The True Story of Christopher Columbus HTML version
What People Thought Of The Idea
I do not wish you to think that Columbus was the first man to say that the earth was
round, or the first to sail to the West over the Atlantic Ocean. He was not. Other men had
said that they believed the earth was round; other men had sailed out into the Atlantic
Ocean. But no sailor who believed the earth was round had ever yet tried to prove that it
was by crossing the Atlantic. So, you see, Columbus was really the first man to say, I
believe the earth is round and I will show you that it is by sailing to the lands that are on
the other side of the earth.
He even figured out how far it was around the world. Your geography, you know, tells
you now that what is called the circumference of the earth—that is, a straight line drawn
right around it—is nearly twenty-five thousand miles. Columbus had figured it up pretty
carefully and he thought it was about twenty thousand miles. If I could start from Genoa,
he said, and walk straight ahead until I got back to Genoa again, I should walk about
twenty thousand miles. Cathay, he thought, would take up so much land on the other side
of the world that, if he went west instead of east, he would only need to sail about twenty-
five hundred or three thousand miles.
If you have studied your geography carefully you will see what a mistake he made.
It is really about twelve thousand miles from Spain to China (or Cathay as he called it).
But America is just about three thousand miles from Spain, and if you read all this story
you will see how Columbus's mistake really helped him to discover America.
I have told you that Columbus had a longing to do something great from the time when,
as a little boy, he had hung around the wharves in Genoa and looked at the ships sailing
east and west and talked with the sailors and wished that he could go to sea. Perhaps what
he had learned at school—how some men said that the earth was round—and what he had
heard on the wharves about the wonders of Cathay set him to thinking and to dreaming
that it might be possible for a ship to sail around the world without falling off. At any
rate, he kept on thinking and dreaming and longing until, at last, he began doing.
Some of the sailors sent out by Prince Henry of Portugal, of whom I have told you, in
their trying to sail around Africa discovered two groups of islands out in the Atlantic that
they called the Azores, or Isles of Hawks, and the Canaries, or Isles of Dogs. When
Columbus was in Portugal in 1470 he became acquainted with a young woman whose
name was Philippa Perestrelo. In 1473 he married her.
Now Philippa's father, before his death, had been governor of Porto Santo, one of the
Azores, and Columbus and his wife went off there to live. In the governor's house
Columbus found a lot of charts and maps that told him about parts of the ocean that he
had never before seen, and made him feel certain that he was right in saying that if he
sailed away to the West he should find Cathay.