The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (Vol. II)
Washington Irving

Part 7 out of 10

In remarking on the smallness of the vessels with which Columbus made his
first voyage, Dr. Bobertson observes, that, "in the fifteenth century, the
bulk and construction of vessels were accommodated to the short and easy
voyages along the coast, which they were accustomed to perform." We have
many proofs, however, that even anterior to the fifteenth century, there
were large ships employed by the Spaniards, as well as by other nations.
In an edict published in Barcelona, in 1354, by Pedro IV, enforcing
various regulations for the security of commerce, mention is made of
Catalonian merchant ships of two and three decks and from 8000 to 12,000
quintals burden.

In 1419, Alonzo of Aragon hired several merchant ships to transport
artillery, horses, etc., from Barcelona to Italy, among which were two,
each carrying one hundred and twenty horses, which it is computed would
require a vessel of at least 600 tons.

In 1463, mention is made of a Venetian ship of 700 tons which arrived at
Barcelona from England, laden with wheat.

In 1497, a Castilian vessel arrived there being of 12,000 quintals burden.
These arrivals, incidentally mentioned among others of similar size, as
happening at one port, show that large ships were in use in those days.
[329] Indeed, at the time of fitting out the second expedition of
Columbus, there were prepared in the port of Bermeo, a Caracca of 1250
tons, and four ships, of from 150 to 450 tons burden. Their destination,
however, was altered, and they were sent to convoy Muley Boabdil, the last
Moorish king of Granada, from the coast of his conquered territory to
Africa. [330]

It was not for want of large vessels in the Spanish ports, therefore, that
those of Columbus were of so small a size. He considered them best adapted
to voyages of discovery, as they required but little depth of water, and
therefore could more easily and safely coast unknown shores, and explore
bays and rivers. He had some purposely constructed of a very small size
for this service; such was the caravel, which in his third voyage he
dispatched to look out for an opening to the sea at the upper part of the
Gulf of Paria, when the water grew too shallow for his vessel of one
hundred tons burden.

The most singular circumstance with respect to the ships of Columbus is
that they should be open vessels; for it seems difficult to believe that a
voyage of such extent and peril should be attempted in barks of so frail a
construction. This, however, is expressly mentioned by Peter Martyr, in
his Decades written at the time; and mention is made occasionally, in the
memoirs relative to the voyages written by Columbus and his son, of
certain of his vessels being without decks. He sometimes speaks of the
same vessel as a ship, and a caravel. There has been some discussion of
late as to the precise meaning of the term caravel. The Chevalier Bossi,
in his dissertations on Columbus, observes, that in the Mediterranean,
caravel designates the largest class of ships of war among the Mussulmans,
and that in Portugal, it means a small vessel of from 120 to 140 tons
burden; but Columbus sometimes applies it to a vessel of forty tons.

Du Cange, in his glossary, considers it a word of Italian origin. Bossi
thinks it either Turkish or Arabic, and probably introduced into the
European languages by the Moors. Mr. Edward Everett, in a note to his
Plymouth oration, considers that the true origin of the word is given in
"Ferrarii Origines Linguae Italicae," as follows: "Caravela, navigii
minoris genus. Lat. Carabus: Grsece Karabron."

That the word caravel was intended to signify a vessel of a small size is
evident from a naval classification made by king Alonzo in the middle of
the thirteenth century. In the first class he enumerates Naos, or large
ships which go only with sails, some of which have two masts, and others
but one. In the second class smaller vessels, as Carracas, Fustas,
Ballenares, Pinazas, Carabelas, &c. In the third class vessels with sails
and oars, as Galleys, Galeots, Tardantes, and Saetias. [331]

Bossi gives a copy of a letter written by Columbus to Don Raphael Xansis,
treasurer of the king of Spain; an edition of whicli exists in the public
library at Milan. With this letter he gives several woodcuts of sketches
made with a pen, which accompanied this letter, and which he supposes to
have been from the hand of Columbus. In these are represented vessels
which are probably caravels. They have high bows and sterns, with castles
on the latter. They have short masts with large square sails. One of them,
besides sails, has benches of oars, and is probably intended to represent
a galley. They are all evidently vessels of small size, and light

In a work called "Kecherches sur le Commerce," published in Amsterdam,
1779, is a plate representing a vessel of the latter part of the fifteenth
century. It is taken from a picture in the church of St. Giovanni e Paolo
in Venice. The vessel bears much resemblance to those said to have been
sketched by Columbus; it has two masts, one of which is extremely small
with a latine sail. The mainmast has a large square sail. The vessel has a
high poop and prow, is decked at each end, and is open in the centre.

It appears to be the fact, therefore, that most of the vessels with which
Columbus undertook his long and perilous voyages, were of this light and
frail construction; and little superior to the small craft which ply on
rivers and along coasts in modern days.


Route of Columbus in His First Voyage.


It has hitherto been supposed that one of the Bahama Islands, at present
bearing the name of San Salvador, and which is also known as Cat Island,
was the first point where Columbus came in contact with the New World.
Navarrete, however, in his introduction to the "Collection of Spanish
Voyages and Discoveries," recently published at Madrid, has endeavored to
show that it must have been Turk's Island, one of the same group, situated
about 100 leagues (of 20 to the degree) S.E. of San Salvador. Great care
has been taken to examine candidly the opinion of Navarrete, comparing it
with the journal of Columbus, as published in the above-mentioned work,
and with the personal observations of the writer of this article, who has
been much among these islands.

Columbus describes Guanahani, on which he landed, and to which he gave the
name of San Salvador, as being a beautiful island, and very large; as
being level, and covered with forests, many of the trees of which bore
fruit; as having abundance of fresh water, and a large lake in the centre;
that it was inhabited by a numerous population; that he proceeded for a
considerable distance in his boats along the shore, which trended to the
N.N.E., and as he passed, was visited by the inhabitants of several
villages. Turk's Island does not answer to this description.

Turk's Island is a low key composed of sand and rocks, and lying north and
south, less than two leagues in extent. It is utterly destitute of wood,
and has not a single tree of native growth. It has no fresh water, the
inhabitants depending entirely on cisterns and casks in which they
preserve the rain; neither has it any lake, but several salt ponds, which
furnish the sole production of the island. Turk's Island cannot be
approached on the east or northeast side, in consequence of the reef that
surrounds it. It has no harbor, but has an open road on the west side,
which vessels at anchor there have to leave and put to sea whenever the
wind comes from any other quarter than that of the usual trade breeze of
N.E. which blows over the island; for the shore is so bold that there is
no anchorage except close to it; and when the wind ceases to blow from the
laud, vessels remaining at their anchors would be swung against the rocks,
or forced high upon the shore, by the terrible surf that then prevails.
The unfrequented road of the Hawk's Nest, at the south end of the island,
is even more dangerous. This island, which is not susceptible of the
slightest cultivation, furnishes a scanty subsistence to a few sheep and
horses. The inhabitants draw all their consumption from abroad, with the
exception of fish and turtle, which are taken in abundance, and supply the
principal food of the slaves employed in the salt-works. The whole wealth
of the island consists in the produce of the salt-ponds, and in the
salvage and plunder of the many wrecks which take place in the
neighborhood. Turk's Island, therefore, would never be inhabited in a
savage state of society, where commerce does not exist, and where men are
obliged to draw their subsistence from the spot which they people.

Again: when about to leave Guanahani, Columbus was at a loss to choose
which to visit of a great number of islands in sight. Now there is no land
visible from Turk's Island, excepting the two salt keys which lie south of
it, and with it form the group known as Turk's Islands. The journal of
Columbus does not tell us what course he steered in going from Guanahani
to Concepcion, but he states, that it was five leagues distant from the
former, and that the current was against him in sailing to it: whereas the
distance from Turk's Island to the Gran Caico, supposed by Navarrete to be
the Concepcion of Columbus, is nearly double, and the current sets
constantly to the W.N.W. among these islands, which would be favorable
in going from Turk's Island to the Caicos.

From Concepcion Columbus went next to an island which he saw nine leagues
off in a westerly direction, to which he gave the name of Fernaudina. This
Navarrete takes to be Little Inagua, distant no less than twenty-two
leagues from Gran Caico. Besides, in going to Little Inagua, it would be
necessary to pass quite close to three islands, each larger than Turk's
Island, none of which are mentioned in the journal. Columbus describes
Fernandina as stretching twenty-eight leagues S.E. and N. W.: whereas
Little Inagua has its greatest length of four leagues in a S. W.
direction. In a word, the description of Fernandina has nothing in common
with Little Inagua. From Fernandina Columbus sailed S.E. to Isabella,
which Navarrete takes to be Great Inagua: whereas this latter bears S. W.
from Little Inagua, a course differing 90 deg. from the one followed by
Columbus. Again: Columbus, on the 20th of November, takes occasion to say
that Guanahani was distant eight leagues from Isabella: whereas Turk's
Island is thirty-five leagues from Great Inagua.

Leaving Isabella, Columbus stood W. S. W. for the island of Cuba, and fell
in with the Islas Arenas. This course drawn from Great Inagua, would meet
the coast of Cuba about Port Nipe; whereas Navarrete supposes that
Columbus next fell in with the keys south of the Jumentos, and which bear
W.N.W. from Inagua: a course differing 45 deg. from the one steered by the
ships. After sailing for some time in the neighborhood of Cuba, Columbus
finds himself, on the 14th of November, in the sea of Nuestra Senora,
surrounded by so many islands that it was impossible to count them:
whereas, on the same day, Navarrete places him off Cape Moa, where there
is but one small island, and more than fifty leagues distant from any
group that can possibly answer the description.

Columbus informs us that San Salvador was distant from Port Principe
forty-five leagues: whereas Turk's Island is distant from the point,
supposed by Navarrete to be the same, eighty leagues.

On taking leave of Cuba, Columbus remarks that he had followed its coast
for an extent of 120 leagues. Deducting twenty leagues for his having
followed its windings, there still remain 100. Now, Navarrete only
supposes him to have coasted this island an extent of seventy leagues.

Such are the most important difficulties which the theory of Navarrete
offers, and which appear insurmountable. Let us now take up the route of
Columbus as recorded in his journal, and, with the best charts before us,
examine how it agrees with the popular and traditional opinion, that he
first landed on the island of San Salvador.

We learn from the journal of Columbus that, on the 11th of October, 1492,
he continued steering W. S. W. until sunset, when he returned to his old
course of west, the vessels running at the rate of three leagues an hour.
At ten o'clock he and several of his crew saw a light, which seemed like a
torch carried about on land. He continued running on four hours longer,
and had made a distance of twelve leagues farther west, when at two in the
morning land was discovered ahead, distant two leagues. The twelve leagues
which, they ran since ten o'clock, with the two leagues distance from the
land, form a total corresponding essentially with the distance and
situation of Waiting's Island from San Salvador; and it is thence
presumed, that the light seen at that hour was on Watling's Island, which
they were then passing. Had the light been seen on land ahead, and they
had kept running on four hours, at the rate of three leagues an hour, they
must have run high and dry on shore. As the admiral himself received the
royal reward for having seen this light, as the first discovery of land,
Watling's Island is believed to be the point for which this premium was

On making land, the vessels were hove to until daylight of the same 12th
of October; they then anchored off an island of great beauty, covered with
forests, and extremely populous.

It was called Guanahani by the natives, but Columbus gave it the name of
San Salvador. Exploring its coast, where it ran to the N.N.E. he found a
harbor capable of sheltering any number of ships. This description
corresponds minutely with the S.E. part of the island known as San
Salvador, or Cat Island, which lies east and west, bending at its eastern
extremity to the N.N.E., and has the same verdant and fertile
appearance. The vessels had probably drifted into this bay at the S.E.
side of San Salvador, on the morning of the 12th, while lying to for
daylight; nor did Columbus, while remaining at the island, or when sailing
from it, open the land so as to discover that what he had taken for its
whole length was but a bend at one end of it, and that the main body of
the island lay behind, stretching far to the N. W. From Guanahani,
Columbus saw so many other islands that he was at a loss which next to
visit. The Indians signified that they were innumerable, and mentioned the
names of above a hundred. He determined to go to the largest in sight,
which appeared to be about five leagues distant; some of the others were
nearer, and some further off. The island thus selected, it is presumed,
was the present island of Concepcion; and that the others were that
singular belt of small islands, known as La Cadena (or the chain),
stretching past the island of San Salvador in a S.E. and N. W. direction:
the nearest of the group being nearer than Concepcion, while the rest are
more distant.

