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TABLE TALK.

DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.

HE theory that Columbus was the first to visit the American

T ,

doned. The latest, and immeasurably the most ambitious historian of America, Mr. Edward John Payne, the first volume of whose “History of the New World called America” has just been issued by the Clarendon Press, is so much in earnest in stripping Columbus of a portion of his laurels that he is not inclined wholly and unhesitatingly to reject the story that Madox, the son of Owen Gwyneth, King of North Wales, sailed in the twelfth century to America and founded a colony on the bank of the Missouri. Without entering on this question, Mr. Payne gives a still earlier date to what is practically the discovery of America. He holds that when Ingolf, the son of Orn, reached Iceland in 874, he had unwittingly bridged over the gulf between Europe and America. Iceland practically belongs to America, and from the day when the Northmen landed on its coast, finding their way to the coast of New England was only a question of time. The nearest promontory of Greenland was only fifty-two nautical leagues from Iceland. The year 986 is that in which America was first discovered by Biarne Herjulfson the Northman, whose vessel drifted on an arctic current to New England. At this period, as Mr. Payne says, “While the Northmen were exploring the coast of America, others of their race were engaged in that continuous invasion of England which resulted in the Danish dynasty. Others were sailing up the Guadalquivir and plundering the Moors in Andalusia. Spain seemed permanently annexed to Africa : Genoa had not emerged from obscurity: the maritime revolution was not begun : none of the causes of the Columbian discovery had come into existence." Profoundly interesting is the account of the discovery which Americans regard with small favour and in which Spain feels no great belief. Danish antiquaries, however, have taken much pains to establish its authority, and will be generally held to have succeeded. A subsequent voyage in Biarne's own ship, but

under the lead of Leif, the son of Eric the Red, resulted in the discovery of Wineland, as the Northmen named the country in which they found the vine. This spot our author takes to have been some part of the State of Rhode Island.

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS.

THE

'HE views of Columbus generally which Mr. Payne expresses are

not likely to be well received by those who have undertaken the apotheosis of the great navigator. Besides stripping Columbus of the honours awarded him through centuries, Mr. Payne finds much in his character to condemn. Humboldt regarded Columbus as “above all things an observer of cosmical Nature, a man of science, and worthy of a place among the forerunners of modern natural philosophy.” This view is not accepted by the later writer, who takes a much lower estimate, holding that his tone of thought belongs wholly to the Middle Ages, and then continues : “His ill-directed ambition, his sentimental fidelity to the monarchs who hired him, and cheated him of his hire, his love of the show of power and dignity, his intolerance of any theory of his discoveries except his own, indicate a temperament far indeed from that of the philosopher : and the literary work which employed his latter years, treating of the prophecies which he had conceived himself to have been instrumental in bringing to pass, evince a mind wholly under the sway of a gross and narrow theology." Elsewhere I read that “Columbus, though a great seaman, was an incompetent governor," and that the secret of his dogged persistency, both when recommending his scheme to Ferdinand and Isabella, and when crossing the Atlantic in search of the Indies, was not "precisely a masculine and rational faith in himself and the cause. It was part of his creed that nothing in his career was really a matter of fortune, and that he was in all things an instrument chosen by the Almighty for the accomplishment of His inscrutable designs.” I give Mr. Payne's own words, and leave them to be regarded as rank heresy or inspired truth according to the sympathies or convictions of the reader.

THE EXPLORATION OF ANTARCTIC SEAS.

THE

"HE extreme interest now taken in all things connected with

the voyages of Columbus and the discovery of America renders more remarkable the neglect that has long been exhibited with regard to the Antarctic Ocean. While Arctic seas have been explored in search

of a North-West passage or in pursuit of commerce, the corresponding region in the south has for a long time been practically neglected. It is satisfactory to know that Britain is still in the van of discovery, and that four Dundee whalers have set sail for Arctic seas in pursuit of what is practically a voyage of discovery. The vessels are well fitted, manned, and commanded, and are furnished with means of taking observations, meteorological, magnetic, and other. What amount of success is to be hoped for in a voyage of this class, how far the fauna and flora of this comparatively unknown region may be expected to differ from those of the North, are matters that I leave to scientists. My satisfaction is derived from seeing that the spirit of enterprise and the love of adventure, and, I may add, the search after gain, are as keen now as they were in the days when across unknown seas Columbus held on undaunted. It speaks volumes for the British sailor that, though at the utmost disadvantage as regards situation, he remains foremost in the chase. To America should fall the responsibility of solving the great mystery of the South. Perhaps if we wait a little the task will fall to the Australasians. When once they have fitted themselves to the new home of Englishmen, have explored the length and breadth of their splendid continent, and settled the vexed questions connected with their political future, their surplus energies may be devoted to the solution of the largest, if not the most impor. tant, of remaining geographical problems.

ARTIFICIAL FOOD AND CivilisATION.

