Christopher Columbus by Filson Young, entire
Filson Young

Part 8 out of 8

diligently, to see that no one goes yonder to the Indies without
licence. I have already said that there is a great deal of gold
collected in straw houses without any means of defence, and there
are many disorderly people in the country, and that the Governor is
hated, and that little punishment is inflicted and has been
inflicted upon those who have committed crimes and have come out
with their treasonable conduct approved.

"If his Highness decides to make some provision, it must be done at
once, so that these vessels may not be injured.

"I have heard that three Bishops are to be elected and sent to
Espanola. If it pleases his Highness to hear me before concluding
this matter, I will tell in what manner God our Lord may be well
served and his Highness served and satisfied.

"I have given lengthy consideration to the provision for Espanola:"

Yes, the Queen is in His Holy Glory, and beyond the desires of this rough
and wearisome world; but we are not; we are still in a world where fifty
thousand gold pieces can be of use to us, and where a word spoken in
season, even in such a season of darkness, may have its effect with the
King. A strange time to talk to the King about gold; and perhaps Diego
was wiser and kinder than his father thought in not immediately taking
this strange document to King Ferdinand.

Letter written by CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS to DON DIEGO, his Son,
December 13, 1504

"VERY DEAR SON,--It is now eight days since your uncle and your
brother and Carbajal left here together, to kiss the royal hands of
his Highness, and to give an account of the voyage, and also to aid
you in the negotiation of whatever may prove to be necessary there.

"Don Ferdinand took from here 150 ducats to be expended at his
discretion. He will have to spend some of it, but he will give you
what he has remaining. He also carries a letter of credit for these
merchants. You will see that it is very necessary to be careful in
dealing with them, because I had trouble there with the Governor, as
every one told me that I had there 11,000 or 12,000 castellanos, and
I had only 4000. He wished to charge me with things for which I am
not indebted, and I, confiding in the promise of their Highnesses,
who ordered everything restored to me, decided to leave these
charges in the hope of calling him to account for them. If any one
has money there, they do not dare ask for it, on account of his
haughtiness. I very well know that after my departure he must have
received more than 5000 castellanos. If it were possible for you to
obtain from his Highness an authoritative letter to the Governor,
ordering him to send the money without delay and a full account of
what belongs to me, by the person I might send there with my power
of attorney, it would be well; because he will not give it in any
other manner, neither to my friend Diaz or Velasquez, and they dare
not even speak of it to him. Carbajal will very well know how this
must be done. Let him see this letter. The 150 ducats which Luis
de Soria sent you when I came are paid according to his desire.

"I wrote you at length and sent the letter by Don Ferdinand, also a
memorandum. Now that I have thought over the matter further, I say
that, since at the time of my departure their Highnesses said over
their signature and verbally, that they would give me all that
belongs to me, according to my privileges--that the claim for the
third or the tenth and eighth mentioned in the memorandum must be
relinquished, and instead the chapter of their letter must be shown
where they write what I have said, and all that belongs to me must
be required, as you have it in writing in the Book of Privileges, in
which is also set forth the reason for my receiving the third,
eighth, and tenth; as there is always an opportunity to reduce the
sum desired by a person, although his Highness says in his letter
that he wishes to give me all that belongs to me. Carbajal will
understand me very well if he sees this letter, and every one else
as well, as it is very clear. I also wrote to his Highness and
finally reminded him that he must provide at once for this affair of
the Indies, that the people there may not be disturbed, and also
reminding him of the promise stated above. You ought to see the

"With this letter I send you another letter of credit for the said
merchants. I have already explained to you the reasons why expenses
should be moderated. Show your uncle due respect, and treat your
brother as an elder brother should treat a younger. You have no
other brother, and praised be our Lord, he is such a one as you need
very much. He has proved and proves to be very intelligent. Honour
Carbajal and Jeronimo and Diego Mendez. Commend me to them all. I
do not write them as there is nothing to write and this messenger is
in haste. It is frequently rumoured here that the Queen, whom God
has, has left an order that I be restored to the possession of the
Indies. On arrival, the notary of the fleet will send you the
records and the original of the case of the Porras brothers. I have
received no news from your uncle and brother since they left. The
water has been so high here that the river entered the city.

"If Agostin Italian and Francisco de Grimaldo do not wish to give
you the money you need, look for others there who are willing to
give it to you. On the arrival here of your signature I will at
once pay them all that you have received: for at present there is
not a person here by whom I can send you money.

"Done to-day, Friday, December 13, 1504

"Your father who loves you more than himself.


Letter written by CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS to his Son, DON DIEGO,
December 21, 1504.

"VERY DEAR SON, The Lord Adelantado and your brother and Carbajal
left here sixteen days ago to go to the Court. They have not
written me since. Don Ferdinand carried 150 ducats. He must spend
what is necessary, and he carries a letter, that the merchants may
furnish you with money. I have sent you another letter since, with
the endorsement of Francisco de Ribarol, by Zamora, the courier, and
told you that if you had made provision for yourself by means of my
letter, not to use that of Francisco de Ribarol. I say the same now
in regard to another letter which I send you with this one, for
Francisco Doria, which letter I send you for greater security that
you may not fail to be provided with money. I have already told you
how necessary it is to be careful in the expenditure of the money,
until their Highnesses give us law and justice. I also told you
that I had spent 1200 castellanos in bringing these people to
Castile, of which his Highness owes me the greater part, and I wrote
him in regard to it asking him to order the account settled.

