« PreviousContinue »
The active mind of Cortes began already to form schemes for attempting this important discovery. He was ignorant that this very scheme had been undertaken and accomplished, during the progress of his victorious arms in Mexico.
Ferdinand Magellan a Portuguese gentleman of honorable birth, having received ill treatment from his general and sovereign, in a transport of resentment formally renounced his allegiance to an ungrateful master, and fled to the court of Castile, in hopes that his worth would be more justly estimated. He revived Columbus's original and favourite project, of discovering a passage to India by a western course. Cardinal Ximenes listened to it with a most favourable ear. Charles. V. on his arrival in his Spanish dominions entered into the measure with no less ardour, and orders were issued for equipping a proper squadron at the public charge, of which the command was given to Magellan, whom the king honored with the habit of St. Jago, and the title of captain-general.
On the tenth of August, 1519, Magellan sailed from Seville, with five ships, which were deemed at that time of considerable force ; though the largest of them did not exceed one hundred and twenty tons burden : the crew of the whole amounted to two hundred and thirty four men, including some of the most skilful pilots in Spain, and several Portuguese sailors, in whom Magellan placed the most confidence.
After touching at the Canaries, he stood directly south, towards the equinoctial line along the coast of America. He did not reach the river De la Plata till the twelfth of January, 1520. That spacious body of water allured him to enter into it, but after sailing for some days he concluded, from the shallowness of the stream, and its freshness, that the wished for strait was not situated there.
On the thirty first of March he arrived at the port of St. Julian, at about forty eight degrees of south latitude, where he resolved to winter. In this uncomfortable station he lost one of his squadron, and the Spaniards suffered so much from the inclemency of the climate, that the crews of three of the ships, headed by their officers, rose in open mutiny, and insisted on relinquishing the visionary project of a desperate adventurer, and returning directly to Spain.
This dangerous insurrection Magellan wisely suppressed, by an effort of courage, no less prompt than intrepid: and inflicted exemplary punishment on the ringleaders. With the remainder of his followers, overawed but not reconciled to his scheme, he continued his voyage towards the south, and at length discovered near the fifty third degree of latitude, the mouth of a strait, into which he entered, notwithstanding the murmurs of the people under his command.
After sailing twenty days in that winding and dangerous channel, to which he gave his own name, and where one of his ships deserted him, the great southern ocean opened to bis view; and with tears of joy, he returned thanks to heaven, for having thus far crowned his endeavours with success. He continued to sail in a north west direction three months and twenty days, without discovering land; in this voyage, the longest that had ever been made in the unbounded ocean, he suffered incredible distress. His stock of provisions was almost exhausted, the water became putrid, the men were reduced to the shortest allowance, with which it was possible to sustain life ; and the scurvy began to spread among them. One circumstance alone afforded consolation. They enjoyed an uninterrupted succession of fair weather, with such favourable winds, that Magellan bestowed on that ocean the name of Pacific, which it still retains.
They would have soon sunk under their sufferings, had they not discovered and fell in with a cluster of islands, whose fertility afforded them refreshments in such abundance, that their health was soon re-established. From these isles to which he gave the name of De los Ladrones, he proceeded on his voyage, and soon made a more important discovery of the islands now known by the name of the Philippines; in one of these he got into an unfortunate quarrel with the natives, who attacked him with a nume. lous body of troops well armed ; and while he fought at the head of his men with his usual valour, he fell by the hands of those barbarians, together with several of his principal officers. Other officers took the command, and after touching at several other islands in the Indian ocean, they al length landed at Tidore one of the Moluccas, to the astonishment of the Portuguese, who could not comprehend how the Spaniards, by holding a westerly course, had ar
rived at that sequestered seat of their valuable commerce, which they had discovered by sailing in an opposite direction.
There, and in the adjacent isles, they found a people acquainted with the benefit of trade, and pleased with opening an intercourse with a new nation. They took in a cargo of valuable spices, with that and other specimens of rich cominodities which they had collected from other countries, they loaded the Victory, which of the two ships that remained, was the most fit for a long voyage, and set sail for Spain, under the command of Juan Sebastian del Cano. He followed the course of the Portuguese by the cape of Good Hope ; and after many sufferings, he arrived as St. Lucar on the seventh of September, 1522, having sailed round the globe in the space of three years and twentyeight days.
