Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major

Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major

Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major

Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major

Excerpt

Two continents are named after Amerigo Vespucci. One-third of the land surface of the globe perpetuates his memory, so that no name in history has a more effective advertising than his, or a wider extension of fame, or a more permanent surety of preservation.

Vespucci has indeed been honored above other explorers, but he has also been vilified by many who have charged him with being an impostor, a charlatan of geography. While some have held that he, "by the discovery of America, rendered his own and his country's name illustrious," there are those who have rejected him, who have denounced him as a boaster, a fame grabber who never commanded a ship, a mountebank who preferred self-contradictions to truth. He has been accused of an unholy ambition to immortalize himself at the expense of Columbus, and he has been sneeringly referred to as "an obscure ship chandler." One of the climaxes of vilification was attained by the gentlemanly Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote in English Traits, in 1856: "Strange that broad America must wear the name of a thief! Amerigo Vespucci, the pickle-dealer at Seville, who went out in 1499, a subaltern with Hojeda, and whose highest naval rank was boatswain's mate, in an expedition that never sailed, managed in this lying world to supplant Columbus, and baptize half the earth with his own dishonest name!"

These extremes raise an important issue for inhabitants of the New World. Patriotic pride as well as good sportsmanship impels us to ask whether we have any reason to be ashamed of the origin of the name of our land. Did Amerigo Vespucci discover America, or is the name "America" an invention based upon false premises, and does it bestow an honor upon the wrong man? The question can be definitely answered, for an impartial study of Vespucci's life and voyages in the light of recent research clears away the cloud of misunderstanding and ignorance by which he has so long been obscured. The investigation will carry its reward, because it is always . . .

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