The Life of Columbus
by Arthur Helps
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These well addressed arguments, falling in, as they did, with those of Quintanilla, the treasurer, who had great influence with the queen, prevailed. She thanked these lords for their counsel, and said she would adopt it, but they must wait until the finances had recovered a little from the drain upon them occasioned by the conquest of Granada, or if they thought that the plan must be forthwith carried out, she would pledge her jewels to raise the necessary funds. Santangel and Quintanilla kissed her hands, highly delighted at succeeding; and Santangel offered to advance the money required. Upon this the queen sent an alguazil to overtake Columbus and bring him back to the court. He was overtaken at the bridge of Pinos, two leagues from Granada; returned to Santa Fe, where the sovereigns were encamped before Granada; was well received by Isabella; and finally the agreement between him and their catholic highnesses was settled with the secretary, Colama.


Not much is seen of King Ferdinand in all these proceedings; and it is generally understood that he looked rather coldly upon the propositions of Columbus. We cannot say that he was at all unwise in so doing. His great compeer, Henry the Seventh, did not hasten to adopt the same project submitted to him by Bartholomew Columbus, sent into England[8] for that purpose by his brother Christopher; and it has not been thought to derogate from the English king's sagacity.

[Footnote 8: It is difficult to determine how the project brought before Henry the Seventh's notice by Bartholomew Columbus was received. Some say it was made a mockery of at the English court; others speak of it as actually accepted. Lord Bacon states that Bartholomew was taken by pirates on his voyage to England, which delayed him so much that "before he had obtained a capitulation with the king for his brother, the enterprise by him was achieved." It is probable that Henry listened with interest to Bartholomew Columbus, who was a man of much intelligence and great maritime knowledge. But it seems unlikely that the negotiation went very far, considering the rigid manner in which Columbus insisted upon his exact conditions being accepted by the Spanish court. No such bargain, at a distance, with a reserved and parsimonious monarch, was likely, therefore, to have been concluded. It appears, however, from a despatch from the Spanish ambassador to his sovereigns, dated the 25th July, 1498, that the English were not behind other nations in a thirst for discovery, "Merchants of Bristol," he says, "have for the last seven years sent out annually some ships in search of the island of Brazil and the Seven Cities." If this assertion is accurate, England must have anticipated Spain in the search for, though not in the discovery of, the western world.]


Those who govern are in all ages surrounded by projectors, and have to clear the way about them as well as they can, and to take care that they get time and room for managing their own immediate affairs. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if good plans should sometimes share the fate which ought to attend, and must attend, the great mass of all projects submitted to men in power. Here, however the ultimate event would justify the monarch's caution; for it would be hard to prove that Spain has derived aught but a golden weakness from her splendid discoveries and possessions in the new world.


Moreover, the characters of the two men being essentially opposed, it is probable that Ferdinand felt something like contempt for the uncontrolled enthusiasm of Columbus; and, upon the whole, it is rather to be wondered that the king consented to give the powers he did, than that he did not do more. Had it been a matter which concerned his own kingdom of Aragon, he might not have gone so far; but the expenses were to be eventually charged on Castille, and perhaps he looked upon the whole affair as another instance of Isabella's good natured sympathy with enthusiasts. His own cool and wary nature must have distrusted this "pauper pilot, promising rich realms." [9]

[Footnote 9: "Nudo nocchier, promettitor di regni:"—Chiabrea.]


The agreement between Columbus and their Catholic highnesses is to the following effect:—

The favours which Christopher Columbus has asked from the King and Queen of Spain in recompense of the discoveries which he has made in the ocean seas, and as recompense for the voyage which he is about to undertake, are the following:—

1. He wishes to be made admiral of the seas and countries which he is about to discover. He desires to hold this dignity during his life, and that it should descend to his heirs.

This request is granted by the king and queen.

2. Christopher Columbus wishes to be made viceroy of all the continents and islands.

Granted by the king and queen.

3. He wishes to have a share, amounting to a tenth part, of the profits of all merchandise, be it pearls, jewels, or any other things, that may be found, gained, bought, or exported from the countries which he is to discover.

Granted by the king and queen.

4. He wishes, in his quality of admiral, to be made sole judge of all mercantile matters that may be the occasion of dispute in the countries which he is to discover.

Granted by the king and queen, on the condition, however, that this jurisdiction should belong to the office of admiral, as held by Don Enriquez and other admirals.

5. Christopher Columbus wishes to have the right to contribute the eighth part of the expenses of all ships which traffic with the new countries, and in return to earn the eighth part of the profits.

Granted by the king and queen.

Santa Fe, in the Vega of Granada, April 17, 1492.

This agreement is signed by the Secretary Coloma and written by Almazan.

Then there is a sort of passport or commendatory letter intended for presentation to the Grand Khan, Prester John, or any other oriental potentate at whose territories Columbus might arrive:—

FERDINAND AND ISABELLA TO KING— The sovereigns have heard that he and his subjects entertain great love for them and for Spain. They are moreover informed that he and his subjects very much[10] wish to hear news from Spain; and send, therefore, their admiral, Ch. Columbus, who will tell them that they are in good health and perfect prosperity.

Granada, April 30, 1492.

[Footnote 10: This crediting the unknown ruler with an anxiety for the welfare of the Spanish sovereigns is really a delicious piece of diplomatic affectation.]


Armed with these royal commissions, Columbus left the court for Palos; and we may be sure that the knot of friends at the monastery were sufficiently demonstrative in their delight at the scheme on which they had pinned their faith being fairly launched. There was no delay in furnishing the funds for the expedition. From an entry in an account-book belonging to the Bishopric of Palencia, it appears that one million one hundred and forty thousand maravedis were advanced by Santangel in May, 1492, "being the sum he lent for paying the caravels which their highnesses ordered to go as the armada to the Indies, and for paying Christopher Columbus, who goes in the said armada." The town of Palos was ordered to provide two vessels.[11]

[Footnote 11: The requisition to the municipality of Palos runs thus: "In consequence of the offence which we received at your hands, you were condemned by our council to render us the service of two caravels, armed, at your own expense, for the space of twelve months, whenever and wherever it should be our pleasure to demand the same:" (30th April, 1492.) A proclamation of immunity from civil and criminal process to persons taking service in the expedition was issued at the same time. The ship of Columbus was, therefore, a refuge for criminals and runaway debtors, a cave of Adullam for the discontented and the desperate. To have to deal with such a community was not of the least of Columbus's difficulties.]


But there was still a weighty difficulty to be surmounted. It was no easy matter to obtain crews for such an expedition. The sovereigns issued an order authorizing Columbus to press men into the service, but still the numbers were incomplete, for the mariners of Palos held aloof, unwilling to risk their lives in what seemed to them the crazy project of a monomaniac. But Juan Perez was active in persuading men to embark. The Pinzons, rich men and skilful mariners of Palos, joined in the undertaking personally, and aided it with their money, and, by these united exertions, three vessels were manned with ninety mariners, and provisioned for a year.


The vessels were all of small size, probably of not more than one hundred tons' burden each, and, therefore, not larger than the American yachts, whose ocean race from New York to Cowes was regarded as an example of immense hardihood, even in the year 1867. But Columbus considered them very suitable for the undertaking. The Santa Maria, which Columbus himself commanded, was the only one of the three that was decked throughout. The official persons and the crew on board her were sixteen in number. The two other vessels were of the class called caravels, and were decked fore and aft, but not amidships, the stem and the stern being built so as to rise high out of the water. One of them, the "Pinta," was manned by a crew of thirty, commanded by Martin Alonzo Pinzon. The other, the "Nina," had Vincent Yanez Pinzon for captain, and a crew of twenty-four men. The whole number of adventurers amounted to a hundred and twenty persons, men of various nationalities, including, by the way, among them, two natives of the British Isles.

CHAPTER III. First Voyage.

At length all the preparations were complete, and on a Friday (not inauspicious in this case), the 3rd of August, 1492, after they had all confessed and received the sacrament, they set sail from the Bar of Saltes, making for the Canary Islands. One can fancy how the men and the women of Palos watched the specks of white sails vanishing in the west, and how, as each frail bark in turn disappeared in the great ocean, mothers and sisters turned weepingly away as if from a last farewell at the grave of their sailor kinsmen.

Columbus was now fairly afloat, and we may say with Milton, that—

The world was all before him, where to choose. And Providence his guide.

His choice was made, however; and his Guide did not fail him.


He was about to change the long-continued, weary, dismal life of a suitor, for the sharp intense anxiety of a struggle in which there was no alternative to success but deplorable, ridiculous, fatal failure. Speaking afterwards of the time he spent as a suitor at court, he says, "Eight years I was torn with disputes, and in a word, my proposition was a thing for mockery." It was now to be seen what mockery was in it. The following account of the voyage is mainly taken from an abridgment of Columbus's own diary made by Las Casas, who in some places gives the admiral's own words.

The little squadron reached the Canary Islands in a few days, with no event worth recording, except that the caravel "Pinta," commanded Martin Alonzo Pinzon, unshipped her rudder. This was supposed to be no accident, but to have been contrived by the owners of the vessel, who did not like the voyage. The admiral (from henceforth Columbus is called "the admiral") was obliged to stay some time at the Canary Islands, to refit the "Pinta," and to make some change in the cut of her sails. While this was being done, news was brought that three Portuguese government vessels were cruising in the offing with the intention of preventing the expedition. However, on the 6th of September, Columbus set sail from Gomera, and struck boldly out to sea, without meeting with any of his supposed enemies.


