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Christopher Columbus and the New World

An Interlude
A breath of salt air again will do us no harm as a relief from these perilous balancings of
Columbus on the see-saw at Espanola. His true work in this world had indeed already
been accomplished. When he smote the rock of western discovery many springs flowed
from it, and some were destined to run in mightier channels than that which he himself
followed. Among other men stirred by the news of Columbus's first voyage there was one
walking the streets of Bristol in 1496 who was fired to a similar enterprise—a man of
Venice, in boyhood named Zuan Caboto, but now known in England, where he has some
time been settled, as Captain John Cabot. A sailor and trader who has travelled much
through the known sea-roads of this world, and has a desire to travel upon others not so
well known. He has been in the East, has seen the caravans of Mecca and the goods they
carried, and, like Columbus, has conceived in his mind the roundness of the world as a
practical fact rather than a mere mathematical theory. Hearing of Columbus's success
Cabot sets what machinery in England he has access to in motion to secure for him
patents from King Henry VII.; which patents he receives on March 5, 1496. After
spending a long time in preparation, and being perhaps a little delayed by diplomatic
protests from the Spanish Ambassador in London, he sails from Bristol in May 1497.
After sailing west two thousand leagues Cabot found land in the neighbourhood of Cape
Breton, and was thus in all probability the first discoverer, since the Icelanders, of the
mainland of the New World. He turned northward, sailed through the strait of Belle Isle,
and came home again, having accomplished his task in three months. Cabot, like
Columbus, believed he had seen the territory of the Great Khan, of whom he told the
interested population of Bristol some strange things. He further told them of the probable
riches of this new land if it were followed in a southerly direction; told them some lies
also, it appears, since he said that the waters there were so dense with fish that his vessels
could hardly move in them. He received a gratuity of L10 and a pension, and made a
great sensation in Bristol by walking about the city dressed in fine silk garments. He took
other voyages also with his son Sebastian, who followed with him the rapid widening
stream of discovery and became Pilot Major of Spain, and President of the Congress
appointed in 1524 to settle the conflicting pretensions of various discoverers; but so far as
our narrative is concerned, having sailed across from Bristol and discovered the mainland
of the New World some years before Columbus discovered it, John Cabot sails into
Another great conquest of the salt unknown taken place a few days before Columbus
sailed on his third voyage. The accidental discovery of the Cape by Bartholomew Diaz in
1486 had not been neglected by Portugal; and the achievements of Columbus, while they
cut off Portuguese enterprise from the western ocean, had only stimulated it to greater
activity within its own spheres. Vasco da Gama sailed from Lisbon in July 1497; by the
end of November he had rounded the Cape of Good Hope; and in May 1498, after a long
voyage full of interest, peril, and hardship he had landed at Calicut on the shores of the