The Life of Christopher Columbus by Edward Everett Hale
Chapter XI. Spain, 1500, 1501.
A CORDIAL RECEPTION IN SPAIN--COLUMBUS FAVORABLY RECEIVED AT COURT--NEW INTEREST IN GEOGRAPHICAL DISCOVERY--HIS PLANS FOR THE REDEMPTION OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE--PREPARATIONS FOR A FOURTH EXPEDITION.
Columbus was right in insisting on wearing his chains. They became rather an ornament than a disgrace. So soon as it was announced in Spain that the great discoverer had been so treated by Bobadilla, a wave of popular indignation swept through the people and reached the court. Ferdinand and Isabella, themselves, had never intended to give such powers to their favorite, that he should disgrace a man so much his superior.
They instantly sent orders to Cadiz that Columbus should be received with all honor. So soon as he arrived he had been able to send, to Dona Juana de la Torre, a lady high in favor at court, a private letter, in which he made a proud defense of himself. This letter is still preserved, and it is of the first interest, as showing his own character, and as showing what were the real hardships which he had undergone.
The Lady Juana read this letter to Isabella. Her own indignation, which probably had been kindled by the general news that Columbus had been chained, rose to the highest. She received him, therefore, when he arrived at court, with all the more cordiality. Ferdinand was either obliged to pretend to join with her in her indignation, or he had really felt distressed by the behavior of his subordinate.
They did not wait for any documents from Bobadilla. As has been said, they wrote cordially to Columbus; they also ordered that two thousand ducats should be paid him for his expenses, and they bade him appear at Grenada at court. He did appear there on the seventeenth of December, attended by an honorable retinue, and in the proper costume of a gentleman in favor with the king and queen.
When the queen met him she was moved to tears, and Columbus, finding himself so kindly received, threw himself upon his knees. For some time he could not express himself except by tears and sobs. His sovereigns raised him from the ground and encouraged him by gracious words.
So soon as he recovered his self-possession he made such an address as he had occasion to make more than once in his life, and showed the eloquence which is possible to a man of affairs. He could well boast of his loyalty to the Spanish crown; and he might well say that, whether he were or were not experienced in government, he had been surrounded by such difficulties in administration as hardly any other man had had to go through. But really, it was hardly necessary that he should vindicate himself.
The stupidity of his enemies, had injured their cause more than any carelessness of Columbus could have done. The sovereigns expressed their indignation at Bobadilla's proceedings, and, indeed, declared at once that he should be dismissed from command. They never took any public notice of the charges which he had sent home; on the other hand, they received Columbus with dignity and favor, and assured him that he should be reinstated in all his privileges.
The time at which he arrived was, in a certain sense, favorable for his future plans, so far as he had formed any. On the other hand, the condition of affairs was wholly changed from what it was when he began his great discoveries, and the changes were in some degree unfavorable. Vasco da Gama had succeeded in the great enterprise by which he had doubled the Cape of Good Hope, had arrived at the Indies by the route of the Indian ocean, and his squadron had successfully returned.
This great adventure, with the commercial and other results which would certainly follow it, had quickened the mind of all Europe, as the discovery by Columbus had quickened it eight years before. So far, any plan for the discoveries over which Columbus was always brooding, would be favorably received. But, on the other hand, in eight years since the first voyage, a large body of skillful adventurers had entered upon the career which then no one chose to share with him. The Pinzon brothers were among these; Ojeda, already known to the reader, was another; and Vespucci, as the reader knows, an intelligent and wise student, had engaged himself in such discoveries.
The rumors of the voyages of the Cabots, much farther north than those made by Columbus, had gone through all Europe. In a word, Columbus was now only one of several skilful pilots and voyagers, and his plans were to be considered side by side with those which were coming forward almost every day, for new discoveries, either by the eastern route, of which Vasco da Gama had shown the practicability, or by the western route, which Columbus himself had first essayed.
It is to be remembered, as well, that Columbus was now an old man, and, whatever were his successes as a discoverer, he had not succeeded as a commander. There might have been reasons for his failure; but failure is failure, and men do not accord to an unsuccessful leader the honors which they are ready to give to a successful discoverer. When, therefore, he offered his new plans at court, he should have been well aware that they could not be received, as if he were the only one who could make suggestions. Probably he was aware of this. He was also obliged, whether he would or would not, to give up the idea that he was to be the commander of the regions which he discovered.
