Christopher Columbus and the New World HTML version

Adventures Bodily And Spiritual
Columbus had not been long in Portugal before he was off again to sea, this time on a
longer voyage than any he had yet undertaken. Our knowledge of it depends on his own
words as reported by Las Casas, and, like so much other knowledge similarly recorded, is
not to be received with absolute certainty; but on the whole the balance of probability is
in favour of its truth. The words in which this voyage is recorded are given as a quotation
from a letter of Columbus, and, stripped of certain obvious interpolations of the historian,
are as follows:—
"In the month of February, and in the year 1477, I navigated as far as the island of Tile
[Thule], a hundred leagues; and to this island, which is as large as England, the English,
especially those of Bristol, go with merchandise; and when I was there the sea was not
frozen over, although there were very high tides, so much so that in some parts the sea
rose twenty-five 'brazas', and went down as much, twice during the day."
The reasons for doubting that this voyage took place are due simply to Columbus's habit
of being untruthful in regard to his own past doings, and his propensity for drawing the
long bow; and the reason that has been accepted by most of his biographers who have
denied the truth of this statement is that, in the year 1492, when Columbus was
addressing the King and Queen of Spain on his qualifications as a navigator, and when he
wished to set forth his experience in a formidable light, he said nothing about this
voyage, but merely described his explorations as having extended from Guinea on the
south to England on the north. A shrewd estimate of Columbus's character makes it
indeed seem incredible that, if he had really been in Iceland, he should not have
mentioned the fact on this occasion; and yet there is just one reason, also quite
characteristic of Columbus, that would account for the suppression. It is just possible that
when he was at Thule, by which he meant Iceland, he may have heard of the explorations
in the direction of Greenland and Newfoundland; and that, although by other navigators
these lands were regarded as a part of the continent of Europe, he may have had some
glimmerings of an idea that they were part of land and islands in the West; and he was
much too jealous of his own reputation as the great and only originator of the project for
voyaging to the West, to give away any hints that he was not the only person to whom
such ideas had occurred. There is deception and untruth somewhere; and one must make
one's choice between regarding the story in the first place as a lie, or accepting it as truth,
and putting down Columbus's silence about it on a later occasion to a rare instinct of
judicious suppression. There are other facts in his life, to which, we shall come later, that
are in accordance with this theory. There is no doubt, moreover, that Columbus had a
very great experience of the sea, and was one of the greatest practical seamen, if not the
greatest, that has ever lived; and it would be foolish to deny, except for the greatest
reasons, that he made a voyage to the far North, which was neither unusual at the time
nor a very great achievement for a seaman of his experience.