Christopher Columbus and the New World HTML version

The Man Columbus
It is not in any leaden box or crystal vase that we must search for the true remains of
Christopher Columbus. Through these pages we have traced, so far as has been possible,
the course of his life, and followed him in what he did; all of which is but preparation for
our search for the true man, and just estimate of what he was. We have seen, dimly, what
his youth was; that he came of poor people who were of no importance to the world at
large; that he earned his living as a working man; that he became possessed of an Idea;
that he fought manfully and diligently until he had realised it; and that then he found
himself in a position beyond his powers to deal with, not being a strong enough swimmer
to hold his own in the rapid tide of events which he himself had set flowing; and we have
seen him sinking at last in that tide, weighed down by the very things for which he had
bargained and stipulated. If these pages had been devoted to a critical examination of the
historical documents on which his life-story is based we should also have found that he
continually told lies about himself, and misrepresented facts when the truth proved
inconvenient to him; that he was vain and boastful to a degree that can only excite our
compassion. He was naturally and sincerely pious, and drew from his religion much
strength and spiritual nourishment; but he was also capable of hypocrisy, and of using the
self-same religion as a cloak for his greed and cruelty. What is the final image that
remains in our minds of such a man? To answer this question we must examine his life in
three dimensions. There was its great outline of rise, zenith, and decline; there was its
outward history in minute detail, and its conduct in varying circumstances; and there was
the inner life of the man's soul, which was perhaps simpler than some of us think. And
first, as to his life as a single thing. It rose in poverty, it reached a brief and dazzling
zenith of glory, it set in clouds and darkness; the fame of it suffered a long night of
eclipse, from which it was rescued and raised again to a height of glory which
unfortunately was in sufficiently founded on fact; and as a reaction from this, it has been
in danger of becoming entirely discredited, and the man himself denounced as a fraud.
The reason for these surprising changes is that in those fifty-five years granted to
Columbus for the making of his life he did not consistently listen to that inner voice
which alone can hold a man on any constructive path. He listened to it at intervals, and he
drew his inspiration from it; but he shut his ears when it had served him, when it had
brought him what he wanted. In his moments of success he guided himself by outward
things; and thus he was at one moment a seer and ready to be a martyr, and at the next
moment he was an opportunist, watching to see which way the wind would blow, and
ready to trim his sails in the necessary direction. Such conduct of a man's life does not
make for single light or for true greatness; rather for dim, confused lights, and lofty
heights obscured in cloud.
If we examine his life in detail we find this alternating principle of conduct revealed
throughout it. He was by nature clever, kind-hearted, rather large-souled, affectionate,
and not very honest; all the acts prompted by his nature bear the stamp of these qualities.
To them his early years had probably added little except piety, sharp practice, and that