Imágenes de páginas

duced to a handful of resolute warriors: but both agree, that with Harold and his brothers perished all the nobility of the south of England; a loss which could not be repaired.

The king's mother begged as a boon the dead body of her son, and offered as a ransom its weight in gold; but the resentment of William had rendered him callous to pity, and insensible to all interested considerations. He ordered the corpse of the fallen monarch to be buried on the beach; adding, with a sneer, 'He guarded the coast while he was alive; let him continue to guard it after death.' By stealth, however, or by purchase, the royal remains were removed from this unhallowed site, and deposited in the church at Waltham, which Harold had founded before he ascended the throne.



On Friday, the third day of August, in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two, Columbus set sail from Palos, in Spain, a little before sunrise, in presence of a vast crowd of spectators, who sent up their supplications to Heaven for the prosperous issue of the voyage; which they wished, rather than expected.

His squadron, if it merit that name, consisted of no more than three small vessels-the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nigna-having on board ninety

men, mostly sailors, together with a few adventurers, who followed the fortune of Columbus, and some gentlemen of the Spanish court, whom the queen appointed to accompany him.

He steered directly for the Canary Islands; from which, after refitting his ships, and supplying himself with fresh provisions, he took his departure on the sixth day of September. Here the voyage of discovery may properly be said to have begun ; for Columbus, holding his course due west, left immediately the usual track of navigation, and stretched into unfrequented and unknown seas.

The first day, as it was very calm, he made but little way, but, on the second, he lost sight of the Canaries; and many of the sailors, already dejected and dismayed, when they contemplated the boldness of the undertaking, began to beat their breasts, and to shed tears, as if they were never more to behold land. Columbus comforted them with assurances of success, and the prospect of vast wealth in those opulent regions, whither he was conducting them.

This early discovery of the spirit of his followers taught Columbus that he must prepare to struggle, not only with the unavoidable difficulties which might be expected from the nature of his undertaking, but with such as were likely to arise from the ignorance and timidity of the people under his command; and he perceived, that the art of governing the minds of men would be no less requisite for accomplishing the discoveries which he had in view, than naval skill and an enterprizing courage.

Happily for himself, and for the country by which

he was employed, he joined to the ardent temper and inventive genius of a projector, virtues of another species, which are rarely united with them. He possessed a thorough knowledge of mankind, an insinuating address, a patient perseverance in execut-ing any plan, the perfect government of his own passions, and the talent of acquiring the direction of other men.

All these qualities, which formed him for command, were accompanied with that superior knowledge of his profession which begets confidence in times of difficulty and danger. To unskilful Spanish sailors, accustomed only to coasting voyages in the Mediterranean, the maritime science of Columbus, the fruit of thirty years' experience, appeared immense. As soon as they put to sea, he regulated every thing by his sole authority; he superintended the execution of every order, and, allowing himself only a few hours for sleep, he was, at all other times, upon deck.

As his course lay through seas which had not been visited before, the sounding line or instruments for observation, were continually in his hands. He attended to the motion of the tides and currents, watched the flight of birds, the appearance of fishes, of seaweeds, and of every thing that floated on the waves, and actually noted every occurrence in a journal that he kept.

By the fourteenth day of September, the fleet was above two hundred leagues to the west of the Canary Isles, a greater distance from land than any Spaniard had ever been before that time. Here the sail

ors were struck with an appearance no less astonishing than new. They observed that the magnetic needle, in their compasses, did not point exactly to the north star, but varied towards the west.

This appearance, which is now familiar, filled the companions of Columbus with terror. They were in an ocean boundless and unknown: nature itself seemed to be altered, and the only guide which they had left, was 'about to fail them. Columbus, with no less quickness than ingenuity, invented a reason for this appearance, which, though it did not satisfy himself, seemed so plausible to them, that it dispelled their fears, and silenced their murmurs.

On the first of October, they were about seven hundred and seventy leagues west of the Canaries. They had now been above three weeks at sea; all their prognostics of discovery, drawn from the flight of birds, and other circumstances, had proved fallacious, and their prospect of success seemed now to be as distant as ever. The spirit of discontent and of mutiny began to manifest itself among the sailors, and, by degrees, the contagion spread from ship to ship.

All agreed, that Columbus should be compelled, by force, to return, while their crazy vessels were yet in a condition to keep the sea; and some even proposed to throw him overboard, as the most expeditious method of getting rid of his remonstrances, and of securing a seasonable return to their native land.

Columbus was fully sensible of his perilous situation. He perceived that it would be of no avail to have recourse to any of his former expedients to lead on


the hopes of his companions, and that it was impossible to rekindle any zeal for the success of the expedition, among men, in whose breasts fear had extinguished every generous sentiment.

He found it necessary to soothe passions, which he could no longer command, and to give way to a torrent too impetuous to be checked. He accordingly promised his men, that he would comply with their request, provided they would accompany him, and obey his commands, for three days longer; and if during that time, land were not discovered, he would then abandon the enterprize, and direct his course towards Spain.

Enraged as the sailors were, and impatient as they were of returning to their native country, this proposition did not appear to them unreasonable: nor did Columbus hazard much in confining himself to a time so short; for the presages of discovering land had become so numerous and promising, that he deemed them infallible.

For some days, the sounding line had reached the bottom; and the soil, which it brought up, indicated land to be at no great distance. The flocks of birds increased, and were composed not only of sea-fowl, but of such land-birds as could not be supposed to fly far from the shore.

The crew of the Pinta observed a cane floating, which seemed to have been newly cut, and likewise a piece of timber, artificially carved. The sailors aboard the Nigna took up the branch of a tree, with red berries, perfectly fresh. The clouds around the setting sun assumed a new appearance; the air was

« AnteriorContinuar »