Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/58

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It was now clear that the project would only be taken up by some power which had no vested interest in maintaining the existing state of commercial intercourse-some power on the western sea-board of Europe, for which the establishment of the proposed route would open up a new field of enterprise. Such powers were Spain, England, and France; and Colombo astutely bethought himself of applying simultaneously to the two former, and playing them off against each other until one of them definitely accepted his proposals. He carried his plan in person to Spain, and commissioned his brother Bartolomeo to lay it before Henry VII of England (1485). Accidents, delays, and circumstances of. various kinds put off for four years longer the momentous issue which of these two powers would accept the plan and obtain the inheritance of the unknown New World. Fortune inclined the balance in favour of Spain. When a message at length arrived summoning Colombo to a conference with the King of England, he had already come to a substantial agreement, though he had not yet concluded all the terms of his bargain, with Ferdinand and Isabella. Bartolomeo Diaz, at this juncture, had just returned from his cruise on the southernmost shore of Africa. On April 17, 1492, the contract was signed which secured to Colombo, not merely the usual rewards of maritime enterprise accorded to adventurers in Portuguese practice, but some additional advantages of a personal nature, including the dignity of Admiral and Viceroy in the islands and continental provinces to be acquired by him for the Castilian Crown. On August 3 he sailed from Palos; on September 6 he quitted the roadstead of Gomera; and three days later the breeze sprang up which carried his three caravels successfully across the Atlantic.

At this point it will be convenient to glance for a moment at the existing state of geographical knowledge, which had become considerably augmented during the fifteenth century. With one vast deduction-namely, the northern and north-eastern coasts of Europe and Asia from the North Cape of Norway eastward as far as Northern China, including Northern Russia and Siberia-the Old World had now been completely revealed. To Europeans, indeed, the contour of Southeastern Africa remained unascertained. Its true shape, nevertheless, must have been known to the Arab seamen who navigated the Indian ocean: many of these were also well acquainted with the Eastern Archipelago, known to Europeans only as passengers or overland travellers, as far as a point near the western end of New Guinea. Greenland was known, and in Northern and Western Europe the discovery of "Vineland1" by Norse adventurers five hundred years previously was still a familiar tradition. From the point of view of scientific geography all this amounted to little. Not more than one-fourth of the earth's surface had been laid down on the map. Colombo's first expedition did no more than determine the breadth of the Atlantic