In the abridgment of the diary, under the date of the 19th of August, the admiral remarks that many Spaniards of these islands, "respectable men," swear that each year they see land; and he remembers how, in the year 1484, some one came from the island of Madeira to the King of Portugal to beg a caravel in order to go and discover that land which he declared he could see each year, and in the same manner. Had not the admiral been conscious of the substantial originality of his proceedings, he would hardly have been careful to collect these scattered notices which might afterwards be used, as many like them were used, to depreciate that originality. There is no further entry in the diary until the 6th of September, when they set out from Gomera (one of the Canary Islands), on their unknown way. For many days, what we have of the diary is little more than a log-book, giving the rate of sailing, or rather two rates, one for Columbus's own private heed, and the other for the sailors. On the 13th of September it is noted that the needle declined in the evening to the north-west, and on the ensuing morning, to the north-east, the first time that such a variation had been observed, or, at least recorded by Europeans. On the 14th, the sailors of the caravel "Nina" saw two tropical birds, which they said were never wont to be seen at more than fifteen or twenty leagues from shore. On the 15th they all saw a meteor fall from heaven, which made them very sad.


On the 16th, they first came upon those immense plains of seaweed (the fucus natans), which constitute the Mar de Sargasso, and which occupy a space in the Atlantic almost equal to seven times the extent of France. The aspect of these plains greatly terrified the sailors, who thought they might be coming upon submerged lands and rocks; but finding that the vessels cut their way well through this seaweed, the sailors thereupon took heart. On the 17th, they see more of these plains of seaweed, and thinking themselves to be near land, they are almost in good spirits, when finding that the needle declines to the west a whole point of the compass and more, their hopes suddenly sink again: they begin "to murmur between their teeth," and to wonder whether they are not in another world. Columbus, however, orders an observation to be taken at day-break, when the needle is found to point to the north again; moreover he is ready with a theory sufficiently ingenious for that time, to account for the phenomenon of variation which had so disturbed the sailors, namely, that it was caused by the north star moving round the pole. The sailors are, therefore, quieted upon this head.


In the morning of the same day they catch a crab, from which Columbus infers that they cannot be more than eighty leagues distant from land. The 18th, they see many birds, and a cloud in the distance; and that night they expect to see land. On the 19th, in the morning, comes a pelican (a bird not usually seen twenty leagues from the coast); in the evening, another; also drizzling rain without wind, a certain sign, as the diary says, of proximity to land.

The admiral, however, will not beat about for land, as he concludes that the land which these various natural phenomena give token of, can only be islands, as indeed it proved to be. He will see them on his return; but now he must press on to the Indies. This determination shows his strength of mind, and indicates the almost scientific basis on which his great resolve reposed.


Accordingly, he was not to be diverted from the main design by any partial success, though by this time he knew well the fears of his men, some of whom had already come to the conclusion, "that it would be their best plan to throw him quietly into the sea, and say he unfortunately fell in, while he stood absorbed in looking at the stars." Indeed, three days after he had resolved to pass on to the Indies, we find him saying, for Las Casas gives his words, "Very needful for me was this contrary wind, for the people were very much tormented with the idea that there were no winds on these seas that could take them back to Spain."


On they go, having signs occasionally in the presence of birds and grass and fish that land must be near; but land does not come. Once, too, they are all convinced that they see land: they sing the "Gloria in excelsis;" and even the admiral goes out of his course towards this land, which turns out to be no land. They are like men listening to a dreadful discourse or oration, that seems to have many endings which end not: so that the hearer listens at last in grim despair, thinking that all things have lost their meaning, and that ending is but another form of beginning.

These mariners were stout-hearted, too; but what a daring thing it was to plunge, down-hill as it were, into

A world of waves, a sea without a shore, Trackless, and vast, and wild, [Rogers]

mocked day by day with signs of land that neared not. And these men had left at home all that is dearest to man, and did not bring out any great idea to uphold them, and had already done enough to make them important men in their towns, and to furnish ample talk for the evenings of their lives. Still we find Columbus, as late as the 3rd of October, saying, "that he did not choose to stop beating about last week during those days that they had such signs of land, although he had knowledge of there being certain islands in that neighbourhood, because he would not suffer any detention, since his object was to go to the Indies; and if he should stop on the way, it would show a want of mind."


Meanwhile, he had a hard task to keep his men in any order. Peter Martyr, who knew Columbus well, and had probably been favoured with a special account from him of these perilous days, describes his way of dealing with the refractory mariners, and how he contrived to win them onwards from day to day; now soothing them with soft words, now carrying their minds from thought of the present danger by spreading out large hopes before them, not forgetting to let them know what their princes would say to them if they attempted aught against him, or would not obey his orders. With this untutored crowd of wild, frightened men around him, with mocking hopes, not knowing what each day would bring to him, on went Columbus. At last came the 11th of October, and with it indubitable signs of land. The diary mentions their finding on that day a table-board and a carved stick, the carving apparently wrought by some iron instrument. Moreover, the men in one of the vessels saw a branch of a haw tree with fruit on it.


Now, indeed, they must be close to land. The sun went down upon the same weary round of waters which for so long a time their eyes had ached to see beyond, when, at ten o'clock, Columbus, standing on the poop of his vessel, saw a light, and called to him, privately, Pedro Gutierrez, a groom of the king's chamber, who saw it also. Then they called Rodrigo Sanchez, who had been sent by their highnesses as overlooker. I imagine him to have been a cold and cautious man, of the kind that are sent by jealous states to accompany and curb great generals, and who are not usually much loved by them. Sanchez did not see the light at first, because, as Columbus says, he did not stand in the place where it could be seen; but at last even he sees it, and it may now be considered to have been seen officially. "It appeared like a candle that went up and down, and Don Christopher did not doubt that it was true light, and that it was on land; and so it proved, as it came from people passing with lights from one cottage to another."


Their highnesses had promised a pension of ten thousand maravedis to the fortunate man who should see land first. The "Pinta" was the foremost vessel; and it was from her deck, at two o'clock in the morning, that land was first seen by Rodrigo de Triana. We cannot but be sorry for this poor common sailor, who got no reward, and of whom they tell a story, that in sadness and despite, he passed into Africa, after his return to Spain, and became a Mahometan. The pension was adjudged to the admiral: it was charged, somewhat ominously, on the shambles of Seville, and was paid him to the day of his death; for, says the historian Herrera, "he saw light in the midst of darkness, signifying the spiritual light which was introduced amongst these barbarous people, God permitting that, the war being finished with the Moors, seven hundred and twenty years after they had set foot in Spain, this work (the conversion of the Indians) should commence, so that the Princes of Castille and Leon might always be occupied in bringing infidels to the knowledge of the Holy Catholic faith."


These last words are notable. They are such as Columbus himself would probably have made use of in describing this, the crowning event of his life. In the preface to his diary, which is an address to Ferdinand and Isabella, he speaks at large of the motives of their highnesses. He begins by saying how, in this present year of 1492, their highnesses had concluded their war with the Moors, having taken the great city of Granada, at the siege of which he was present, and saw the royal banners placed upon the towers of the Alhambra. He then tells how he had given information to their highnesses of the lands of India, and of a prince, called the Grand Khan, who had sent ambassadors to Rome, praying for doctors to instruct him in the faith; and how the Holy Father had never provided him with these doctors; and that great towns were perishing, from the belief of their inhabitants in idolatry, and from receiving amongst them "sects of perdition." After the above statement, he adds, "Your highnesses, as Catholic Christians and princes, lovers and furtherers of the Christian faith, and enemies of the sect of Mahomet, and of all idolatries and heresies, thought to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the aforesaid provinces of India to see the aforesaid princes, the cities and lands, and the disposition of them and of everything about them, and the way that should be taken to convert them to our holy faith."


Columbus then speaks of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain as occurring at the same time as that in which he received orders to pursue a westerly course to India, thus combining the two transactions together, no doubt as proofs of the devout intentions of their highnesses: and, indeed, throughout the document, he ascribes no motives to the monarchs but such as were religious.

The diary to which this address was prefixed is probably one of the books which their highnesses allude to in a letter to Columbus, as being in their possession, and which they assured him they had not shown to anybody. I see no reason to doubt the perfect good faith of Columbus in making such a statement as that just referred to; and it is well to remark upon it, because we shall never come to a right understanding of those times and of the question of slavery as connected with them, unless we fully appreciate the good as well as the bad motives which guided the most important persons of that era.


As for Queen Isabella, there can be no doubt about her motives. Even in the lamentably unjust things in which she was but too often concerned, she had what, to her mind, was compelling reason to act as she did. Perhaps there is hardly any great personage whose name and authority are found in connection with so much that is strikingly evil, all of it done, or rather assented to, upon the highest and purest motives. Whether we refer to the expulsion of the Jews, the treatment of the Moorish converts, or the establishment of the Inquisition, all her proceedings in these matters were entirely sincere and noble-minded. Methinks I can still see her beautiful majestic face (with broad brow, and clear, honest, loving eye), as it looks down upon the beholder from one of the chapels in the cathedral at Granada: a countenance too expressive and individual to be what painters give as that of an angel, and yet the next thing to it. Now, I could almost fancy, she looks down reproachfully, and yet with conscious sadness. What she would say in her defence, could we interrogate her, is, that she obeyed the voice of heaven, taking the wise and good men of her day as its interpreters. Oh! that she had but persisted in listening to it, as it spoke in her own kindly heart, when with womanly pity she was wont to intercede in favour of the poor cooped-up inmates of some closely beleaguered town or fortress! But at least the poor Indian can utter nothing but blessing's on her. He might have needed no other "protector" had she lived; nor would slavery have found in his fate one of the darkest and most fatal chapters in its history.


