James W. (James William) Buel.

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the kingdoms which must lie beyond the line where the
horizon kisses the expanding sea.

In one particular the interest of Ferdinand was aroused.
The recital of Columbus had covered his experience at the
court of the King of Portugal, and Spain was at enmity
with Portugal, which rendered Ferdinand sensible to any
plan which promised to embarrass John. Therefore, in so
far as the prospect of advantage was opened by the proposals
of Columbus, the Spanish monarch was willing to extend
his assistance, if by so doing he might anticipate the Portu-



guese in reaching India by a western route. But over this
selfish incentive the coldness and parsimony of his disposi-
tion prevailed ; but instead of dismissing Columbus, he with-
held final decision until opinions of the learned men of the
kingdom, as to the feasibility of the project, could be Ob-

In pursuance of the expressed intentions of Ferdinand he
appointed a commission of several learned men of Spain
to consider the theory and proposals of Columbus, at the
head of which was placed Ferdinand de Talavera, whose
chilling reception, as already described, gave small hopes to
Columbus of a favorable determination; Rodrigo Maldenado
de Talavera, Mayor of Salamanca, and a cousin of the arch-
bishop, was appointed secretary of the congress, who shared
with his distinguished kinsman the bigotry and prejudice
which he had evinced at the first meeting with Columbus.

The congress which Ferdinand thus called together con-
vened at Salamanca, which was the seat of all Spanish
learning, but still distinctly medieval and intensely ecclesias-
tical. The chairs of its great university were occupied by
the most learned scholastics of Europe, and on its registry
were sometimes enrolled more than eight thousand students.
But Church influence dominated everything in Spain ; the
professorships were held by priest, bishop or cardinal, so
that all instruction was poured through the sieve of eccle-
siasticism, and only that which could pass through the
meshes was accepted as true. Thus we perceive that in the
time of Columbus both the intellectual and moral life of
Spain was subordinated to the purposes of the Church. So
supreme was prelacy that not even Ferdinand and Isabella
could free themselves from the thraldom which it had
imposed. This being the intellectual condition of the nation,
the professors of its greatest university were ill-prepared
for original investigation, and the Junta which had been


assembled was not more advanced in thought, nor liberal in
their views, than the mass of the religious monitors of that
age, who took scrupulous care that science should not
invade the precincts of the Church. To pass the established
bourne, to trench upon unexplored realms, to venture a
scientific explanation of the simplest phenomenon of nature,
was to startle and shock the whole conservatism of ecclesias-

The assembling place of the congress was the Dominican
Convent of St. Stephen, and the time very early in January,
1487, but the members of the commission cannot be deter-
mined, as the records were long since destroyed, if, indeed,
they were ever preserved. When Columbus w^as called to
present his arguments before this learned body of scholastics,
he surely could not extract inspiration from the promises
which their every aspect revealed.

But notwithstanding all the discouragements which con-
fronted him, Columbus arose before his critics in the large
conference hall of St. Stephen, firm, determined, statuesque.
The occasion had arrived when his supremest nature must
be exhibited ; when all the powers of his mental endowments
must be brought into display ; when diffidence and doubt
must give way to pluck and persistence ; when courage and
confidence must be harnessed by the will to ride through
the ranks of prejudice and all opposing environment.
With this undaunted spirit Columbus addressed the bearded
Junta. At first only the Dominican friars, composing a part
of the audience, gave him respectful attention, but as he
progressed his zeal grew vehement and words of startling
import fell in streams of eloquence from his lips. Gradually
he began to make an impression, favorable upon the least
bigoted, but antagonistic to the greater number, and these
latter flung at him, by way of interruption, puerile objec-
tions to his theories, opposing, with weak derision, the


evidences presented of a world beyond the gloomy ocean.
The Scriptures— as they have been used alike to defend and
impeach in every great moral question that has arisen to
divide society — were appealed to in disproof of the claims
of the Genoese navigator. Texts were quoted by the
dignitaries, each smiling, after the manner of his kind, to
think how the upstart philosopher was brought to bay by
the leveling stroke of authority. The Book of Genesis
served the opposition, while others quoted the Psalms and
the prophecies and the New Testament writings as con-
clusive evidence of the falsity of Columbus' conclusions.
But these being controverted, the Junta, who were also
Church Fathers, introduced opinions of St. Chrysostom, St.
Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Gregory, St. Basil and St.
Ambrose in proof of the flat shape of the earth, and that
circumnavigation was therefore impossible. Lactantius
Firmiarus, who wrote in the fourth century, was also appealed
to, whose opinion that the earth is a plane was piously and
elaborately set forth in a work which he entitled De Falsa
Sapientia — an insight into deceptive things.

