Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/55

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vessels, intending to make their way to the Indies, and were never again heard of, prematurely sought to bring it to the test of experience; but the better opinion is that they merely proposed to circumnavigate South Africa. As the African coast was progressively explored by the Portuguese and laid down on the chart, the realisation of the idea of reaching the East by way of the West became a practical matter. While Gomes was pushing forward the exploration of Southern Guinea, a canon of Lisbon, on a visit to Florence, consulted Toscanelli, the most celebrated of Italian physicists, on the feasibility of such a voyage, and brought back to Affonso V a verbal opinion favourable to it; and this opinion was shortly confirmed by a letter and a chart on which the proposed westward course was laid down. Twelve years were yet to pass before Diaz reached the Cape of Good Hope; the time for testing the scheme had not fully come. But as the Portuguese ships drew nearer to their goal, the western voyage more and more attracted attention; and the idea gained countenance through the extension of maritime enterprise further and further into the unknown westward expanses of the Atlantic Ocean, pursuant to the development of a Greater Portugal according to Dom Henrique's design.

Before his death the Ift'ante had provided for colonisation and church-building in each island of the Azores group. Beyond the Azores, medieval imaginative cartographers dotted the unknown Atlantic with numerous islands, some of which were distinguished by positive names. Scholars pondered over Pliny's account, based on a legend stated at length in Plato's Timaeus, of the great island Atlantis, believed to have formerly existed far to the westward of Mount Atlas, from which both island and ocean derived their familiar name. Later legends described various existing islands as having been actually reached in historical times. Arab sailors had discovered the " Isle of Sheep"; Welsh emigrants had peopled a distant land in the west; seven bishops, fleeing before the Mohammadan invaders, had sailed westward from the Spanish peninsula and founded Christian communities on an island which thenceforward bore the name of the Isle of the Seven Cities. Saint Brandan, an Irish missionary, had reached another rich and fertile island, traditionally named from its discoverer; another island, believed to lie not far to westward of the Irish coast, bore the name " Brasil." Far to the north-west, a perfectly truthful historical tradition embodied in the Sagas of Iceland, and repeated by geographers, placed the " New Land"" or " New Isle " discovered in the tenth century by Northmen from Iceland, and by them named " Vineland," from the small indigenous American grape. All the Azores Islands had been colonised in the Iffante's lifetime. As after his death the Guinea coast was revealed in ever-lengthening extent, other adventurers dared to sail further and further westward into the unknown expanses of the Atlantic. The name commonly given among the Portuguese seamen to the object of