But now, from Granada, and our fancies there, the narrative brings us back to the first land touched by Columbus. The landing of Columbus in the New World must ever be a conspicuous fact in the annals of mankind, and it was celebrated by a ceremonial worthy of the occasion. On the ensuing morning, after the light had been observed from the ships, being a Friday, the 12th of October, 1492, Columbus, clad in complete armour, and carrying in his hand the royal banner of Spain, descended upon the level shores of the small island [San Salvador, one of the Bahamas] which had first greeted him, and which he found to be very fruitful—fresh and verdant, and "like a garden full of trees." The other captains accompanied him, each of them bearing a banner with a green cross depicted upon it, and with the initials of Ferdinand and Isabella surmounted by their respective crowns—a device that well expressed the loyalty and devotion of Columbus, and had been chosen by him. These chief officers were followed by a large retinue from their crews. In numerous lines along the shore stood the simple islanders, looking on with innocent amazement.


On touching land, Columbus and all the Spaniards who were present fell upon their knees, and with tears—tears of that deepest kind which men do not know the cause of—poured forth their "immense thanksgivings to Almighty God."

The man who, of all that embassage, if we may call it so, from the Old to the New World, was certainly the least surprised by all he saw, was, at the same time, the most affected. For thus it is, that the boldness of a great design is never fully appreciated by the designer himself until he has apparently accomplished his work, when he is apt, if it be indeed a great work, to look back with shuddering awe at his own audacity in having proposed it to mankind. The vast resolve which has sustained such a man throughout his long and difficult enterprise, having for the moment nothing to struggle against, dies away, leaving a strange sinking at the heart: and thus the greatest successes are often accompanied by a peculiar and bewildering melancholy. New difficulties, however, bred from success (for nothing is complete in life), soon arise to summon forth again the discoverer's energies, and to nerve him for fresh disappointments and renewed endeavours. Columbus will not fail to have his full share of such difficulties.


The followers of the great man, whose occasional faintheartedness must often have driven all sleep from his weary eyelids throughout the watches of the night, now began to think with remorse how much suffering they had needlessly inflicted upon their greatly-enduring leader. They sought his pardon with tears, and, subdued for the moment by his greatness when illustrated by success, expressed in loving terms their admiration, their gratitude, and their assurances of fidelity. The placable Columbus received their gracious sayings with all the warmth and tenderness that belonged to his large-hearted and amiable character.


The great business of the day then commenced; and Columbus, with the due legal formalities, took possession, on behalf of the Spanish monarchs, of the island Guanahani, which he forthwith named San Salvador. The gravity of the proceeding must have astonished the beholding islanders. Their attention, however, was soon turned to the Spaniards themselves; and they approached the strangers, wondering at their whiteness and at their beards. Columbus, as being the noblest looking personage there present, and also from wearing a crimson scarf over his armour, attracted especial attention, and justly seemed, as he was, the principal figure in this great spectacle.

Columbus is for the present moment radiant with success. Our interest passes now from him to the new people he was amongst. And what were they like? Were they worthy of the efforts which the Old World had made to find them? Was there mind and soul enough in them for them to become good Christians? What says the greatest of the men who first saw them? What impression did they make on him? Let him answer for himself:—

"Because they had much friendship for us, and because I knew they were people that would deliver themselves better to the Christian faith, and be converted more through love than by force, I gave to some of them some coloured caps and some strings of glass beads for their necks, and many other things of little value, with which they were delighted, and were so entirely ours that it was a marvel to see. The same afterwards came swimming to the ship's boats where we were, and brought us parrots, cotton threads in balls, darts and many other things, and bartered them with us for things which we gave them, such as bells and small glass beads. In fine, they took and gave all of whatever they had with good will. But it appeared to me they were a people very poor in everything. They went totally naked, as naked as their mothers brought them into the world."


Then Columbus goes on to say that these Indians were well made, with very good countenances, but hair like horsehair, their colour yellow; and that they painted themselves. They neither carried arms, nor understood such things, for when he showed them swords, they took hold of them by the blade, and hurt themselves. Their darts were without iron; but some had a fish's tooth at the end. In concluding his description, he says, "they ought to make faithful servants, and of good understanding, for I see that very quickly they repeat all that is said to them, and I believe they would easily be converted to Christianity, for it appeared to me that they had no creed."


A little further on, the admiral says of the people of a neighbouring island, that they were more domestic and tractable than those of San Salvador, and more intelligent, too, as he saw in their way of reckoning for the payment of the cotton they brought to the ships. At the mouth of the Rio de Mares, some of the admiral's men, whom he had sent to reconnoitre, brought him word that the houses of the natives were the best they had seen. They were made, he says, like "Alfaneques (pavilions), very large, and appeared as royal tents without an arrangement of streets, except one here and there, and within they were very clean, and well swept, and their furniture very well arranged. All these houses were made of palm branches, and were very beautiful. Our men found in these houses many statues of women, and several heads fashioned like masks, and very well wrought. I do not know, he adds, whether they have these for the love of the beautiful, or for purposes of worship." The Spaniards found also excellent nets, fish-hooks, and fishing-tackle. There were tame birds about the houses, and dogs which did not bark. "Mermaids," too, the admiral saw on the coasts, but thought them "not so like ladies as they are painted."

Speaking of the Indians of the coast near the Rio del Sol, he says that they are "very gentle, without knowing what evil is, neither killing nor stealing." He describes the frank generosity of the people of Marien, and the honour they thought it to be asked to give anything, in terms which may remind his readers of the doctrines maintained by Christians in respect of giving.


It is interesting to observe the way in which, at this point of the narrative, a new product is introduced to the notice of the old world, a product that was hereafter to become, not only an unfailing source of pleasure to a large section of the male part of mankind, from the highest to the lowest, but was also to distinguish itself as one of those commodities for revenue, which are the delight of statesmen, the great financial resource of modern nations, and which afford a means of indirect taxation that has, perhaps, nourished many a war, and prevented many a revolution. Two discoverers, whom the admiral had sent out from the Puerto de Mares (one of them being a learned Jew, who could speak Hebrew, Chaldee, and some Arabic, and would have been able to discourse, as Columbus probably thought, with any of the subjects of the Grand Khan, if he had met them), found that the men of the country they came to investigate, indulged in a "fumigation" of a peculiar kind. The smoke in question was absorbed into the mouth through a charred stick, and was caused by burning certain herbs wrapped in a dry leaf, which outer covering was called "tabaco." Las Casas, who carefully describes this process of imbibing smoke, mentions that the Indians, when questioned about it, said that it took away fatigue, and that he has known Spaniards in the island of Hispaniola who adopted the same habit, and who, being reproved for it as a vice, replied that it was not in their power to leave it off. "I do not know," he adds, "what savour or profit they found in them" (tabacos). I cannot help thinking that there were several periods in his own life, when these strange fumigations would have afforded him singular soothing and comfort. However that may be, there can be no doubt of the importance, financially and commercially speaking, of this discovery of tobacco; a discovery which, in the end, proved more productive to the Spanish Crown, than that of the gold mines of the Indies.

The excellent relations that existed between the expedition of Columbus and the inhabitants of Cuba may be seen from the fact that these two Christians, who were the first witnesses of tobacco smoking, and who travelled with only two Indian attendants, were everywhere well and reverently received.


Resuming the thread of the history, it remains to be seen what more Columbus did and suffered in this voyage. The first Indians he met with had some few gold ornaments about them—poor wretches, if they had possessed the slightest gift of prophecy, they would have thrown these baubles into the deepest sea;—and they were asked whence came this gold? From a race, they said, living southwards, where there was a great king, who had much gold. On another occasion, other Indians being asked the same question, answered, "Cubanacan, Cubanacan." They meant the middle of Cuba; but their word at once suggested to Columbus the idea that he was now upon the traces of his long-looked-for friend, Kublai Kaan, the Khan of Khans. Indeed, it is almost ludicrous to see, throughout, how Columbus is possessed with the notions borrowed from his reading of Marco Polo and other travellers. He asks for "his Cipango," as Herrera slily puts it; and the natives at once point out to him the direction where that is. They thought he meant Cibao, where afterwards the best mines of gold were found.


The admiral, bent on discovery, and especially on finding the terra firma, which adjoined "his" India, did not stay long anywhere. Proceeding southwards from San Salvador, he discovered an island, or rather a group of islands, to which he gave the name of Santa Maria de la Concepcion; he then discovered Cuba, and coasted along the northeastern part of that island; and afterwards, in due course, came to Hispaniola, called by the natives Hayti, in which island he landed upon the territory of King Guacanagari where he was received most cordially.

Various conjectures have been made as to the different results which would have followed, both for the New and for the Old World, if Columbus had steered a little to the northward, or the southward, of the course which he actually took. One thing, however, is obvious, that in arriving at Hispaniola he came to a central point, not only of the West Indies, but of the whole of the New World, and a point, therefore, most felicitously situated for the spreading of future discovery and conquest.


It may be mentioned here, that Martin Alonzo Pinzon had wilfully parted company from the admiral while on the coast of Cuba: covetousness being probably the cause of this most undutiful proceeding. But, indeed, there is another instance of the insubordination of the mariners, which makes the wonder only still greater how Columbus could have brought them across the Atlantic at all.