Columbus confidently quoted, in support of his theory of
the earth's sphericity, such classical authorities as Pliny,
Strabo, Seneca and Aristotle, and also read many passages
from the Bible which appeared to refer to other lands than
those then known. And thus was the conference turned
into a commission of disputation, which resulted, as it had
begun, in a division of opinion respecting the earth's shape.
Some there were, chiefly the Dominican monks, who be-
lieved the world to be globular in form, but these opposed
the claims of Columbus, that India might be reached by a
voyage westward, by declaring that the very fact of the
earth's rotundity would prevent the possibility of a ship's
returning if it ventured beyond the equatorial line ; for, said
they, the globe being spherical, must fall away in all direc-


tions. How, therefore, they argued, could one who had
sailed beyond the rim, down the convexity of the world,
be able to sail back up the slope, which must be like as-
cending a hill ? Terrestrial gravitation was not known at
this time even by Columbus, so he could only offer a ref-
utation of this argument by reciting his own experience in
a voyage along the coast of Guinea, below the equator,
where he observed nothing to prevent a ship from sailing
north or south.

But while some of the assemblage were converted to his
views, notably friar Diego de Deza, professor of theology,
Columbus was vehemently opposed by an overwhelming
majority of the council, who submitted their report in
writing to the King and Queen, declaring that the project
was "vain and impossible, and that it did not belong to the
majesty of such great princes to determine anything upon
such weak grounds of information."

While the commission was resolving the evidence, and
before a verdict had been reached, the Spanish Court left
Salamanca, first proceeding to Cordova and thence to the
seat of war in Granada, leaving Columbus waiting for the
judgment of the conference, which, however, he believed
would be unfavorable. Upon announcement of the report
Columbus was much distressed, but his discouragement was
directly relieved by a message from the sovereigns, who in
a few words gave intimation that, regardless of the finding
of the congress, they were not disposed to wholly abandon
the project, and might give him necessary aid when the war,
in which they were now engaged, terminated.

With this small encouragement upon which to hang his
hopes, Columbus followed the King and Queen, first to the
siege of Malaga, where he was a witness to the surrender of
that stronghold, and thence, owing to a plague breaking
out in the captured city, to Saragossa, Valladolid, and to


Medina del Campo. But heart-sick at length, through want
of opportunity to press his project upon the Spanish
sovereigns, he resolved to turn his attention towards some
other country. Under the pressure of want and disappoint-
ment he even so far forgot the indignity put upon him by
the Court of Portugal that he wrote to John II. asking of
that monarch if he was still willing to promote his scheme
of discovery. A prompt reply was returned, in which John
addressed him as " dear and particular friend," and invited
him to court, promising to protect him against any suits,
civil or criminal, that might have been instituted against
him. There is in this cordial letter of invitation and
assurance an intimation that Columbus had been guilty of
some criminal act during his residence in Lisbon, but if so
neitherhistory nor tradition has preserved to us the offense.
Almost directly upon the receipt of the letter from King
John there came to Columbus a communication from Henry
VII. of England, requesting him to come to that country
under agreement to give him encouragement and support.
Columbus might have accepted one of these two kindly
proffers but for the persuasions of Ferdinand de Talavera,
who had been appointed Archbishop of Avila, and, though
a strong opponent to Columbus, was instructed by Isabella
to temporize with him so as to prevent his departure from
Spain until she could familiarize herself more perfectly with
his theories and proposals. The new motives which the
adroit archbishop held out induced Columbus to exercise
his patience a while longer, and continuing with the court
he saw the investment and final capture of the city of Baza,
and the surrender of Muley Boabdil, one of the Moorish
kings of Granada. Another year was thus spent, and when
at length he demanded, through Talavera, a decisive reply to
his request as to what the King and Queen would do with
his proposals, the same answer was returned, that the


Spanish treasury was not in a condition to give assistance
to his enterprise.

