleras, a noble and learned Greek, and had thus been rendered more familiar to the Italian students. Another translation had followed, by James Augel de Scarpiaria, of which fair and beautiful copies became common in the Italian libraries. The writings also began to be sought after of Averroes, Alfraganus, and other Arabian sages, who had

kept the sacred fire of science alive during the interval of European darkness.

The knowledge thus reviving was limited and imper- 12 fect; yet, like the return of morning light, it seemed to call a new creation into existence, and broke with all the charm of wonder upon imaginative minds. They were surprised at their own ignorance of the world around them. Every step was discovery, for every region beyond their native country was in a manner terra incognita.

Such was the state of information and feeling with 13 respect to this interesting science in the early part of the fifteenth century. An interest still more intense was awakened by the discoveries which began to be made along the Atlantic coasts of Africa, and must have been particularly felt among a maritime and commercial people like the Genoese. To these circumstances may we ascribe the enthusiastic devotion which Columbus imbibed in his childhood for cosmographical studies, and which influenced all his after-fortunes.

The short time passed by him at the University of 14 Pavia was barely sufficient to give him the rudiments of the necessary sciences; the familiar acquaintance with them which he evinced in after-life must have been the result of diligent self-schooling in casual hours of study, amid the cares and vicissitudes of a rugged and wandering life. He was one of those men of strong natural genius who, from having to contend at their very outset with privations and impediments, acquire an intrepidity in encountering, and a facility in vanquishing, difficulties throughout their career. Such men learn to effect great purposes with small means, supplying this deficiency by the resources of their own energy and invention. This, from his earliest commencement throughout the whole of

his life, was one of the remarkable features in the history of Columbus. In every undertaking the scantiness and apparent insufficiency of his means enhance the grandeur of his achievements.




William the Silent belonged to the illustrious house of Orange, and was the ancestor of William III of England. (See note on Bishop Burnet's sketch of William III.) He (William the Silent) was the leader of the revolted provinces in the Low Countries during their long and desperate struggle with the power of Spain. In 1584 he fell by the hand of an assassin; but his death seemed only to inspire his followers with renewed vigor and more heroic courage. His title of the “Silent” is somewhat misleading, as he was exceedingly affable and agreeable in conversation. It is derived from a certain incident in his life of great interest, which the student will find related in Motley's history.

1 The history of the rise of the Netherland republic has been at the same time the biography of William the Silent. This, while it gives unity to the narrative, renders an elaborate description of his character superfluous. That life was a noble Christian epic, inspired with one great purpose from its commencement to its close, the stream flowing ever from one fountain with expanding fullness, but retaining all its original purity. A few general observations are all which are necessary by way

of conclusion. 2 In person, Orange was above the middle height, per

fectly well made and sinewy, but rather spare than stout. His eyes, hair, beard, and complexion were brown. His

« ElőzőTovább »