Christopher Columbus and the New World HTML version

Young Christopher
Christopher was fourteen years old when he first went to sea. That is his own statement,
and it is one of the few of his autobiographical utterances that we need not doubt. From
it, and from a knowledge of certain other dates, we are able to construct some vague
picture of his doings before he left Italy and settled in Portugal. Already in his young
heart he was feeling the influence that was to direct and shape his destiny; already,
towards his home in Genoa, long ripples from the commotion of maritime adventure in
the West were beginning to spread. At the age of ten he was apprenticed to his father,
who undertook, according to the indentures, to provide him with board and lodging, a
blue gabardine and a pair of good shoes, and various other matters in return for his
service. But there is no reason to suppose that he ever occupied himself very much with
wool-weaving. He had a vocation quite other than that, and if he ever did make any cloth
there must have been some strange thoughts and imaginings woven into it, as he plied the
shuttle. Most of his biographers, relying upon a doubtful statement in the life of him
written by his son Ferdinand, would have us send him at the age of twelve to the distant
University of Pavia, there, poor mite, to sit at the feet of learned professors studying
Latin, mathematics, and cosmography; but fortunately it is not necessary to believe so
improbable a statement. What is much more likely about his education—for education he
had, although not of the superior kind with which he has been credited—is that in the
blank, sunny time of his childhood he was sent to one of the excellent schools established
by the weavers in their own quarter, and that there or afterwards he came under some
influence, both religious and learned, which stamped him the practical visionary that he
remained throughout his life. Thereafter, between his sea voyagings and expeditions
about the Mediterranean coasts, he no doubt acquired knowledge in the only really
practical way that it can be acquired; that is to say, he received it as and when he needed
it. What we know is that he had in later life some knowledge of the works of Aristotle,
Julius Caesar, Seneca, Pliny, and Ptolemy; of Ahmet-Ben-Kothair the Arabic astronomer,
Rochid the Arabian, and the Rabbi Samuel the Jew; of Isadore the Spaniard, and Bede
and Scotus the Britons; of Strabo the German, Gerson the Frenchman, and Nicolaus de
Lira the Italian. These names cover a wide range, but they do not imply university
education. Some of them merely suggest acquaintance with the 'Imago Mundi'; others
imply that selective faculty, the power of choosing what can help a man's purpose and of
rejecting what is useless to it, that is one of the marks of genius, and an outward sign of
the inner light.
We must think of him, then, at school in Genoa, grinding out the tasks that are the
common heritage of all small boys; working a little at the weaving, interestedly enough at
first, no doubt, while the importance of having a loom appealed to him, but also no doubt
rapidly cooling off in his enthusiasm as the pastime became a task, and the restriction of
indoor life began to be felt. For if ever there was a little boy who loved to idle about the
wharves and docks, here was that little boy. It was here, while he wandered about the
crowded quays and listened to the medley of talk among the foreign sailors, and looked
beyond the masts of the ships into the blue distance of the sea, that the desire to wander
and go abroad upon the face of the waters must first have stirred in his heart. The
wharves of Genoa in those days combined in themselves all the richness of romance and