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ficiency in the study of them. Thus qualified, he went to sea at the age of fourteen, and began his career on that element, which conducted him to so much glory. His early voyages were to those ports in the Mediterranean which his countrymen, the Genoese, frequented. This being too narrow a sphere for his active mind, he made an excursion to the northern seas, and visited the coast of Iceland; he proceeded beyond that island, (the Thule of the ancients) and advanced several degrees within the polar circle.
This voyage enlarged his knowledge in naval affairs more than it improved his fortune; afterwards he entered into the service of a famous sea captain of his own name and family. This man commanded a small squadron, fitted out at his own expense, and by cruising against the Mahometans and the Venetians, the rivals of his country in trade, had acquired both wealth and reputation. Columbus continued in the service of this captain for several years, distinguished both for his courage and experience as a sailor: at length, in an obstinate engagement off the coast of Portugal, with some Venetian caravals, returning richly laden from the Low Countries, the vessel on board of which he was, took fire, together with one of the enemy's ships, to which it was fast grappled.
In this dreadful extremity his intrepidity and presence of mind did not forsake him; for, throwing himself into the sea, and laying hold of a floating oar, by his own dexterity in swimming, he reached the shore, though above two leagues distant. Thus was a life saved, reserved for great undertakings.
When he had recovered sufficient strength, he repaired to Lisbon, where many of his countrymen resided, who warmly solicited him to stay in that kingdom, where his naval skill and experience could not fail of procuring him that reward, which his merit entitled him to. Columbus listened with a favourable ear to the advice of his friends : married a Portuguese lady, and fixed his residence at Lisbon. By this alliance, the sphere of his naval knowledge was enlarged. His wife was a daughter of Bartholomew Perestrello, one of the captains employed by. prince Henry, and who, under his protection had discovered and planted the islands of Porto Santo and Madeira.
Columbus from the journals and charts of this expelicuced navigator, learned the course which the Portu.
guese had held in making their discoveries. The study of these gratified and inflamed his favourite passion; and, while he contemplated the maps and read the descriptions of the new countries which Perestrello had seen, his impatience to visit them became 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.
He was now become one of the most skilful navigators in Europe ; but his ambition aimed at something more. The mind of Columbus, naturally inquisitive and capable of deep reflection, was often employed in revolving the principles upon which the Portuguese had founded their schemes of discovery, and the mode in which they had carried them on.
The great object in view, at that period, was to find out a passage by sea to the East Indies. From the time that the Portuguese doubled Cape de Verd, this was a point they were anxiously solicitous to attain ; in comparison with it, all discoveries in Africa appeared inconsiderable. But how intent soever the Portuguese were upon discovering a new route to those desirable regions, they searched for it only by steering towards the south, in hopes of arriving at India, by turning to the east, after they had sailed round the utmost extremity of Africa. This course, how. ever, was still unknown; and 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 extensive navigation from that to India could be accomplished. These reflections upon the uncertainty, and the danger of the course which the Portuguese were pursuing, led Columbus to consider, whether a shorter and more direct passage to the East Indies might not be found out. After revolving long, and attentively, every circumstance suggested by his superior knowledge in the theory, as well as practice of navigation, after comparing the observations of modern pilots with the conjectures of ancient authors, he at last concluded, that by sailing directly towards the west, across the Atlantic
ocean, new countries, which probably formed a part of the vast continent of India, must infallibly be discovered.
The spherical figure of the earth was known, and its magnitude ascertained with some degree of accuracy. From this it was evident, that the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, formed but a small portion of the terraqueous globe. It appeared likewise very probable that the continent on this side the globe, was balanced by a proportional quantity of land in the other hemisphere. These conclusions concerning 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 piece of timber arti. ficially carved floating upon the sea ; and as it was driven towards him by a westerly wind, he concluded that it came from some unknown land, situated in that quarter. Colum. bus's brother-in-law, also had found to the west of the Madeira isles, a piece of timber, fashioned in the same manner, and brought by the same wind; and had seen likewise canes of an enormous size floating upon the waves, which resembled those described by Ptolemy, as productions peculiar to the East Indies. After a course of westerly winds, trees torn up with their roots, were often driven upon the coasts of the Azores, and at one time the dead bodies of two men, with singular features, which resembled neither the inhabitants of Europe, nor of Africa, were cast ashore there.