Columbus was fairly overwhelmed by this disappoint-
ment, and first acquainting the archbishop with his inten-
tions, he quitted Seville, thence went to Cordova, and from
that city set out for the convent of La Rabida. In the
meantime, by direction of the Queen, another committee of
scholars was appointed in Seville to investigate and report
upon the feasibility of his schemes, which, after a brief sitting,
confirmed the conclusions of the Salamanca Congress, thus
seemingly destroying the last hope he entertained of assist-
ance from the Spanish sovereigns.



Despondent, forlorn, weary, and withal indignant, the
sorrow-crowned navigator bent his footsteps towards the
one asylum whose door stood open to give him a joyous
welcome, and extend such comforts as he had not found in
the splendid but cheerless courts of kingly palaces, or
baronial halls. If the Church in her blindness branded
him as an unworthy adventurer, it was no less the Church
that greeted his return from a barren mission, and assuaged
his melancholy with regalement of hospitable consolement.

The purpose of Columbus in returning to La Rabida
monastery was no doubt to take leave of, or to provide for
the future maintenance of his son Diego ; but his reception
was so cordial that he was persuaded by Prior Juan to re-
main awhile and recruit his energies and spirits, which had
been nearly expended in his long and futile quest of aid
at the Spanish Court. The devoted Father, Juan Perez, not
only administered to his physical requirements, but infused
Columbus with courage to bear with resignation the slights
and disappointments which now weighed so heavily upon
him. The Palos physician, Garcia Hernandez, whose scien-
tific attainments made his opinions particularly valuable,
came to the monastery with greater frequency now and
added his influence to that of the prior towards inducing
Columbus to renew his efforts with the Spanish Court, pro-
vided with further recommendations which they would
endeavor to supply. But it was decided to await the result
of the field operations before Granada, which promised a
decisive victory for the Spanish arms.



When at length the time appeared auspicious, the Father
Superior, whose former confessionary relation to the Queen
justified him in making a personal appeal for consideration,
wrote a lengthy letter to Isabella, commending the project
of Columbus as one of extraordinary importance, worthy of
her majesty's patronage, and as one promising the mightiest
results, alike beneficial to the nation, to the world, and to
the glory of God. But appreciating the enmity, and above
all the bigoted prejudice, of the Court's counselors, instead
of transmitting this letter through a church functionary,
who might prejudice its effect, he confided his communica-
tion to Sebastian Rodriquez, who was not only a noted pilot,
but a man of polished address and with some experience in
court etiquette. This devoted messenger lost no time in
making the journey by mule to the camp near Granada,
where he delivered the letter directly into the hands of
Isabella, and received the thanks of the Queen for his serv-
ice. While the proposals of Columbus had been presented
to Ferdinand, and by him twice referred to a college of
scholastics for investigation, the letter from Father Juan
was the first direct appeal to Isabella, and subsequent
events proved that to this fact it is not unreasonable to
attribute the disappointments and delays which Columbus
had for more than seven years suffered.

So captivated Avas the Queen by the prospects glowingly
pictured by Father Juan, that she sent Rodriquez back to
the convent of La Rabida with an invitation to the prior to
visit her at the camp for a personal conference on the sub-
ject of his letter.

We may imagine the joy with which Columbus and his
good friend, received the invitation and report brought to
them by the pilot mesenger, in which there appeared hope-
ful signs of an early consummation of their ambition.