Leaving San Salvador in the afternoon of the 14th for the island thus
selected, the ships lay by during the night, and did not reach it until
late in the following day, being retarded by adverse currents. Columbus
gave this island the name of Santa Maria de la Coucepcion: he does not
mention either its bearings from San Salvador, or the course which he
steered in going to it. We know that in all this neighborhood the current
sets strongly and constantly to the W.N.W.; and since Columbus had the
current against him, he must have been sailing in an opposite direction,
or to the E.S.E. Besides, when near Conception, Columbus sees another
island to the westward, the largest he had yet seen; but he tells us that
he anchored off Concepcion, and did not stand for this larger island,
because he could not have sailed to the west. Hence it is rendered certain
that Columbus did not sail westward in going from San Salvador to
Conception; for, from the opposition of the wind, as there could be no
other cause, he could not sail towards that quarter. Now, on reference to
the chart, we find the island at present known as Coucepcion situated E.
S.E. from San Salvador, and at a corresponding distance of five leagues.

Leaving Concepcion on the 16th October, Columbus steered for a very large
island seen to the westward nine leagues off, and which extended itself
twenty-eight leagues in a S.E. and N. W. direction. He was becalmed the
whole day, and did not reach the island until the following morning, 17th
October. He named it Fernandina. At noon he made sail again, with a view
to run round it, and reach another island called Samoet; but the wind
being at S.E. by S., the course he wished to steer, the natives signified
that it would be easier to sail round this island by running to the N. W.
with a fair wind. He therefore bore up to the N. W., and having run two
leagues, found a marvelous port, with a narrow entrance, or rather with
two entrances, for there was an island which shut it in completely,
forming a noble basin within. Sailing out of this harbor by the opposite
entrance at the N. W., he discovered that part of the island which runs
east and west. The natives signified to him that this island was smaller
than Samoet, and that it would be better to return towards the latter. It
had now become calm, but shortly after there sprung up a breeze from W. N.
W., which was ahead for the course they had been steering; so they bore up
and stood to the E.S.E. in order to get an offing; for the weather
threatened a storm, which however dissipated itself in rain. The next day,
being the 18th October, they anchored opposite the extremity of

The whole of this description answers most accurately to the island of
Exuma, which lies south from San Salvador, and S. W. by S. from
Concepcion. The only inconsistency is, that Columbus states that
Fernandina bore nearly west from Concepcion, and was twenty-eight leagues
in extent. This mistake must have proceeded from his having taken the long
chain of keys called La Cadena for part of the same Exuma; which
continuous appearance they naturally assume when seen from Concepcion, for
they run in the same S.E. and N. W. direction. Their bearings, when seen
from the same point, are likewise westerly as well as southwesterly. As a
proof that such was the case, it may be observed, that, after having
approached these islands, instead of the extent of Fernandina being
increased to his eye, he now remarks that it was twenty leagues long,
whereas before it was estimated by him at twenty-eight; he now discovers
that instead of one island there were many, and alters his course
southerly to reach the one that was most conspicuous.

The identity of the island here described with Exuma is irresistibly
forced upon the mind. The distance from Concepcion, the remarkable port
with an island in front of it, and farther on its coast turning off to the
westward, are all so accurately delineated, that it would seem as though
the chart had been drawn from the description of Columbus.

On the 19th October, the ships left Fernandina, steering S.E. with the
wind at north. Sailing three hours on this course, they discovered Samoet
to the east, and steered for it, arriving at its north point before noon.
Here they found a little island surrounded by rocks, with another reef of
rocks lying between it and Samoet. To Samoet Columbus gave the name of
Isabella, and to the point of it opposite the little island, that of Cabo
del Isleo; the cape at the S. W. point of Samoet Columbus called Cabo de
Laguna, and off this last his ships were brought to anchor. The little
island lay in the direction from Fernandina to Isabella, east and west.
The coast from the small island lay westerly twelve leagues to a cape,
which Columbus called Fermosa from its beauty; this he believed to be an
island apart from Samoet or Isabella, with another one between them.
Leaving Cabo Laguna, where he remained until the 20th October, Columbus
steered to the N.E. towards Cabo del Isleo, but meeting with shoals
inside the small island, he did not come to anchor until the day
following. Near this extremity of Isabella they found a lake, from which
the ships were supplied with water.

This island of Isabella, or Samoet, agrees so accurately in its
description with Isla Larga, which lies east of Exuma, that it is only
necessary to read it with the chart unfolded to become convinced of the

Having resolved to visit the island which the natives called Cuba, and
described as bearing W. S. W. from Isabella, Columbus left Cabo del Isleo
at midnight, the commencement of the 24th October, and shaped his course
accordingly to the W. S. W. The wind continued light, with rain, until
noon, when it freshened up, and in the evening Cape Verde, the S. W. point
of Fernandina, bore N. W. distant seven leagues. As the night became
tempestuous, he lay to until morning, drifting according to the reckoning
two leagues.

On the morning of the 25th he made sail again to W.S.W., until nine
o'clock, when he had run five leagues; he then steered west until three,
when he had run eleven leagues, at which hour land was discovered,
consisting of seven or eight keys lying north and south, and distant five
leagues from the ships. Here he anchored the next day, south of these
islands, which he called Islas de Arena; they were low, and five or six
leagues in extent.

The distances run by Columbus, added to the departure taken from
Fernandina and the distance from these islands of Arena at the time of
discovering, give a sum of thirty leagues. This sum of thirty leagues is
about three less than the distance from the S.W. point of Fernandina or
Exuma, whence Columbus took his departure, to the group of Mucaras, which
lie east of Cayo Lobo on the grand bank of Bahama, and which correspond to
the description of Columbus. If it were necessary to account for the
difference of three leagues in a reckoning, where so much is given on
conjecture, it would readily occur to a seaman, that an allowance of two
leagues for drift, during a long night of blowy weather, is but a small
one. The course from Exuma to the Mucaras is about S.W. by W. The course
followed by Columbus differs a little from this, but as it was his
intention, on setting sail from Isabella, to steer W.S.W., and since he
afterwards altered it to west, we may conclude that he did so in
consequence of having been run out of his course to the southward, while
lying to the night previous.

Oct. 27.--At sunrise Columbus set sail from the isles Arenas or Mucaras,
for an island called Cuba, steering S.S.W. At dark, having made seventeen
leagues on that course, he saw the land, and hove his ships to until
morning. On the 28th he made sail again at S.S.W., and entered a beautiful
river with a fine harbor, which he named San Salvador. The journal in this
part does not describe the localities with the minuteness with which every
thing has hitherto been noted; the text also is in several places obscure.

This port of San Salvador we take to be the one now known as Caravelas
Grandes, situated eight leagues west of Nuevitas del Principe. Its
bearings and distance from the Mucaras coincide exactly with those run by
Columbus; and its description agrees, as far as can be ascertained by
charts, with the port which he visited.

Oct. 29.--Leaving this port, Columbus stood to the west, and having sailed
six leagues, he came to a point of the island running N.W., which we take
to be the Punta Gorda; and, ten leagues farther, another stretching
easterly, which will be Punta Curiana. One league farther he discovered a
small river, and beyond this another very large one, to which he gave the
name of Rio de Mares. This river emptied into a fine basin resembling a
lake, and having a bold entrance: it had for landmarks two round mountains
at the S. W., and to the W.N.W. a bold promontory, suitable for a
fortification, which projected far into the sea. This we take to be the
fine harbor and river situated west of Point Curiana; its distance
corresponds with that run by Columbus from Caravelas Grandes, which we
have supposed identical with Port San Salvador. Leaving Rio de Mares the
30th of October, Columbus stood to the N. W. for fifteen leagues, when he
saw a cape, to which he gave the name of Cabode Palmas. This, we believe,
is the one which forms the eastern entrance to Laguna de Moron. Beyond
this cape was a river, distant, according to the natives, four days'
journey from the town of Cuba; Columbus determined therefore to make for

Having lain to all night, he reached the river on the 31st of October, but
found that it was too shallow to admit his ships. This is supposed to be
what is now known as Laguna de Moron. Beyond this was a cape surrounded by
shoals, and another projected still farther out. Between these two capes
was a bay capable of receiving small vessels. The identity here of the
description with the coast near Laguna de Moron seems very clear. The cape
east of Laguna de Moron coincides with Cape Palmas, the Laguna de Moron
with the shoal river described by Columbus; and in the western point of
entrance, with the island of Cabrion opposite it, we recognize the two
projecting capes he speaks of, with what appeared to be a bay between
them. This all is a remarkable combination, difficult to be found any
where but in the same spot which Columbus visited and described. Further,
the coast from the port of San Salvador had run west to Rio de Mares, a
distance of seventeen leagues, and from Rio de Mares it had extended N. W.
fifteen leagues to Cabo de Palmos; all of which agrees fully with what has
been here supposed. The wind having shifted to north, which was contrary
to the course they had been steering, the vessels bore up and returned to
Rio de Mares.

On the 12th of November the ships sailed out of Rio de Mares to go in
quest of Babeque, an island believed to abound in gold, and to lie E. by
S. from that port. Having sailed eight leagues with a fair wind, they came
to a river, in which may be recognized the one which lies just west of
Punta Gorda. Four leagues farther they saw another, which they called Rio
del Sol. It appeared very large, but they did not stop to examine it, as
the wind was fair to advance. This we take to be the river now known as
Sabana. Columbus was now retracing his steps, and had made twelve leagues
from Riode Mares, but in going west from Port San Salvador to Rio de
Mares, he had run seventeen leagues. San Salvador, therefore, remains five
leagues east of Rio del Sol; and, accordingly, on reference to the chart,
we find Caravelas Grandes situated a corresponding distance from Sabana.

Having run six leagues from Rio del Sol, which makes in all eighteen
leagues from Rio de Mares, Columbus came to a cape which he called Cabo de
Cuba, probably from supposing it to be the extremity of that island. This
corresponds precisely in distance from Punta Curiana with the lesser
island of Guajava, situated near Cuba, and between which and the greater
Guajava Columbus must have passed in running in for Port San Salvador.
Either he did not notice it, from his attention being engrossed by the
magnificent island before him, or, as is also possible, his vessels may
have been drifted through the passage, which is two leagues wide, while
lying to the night previous to their arrival at Port San Salvador.

On the 13th of November, having hove to all night, in the morning the
ships passed a point two leagues in extent, and then entered into a gulf
that made into the S.S.W., and which Columbus thought separated Cuba from
Bohio. At the bottom of the gulf was a large basin between two mountains.
He could not determine whether or not this was an arm of the sea; for not
finding shelter from the north wind, he put to sea again. Hence it would
appear that Columbus must have partly sailed round the smaller Guajava,
which he took to be the extremity of Cuba, without being aware that a few
hours' sail would have taken him, by this channel, to Port San Salvador,
his first discovery in Cuba, and so back to the same Rio del Sol which he
had passed the day previous. Of the two mountains seen on both sides of
this entrance, the principal one corresponds with the peak called Alto de
Juan Daune which lies seven leagues west of Punta de Maternillos. The wind
continuing north, he stood east fourteen leagues from Cape Cuba, which we
have supposed the lesser island of Guajava. It is here rendered sure that
the point of little Guajava was believed by him to be the extremity of
Cuba; for he speaks of the land mentioned as lying to leeward of the
above-mentioned gulf as being the island of Bohio, and says that he
discovered twenty leagues of it running E.S.E. and W.N.W.