One evening the admiral, after paying a visit to Guacanagari, seeing the sea quite calm, betook himself to rest. As he had not slept for two days and a night, it is probable his slumber was deep. Meanwhile, the steersman, contrary to the distinct orders of the admiral, gave the helm to a common sailor, a youth. All the sailors went to sleep. The sea was as calm "as water in a dish." Little by little the ship drifted on to a shoal. Directly they touch, the sailor-boy at the helm starts from his dream, and gives the alarm. The admiral jumps up first (for the responsibility of command seldom goes quite to sleep); then the officer whose watch it ought to have been hurries up, and the admiral orders him to lower the boat which they carried on the poop, and to throw out all anchor astern. Instead of obeying the admiral, this cowardly villain, with others like him, sprang into the boat and made off for the other vessel, which was about half a league off. The other vessel would not receive them, and they rowed back again. But it was too late. The admiral did what he could in the emergency: he cut down the mast, lightened the vessel as best he might, took out his people and went with them to the other caravel, sending his boat to Guacanagari to inform him of the misfortune.


The good Guacanagari was moved to tears by this sad affair. He gave not only sympathy, however, but assistance. His people went out with their canoes, and in a few moments cleared the vessel of all the goods in it. Guacanagari was very careful that nothing should be lost. He himself stood guard over the things which had been taken out of the ship. Then he sent comforting messages to the admiral, saying that he would give him what he had to make up for the loss. He put all the effects under shelter, and placed guards round them. The wrecker's trade might flourish in Cornwall; but, like other crimes of civilization, it was unknown in St. Domingo. The admiral was evidently touched to the heart, as well he might be, by the kindness of these Indians. He thus expresses himself, "They are a loving, uncovetous people, so docile in all things, that I assure your highnesses I believe in all the world there is not a better people, or a better country; they love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest and gentlest way of talking in the world, and always with a smile."


The admiral resolved to found a colony in Guacanagari's land, "having found such good will and such signs of gold." In relating this, the Spanish historian, Herrera, makes some curious reflections. He looks upon the loss of the vessel as providential, in order that the true faith might be preached in that country. Then he says, how providence causes its work to be done, not on high motives only, but also on the ordinary ones which influence mankind. He concludes by observing that providence dealt with the Indians as a prudent father who has an ugly daughter, but makes up for her ugliness by the help of a large dowry. By the ugliness in this case he means the seas to be traversed, the hunger to be endured, and the labours to be undertaken, which he considers no other nation but the Spaniards would have encountered, even with the hope of greater booty.

With the timber of the unfortunate "Santa Maria" Columbus built a fort, and called it La Navidad, because he entered the port near there, on Christmas-day. He remained on very friendly terms with the good Cacique Guacanagari; and might have established himself most advantageously in that part of the country, if he could have been content, to be a settler.


But from the first moment of his discovery he doubtless had an anxious desire to get back to Spain, and to tell what he knew; and at times, perhaps, was fearful lest his grand secret, through some mischance to the expedition, should still perish with him. The great discoverer, therefore, now prepared to return homewards. He left his fort in trust to a small body of his followers,[12] whom he commended to the good offices of Guacanagari, not forgetting to impress upon them the excellent advice, to do no violence to man or woman, and, in short, to make their actions conformable to the idea (which the Indians first entertained of them) that they had come from heaven: then, having received the necessary provisions for his vessel from the friendly cacique, the admiral set sail for Spain on the 4th of January, 1493.

[Footnote 12: They were forty in number, and it would be strange to find, but for the well-known fact that nothing brings men of different races together more than maritime and commercial enterprise, that, in this small list there is an Irishman, "Guillermo Ires" (Qy. William Herries, or Rice) "natural de Galney, en Irlanda;" and an Englishman, "Tallarte de Lajes" (Qy. Arthur Lake) "ingles."—NAVAREETE, Col. Dip., Num. 13.]

CHAPTER V. Homeward bound.


For two days Columbus stood to the east-ward, but was met by a head-wind which prevented him from making much progress. On doubling the promontory of Monte Christo, however, the look-out at the mast-head made an announcement which was worth more than a fair wind to the voyagers, since it assured them that the homeward voyage of the "Nina" was not to be made without a consort; that the chance of the tidings of success being safely conveyed to Europe was not to depend upon the fortunes of a single ship. For, sailing down swiftly before the breeze which had detained Columbus, the "Pinta" hove in sight and the two vessels steered together into the bay of Monte Christo, which Columbus had recently quitted. Pinzon, as soon as the weather permitted, went on board the admiral's caravel to account for his desertion, which he stated to have been the accidental result of a storm which had driven him out of his course and out of sight of his leader. The admiral accepted this explanation, as a quarrel with Pinzon, whose townsmen and relations formed a large proportion of the crews, might cause a mutiny which would be fatal to the undertaking; but he did not fail to note in his diary his conviction of Pinzon's bad faith. The fact was, that Pinzon had heard from the natives of a certain island, whence all the gold was said to come, and he had wished to anticipate Columbus in the discovery of this El Dorado, and to secure the profits for himself. He had not found this home of the gold, but had met with some natives from whom he had obtained, by barter, a large quantity of the precious metal. Half of this he had appropriated: the other half he had distributed among his crew as a bribe to them to say nothing about the matter.


After a few days spent in refitting the vessels, and preparing for the homeward voyage, the Nina. and her consort again set sail, coasting St. Domingo in an easterly direction as far as the Gulf of Samana. It was in this neighbourhood that the first affray with the aborigines took place, in consequence of an attack made by them upon an exploring expedition which Columbus had sent out. But so anxious was he to preserve a good understanding with the natives, that he did not leave the scene of the encounter until he had come to an amicable agreement with them. Another instance of the wise and humane policy by which he was actuated, is to be found in the fact, that on discovering that Pinzon had carried on board six natives to be taken to Spain, and there sold as slaves, he insisted on their release, dismissing them, moreover, with presents of such glittering toys as their kinsmen would be likely to appreciate, and as might predispose them in favour of the Europeans.


On the 16th of January, Columbus left the Gulf of Samana on his homeward course, from which, however, he deviated at first in the hope of finding the island, peopled with Amazons, described by Marco Polo, of which he had understood the natives of St. Domingo to give him intelligence. Such a discovery would be, he considered, a conclusive proof of the identity of his new country with Marco Polo's Indies, and when four natives offered to act as his guides, he thought it worth while to steer (in the direction of Martinique) in quest of the fabulous Amazonians. But the breeze blew towards Spain; home-sickness took possession of the crews; murmurs arose at the prolongation of the voyage among the currents and reefs of those strange seas; and, in deference to the universal wish of his companions, Columbus soon abandoned all idea of further discovery, and resumed his course for Europe.


At first the voyage was tranquil enough, though the adverse trade-winds, and the bad sailing of the Pinta,[13] retarded the progress of both vessels.

[Footnote 13: This was occasioned by the defective condition of her mast, whereupon the admiral remarks in his diary, that "if Pinzon had exerted himself as much to provide himself with a new mast in the Indies, where there are so many fine trees, as he had in running away from him in the hope of loading his vessel with gold, they would not have laboured under that inconvenience."]

But on the 12th of February a storm overtook them, and became more and more furious, until, on the 14th, it rose to a hurricane, before which Pinzon's vessel could only drift helplessly, while the Nina was able to set a close-reefed foresail, which kept her from being buried in the trough of the sea. In the evening both caravels were scudding under bare poles, and when darkness fell, and the signal light of the "Pinta" gleamed farther and farther off, through the blinding spray, until at last it could be seen no more, when his panic-stricken crew gave themselves up to despair, as the winds howled louder and louder, and the seas burst over his frail vessel—then, indeed, without a single skilled navigator to advise or to aid him, Columbus must have felt himself alone with the tempest and the night. But his brave heart bore him up, and his wonderful capacity for devising expedients on sudden emergencies did not forsake him. As the stores were consumed, the Nina felt the want of the ballast which Columbus had intended to take on board at the Amazonian Island. "Fill the empty casks with water," he said, "and let them serve as ballast," an expedient which has grown common enough now, but which then was probably original.


Nor, while he did all that human skill could suggest for the safety of his vessel, did Columbus neglect to invoke the aid of that Higher Power, at whose special instigation he believed himself to have undertaken the expedition. With his whole crew he drew lots to choose one of their number to perform a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadaloupe. The admiral was chosen. Twice more were lots drawn with a similar object, and once again the lot fell to the admiral. Afterwards, he and all the crew made a vow to go in procession, clothed in penitential garments, to the first church, dedicated to the Virgin, which they should meet with on arriving at land; and this vow, as we shall see presently, was followed by quite unexpected consequences.


When the chances of weathering the storm had become small indeed, Columbus determined that, if possible, the tidings of his discovery should not perish with him. He wrote a short account of his voyage on parchment, and this he enclosed in wax, and placed in a cask,[14] which he committed to the waves. Thinking, probably, that his crew would interpret this as an abandonment of all hope, he concealed from them the real nature of the contents of the cask, so that they believed that their commander was performing some religious rite which might assuage the fury of the elements.

[Footnote 14: About the year 1852 a paragraph went the round of the English press announcing the discovery of this cask on the African coast, by the barque "Chieftain," of Boston (Mass). Lamartine has accepted this story as correct, but it has never been authenticated, and there is a strong presumption in favour of its having been invented by some ingeniously circumstantial newspaper correspondent.]


