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Cristopher Columbus and the New World


obscurest depths, dig and prepare the ground, searching and sifting
the documentary soil with infinite labour and over an area immensely
wide. They are followed by those scholars and specialists in history
who give their lives to the study of a single period, and who sow
literature in the furrows of research prepared by those who have
preceded them. Last of all comes the essayist, or writer pure and
simple, who reaps the harvest so laboriously prepared. The material
lies all before him; the documents have been arranged, the immense
contemporary fields of record and knowledge examined and
searched for stray seeds of significance that may have blown over
into them; the perspective is cleared for him, the relation of his facts
to time and space and the march of human civilisation duly
established; he has nothing to do but reap the field of harvest where it
suits him, grind it in the wheels of whatever machinery his art is
equipped with, and come before the public with the finished product.
And invariably in this unequal partnership he reaps most richly who
reaps latest.
I am far from putting this narrative forward as the fine and ultimate
product of all the immense labour and research of the historians of
Columbus; but I am anxious to excuse myself for my apparent
presumption in venturing into a field which might more properly be
occupied by the expert historian. It would appear that the double work
of acquiring the facts of a piece of human history and of presenting
them through the medium of literature can hardly ever be performed
by one and the same man. A lifetime must be devoted to the one, a
year or two may suffice for the other; and an entirely different set of
qualities must be employed in the two tasks. I cannot make it too
clear that I make no claim to have added one iota of information or
one fragment of original research to the expert knowledge regarding
the life of Christopher Columbus; and when I add that the chief
collection of facts and documents relating to the subject, the
'Raccolta Columbiana,'—[Raccolta di Documenti e Studi Publicati
dalla R. Commissione Colombiana, etc. Auspice il Ministero della
Publica Istruzione. Rome, 1892-4.]—is a work consisting of more
than thirty folio volumes, the general reader will be the more indulgent
to me. But when a purely human interest led me some time ago to
look into the literature of Columbus, I was amazed to find what
seemed to me a striking disproportion between the extent of the
modern historians' work on that subject and the knowledge or interest
in it displayed by what we call the general reading public. I am
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