To a mind capable of forming and executing great designs as that of Columbus, these observations and autho. rities operated in full force with his sanguine and enterprizing temper; speculation led immediately to action, fully satisfied himself with respect to the truth of his system, he was impatient to bring it to the test of experi. ment, and to set out on a voyage of discovery.
The first step towards this, was to secure the patronage of some of the considerable powers in Europe, capable of undertaking such an enterprize. His affection for his native country, not extinguished by absence, he wished should reap the fruits of his labours and invention. With this view, he laid his scheme before the senate of Genoa, and offered to sail under the banners of the republic, in quest of the new regions he expected to discover. But Columbus had resided so many years in foreign parts,
that his countrymen were unacquainted with his abilities and character; they therefore inconsiderately rejected his proposal, as the dream of a chimerical projector, and lost for ever the opportunity of restoring their commonwealth to its ancient splendour.
Columbus was so litile discouraged by the repulse which he had received, that instead of relinquishing his object, he pursued it with fresh ardour.
He next made an overture to John II. king of Portugal, whom he considered as having the second claim to his service. Here every thing seemed to promise him a more favourable reception. He applied to a monarch of an enterprizing genius, no incompetent judge in naval affairs, and proud of patronizing every attempt to discover new countries. His subjects were the most experienced navigators in Europe, and the least apt to be intimidated either by the novelty or boldness of any maritime expedition.
In Portugal the skill of Columbus in his profession, as well as his personal good qualities, were well known; accordingly the king listened to him in the most gracious manner, and referred the consideration of his plan to Diego Ortiz bishop of Ceuta, and two Jewish physicians, eminent cosmographers, whom he was accustomed to consult in matters of this kind. As he had in Genoa to combat with ignorance, in Lisbon prejudice, an enemy no less formidable opposed him ; the persons to whose decision his project was referred were the chief directors of the Portuguese navigation, and had advised to search for a passage to India by steering a course directly opposite to that which Columbus recommended, as shorter and more certain. They could not, therefore, approve of his proposal, without submitting to the double mortification, of condemning their own theory, and of acknowledging his superior sagacity.
After a fruitless and mortifying attendance, being teazed with captious questions, and starting innumerable objections, with a view of betraying him into such a particular explanation of his system, they deferred passing a final judgment, with respect to it; but secretly conspired to rob him of the honour and advantages which he expected from the success of his scheme, advising the king to dispatch a vessel secretly, in order to attempt the proposed discovery, by following exactly the course which Columbus
seemed to point out. The king, forgetting on this occasion, the sentiments becoming a monarch, meanly adopted this perfidious counsel. But the pilot chosen to execute Columbus's plan, had neither the genius, nor the fortitude, of its author; he returned, as might have been expected, witbout accomplishing any thing; execrating the project as equally extravagant and dangerous.
Upon discovering this dishonourable action, he instantly quitted the kingdom, and landed in Spain, towards the close of the year 1484, when he determined to propose it in person to Ferdinand and Isabella, who at that time governed the united kingdoms of Castile and Arragon. But as he had already experienced the uncertain issue of applications to kings, and ministers, he took the precaution of sending into England his brother Bartholomew to whom he had fully communicated his ideas; in order that he might, at the same time, negociate with Henry VII. who was reputed one of the most sagacious, as well as opulent, princes in Europe. Columbus entertained doubts and fears with respect to the reception of his proposals in the Spanish court.
Spain was engaged at that juncture, in a dangerous war with Granada, the last of the Moorish kingdoms. The cautious and suspicious temper of Ferdinand was not congenial with bold and uncommon designs. Isabella though more generous and enterprizing, was under the influence of her husband in all her actions.
The Spaniards had hitherto made no efforts to extend navigation beyond its ancient limits, and had beheld the amazing progress of discovery among their neighbours the Portuguese, without making one attempt to imitate or rival them. Under circumstances so unfavourable it was not likely Columbus could make a rapid progress with a nation naturally slow and dilatory in performing all its resolutions.
His character, however, was well adapted to that of the people, whose confidence and protection he solicited. He was grave, though courtly in his deportment; circumspect in his words and actions; irreproachable in his morals ; and exemplary in his attention to all the duties of religion. By these qualities he gained many private friends, and acquired such general esteem, that he was considered as a person to whose propositions serious attention was due,