The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

utary purposes of history, that of furnishing examples of what human genius and laudable enterprise may accomplish. For this purpose some pains have been taken in the preceding chapters to trace the rise and progress of this grand idea in the mind of Columbus; to show that it was the conception of his genius, quickened by the impulse of the age, and aided by those scattered gleams of knowledge which fell ineffectually upon ordinary minds.


CHAPTER VI.
CORRESPONDENCE OF COLUMBUS WITH PAULO TOSCANELLI—
EVENTS IN PORTUGAL RELATIVE TO DISCOVERIES—PROPOSITION
OF COLUMBUS TO THE PORTUGUESE COURT—DEPARTURE FROM
PORTUGAL.

It is impossible to determine the precise time when Columbus first conceived the design of seeking a western route to India. It is certain, however, that he meditated it as early as the year 1474, though as yet it lay crude and unmatured in his mind. This fact, which is of some importance, is sufficiently established by the correspondence already mentioned with the learned Toscanelli of Florence, which took place in the summer of that year. The letter of Toscanelli is in reply to one from Columbus, and applauds the design which he had expressed of making a voyage to the west. To demonstrate more clearly the facility of arriving at India in that direction, he sent him a map projected partly according to Ptolemy, and partly according to the descriptions of Marco Polof, the Venetian. The eastern coast of Asia was depicted in front of the western coasts of Africa and Europe, with a moderate space of ocean between them, in which were placed at convenient distances Cipango, Antilla, and the other islands.* Columbus was greatly animated by the letter and chart of Toscanelli, who was considered one of the ablest cosmographers of the day. Ile appears to have procured the work of Marco Polo, which

____________________
*
This map, by which Columbus sailed on his first voyage of discovery, Las Casas, (lib. i. cap. 12) says he had in his possession at the time of writing his history It is greatly to be regretted that so interesting a document should be lost. It may yet exist among the chaotic lumber of the Spanish archives. Few documents of mere curiosity would be more prec

-40-

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