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[7] Accounts of the navigation from the eastern coast
Chap. I.}
of Africa to Arabia had reached the western kingdoms of Europe; and adventurous Venetians, returning from travels beyond the Ganges, had filled the world with dazzling descriptions of the wealth of China as well as marvellous reports of the outlying island empire of Japan. It began to be believed that the continent of Asia stretched over far more than a hemisphere, and that the remaining distance round the globe was comparatively inconsiderable. Yet from the early part of the fifteenth century the navigators of Portugal had confined their explorations to the coast of Africa; and when they had ascertained that the torrid zone is habitable even under the equator, the discovery of the islands of Madeira and the Azores could not divert them from the purpose of turning the southern capes of that continent, and steering past them to the land of spices, which promised untold wealth to the merchants of Europe, new dominions to its princes, and heathen nations to the religion of the cross. As early perhaps as the year 1470, or probably before 1474, Columbus was attracted to Lisbon, as the great centre of maritime adventure. He came to insist with immovable resoluteness that the shortest route to the Indies lay across the Atlantic. By letters from the venerable Toscanelli, the illustrious astronomer of Florence, who had drawn a map of the world with eastern Asia rising over against Europe, he was riveted in his faith, and longed for the opportunity of proving its reality.

After more than ten years of vain solicitations in Portugal, he left the banks of the Tagus, to seek the aid of Ferdinand and Isabella, rich in nautical experience,

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