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The Spaniards pretending to be men of honour, not only promised to do what he required, but, the better to assure him that they would prove faithful to him in their promise, swore all of them upon a cross which they made with their swords, that they would not faile therein, should it cost them all their lives. Such were not those Scotish Col.
Nevertheless being to speak a little of some of them, before I lanch forth to cross the seas, I must salute that most learned and worthy gentleman, and most indeared minion of the Muses, Master Alexander Ross, who hath written manyer excellent books in Latine and English, what in prose, what in verse, then he hath lived yeers; and although I cannot remember all, yet to set down so many of them as on a sudden I can call to minde, will I not forget; to the end the Reader, by the perusal of the works of so universal a scholar, may reap some knowledge when he comes to read. He spends the substance of his own lamp, for the weal of others; should it not then be recruited with new oyle by those that have been enlightened by it?
Many enjoy great benefices and that deservedly enough for the good they do to their coaevals onely; how much more meritoriously should he then be dealt with, whose literate erogations reach to this and after-ages? Yet that the learning of the travelers of the Scotish Nation may not seem to be tyed to the climate of France although all Scots, by the privilege of the laws of that kingdome, be naturalized French, and that all the French kings, since the dayes of Charlemaine, which is about a thousand yeers since, by reason of their fidelity to that Crown, have put such real confidence in the Scots, that whither soever the King of France goeth, the Scots are nearest to him of any, and the chief guard on which he reposeth for the preservation of his royal person there was a Scotish man named Melvil, who in the yeer Of those and many other mental abilities of that nature, he gave after that most excellent proofs, both at Rome, Naples, and Venice.
Another Gordon also beyond sea, penned several books of divinity in an excellent stile of Latin. Of which kinde of books, but more profoundly couched, another Scot named Turneboll, wrote a great many.
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These four eminent Scots I have put together, because they were societaries by the name of Jesus, vulgarly called Jesuits; some whereof are living as yet; and none of those that are not, dyed above fourteen yeers ago. Methinks I were to blame, should I in this nomenclature leave out Dempster, who for his learning was famous over all Italy, had made a learned addition to Rossinus, and written several other excellent books in Lat in; amongst which, that which doth most highly recommend him to posterity, is the work which he penned of five thousand illustrious Scots, the last liver whereof as is related in the Doctor Liddel penned an exquisite book of Physick, and so did Doctor William Gordon; and both in the Latine tongue: which two Doctors were for their learning renownedover all Germany.
Pontaeus a Scotish man, though bred most of his time in France, by several writings of his obvious to the curious Reader, gave no small testimony of his learning. Here nevertheless it is to be understood, that neither these dispersedly-preferred Scots, were all of one and the same Religion, nor yet any one of them a Presbyterian.
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Do not we see that in Holland to play the Merchant is accounted honorable, although it be thought disgraceful in high- Germany, for a gentleman to use anykind of traffick? In my opinion, truly, there is nothing more natural then variety yea, and that sometimes with opposition. Are not we composed of the four elements, which have their contrary as wel as symbolizing qualities?
These three profound and universal scholars of the Scotish Nation, Tyry of the house of Drumkilbo, Mackbrek, and Broun, deserve a rank in this list of men of literature, as well as Chisum the Bishop of Vezon, and others of the Romish faith above mentioned, and for whose praises I have already apologized. These Mathematical blades put me in mind of that D r. Liddel of whom, for his abilities in Physick, I made mention in p.
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O brave Logick, and curious commentary upon a later Will for the better explication of the mind of the defunct! What then? As for such of the Scotish Nation as of late have been famous for English Poesie, the first that occurs, is Sir William Alexander, afterwards created Earle of Sterlin: he made an insertion to Sir Philip Sidneys Arcadia, and composed several Tragedies, Comedies, and other kind of Poems which are extant in a book of his in folio, intituled Sterlins works.
He was born a Poet, and aimed to be a King; therefore would he have his royal title from King James, who was born a King, and aimed to be a Poet. Had the stopped there, it had been well: but the flame of his honour must have some oyle wherewith to nourish it. His Majesty is placed last, as in a Parliamentary procession, and bringeth up the reer, as General Ruven Leads on the Van: for as Ruven was such a meer souldier, that he could neither read nor write; so King James was such a meer scholar, that he could neither fight by sea nor land.
