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CHAP. chief document is an interpolation in the history of á Sturleson, whose zealous curiosity could hardly have
neglected the discovery of a continent. The geographical details are too vague to sustain a conjecture; the accounts of the mild winter and fertile soil are, on any modern hypothesis, fictitious or exaggerated; the description of the natives applies only to the Esquimaux, inhabitants of hyperborean regions; the remark which should define the length of the shortest winter's day, has received interpretations, adapted to every latitude from New York to Cape Farewell; and Vinland has been sought in all directions, from Greenland and the St. Lawrence to Africa. The nation of intrepid mariners, whose voyages extended beyond Iceland and beyond Sicily, could easily have sailed from Greenland to Labrador ; no clear historic evidence establishes the natural probability that they acccomplished the passage.
Imagination had conceived the idea, that vast inhabited regions lay unexplored in the west ; and poets had declared, that empires beyond the ocean would one
day be revealed to the daring navigator. But Colum1492. bus deserves the undivided glory of having realized that
belief. During his lifetime he met with no adequate recompense. The self-love of the Spanish monarch was offended at receiving from a foreigner in his employ benefits too vast for requital; and the contemporaries of the great navigator persecuted the merit which they could not adequately reward. Nor had posterity been COLUMBUS. JOHN AND SEBASTIAN CABOT.
1 Antiquitates Americanæ, Haf- Amer Biog. i. 47–58; Moulton's niæ, 1837. The chief work. Schö- New York, i. 110—125; Irving's ning's ed. of Sturleson, i. 304-325. Columbus, iii. 292–300; E. Everett, Thorfæus, Winlandia Antiqua. A.de in N. A. Review, xlvi. 161–203. Humboldt, Examen Critique, ii. 124, 2 Antiq. Americana, 289,291,296. &c. Of American writers, Whea- 3 Prescott's Ferdinand and Isaton's Northmen, 22–28; Belknap's bella,ž.117. Pulci.c.xxv.st.229--232
mindful to gather into a finished picture the memorials CHAP of his career, till the genius of Irving, with candor, lib- and erality, and original research, made a record of his 1492 eventful life, and in mild but enduring colors sketched his sombre inflexibility of purpose, his deep religious enthusiasm, and the disinterested magnanimity of his character.
Columbus was a native of Genoa. The commerce of the middle ages, conducted chiefly upon the Mediterranean Sea, had enriched the Italian republics, and had been chiefly engrossed by their citizens. The path for enterprise now lay across the ocean. The states which bordered upon the Atlantic, Spain, Portugal, and England, became competitors for the possession of the New World, and the control of the traffic which its discovery was to call into being ; but the nation which, by long and successful experience, had become deservedly celebrated for its skill in navigation, continued for a season to furnish the most able maritime commanders. Italians had the glory of making the discoveries, from which Italy derived no accessions of wealth or power.
In the new career of western adventure, the Amer- 404 ican continent was first discovered under the auspices of June the English, and the coast of the United States by a nativeof England. In the history of maritime enterprise in the New World, the achievements of John and Sebastian Cabot are, in boldness, success, and results, second only to those of Columbus. The wars of the houses of York and Lancaster had ceased; tranquillity and thrifty industry had been restored by the prudent
1 History of the Travayles in the “Sebastian Cabot tolde me, that he East and West Indies, by R. Eden was borne in Brystow," &c. and R. Willes, 1577, fol. 267.
FIRST VOYAGE OF THE CABOTS.
CHAP. severity of Henry VII.; the spirit of commercial activ
a ity began to be successfully fostered; and the marts of 1496. England were thronged with Lombard adventurers
The fisheries of the north had long tempted the merchants of Bristol to an intercourse with Iceland ;1 and the nautical skill, necessary to buffet the storms of the Atlantic, had been acquired in this branch of northern commerce. Nor is it impossible, that some uncertain traditions respecting the remote discoveries which Icelanders had made in Greenland towards the north-west, “ where the lands? did nearest meet,” should have excited “ firm and pregnant conjectures.” The magnificent achievement of Columbus, revealing the wonderful truth, of which the germs may have existed in the imagination of every thoughtful mariner, won the admiration which was due to an enterprise that seemed more divine than human, and kindled in the breasts of the emulous a vehement desire to gain as signal renown in the same career of daring; while the politic king of England desired to share in the large returns, which were promised by maritime adventure. It was, therefore, not difficult for John Cabot, a Venetian merchant, residing at Bristol, to engage Henry VII. in plans for dis
covery. He obtained from that monarch a patent,* emMar. powering himself and his three sons, or either of them,
their heirs, or their deputies, to sail into the eastern, western, or northern sea, with a fleet of five ships, at their own proper expense and charges; to search for