To return to the transactions of New Spain : At the time that Cortes was acquiring such vast territories for his sovereign, and preparing the way for future conquests, it was his singular fate, not only to be destitute of any commission or authority from the sovereign whom he served with such successful zeal, but was regarded as an unduti. ful seditious subject. By the influence of Fonseca, bishop of Burgos, his conduct, in assuming the government of New Spain, was declared to be an irregular usurpation, in contempt of the royal authority; and Christoval de Tapia was commissioned to supercede Cortes, to seize his person, confiscate his effects, make a strict scrutiny into his proceedings, and transmit the result of his enquiries to the court of the Indies, of which the bishop of Burgos was president. Tapia landed a few weeks after the reduction of Mexico, at Vera Cruz, with the royal mandate to divest its conqueror of his power, and treat him as a criminal.
But Fonseca had chosen a very improper person to wreak his vengeance on Cortes. Tapia had neither the reputation, nor the talents, that suited the high command to which he had been appointed. Cortes, while he publicly expressed the highest veneration for the emperor's authority, secretly took measures to defeat the effect of his commission; and having involved Tapia and his followers in a multiplicity of conferences and negotiations, sometimes making use of threats, but more frequently employing bribes and promises, he at length prevailed on that weak
man to abandon a province he was unworthy of governing. But Cortes was so sensible of the precarious tenure by which he held his power, that he dispatched deputies to Spain with a pompous account of the success of his arms, with farther specimens of the productions of the country, and with rich presents to the emperor, as the earnest of future contributions from his new conquest; requesting as a recompense for all his services, the approbation of his proceedings, and that he might be entrusted with the government of those territories which his conduct, and the valour of his followers, had added to the crown of Castile.
The account of Cortes's victories filled his country men with admiration. The public voice declared loudly in favour of his pretensions, and Charles adopted the sentiments of his subjects with a youthful ardour. ' He appointed him .captain-general and governor of New Spain.
It was not, however, without difficulty that the Mexican empire could be entirely reduced into the form of a Spanish colony. Enraged and rendered desperate by oppression, the natives often forgot the superiority of their enemies; and took up arms in defence of their liberties. In every contest however, the European valour and discipline prevailed. But fatally for the honour of their country, the Spaniards sullied the glory redounding from their repeated victories, by their mode of treating the vanquished.
In almost every province of the Mexican empire, the progress of the Spanish arms is marked with blood, and with deeds so atrocious, as disgrace the enterprizing valour that conducted them to success. In the province of Pa. nuco, sixty caziques or chiefs, and four hundred nobles, were burnt at one time. Nor was this shocking barbarity committed in any sudden effect of rage, or by a commander of inferior note; it was the act of Sandoval, who was entitled to the second rank in the annals of New Spain, executed after a solemn consultation with Cortes; and, to complete the horror of the scene, the children and relations of the victims were compelled to be spectators of their dying agonies. This dreadful example of severity, was followed by another which affected the Mexicans still more sensibly. On a slight suspicion, confirmed by very imperfect evidence, Guatimozin was charged with attempting to throw off the yoke, and to excite his former subjects to take up arms. Cortes, without the formality of a trial,
ordered the unhappy monarch, together with the caziques of Tezcuco and Tacuba, two persons of the greatest eminence, next to the enperor, to be hanged; and the Mexicans with astonishment beheld this ignominious punishment inflicted upon persons, whom they had been accustomed to look up to with a reverence, little inferior to that which they paid to the gods themselves.
When Charles V. advanced Cortes to the government of New Spain, he at the same time appointed commissioners to receive, and administer the royal revenue there. These men were astonished, when arriving in Mexico, at the high authority which Cortes exercised. In their letters they represented Cortes as an ambitious tyrant, who having usurped a jurisdiction superior to law, aimed at independence. These insinuations made such deep impression on the mind of the Spanish ministers, that unmindful of the past services of Cortes, they infused the same suspicions into the mind of Charles, and prevailed on him to order a solemn inquest to be made into his conduct, with powers to the licenciate, Ponce de León, entrusted with that commission, to seize his person, if expedient, and send him prisoner to Spain.
The sudden death of Ponce de Leon, which happened soon after his arrival in New Spain, prevented the execution of this commission., Cortes beheld the approaching crisis of his fortune, with all the violent emotions natural to a haughty mind, conscious of high desert, and receiving unworthy treatment. His old faithful followers, stung with resentment, advised him to seize that power, which the courtiers were so mean as to accuse him of coveting.
Actuated by sentiments of loyalty, he rejected the dangerous advice, and repaired directly to Spain; choosing rather lo commit himself and his cause to the justice of his sovereign, than submit to be tried in a country, where he had the chief command, and by a set of interested and partial judges.
In the year 1528, Cortes appeared in his native country, with the splendour that suited the conqueror of a mighty kingdom. He brought with him a great part of his wealth, many jewels and ornaments of great value, and was attended by some Mexicans of the first rank, as well as by the most considerable of his own officers. His arrival in Spain, removed at once every suspicion. The emperor re