"If possible I should like to receive letters here each day. I
complain of Diego Mendez and of Jeronimo, as they do not write me:
and then of the others who do not write when they arrive there. We
must strive to learn whether the Queen, whom God has in His keeping,
said anything about me in her will, and we must hurry the Lord
Bishop of Palencia, who caused the possession of the Indies by their
Highnesses and my remaining in Castile, for I was already on my way
to leave it. And the Lord Chamberlain of his Highness must also be
hurried. If by chance the affair comes to discussion, you must
strive to have them see the writing which is in the Book of
Privileges, which shows the reason why the third, eighth, and tenth
are owing me, as I told you in another letter.

"I have written to the Holy Father in regard to my voyage, as he
complained of me because I did not write him. I send you a copy of
the letter. I would like to have the King, our Lord, or the Lord
Bishop of Palencia see it before I send the letter, in order to
avoid false representations.

"Camacho has told a thousand falsehoods about me. To my regret I
ordered him arrested. He is in the church. He says that after the
Holidays are past, he will go there if he is able. If I owe him, he
must show by what reason; for I make oath that I do not know it, nor
is it true.

"If without importunity a licence can be procured for me to go on
mule-back, I will try to leave for the Court after January, and I
will even go without this licence. But haste must be made that the
loss of the Indies, which is now imminent, may not take place. May
our Lord have you in His keeping.

"Done to-day, December 21.

"Your father who loves you more than himself.


"This tenth which they give me is not the tenth which was promised
me. The Privileges tell what it is, and there is also due me the
tenth of the profit derived from merchandise and from all other
things, of which I have received nothing. Carbajal understands me
well. Also remind Carbajal to obtain a letter from his Highness for
the Governor, directing him to send his accounts and the money I
have there, at once. And it would be well that a Repostero of his
Highness should go there to receive this money, as there must be a
large amount due me. I will strive to have these gentlemen of the
Board of Trade send also to say to the Governor that he must send my
share together with the gold belonging to their Highnesses. But the
remedy for the other matter must not be neglected there on this
account. I say that 7000 or 8000 pesos must have passed to my
credit there, which sum has been received since I left, besides the
other money which was not given to me.

"To my very dear son Don Diego at the Court."

All this struggling for the due payment of eighths and tenths makes
wearisome reading, and we need not follow the Admiral into his
distinctions between one kind of tenth and another. There is something
to be said on his side, it must be remembered; the man had not received
what was due to him; and although he was not in actual poverty, his only
property in this world consisted of these very thirds and eighths and
tenths. But if we are inclined to think poorly of the Admiral for his
dismal pertinacity, what are we to think of the people who took advantage
of their high position to ignore consistently the just claims made upon

There is no end to the Admiral's letter-writing at this time.
Fortunately for us his letter to the Pope has been lost, or else we
should have to insert it here; and we have had quite enough of his
theological stupors. As for the Queen's will, there was no mention of
the Admiral in it; and her only reference to the Indies showed that she
had begun to realise some of the disasters following his rule there, for
the provisions that are concerned with the New World refer exclusively to
the treatment of the natives, to whose succour, long after they were past
succour, the hand of Isabella was stretched out from the grave. The
licence to travel on mule-back which the Admiral asked for was made
necessary by a law which had been passed forbidding the use of mules for
this purpose throughout Spain. There had been a scarcity of horses for
mounting the royal cavalry, and it was thought that the breeding of
horses had been neglected on account of the greater cheapness and utility
of mules. It was to encourage the use and breeding of horses that an
interdict was laid on the use of mules, and only the very highest persons
in the land were allowed to employ them.

Letter written by CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS to his Son, DON DIEGO,
December 29, 1504.