On the 14th November, having lain to all night with a N.E. wind, he
determined to seek a port, and, if he found none, to return to those which
he had left in the island of Cuba; for it will be remembered that all east
of little Guajava he supposed to be Bohio. He steered E. by S. therefore
six leagues, and then stood in for the land. Here he saw many ports and
islands; but as it blew fresh, with a heavy sea, he dared not enter, but
ran the coast down N.W. by W. for a distance of eighteen leagues, where he
saw a clear entrance and a port, in which he stood S.S.W. and afterwards
S.E., the navigation being all clear and open. Here Columbus beheld so
many islands that it was impossible to count them. They were very lofty,
and covered with trees. Columbus called the neighboring sea Mar de Nuestra
Senora, and to the harbor near the entrance to these islands he gave the
name of Puerto del Principe. This harbor he says he did not enter until
the Sunday following, which was four days after. This part of the text of
Columbus's journal is confused, and there are also anticipations, as if it
had been written subsequently, or mixed together in copying. It appears
evident, that while lying to the night previous, with the wind at N.E.,
the ships had drifted to the N.W., and been carried by the powerful
current of the Bahama channel far in the same direction. When they bore
up, therefore, to return to the ports which they had left in the island of
Cuba, they fell in to leeward of them, and now first discovered the
numerous group of islands of which Cayo Romano is the principal. The
current of this channel is of itself sufficient to have carried the
vessels to the westward a distance of 20 leagues, which is what they had
run easterly since leaving Cape Cuba, or Guajava, for it had acted upon
them during a period of thirty hours. There can be no doubt as to the
identity of these keys with those about Cayo Romano; for they are the only
ones in the neighborhood of Cuba that are not of a low and swampy nature,
but large and lofty. They inclose a free, open navigation, and abundance
of fine harbors, in late years the resort of pirates, who found security
and concealment for themselves and their prizes in the recesses of these
lofty keys. From the description of Columbus, the vessels must have
entered between the islands of Baril and Pacedon, and, sailing along Cayo
Romano on a S.E. course, have reached in another day their old cruising
ground in the neighborhood of lesser Guajava. Not only Columbus does not
tell us here of his having changed his anchorage amongst these keys, but
his journal does not even mention his having anchored at all, until the
return from the ineffectual search after Babeque. It is clear, from what
has been said, that it was not in Port Principe that the vessels anchored
on this occasion; but it could not have been very distant, since Columbus
went from the ships in his boats on the 18th November, to place a cross at
its entrance. He had probably seen the entrance from without, when sailing
east from Guajava on the 13th of November. The identity of this port with
the one now known as Neuvitas el Principe seems certain, from the
description of its entrance, Columbus, it appears, did not visit its

On the 19th November the ships sailed again, in quest of Babeque. At
sunset Port Principe bore S. S. W. distant seven leagues, and, having
sailed all night at N.E. by N. and until ten o'clock of the next day
(20th November), they had run a distance of fifteen leagues on that
course. The wind blowing from E.S.E., which was the direction in which
Babeqne was supposed to lie, and the weather being foul, Columbus
determined to return to Port Principe, which was then distant twenty-five
leagues. He did not wish to go to Isabella, distant only twelve leagues,
lest the Indians whom he had brought from San Salvador, which lay eight
leagues from Isabella, should make their escape. Thus, in sailing N.E. by
N. from near Port Principe, Columbus had approached within a short
distance of Isabella. That island was then, according to his calculations,
thirty-seven leagues from Port Principe; and San Salvador was forty-five
leagues from the same point. The first differs but eight leagues from the
truth, the latter nine; or from the actual distance of Neuvitas el
Principe from Isla Larga and San Salvador. Again, let us now call to mind
the course made by Columbus in going from Isabella to Cuba; it was first
W. S. W., then west, and afterwards S. S. W. Having consideration for the
different distances run on each, these yield a medium course not
materially different from S. W. Sailing then S. W. from Isabella, Columbus
had reached Port San Salvador, on the coast of Cuba. Making afterwards a
course of N.E. by N. from off Port Principe, he was going in the
direction of Isabella. Hence we deduce that Port San Salvador, on the
coast of Cuba, lay west of Port Principe, and the whole combination is
thus bound together and established. The two islands seen by Columbus at
ten o'clock of the same 20th November, must have been some of the keys
which lie west of the Jumentos. Running back towards Port Principe,
Columbus made it at dark, but found that he had been carried to the
westward by the currents. This furnishes a sufficient proof of the
strength of the current in the Bahama channel; for it will be remembered
that he ran over to Cuba with a fair wind. After contending for four days,
until the 24th November, with light winds against the force of these
currents, he arrived at length opposite the level island whence he had set
out the week before when going to Babeque.

We are thus accidentally informed that the point from which Columbus
started in search of Babeque was the same bland of Guajava the lesser,
which lies west of Neuvitas el Principe. Farther: at first he dared not
enter into the opening between the two mountains, for it seemed as though
the sea broke upon them; but having sent the boat ahead, the vessels
followed in at S. W. and then W. into a fine harbor. The level island lay
north of it, and with another island formed a secure basin capable of
sheltering all the navy of Spain. This level island resolves itself then
into our late Cape Cuba, which we have supposed to be little Guajava, and
the entrance east of it becom'es identical with the gulf above mentioned
which lay between two mountains, one of which we have supposed the Alto de
Juan Daune, and which gulf appeared to divide Cuba from Bohio. Our course
now becomes a plain one. On the 26th of November, Columbus sailed from
Santa Catalina (the name given by him to the port last described) at
sunrise, and stood for the cape at the S.E. which he called Cabo de Pico.
In this it is easy to recognize the high peak already spoken of as the
Alto de Juan Daune. Arrived off this, he saw another cape, distant fifteen
leagues, and still farther another five leagues beyond it, which he called
Cabo de Campana. The first must be that now known as Point Padre, the
second Point Mulas: their distances from Alto de Juan Daune are
underrated; but it requires no little experience to estimate correctly the
distances of the bold headlands of Cuba, as seen through the pure
atmosphere that surrounds the island.

Having passed Point Mulas in the night, on the 27th Columbus looked into
the deep bay that lies S.E. of it, and seeing the bold projecting
headland that makes out between Port Hipe and Port Banes, with those deep
bays on each side of it, he supposed it to be an arm of the sea dividing
one land from another with an island between them.

Having landed at Taco for a short time, Columbus arrived in the evening of
the 27th at Baracoa, to which he gave the name of Puerto Santo. From Cabo
del Pico to Puerto Santo, a distance of sixty leagues, he had passed no
fewer than nine good ports and five rivers to Cape Campana, and thence to
Puerto Santo eight more rivers, each with a good port; all of which may be
found on the chart between Alto de Juan Daune and Baracoa. By keeping near
the coast he had been assisted to the S.E. by the eddy current of the
Bahama channel. Sailing from Puerto Santo or Baracoa on the 4th of
December, he reached the extremity of Cuba the following day, and striking
off upon a wind to the S.E. in search of Babeque, which lay to the N.E.,
he came in sight of Bohio, to which he gave the name of Hispaniola.

On taking leave of Cuba, Columbus tells us that he had coasted it a
distance of 120 leagues. Allowing twenty leagues of this distance for his
having followed the undulations of the coast, the remaining 100 measured
from Point Maysi fall exactly upon Cabrion Key, which we have supposed the
western boundary of his discoveries.

The astronomical observations of Columbus form no objection to what has
been here advanced; for he tells us that the instrument which he made use
of to measure the meridian altitudes of the heavenly bodies was out of
order and not to be depended upon. He places his first discovery,
Guanahani, in the latitude of Ferro, which is about 27 deg. 30' north. San
Salvador we find in 24 deg. 30', and Turk's Island in 21 deg. 30': both are very
wide of the truth, but it is certainly easier to conceive an error of
three than one of six degrees.

Laying aside geographical demonstration, let us now examine how historical
records agree with the opinion here supported, that the island of San
Salvador was the first point where Columbus came in contact with the New
World. Herrera, who is considered the most faithful and authentic of
Spanish historians, wrote his History of the Indies towards the year 1600.
In describing the voyage of Juan Ponce de Leon, made to Florida in 1512,
he makes the following remarks: [333] "Leaving Agnada in Porto Rico, they
steered to the N. W. by N., and in five days arrived at an island called
El Viejo, in latitude 22 deg. 30' north. The next day they arrived at a small
island of the Lucayos, called Caycos. On the eighth day they anchored at
another island called Yaguna in 24 deg., on the eighth day out from Porto
Kico. Thence they passed to the island of Mannega, in 24 deg. 30', and on the
eleventh day they reached Guanahani, which is in 25 deg. 40' north. This
island of Guanahani was the first discovered by Columbus on his first
voyage, and which he called San Salvador." This is the substance of the
remarks of Herrera, and is entirely conclusive as to the location of San
Salvador. The latitudes, it is true, are all placed higher than we now
know them to be; that of San Salvador being such as to correspond with
no other land than that now known as the Berry Islands, which are seventy
leagues distant from the nearest coast of Cuba: whereas Columbus tells us
that San Salvador was only forty-five leagues from Port Principe. But in
those infant days of navigation, the instruments for measuring the
altitudes of the heavenly bodies, and the tables of declinations for
deducing the latitude, must have been so imperfect as to place the most
scientific navigator of the time below the most mechanical one of the

The second island arrived at by Ponce de Leon, in his northwestern course,
was one of the Caycos; the first one, then, called El Viejo, must have
been Turk's Island, which lies S.E. of the Caycos. The third island they
came to was probably Mariguana; the fourth, Crooked Island; and the fifth,
Isla Larga. Lastly they came to Guanahani, the San Salvador of Columbus.
If this be supposed identical with Turk's Island, where do we find the
succession of islands touched at by Ponce de Leon on his way from Porto
Rico to San Salvador? [334] No stress has been laid, in these
remarks, on the identity of name which has been preserved to San Salvador,
Concepcion, and Port Principe, with those given by Columbus, though
traditional usage is of vast weight in such matters. Geographical proof,
of a conclusive kind it is thought, has been advanced, to enable the world
to remain in its old hereditary belief that the present island of San
Salvador is the spot where Columbus first set foot upon the New World.
Established opinions of the kind should not be lightly molested. It is a
good old rule, that ought to be kept in mind in curious research as well
as territorial dealings, "Do not disturb the ancient landmarks."

_Note to the Revised Edition of 1848_.--The Paron de Humboldt, in his
"Examen critique de l'histoire de la geographie du nouveau continent,"
published in 1837, speaks repeatedly in high terms of the ability
displayed in the above examination of the route of Columbus, and argues at
great length and quite conclusively in support of the opinion contained in
it. Above all, he produces a document hitherto unknown, and the great
importance of which had been discovered by M. Valeknaer and himself in
1832. This is a map made in 1500 by that able mariner Juan de la Cosa, who
accompanied Columbus in his second voyage and sailed with other of the
discoverers. In this map, of which the Baron de Humboldt gives an
engraving, the islands as laid down agree completely with the bearings and
distances given in the journal of Columbus, and establishes the identity
of San Salvador, or Cat Island, and Guanahani.

"I feel happy," says M. de Humboldt, "to be enabled to destroy the
incertitudes (which rested on this subject) by a document as ancient as it
is unknown; a document which confirms irrevocably the arguments which Mr.
Washington Irving has given in his work against the hypotheses of the
Turk's Island." In the present revised edition the author feels at liberty
to give the merit of the very masterly paper on the route of Columbus,
where it is justly due. It was furnished him at Madrid by the late
commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, of the United States navy, whose
modesty shrunk from affixing his name to an article so calculated to do
him credit, and which has since challenged the high eulogiums of men of
nautical science.


Principles upon which the Sums Mentioned in This Work Have Been Reduced
into Modern Currency.

In the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the mark of silver, which was
equal to 8 ounces or to 50 castellanos, was divided into 65 reals, and
each real into 34 maravedis; so that there were 2210 maravedis in the mark
of silver. Among other silver coins there was the real of 8, which
consisting of 8 reals, was, within a small fraction, the eighth part of a
mark of silver, or one ounce. Of the gold coins then in circulation the
castellano or _dobla de la vanda_ was worth 490 maravedis, and the
ducado 383 maravedis.

If the value of the maravedi had remained unchanged in Spain down to the
present day, it would be easy to reduce a sum of the time of Ferdinand and
Isabella into a correspondent sum of current money; but by the successive
depreciations of the coin of Vellon, or mixed metals, issued since that
period, the _real_ and maravedi of Vellon, which had replaced the
ancient currency, were reduced, towards the year 1700, to about a third of
the old _real_ and maravedi, now known as the _real_ and maravedi
of silver. As, however, the ancient piece of 8 reals was equal
approximately to the ounce of silver, and the duro, or dollar of the
present day, is likewise equal to an ounce, they may be considered
identical. Indeed, in Spanish America, the dollar, instead of being
divided into 20 reals, as in Spain, is divided into only 8 parts called
reals, which evidently represent the real of the time of Ferdinand and
Isabella, as the dollar does the real of 8. But the ounce of silver was
anciently worth 276-1/4 maravedis; the dollar, therefore, is likewise
equal to 276 1/4 maravedis. By converting then the sums mentioned in this
work into maravedis, they have been afterwards reduced into dollars by
dividing by 276 1/4.