On the 15th of February the storm abated to some extent, and at last they came in sight of some land on the E.N.E., which the pilots held to be the Rock of Lisbon, but which the admiral more accurately determined to be one of the Azores. Vainly endeavouring, however, to make head against the wind and the sea, they lost sight of this island, but came in sight of another, lying more to the south, round which they sailed on the night of the 17th, but lost an anchor in endeavouring to bring up near the land. On the following day they cast anchor, and succeeded in communicating with the inhabitants, from whom they learned that they had reached the island of St. Mary, belonging to the Portuguese. The governor sent amicable messages to Columbus, and announced his intention of visiting him. But when, in fulfilment of their vow, half the crew went, barefoot and in their shirts, on a pilgrimage to the chapel of St. Mary, which was not far from the harbour, the governor and his satellites lay in ambush on the road, and captured the whole band of pilgrims. The crowns of Portugal and Castile were still at peace, but it appears that this "man, dressed in a little brief authority," thought that the capture would gratify his sovereign. The remonstrances of the admiral were of no avail; and as the weather would not allow of his remaining in his present anchorage, he was forced to stand out to sea, and to run nearly to St. Michael's, with a crew which comprised only three able seamen. On the 21st of February he returned to St. Mary's, and eventually, as the governor was unable to seize Columbus himself, he decided on recognizing the royal commission which he produced, and restoring his crew. On the 24th the "Nina" again steered for Spain, but another tempest supervened, and continued with more or less fury for more than a week.


In this last storm, which raged with destructive violence along the west coast of the whole Continent of Europe, and which drove the "Pinta" almost helplessly towards a lee-shore, the dangers of the voyage reached their climax. "I escaped," says the admiral, "by the greatest miracle in the world." Fortunately, however, his seamanship was equal to the emergency, and on the afternoon of the fourth of March he came to anchor in the Tagus. To the King of Portugal, who happened to be at no great distance, he sent a despatch announcing his arrival and the result of his voyage, and, in reply, received a pressing invitation to court. With this he thought proper to comply, "in order not to show mistrust, although he disliked it," and was received by the king with the highest honours. This must have been almost too much of a triumph for a generous mind, considering that the court before which he was displaying the signs of a new world had refused the opportunity of securing the discovery for itself. The king, however, now took occasion to put in a claim to the newly found countries, basing it on that papal bull which has been mentioned in a previous chapter but, although Columbus, in the interest of his sovereigns, took care to repudiate this claim as decidedly as possible, his royal host continued to entertain him with the utmost consideration.


Possibly mistrusting the seamanship of his subordinates, Columbus refused the offer of safe conduct and means of transport to Spain by land; and on the 13th of March, in the teeth of a north-westerly wind and a heavy sea, left the Tagus for the bar of Saltes, and safely reached his starting- point at Palos on the 15th, again a Friday. The enthusiasm and excitement aroused by the success of the expedition were unbounded. At Palos, especially, where few families had not a personal interest in some of the band of explorers, the little community was filled with extraordinary delight. Not an individual member of the expedition but was elevated into a hero,—not a debtor or a criminal whom the charter of immunity had led, rather than bear the ills he had, to fly to others that he knew not of,— but had expiated his social misdeeds, and had become a person of consideration and an object of enthusiasm. The court was at Barcelona. Immediately on his arrival Columbus despatched a letter to the king and queen, stating in general terms the success of his project; and proceeded forthwith to present himself in person to their highnesses.


Almost at the same time, the "Pinta," which had been separated from her consort in the first storm which they encountered, made the port of Bayonne, whence Pinzon had forwarded a letter to the sovereigns, announcing "his" discoveries, and proposing to come to court and give full intelligence as to them. Columbus, whom he probably supposed to have perished at sea, he seems to have ignored utterly, and when he received a reply from the king and queen, directing him not to go to court without the admiral, chagrin and grief overcame him to such an extent that he took to his bed; and if any man ever died from mental distress and a broken heart, that man was Martin Alonzo Pinzon.


Herrera tells us that the admiral now "entered into the greatest reputation," and the historian goes on to explain to his readers what the meaning of "reputation" is. "It does not consist," he tells us, "in success, but in doing something which cannot be easily comprehended, which compels men to think over and over again about it." And certainly, this definition makes the word particularly applicable to the achievement of Columbus.

The court prepared a solemn reception for the admiral at Barcelona, where the people poured out in such numbers to see him that the streets could not contain them. A triumphal procession like his the world had not yet seen: it was a thing to make the most incurious alert, and even the sad and solitary student content to come out and mingle with the mob. The captives that accompanied a Roman general's car might be strange barbarians of a tribe from which Rome had not before had slaves. But barbarians were not unknown creatures. Here, with Columbus, were beings of a new world. Here was the conqueror, not of man but of nature, not of flesh and blood but of the fearful unknown, of the elements, and, more than all, of the prejudices of centuries. We may imagine the rumours that must have gone before his coming. And now he was there. Ferdinand and Isabella had their thrones placed in the presence of the assembled court. Columbus approached the monarchs, and then, "his countenance beaming with modest satisfaction," knelt at the king's feet, and begged leave to kiss their highnesses' hands. They gave their hands; then they bade him rise and be seated before them. He recounted briefly the events of his voyage—a story more interesting than the tale told in the court of Dido by Aeneas, like whom he had almost perished close to home, and he concluded his unpretending narrative by showing what new things and creatures he had brought with him.


Ferdinand and Isabella fell on their knees, giving thanks to God with many tears; and then the choristers of the royal chapel closed the grand ceremonial by singing the "Te Deum." Afterwards men walked home grave and yet happy, having seen the symbol of a great work, something to be thought over for many a generation. Other marks of approbation for Columbus were not wanting. The agreement between him and the sovereigns was confirmed. An appropriate coat of arms, then a thing of much significance, was granted to him in augmentation of his own. In the shield are conspicuously emblazoned the Royal Arms of Castile and Leon. Nothing can better serve to show the immense favour which Columbus had obtained at court by his discovery than such a grant; and it is but a trifling addition to make, in recounting his now honours, that the title of Don was given to him and his descendants, and also to his brothers. He rode by the king's side; was served at table as a grandee; "All hail!" was said to him on state occasions; and the men of his age, happy in that, had found out another great man to honour.


The more prosaic part of the business had then to be attended to. The Sovereigns applied to the Pope Alexander the Sixth, to confer on the crowns of Castile and Leon the lands discovered and to be discovered in the Indies. To this application they soon received a favourable answer. The Pope granted to the Princes of Castile and Leon, and to their successors, the sovereign empire and principality of the Indies, and of the navigation there, with high and royal jurisdiction and imperial dignity and lordship over all that hemisphere. To preserve the peace between Spain and Portugal, the Pontiff divided the Spanish and Portuguese Indian sovereignties by an imaginary line drawn from pole to pole, one hundred leagues west of the Azores and the Cape de Verde Islands.


Meanwhile the preparations were being made for a second voyage to be undertaken by the admiral. After the arrival of the apostolic bulls, and before the departure of Columbus from Barcelona, the nine Indians brought by him were baptized. Here, parenthetically, we may take note of something which, if the fact did correspond with what the Spaniards thought about it, would, indeed, be notable. One of the Indians, after being baptized, died, and was, we are told,[Herrera] the first of that nation, according to pious belief, who entered heaven.

We cannot help thinking of the hospitable and faithful Guacanagari, and imagining that, if his race had been like him, some one might already have reached the regions of the blessed. I do not, however, refer to this passage of Herrera for its boldness or its singularity, but because it brings before us again the profound import attached to baptism in those times, and may help to account for many seeming inconsistencies in the conduct of the Spaniards to the Indians.


In the conduct, however, of Ferdinand and Isabella towards the Indians there was nothing equivocal, but all that they did showed the tenderness and religious care of these monarchs for their new subjects. A special department for the control of colonial affairs was placed under the charge of Juan de Fonseca, an eminent ecclesiastic who was high in the royal favour, and on whom was eventually conferred the title of Patriarch of the Indies. But, unfortunately for the poor savages whose fate he was now to influence so largely, Fonseca's character had in it but little of the mild and forbearing spirit of Christianity. A shrewd man of business, a hard task-master, an implacable enemy, he displayed, during his long administration of Indian affairs, all the qualities of an unscrupulous tyrant, and was instrumental in inflicting on the islanders keener miseries than ever have been brought by conqueror upon a subject race.


Jealous of the rivalry of Portugal, the sovereigns took every means of hastening the preparations for a second voyage to be undertaken by the admiral. Twelve caravels and five smaller vessels were made ready, and were laden with horses and other animals, and with plants, seeds, and agricultural implements for the cultivation of the new countries. Artificers of various trades were engaged, and a quantity of merchandize and gaudy trifles, fit for bartering with the natives, were placed on board. There was no need to press men into the service now; volunteers for the expedition were only too numerous. The fever for discovery was universal. Columbus was confident that he had been on the outskirts of Cathay, and that the scriptural land of Havilah, the home of gold, was not far off. Untold riches were to be acquired, and probably there was not one of the 1500 persons who took ship in the squadron that did not anticipate a prodigious fortune as the reward of the voyage. Nor was one of the great objects of these discoveries uncared for. Twelve missionaries, eager to enlighten the spiritual darkness of the western lands, were placed under the charge of Bernard Buil, a Benedictine monk, who was specially appointed by the Pope, in order to ensure an authorized teaching of the faith, to superintend the religious education of the Indians.