"VERY DEAR SON,--I wrote you at length and sent it by Don Ferdinand,
who left to go yonder twenty-three days ago to-day, with the Lord
Adelantado and Carbajal, from whom I have since heard nothing.
Sixteen days ago to-day I wrote you and sent it by Zamora, the
courier, and I sent you a letter of credit for these merchants
endorsed by Francisco de Ribarol, telling them to give you the money
you might ask for. And then, about eight days ago, I sent you by
another courier a letter endorsed by Francisco Soria, and these
letters are directed to Pantaleon and Agostin Italian, that they may
give it to you. And with these letters goes a copy of a letter
which I wrote to the Holy Father in regard to the affairs of the
Indies, that he might not complain of me any more. I sent this copy
for his Highness to see, or the Lord Bishop of Palencia, so as to
avoid false representations. The payment of the people who went
with me has been delayed. I have provided for them here what I have
been able. They are poor and obliged to go in order to earn a
living. They decided to go yonder. They have been told here that
they will be dealt with as favourably as possible, and this is
right, although among them there are some who merit punishment more
than favours. This is said of the rebels. I gave these people a
letter for the Lord Bishop of Palencia. Read it, and if it is
necessary for them to go and petition his Highness, urge your uncle
and brother and Carbajal to read it also, so that you can all help
them as much as possible. It is right and a work of mercy, for no
one ever earned money with so many dangers and hardships and no one
has ever rendered such great service as these people. It is said
that Camacho and Master Bernal wish to go there--two creatures for
whom God works few miracles: but if they go, it will be to do harm
rather than good. They can do little because the truth always
prevails, as it did in Espanola, from which wicked people by means
of falsehoods have prevented any profit being received up to the
present time. It is said that this Master Bernal was the beginning
of the treason. He was taken and accused of many misdemeanours,
for each one of which he deserved to be quartered. At the request
of your uncle and of others he was pardoned, on condition that if he
ever said the least word against me and my state the pardon should
be revoked and he should be under condemnation. I send you a copy
of the case in this letter. I send you a legal document about
Camacho. For more than eight days he has not left the church on
account of his rash statements and falsehoods. He has a will made
by Terreros, and other relatives of the latter have another will of
more recent date, which renders the first will null, as far as the
inheritance is concerned: and I am entreated to enforce the latter
will, so that Camacho will be obliged to restore what he has
received. I shall order a legal document drawn up and served upon
him, because I believe it is a work of mercy to punish him, as he is
so unbridled in his speech that some one must punish him without the
rod: and it will not be so much against the conscience of the
chastiser, and will injure him more. Diego Mendez knows Master
Bernal and his works very well. The Governor wished to imprison him
at Espanola and left him to my consideration. It is said that he
killed two men there with medicines in revenge for something of less
account than three beans. I would be glad of the licence to travel
on muleback and of a good mule, if they can be obtained without
difficulty. Consult all about our affairs, and tell them that I do
not write them in particular on account of the great pain I feel
when writing. I do not say that they must do the same, but that
each one must write me and very often, for I feel great sorrow that
all the world should have letters from there each day, and I have
nothing, when I have so many people there. Commend me to the Lord
Adelantado in his favour, and give my regards to your brother and to
all the others.

"Done at Seville, December 29.

"Your father who loves you more than himself.


"I say further that if our affairs are to be settled according to
conscience, that the chapter of the letter which their Highnesses wrote
me when I departed, in which they say they will order you placed in
possession, must be shown; and the writing must also be shown which is in
the Book of Privileges, which shows how in reason and in justice the
third and eighth and the tenth are mine. There will always be
opportunity to make reductions from this amount."

Columbus's requests were not all for himself; nothing could be more
sincere or generous than the spirit in which he always strove to secure
the just payment of his mariners.

Otherwise he is still concerned with the favour shown to those who were
treasonable to him. Camacho was still hiding in a church, probably from
the wrath of Bartholomew Columbus; but Christopher has more subtle ways
of punishment. A legal document, he considers, will be better than a
rod; "it will not be so much against the conscience of the chastiser, and
will injure him (the chastised) more."

Letter written by CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS to DON DIEGO, his Son,
January 18, 1505.

"VERY DEAR SON,--I wrote you at length by the courier who will
arrive there to-day, and sent you a letter for the Lord Chamberlain.
I intended to inclose in it a copy of that chapter of the letter
from their Highnesses in which they say they will order you placed
in possession; but I forgot to do it here. Zamora, the courier,
came. I read your letter and also those of your uncle and brother
and Carbajal, and felt great pleasure in learning that they had
arrived well, as I had been very anxious about them. Diego Mendez
will leave here in three or four days with the order of payment
prepared. He will take a long statement of everything and I will
write to Juan Velasquez. I desire his friendship and service. I
believe that he is a very honourable gentleman. If the Lord Bishop
of Palencia has come, or comes, tell him how much pleased I have
been with his prosperity, and that if I go there I must stop with
his Worship even if he does not wish it, and that we must return to
our first fraternal love. And that he could not refuse it because
my service will force him to have it thus. I said that the letter
for the Holy Father was sent that his Worship might see it if he was
there, and also the Lord Archbishop of Seville, as the King might
not have opportunity to read it. I have already told you that the
petition to their Highnesses must be for the fulfilment of what they
wrote me about the possession and of the rest which was promised me.
I said that this chapter of the letter must be shown them and said
that it must not be delayed, and that this is advisable for an
infinite number of reasons. His Highness may believe that, however
much he gives me, the increase of his exalted dominions and revenue
will be in the proportion of 100 to 1, and that there is no
comparison between what has been done and what is to be done. The
sending of a Bishop to Espanola must be delayed until I speak to his
Highness. It must not be as in the other cases when it was thought
to mend matters and they were spoiled. There have been some cold
days here and they have caused me great fatigue and fatigue me now.
Commend me to the favour of the Lord Adelantado. May our Lord guard
and bless you and your brother. Give my regards to Carbajal and
Jeronimo. Diego Mendez will carry a full pouch there. I believe
that the affair of which you wrote can be very easily managed. The
vessels from the Indies have not arrived from Lisbon. They brought
a great deal of gold, and none for me. So great a mockery was never
seen, for I left there 60,000 pesos smelted. His Highness should
not allow so great an affair to be ruined, as is now taking place.
He now sends to the Governor a new provision. I do not know what it
is about. I expect letters each day. Be very careful about
expenditures, for it is necessary.

