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to have made no efforts to establish a permanent settlement here. Next, their colony in Greenland perished after a while, and a great change for the worse also took place in Iceland. In the time of Columbus the inhabitants of that island had probably little, if any, communication or trade with any part of the world except Bristol, England. The energy and enterprise for which these men of the north had once been famous had in great measure died out. They no longer engaged in daring adventures.
There is a strong probability that Columbus went to Iceland in 1477," but there is little likelihood that he got any information while there of a land farther west. Had he done so, he certainly would have mentioned the fact when he came to solicit help for his great voyage of discovery a number of years later. But though he urges every argument in favor of his enterprise, he says not a word of having had even a hint from the people of Iceland of such a country as Vinland. The truth seems to be that the dull and lazy descendants of “ Leif the Lucky” and his brave comrades had lost all remembrance of any traditions or records of that far-off shore where their forefathers declared that they had feasted on American wild grapes.
More than this, we have no evidence that the nations of Europe knew anything of such a country as Leif describes. It is therefore quite safe to say that when Columbus sailed, in 1492, one half the world did not so much as suspect the existence of the other half.
4. What Land Columbus wished to reach ; Marco Polo's Travels; First Motive of Columbus. — What, then, let us ask, first induced Columbus to undertake a voyage that no other man of that age dared embark upon? It was not the expectation of finding a new or fourth continent; for he probably believed as
1“In the year 1477, in February, I navigated one hundred leagues beyond Thule [Thule is generally thought to have been Iceland). ... The English, principally those of Bristol, go with their merchandise to this island, which is as large as England. When I was there, the sea was not frozen." — Letter of Columbus,
THE DISCOVERY AND NAMING OF AMERICA.
firmly as any one of his day that the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, with some islands, comprised all the land in existence. His object was not to reveal a new world beyond the western ocean, but simply to reach the Indies by sailing in that direction.
The interest he felt was partly awakened by a noted book, published many years before, and partly it was the result of the condition of the India trade at the time when Columbus matured his enterprise.
Let us see what that book was. In the thirteenth century (12601295) Marco Polo, a fellow-countryman of Columbus, made an overland journey to Central Asia and the far East. He spent nearly thirty years there, and on his return wrote a volume of travels of great value. In that remarkable work he described India and China, and spoke of the island of Cipango or Japan, whose existence he then first made known to Europe. Polo gave the best account of the countries he visited which had been published since Alexander the Great penetrated India (327 B.c.), and he spoke particularly of the wealth and power of the Great Khan, or Emperor of China, in whose service he had spent upwards of seventeen years.
This book made a deep impression on the mind of Columbus, and later he constructed a map of the world, based in large measure on the geographical discoveries made by Polo. He burned with a desire to visit those marvellous Eastern lands, with which all intercourse, except that of commerce, had long practically ceased. His purpose, as he himself repeatedly tells us, was, first of all, that of a missionary, — he hoped to convert the Khan and
1 An eminent authority (M. Walckenaer) says, “When in the long series of ages we search for three men who, by the grandeur and influence of their discoveries, have contributed most to the progress of geography ... the modest name of the Venetian traveller (Marco Polo] presents itself in the same line with the names of Alexander the Great and Christopher Columbus."
2 In this respect Columbus may be compared with the celebrated modern missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, who did so much, a number of years since, toward opening up the “Dark Continent" of Africa, not only to religion, but to trade.
his people to Christianity. If they rejected the religion he offered them, then, according to the ideas of the time, any Christian king might seize their possessions, and make slaves of them.
Such was one great object with Columbus in going to the Indies, as all Eastern Asia was then called. Throughout his career he never lost sight of this purpose. In fact, he came at length to believe that the Most High had specially chosen him as his instrument to carry the light of the true faith, as he understood it, into the kingdoms of Oriental paganism. That motive, whether wise or not, inspired the great Genoese navigator with a certain enthusiasm and dignity of character which mark his course throughout. His life was not always blameless, — he shared many of the errors of his time, but it was always noble.
5. The Second Motive of Columbus; Trade with the Indies. — But the question naturally arises, if Columbus wished to reach the Indies, why did he not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Polo, and go overland to that country?
The answer to that inquiry is found in the second motive which actuated him ; that was his desire to open up direct commercial intercourse with the East, not by land, but by the ocean. Columbus was, as we have seen, a sailor; and for this reason the condition of trade had a great influence on his plans.
Europe had at all times depended on the Indies for much of its supply of silks, cashmeres, and muslins, as well as for dyewoods, perfumes, spices, precious stones, and pearls. How large that trade was in the fifteenth century we cannot say with precision, but it must have been considerable. The control of it was then practically in the hands of the two rival Italian ports of Venice and Genoa. They held such complete possession of this lucrative traffic that it was said that no one in Western Europe could season a dish of meat or spice a cup of wine, without adding something to the profits of one of those cities.
Each had a route of its own. Genoa took the northern one, and sent her ships by way of Constantinople to the ports of the