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Columbus, Christopher 1435-1536

(Cristoforo Colombo), discoverer of America; born in or near Genoa about 1435. At the age of ten years he was placed in the University of Pavia, where he was instructed in the sciences which pertain to navigation. In 1450 he entered the marine service of Genoa, and remained in it twenty years. His brother Bartholomew (q. v.) was then in Lisbon, engaged in constructing maps and charts, and making an occasional voyage at sea. Thither Christopher went in 1470. Prince Henry of Portugal was then engaged in explorations of the west coast of Africa, seeking for a passage to India south of that continent. The merchants of western Europe were then debarred from participation in the rich commerce of the Fast by way of the Mediterranean Sea by their powerful and jealous rivals, the Italians, and this fact stimulated explorations for the circumnavigation of Africa. Prince Henry had persisted in his efforts in the face of opposition of priests and learned professors, and had already, by actual discovery by his navigators, exploded the erroneous belief that the equator was impassable because of the extreme heat of the air and water. Columbus hoped to find employment in the prince's service, but Henry died soon after the Genoese arrived in Lisbon.

In the chapel of the Convent of All Saints at Lisbon, Columbus became acquainted with Felipa, daughter of Palestrello, an Italian cavalier, then dead, who had been one of the most trusted of Prince Henry's navigators. Mutual love led to marriage. The bride's mother placed in the hands of Columbus the papers of her husband, which opened to his mind a new field of contemplation and ambition.

The desire for making explorations in the western waters was powerfully stimulated by stories of vegetable productions. timber handsomely carved, and the bodies of two men with dusky skins, which had been washed ashore at the Azores from some unknown land in the west. These had actually been seen by Pedro Correo. a brother of the wife of Columbus. These things confirmed Columbus in his belief that the earth was a sphere, and that Asia might be reached by sailing westward from Europe. He laid plans for explorations, and, in 1474, communicated them to the learned Florentine cosmographer, Paul Toscanelli, who gave him an encouraging answer, and sent him a map constructed partly from Ptolemy's and partly from descriptions of Farther India by Marco Polo, a Venetian traveller who told of Cathay (China) and Zipango (Japan) in the twelfth century. In 1477, Columbus sailed northwest from Portugal beyond Iceland to lat. 73°, when pack-ice turned him back; and it is believed that he went southward as far as the coast of Guinea. Unable to fit out a vessel for himself, it is stated that he first applied for aid, but in vain, to the Genoese. With like ill-success he applied to King John of Portugal, who favored his suit, but priests and professors interposed controlling objections. The King, however, [251] sent a caravel ostensibly with provisions for the Cape Verde Islands, but with secret instructions to the commander to pursue a course westward indicated by Columbus. The fears of the mariners caused them to

Christopher Columbus.

turn back from the threatenings of the turbulent Atlantic.

Disgusted with this pitiful trick, reduced to poverty, and having lost his wife, he determined to leave Portugal and ask aid from elsewhere. With his son Diego, he left Lisbon for Spain secretly in 1484, while his brother Bartholomew prepared to go to England to ask aid for the projected enterprise from Henry VII. Genoa again declined to help him; so also did Venice; and he applied to the powerful and wealthy Spanish dukes of Medina-Sidonia [252] and Medina-Celi. They declined, but the latter recommended the project to Queen Isabella, then with her Court at Cordova, who requested the navigator to be sent to her. In that city he became attached to Donna Beatrice Enriques, by whom he had a son, Ferdinand, born in 1487, who became the biographer of his father. It was an inauspicious moment for Columbus to lay his projects before the Spanish monarchs, for their courts were moving from place to place, in troublous times, surrounded by the din and pageantry of war. But at Salamanca he was introduced to King Ferdinand by Mendoza, Archbishop of Toledo and Grand Cardiral of Spain.

A council of astronomers and cosmographers was assembled at Salamanca to consider the project. They decided that the scheme was visionary, unscriptural, and irreligious, and the navigator was in danger of arraignment before the tribunal of the Inquisition. For seven years longer the patient navigator waited, while the

Columbus before the council.

Spanish monarchs were engaged with the Moors in Granada, during which time Columbus served in the army as a volunteer. Meanwhile the King of Portugal had invited him (1488) to return, and Henry VII. had also invited him by letter to come to the Court of England, giving him encouraging promises of aid. But Ferdinand and Isabella treated him kindly, and he remained in Spain until 1491, when he set out to lay his projects before Charles VIII. of France. On his way, at the close of a beautiful October day, he stopped at the gate of the Franciscan monastery of Santa Maria de Rabida, near the port of Palos, in Andalusia, and asked for refreshment for his boy, Diego. The prior of the convent, Juan Perez de Marchena, became interested in the conversation of the stranger, and he invited him to remain as his guest. To him Columbus unfolded his plans. Alonzo Pinzon and other eminent navigators at Palos, with scientific men, were invited to the convent to confer with Columbus, and Pinzon offered to furnish and command a ship for explorations. Marchena, who had been Queen Isabella's confessor, wrote to her, asking an interview with her for Columbus. It was granted. Marchena rode to the camp of the monarchs at Santa Fe, when the Queen sent a little more than $200 to Columbus to enable him to appear decently at Court. He explained his project to the sovereigns. He had already, by the operations of a poetic temperament, regarded himself as a preordained gospel-bearer to the heathen of unknown lands. His name implied it— “Christ-bearer” — and hearing that the Sultan of Egypt intended to destroy the sepulchre of Jesus, he recorded a vow that he would devote the proceeds of his explorations to the rescue of that holy place [253]

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