There is still, however, another calculation to be made, before we can
arrive at the actual value of any sum of gold and silver mentioned in
former times. It is necessary to notice the variation which has taken
place in the value of the metals themselves. In Europe, previous to the
discovery of the New World, an ounce of gold commanded an amount of food
or labor which would cost three ounces at the present day; hence an ounce
of gold was then estimated at three times its present value. At the same
time an ounce of silver commanded an amount which at present costs 4
ounces of silver. It appears from this, that the value of gold and silver
varied with respect to each other, as well as with respect to all other
commodities. This is owing to there having been much more silver brought
from the New World, with respect to the quantity previously in
circulation, than there has been of gold. In the 15th century one ounce of
gold was equal to about 12 of silver; and now, in the year 1827, it is
exchanged against 16.

Hence giving an idea of the relative value of the sums mentioned in this
work, it has been found necessary to multiply them by three when in gold,
and by four when expressed in silver. [335]

It is expedient to add that the dollar is reckoned in this work at 100
cents of the United States of North America, and four shillings and
sixpence of England.

No. XIX.

Prester John:

Said to be derived from the Persian _Prestegani_ or
_Perestigani_, which signifies apostolique; or _Preschtak-Geham_,
angel of the world. It is the name of a potent Christian monarch of
shadowy renown, whose dominions were placed by writers of the middle ages
sometimes in the remote parts of Asia and sometimes in Africa, and of
whom such contradictory accounts were given by the travelers of those days
that the very existence either of him or his kingdom carne to he
considered doubtful. It now appears to be admitted, that there really
was such a potentate in a remote part of Asia. He was of the Nestorian
Christians, a sect spread throughout Asia, and taking its name and origin
from Nestorius, a Christian patriarch of Constantinople.

The first vague reports of a Christian potentate in the interior of Asia,
or, as it was then called, India, were brought to Europe by the Crusaders,
who it is supposed gathered them from the Syrian merchants who traded to
the very confines of China.

In subsequent ages, when the Portuguese in their travels and voyages
discovered a Christian king among the Abyssinians, called Baleel-Gian,
they confounded him with the potentate already spoken of. Nor was the
blunder extraordinary, since the original Prester John was said to reign
over a remote part of India; and the ancients included in that name
Ethiopia and all the regions of Africa and Asia bordering on the Red Sea
and on the commercial route from Egypt to India.

Of the Prester John of India we have reports furnished by William
Ruysbrook, commonly called Rubruquis, a Franciscan friar sent by Louis IX,
about the middle of the thirteenth century, to convert the Grand Khan.
According to him, Prester John was originally a Nestorian priest, who on
the death of the sovereign made himself king of the Naymans, all Nestorian
Christians. Carpini, a Franciscan friar, sent by pope Innocent in 1245 to
convert the Mongols of Persia, says, that Ocoday, one of the sons of
Ghengis Khan of Tartary, marched with an army against the Christians of
Grand India. The king of that country, who was called Prester John, came
to their succor. Having had figures of men made of bronze, he had them
fastened on the saddles of horses, and put fire within, with a man behind
with a bellows. When they came to battle these horses were put in the
advance, and the men who were seated behind the figures threw something
into the fire, and blowing with their bellows, made such a smoke that the
Tartars were quite covered with it. They then fell on them, dispatched
many with their arrows, and put the rest to flight.

Marco Polo (1271) places Prester John near the great wall of China, to the
north of Chan-si, in Teudich, a populous region full of cities and

Mandeville (1332) makes Prester sovereign of upper India (Asia), with four
thousand islands tributary to him.

When John II, of Portugal, was pushing his discoveries along the African
coast, he was informed that 350 leagues to the east of the kingdom of
Benin, in the profound depths of Africa, there was a puissant monarch,
called Ogave, who had spiritual and temporal jurisdiction over all the
surrounding kings.

An African prince assured him, also, that to the east of Timbuctoo there
was a sovereign who professed a religion similar to that of the
Christians, and was king of a Mosaic people.

King John now supposed he had found traces of the real Prester John, with
whom he was eager to form an alliance religious as well as commercial. In
1487 he sent envoys by land in quest of him. One was a gentleman of his
household, Pedro de Covilham; the other, Alphonso de Paiva. They went by
Naples to Rhodes, thence to Cairo, thence to Aden on the Arabian Gulf
above the mouth of the Red Sea.

Here they separated with an agreement to rendezvous at Cairo. Alphonso de
Paiva sailed direct for Ethiopia; Pedro de Covilham for the Indies. The
latter passed to Calicut and Goa, where he embarked for Sofala on the
eastern coast of Africa, thence returned to Aden, and made his way back to
Cairo. Here he learned that his coadjutor, Alphonso de Paiva, had died in
that city. He found two Portuguese Jews waiting for him with fresh orders
from king John not to give up his researches after Prester John until he
found him. One of the Jews he sent back with a journal and verbal accounts
of his travels. With the other he set off again for Aden; thence to Ormuz,
at the entrance of the Gulf of Persia, where all the rich merchandise of
the East was brought to be transported thence by Syria and Egypt into

Having taken note of every thing here, he embarked on the Red Sea, and
arrived at the court of an Abyssinian prince named Escander, (the Arabic
version of Alexander,) whom he considered the real Prester John. The
prince received him graciously, and manifested a disposition to favor the
object of his embassy, but died suddenly, and his successor Naut refused
to let Covilham depart, but kept him for many years about his person, as
his prime councilor, lavishing on him wealth and honors. After all, this
was not the real Prester John; who, as has been observed, was an Asiatic

No. XX.

Marco Polo.


The travels of Marco Polo, or Paolo, furnish a key to many parts of the
voyages and speculations of Columbus, which without it would hardly be

Marco Polo was a native of Venice, who, in the thirteenth century, made a
journey into the remote, and, at that time, unknown regions of the East,
and filled all Christendom with curiosity by his account of the countries
he had visited. He was preceded in his travels by his father Nicholas and
his uncle Maffeo Polo. These two brothers were of an illustrious family in
Venice, and embarked, about the year 1255, on a commercial voyage to the
East. Having traversed the Mediterranean and through the Bosphorus, they
stopped for a short time at Constantinople, which city had recently been
wrested from the Greeks by the joint arms of France and Venice. Here they
disposed of their Italian merchandise, and, having purchased a stock of
jewelry, departed on an adventurous expedition to trade with the western
Tartars, who, having overrun many parts of Asia and Europe, were settling
and forming cities in the vicinity of the Wolga. After traversing the
Euxine to Soldaia, (at present Sudak,) a port in the Crimea, they
continued on, by land and water, until they reached the military court, or
rather camp, of a Tartar prince, named Barkah, a descendant of Ghengis
Khan, into whose hands they confided all their merchandise. The barbaric
chieftain, while he was dazzled by their precious commodities, was
flattered by the entire confidence in his justice manifested by these
strangers. He repaid them with princely munificence, and loaded them with
favors during a year that they remained at his court. A war breaking out
between their patron and his cousin Hulagu, chief of the eastern Tartars,
and Barkah being defeated, the Polos were embarrassed how to extricate
themselves from the country and return home in safety. The road to
Constantinople being cut off by the enemy, they took a circuitous route,
round the head of the Caspian Sea, and through the deserts of Transoxiana,
until they arrived in the city of Bokhara, where they resided for three

While here there arrived a Tartar nobleman who was on an embassy from the
victorious Hulagu to his brother the Grand Khan. The ambassador became
aquainted with the Venetians, and finding them to be versed in the Tartar
tongue and possessed of curious and valuable knowledge, he prevailed upon
them to accompany him to the court of the emperor, situated, as they
supposed, at the very extremity of the East.

After a march of several months, being delayed by snow-storms and
inundations, they arrived at the court of Cublai, otherwise called the
Great Khan, which signifies King of Kings, being the sovereign potentate
of the Tartars. This magnificent prince received them with great
distinction; he made inquiries about the countries and princes of the
West, their civil and military government, and the manners and customs of
the Latin nation. Above all, he was curious on the subject of the
Christian religion. He was so much struck by their replies, that after
holding a council with the chief persons of his kingdom, he entreated the
two brothers to go on his part as ambassadors to the pope, to entreat him
to send a hundred learned men well instructed in the Christian faith, to
impart a knowledge of it to the sages of his empire. He also entreated
them to bring him a little oil from the lamp of our Saviour, in Jerusalem,
which he concluded must have marvelous virtues. It has been supposed, and
with great reason, that under this covert of religion, the shrewd Tartar
sovereign veiled motives of a political nature. The influence of the pope
in promoting the crusades had caused his power to be known and respected
throughout the East; it was of some moment, therefore, to conciliate his
good-will. Cublai Khan had no bigotry nor devotion to any particular
faith, and probably hoped, by adopting Christianity, to make it a common
cause between himself and the warlike princes of Christendom, against his
and their inveterate enemies, the soldan of Egypt and the Saracens.

Having written letters to the pope in the Tartar language, he delivered
them to the Polos, and appointed one of the principal noblemen of his
court to accompany them in their mission. On their taking leave he
furnished them with a tablet of gold on which was engraved the royal arms;
this was to serve as a passport, at sight of which the governors of the
various provinces were to entertain them, to furnish them with escorts
through dangerous places, and render them all other necessary services at
the expense of the Great Khan.

They had scarce proceeded twenty miles, when the nobleman who accompanied
them fell ill, and they were obliged to leave him, and continue on their
route. Their golden passport procured them every attention and facility
throughout the dominions of the Great Khan. They arrived safely at Acre,
in April, 1269. Here they received news of the recent death of Pope
Clement IV, at which they were, much grieved, fearing it would cause delay
in their mission. There was at that time in Acre a legate of the holy
chair, Tebaldo di Vesconti, of Placentia, to whom they gave an account of
their embassy. He heard them with great attention and interest, and
advised them to await the election of a new pope, which must soon take
place, before they proceeded to Rome on their mission. They determined in
the interim to make a visit to their families, and accordingly departed
for Negropont, and thence to Venice, where great changes had taken place
in their domestic concerns, during their long absence. The wife of
Nicholas, whom he had left pregnant, had died, in giving birth to a son,
who had been named Marco.

As the contested election for the new pontiff remained pending for two
years, they were uneasy, lest the emperor of Tartary should grow impatient
at so long a postponement of the conversion of himself and his people;
they determined, therefore, not to wait the election of a pope, but to
proceed to Acre, and get such dispatches and such ghostly ministry for the
Grand Khan, as the legate could furnish. On the second journey, Nicholas
Polo took with him his son Marco, who afterwards wrote an account of these

They were again received with great favor by the legate Tebaldo, who,
anxious for the success of their mission, furnished them with letters to
the Grand Khan, in which the doctrines of the Christian faith were fully
expounded. With these, and with a supply of the holy oil from the
sepulchre, they once more set out in September, 1271, for the remote parts
of Tartary. They had not long departed, when missives arrived from Rome,
informing the legate of his own election to the holy chair. He took the
name of Gregory X, and decreed that in future, on the death of a pope, the
cardinals should be shut up in conclave until they elected a successor; a
wise regulation, which has since continued, enforcing a prompt decision,
and preventing intrigue.

Immediately on receiving intelligence of his election, he dispatched a
courier to the king of Armenia, requesting that the two Venetians might be
sent back to him, if they had not departed. They joyfully returned, and
were furnished with new letters to the Khan. Two eloquent friars, also,
Nicholas Vincenti and Gilbert de Tripoli, were sent with them, with powers
to ordain priests and bishops and to grant absolution. They had presents
of crystal vases, and other costly articles, to deliver to the Grand Khan;
and thus well provided, they once more set forth on their journey.

Arriving in Armenia, they ran great risk of their lives from the war which
was raging, the soldan of Babylon having invaded the country. They took
refuge for some time with the superior of a monastery. Here the two
reverend fathers, losing all courage to prosecute so perilous an
enterprise, determined to remain, and the Venetians continued their
journey. They were a long time on the way, and exposed to great hardships
and sufferings from floods and snow-storms, it being the winter season. At
length they reached a town in the dominions of the Khan. That potentate
sent officers to meet them at forty days' distance from the court, and to
provide quarters for them during their journey. [338] He received them
with great kindness, was highly gratified with the result of their
mission and with the letters of the pope, and having received from them
some oil from the lamp of the holy sepulchre, he had it locked up, and
guarded it as a precious treasure.

