Discovering Columbus - Again

By Ruth Walker. Ruth Walker is the deputy editor of the Monitor. | The Christian Science Monitor, October 11, 1991 | Go to article overview

Discovering Columbus - Again


Ruth Walker. Ruth Walker is the deputy editor of the Monitor., The Christian Science Monitor


THE reader wanting to invest time and money in one good biography of Christopher Columbus to mark the 500th anniversary of his arrival in the New World will find Samuel Eliot Morison's 1941 book, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, now reissued by Little, Brown & Company (680 pp., $29.95 cloth, $24.95 paper), hard to beat.

To this big, satisfying doorstopper of a book John Noble Wilford's The Mysterious History of Columbus: An Exploration of the Man, the Myth, the Legacy (Alfred A. Knopf, 318 pp., $24) makes an interesting counterpoint, if not quite a counterweight, Wilford's being much the slenderer volume. He presents not so much a biography per se - to the extent he does, he draws heavily on Morison - but rather an overview of the story of the story of Columbus. He considers the great discoverer's place in history and in the United States, a nation whose shores Columbus never quite reached but whose collective imagination he has captured.

Morison was not only a historian but a sailor, and his life of Columbus focuses on the fundamentals: the Genoese discoverer as a sailor and navigator.

Morison cites the model of Francis Parkman, "the greatest North American historian, {who} was not content to study the documentary history of Canada in his Boston library. He followed the routes of the French explorers, camped in the primeval forest, and lived among primitive Indians." As a result, he says, Parkman's history is "no mere flat land made of words out of other words on paper, but a fresh creation in three dimensions, a story in which the reader is conscious of space and light, of the earth underfoot, the sky overhead, and God in His Heaven."

Morison's version of the Parkman approach involved going to sea himself, in vessels approximating those of Columbus's fleet, and following his courses - to the extent they can be reconstructed from the records.

That extent is limited; Morison, unlike most biographers, presents no general chart of the Four Voyages, as he rather grandly capitalizes them. But there are no authentic materials for tracing the ocean crossings, except for those of the First and the outward passage of the Third. Likewise, he presents no "authentic portrait" of Columbus - none exists - and concedes that any pictures one sees of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria are all "about 50 percent fancy."

And yet one is somehow surprised at how little debunking there is in the biography. In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus really did sail the ocean blue. He didn't have to convince the kings and courtiers whose support he sought that the world was round; they knew it, and so did the simple sailors who could see ships "hulling down" as they drifted over the horizon.

Where Columbus was wrong and the naysayers of the courts were right was on the circumference of the earth: He seriously underestimated it; yes, there is a theoretical westward passage to Asia from Europe, but Columbus didn't allow enough distance for it. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Discovering Columbus - Again
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.