It had been easy enough to grant him this command before there was so much as an inch of land known, over which it would make him the master. But now that it was known that large islands, and probably a part of the continent of Asia, were to be submitted to his sway if he had it, there was every reason why the sovereigns should be unwilling to maintain for him the broad rights which they had been willing to give when a scratch of the pen was all that was needful to give them.
Bobadilla was recalled; so far well. But neither Ferdinand nor Isabella chose to place Columbus again in his command. They did choose Don Nicola Ovando, a younger man, to take the place of Bobadilla, to send him home, and to take the charge of the colony.
From the colony itself, the worst accounts were received. If Columbus and his brother had failed, Bobadilla had failed more disgracefully. Indeed, he had begun by the policy of King Log, as an improvement on the policy of King Stork. He had favored all rebels, he had pardoned them, he had even paid them for the time which they had spent in rebellion; and the natural result was utter disorder and license.
It does not appear that he was a bad man; he was a man wholly unused to command; he was an imprudent man, and was weak. He had compromised the crown by the easy terms on which he had rented and sold estates; he had been obliged, in order to maintain the revenue, to work the natives with more severity than ever. He knew very well that the system, under which he was working could not last long. One of his maxims was, "Do the best with your time," and he was constantly sacrificing future advantages for such present results as he could achieve.
The Indians, who had been treated badly enough before, were worse treated now. And during his short administration, if it may be called an administration,--during the time when he was nominally at the head of affairs--he was reducing the island to lower and lower depths. He did succeed in obtaining a large product of gold, but the abuses of his government were not atoned for by such remittances. Worst of all, the wrongs of the natives touched the sensitiveness of Isabella, and she was eager that his successor should be appointed, and should sail, to put an end to these calamities.
The preparations which were made for Ovando's expedition, for the recall of Bobadilla, and for a reform, if it were possible, in the administration of the colony, all set back any preparations for a new expedition of discovery on the part of Columbus. He was not forgotten; his accounts were to be examined and any deficiencies made up to him; he was to receive the arrears of his revenue; he was permitted to have an agent who should see that he received his share in future. To this agency he appointed Alonzo Sanchez de Carvajal, and the sovereigns gave orders that this agent should be treated with respect.
Other preparations were made, so that Ovando might arrive with a strong reinforcement for the colony. He sailed with thirty ships, the size of these vessels ranging from one hundred and fifty Spanish toneles to one bark of twenty-five. It will be remembered that the Spanish tonele is larger by about ten per cent than our English ton. Twenty-five hundred persons embarked as colonists in the vessels, and, for the first time, men took their families with them.
Everything was done to give dignity to the appointment of Ovando, and it was hoped that by sending out families of respectable character, who were to be distributed in four towns, there might be a better basis given to the settlement. This measure had been insisted upon by Columbus.
This fleet put to sea on the thirteenth of February, 1502. It met, at the very outset, a terrible storm, and one hundred and twenty of the passengers were lost by the foundering of a ship. The impression was at first given in Spain that the whole fleet had been lost; but this proved to be a mistake. The others assembled at the Canaries, and arrived in San Domingo on the fifteenth of April.
Columbus himself never lost confidence in his own star. He was sure that he was divinely sent, and that his mission was to open the way to the Indies, for the religious advancement of mankind. If Vasco de Gama had discovered a shorter way than men knew before, Christopher Columbus should discover one shorter still, and this discovery should tend to the glory of God. It seemed to him that the simplest way in which he could make men understand this, was to show that the Holy Sepulchre might, now and thus, be recovered from the infidel.
Far from urging geographical curiosity as an object, he proposed rather the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre. That is, there was to be a new and last crusade, and the money for this enterprise was to be furnished from the gold of the farthest East. He was close at the door of this farthest East; and as has been said, he believed that Cuba was the Ophir of Solomon, and he supposed, that a very little farther voyaging would open all the treasures which Marco Polo had described, and would bring the territory, which had made the Great Khan so rich, into the possession of the king of Spain.