The three Venetians, father, brother and son, were treated with such
distinction by the Khan, that the courtiers were filled with jealousy.
Marco soon, however, made himself popular, and was particularly esteemed
by the emperor. He acquired the four principal languages of the country,
and was of such remarkable capacity, that, notwithstanding his youth, the
Khan employed him in missions and services of importance, in various parts
of his dominions, some to the distance of even six months' journey. On
these expeditions he was industrious in gathering all kinds of information
respecting that vast empire; and from notes and minutes made for the
satisfaction of the Grand Khan, he afterwards composed the history of his

After about seventeen years' residence in the Tartar court the Venetians
felt a longing to return to their native country. Their patron was
advanced in age and could not survive much longer, and after his death,
their return might be difficult, if not impossible. They applied to the
Grand Khan for permission to depart, but for a time met with a refusal,
accompanied by friendly upbraidings. At length a singular train of events
operated in their favor; an embassy arrived from a Mogul Tartar prince,
who ruled in Persia, and who was grand-nephew to the emperor. The object
was to entreat, as a spouse, a princess of the imperial lineage. A
granddaughter of Cublai Klian, seventeen years of age, and of great beauty
and accomplishments, was granted to the prayer of the prince, and departed
for Persia with the ambassadors, and with a splendid retinue, but after
traveling for some months, was obliged to return on account of the
distracted state of the country.

The ambassadors despaired of conveying the beautiful bride to the arms of
her expecting bridegroom, when Marco Polo returned from a voyage to
certain of the Indian islands. His representations of the safety of a
voyage in those seas, and his private instigations, induced the
ambassadors to urge the Grand Khan for permission to convey the princess
by sea to the gulf of Persia, and that the Christians might accompany
them, as being best experienced in maritime affairs. Cublai Khan consented
with great reluctance, and a splendid fleet was fitted out and victualed
for two years, consisting of fourteen ships of four masts, some of which
had crews of two hundred and fifty men.

On parting with the Venetians the munificent Khan gave them rich presents
of jewels, and made them promise to return to him after they had visited
their families. He authorized them to act as his ambassadors to the
principal courts of Europe, and, as on a former occasion, furnished them
with tablets of gold, to serve, not merely as passports, but as orders
upon all commanders in his territories for accommodations and supplies.

They set sail therefore in the fleet with the oriental princess and her
attendants and the Persian ambassadors. The ships swept along the coast of
Cochin China, stopped for three months at a port of the island of Sumatra
near ihe western entrance of the straits of Malacca, waiting for the
change of the monsoon to pass the bay of Bengal. Traversing this vast
expanse, they touched at the island of Ceylon and then crossed the strait
to the southern part of the great peninsula of India. Thence sailing up
the Pirate coast, as it is called, the fleet entered the Persian gulf and
arrived at the famous port of Olmuz, where it is presumed the voyage
terminated, after eighteen months spent in traversing the Indian seas.

Unfortunately for the royal bride who was the object of this splendid
naval expedition, the bridegroom, the Mogul king, had died some time
before her arrival, leaving a son named Ghazan, during whose minority the
government was administered by his uncle Kai-Khatu. According to the
directions of the regent, the princess was delivered to the youthful
prince, son of her intended spouse. He was at that time at the head of an
army on the borders of Persia. He was of a diminutive stature, but of a
great soul, and, on afterwards ascending the throne, acquired renown for
his talents and virtues. What became of the Eastern bride, who had
traveled so far in quest of a husband, is not known; but every thing
favorable is to be inferred from the character of Ghazan.

The Polos remained some time in the court of the regent, and then
departed, with fresh tablets of gold given by that prince, to carry them
in safety and honor through his dominions. As they had to traverse many
countries where the traveler is exposed to extreme peril, they appeared on
their journeys as Tartars of low condition, having converted all their
wealth into precious stones and sewn them up in the folds and linings of
their coarse garments. They had a long, difficult, and perilous journey to
Trebizond, whence they proceeded to Constantinople, thence to Negropont,
and, finally, to Venice, where they arrived in 1295, in good health, and
literally laden with riches. Having heard during their journey of the
death of their old benefactor Cublai Khan, they considered their
diplomatic functions at an end, and also that they were absolved from
their promise to return to his dominions.

Ramusio, in his preface to the narrative of Marco Polo, gives a variety of
particulars concerning their arrival, which he compares to that of
Ulysses. When they arrived at Venice, they were known by nobody. So many
years had elapsed since their departure, without any tidings of them, that
they were either forgotten or considered dead. Besides, their foreign
garb, the influence of southern suns, and the similitude which men acquire
to those among whom they reside for any length of time, had given them the
look of Tartars rather than Italians.

They repaired to their own house, which was a noble palace, situated in
the street of St. Giovanni Chrisostomo, and was afterwards known by the
name of la Corte de la Milione. They found several of their relatives
still inhabiting it; but they were slow in recollecting the travelers, not
knowing of their wealth, and probably considering them, from their coarse
and foreign attire, poor adventurers returned to be a charge upon their
families. The Polos, however, took an effectual mode of quickening the
memories of their friends, and insuring themselves a loving reception.
They invited them all to a grand banquet. When their guests arrived, they
received them richly dressed in garments of crimson satin of oriental
fashion. When water had been served for the washing of hands, and the
company were summoned to table, the travelers, who had retired, appeared
again in still richer robes of crimson damask. The first dresses were cut
up and distributed among the servants, being of such length that they
swept the ground, which, says Ramusio, was the mode in those days, with
dresses worn within doors. After the first course, they again retired and
came in dressed in crimson velvet; the damask dresses being likewise given
to the domestics, and the same was done at the end of the feast with their
velvet robes, when they appeared in the Venetian dress of the day. The
guests were lost in astonishment, and could not comprehend the meaning of
this masquerade. Having dismissed all the attendants, Marco Polo brought
forth the coarse Tartar dresses in which they had arrived. Slashing them
in several places with a knife, and ripping open the seams and lining,
there tumbled forth rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, and other
precious stones, until the whole table glittered with inestimable wealth,
acquired from the munificence of the Grand Khan, and conveyed in this
portable form through the perils of their long journey.

The company, observes Ramusio, were out of their wits with amazement, and
now clearly perceived what they had at first doubted, that these in very
truth were those honored and valiant gentlemen the Polos, and,
accordingly, paid them great respect and reverence.

The account of this curious feast is given by Ramusio, on traditional
authority, having heard it many times related by the illustrious Gasparo
Malipiero, a very ancient gentleman, and a senator, of unquestionable
veracity, who had it from his father, who had it from his grandfather, and
so on up to the fountain-head.

When the fame of this banquet and of the wealth of the travelers came to
be divulged throughout Venice, all the city, noble and simple, crowded to
do honor to the extraordinary merit of the Polos. Maffeo, who was the
eldest, was admitted to the dignity of the magistracy. The youth of the
city came every day to visit and converse with Marco Polo, who was
extremely amiable and communicative. They were insatiable in their
inquiries about Cathay and the Grand Khan, which he answered with great
courtesy, giving details with which they were vastly delighted, and, as he
always spoke of the wealth of the Grand Khan in round numbers, they gave
him the name of Messer Marco Milioni.

Some months after their return, Lampa Doria, commander of the Genoese
navy, appeared in the vicinity of the island of Curzola with seventy
galleys. Andrea Dandolo, the Venetian admiral, was sent against him. Marco
Polo commanded a galley of the fleet. His usual good fortune deserted him.
Advancing the first in the line with his galley, and not being properly
seconded, he was taken prisoner, thrown in irons, and carried to Genoa.
Here he was detained for a long time in prison, and all offers of ransom
rejected. His imprisonment gave great uneasiness to his father and uncle,
fearing that he might never return. Seeing themselves in this unhappy
state, with so much treasure and no heirs, they consulted together. They
were both very old men; but Nicolo, observes Ramusio, was of a galliard
complexion; it was determined he should take a wife. He did so; and, to
the wonder of his friends, in four years had three children.

In the meanwhile, the fame of Marco Polo's travels had circulated in
Genoa. His prison was daily crowded with nobility, and he was supplied
with every thing that could cheer him in his confinement. A Genoese
gentleman, who visited him every day, at length prevailed upon him to
write an account of what he had seen. He had his papers and journals sent
to him from Venice, and, with the assistance of his friend, or, as some
will have it, his fellow-prisoner, produced the work which afterwards made
such noise throughout the world.

The merit of Marco Polo at length procured him his liberty. He returned to
Venice, where he found his father with a house full of children. He took
it in good part, followed the old man's example, married, and had two
daughters, Moretta and Fantina. The date of the death of Marco Polo is
unknown; he is supposed to have been, at the time, about seventy years of
age. On his death-bed he is said to have been exhorted by his friends to
retract what he had published, or, at least, to disavow those parts
commonly regarded as fictions. He replied indignantly that so far from
having exaggerated, he had not told one half of the extraordinary things
of which he had been an eye-witness.

Marco Polo died without male issue. Of the three sons of his father by the
second marriage, one only had children, viz. five sons and one daughter.
The sons died without leaving issue; the daughter inherited all her
father's wealth, and married into the noble and distinguished house of
Trevesino. Thus the male line of the Polos ceased in 1417, and the family
name was extinguished.

Such are the principal particulars known of Marco Polo; a man whose
travels for a long time made a great noise in Europe, and will be found to
have had a great effect on modern discovery. His splendid account of the
extent, wealth, and population of the Tartar territories filled every one
with admiration. The possibility of bringing all those regions under the
dominion of the church, and rendering the Grand Khan an obedient vassal to
the holy chair, was for a long time a favorite topic among the
enthusiastic missionaries of Christendom, and there were many
saints-errant who undertook to effect the conversion of this magnificent

Even at the distance of two centuries, when the enterprises for the
discovery of the new route to India had set all the warm heads of Europe
madding about these remote regions of the East, the conversion of the
Grand Khan became again a popular theme; and it was too speculative and
romantic an enterprise not to catch the vivid imagination of Columbus. In
all his voyages, he will be found continually to be seeking after the
territories of the Grand Khan, and even after his last expedition, when
nearly worn out by age, hardships, and infirmities, he offered, in a
letter to the Spanish monarchs, written from a bed of sickness, to conduct
any missionary to the territories of the Tartar emperor, who would
undertake his conversion.

No. XXI.

The Work of Marco Polo.

The work of Marco Polo is stated by some to have been originally written
in Latin, [339] though the most probable opinion is that it was written in
the Venetian dialect of the Italian. Copies of it in manuscript were
multiplied and rapidly circulated; translations were made into various
languages, until the invention of printing enabled it to be widely
diffused throughout Europe. In the course of these translations and
successive editions, the original text, according to Purchas, has been
much vitiated, and it is probable many extravagances in numbers and
measurements with which Marco Polo is charged may be the errors of
translators and printers.

When the work first appeared, it was considered by some as made up of
fictions and extravagances, and Vossius assures us that even after the
death of Marco Polo he continued to be a subject of ridicule among the
light and unthinking, insomuch that he was frequently personated at
masquerades by some wit or droll, who, in his feigned character, related
all kinds of extravagant fables and adventures. His work, however, excited
great attention among thinking men, containing evidently a fund of
information concerning vast and splendid countries, before unknown to the
European world. Vossius assures us that it was at one time highly esteemed
by the learned. Francis Pepin, author of the Brandenburgh version, styles
Polo a man commendable for his piety, prudence, and fidelity. Athanasius
Kircher, in his account of China, says that none of the ancients have
described the kingdoms of the remote East with more exactness. Various
other learned men of past times have borne testimony to his character, and
most of the substantial parts of his work have been authenticated by
subsequent travelers. The most able and ample vindication of Marco Polo,
however, is to be found in the English translation of his work, with
copious notes and commentaries, by William Marsden, F. R. S. He has
diligently discriminated between what Marco Polo relates from his own
observation, and what he relates as gathered from others; he points out
the errors that have arisen from misinterpretations, omissions, or
interpretations of translators, and he claims all proper allowance for the
superstitious coloring of parts of the narrative from the belief,
prevalent among the most wise and learned of his day, in miracles and
magic. After perusing the work of Mr. Marsden, the character of Marco Polo
rises in the estimation of the reader. It is evident that his narration,
as far as related from his own observations, is correct, and that he had
really traversed a great part of Tartary and China, and navigated in the
Indian seas. Some of the countries and many of the islands, however, are
evidently described from accounts given by others, and in these accounts
are generally found the fables which have excited incredulity and
ridicule. As he composed his work after his return home, partly from
memory and partly from memorandums, he was liable to confuse what he had
heard with what he had seen, and thus to give undue weight to many fables
and exaggerations which he had received from others.