"Done January 18.
"Your father who loves you more than himself.

There is playful reference here to Fonseca, with whom Columbus was
evidently now reconciled; and he was to be buttonholed and made to read
the Admiral's letter to the Pope. Diego Mendez is about to start, and is
to make a "long statement"; and in the meantime the Admiral will write as
many long letters as he has time for. Was there no friend at hand, I
wonder, with wit enough to tell the Admiral that every word he wrote
about his grievances was sealing his doom, so far as the King was
concerned.? No human being could have endured with patience this
continuous heavy firing at long range to which the Admiral subjected his
friends at Court; every post that arrived was loaded with a shrapnel of
grievances, the dull echo of which must have made the ears of those who
heard it echo with weariness. Things were evidently humming in Espanola;
large cargoes of negroes had been sent out to take the place of the dead
natives, and under the harsh driving of Ovando the mines were producing
heavily. The vessels that arrived from the Indies brought a great deal
of gold; "but none for me."

Letter written by CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS to his Son, DON DIEGO,
February 5, 1505.

"VERY DEAR SON,--Diego Mendez left here Monday, the 3rd of this
month. After his departure I talked with Amerigo Vespucci, the
bearer of this letter, who is going yonder, where he is called in
regard to matters of navigation. He was always desirous of pleasing
me. He is a very honourable man. Fortune has been adverse to him
as it has been to many others. His labours have not profited him as
much as reason demands. He goes for me, and is very desirous of
doing something to benefit me if it is in his power. I do not know
of anything in which I can instruct him to my benefit, because I do
not know what is wanted of him there. He is going with the
determination to do everything for me in his power. See what he can
do to profit me there, and strive to have him do it; for he will do
everything, and will speak and will place it in operation: and it
must all be done secretly so that there may be no suspicion.

"I have told him all that could be told regarding this matter, and
have informed him of the payment which has been made to me and is
being made. This letter is for the Lord Adelantado also, that he
may see how Amerigo Vespucci can be useful, and advise him about it.
His Highness may believe that his ships went to the best and richest
of the Indies, and if anything remains to be learned more than has
been told, I will give the information yonder verbally, because it
is impossible to give it in writing. May our Lord have you in his
Holy keeping.

"Done in Seville, February 5.

"Your father who loves you more than himself.

This letter has a significance which raises it out of the ruck of this
complaining correspondence. Amerigo Vespucci had just returned from his
long voyage in the West, when he had navigated along an immense stretch
of the coast of America, both north and south, and had laid the
foundations of a fame which was, for a time at least, to eclipse that of
Columbus. Probably neither of the two men realised it at this interview,
or Columbus would hardly have felt so cordially towards the man who was
destined to rob him of so much glory. As a matter of fact the practical
Spaniards were now judging entirely by results; and a year or two later,
when the fame of Columbus had sunk to insignificance, he was merely
referred to as the discoverer of certain islands, while Vespucci, who
after all had only followed in his lead, was hailed as the discoverer of
a great continent. Vespucci has been unjustly blamed for this state of
affairs, although he could no more control the public estimate of his
services than Columbus could. He was a more practical man than Columbus,
and he made a much better impression on really wise and intelligent men;
and his discoveries were immediately associated with trade and colonial
development, while Columbus had little to show for his discoveries during
his lifetime but a handful of gold dust and a few cargoes of slaves. At
any rate it was a graceful act on the part of Vespucci, whose star was in
the ascendant, to go and seek out the Admiral, whose day was fast verging
to night; it was one of those disinterested actions that live and have a
value of their own, and that shine out happily amid the surrounding murk
and confusion.

Letter signed by CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS to DON DIEGO, his Son,
February 25, 1505.

"VERY DEAR SON,--The Licientiate de Zea is a person whom I desire to
honour. He has in his charge two men who are under prosecution at
the hands of justice, as shown by the information which is inclosed
in this letter. See that Diego Mendez places the said petition with
the others, that they may be given to his Highness during Holy Week
for pardon. If the pardon is granted, it is well, and if not, look
for some other manner of obtaining it. May our Lord have you in His
Holy keeping. Done in Seville, February 25, 1505. I wrote you and
sent it by Amerigo Vespucci. See that he sends you the letter
unless you have already received it.

"Your father.
Xpo FERENS.//"

This is the last letter of Columbus known to us otherwise an entirely
unimportant document, dealing with the most transient affairs. With it
we gladly bring to an end this exposure of a greedy and querulous period,
which speaks so eloquently for itself that the less we say and comment on
it the better.

