Christopher Columbus Pdf

Christopher Columbus

Number of page: 504
Author: Filson Young
Publisher: 谷月社
Category: Biography & Autobiography

The writing of historical biography is properly a work of partnership, to
which public credit is awarded too often in an inverse proportion to the
labours expended. One group of historians, labouring in the obscurest
depths, dig and prepare the ground, searching and sifting the documentary
soil with infinite labour and over an area immensely wide. They are
followed by those scholars and specialists in history who give their lives
to the study of a single period, and who sow literature in the furrows of
research prepared by those who have preceded them. Last of all comes the
essayist, or writer pure and simple, who reaps the harvest so laboriously
prepared. The material lies all before him; the documents have been
arranged, the immense contemporary fields of record and knowledge examined
and searched for stray seeds of significance that may have blown over into
them; the perspective is cleared for him, the relation of his facts to
time and space and the march of human civilisation duly established; he
has nothing to do but reap the field of harvest where it suits him, grind
it in the wheels of whatever machinery his art is equipped with, and come
before the public with the finished product. And invariably in this
unequal partnership he reaps most richly who reaps latest.
I am far from putting this narrative forward as the fine and ultimate
product of all the immense labour and research of the historians of
Columbus; but I am anxious to excuse myself for my apparent presumption in
venturing into a field which might more properly be occupied by the expert
historian. It would appear that the double work of acquiring the facts of
a piece of human history and of presenting them through the medium of
literature can hardly ever be performed by one and the same man. A
lifetime must be devoted to the one, a year or two may suffice for the
other; and an entirely different set of qualities must be employed in the
two tasks. I cannot make it too clear that I make no claim to have added
one iota of information or one fragment of original research to the expert
knowledge regarding the life of Christopher Columbus; and when I add that
the chief collection of facts and documents relating to the subject, the
'Raccolta Columbiana,'—[Raccolta di Documenti e Studi Publicati
dalla R. Commissione Colombiana, etc. Auspice il Ministero della Publica
Istruzione. Rome, 1892-4.]—is a work consisting of more than thirty
folio volumes, the general reader will be the more indulgent to me. But
when a purely human interest led me some time ago to look into the
literature of Columbus, I was amazed to find what seemed to me a striking
disproportion between the extent of the modern historians' work on that
subject and the knowledge or interest in it displayed by what we call the
general reading public. I am surprised to find how many well-informed
people there are whose knowledge of Columbus is comprised within two
beliefs, one of them erroneous and the other doubtful: that he discovered
America, and performed a trick with an egg. Americans, I think, are a
little better informed on the subject than the English; perhaps because
the greater part of modern critical research on the subject of Columbus
has been the work of Americans. It is to bridge the immense gap existing
between the labours of the historians and the indifference of the modern
reader, between the Raccolta Columbiana, in fact, and the story of the
egg, that I have written my narrative.
It is customary and proper to preface a work which is based entirely on
the labours of other people with an acknowledgment of the sources whence
it is drawn; and yet in the case of Columbus I do not know where to begin.
In one way I am indebted to every serious writer who has even remotely
concerned himself with the subject, from Columbus himself and Las Casas
down to the editors of the Raccolta. The chain of historians has been so
unbroken, the apostolic succession, so to speak, has passed with its
heritage so intact from generation to generation, that the latest
historian enshrines in his work the labours of all the rest. Yet there are
necessarily some men whose work stands out as being more immediately
seizable than that of others; in the period of whose care the lamp of
inspiration has seemed to burn more brightly. In a matter of this kind I
cannot pretend to be a judge, but only to state my own experience and
indebtedness; and in my work I have been chiefly helped by Las Casas,
indirectly of course by Ferdinand Columbus, Herrera, Oviedo, Bernaldez,
Navarrete, Asensio, Mr. Payne, Mr. Harrisse, Mr. Vignaud, Mr. Winsor, Mr.
Thacher, Sir Clements Markham, Professor de Lollis, and S. Salvagnini. It
is thus not among the dusty archives of Seville, Genoa, or San Domingo
that I have searched, but in the archive formed by the writings of modern
workers. To have myself gone back to original sources, even if I had been
competent to do so, would have been in the case of Columbian research but
a waste of time and a doing over again what has been done already with
patience, diligence, and knowledge. The historians have been committed to
the austere task of finding out and examining every fact and document in
connection with their subject; and many of these facts and documents are
entirely without human interest except in so far as they help to establish
a date, a name, or a sum of money. It has been my agreeable and lighter
task to test and assay the masses of bed-rock fact thus excavated by the