1 Selden, Mare Clausum, b. ii. sio is wrong. The passage from c. 32.
Ramusio is also in Eden's Trav2 Bacon's Hist. of Henry VII. ayles, ed. 1577, fol. 267.- De Thou,
3 Conversation respecting Seb. Hist. 1. xliv. Cabot, reported in Ra rusio, Dis- 4 See the patent in Hakluyt, iii. corso sopra li Viaggi delle Spetie- 25, 26; Chalmers's Polit. Annals, rie, i. fol. 402, ed. 1554. Hak. ii. 7,8; Hazard's Hist. Coll. i. 9. 28. Hakluyt's reference to Ramu
DISCOVERY OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT.
islands, countries, provinces, or regions, hitherto unseen CHAP. by Christian people ; to affix the banners of England on any city, island, or continent, that they might find ; 1496. and, as vassals of the English crown, to possess and occupy the territories that might be discovered. It was further stipulated in this most ancient American state paper of England," 1 that the patentees should be strictly bound in their voyages to land at the port of Bristol, and to pay to the king one fifth part of the emoluments of the navigation ; while the exclusive right of frequent ing all the countries that might be found, was reserved, unconditionally and without limit of time, to the family of the Cabots and their assigns. Under this patent, containing the worst features of colonial monopoly and commercial restriction, John Cabot ? and his celebrated son Sebastian, embarked for the west. Of what tempests they encountered, what mutinies they calmed, no record has been preserved. The discovery of the American continent, probably in the latitude of fifty-six degrees, far, therefore, to the north of the Straits of 1497. Belle-Isle, among the polar bears, the rude savages, van
June and the dismal cliffs of Labrador, was the fruit of the voyage.
It has been attempted to deprive the father of the glory of having led the expedition. The surest documentary evidence confirms his claims. He and his son Sebastian first approached the continent, which no European had dared to visit, or had known to exist.
i Chalmers, 7.
Hakluyt, i. 27. Ramusio sopra li 2 Second patent to John Cabot, viaggi, &c. i. fol. 402. The map of Feb. 3, 1498, first printed in R. of Ortelius, in his Theatrum Orbis Biddle's Memoir of Sebastian Cab- Terrarum, gives the island St. John ot, 75. The extract from the map in latitude fifty-six degrees. The of Sebastian Cabot is equally ex- work of Ortelius, in the editions of plicit. Hakluyt, iii. 27.
1584 and of 1592, is at Cambridge. 3 Extract from Cabot's map, in
VOL. 1. .
DISCOVERY OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT.
CHAP. The navigators hastened homewards to announce their
e success. Thus the discovery of our continent was an 1497. exploit of private mercantile adventure; and the pos
session of the new-found “ land and isles” was a right vested by an exclusive patent in the family of a Bristol merchant. Yet the Cabots derived little benefit from the expedition, which their genius had suggested, and of which they alone had defrayed the expense. Posterity hardly remembered, that they had reached the American continent nearly fourteen
months before Columbus, on his third voyage, came in 1498. sight of the main land; and almost two years before 1499. Amerigo Vespucci sailed west of the Canaries. But 19. England acquired through their energy such a right to
North America, as this indisputable priority could confer. Henry VII. and his successors recognized the claims of Spain and Portugal, only so far as they actually occupied the territories to which they laid pretension ; and, at a later day, the English parliament and the English courts derided a title, founded, not upon occupancy, but upon
a grant from the Roman pontiff.1 1498. Confidence and zeal awakened; and Henry grew
circumspect in the concession of rights, which now seemed about to become of immense value. A new patent? was issued to John Cabot, less ample in the privileges which it conferred ; and his son Sebastian, a native of Bristol, a youthful adventurer of great benevolence and courtesy, daring in conception and patient in execution, a man whose active mind for more than half a century was employed in guiding the commercial enterprise which the nations of the west were develop
1 Debates of the House of Com- luyt, iii. 30, 31. Memoir of Cabot, mons, 1620 and 1621, i. 250, 251. 75 and 80-86.
2 Stow's Chronicle, 1498, in Hak