In the month of May the Admiral was well enough at last to undertake the
journey to Segovia. He travelled on a mule, and was accompanied by his
brother Bartholomew and his son Ferdinand. When he reached the Court he
found the King civil and outwardly attentive to his recitals, but
apparently content with a show of civility and outward attention.
Columbus was becoming really a nuisance; that is the melancholy truth.
The King had his own affairs to attend to; he was already meditating a
second marriage, and thinking of the young bride he was to bring home to
the vacant place of Isabella; and the very iteration of Columbus's
complaints and demands had made them lose all significance for the King.
He waved them aside with polite and empty promises, as people do the
demands of importunate children; and finally, to appease the Admiral and
to get rid of the intolerable nuisance of his applications, he referred
the whole question, first to Archbishop DEA, and then to the body of
councillors which had been appointed to interpret Queen Isabella's will.
The whole question at issue was whether or not the original agreement
with Columbus, which had been made before his discoveries, should be
carried out. The King, who had foolishly subscribed to it simply as a
matter of form, never believing that anything much could come of it, was
determined that it should not be carried out, as it would give Columbus a
wealth and power to which no mere subject of a crown was entitled. The
Admiral held fast to his privileges; the only thing that he would consent
to submit to arbitration was the question of his revenues; but his titles
and territorial authorities he absolutely stuck to. Of course the
council did exactly what the King had done. They talked about the thing
a great deal, but they did nothing. Columbus was an invalid and broken
man, who might die any day, and it was obviously to their interest to
gain time by discussion and delay--a cruel game for our Christopher, who
knew his days on earth to be numbered, and who struggled in that web of
time in which mortals try to hurry the events of the present and delay
the events of the future. Meanwhile Philip of Austria and his wife
Juana, Isabella's daughter, had arrived from Flanders to assume the crown
of Castile, which Isabella had bequeathed to them. Columbus saw a chance
for himself in this coming change, and he sent Bartholomew as an envoy to
greet the new Sovereigns, and to enlist their services on the Admiral's
behalf. Bartholomew was very well received, but he was too late to be of
use to the Admiral, whom he never saw again; and this is our farewell to
Bartholomew, who passes out of our narrative here. He went to Rome after
Christopher's death on a mission to the Pope concerning some fresh
voyages of discovery; and in 1508 he made, so far as we know, his one
excursion into romance, when he assisted at the production of an
illegitimate little girl--his only descendant. He returned to Espanola
under the governorship of his nephew Diego, and died there in 1514--
stern, valiant, brotherly soul, whose devotion to Christopher must be for
ever remembered and honoured with the name of the Admiral.

From Segovia Columbus followed the Court to Salamanca and thence to
Valladolid, where his increasing illness kept him a prisoner after the
Court had left to greet Philip and Juana. He had been in attendance upon
it for nearly a year, and without any results: and now, as his infirmity
increased, he turned to the settling of his own affairs, and drawing up
of wills and codicils--all very elaborate and precise. In these
occupations his worldly affairs were duly rounded off; and on May 19,
1506, having finally ratified a will which he had made in Segovia a year
before, in which the descent of his honours was entailed upon Diego and
his heirs, or failing him Ferdinand and his heirs, or failing him
Bartholomew and his heirs, he turned to the settlement of his soul.

His illness had increased gradually but surely, and he must have known
that he was dying. He was not without friends, among them the faithful
Diego Mendez, his son Ferdinand, and a few others. His lodging was in a
small house in an unimportant street of Valladolid, now called the "Calle
de Colon"; the house, .No. 7, still standing, and to be seen by curious
eyes. As the end approached, the Admiral, who was being attended by
Franciscan monks, had himself clothed in a Franciscan habit; and so, on
the 20th May 1506, he lay upon his bed, breathing out his life.

. . . And as strange thoughts
Grow with a certain humming in my ears,
About the life before I lived this life,
And this life too, Popes, Cardinals, and priests,
Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes
And new-found agate urns fresh as day . . .

. . . we do not know what his thoughts were, as the shadows grew
deeper about him, as the sounds of the world, the noises from the sunny
street, grew fainter, and the images and sounds of memory clearer and
louder. Perhaps as he lay there with closed eyes he remembered things
long forgotten, as dying people do; sounds and smells of the Vico Dritto
di Ponticelli, and the feel of the hot paving-stones down which his
childish feet used to run to the sea; noises of the sea also, the
drowning swish of waters and sudden roar of breakers sounding to
anxiously strained ears in the still night; bright sunlit pictures of
faraway tropical shores, with handsome olive figures glistening in the
sun; the sight of strange faces, the sound of strange speech, the smell
of a strange land; the glitter of gold; the sudden death-shriek breaking
the stillness of some sylvan glade; the sight of blood on the grass . .
. . The Admiral's face undergoes a change; there is a stir in the room;
some one signs to the priest Gaspar, who brings forth his sacred wafer
and holy oils and administers the last sacraments. The wrinkled eyelids
flutter open, the sea-worn voice feebly frames the responses; the dying
eyes are fixed on the crucifix; and--"In manus tuas Domine commendo
spiritum meum." The Admiral is dead.