The instructions to Columbus, dated the 29th of May, 1493, are the first strokes upon that obdurate mass of colonial difficulty which at last, by incessant working of great princes, great churchmen, and great statesmen, was eventually to be hammered into some righteous form of wisdom and of mercy. In the course of these instructions, the admiral is ordered to labour in all possible ways to bring the dwellers in the Indies to a knowledge of the Holy Catholic Faith. And that this may the more easily be done, all the armada is to be charged to deal "lovingly" with the Indians; the admiral is to make them presents, and to "honour them much;" and if by chance any person or persons should treat the Indians ill, in any manner whatever, the admiral is to chastise such ill-doers severely.

Even at this early period of his administration, Fonseca appears to have made some attempts to thwart the admiral's wishes, attempts which Columbus, now at the zenith of royal favour, had no difficulty in baffling. As regards the household, for instance, Fonseca demurred to the number of footmen which the admiral proposed for his domestic establishment. The admiral appealed to the sovereigns, who allowed his claim, and reproved Fonseca for objecting.

CHAPTER VI. Second Voyage of Discovery.

On the 25th of September, all the preparations being complete, the squadron left Cadiz for the Canary Islands, and, after taking in provisions there, sailed from Ferro on the 13th of October. The voyage was singularly prosperous. There was but one storm, and that of not more than a few hours' duration; and favouring breezes wafted them over calm seas with a rapidity that brought the ships within sight of land on the 3rd of November, having made the voyage "by the goodness of God, and the wise management of the admiral, in as straight a track as if they had sailed by a well-known and frequented route." It was Sunday, and accordingly the name of Dominica was given to the first island to which the admiral came.


From Dominica, where no aborigines were found, the admiral stood northward, naming one small island Maria Galante, after his own flagship, and calling a second and much larger one Guadaloupe, after a certain monastery in Estramadura. This island was peopled by a race of cannibals; and, in the houses of the natives, human flesh was found roasting at the fire. An exploring party from one of the ships penetrated into the interior, but so thickly was it wooded that they lost their way in the jungle, and only regained the ships after four days' wanderings, and when their safety was despaired of by their companions, who feared that they had become food for the savages. Fortunately, however, the men of the island were absent on some warlike expedition, and the white men only met with women and children in the course of their dangerous explorations.


Anxious to revisit the colony at La Navidad, the admiral proceeded north-westward as speedily as possible, and after passing and naming Montserrat, Antigua, St. Martin, and Santa Cruz, arrived at a beautiful and fertile island which he called St. John, but which has since received the name of Porto Rico. Here were found houses and roads constructed after a civilized fashion; but proofs that the inhabitants were cannibals abounded everywhere. On the 22nd of November the admiral reached the eastern end of Hispaniola, and sailed along the northern shore toward La Navidad, where a profound disappointment awaited him. The little colony which he had founded had been entirely destroyed. The fort was razed to the ground. Not one of the settlers was alive to tell the tale.


The account which Guacanagari gave to Columbus, and which there seems no reason to doubt, is, that the Spanish who had been left at La Navidad took to evil courses, quarrelled amongst themselves, straggled about the country, and finally were set upon, when weak and few in numbers, by a neighbouring Indian chief named Caonabo, who burned the tower and killed or dispersed the garrison, none of whom were ever discovered. It was in Caonabo's country that the gold mines were reported to exist, and it is probable that both the cupidity and the profligacy of the colonists were so gross as to draw down upon them the not unreasonable vengeance of the natives. Guacanagari, the friendly cacique, who had received the admiral amicably on his first voyage, declared that he and his tribe had done their utmost in defence of the Europeans, in proof of which he exhibited recent wounds which had evidently been inflicted by savage weapons. He was, naturally, scarcely so friendly as before, but communication with him was made easy by the aid of one of the Indians whom Columbus had taken to Spain, and who acted as interpreter. Guacanagari was willing that a second fort should be built on the site of the first, but the admiral thought it better to seek a new locality, both because the position of the old fort had been unhealthy, and because the disgusting licentiousness of the settlers had offended the Indians to such an extent that whereas they had at first regarded the white men as angels from heaven, now they considered them as debased profligates and disturbers of the peace, against whom they had to defend their honour and their lives.


Sailing along the coast of Hayti, Columbus selected a site for his projected settlement, about forty miles to the east of the present Cape Haytien. This he called Isabella, after his royal mistress. Here the ships of his squadron discharged their stores, and the Spaniards laboured actively in the construction of the first town built by Europeans in the New World. But the work did not progress prosperously. Diseases prevailed among the colonists. The fatigues and discomforts of a long sea voyage were not the best preparations for hard physical labour. The number of men which the admiral had brought out with him was disproportionate to his means of sustaining them. Provisions and medicines began to fail. And, worst of all, none of the golden dreams were realized, under the influence of which they had left Spain. Only small samples of the precious metal could be procured from the natives, and the vaguely indicated gold mines of Cibao had not been reached. Anxiety, responsibility, and labour began to tell upon the iron constitution of the admiral, and for some time he was stretched upon a bed of sickness.


Some idea of the difficulties which had to be encountered at this period may be conceived from an account of the state of his colony which Columbus sent home in January 1494. It is in the form of instructions to a certain Antonio de Torres, the Receiver of the Colony, who was to proceed to the court of Spain and inform the Monarchs of such things as were written in these instructions, and doubtless to elucidate them by discourse, as in the present day we send a despatch to be read by an ambassador to the foreign minister of the power we are treating with. There remains a copy, made at the time, of this document, and of the notes in the margin containing the resolutions of the sovereigns. The original, thus noted, was taken back to Columbus. It is a most valuable document, very illustrative of the cautious and wise dealing of the catholic sovereigns.

The document begins with the usual strain of complimentary address to great personages, "Their Highnesses hold it for good service" is the marginal remark.

The next paragraph consists of a general statement of the discoveries that have been made. "Their Highnesses give much thanks to God, and hold as very honoured service all that the admiral has done."

Then follow the admiral's reasons why he has not been able to send home more gold. His people have been ill: it was necessary to keep guard, &c. "He has done well" is in the margin.

He suggests the building of a fortress near the place where gold can be got. Their Highnesses approve; and the note in the margin is, "This is well, and so it must be done."

Then comes a paragraph about provisions, and a marginal order from the sovereigns, "that Juan de Fonseca is to provide for that matter."

Again, there comes another paragraph about provisions, complaining, amongst other things, that the casks, in which the wine for the armada had been put, were leaky. Their Highnesses make an order in the margin, "that Juan de Fonseca is to find out the persons who played this cheat with the wine casks, and to make good from their pockets the loss, and to see that the canes" (sugar canes for planting, possibly) "are good, and that all that is here asked for, be provided immediately."


So far, nothing can run more pleasantly with the main document than the notes in the margin. Columbus now touches upon a matter which intimately concerns the subject of slavery. He desires his agent to inform their Highnesses that he has sent home some Indians from the Cannibal Islands as slaves, to be taught Castilian, and to serve afterwards as interpreters, so that the work of conversion may go on. His arguments in support of this proceeding are weighty. He speaks of the good that it will be to take these people away from cannibalism and to have them baptized, for so they will gain their souls, as he expresses it. Then, too, with regard to the other Indians, he remarks, "we shall have great credit from them, seeing that we can capture and make slaves of these cannibals, of whom they (the peaceable Indians) entertain so great a fear." Such arguments must be allowed to have much force in them; and it may be questioned whether many of those persons who, in these days, are the strongest opponents of slavery, would then have had that perception of the impending danger of its introduction which the sovereigns appear to have entertained, from their answer to this part of the document. "This is very well, and so it must be done; but let the admiral see whether it could not be managed there" (i.e. in the Cannibal Islands) "that they should be brought to our Holy Catholic Faith, and the same thing with the Indians of those islands where he is."


The admiral's despatch goes much further: in the next paragraph he boldly suggests that, for the advantage of the souls of these cannibal Indians, the more of them that could be taken the better; and that, considering what quantities of live-stock and other things are required for the maintenance of the colony, a certain number of caravels should be sent each year with these necessary things, and the cargoes be paid for in slaves taken from amongst the cannibals. He touches again on the good that will be done to the cannibals themselves; alludes to the customs duties that their Highnesses may levy upon them; and concludes by desiring Antonio de Torres to send, or bring, an answer, "because the preparations here (for capturing these cannibals) may be carried on with more confidence, if the scheme seem good to their Highnesses."


At the same time that we must do Columbus the justice to believe that his motives were right in his own eyes, it must be admitted that a more distinct suggestion for the establishment of a slave-trade was never proposed. To their honour, Ferdinand and Isabella thus replied: "As regards this matter, it is suspended for the present, until there come some other way of doing it there, and let the admiral write what he thinks of this."

This is rather a confused answer, as often happens, when a proposition from a valued friend or servant is disapproved of, but has to be rejected kindly. The Catholic sovereigns would have been very glad to have received some money from the Indies: money was always welcome to King Ferdinand; the purchase of wine, seeds, and cattle for the colonists had hitherto proved anything but a profitable outlay; the prospect of conversion was probably dear to the hearts of both these princes, certainly to one of them: but still this proposition for the establishment of slavery was wisely and magnanimously set aside.