Then was it that the name of a Scot was honorable over all the world, and that the glory of their ancestors was a pass-port and safe-conduct sufficient for any traveler of that country. He was neither in Duke Hamiltons engagement, nor at the field of Dunbar: nor was he ever forced, in all the several fights he hath been in, to give ground to the enemy, before the day of Worcester -battel. This bound he never yet transgressed; and still purposeth to be faithful to his trust. You will see America across the Atlantic and Japan across the Pacific; but you cannot see, in one single effort of the imagination, an Atlantic of empty blue water stretching to an empty horizon, another beyond that equally vast and empty, another beyond that, and so on until you have spanned the thousand horizons that lie between England and America.
The mind, that is to say, works in steps and spans corresponding to the spans of physical sight; it cannot clear itself enough from the body, or rise high enough beyond experience, to comprehend spaces so much vaster than anything ever seen by the eye of man. So also with the stretching of the horizon which bounded human knowledge of the earth. It moved step by step; if one of Prince Henry's captains, creeping down the west coast of Africa, discovered a cape a hundred miles south of the known world, the most he could probably do was to imagine that there might lie, still another hundred miles farther south, another cape; to sail for it in faith and hope, to find it, and to imagine another possibility yet another hundred miles away.
So far as experience went back, faith could look forward. It is thus with the common run of mankind; yesterday's march is the measure of to-morrow's; as much as they have done once, they may do again; they fear it will be not much more; they hope it may be not much less. The history of the exploration of the world up to the day when Columbus set sail from Palos is just such a history of steps. The Phoenicians coasting from harbour to harbour through the Mediterranean; the Romans marching from camp to camp, from country to country; the Jutes venturing in their frail craft into the stormy northern seas, making voyages a little longer and more daring every time, until they reached England; the captains of Prince Henry of Portugal feeling their way from voyage to voyage down the coast of Africa—there are no bold flights into the incredible here, but patient and business-like progress from one stepping-stone to another.
Dangers and hardships there were, and brave followings of the faint will-o'-the-wisp of faith in what lay beyond; but there were no great launchings into space. They but followed a line that was the continuance or projection of the line they had hitherto followed; what they did was brave and glorious, but it was reasonable. What Columbus did, on the contrary, was, as we shall see later, against all reason and knowledge. It was a leap in the dark towards some star invisible to all but him; for he who sets forth across the desert sand or sea must have a brighter sun to guide him than that which sets and rises on the day of the small man.
Our familiarity with maps and atlases makes it difficult for us to think of the world in other terms than those of map and diagram; knowledge and science have focussed things for us, and our imagination has in consequence shrunk. It is almost impossible, when thinking of the earth as a whole, to think about it except as a picture drawn, or as a small globe with maps traced upon it.
I am sure that our imagination has a far narrower angle—to borrow a term from the science of lenses—than the imagination of men who lived in the fifteenth century. They thought of the world in its actual terms—seas, islands, continents, gulfs, rivers, oceans. Columbus had seen maps and charts—among them the famous 'portolani' of Benincasa at Genoa; but I think it unlikely that he was so familiar with them as to have adopted their terms in his thoughts about the earth. He had seen the Mediterranean and sailed upon it before he had seen a chart of it; he knew a good deal of the world itself before he had seen a map of it.
He had more knowledge of the actual earth and sea than he had of pictures or drawings of them; and therefore, if we are to keep in sympathetic touch with him, we must not think too closely of maps, but of land and sea themselves. The world that Columbus had heard about as being within the knowledge of men extended on the north to Iceland and Scandinavia, on the south to a cape one hundred miles south of the Equator, and to the east as far as China and Japan.
North and South were not important to the spirit of that time; it was East and West that men thought of when they thought of the expansion and the discovery of the world. And although they admitted that the earth was a sphere, I think it likely that they imagined although the imagination was contrary to their knowledge that the line of West and East was far longer, and full of vaster possibilities, than that of North and South.