Much had been said of a map brought from Cathay by Marco Polo, which was
conserved in the convent of San Michale de Murano in the vicinity of
Venice, and in which the Cape of Good Hope and the island of Madagascar
were indicated; countries which the Portuguese claim the merit of having
discovered two centuries afterwards. It has been suggested also that
Columbus had visited the convent and examined this map, whence he derived
some of his ideas concerning the coast of India. According to Ramusio,
however, who had been at the convent, and was well acquainted with the
prior, the map preserved there was one copied by a friar from the original
one of Marco Polo, and many alterations and additions had since been made
by other hands, so that for a long time it lost all credit with judicious
people, until on comparing it with the work of Marco Polo it was found in
the main to agree with his descriptions. [340] The Cape of Good Hope was
doubtless among the additions made subsequent to the discoveries of the
Portuguese. [341] Columbus makes no mention of this map, which he most
probably would have done had he seen it. He seems to have been entirely
guided by the one furnished by Paulo Toscanelli, and which was apparently
projected after the original map, or after the descriptions of Marco
Polo, and the maps of Ptolemy.

When the attention of the world was turned towards the remote parts of
Asia in the 15th century, and the Portuguese were making their attempts to
circumnavigate Africa, the narration of Marco Polo again rose to notice.
This, with the travels of Nicolo le Comte, the Venetian, and of Hieronimo
da San Stefano, a Genoese, are said to have been the principal lights by
which the Portuguese guided themselves in their voyages. [342]

Above all, the influence which the work of Marco Polo had over the mind of
Columbus, gives it particular interest and importance. It was evidently an
oracular work with him. He frequently quotes it, and on his voyages,
supposing himself to be on the Asiatic coast, he is continually
endeavoring to discover the islands and main-lands described in it, and to
find the famous Cipango.

It is proper, therefore, to specify some of those places, and the manner
in which they are described by a Venetian traveler, that the reader may
more fully understand the anticipations which were haunting the mind of
Columbus in his voyages among the West Indian islands, and along the coast
of Terra Firma.

The winter residence of the Great Khan, according to Marco Polo, was in
the city of Cambalu, or Kanbalu, (since ascertained to be Pekin,) in the
province of Cathay. This city, he says, was twenty-four miles square, and
admirably built. It was impossible, according to Marco Polo, to describe
the vast amount and variety of merchandise and manufactures brought there;
it would seem they were enough to furnish the universe. "Here are to be
seen in wonderful abundance the precious stones, the pearls, the silks,
and the diverse perfumes of the East; scarce a day passes that there does
not arrive nearly a thousand cars laden with silk, of which they make
admirable stuffs in this city."

The palace of the Great Khan is magnificently built, and four miles in
circuit. It is rather a group of palaces. In the interior it is
resplendent with gold and silver; and in it are guarded the precious vases
and jewels of the sovereign. All the appointments of the Khan for war, for
the chase, for various festivities, are described in gorgeous terms. But
though Marco Polo is magnificent in his description of the provinces of
Cathay, and its imperial city of Cambalu, he outdoes himself when he comes
to describe the province of Mangi. This province is supposed to be the
southern part of China. It contains, he says, twelve hundred cities. The
capital, Quinsai (supposed to be the city of Hang-cheu), was twenty-five
miles from the sea, but communicated by a river with a port situated on
the seacoast, and had great trade with India.

The name Quinsai, according to Marco Polo, signifies the city of heaven;
he says he has been in it and examined it diligently, and affirms it to be
the largest in the world; and so undoubtedly it is if the measurement of
the traveler is to be taken literally, for he declares that it is one
hundred miles in circuit. This seeming exaggeration has been explained by
supposing him to mean Chinese miles or _li,_ which are to the Italian
miles in the proportion of three to eight; and Mr. Marsden observes that
the walls even of the modern city, the limits of which have been
considerably contracted, are estimated by travelers at sixty _li_.
The ancient city has evidently been of immense extent, and as Marco Polo
could not be supposed to have measured the walls himself, he has probably
taken the loose and incorrect estimates of the inhabitants. He describes
it also as built upon little islands like Venice, and has twelve thousand
stone bridges, [343] the arches of which are so high that the largest
vessels can pass under them without lowering their masts. It has, he
affirms, three thousand baths, and six hundred thousand families,
including domestics. It abounds with magnificent houses, and has a lake
thirty miles in circuit within its walls, on the banks of which are
superb palaces of people of rank. [344] The inhabitants of Qninsai are
very voluptuous, and indulge in all kinds of luxuries and delights,
particularly the women, who are extremely beautiful. There are many
merchants and artisans, but the masters do not work, they employ servants
to do all their labor. The province of Mangi was conquered by the Great
Khan, who divided it into nine kingdoms, appointing to each a tributary
king. He drew from it an immense revenue, for the country abounded in
gold, silver, silks, sugar, spices, and perfumes.

Zipangu, Zifangri, or Cipango.

Fifteen hundred miles from the shores of Mangi, according to Marco Polo,
lay the great island of Zipangu, by some written Zipangri, and by Columbus
Cipango. [345] Marco Polo describes it as abounding in gold,
which, however, the king seldom permits to be transported out of the
island.--The king has a magnificent palace covered with plates of gold, as
in other countries the palaces are covered with sheets of lead or copper.
The halls and chambers are likewise covered with gold, the windows adorned
with it, sometimes in plates of the thickness of two fingers. The island
also produces vast quantities of the largest and finest pearls, together
with a variety of precious stones; so that, in fact, it abounds in riches.
The Great Khan made several attempts to conquer this island, but in vain;
which is not to be wondered at, if it be true what Marco Polo relates,
that the inhabitants had certain stones of a charmed virtue inserted
between the skin and the flesh of their right arms, which, through the
power of diabolical enchantments, rendered them invulnerable. This island
was an object of diligent search to Columbus.

About the island of Zipangu or Cipango, and between it and the coast of
Mangi, the sea, according to Marco Polo, is studded with small islands to
the number of seven thousand four hundred and forty, of which the greater
part are inhabited. There is not one which does not produce odoriferous
trees and perfumes in abundance Columbus thought himself at one time in
the midst of these islands.

These are the principal places described by Marco Polo, which occur in the
letters and journals of Columbus. The island of Cipango was the first land
he expected to make, and he intended to visit afterwards the province of
Mangi, and to seek the Great Khan in his city of Cambalu, in the province
of Cathay. Unless the reader can bear in mind these sumptuous descriptions
of Marco Polo, of countries teeming with wealth, and cities where the very
domes and palaces flamed with gold, he will have but a faint idea of the
splendid anticipations which filled the imagination of Columbus when he
discovered, as he supposed, the extremity of Asia. It was his confident
expectation of soon arriving at these countries, and realizing the
accounts of the Venetian, that induced him to hold forth those promises of
immediate wealth to the sovereigns, which caused so much disappointment,
and brought upon him the frequent reproach of exciting false hopes and
indulging in willful exaggeration.


Sir John Mandeville.

Next to Marco Polo, the travels of Sir John Mandeville, and his account
of the territories of the Great Khan along the coast of Asia, seem to have
been treasured up in the mind of Columbus.

Mandeville was born in the city of St. Albans. He was devoted to study
from his earliest childhood, and, after finishing his general education,
applied himself to medicine. Having a great desire to see the remotest
parts of the earth, then known, that is to say, Asia and Africa, and above
all, to visit the Holy Land, he left England in 1332, and passing through
France embarked at Marseilles. According to his own account, he visited
Turkey, Armenia, Egypt, Upper and Lower Lybia, Syria, Persia, Chaldea,
Ethiopia, Tartary, Amazonia, and the Indies, residing in their principal
cities. But most he says he delighted in the Holy Land, where he remained
for a long time, examining it with the greatest minuteness, and
endeavoring to follow all the traces of our Saviour. After an absence of
thirty-four years he returned to England, but found himself forgotten and
unknown by the greater part of his countrymen, and a stranger in his
native place. He wrote a history of his travels in three languages,
English, French, and Latin, for he was master of many tongues. He
addressed his work to Edward III. His wanderings do not seem to have made
him either pleased with the world at large, or contented with his home. He
railed at the age, saying that there was no more virtue extant; that the
church was ruined; error prevalent among the clergy; simony upon the
throne; and, in a word, that the devil reigned triumphant. He soon
returned to the continent, and died at Liege in 1372. He was buried in the
abbey of the Gulielmites, in the suburbs of that city, where Ortelius, in
his Itinerarium Belgiae, says that he saw his monument, on which was the
effigy, in stone, of a man with a forked beard and his hands raised
towards his head (probably folded as in prayer, according to the manner of
old tombs) and a lion at his feet. There was an inscription stating his
name, quality, and calling, (viz. professor of medicine,) that he was very
pious, very learned, and very charitable to the poor, and that after
having traveled over the whole world he had died at Liege. The people of
the convent showed also his spurs, and the housings of the horses which he
had ridden in his travels.

The descriptions given by Mandeville of the Grand Khan, of the province of
Cathay, and the city of Cambalu, are no less splendid than those of Marco
Polo. The royal palace was more than two leagues in circumference. The
grand hall had twenty-four columns of copper and gold. There were more
than three hundred thousand men occupied and living in and about the
palace, of which more than one hundred thousand were employed in taking
care of ten thousand elephants and of a vast variety of other animals,
birds of prey, falcons, parrots, and paroquets. On days of festivals there
were even twice the number of men employed. The title of this potentate in
his letters was "Khan, the son of God, exalted possessor of all the earth,
master of those who are masters of others." On his seal was engraved, "God
reigns in heaven, Khan upon earth."

Mandeville has become proverbial for indulging in a traveler's
exaggerations; yet his accounts of the countries which he visited have
been found far more veracious than had been imagined. His descriptions of
Cathay, and the wealthy province of Mangi, agreeing with those of Marco
Polo, had great authority with Columbus.


The Zones.

The zones were imaginary bands or circles in the heavens producing an
effect of climate on corresponding belts on the globe of the earth. The
polar circles and the tropics mark these divisions.

The central region, lying beneath the track of the sun, was termed the
torrid zone; the two regions between the tropics and the polar circles
were termed the temperate zones, and the remaining parts, between the
porlar circles and the poles, the frigid zones.

The frozen regions near the poles were considered uninhabitable and
unnavigable on account of the extreme cold. The burning zone, or rather
the central part of it, immediately about the equator, was considered
uninhabitable, unproductive, and impassable in consequence of the
excessive heat. The temperate zones, lying between them, were supposed to
be fertile and salubrious, and suited to the purposes of life.

The globe was divided into two hemispheres by the equator, an imaginary
line encircling it at equal distance from the poles. The whole of the
world known to the ancients was contained in the temperate zone of the
northern hemisphere.

It was imagined that if there should be inhabitants in the temperate zone
of the southern hemisphere, there could still be no communication with
them on account of the burning zone which intervened.

Parmenides, according to Strabo, was the inventor of this theory of the
five zones, but he made the torrid zone extend on each side of the equator
beyond the tropics. Aristotle supported this doctrine of the zones. In his
time nothing was known of the extreme northern parts of Europe and Asia,
nor of interior Ethiopia and the southern part of Africa, extending beyond
the tropic of Capricorn to the Cape of Good Hope. Aristotle believed that
there was habitable earth in the southern hemisphere, but that it was for
ever divided from the part of the world already known, by the impassable
zone of scorching heat at the equator. [346]

Pliny supported the opinion of Aristotle concerning the burning zones.
"The temperature of the central region of the earth," he observes, "where
the sun runs his course, is burnt up as with fire. The temperate zones
which lie on either side can have no communication with each other in
consequence of the fervent heat of this region." [347]

Strabo, (lib. xi.,) in mentioning this theory, gives it likewise his
support; and others of the ancient philosophers, as well as the poets,
might be cited to show the general prevalence of the belief.