He was in his fifty-sixth year, already an old man in body and mind; and
his death went entirely unmarked except by his immediate circle of
friends. Even Peter Martyr, who was in Valladolid just before and just
after it, and who was writing a series of letters to various
correspondents giving all the news of his day, never thought it worth
while to mention that Christopher Columbus was dead. His life flickered
out in the completest obscurity. It is not even known where he was first
buried; but probably it was in the Franciscan convent at Valladolid.
This, however, was only a temporary resting-place; and a few years later
his body was formally interred in the choir of the monastery of Las
Cuevas at Seville, there to lie for thirty years surrounded by continual
chauntings. After that it was translated to the cathedral in San
Domingo; rested there for 250 years, and then, on the cession of that
part of the island to France, the body was removed to Cuba. But the
Admiral was by this time nothing but a box of bones and dust, as also
were brother Bartholomew and son Diego, and Diego's son, all collected
together in that place. There were various examinations of the bone-
boxes; one, supposed to be the Admiral's, was taken to Cuba and solemnly
buried there; and lately, after the conquest of the island in the
Spanish-American War, this box of bones was elaborately conveyed to
Seville, where it now rests.

But in the meanwhile the Chapter of the cathedral in San Domingo had made
new discoveries and examinations; had found another box of bones, which
bore to them authentic signs that the dust it contained was the Admiral's
and not his grandson's; and in spite of the Academy of History at Madrid,
it is indeed far from unlikely that the Admiral's dust does not lie in
Spain or Cuba, but in San Domingo still. Whole books have been written
about these boxes of bones; learned societies have argued about them,
experts have examined the bones and the boxes with microscopes; and
meantime the dust of Columbus, if we take the view that an error was
committed in the transference to Cuba, is not even collected all in one
box. A sacrilegious official acquired some of it when the boxes were
opened, and distributed it among various curiosity-hunters, who have
preserved it in caskets of crystal and silver. Thus a bit of him is worn
by an American lady in a crystal locket; a pinch of him lies
in a glass vial in a New York mansion; other pinches in the Lennox
Library, New York, in the Vatican, and in the University of Pavia. In
such places, if the Admiral should fail to appear at the first note of
their trumpets, must the Angels of the Resurrection make search.



It is not in any leaden box or crystal vase that we must search for the
true remains of Christopher Columbus. Through these pages we have
traced, so far as has been possible, the course of his life, and followed
him in what he did; all of which is but preparation for our search for
the true man, and just estimate of what he was. We have seen, dimly,
what his youth was; that he came of poor people who were of no importance
to the world at large; that he earned his living as a working man; that
he became possessed of an Idea; that he fought manfully and diligently
until he had realised it; and that then he found himself in a position
beyond his powers to deal with, not being a strong enough swimmer to hold
his own in the rapid tide of events which he himself had set flowing; and
we have seen him sinking at last in that tide, weighed down by the very
things for which he had bargained and stipulated. If these pages had
been devoted to a critical examination of the historical documents on
which his life-story is based we should also have found that he
continually told lies about himself, and misrepresented facts when the
truth proved inconvenient to him; that he was vain and boastful to a
degree that can only excite our compassion. He was naturally and
sincerely pious, and drew from his religion much strength and spiritual
nourishment; but he was also capable of hypocrisy, and of using the self-
same religion as a cloak for his greed and cruelty. What is the final
image that remains in our minds of such a man? To answer this question
we must examine his life in three dimensions. There was its great
outline of rise, zenith, and decline; there was its outward history in
minute detail, and its conduct in varying circumstances; and there was
the inner life of the man's soul, which was perhaps simpler than some of
us think. And first, as to his life as a single thing. It rose in
poverty, it reached a brief and dazzling zenith of glory, it set in
clouds and darkness; the fame of it suffered a long night of eclipse,
from which it was rescued and raised again to a height of glory which
unfortunately was in sufficiently founded on fact; and as a reaction from
this, it has been in danger of becoming entirely discredited, and the man
himself denounced as a fraud. The reason for these surprising changes is
that in those fifty-five years granted to Columbus for the making of his
life he did not consistently listen to that inner voice which alone can
hold a man on any constructive path. He listened to it at intervals, and
he drew his inspiration from it; but he shut his ears when it had served
him, when it had brought him what he wanted. In his moments of success
he guided himself by outward things; and thus he was at one moment a seer
and ready to be a martyr, and at the next moment he was an opportunist,
watching to see which way the wind would blow, and ready to trim his
sails in the necessary direction. Such conduct of a man's life does not
make for single light or for true greatness; rather for dim, confused
lights, and lofty heights obscured in cloud.

If we examine his life in detail we find this alternating principle of
conduct revealed throughout it. He was by nature clever, kind-hearted,
rather large-souled, affectionate, and not very honest; all the acts
prompted by his nature bear the stamp of these qualities. To them his
early years had probably added little except piety, sharp practice, and
that uncomfortable sense, often bred amid narrow and poor surroundings,
that one must keep a sharp look-out for oneself if one is to get a share
of the world's good things. Something in his blood, moreover, craved for
dignity and the splendour of high-sounding titles; craved for power also,
and the fulfilment of an arrogant pride. All these things were in his
Ligurian blood, and he breathed them in with the very air of Genoa. His
mind was of the receptive rather than of the constructive kind, and it
was probably through those long years spent between sea voyages and brief
sojourns with his family in Genoa or Savona that he conceived that vague
Idea which, as I have tried to show, formed the impulse of his life
during its brief initiative period. Having once received this Idea of
discovery and like all other great ideas, it was in the air at the time
and was bound to take shape in some human brain--he had all his native
and personal qualities to bring to its support. The patience to await
its course he had learned from his humble and subordinate life. The
ambition to work for great rewards was in his blood and race; and to
belief in himself, his curious vein of mystical piety was able to add the
support of a ready belief in divine selection. This very time of waiting
and endurance of disappointments also helped to cultivate in his
character two separate qualities--an endurance or ability to withstand
infinite hardship and disappointment; and also a greedy pride that
promised itself great rewards for whatever should be endured.