historians for traces of the particular ore which I have been seeking. In
fact I have tried to discover, from a reverent examination of all these
monographs, essays, histories, memoirs, and controversies concerning what
Christopher Columbus did, what Christopher Columbus was; believing as I do
that any labour by which he can be made to live again, and from the dust
of more than four hundred years be brought visibly to the mind's eye, will
not be entirely without use and interest. Whether I have succeeded in
doing so or not I cannot be the judge; I can only say that the labour of
resuscitating a man so long buried beneath mountains of untruth and
controversy has some times been so formidable as to have seemed hopeless.
And yet one is always tempted back by the knowledge that Christopher
Columbus is not only a name, but that the human being whom we so describe
did actually once live and walk in the world; did actually sail and look
upon seas where we may also sail and look; did stir with his feet the
indestructible dust of this old Earth, and centre in himself, as we all
do, the whole interest and meaning of the Universe. Truly the most
commonplace fact, yet none the less amazing; and often when in the dust of
documents he has seemed most dead and unreal to me I have found courage
from the entertainment of some deep or absurd reflection; such as that he
did once undoubtedly, like other mortals, blink and cough and blow his
nose. And if my readers could realise that fact throughout every page of
this book, I should say that I had succeeded in my task.
To be more particular in my acknowledgments. In common with every modern
writer on Columbus—and modern research on the history of Columbus is
only thirty years old—I owe to the labours of Mr. Henry Harrisse,
the chief of modern Columbian historians, the indebtedness of the
gold-miner to the gold-mine. In the matters of the Toscanelli
correspondence and the early years of Columbus I have followed more
closely Mr. Henry Vignaud, whose work may be regarded as a continuation
and reexamination—in some cases destructive—of that of Mr.
Harrisse. Mr. Vignaud's work is happily not yet completed; we all look
forward eagerly to the completion of that part of his 'Etudes Critiques'
dealing with the second half of the Admiral's life; and Mr. Vignaud seems
to me to stand higher than all modern workers in this field in the patient
and fearless discovery of the truth regarding certain very controversial
matters, and also in ability to give a sound and reasonable interpretation
to those obscurer facts or deductions in Columbus's life that seem doomed
never to be settled by the aid of documents alone. It may be unseemly in
me not to acknowledge indebtedness to Washington Irving, but I cannot
conscientiously do so. If I had been writing ten or fifteen years ago I
might have taken his work seriously; but it is impossible that anything so
one-sided, so inaccurate, so untrue to life, and so profoundly dull could
continue to exist save in the absence of any critical knowledge or light
on the subject. All that can be said for him is that he kept the lamp of
interest in Columbus alive for English readers during the period that
preceded the advent of modern critical research. Mr. Major's edition' of
Columbus's letters has been freely consulted by me, as it must be by any
one interested in the subject. Professor Justin Winsor's work has provided
an invaluable store of ripe scholarship in matters of cosmography and
geographical detail; Sir Clements Markham's book, by far the most
trustworthy of modern English works on the subject, and a valuable record
of the established facts in Columbus's life, has proved a sound guide in
nautical matters; while the monograph of Mr. Elton, which apparently did
not promise much at first, since the author has followed some
untrustworthy leaders as regards his facts, proved to be full of a
fragrant charm produced by the writer's knowledge of and interest in
sub-tropical vegetation; and it is delightfully filled with the names of
gums and spices. To Mr. Vignaud I owe special thanks, not only for the
benefits of his research and of his admirable works on Columbus, but also
for personal help and encouragement. Equally cordial thanks are due to Mr.
John Boyd Thacher, whose work, giving as it does so large a selection of
the Columbus documents both in facsimile, transliteration, and
translation, is of the greatest service to every English writer on the
subject of Columbus. It is the more to be regretted, since the documentary
part of Mr. Thacher's work is so excellent, that in his critical studies
he should have seemed to ignore some of the more important results of
modern research. I am further particularly indebted to Mr. Thacher and to
his publishers, Messrs. Putnam's Sons, for permission to reproduce certain
illustrations in his work, and to avail myself also of his copies and
translations of original Spanish and Italian documents. I have to thank
Commendatore Guido Biagi, the keeper of the Laurentian Library in
Florence, for his very kind help and letters of introduction to Italian
librarians; Mr. Raymond Beazley, of Merton College, Oxford, for his most
helpful correspondence; and Lord Dunraven for so kindly bringing, in the
interests of my readers, his practical knowledge of navigation and
seamanship to bear on the first voyage of Columbus. Finally my work has
been helped and made possible by many intimate and personal kindnesses
which, although they are not specified, are not the less deeply

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