While Antonio de Torres was absent from Hispaniola, laying these propositions before Los Reyes, Columbus was busy about the affairs of the colony, which were in a most distracted state. Scant fare and hard work were having their effect; sickness pervaded the whole armament; and men of all ranks and stations, hidalgoes, people of the court and ecclesiastics, were obliged to labour manually under regulations strictly enforced. The rage and vexation of these men, many of whom had come out with the notion of finding gold ready for them on the sea shore, may be imagined; and complaints of the admiral's harsh way of dealing with those under him (probably no harsher than was absolutely necessary to save them), now took their rise, and pursued him ever after to his ruin. A mutiny, headed by Bernal Diaz, a man high in authority, was detected and quelled before the mutineers could effect their intention of seizing the ships. Diaz was sent for trial to Spain. The colonists, however, were somewhat cheered after a time by hearing of gold mines, and seeing specimens of ore brought from thence; and the admiral went himself and founded the Fort of St. Thomas, in the mining district of Cibao. But the Spaniards gained very little real advantage from these gold mines, which they began to work before they had consolidated around them the means of living; in fact, dealing with the mines of Hispaniola as if they had been discovered in an old country, where the means of transit and, supplies of provisions can, with certainty, be procured.


There was also another evil, besides that of inconsiderate mining, and, perhaps, quite as mischievous a one, which stood in the way of the steady improvement of these early Spanish colonies. The Catholic sovereigns had unfortunately impressed upon Columbus their wish that he should devote himself to further discovery, a wish but too readily adopted and furthered by his enterprising spirit. The hankering of the Spanish monarchs for further discovery was fostered by their jealousy of the Portuguese. The Portuguese were making their way towards India, going eastward. They, the Spaniards, thought they were discovering India, going westward. The more rapidly, therefore, each nation could advance and plant its standard, the more of much-coveted India it would hereafter be able to claim. Acting upon such views, Columbus now proceeded onwards, bent upon further discovery, notwithstanding that his little colonies at Isabella and St. Thomas must have needed all his sagacity to protect them, and all his authority to restrain them.


He nominated a council to manage the government during his absence, with his brother Don Diego as president of it; he appointed a certain Don Pedro Margarite as captain-general; and then put to sea on the 24th of April, 1494.


In the course of the voyage that then ensued, the admiral made many important discoveries, amongst them Jamaica, and the cluster of little islands called the "Garden of the Queen." The navigation amongst these islands was so difficult, that the admiral is said to have been thirty-two days without sleeping. Certain it is, that after he had left the island called La Mona, and when he was approaching the island of San Juan, a drowsiness, which Las Casas calls "pestilential," but which might reasonably be attributed to the privations, cares, and anxieties which the admiral had now undergone for many months, seized upon him, and entirely deprived him for a time of the use of his senses.

The object in going to San Juan was to capture cannibals there, and Las Casas looks upon this lethargical attack as a judgment upon the admiral for so unjust a manner of endeavouring to introduce Christianity. The mariners turned the fleet homewards to Isabella, where they arrived the 29th of September, 1494, bearing with them their helpless commander.


On Columbus's arrival at Isabella, where he remained ill for five months, he found his brother, Bartholomew Columbus, whose presence gladdened him exceedingly. His brothers were very dear to the admiral, as may be gathered from a letter to his eldest son Diego, in which he bids him make much of his brother Ferdinand, the son of Beatrice, "for," says he, "ten brothers would not be too many for you. I have never found better friends, on my right hand and on my left, than my brothers." Afterwards came Antonio de Torres with provisions, and all things needful for the colony. But nothing, we are told, delighted the admiral so much as the despatches from court, for he was a faithful, loyal man, who loved to do his duty to those who employed him, and to have his faithfulness recognized.


Peace or delight, however, was not at any time to be long enjoyed by Columbus. He found his colony in a sad state of disorganization: the Indians were in arms against the Spaniards; and Father Buil, Don Pedro Margarite, and other principal persons had gone home to Spain in the ship which had brought Bartholomew Columbus.

The admiral, before his departure, had given a most injudicious command to Margarite, namely, to put himself at the head of four hundred men and go through the country, with the twofold object of impressing upon the natives a respect for the power of the Spaniards, and of freeing the colony from supporting these four hundred men. The instructions to Margarite were, to observe the people and the natural productions of the country through which he should pass; to do rigorous justice, so that the Spaniards should be prevented from injuring the Indians, or the Indians the Spaniards; to treat the Indians kindly; to obtain provisions by purchase, if possible, if not, by any other means; and to capture Caonabo and his brothers, either by force or artifice.


The proceedings of the men under Margarite were similar to those of the Spaniards formerly left at La Navidad. They went straggling over the country: they consumed the provisions of the poor Indians, astonishing them by their voracious appetites; waste, rapine, injury and insult followed in their steps; and from henceforth there was but little hope of the two races living peaceably together in those parts, at least upon equal terms. The Indians were now swarming about the Spaniards with hostile intent: as a modern historian describes the situation, "they had passed from terror to despair;" and but for the opportune arrival of the admiral, the Spanish settlements in Hispaniola might again have been entirely swept away.

Caonabo, the cacique who, in former days, had put to death the garrison at La Navidad, was now threatening that of St. Thomas, the fort which the admiral had caused to be built in the mining district of Cibao. Guatignana, the cacique of Macorix, who had killed eight Spanish soldiers and set fire to a house where there were forty ill, was now within two days' march of Isabella, besieging the fort of Magdalena. Columbus started up forthwith, went off to Magdalena, engaged the Indians, and routed them utterly.


He took a large part of them for slaves, and reduced to obedience the whole of the province of Macorix. Returning to Isabella, he sent back, on the 24th of February, 1495, the four ships which Antonio de Torres had brought out, chiefly laden with Indian slaves. It is rather remarkable that the very ships which brought that admirable reply from Ferdinand and Isabella to Columbus, begging him to seek some other way to Christianity than through slavery, even for wild man-devouring Caribs, should come back full of slaves taken from amongst the wild islanders of Hispaniola.

Caonabo, not daunted by the fate of Guatignana, still continued to molest St. Thomas. The admiral accordingly sallied out with two hundred men against this cacique. On the broad plains of the Vega Real the Spaniards found an immense number of Indians collected together, amounting, it is said, to one hundred thousand men. The admiral divided his forces into two bands, giving the command of one to his brother Bartholomew, and leading the other himself; and when the brothers made an attack upon the Indians at the same time from different quarters, this numerous host was at once and utterly put to flight. In speaking of such a defeat, the modern reader must not be lavish of the words "cowardly," "pusillanimous," and the like, until, at least, he has well considered what it is to expose naked bodies to firearms, to the charge of steel-clad men on horseback, and to the clinging ferocity of bloodhounds.


A "horrible carnage" ensued upon the flight of the Indians. Many of them, less fortunate, perhaps, than those who were slain, being taken alive, were condemned to slavery. Caonabo, however, who was besieging the fortress of St. Thomas at the time of the battle on the Vega Real, remained untaken. The admiral resolved to secure the person of this cacique by treachery; and sent Ojeda (who afterwards became a conspicuous actor in the sad drama of conquest and depopulation in the West Indies) to cajole Caonabo into coming to a friendly meeting. There are some curious instructions of Columbus's to Margarite in 1494, respecting a plot to take this formidable Caonabo. They are as thoroughly base and treacherous as can well be imagined. This time the admiral's plan was completely successful.


The story which was current in the colonies, of the manner in which Ojeda captured the resolute Indian chief, is this. Ojeda carried with him gyves and manacles, the latter of the kind called by the Spaniards, somewhat satirically, esposas (wives), and all made of brass or steel, finely wrought, and highly polished. The metals of Spain were prized by the Indians in the same way that the gold of the Indies was by the Spaniards. Moreover, amongst the Indians, there was a strange rumour of talking brass, that arose from their listening to the church bell at Isabella, which, summoning the Spaniards to mass, was thought by the simple Indians to converse with them. Indeed the natives of Hispaniola held the Spanish metals in such estimation that they applied to them an Indian word, Turey, which seems to have signified anything that descends from heaven. When, therefore, Ojeda brought these ornaments to Caonabo, and told him they were Biscayan Turey, and that they were a great present from the admiral, and that he would show him how to put them on, and that when they were put on Caonabo should set himself on Ojeda's horse and be shown to his admiring subjects, as, Ojeda said, the kings of Spain were wont to show themselves to theirs, the incautious Indian is said to have fallen entirely into the trap. Going with Ojeda, accompanied by only a small escort, to a river a short distance from his main encampment. Caonabo, after performing ablutions, suffered the crafty young Spaniard to put the heaven-descended fetters on him, and to set him upon the horse. Ojeda himself got up behind the Indian prince, and then whirling a few times round, like a pigeon before it takes its determined flight, making the followers of Caonabo imagine that this was but display, (they all the while keeping at a respectful distance from the horse, an animal they much dreaded,) he darted off for Isabella, and after great fatigues, now keeping to the main track, now traversing the woods in order to evade pursuit, brought Caonabo bound into the presence of Columbus. The unfortunate cacique was afterwards sent to Spain [He died on the voyage, however.] to be judged there; and his forces were presently put to flight by a troop of Spaniards under the command of this same Ojeda. Some were killed; some taken prisoners; some fled to the forests and the mountains; some yielded, "offering themselves to the service of the Christians, if they would allow them to live in their own ways."


Never, perhaps, were little skirmishes, for such they were on the part of the Spaniards, of greater permanent importance than those above narrated, which took place in the early part of the year 1495. They must be looked upon as the origin in the Indies of slavery, vassalage, and the system of repartimientos. We have seen that the admiral, after his first victory, sent off four ships with slaves to Spain. He now took occasion to impose a tribute upon the whole population of Hispaniola. It was thus arranged. Every Indian above fourteen years old, who was in the provinces of the mines, or near to these provinces, was to pay every three months a little bellful of gold; all other persons in the island were to pay at the same time an arroba of cotton for each person. Certain brass or copper tokens were made—different ones for each tribute time—and were given to the Indians when they paid tribute and these tokens, being worn about their necks, were to show who had paid tribute.