He showed to Ferdinand and Isabella that, if they would once more let him go forward, on the adventure which had been checked untimely by the cruelty of Bobadilla, this time they would have wealth which would place them at the head of the Christian sovereigns of the world.
While he was inactive at Seville, and the great squadron was being prepared which Ovando was to command, he wrote what is known as the "Book of Prophecies," in which he attempted to convince the Catholic kings of the necessity of carrying forward the enterprise which he proposed. He urged haste, because he believed the world was only to last a hundred and fifty-five years longer; and, with so much before them to be done, it was necessary that they should begin.
He remembered an old vow that he had undertaken, that, within seven years of the time of his discovery, he would furnish fifty thousand foot soldiers and five thousand horsemen for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre. He now arranged in order prophecies from the Holy Scripture, passages from the writings of the Fathers, and whatever else suggested itself, mystical and hopeful, as to the success of an enterprise by which the new world could be used for the conversion of the Gentiles and for the improvement of the Christianity of the old world.
He had the assistance of a Carthusian monk, who seems to have been skilled in literary work, and the two arranged these passages in order, illustrated them with poetry, and collected them into a manuscript volume which was sent to the sovereigns.
Columbus accompanied the Book of Prophecies with one of his own long letters, written with the utmost fervor. In this letter he begins, as Peter the Hermit might do, by urging the sovereigns to set on foot a crusade. If they are tempted to consider his advice extravagant, he asks them how his first scheme of discovery was treated. He shows that, as heaven had chosen him to discover the new world, heaven has also chosen him to discover the Holy Sepulchre. God himself had opened his eyes that he might make the great discovery, which has reflected such honor upon them and theirs.
"If his hopes had been answered," says a Catholic writer, the modern question of holy places, which is the Gordian knot of the religious politics of the future, would have been solved long ago by the gold of the new world, or would have been cut by the sword of its discoverer. We should not have seen nations which are separated from the Roman communion, both Protestant and Pantheistic governments, coming audaciously into contest for privileges, which, by the rights of old possession, by the rights of martyrdom and chivalry, belong to the Holy Catholic Church, the Apostolic Church, the Roman Church, and after her to France, her oldest daughter."
Columbus now supposed that the share of the western wealth which would belong to him would be sufficient for him to equip and arm a hundred thousand infantry and ten thousand horsemen.
At the moment when the Christian hero made this pious calculation he had not enough of this revenue with which to buy a cloak," This is the remark of the enthusiastic biographer from whom we have already quoted.
It is not literally true, but it is true that Columbus was living in the most modest way at the time when he was pressing his ambitious schemes upon the court. At the same time, he wrote a poem with which he undertook to press the same great enterprise upon his readers. It was called "The End of Man," "Memorare novissima tua, et non peccabis in eternum."
In his letter to the king and queen he says, "Animated as by a heavenly fire, I came to your Highnesses; all who heard of my enterprise mocked it; all the sciences I had acquired profited me as nothing; seven years did I pass in your royal court, disputing the case with persons of great authority and learned in all the arts, and in the end they decided that all was vain. In your Highnesses alone remained faith and constancy. Who will doubt that this light was from the Holy Scriptures, illumining you, as well as myself, with rays of marvellous brightness."
It is probable that the king and queen were, to a certain extent, influenced by his enthusiasm. It is certain that they knew that something was due to their reputation and to his success. By whatever motive led, they encouraged him with hopes that he might be sent forward again, this time, not as commander of a colony, but as a discoverer. Discovery was indeed the business which he understood, and to which alone he should ever have been commissioned.
It is to be remembered that the language of crusaders was not then a matter of antiquity, and was not used as if it alluded to bygone affairs. It was but a few years since the Saracens had been driven out of Spain, and all men regarded them as being the enemies of Christianity and of Europe, who could not be neglected. More than this, Spain was beginning to receive very large and important revenues from the islands.
It is said that the annual revenues from Hispaniola already amounted to twelve millions of our dollars. It was not unnatural that the king and queen, willing to throw off the disgrace which they had incurred from Bobadilla's cruelty, should not only send Ovando to replace him, but should, though in an humble fashion, give to Columbus an opportunity to show that his plans were not chimerical.