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taught Columbus, that he must prepare to struggle, not only with the enavoidable difficulties which might be expected from the nature of his undertaking, but with such as were likely to arise from the ignorance and timidity of the people under his command; and he perceived that tie art of governing the minds of men would be no less requisite for accomplishing the discoveries which he had in view, than naval skill and undaunted courage. Happily for himself, and for the country by which he was employed, he joined to the ardent temper and inventive genius of a projector, virtues of another species, which are rarely united with them. He possessed a thorough knowledge of mankind, an insinuating address, a patient perseverance in executing any plan, the perfect government of his passions, and the talent of acquiring an ascendant over those of other men. All these qualities, which formed him for command, were accompanied with that superior knowledge of his profession, which begett confidence in times of difficulty and danger. To unskilful Spanish sailors, accustomed only to coasting voyages in the Mediterranean, the maritime science of Columbus, the fruit of thirty years experience, improved by an acquaintance with all the inventions of the Portuguese, appeared immense. As soon as they put to sea, he regulated every thing by his sole authority; he superintended the execution of every order; and allowing himself only a few hours for sleep, he was at all other times upon deck. As his course lay through seas which had not formerly been visited, the founding^line, or instruments for observation, were continually in his hands, After the example of the Portuguese discoverers, he attended to the motion of tides and currents, watched the flight of birds, the appearance of fishes, of sea-weeds, and of every thing that floated on the waves, and entered every occurrence, with a minute exactness, in the journal which he kept. As the length of the voyage could not fail of alarming sailors habituated only to short excursionsi Columbus endeavoured to conceal from them the real progress which they made. With this view, though they run eighteen leagues on the second day aster they lest Gomera, he gave out that they had advanced enly fifteen, and he uniformly employed the same artifice of reckoning short during the whole voyage. By the fourteenth of September, the fleet was above two hundred leagues to the west of the Canary Isles, at a greater distance from land than any Spaniard had been before that time. There they were struck with an appearance no less astonishing than new. They observed that the magnetic needle, in their compasses, did not point exactly to the polar star, but varied towards the weft; and as they proceeded, this variation increased. This appearance, which is now familiar, though it still remains one of the mysteries of nature, into the
D 2 cause cause of which the sagacity of man hath not been able to penetrate, filled the companions of Columbus with terror. They were now in a boundless unknown ocean, far from the usual course of navigation; nature itself seemed to be altered, and the only guide which they had left was about to fail them. Columbus, with no less quickness than ingenuity, invented a reason for this appearance, which, though it did not satisfy himself, seemed so plausible to them, that it dispelled their fears, or silenced their murmurs.
He still continued to steer due west, nearjy in the fame latitude with the Canary iflands. In this course he came within the sphere of the trade wind, which blows invariably from east to west, between the tropics and a few degrees beyond them. He advanced before this steady gale with such uniform rapidity, that it was seldom necessary to shift a sail. When about four hundred leagues to the west of the Canaries, he found the sea so covered with weeds, that it resembled a meadow of vast extent; and in some places they were so thick, as to retard the motion of the vessels. This strange appearance occasioned new alarm and disquiet, The sailors imagined that they were now arrived at the utmost boundary of the navigable ocean; that these floating weeds would obstruct their farther progress, and concealed dangerous rocks, or some large tract of land, which had sunk, they knew not now", in that place. Columbus endeavoured to persuade them, that what had alarmed, ought rather to have encouraged them, and was to be considered as a sign of approaching land. At the fame time, a brisk gale arose, and carried them forward. Several birds were seen hovering about the ship*, and directed their flight towards the west. The desponding crew resumed some degree ps spirit, and began to entertain fresh hopes.
* As the Portuguese, in making their discoveries, did nqt depart far from the coast of Africa, they concluded that birds, whose flight they observed with great attention, didj not venture to any considerable distance from land. In the infancy of navigation, it was not known, that birds often stretch their flight to an immense distance from any iliore. In sailing towards the West-Indian islands, birds are often seen at the distance of two hundred leagues from the nearest coast. Sloane's Nat. Hist, of Jamaica, vol. i. p. 30. Catelby saw an owl at sea, when the ship was six hundred leagues distant from land. Nat. Hist, of Carolina, pref. p. 7. Hist. Naturelle de M. Buffon, torn. xvi. j>. yi. From which it appears, that this indication of land, on which Columbus seems to have relied with some confidence, was extremely uncertain. This observation is confirmed by Captain Cook, the most extensive and experienced navigator of any age or nation. «' No one yet knows (fays he} to what distance any of the oceanic bird3 go to fea j for my own part, I do not believe that there is one in th,e whole tribe that can be relied on in pointing out the vicinity of land,? Voyage towards the South Pole, vol. i.