A remarkable proposal was made upon this occasion to the admiral by Guarionex, cacique of the Vega Real, namely, that he would institute a huge farm for the growth of corn and the manufacture of bread, stretching from Isabella to St. Domingo (i. e. from sea to sea) which would suffice to maintain all Castile with bread. The cacique would do this on condition that his vassals were not to pay tribute in gold, as they did not know how to collect that. But this proposal was not accepted, because Columbus wished to have tribute in such things as he could send over to Spain.

This tribute is considered to have been a most unreasonable one in point of amount, and Columbus was obliged to modify his demands upon these poor Indians, and in some instances to change the nature of them. It appears that, in 1496, service instead of tribute was demanded of certain Indian villages; and as the villagers were ordered to make (and work) the farms in the Spanish settlements, this may be considered as the beginning of the system of repartimientos, or encomiendas, as they were afterwards called.


We must not, however, suppose that Indian slavery would not have taken place by means of Columbus, even if these uprisings and defeats of the Indians in the course of the year 1495 had never occurred. Very early indeed we see what the admiral's views were with regard to the Indians. In the diary which he kept of his first voyage, on the 14th of October, three days after discovering the New World, he describes a position which he thinks would be a very good one for a fort; and he goes on to say, "I do not think that it (the fort) will be necessary, for this people is very simple in the use of arms (as your highnesses will see from seven of them that I have taken in order to bring them to you, to learn our language and afterwards to take them back); so that when your highnesses command, you can have them all taken to Castille or kept in the island as captives."

Columbus was not an avaricious, nor a cruel man; and certainly he was a very pious one; but early in life he had made voyages along the coast of Africa, and he was accustomed to a slave trade. Moreover, he was anxious to reduce the expenses of these Indian possessions to the Catholic sovereigns, to prove himself in the right as to all he had said respecting the advantages that would flow to Spain from the Indies, and to confute his enemies at Court.

Those who have read the instructions to Columbus given by the Catholic monarchs will naturally be curious to know how the news of the arrival of these vessels laden with slaves, the fruit of the admiral's first victory over the Indians, was received by the Sovereigns, recollecting how tender they had been about slavery before. This, however, was a very different case from the former one. Here were people taken in what would be called rebellion—prisoners of war. Still we find that Ferdinand and Isabella were heedful in their proceedings in this matter. There is a letter of theirs to Bishop Fonseca, who managed Indian affairs, telling him to withhold receiving the money for the sale of these Indians that Torres had brought with him until their Highnesses should be able to inform themselves from men learned in the law, theologians and canonists, whether with a good conscience these Indians could be ordered to be sold or not. The historian Munoz, who has been indefatigable in his researches amongst the documents relating to Spanish America, declares that he cannot find that the point was decided; and if he has failed, we are not likely to discover any direct evidence about the decision. We shall hereafter, however, find something which may enable us to conjecture what the decision practically came to be.


Many of the so-called free Indians in Hispaniola had, perhaps, even a worse fate than that which fell to the lot of their brethren condemned to slavery. These free men, seeing the Spaniards quietly settling down in their island, building houses, and making forts, and no vessels in the harbour of Isabella to take them away, fell into the profoundest sadness, and bethought them of the desperate remedy of attempting to starve the Spaniards out, by not sowing or planting anything. But this is a shallow device, when undertaken on the part of the greater number, in any country, against the smaller. The scheme reacted upon themselves. They had intended to gain a secure though scanty sustenance in the forests and upon the mountains; but though the Spaniards suffered bitterly from famine, they were only driven by it to further pursuit and molestation of the Indians, who died in great numbers, of hunger, sickness, and misery.


About this period there arrived in the Indies from the Court of Spain a Commissioner of Inquiry, his mission being doubtless occasioned by the various complaints made against the admiral by Father Buil, Margarite, and the Spaniards who had returned from Hispaniola. The name of this commissioner was Juan Aguado, and his powers were vouched for by the following letter from the sovereigns:—

"The King and the Queen.

"Cavaliers, Esquires and other persons, who by our command are in the Indies: we send you thither Juan Aguado, our Gentleman of the Chamber, who will speak to you on our part: we command that you give him faith and credence. "I the King: I the Queen. "By command of the King and Queen, our Lords. "HENAND ALVAREZ. "Madrid, the ninth of April, one thousand four hundred and ninety-five."


The royal commissioner arrived at Isabella in October, 1495, and his proceedings in the colony, together with the fear of what he might report on his return, quickened the admiral's desire to return to Court, that he might fight his own battles there himself. For the tide of his fortune was turning, and this appeared by several notable signs. Strong as was the confidence which the Sovereigns reposed in him, the representations of Margarite and Buil—the rough soldier and the wily Benedictine—had produced their effect. They complained of the despotic rule of Columbus; of the disregard of distinctions of rank which he had manifested by placing the hidalgoes on the same footing as the common men, as regards work and rations, during the construction of the settlement; and of his mania for discovery, which made him abandon the colony already formed, in the unremunerative search for new countries. The commissioner who was sent to investigate these charges, as well as to report on the condition of the colony, found no difficulty in collecting evidence to substantiate them. An unsuccessful man is generally persuaded that somebody else has caused his failure. And the "somebody else," in the case of the colonists, was, by universal consent, the foreign sea captain who had deluded Spanish hidalgoes by his wild projects, and had become a grandee under false pretences. The Indians, too, who were glad to lay their miseries at the door of somebody, and who were told that Aguado was the new admiral, and had come to supplant the old one, were not slow to add their quota to the charges against Columbus. To rebut these accusations, as well as to protest against the issue of licences, to private adventurers, to trade in the new countries independently of the admiral (a measure which, in violation of Columbus's charter, had lately been adopted by Fonseca) he quitted Isabella on the 10th of March, 1496, in the "Nina," while Aguado took ship in another caravel. Many of the colonists, who had been rudely awakened from their golden dreams, seized this opportunity of returning to Spain; and the Cacique Caonabo was also on board, probably with a view of impressing upon him an overwhelming conviction of Spanish power, and of the futility of any efforts to resist it.


The voyage was a miserable one. Contrary winds prevailed until provisions began to run short, and rations were doled out in pittances which grew scantier and scantier until all the admiral's authority was needed to prevent his ravenous shipmates from killing and eating the Caribs who were on board,—in retribution, so ran the grim jest, for their cannibalism. At last, when famine was imminent, after a voyage of three months' duration, the two caravels entered the Bay of Cadiz on the 11th of June, 1496.


After about a month's delay, Columbus received a summons to proceed to the Court, which was then at Burgos. In the course of his journey thither he adopted the same means of dazzling the eyes of the populace, by the display of gold and the exhibition of his captives, as on his return from his first voyage; but so many unsuccessful colonists had returned, sick at heart and ruined in health, to tell the tale of failure to their countrymen, that this triumphal procession was very unlike the last as regards the welcome accorded by the public. However the Sovereigns seem to have given the admiral a kind reception, and instead of placing him on his defence against the charges which had been brought forward by Father Buil, they listened with sympathy to his story of the difficulties which had beset him, and heard with sanguine satisfaction of the recent discovery of the mines from which it was said that the natives procured most of the gold that had been found in their possession, and which promised an incalculably rich harvest. Presently, in apparent confirmation of this belief, one Pedro Nino, a captain of the admiral's, announced his arrival at Cadiz, with a quantity of "gold in bars" on board his ship. It was not until great expectations had been raised at Court, and the wildest ideas conceived of the magnitude of this supposed first instalment of the riches of the newly found gold mines, that it turned out that this Nino was merely a miserable maker of jokes, and that the "gold in bars" was only represented by the Indians who composed his cargo, whose present captivity was secured by "bars," and whose future sale was to furnish gold. This absurdity naturally caused Columbus and his friends no slight mortification, and added a fresh weapon to the shafts of ridicule which his enemies wore for ever launching at his extravagant theories and his expensive projects.


During the two years that elapsed from the Admiral's leaving Hispaniola in 1496 to his return there in 1498, many things happened on both sides the Atlantic, which need recording. In 1496 we find, that Don Bartholomew Columbus sent to Spain three hundred slaves from Hispaniola. He had previously informed the Sovereigns that certain caciques were killing the Castilians, and their Highnesses had given orders in reply, that all those who should be found guilty should be sent to Spain. If this meant the common Indians as well as the caciques, then it seems probable that the question about selling them with a safe conscience was already decided.


In 1497, two very injudicious edicts were published by the Catholic Sovereigns, upon the advice, as we are told, of Columbus; one, authorizing the judges to transport criminals to the Indies; the other, giving an indulgence to all those who had committed any crime (with certain exceptions, among which heresy, lese majeste, and treason, find a place) to go out at their own expense to Hispaniola, and to serve for a certain time under the orders of the admiral. The remembrance of this advice on his part, might well have shamed Columbus from saying, as he did three years afterwards, in his most emphatic manner, "I swear that numbers of men have gone to the Indies who did not deserve water from God or man." It is but fair, however, to mention, that Las Casas, speaking of the colonists who went out under these conditions, says, "I have known some of them in these islands, even of those who had lost their ears, whom I always found sufficiently honest men."

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