It must be observed that, at the time when Columbus defended his
proposition before the learned board at Salamanca, the ancient theory of
the burning zone had not yet been totally disproved by modern discovery.
The Portuguese, it is true, had penetrated within the tropics; but, though
the whole of the space between the tropic of Cancer and that of Capricorn,
in common parlance, was termed the torrid zone, the uninhabitable and
impassable part, strictly speaking, according to the doctrine of the
ancients, only extended a limited number of degrees on each side of the
equator; forming about a third, or, at most, the half of the zone. The
proofs which Columbus endeavored to draw therefore from the voyages made
to St. George la Mina, were not conclusive with those who were bigoted to
the ancient theory, and who placed this scorching region still farther
southward, and immediately about the equator.


Of the Atlantis of Plato.

The island Atalantis is mentioned by Plato in his dialogue of Timaeus.
Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, is supposed to have traveled into Egypt. He
is in an ancient city on the Delta, the fertile island formed by the Nile,
and is holding converse with certain learned priests on the antiquities of
remote ages, when one of them gives him a description of the island of
Atalantis, and of its destruction, which he describes as having taken
place before the conflagration of the world by Phaeton.

This island, he was told, had been situated on the Western Ocean, opposite
to the Straits of Gibraltar. There was an easy passage from it to other
islands, which lay adjacent to a large continent, exceeding in size all
Europe and Asia. Neptune settled in this island, from whose son Atlas its
name was derived, and he divided it among his ten sons. His descendants
reigned here in regular succession for many ages. They made irruptions
into Europe and Africa, subduing all Libya as far as Egypt, and Europe to
Asia Minor. They were resisted, however, by the Athenians, and driven back
to their Atlantic territories. Shortly after this there was a tremendous
earthquake, and an overflowing of the sea, which continued for a day and a
night. In the course of this the vast island of Atalantis, and all its
splendid cities and warlike nations, were swallowed up, and sunk to the
bottom of the sea, which, spreading its waters over the chasm, formed the
Atlantic Ocean. For a long time, however, the sea was not navigable, on
account of rocks and shelves, of mud and slime, and of the ruins of that
drowned country.

Many, in modern times, have considered this a mere fable; others suppose
that Plato, while in Egypt, had received some vague accounts of the Canary
Islands, and, on his return to Greece, finding those islands so entirely
unknown to his countrymen, had made them the seat of his political and
moral speculations. Some, however, have been disposed to give greater
weight to this story of Plato. They imagine that such an island may really
have existed filling up a great part of the Atlantic, and that the
continent beyond it was America, which, in such case, was not unknown to
the ancients. Kircher supposes it to have been an island extending from
the Canaries to the Azores; that it was really ingulfed in one of the
convulsions of the globe, and that those small islands are mere shattered
fragments of it.

As a farther proof that the New World was not unknown to the ancients,
many have cited the singular passage in the Medea of Seneca, which is
wonderfully apposite, and shows, at least, how nearly the warm imagination
of a poet may approach to prophecy. The predictions of the ancient oracles
were rarely so unequivocal.

Venient annis
Saecula seris, quilms Oceanus
Vincula rerum laxet, et ingens
Patent tellus, Typhisque novos
Detegat orbes, nee sit terris
Ultima Thule.

Gosselin in his able research into the voyages of the ancients, supposes
the Atalantis of Plato to have been nothing more nor less than one of the
nearest of the Canaries, viz. Fortaventura or Lancerote.

No. XXV.

The Imaginary Island of St. Brandan.

One of the most singular geographical illusions on record is that which
for a long while haunted the imaginations of the inhabitants of the
Canaries. They fancied they beheld a mountainous island about ninety
leagues in length, lying far to the westward. It was only seen at
intervals, but in perfectly clear and serene weather. To some it seemed
one hundred leagues distant, to others forty, to others only fifteen or
eighteen. [348]On attempting to reach it, however, it somehow or other
eluded the search, and was nowhere to be found. Still there were so many
eye-witnesses of credibility who concurred in testifying to their having
seen it, and the testimony of the inhabitants of different islands agreed
so well as to its form and position, that its existence was generally
believed, and geographers inserted it in their maps. It is laid down on
the globe of Martin Behem, projected in 1492, as delineated by M. De Murr,
and it will be found in most of the maps of the time of Columbus, placed
commonly about two hundred leagues west of the Canaries. During the time
that Columbus was making his proposition to the court of Portugal, an
inhabitant of the Canaries applied to king John II for a vessel to go in
search of this island. In the archives of the Torre do Tombo [349] also,
there is a record of a contract made by the crown of Portugal with
Fernando de Ulmo, cavalier of the royal household, and captain of the
island of Tercera, wherein he undertakes to go at his own expense, in
quest of an island or islands, or Terra Firma, supposed to be the island
of the Seven Cities, on condition of having jurisdiction over the same
for himself and his heirs, allowing one tenth of the revenues to the king.
This Ulmo, finding the expedition above his capacity, associated one Juan
Alfonso del Estreito in the enterprise. They were bound to be ready to
sail with two caravels in the month of March, 1487. [350] The fate of
their enterprise is unknown.

The name of St. Brandan, or Borondon, given to this imaginary island from
time immemorial, is said to be derived from a Scotch abbot, who flourished
in the sixth century, and who is called sometimes by the foregoing
appellations, sometimes St. Blandano, or St. Blandanus. In the Martyrology
of the order of St. Augustine, he is said to have been the patriarch of
three thousand monks. About the middle of the sixth century, he
accompanied his disciple, St. Maclovio, or St. Malo, in search of certain
islands possessing the delights of paradise, which they were told existed
in the midst of the ocean, and were inhabited by infidels. These most
adventurous saints-errant wandered for a long time upon the ocean, and at
length landed upon an island called Ima. Here St. Malo found the body of a
giant lying in a sepulchre. He resuscitated him, and had much interesting
conversation with him, the giant informing him that the inhabitants of
that island had some notions of the Trinity, and, moreover, giving him a
gratifying account of the torments which Jews and Pagans suffered in the
infernal regions. Finding the giant so docile and reasonable, St. Malo
expounded to him the doctrines of the Christian religion, converted him,
and baptized him by the name of Mildum. The giant, however, either through
weariness of life, or eagerness to enjoy the benefits of his conversion,
begged permission, at the end of fifteen days, to die again, which was
granted him.

According to another account, the giant told them he knew of an island in
the ocean, defended by walls of burnished gold, so resplendent that they
shone like crystal, but to which there was no entrance. At their request,
he undertook to guide them to it, and taking the cable of their ship,
threw himself into the sea. He had not proceeded far, however, when a
tempest rose, and obliged them all to return, and shortly after the giant
died. [351] A third legend makes the saint pray to heaven on Easter day,
that they may be permitted to find land where they may celebrate the
offices of religion with becoming state. An island immediately appears,
on which they land, perform a solemn mass, and the sacrament of the
Eucharist; after which re-embarking and making sail, they behold to their
astonishment the supposed island suddenly plunge to the bottom of the sea,
being nothing else than a monstrous whale. [352] When the rumor circulated
of an island seen from the Canaries, which always eluded the search, the
legends of St. Brandan were revived, and applied to this unapproachable
land. We are told, also, that there was an ancient Latin manuscript in the
archives of the cathedral church of the Grand Canary, in which the
adventures of these saints were recorded. Through carelessness, however,
this manuscript has disappeared. [353] Some have maintained that this
island was known to the ancients, and was the same mentioned by Ptolemy
among the Fortunate or Canary islands, by the names of Aprositus, [354] or
the Inaccessible; and which, according to friar Diego Philipo, in his book
on the Incarnation of Christ, shows that it possessed the same quality in
ancient times of deluding the eye and being unattainable to the feet of
mortals. [355] But whatever belief the ancients may have had on this
subject, it is certain that it took a strong hold on the faith of the
moderns during the prevalent rage for discovery; nor did it lack abundant
testimonials. Don Joseph de Viera y Clavijo says, there never was a more
difficult paradox nor problem in the science of geography; since, to
affirm the existence of this island, is to trample upon sound criticism,
judgment, and reason; and to deny it, one must abandon tradition and
experience, and suppose that many persons of credit had not the proper
use of their senses. [356]

The belief in this island has continued long since the time of Columbus.
It was repeatedly seen, and by various persons at a time, always in the
same place and of the same form. In 1526 an expedition set off for the
Canaries in quest of it, commanded by Fernando de Troya and Fernando
Alvarez. They cruised in the wonted direction, but in vain, and their
failure ought to have undeceived the public. "The phantasm of the island,
however," says Viera, "had such a secret enchantment for all who beheld
it, that the public preferred doubting the good conduct of the explorers,
than their own senses." In 1570 the appearances were so repeated and
clear, that there was a universal fever of curiosity awakened among the
people of the Canaries, and it was determined to send forth another

That they might not appear to act upon light grounds, an exact
investigation was previously made of all the persons of talent and
credibility who had seen these apparitions of land, or who had other
proofs of its existence.

Alonzo de Espinosa, governor of the island of Ferro, accordingly made a
report, in which more than one hundred witnesses, several of them persons
of the highest respectability, deposed that they had beheld the unknown
island about forty leagues to the northwest of Ferro; that they had
contemplated it with calmness and certainty, and had seen the sun set
behind one of its points.

Testimonials of still greater force came from the islands of Palma and
Teneriffe. There were certain Portuguese who affirmed, that, being driven
about by a tempest, they had come upon the island of St. Borondon. Pedro
Vello, who was the pilot of the vessel, affirmed, that having anchored in
a bay, he landed with several of the crew. They drank fresh water in a
brook, and beheld in the sand the print of footsteps, double the size of
those of an ordinary man, and the distance between them was in proportion.
They found a cross nailed to a neighboring tree; near to which were three
stones placed in form of a triangle, with signs of fire having been made
among them, probably to cook shell-fish. Having seen much cattle and sheep
grazing in the neighborhood, two of their party armed with lances went
into the woods in pursuit of them. The night was approaching, the heavens
began to lower, and a harsh wind arose. The people on board the ship cried
out that she was dragging her anchor, whereupon Vello entered the boat and
hurried on board. In an instant they lost sight of land; being as it were
swept away in the hurricane. When the storm had passed away, and the sea
and sky were again serene, they searched in vain for the island; not a
trace of it was to be seen, and they had to pursue their voyage, lamenting
the loss of their two companions who had been abandoned in the wood.

A learned licentiate, Pedro Ortiz de Funez, inquisitor of the Grand
Canary, while on a visit at Teneriffe, summoned several persons before
him, who testified having seen the island. Among them was one Marcos
Verde, a man well known in those parts. He stated that in returning from
Barbary and arriving in the neighborhood of the Canaries, he beheld land,
which, according to his maps and calculations, could not be any of the
known islands. He concluded it to be the far-famed St. Borondon. Overjoyed
at having discovered this land of mystery, he coasted along its spell-bound
shores, until he anchored in a beautiful harbor formed by the mouth of a
mountain ravine. Here he landed with several of his crew. It was now,
he said, the hour of the Ave Maria, or of vespers. The sun being set, the
shadows began to spread over the land. The voyagers having separated,
wandered about in different directions, until out of hearing of each
other's shouts. Those on board, seeing the night approaching, made signal
to summon back the wanderers to the ship. They re-embarked, intending to
resume their investigations on the following day. Scarcely were they on
board, however, when a whirlwind came rushing down the ravine, with such
violence as to drag the vessel from her anchor, and hurry her out to sea;
and they never saw any thing more of this hidden and inhospitable island.