In all active matters Columbus was what we call a lucky man. It was luck
that brought him to Guanahani; and throughout his life this element of
good luck continually helped him. He was lucky, that is to say, in his
relation with inanimate things; but in his relations with men he was
almost as consistently unlucky. First of all he was probably a bad judge
of men. His humble origin and his lack of education naturally made him
distrustful. He trusted people whom he should have regarded with
suspicion, and he was suspicious of those whom he ought to have known he
could trust. If people pleased him, he elevated them with absurd
rapidity to stations far beyond their power to fill, and then wondered
that they sometimes turned upon him; if they committed crimes against
him, he either sought to regain their favour by forgiving them, or else
dogged them with a nagging, sulky resentment, and expected every one else
to punish them also. He could manage men if he were in the midst of
them; there was something winning as well as commanding about his actual
presence, and those who were devoted to him would have served him to the
death. But when he was not on the spot all his machineries and affairs
went to pieces; he had no true organising ability; no sooner did he take
his hand off any affair for which he was responsible than it immediately
came to confusion. All these defects are to be attributed to his lack of
education and knowledge of the world. Mental discipline is absolutely
necessary for a man who would discipline others; and knowledge of the
world is essential for one who would successfully deal with men, and
distinguish those whom he can from those whom he cannot trust. Defects
of this nature, which sometimes seem like flaws in the man's character,
may be set down to this one disability--that he was not educated and was
not by habit a man of the world.

All his sins of misgovernment, then, may be condoned on the ground that
governing is a science, and that Columbus had never learned it. What we
do find, however, is that the inner light that had led him across the
seas never burned clearly for him again, and was never his guide in the
later part of his life. Its radiance was quenched by the gleam of gold;
for there is no doubt that Columbus was a victim of that baleful
influence which has caused so much misery in this world. He was greedy
of gold for himself undoubtedly; but he was still more greedy of it for
Spain. It was his ambition to be the means of filling the coffers of the
Spanish Sovereigns and so acquiring immense dignity and glory for
himself. He believed that gold was in itself a very precious and
estimable thing; he knew that masses and candles could be bought for it,
and very real spiritual privileges; and as he made blunder after blunder,
and saw evil after evil heaping itself on his record in the New World, he
became the more eager and frantic to acquire such a treasure of gold that
it would wipe out the other evils of his administration. And once
involved in that circle, there was no help for him.

The man himself was a simple man; capable, when the whole of his various
qualities were directed upon one single thing, of that greatness which is
the crown of simplicity. Ambition was the keynote of his life; not an
unworthy keynote, by any means, if only the ambition be sound; but one
serious defect of Columbus's ambition was that it was retrospective
rather than perspective. He may have had, before he sailed from Palos,
an ambition to be the discoverer of a New World; but I do not think he
had. He believed there were islands or land to be discovered in the West
if only he pushed on far enough; and he was ambitious to find them and
vindicate his belief. Afterwards, when he had read a little more, and
when he conceived the plan of pretending that he had all along meant to
discover the Indies and a new road to the East, he acted in accordance
with that pretence; he tried to make his acts appear retrospectively as
though they had been prompted by a design quite different from that by
which they had really been prompted. When he found that his discovery
was regarded as a great scientific feat, he made haste to pretend that it
had all along been meant as such, and was in fact the outcome of an
elaborate scientific theory. In all this there is nothing for praise or
admiration. It indicates the presence of moral disease; but fortunately
it is functional rather than organic disease. He was right and sound at
heart; but he spread his sails too readily to the great winds of popular
favour, and the result was instability to himself, and often danger of
shipwreck to his soul.

The ultimate test of a man's character is how he behaves in certain
circumstances when there is no great audience to watch him, and when
there is no sovereign close at hand with bounties and rewards to offer.
In a word, what matters most is a man's behaviour, not as an admiral, or
a discoverer, or a viceroy, or a courtier, but as a man. In this respect
Columbus's character rings true. If he was little on little occasions,
he was also great on great occasions. The inner history of his fourth
voyage, if we could but know it and could take all the circumstances into
account, would probably reveal a degree of heroic endurance that has
never been surpassed in the history of mankind. Put him as a man face to
face with a difficulty, with nothing but his wits to devise with and his
two hands to act with, and he is never found wanting. And that is the
kind of man of whom discoverers are made. The mere mathematician may
work out the facts with the greatest accuracy and prove the existence of
land at a certain point; but there is great danger that he may be knocked
down by a club on his first landing on the beach, and never bring home
any news of his discovery. The great courtier may do well for himself
and keep smooth and politic relations with kings; the great administrator
may found a wonderful colony; but it is the man with the wits and the
hands, and some bigness of heart to tide him over daunting passages, that
wins through the first elementary risks of any great discovery. Properly
considered, Columbus's fame should rest simply on the answer to the
single question, "Did he discover new lands as he said he would?" That
was the greatest thing he could do, and the fact that he failed to do a
great many other things afterwards, failed the more conspicuously because
his attempts were so conspicuous, should have no effect on our estimate
of his achievement. The fame of it could no more be destroyed by himself
than it can be destroyed by us.

