Christopher Columbus and the New World HTML version

In Portugal
There is no reason to believe that before his twenty-fifth year Columbus was anything
more than a merchant or mariner, sailing before the mast, and joining one ship after
another as opportunities for good voyages offered themselves. A change took place later,
probably after his marriage, when he began to adapt himself rapidly to a new set of
surroundings, and to show his intrinsic qualities; but all the attempts that have been made
to glorify him socially—attempts, it must be remembered, in which he himself and his
sons were in after years the leaders—are entirely mistaken. That strange instinct for
consistency which makes people desire to see the outward man correspond, in terms of
momentary and arbitrary credit, with the inner and hidden man of the heart, has in truth
led to more biographical injustice than is fully realised. If Columbus had been the man
some of his biographers would like to make him out—the nephew or descendant of a
famous French Admiral, educated at the University of Pavia, belonging to a family of
noble birth and high social esteem in Genoa, chosen by King Rene to be the commander
of naval expeditions, learned in scientific lore, in the classics, in astronomy and in
cosmography, the friend and correspondent of Toscanelli and other learned scientists—
we should find it hard indeed to forgive him the shifts and deceits that he practised. It is
far more interesting to think of him as a common craftsman, of a lowly condition and
poor circumstances, who had to earn his living during the formative period of his life by
the simplest and hardest labour of the hand. The qualities that made him what he was
were of a very simple kind, and his character owed its strength, not to any complexity or
subtlety of training and education, but rather to that very bareness and simplicity of
circumstance that made him a man of single rather than manifold ideas. He was not
capable of seeing both sides of a question; he saw only one side. But he came of a great
race; and it was the qualities of his race, combined with this simplicity and even perhaps
vacancy of mind, that gave to his idea, when once the seed of it had lodged in his mind,
so much vigour in growth and room for expansion. Think of him, then, at the age of
twenty-five as a typical plebeian Genoese, bearing all the characteristic traits of his
century and people—the spirit of adventure, the love of gold and of power, a spirit of
mysticism, and more than a touch of crafty and elaborate dissimulation, when that should
be necessary.
He had been at sea for ten or eleven years, making voyages to and from Genoa, with an
occasional spell ashore and plunge into the paternal affairs, when in the year 1476 he
found himself on board a Genoese vessel which formed one of a convoy going, to
Lisbon. This convoy was attacked off Cape St. Vincent by Colombo, or Colomb, the
famous French corsair, of whom Christopher himself has quite falsely been called a
relative. Only two of the Genoese vessels escaped, and one of these two was the ship
which carried Columbus. It arrived at Lisbon, where Columbus went ashore and took up
his abode.