In the hurry to respond to the Queen's request, Father


Juan borrowed a mule from his friend Jean Rodriquez Cabe-
zuda and set off at midnight, through midwinter's snow and
bitter cold, for the new city of Santa Fe, ten miles from
Granada, which was one hundred and fifty miles from Palos,
where the sovereigns now had their court. He made the
journey in safety, though the route was infested by ma-
rauders and Moors, and though fatigued by the exertion,
yet so anxiously was his mind possessed with the mighty
scheme of Columbus, that without waiting for refreshment
he immediately sought the Queen's presence. She received
him with every manifestation of the tenderest regard, and
to his eloquent pleadings gave the most encouraging audi-
ence and promises. At the conclusion of the interview she
charged the enthusiastic father to bring Columbus to court,
and that he might appear in more seemly garb than his im-
poverished condition had previously permitted, she gave
the prior an order on a maritime broker in Palos for twenty
thousand maravedis,* with which to provide Columbus with
a mule, a suit of clothes and necessary traveling expenses.

Prompt to respond to the royal summons, for he was
felicitated by the promise which the invitation implied,
Columbus, with bounding heart, set out, through the vales
and over the mountains of Andalusia, for the court of Santa
Fe, where he arrived in due season to be a witness to the
surrender of Granada, the last Moorish stronghold in Spain.
What a wondrous scene was there presented, as the cres-
cent banners, that had for nearly eight hundred years
floated from the walls of the inconceivably beautiful
Alhambra, were torn down and supplanted by the cross-

* The value of a maravedi is difficult now to fix. Webster defines it as a
copper coin introduced into Spain by the Moors, and as having a value equal
to about one-third of a cent, American money. De Lorgues, however, esti-
mates the value at .018 cent; Helps, at .0154 cent, while others fix the value at
from one-half to two cents.


bearing flags of Ferdinand and Isabella. This momentous
event occurred on Friday, the 30th of December, 1491, and
three days later, Boabdil el Chico, the Moorish King,
bowed with subjection before their Catholic majesties and
delivered to them the keys of the city.

The occasion was now one of such great national rejoic-
ing that the Queen could not give Columbus a reception
such as she had designed, but referred him as a guest to
Alonzo de Quintanilla, his friend, who was Intendant-
General of the finances. Four days later, or on the Feast
of Kings, the two sovereigns made a picturesque proces-
sional entry into the far-famed city of the Moors, at the
gate of which they were received by the archbishops of
Granada and a numerous clergy, chanting hymns of thanks-

The triumphal rejoicings were not yet concluded when
Isabella sent a messenger summoning Columbus before her,
thus illustrating the favor in which she estimated his
schemes for exploration, and the decision she had made in
her own mind to promote his purposes. The audience
which followed was a brief one, for scarcely giving him time
to explain his plans, the Queen told Columbus that she
would accept his services and desired that he attend upon
a meeting of her commissioners, over which Fernando de
Talavera presided, to arrange the terms. The impoverished
appearance of Columbus, the rebuffs which he had suffered,
the long pleadings that had remained unanswered, might
have been expected to render him anxious to accept any
conditions, and being a foreigner, with nothing but his
theories to commend him, which two congresses had pro-
nounced visionary, the commission anticipated that he
would gladly accept any terms, however illiberal. Imag-
ine their surprise when he submitted, as his proposals,
these stipulations : That for his services he should at once


be raised to the dignity of viceroy ; that he should be
appointed governor-general of all the lands, islands or con-
tinents he should discover ; that he should be honored with
the title of Grand Admiral of the Ocean ; and that he
should receive as a further reward a tenth part of all the
profits that should accrue from results of his discoveries, the
same to be continued in perpetuity to his descendants, and
also that the dignities should be transmitted hereditarily to
his family according to the laws of primogeniture.

When these imperious demands were received, the com-
missioners were not only shocked, but so indignant as to
give expression to their feelings, characterizing such pro-
posals as presumptuous in the extreme and insulting to the
dignity and wisdom of their sovereigns. But Columbus
was as inflexible in his demands now as he had been before
the Portuguese Junta, and he stubbornly refused to relax his
demeanor, or abate one tittle of the terms which he had

His insistence, hedging his agreements, was communi-
cated to the Queen in a report recommending a rejection
of his proposition, the committee reinforcing their conclu-
sions by declaring that since the scheme had been twice
before adjudged chimerical, its failure under national pat-
ronage would expose their majesties to the mockery and
derision of all Europe.