True understanding of a man and estimate of his character can only be
arrived at by methods at once more comprehensive and more subtle than
those commonly employed among men. Everything that he sees, does, and
suffers has its influence on the moulding of his character; and he must
be considered in relation to his physical environment, no less than to
his race and ancestry. Christopher Columbus spent a great part of his
active life on the sea; it was sea-life which inspired him with his great
Idea, it was by the conquest of the sea that he realised it; it was on
the sea that all his real triumphs over circumstance and his own weaker
self were won. The influences at work upon a man whose life is spent on
the sea are as different from those at work upon one who lives on the
fields as the environment of a gannet is different from the environment
of a skylark: and yet how often do we really attempt to make due
allowance for this great factor and try to estimate the extent of its
moulding influence?

To live within sound or sight of the sea is to be conscious of a voice or
countenance that holds you in unyielding bonds. The voice, being
continuous, creeps into the very pulses and becomes part of the pervading
sound or silence of a man's environment; and the face, although it never
regards him, holds him with its changes and occupies his mind with its
everlasting riddle. Its profound inattention to man is part of its power
over his imagination; for although it is so absorbed and busy, and has
regard for sun and stars and a melancholy frowning concentration upon the
foot of cliffs, it is never face to face with man: he can never come
within the focus of its great glancing vision. It is somewhere beyond
time and space that the mighty perspective of those focal rays comes to
its point; and they are so wide and eternal in their sweep that we should
find their end, could we but trace them, in a condition far different
from that in which our finite views and ethics have place. In the man
who lives much on the sea we always find, if he be articulate, something
of the dreamer and the mystic; that very condition of mind, indeed, which
we have traced in Columbus, which sometimes led him to such heights, and
sometimes brought him to such variance with the human code.

A face that will not look upon you can never give up its secret to you;
and the face of the sea is like the face of a picture or a statue round
which you may circle, looking at it from this point and from that, but
whose regard is fixed on something beyond and invisible to you; or it is
like the face of a person well known to you in life, a face which you
often see in various surroundings, from different angles, now
unconscious, now in animated and smiling intercourse with some one else,
but which never turns upon you the light of friendly knowledge and
recognition; in a word, it is unconscious of you, like all elemental
things. In the legend of the Creation it is written that when God saw
the gathering together of the waters which he called the Seas, he saw
that it was good; and he perhaps had the right to say so. But the man
who uses the sea and whose life's pathway is laid on its unstable surface
can hardly sum up his impressions of it so simply as to say that it is
good. It is indeed to him neither good nor bad; it is utterly beyond and
outside all he knows or invents of good and bad, and can never have any
concern with his good or his bad. It remains the pathway and territory
of powers and mysteries, thoughts and energies on a gigantic and
elemental scale; and that is why the mind of man can never grapple with
the unconsciousness of the sea or his eye meet its eye. Yet it is the
mariner's chief associate, whether as adversary or as ally; his attitude
to things outside himself is beyond all doubt influenced by his attitude
towards it; and a true comprehension of the man Columbus must include a
recognition of this constant influence on him, and of whatever effect
lifelong association with so profound and mysterious an element may have
had on his conduct in the world of men. Better than many documents as an
aid to our understanding of him would be intimate association with the
sea, and prolonged contemplation of that face with which he was so
familiar. We can never know the heart of it, but we can at least look
upon the face, turned from us though it is, upon which he looked. Cloud
shadows following a shimmer of sunlit ripples; lines and runes traced on
the surface of a blank calm; salt laughter of purple furrows with the
foam whipping off them; tides and eddies, whirls, overfalls, ripples,
breakers, seas mountains high-they are but movements and changing
expressions on an eternal countenance that once held his gaze and wonder,
as it will always hold the gaze and wonder of those who follow the sea.

So much of the man Christopher Columbus, who once was and no longer is;
perished, to the last bone and fibre of him, off the face of the earth,
and living now only by virtue of such truth as there was in him; who once
manfully, according to the light that he had, bore Christ on his
shoulders across stormy seas, and found him often, in that dim light, a
heavy and troublesome burden; who dropped light and burden together on
the shores of his discovery, and set going in that place of peace such a
conflagration as mankind is not likely to see again for many a
generation, if indeed ever again, in this much-tortured world, such
ancient peace find place.


Presence of the owner makes the horse fat
Spaniards sometimes hanged thirteen of them in a row
Spaniards undertook to teach the heathen the Christian religion
The cross and the sword, the whip-lash and the Gospel


Back to Full Books