Another testimony remains on record in manuscript of one Abreu Galindo;
but whether taken at this time does not appear. It was that of a French
adventurer, who, many years before, making a voyage among the Canaries,
was overtaken by a violent storm which carried away his masts. At length
the furious winds drove him to the shores of an unknown island covered
with stately trees. Here he landed with part of his crew, and choosing a
tree proper for a mast, cut it down, and began to shape it for his
purpose. The guardian power of the island, however, resented as usual this
invasion of his forbidden shores. The heavens assumed a dark and
threatening aspect; the night was approaching, and the mariners, fearing
some impending evil, abandoned their labor and returned on board. They
were borne away as usual from the coast, and the next day arrived at the
island of Palma. [358]

The mass of testimony collected by official authority in 1750 seemed so
satisfactory, that another expedition was fitted out in the same year in
the island of Palma. It was commanded by Fernando de Villabolos, regidor
of the island; but was equally fruitless with the preceding. St. Borondon
seemed disposed only to tantalize the world with distant and serene
glimpses of his ideal paradise; or to reveal it amidst storms to
tempest-tossed mariners, but to hide it completely from the view of all
who diligently sought it. Still the people of Palma adhered to their
favorite chimera. Thirty-four years afterwards, in 1605, they sent another
ship on the quest, commanded by Gaspar Perez de Acosta, an accomplished
pilot, accompanied by the padre Lorenzo Pinedo, a holy Franciscan friar,
skilled in natural science. St. Borondon, however, refused to reveal his
island to either monk or mariner. After cruising about in every direction,
sounding, observing the skies, the clouds, the winds, every thing that
could furnish indications, they returned without having seen any thing to
authorize a hope.

Upwards of a century now elapsed without any new attempt to seek this
fairy island. Every now and then, it is true, the public mind was agitated
by fresh reports of its having been seen. Lemons and other fruits, and the
green branches of trees which floated to the shores of Gomera and Ferro,
were pronounced to be from the enchanted groves of St. Borondon. At
length, in 1721, the public infatuation again rose to such a height that a
fourth expedition was sent, commanded by Don Caspar Dominguez, a man of
probity and talent. As this was an expedition of solemn and mysterious
import, he had two holy friars as apostolical chaplains. They made sail
from the island of Teneriffe towards the end of October, leaving the
populace in an indescribable state of anxious curiosity mingled with
superstition. The ship, however, returned from its cruise as unsuccessful
as all its predecessors.

We have no account of any expedition being since undertaken, though the
island still continued to be a subject of speculation, and occasionally to
reveal its shadowy mountains to the eyes of favored individuals. In a
letter written from the island of Gomera, 1759, by a Franciscan monk, to
one of his friends, he relates having seen it from the village of Alaxero
at six in the morning of the third of May. It appeared to consist of two
lofty mountains, with a deep valley between; and on contemplating it with
a telescope, the valley or ravine appeared to be filled with trees. He
summoned the curate Antonio Joseph Manrique, and upwards of forty other
persons, all of whom beheld it plainly. [359]

Nor is this island delineated merely in ancient maps of the time of
Columbus. It is laid down as one of the Canary islands in a French map
published in 1704; and Mons. Gautier, in a geographical chart, annexed to
his Observations on Natural History, published in 1755, places it five
degrees to the west of the island of Ferro, in the 29th deg. of N.
latitude. [360]

Such are the principal facts existing relative to the island of St.
Brandan: Its reality was for a long time a matter of firm belief. It was
in vain that repeated voyages and investigations proved its nonexistence;
the public, after trying all kinds of sophistry, took refuge in the
supernatural, to defend their favorite chimera. They maintained that it
was rendered inaccessible to mortals by Divine Providence, or by
diabolical magic. Most inclined to the former. All kinds of extravagant
fancies were indulged concerning it; [361] some confounded it with the
fabled island of the Seven Cities situated somewhere in the bosom of the
ocean, where in old times seven bishops and their followers had taken
refuge from the Moors. Some of the Portuguese imagined it to be the abode
of their lost king Sebastian. The Spaniards pretended that Roderick, the
last of their Gothic kings, had fled thither from the Moors after the
disastrous battle of the Guadalete. Others suggested that it might be the
seat of the terrestrial paradise, the place where Enoch and Elijah
remained in a state of blessedness until the final day; and that it was
made at times apparent to the eyes, but invisible to the search of
mortals. Poetry, it is said, has owed to this popular belief one of its
beautiful fictions, and the garden of Armida, where Rinaldo was detained
enchanted, and which Tasso places in one of the Canary islands, has been
identified with the imaginary St. Borondon. [362]

The learned father Feyjoo [363] has given a philosophical solution to
this geographical problem. He attributes all these appearances, which
have been so numerous and so well authenticated as not to admit of doubt,
to certain atmospherical deceptions, like that of the Fata Morgana, seen
at times, in the straits of Messina, where the city of Reggio and its
surrounding country is reflected in the air above the neighboring sea: a
phenomenon which has likewise been witnessed in front of the city of
Marseilles. As to the tales of the mariners who had landed on these
forbidden shores, and been hurried thence in whirlwinds and tempests, he
considers them as mere fabrications.

As the populace, however, reluctantly give up any thing that partakes of
the marvelous and mysterious, and as the same atmospherical phenomena,
which first gave birth to the illusion, may still continue, it is not
improbable that a belief in the island of St. Brandan may still exist
among the ignorant and credulous of the Canaries, and that they at times
behold its fairy mountains rising above the distant horizon of the


The Island of the Seven Cities.

One of the popular traditions concerning the ocean, which were current
during the time of Columbus, was that of the Island of the Seven Cities.
It was recorded in an ancient legend, that at the time of the conquest of
Spain and Portugal by the Moors, when the inhabitants fled in every
direction to escape from slavery, seven bishops, followed by a great
number of their people, took shipping and abandoned themselves to their
fate, on the high seas. After tossing about for some time, they landed on
an unknown island in the midst of the ocean. Here the bishops burnt the
ships, to prevent the desertion of their followers, and founded seven
cities. Various pilots of Portugal, it was said, had reached that island
at different times, but had never returned to give any information
concerning it, having been detained, according to subsequent accounts, by
the successors of the bishops to prevent pursuit. At length, according to
common report, at the time that prince Henry of Portugal was prosecuting
his discoveries, several seafaring men presented themselves one day before
him, and stated that they had just returned from a voyage, in the course
of which they had landed upon this island. The inhabitants, they said,
spoke their language, and carried them immediately to church, to ascertain
whether they were Catholics, and were rejoiced at finding them of the true
faith. They then made earnest inquiries, to know whether the Moors still
retained possession of Spain and Portugal. While part of the crew were at
church, the rest gathered sand on the shore for the use of the kitchen,
and found to their surprise that one-third of it was gold. The islanders
were anxious that the crew should remain with them a few days, until the
return of their governor, who was absent; but the mariners, afraid of
being detained, embarked and made sail. Such was the story they told to
prince Henry, hoping to receive reward for their intelligence. The prince
expressed displeasure at their hasty departure from the island, and
ordered them to return and procure further information; but the men,
apprehensive, no doubt, of having the falsehood of their tale discovered,
made their escape, and nothing more was heard of them. [364]

This story had much currency. The Island of the Seven Cities was
identified with the island mentioned by Aristotle as having been
discovered by the Carthaginians, and was put down in the early maps about
the time of Columbus, under the name of Antilla.

At the time of the discovery of New Spain, reports were brought to
Hispaniola of the civilization of the country; that the people wore
clothing; that their houses and temples were solid, spacious, and often
magnificent; and that crosses were occasionally found among them. Juan de
Grivalja, being dispatched to explore the coast of Yucatan, reported that
in sailing along it he beheld, with great wonder, stately and beautiful
edifices of lime and stone, and many high towers that shone at a distance.
[365] For a time the old tradition of the Seven Cities was revived, and
many thought that they were to be found in the same part of New Spain.


Discovery of the Island of Madeira.

The discovery of Madeira by Macham rests principally upon the authority of
Francisco Alcaforado, an esquire of prince Henry of Portugal, who composed
an account of it for that prince. It does not appear to have obtained much
faith among Portuguese historians. No mention is made of it in Barros; he
attributes the first discovery of the island to Juan Gonzalez and Tristram
Vaz, who he said descried it from Porto Santo, resembling a cloud on the
horizon. [366]

The abbe Provost, however, in his general history of voyages, vol. 6,
seems inclined to give credit to the account of Alcaforado. "It was
composed," he observes, "at a time when the attention of the public would
have exposed the least falsities; and no one was more capable than
Alcaforado of giving an exact detail of this event, since he was of the
number of those who assisted at the second discovery." The narrative, as
originally written, was overcharged with ornaments and digressions. It was
translated into French and published in Paris, in 1671. The French
translator had retrenched the ornaments, but scrupulously retained the
facts. The story, however, is cherished in the island of Madeira, where a
painting in illustration of it is still to be seen. The following is the
purport of the French translation: I have not been able to procure the
original of Alcaforado.

During the reign of Edward the Third of England, a young man of great
courage and talent, named Robert Macham, fell in love with a young lady of
rare beauty, of the name of Anne Dorset. She was his superior in birth,
and of a proud and aristocratic family; but the merit of Macham gained him
the preference over all his rivals. The family of the young lady, to
prevent her making an inferior alliance, obtained an order from the king
to have Macham arrested and confined, until by arbitrary means they
married his mistress to a man of quality. As soon as the nuptials were
celebrated, the nobleman conducted his beautiful and afflicted bride to
his seat near Bristol. Macham was now restored to liberty. Indignant at
the wrongs he had suffered, and certain of the affections of his mistress,
he prevailed upon several friends to assist him in a project for the
gratification of his love and his revenge. They followed hard on the
traces of the new-married couple to Bristol. One of the friends obtained
an introduction into the family of the nobleman in quality of a groom. He
found the young bride full of tender recollections of her lover, and of
dislike to the husband thus forced upon her. Through the means of this
friend, Macham had several communications with her, and concerted means
for their escape to France, where they might enjoy their mutual love

When all things were prepared, the young lady rode out one day accompanied
only by the fictitious groom, under pretence of taking the air. No sooner
were they out of sight of the house, than they galloped to an appointed
place on the shore of the channel, where a boat awaited them. They were
conveyed on board a vessel which lay with anchor a-trip, and sails
unfurled, ready to put to sea. Here the lovers were once more united.
Fearful of pursuit, the ship immediately weighed anchor; they made their
way rapidly along the coast of Cornwall, and Macham anticipated the
triumph of soon landing with his beautiful prize on the shores of gay and
gallant France. Unfortunately an adverse and stormy wind arose in the
night; at daybreak they found themselves out of sight of land. The
mariners were ignorant and inexperienced; they knew nothing of the
compass, and it was a time when men were unaccustomed to traverse the high
seas. For thirteen days the lovers were driven about on a tempestuous
ocean, at the mercy of wind and wave. The fugitive bride was filled with
terror and remorse, and looked upon this uproar of the elements as the
anger of heaven directed against her. All the efforts of her lover could
not remove from her mind a dismal presage of some approaching catastrophe.

At length the tempest subsided. On the fourteenth day, at dawn, the
mariners perceived what appeared to be a tuft of wood rising out of the
sea. They joyfully steered for it, supposing it to be an island. They were
not mistaken. As they drew near, the rising sun shone upon noble forests,
the trees of which were of a kind unknown to them. Flights of birds also
came hovering about the ship, and perched upon the yards and rigging
without any signs of fear. The boat was sent on shore to reconnoitre, and
soon returned with such accounts of the beauty of the country, that Macham
determined to take his drooping companion to the land, in hopes her health
and spirits might be restored by refreshment and repose. They were
accompanied on shore by the faithful friends who had assisted in their
flight. The mariners remained on board to guard, the ship.

The country was indeed delightful. The forests were stately and
magnificent; there were trees laden with excellent fruits, others with
aromatic flowers; the waters were cool and limpid, the sky was serene, and
there was a balmy sweetness in the air. The animals they met with showed
no signs of alarm or ferocity, from which they concluded that the island
was uninhabited. On penetrating a little distance they found a sheltered
meadow, the green bosom of which was bordered by laurels and refreshed by
a mountain brook which ran sparkling over pebbles. In the centre was a
majestic tree, the wide branches of which afforded shade from the rays of
the sun. Here Macham had bowers constructed and determined to pass a few
days, hoping that the sweetness of the country, and the serene
tranquillity of this delightful solitude, would recruit the drooping
health and spirits of his companion. Three days, however, had scarcely
passed, when a violent storm arose from the northeast, and raged all night
over the island. On the succeeding morning Macham repaired to the sea-side,
but nothing of his ship was to be seen, and he concluded that it had
foundered in the tempest.

Consternation fell upon the little band, thus left in an uninhabited
island in the midst of the ocean. The blow fell most severely on the timid
and repentant bride. She reproached herself with being the cause of all
their misfortunes, and, from the first, had been haunted by dismal
forebodings. She now considered them about to be accomplished, and her


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