NE view strongly held by Mr. Payne, to whose “History of the

New World” I have recurred, seems likely, with some modifications, to meet with acceptance. It is that the “organisation of food-provision on the artificial basis has been combined with that of defence, and that communities in which these combined organisations have been fully elaborated have extended their boundaries at the expense of others whose social arrangements were less advanced.” I have neither time nor space, if I had the ability and disposition, to show what seem the limitations of the theory, and content myself with putting it before my readers, many of whom will not fail to turn to Mr. Payne's volume. The transformation of human society, and the features which distinguish civilisation from savagery, are thus attributed to "the substitution of an artificial for a natural basis of subsistence." Upon the savage, as upon the civilised, weighs the necessity of storing food, a lesson taught him by some of the lower animals. · The first step to an artificial supply is, instead of mere

storage, planting seeds or roots in the earth to fructify and develop, or domesticating animals. At the basis of advancement stands the domestication of the ass, the horse, the ox, the camel, the sheep, and the goat. In the milch animal, and the greatly increased proportion of multiplication which its possession implies, is found “the economic basis of the existing settlement of the Old World." America was practically destitute of “those animals which in the Old World were bred and fed in domestication in order to yield a constant supply of milk for human consumption. In this fact Mr. Payne sees the most important among the causes of the backwardness of the American aborigines. For the further development of this interesting second theory the “History of the New World” must be consulted.

WHAT PEOPLE READ. W H AT books do the majority of people read by preference ?

If I may trust the librarians of local London libraries, fiction enjoys an uncontested supremacy. This is, of course, to be expected. According to the third annual report of the Brentford Free Public Library—a juvenile institution with no embarrassing variety of choice, as it contains only 4,092 volumes in all—the two most popular books with the Brentfordians are Blackmore's “Lorna Doone” and Edna Lyall's “In the Golden Days,” both of which had been taken out sixty-five times. Confining oneself only to the same class of literature, one finds Besant's “Katherine Regina,” Macdonald's “Robert Falconer," Kingsley's “Westward Ho !” and Holmes's “Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," continue in a diminishing degree of popularity. Some heavier fare was there for more practical minds, Cassell's “ Popular Educator” having been taken out forty-one times. Opposite Cross's “Life of George Eliot” is the number thirty, and opposite Stanley's “In Darkest Africa,” thirty-five. Darwin's “Descent of Man” was read fifteen times, Swedenborg's “Heaven and Hell” fourteen, and Farrar's “St. Paul” thirteen. Very interesting are these statistics, and the lessons to be drawn from them, were one inclined to moralise, are significant. Until I know the general constitution of the library I cannot, however, reach any very satisfactory results. That books supplying practical information, such as the “ Popular Educator," are in favour with the higher class of workmen is known not only to the librarian but to the second-hand bookseller. An old volume of some trade or scientific periodical, sold for a few pence, will attract the attention of a workman who, like

Johnson choosing an arithmetic for a compagnon de voyage, knows that its contents will not soon be exhausted. The only books belonging to past literature that are given are Swedenborg's “Heaven and Hell,” before mentioned, “Æsop's Fables," taken down twentytwo times, and “Gulliver's Travels," taken down twenty.

WHAT IS READ BY YOUTH ?

I

SHOULD like full statistics as to what is generally read by the

younger generation besides the brilliantly amusing pages of the Idler and other redhot novelties. In fiction, even, are the old masters forgotten by the young? That Scott is still popular is proven by the fact that endless editions of the Waverley Novels see the light. Men of culture will never deny themselves the delight of reading "Joseph Andrews” and." Tristram Shandy," and will turn at times to “Peregrine Pickle” and “Clarissa Harlowe.” New editions of Jane Austen even see the light. Does anyone, however, in these days take up the novels of Captain Marryat, the breeziest and the most sidesplitting volumes ever written? Is Mrs. Radcliffe clean forgotten, with her romances of mystery; or lovely, piquante Mrs. Inchbald, with her delightful pictures of society? I was aghast to hear the other day, and was a little incredulous also, that the days of Alexandre Dumas are over, and that few now in France read “ Monte Cristo” or “ La Reine Margot.” I was told even, by the same authority, himself a distinguished author, that the taste for Hugo among the young generation was dying, and that it was only older men that turned to “ Notre Dame de Paris” and “Les Misérables.” That the actual is the most palatable to men may be granted, but oblivion cannot tread so closely as this upon highest accomplishment. A curious trait of the British workman I must supply. I had a workman to make the bookshelves a fresh provision of which an expanding library rendered constantly necessary. He was one of the honestest and worthiest men I ever knew, and had by industry raised himself and his family to a respectable position. He was to some extent a reader. I possessed a copy, in many volumes, of a good edition of Shakespeare which had been scorched in a fire, but was for reading purposes uninjured. This I gave him, telling him he might carry the volumes home at his leisure. The gift was quite unprized, and the later volumes were not taken away. I have strong doubts whether Shakespeare is much read among the operatives.

SYLVANUS URBAN.

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