The report of the commission carried the matter before
the highest counselors of Ferdinand and Isabella, where it
was fiercely debated, particularly by his opponents, who
sneeringly insisted that, as an adventurer, Columbus showed
great foresight, for whatever the outcome of his project, he
would gain for himself titles which the nation could not
well afford to bestow upon an obscure foreigner, and the
honor of a distinguished position which had cost him no
more than a bold and persistent effort to obtain. But


before these scoffers and traducers Columbus had one val-
orous and devoted defender, Alonzo de Quintanilla, who
against these arguments interposed his opinion that the
demands made by the great navigator were not exorbitant,
considering the services that he was to render; for if he
gave new kingdoms to Spain he was entitled to commen-
surate benefits, and if the conditions as submitted were
taken as an indication of insincerity, he would undertake to
promise that Columbus would provide one-eighth of the ex-
penses for a like part of the advantages that would be
gained by the proposed expedition.

The circumstances under which Quintanilla was able to
make this proposition are not exactly clear. By some it is
maintained that the offer was made upon his own responsi-
bility, growing out of a determination to advance such a
part of the expenses from his own private funds in case the
proposal met the sovereigns' approbation. But by a ma-
jority of the Columbian biographers it is asserted that the
proposal was made in pursuance of promises given by
Martin Alonzo Pinzon, a rich ship owner of Palos, who
held frequent interviews with Columbus at the monastery
of La Rabida, and who became an enthusiastic convert and
promoter of his scheme.

But for the time the persuasion of Ferdinand de Talavera
prevailed, for as Ferdinand expressed unqualified aversion
to the proposal, Isabella was brought to conclude that the
terms were too illiberal, and therefore with much reluctance
she abandoned the negotiations.

This conclusion was the severest blow that Columbus had
yet received. His strong imagination and hopeful disposi-
tion had filled his days and nights with wondrous visions ;
already he felt himself the discoverer of inconceivably rich
kingdoms, over which he was ruler with princely authority ;
and from the opulent revenues derived therefrom he fore-


saw himself able to gratify his one great central ambition,
to equip and lead a vast army against the infidels of the
Holy Land, from whom he would wrest the sacred
sepulcher, and plant the cross of Christ in every vantage
place of the world. A sudden awakening from this blissful
dream to the melancholy reality of his true condition ; a
wanderer upon the earth, carrying his beneficent scheme in
his heart, like a peddler weighted down with a pack of mer-
chandise seeking a purchaser, fairly broke his spirit, strong
as it was, and left him to gloomy reflection on the unap-
preciativeness of those in whose hands reposed the power
to advance the cause of Christianity and promote the wel-
fare of humanity.

With soul bursting with disappointment, Columbus
turned away from Granada, and set out on his mule for
Cordova, his mind resolved on taking an affectionate leave
of his wife, and then quitting Spain for France or England,
whither the small hope left seemed to lead him. Scarcely
had he taken his departure, possibly before, when Luiz de
Santangel, receiver of the ecclesiastical revenues in Aragon,
hastily sought the Queen, and with irresistible eloquence
pleaded with her to recall Columbus, and not to permit,
through ill consideration and unworthy influence, the op-
portunity which he had offered her to magnify her glory to
go by unimproved, to the immeasurable gain of some
other nation, which, with acute foresight, would be certain
to accept his proposals. While Santangel was thus be-
seeching the Queen, Quintanilla suddenly and with great
anxiety, bent as he was upon an identical mission, appeared
before Isabella and added his persuasions in no less ardent
speech. The effort was beneficently successful. Rising to
the occasion, as if God had miraculously influenced her to
prompt and decisive action, she declared that she would
undertake the mighty enterprise for the glory of the crown


of Castile, and a moment later she dispatched an officer of
the guards, commanding him to make all possible haste
to overtake Columbus and summon him back to court,
Talavera had represented to her that the royal finances were
too nearly exhausted to undertake such an enterprise at that
time, even though the promise of success was flattering ;
but the Queen, fired now with the same zeal that had in-
spired her two enthusiastic counselors, declared that if
necessary she would pledge her jewels for the funds required

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 37)