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Discovery of America.—Abridged from ROBERTSON. On Friday, the third day of August, in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two, Columbus set sail from Palos, in Spain, a little before sunrise, in presence of a vast crowd of spectators, who sent up their supplications to heaven for the prosperous issue of the voyage; which they wished, rather than expected.
His squadron, if it merit that name, consisted of no more than three small vessels,—the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nigna,--having on board ninety men, mostly sailors, together with a few adventurers, who followed the fortune of Columbus, and some gentlemen of the Spanish court whom the queen appointed to accompany him.
He steered directly for the Cănāry Islands; from which, after refitting his ships, and supplying himself with fresh provisions, he took his departure on the sixth day of September. Here the voyage of discovery may properly be said to have begun; for Columbus, holding his course due west, left immediately the usual track of navigation, and stretched into unfrequent'ed and unknown seas.
The first day, as it was very calm, he made but little way; but, on the second, he lost sight of the Canaries; and many of the sailors, already dejected and dismayed, when they contemplated the boldness of the undertaking, began to beat their breasts, and to shed tears, as if they were never more to behold land. Columbus comforted them with assurances of success, and the prospect of vast wealth in those opulent regions, whither he was conducting them.
This early discovery of the spirit of his followers taught Columbus that he must prepare to struggle, not only with the
unavoidable difficulties which might be expected from the nature of his undertaking, but with such as were likely to arise from the ignorance and timidity of the people under his command ; and he perceived, that the art of governing the minds of men would be no less requisite for accomplishing the discoveries, which he had in view, than naval skill and an enterprising courage.
Happily for himself, and for the country by which he was employed, he joined to the ardent temper and inventive genius of a projector, virtues of another species, which are rarely united with them. He possessed a thorough knowledge of mankind, an insinuating address, a patient perseverance in executing any plan, the perfect government of his own passions, and the talent of acquiring the direction of those of other men.
All these qualities, which formed him for command, were accompanied with that superior knowledge of his profession which begets confidence, in times of difficulty and danger. To unskilful Spanish sailors, accustomed only to coasting voyages in the Mediterranean, the maritime science of Columbus, the fruit of thirty years' experience, appeared im
As soon as they put to sea, he regulated every thing by his sole authority; he superintended the execution of every order, and, allowing himself only a few hours for sleep, he was, at all other times, upon deck.
, As his course lay through seas which had not been visited before, the sounding line, or instruments for observation, were continually in his hands. He attended to the motion of the tides and currents, watched the flight of birds, the appearance of fishes, of sea-weeds, and of every thing that floated on the waves, and accurately noted every occurrence in a journal that he kept.
By the fourteenth day of September, the fleet was above two hundred leagues to the west of the Canary Isles, a greater distance from land than any Spaniard had ever been before that time. Here the sailors were struck with an appearance no less astonishing than new. They observed that the magnetic needle, in their compasses, did not point exactly to the north star, but varied towards the west.
This appearance, which is now familiar, filled the companions of Columbus with terror. They were in an ocean boundless and unknown, nature itself seemed to be altered, and the only guide, which they had left, was about to fail them. Columbus, with no less quickness than ingenuity, invented
a reason for this appearance, which, though it did not satisfy himself, seemed so plausible to them, that it dispelled their fears, and silenced their murmurs.
On the first of October, they were about seven hundred and seventy leagues west of the Canaries. They had now been above three weeks at sea : all their prognostics of discovery, drawn from the flight of birds, and other circumstances, had proved fallacious, and their prospect of success seemed now to be as distant as ever. The spirit of discontent and of mutiny began to manifest itself among the sailors, and, by degrees, the contagion spread from ship to ship.
All agreed, that Columbus should be compelled, by force, to return, while their crazy vessels were yet in a condition to keep the sea; and some even proposed to throw him overboard, as the most expeditious method of getting rid of his remonstrances, and of securing a seasonable return to their native land.
Columbus was fully sensible of his perilous situation. He perceived that it would be of no avail to have recourse to any of his former expedients, to lead on the hopes of his companions, and that it was impossible to rekindle any zeal for the success of the expedition, among men, in whose breasts fear had extinguished every generous sentiment.
He found it necessary to soothe passions, which he could no longer command, and to give way to a torrent too impetuous to be checked. He accordingly promised his men, that he would comply with their request, provided they would accompany him, and obey his commands, for three days longer; and if, during that time, land were not disco vered, he would then abandon the enterprise, and direct his course towards Spain.
