Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/59

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

in the latitude of the northern tropic, and prove that a numerous group of islands, from which the proximity of a continental shore or Terra Firma might fairly be inferred, existed on the other side. His subsequent voyages changed this inference into certainty: but the fact that the Terra Firma here encountered was a continent hitherto unknown, though its northern parts had been reached by the Northmen five centuries before, was never ascertained by him, and to the day of his death, fourteen years later, he believed himself to have merely reached the eastern parts of Asia. In fact, he was nearly at the opposite meridian, and a hemisphere raised its immense dome between. Colombo's five weeks' voyage, nevertheless, proved the great turning-point in man's slowly-progressing knowledge of the globe. Eighteen years after his death the general figure of the New World had been ascertained, its southernmost point rounded, the Pacific crossed, and the first furrow ploughed by a ship's keel around the sphere. Small as was his own actual contribution to geographical knowledge, it was his energy and enterprise, and his alone, which rapidly forced on a conception of geography sufficiently accurate to last with little improvement to the time of Cook, nearly three centuries later.

The consequences of this voyage must ever render all its details and circumstances matters of exceptional interest; but it is impossible here to enter into them. On October 12, 1492, Colombo landed on one of the Bahama Islands from his ship's boat, wearing the costume of Admiral of Castile, and holding aloft the Castilian banner; and in the course of a three months' cruise he visited Cuba and Hayti, and gained a general notion of the West Indian archipelago. The tidings of his voyage were joyfully received both in Spain and at Rome; and a petition was preferred to Pope Alexander VI for a confirmation to the Spanish Crown of the district comprising the newly-found islands, subject only to the rights of any Christian communities which might happen to be included in it. In answer to this two separate bulls were issued. One simply contained the confirmation desired; the other was framed in similar terms, but limited the area of Spanish enterprise to a meridian line to be drawn one hundred leagues west of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. The last, often singled out as a prominent illustration of Romish arrogance, was in fact only a suggestion intended to prevent disputes, probably due to some official of the papal chancery. It was never acted on by the parties, and was withdrawn in the same year by the Pope himself. For by a third bull, dated September 25, 1493, and superseding previous ones, the entire field of oceanic enterprise was expressly declared to be open to both nations, on the understanding that Spain should approach it by the westward passage only, and not infringe Portugal's monopoly of the African coast. The parties, thus remitted to their original rights, fixed as the boundary of their areas of enterprise a meridian of their own selection, 370 leagues west