Upon the first of October they were, according to the admiral'* reckoning, seven hundred and seventy leagues to the west of the Canaries; but lest his men should be intimidated by the prodigious length of navigation, he gave out that they had proceeded only five hundred and eighty-four leagues; and, fortunately for Columbus, neither his own pilot, nor those of the other, (hips, had skill sufficient to correct this error, and discover the deceit. They had now been above three weeks at sea; they had proceeded far beyond what former navigators had attempted or deemed possible; all their prognostics of discovery, drawn from the flight of birds and other circumstances, had proved fallacious; the appearances of land, with which their own credulity or the artifice of their commander had from time to time flattered and amused them, had been altogether illusive, and their prospect of success seemed now to be as distant as ever. These reflections occurred often to men. who had no other object or occupation, than to reason and discourse concerning the intention and circumstances of their expedition. They made impression, at first, upon the ignorant and timid, and extending. by degrees, tp such as were better informed or more resolute, the contagion spread at length from ship to ship. From secret whispers or œurmurings, they proceeded to open cabals and public complaints. They taxed their sovereign with inconsiderate credulity, in paying such regard to the vain promises and rash conjectures of an indigent foreigner, as to hazard the liyes of so many of her own subjects, in prosecuting a chimerical scheme. They affirmed that they had fully performed their duty, by venturing so far in an unknown and hopeless course, and could incur no blame, for refusing to follow, any longer, a desperate adventurer to certain destruction. They contended, that it was necessary to think of returning to Spain, while their crazy vessels were still in a condition to keep the sea, but expressed their fears that the attempt would prove vain, as the wind, which had hitherto been so favourable to their course, must render it impossible to sail in the opposite direction. All agreed that Columbus should be compelled by force to adopt a measure on which their common safety depended. Some of the more audacious proposed, as the most expeditious and certain method for getting rid at once of his remonstrances, to throw him into the sea, being persuaded that, upon their return to Spain, the death os an unsuccessful projector would excite little concern, and be inquired into with no curiosity.
Columbus, was fully sensible of his perilous situation. He had observed, with great uneasiness, the fatal operation of ignorance and of fear in producing disaffection among his crew, and saw that it was now ready
to burst out into open mutiny. He retained, however, perfect presence of mind. He affected to seem ignorant of their machinations. Notwithstanding the agitation and solicitude of his own mind, he appeared with a cheerful countenance, like a man satisfied with the progress which he had made, and confident of success. Sometimes he employed all the arts of insinuation to soothe his men. Sometimes he endeavoured to work upon their ambition or avarice, by magnificent descriptions of the fame and wealth which they were about to acquire. On other occasions, he assumed a tone of authority, and threatened them with vengeance from their sovereign, if, by their dastardly behaviour, they should defeat this noble effort to promote the glory of God, and to exalt the Spanish name above that of every other nation. Even with seditious sailors, the words of a man whom they had been accustomed to reverence, were weighty and persuasive, and not only restrained them from those violent excesses, which they meditated, but prevailed with them ts accompany their admiral for sometime longer.
As they proceeded, the indications of approaching land seemed to be more certain, and excited hope in proportion. The birds began to appear in flocks, making towards the south-west. Columbus, in imitation of the Portuguese navigators, who had been guided, in several of their discoveries, by the motion of birds, altered his course from due west towards that quarter whither they pointed their flight. But, after holding on for several days in this new direction, without any better success than formerly, having seen no object, during thirty days, but the sea and the iky, the hopes of his companions subsided faster than they had risen; their fears revived with additional force; impatience, rage, and despair, appeared in every countenance. All sense of-subordination was lost; the officers, who had hitherto concurred with Columbus in opinion, and supported his authority, now took part with the private men; they assembled tumultuoufly on the deck, expostulated with their commander, mingled threats with their expostulations, and required him instantly to tack about and to return to Europe. Columbus perceived that it would be of no avail to have recourse to any of his former arts, which having been tried so often, had lost their effect; and that it was impossible to rekindle any zeal for the success of the expedition among men, in whose breasts fear had extinguished every generous sentiment. He saw that it was no less vain to think cf employing either gentle or severe measures, to quell a mutiny so general and so violent. It was necessary, on all these accounts, to soothe passions which he could no longer command, and to give way to a torrent too impetuous to be checked. He pro
mised solemnly to his men that he would comply with their request, provided they would accompany him, and obey his commands for three days longer, and if, during that time, land were not discovered, he would then abandon the enterprise, and direct his course towards Spain.
Enraged as the sailors were, and impatient to turn their faces again towards their native country, this proposition did not appear to them unreasonable. Nor did Columbus hazard much in confining himself to a term so short. The prgsages of discovering land were now so numerous and promising, that he deemed them infallible. For some days the sounding line reached the bottom, and the soil which it brought up indicated land to be at no great distance. The flocks of birds increased, and were composed not only of sea fowl, but of such land birds as could not be supposed to fly far from the shore. The crew of the Pinta observed a cane floating, which seemed to have been newly cut, and likewise a piece of timber artificially carved. The sailors aboard the Nigna took up the branch of a trie^-with red berries, perfectly fresh. The clouds around the setting sun assumed a new appearance; the air was more mild and warm, and, during night, the wind became unequal and' variable. From all these symptoms, Columbus was so confident of bring near land, that on the evening of the eleventh os October, aster public prayers for success, he ordered the fails to be furled, and the /hips to lie to, keeping strict watch, lest they should be driven ashore in the night. During this interval of suspence and expectation, no man Jhut his eyes, all kept upon deck, gazing intently towards that quarter where they expected to discover the land, which had been so long the ebject of their wishes.
About two hours before midnight, Columbus standing on the forecastle, observed a light at a distance, and privately pointed it out to Pedro Guttkrez, a page of the queen's wardrobe. Guttierez perceived it, and calling to Salcedo, comptroller of the fleet, all three saw it in motion, as if it were carried from place to place. A little after midnight, the joyful found of land, land, was heard from the Pinta, which kept always ahead of the other ships. But, having been so often deceived by fallacious appearances, every man was now become flow of belief, and waited, in all the anguish of uncertainty and impatience, for the return of day. As soon as morning dawned, Friday, October 12, all doubts and fears were dispelled. From every ship an island was seen about two leagues to the north, whose flat and verdant fields, well stored with wood, and watered with many rivttlets, presented the aspect of a delightful country. The crew of the Pinta instantly began the fir Deum, as a hymn of thanksgiving to God, and were joined by those