The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I.
BIRTH, PARENTAGE, AND EARLY LIFE OF COLUMBUS.

Christopher Columbus, or Colombo, as the name is written in Italian,* was born in the city of Genoa, about the year 1435. He was the son of Dominico Colombo, a wool-comber, and Susannah Fontanarossa, his wife, and it would seem that his ancestors had followed the same handicraft for several generations in Genoa. Attempts have been made to prove him of illustrious descent, and several noble houses have laid claim to him since his name has become so renowned as to confer rather than receive distinction. It is possible some of them may be in the right, for the feuds in Italy in those ages had broken down and scattered many of the noblest families, and while some branches remained in the lordly heritage of castles and domains, others were confounded with the humblest population of the cities. The fact, however, is not material to his fame; and it is a higher proof of merit to be the object of contention among various noble families, than to be able to substantiate the most illustrious lineage. His son Fernando had a true foeling on the subject. "I am of opinion," says he, "that I should derive less dignity from any nobility of ancestry, than from being the son of such a father."

Columbus was the oldest of four children; having two brothers, Bartholomew and Giacomo, or James (written Diego in Spanish), and one sister, of whom nothing is known but that she was married to a person in obscure life called Giacomo Bavarello. At a very early age Columbus evinced a decided inclination for the sea; his education, therefore, was mainly directed to fit him for maritime life, but was as general as the

____________________
*
Columbus Latinized his name in his letters according to the usage of the time, when Latin was the lauguage of learned correspondence. In subsequent life when in Spain he recurred to what was supposed to be the original Roman name of the family, Colonus, which he abbreviated to Colon, to adapt it to the Castilian tongue. Hence he is known in Spanish history as Christoval Colon. In the present work the name will be written Columbus, being the one by which he is most known throughout the world.
The reader will find the vexed questions about the age, birthplace, and lineage of Columbus severally discussed in the Appendix.

-17-

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