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Christopher Columbus and the New World

Book I: The Inner Light
The Stream Of The World
A man standing on the sea-shore is perhaps as ancient and as primitive a symbol of
wonder as the mind can conceive. Beneath his feet are the stones and grasses of an
element that is his own, natural to him, in some degree belonging to him, at any rate
accepted by him. He has place and condition there. Above him arches a world of
immense void, fleecy sailing clouds, infinite clear blueness, shapes that change and
dissolve; his day comes out of it, his source of light and warmth marches across it, night
falls from it; showers and dews also, and the quiet influence of stars. Strange that
impalpable element must be, and for ever unattainable by him; yet with its gifts of sun
and shower, its furniture of winged life that inhabits also on the friendly soil, it has links
and partnerships with life as he knows it and is a complement of earthly conditions. But
at his feet there lies the fringe of another element, another condition, of a vaster and more
simple unity than earth or air, which the primitive man of our picture knows to be not his
at all. It is fluent and unstable, yet to be touched and felt; it rises and falls, moves and
frets about his very feet, as though it had a life and entity of its own, and was engaged
upon some mysterious business. Unlike the silent earth and the dreaming clouds it has a
voice that fills his world and, now low, now loud, echoes throughout his waking and
sleeping life. Earth with her sprouting fruits behind and beneath him; sky, and larks
singing, above him; before him, an eternal alien, the sea: he stands there upon the shore,
arrested, wondering. He lives,—this man of our figure; he proceeds, as all must proceed,
with the task and burden of life. One by one its miracles are unfolded to him; miracles of
fire and cold, and pain and pleasure; the seizure of love, the terrible magic of
reproduction, the sad miracle of death. He fights and lusts and endures; and, no more
troubled by any wonder, sleeps at last. But throughout the days of his life, in the very act
of his rude existence, this great tumultuous presence of the sea troubles and overbears
him. Sometimes in its bellowing rage it terrifies him, sometimes in its tranquillity it
allures him; but whatever he is doing, grubbing for roots, chipping experimentally with
bones and stones, he has an eye upon it; and in his passage by the shore he pauses, looks,
and wonders. His eye is led from the crumbling snow at his feet, past the clear green of
the shallows, beyond the furrows of the nearer waves, to the calm blue of the distance;
and in his glance there shines again that wonder, as in his breast stirs the vague longing
and unrest that is the life-force of the world.
What is there beyond? It is the eternal question asked by the finite of the infinite, by the
mortal of the immortal; answer to it there is none save in the unending preoccupation of
life and labour. And if this old question was in truth first asked upon the sea-shore, it was
asked most often and with the most painful wonder upon western shores, whence the
journeying sun was seen to go down and quench himself in the sea. The generations that
followed our primitive man grew fast in knowledge, and perhaps for a time wondered the
 
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