Enraged as the sailors were, and impatient as they were of returning to their native country, this proposition did not appear to them unreasonable : nor did Columbus hazard much in confining himself to a time so short; for the près'ages of discovering land had become so numerous and promising, that he deemed them infallible.
For some days, the sounding line had reached the bottom; and the soil, which it brought up, indicated land to be at no great distance. The ks of birds increased, and were composed not only of sea-fowl, but of such land birds as could not be supposed to fly far from the shore.
The crew of the Pinta observed a cane floating, which seemed to have been newly cut, and likewise a piece of timber, artificially carved. The sailors aboard the Nign:
took up the branch of a tree, with red berries, perfectly fresh. The clouds, around the setting sun, assumed a new appearance; the air was more mild and warm; and, during night, the wind became unequal and variable.
From all these symptoms, Columbus was so confident of being near land, that on the evening of the eleventh of October, after public prayers for success, he ordered the sails to be furled, and strict watch to be kept, lest the ship should be driven ashore in the night. During this interval of suspense and expectation, no man shut his eyes; all kept upon deck, gazing intently towards that quarter where they expected to discover the land, which had been so long the object of their wishes.
About two hours before midnight, Columbus, standing on the forecastle, observed a light at a distance, and privately pointed it out to two of his people. All three saw it in motion, as if it were carried from place to place. A little after midnight, the joyful sound of Land ! land! was heard from the Pinta. But, having been so often deceived by fallacious appearances, they had now become slow of belief, and waited, in all the auguish of uncertainty and impatience, for the return of day.
As soon as morning dawned, their doubts and fears were dispelled. They beheld an island about two leagues to the north, whose flat and verdant fields, well stored with wood, and watered with many rivulets, presented to them the aspect of a delightful country. The crew of the Pinta instantly began a hymn of thanksgiving to God, and were joined, by those of the other ships, with tears of joy, and iransports of congratulation.
This office of gratitude to Heaven was followed by an act of justice to their commander.' They threw themselves at the feet of Columbus, with feelings of self-condemnation, mingled with reverence. They implored him to pardou their ignorance, incredulity, and insolence, which had created him so much unnecessary disquiet, and had so often obstructed the prosecution of his well-concerted plan; and passing, in the warmth of their admiration, from one extreme to another, they now pronounced the man, whom they had so lately reviled and threatened, to be a person inspired, by Heaven, with sagacity and fortitude more than human, in order to accomplish a design so far beyond the ideas and conceptions of all former ages.
As soon as the sun arose, all the boats were manned and armed. They rowed towards the island with their colours
displayed, warlike music, and other martial pomp; and, as they approached the coast, they saw it covered with a multitude of people, whom the novelty of the spectacle had drawn together, and whose attitudes and gestures expressed wonder and astonishment at the strange objects which presented themselves to their view.
Columbus was the first Europēan who set foot in the New World which he had discovered. He landed in a rich dress, and with a naked sword in his hand. His men followed, and, kneeling down, they all kissed the ground which they had long desired to see.
They next erected a crucifix, and, prostrating themselves before it, returned thanks to God for conducting their voyage to such a happy issue. They then took solemn possession of the country for the crown of Castile and Leon, with all the formalities with which the Portuguese were accustomed to take possession of their new discoveries:
The Spaniards, while thus employed, were surrounded by many of the natives, who gazed, in silent admiration, upon actions which they could not comprehend, and of which they did not foresee the consequences. The dress of the Spaniards, the whiteness of their skins, their beards, their arms, appeared strange and surprising.
The vast machines, in which they had traversed the ocean, that seemed to move upon the water with wings, and uttered a dreadful sound, resembling thunder, accompanied with lightning and smoke, struck them with such terror, that they began to respect their new guests as a superior order of beings, and concluded that they were children of the sun, who had descended to visit the earth.
The Europeans were hardly less amazed at the scene now before them. Every herb, and shrub, and tree, was different from those which flourished in Europe. The soil seemed to be rich, but bore few marks of cultivation. The climate, even to Spaniards, felt warm, though extremely delightful.
The inhabitants were entirely naked: their black hair, long and uncurled, floated upon their shoulders, or was bound in tresses around their heads : they had no beards; their complexion was of a dusky copper a colour their features singular, rather than disagreeable; their aspect gentle and timid.
Though not tall, they were well shaped and active Their faces, and other parts of their body, were fantasti.