North was familiar ground to them—one voyage to England, another to Iceland, another to Scandinavia; there was nothing impossible about that. Southward was another matter; but even here there was no ambition to discover the limit of the world. It is an error continually made by the biographers of Columbus that the purpose of Prince Henry's explorations down the coast of Africa was to find a sea road to the West Indies by way of the East.
It was nothing of the kind. There was no idea in the minds of the Portuguese of the land which Columbus discovered, and which we now know as the West Indies. Vignaud contends that the confusion arose from the very loose way in which the term India was applied in the Middle Ages. Several Indias were recognised. These divisions were, however, quite vague, and varied in different periods.
In the time of Columbus the word India meant the kingdom of Prester John, that fabulous monarch who had been the subject of persistent legends since the twelfth century; and it was this India to which the Portuguese sought a sea road. They had no idea of a barrier cape far to the south, the doubling of which would open a road for them to the west; nor were they, as Mr.
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Vignaud believes, trying to open a route for the spice trade with the Orient. They had no great spice trade, and did not seek more; what they did seek was an extension of their ordinary trade with Guinea and the African coast. To the maritime world of the fifteenth century, then, the South as a geographical region and as a possible point of discovery had no attractions.
To the west stretched what was known as the Sea of Darkness, about which even the cool knowledge of the geographers and astronomers could not think steadily. Nothing was known about it, it did not lead anywhere, there were no people there, there was no trade in that direction. The tides of history and of life avoided it; only now and then some terrified mariner, blown far out of his course, came back with tales of sea monsters and enchanted disappearing islands, and shores that receded, and coasts upon which no one could make a landfall.
The farthest land known to the west was the Azores; beyond that stretched a vague and impossible ocean of terror and darkness, of which the Arabian writer Xerif al Edrisi, whose countrymen were the sea-kings of the Middle Ages, wrote as follows:. No one has been able to verify anything concerning it, on account of its difficult and perilous navigation, its great obscurity, its profound depth, and frequent tempests; through fear of its mighty fishes and its haughty winds; yet there are many islands in it, some peopled, others uninhabited.
There is no mariner who dares to enter into its deep waters; or if any have done so, they have merely kept along its coasts, fearful of departing from them.
The waves of this ocean, although they roll as high as mountains, yet maintain themselves without breaking; for if they broke it would be impossible for a ship to plough them. It is another illustration of the way in which discovery and imagination had hitherto gone by steps and not by flights, that geographical knowledge reached the islands of the Atlantic none of which were at a very great distance from the coast of Europe or from each other at a comparatively early date, and stopped there until in Columbus there was found a man with faith strong enough to make the long flight beyond them to the unknown West.
And yet the philosophers, and later the cartographers, true to their instinct for this pedestrian kind of imagination, put mythical lands and islands to the westward of the known islands as though they were really trying to make a way, to sink stepping stones into the deep sea that would lead their thoughts across the unknown space.
In the Catalan map of the world, which was the standard example of cosmography in the early days of Columbus, most of these mythical islands are marked. There was the island of Antilia, which was placed in 25 deg. There was the island of the Seven Cities, which is sometimes identified with this Antilia, and was the object of a persistent belief or superstition on the part of the inhabitants of the Canary Islands.
They saw, or thought they saw, about ninety leagues to the westward, an island with high peaks and deep valleys.
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The vision was intermittent; it was only seen in very clear weather, on some of those pure, serene days of the tropics when in the clear atmosphere distant objects appear to be close at hand. In cloudy, and often in clear weather also, it was not to be seen at all; but the inhabitants of the Canaries, who always saw it in the same place, were so convinced of its reality that they petitioned the King of Portugal to allow them to go and take possession of it; and several expeditions were in fact despatched, but none ever came up with that fairy land.
It was called the island of the Seven Cities from a legend of seven bishops who had fled from Spain at the time of the Moorish conquest, and, landing upon this island, had founded there seven splendid cities. There was the island of St. Brandan, called after the Saint who set out from Ireland in the sixth century in search of an island which always receded before his ships; this island was placed several hundred miles to the west of the Canaries on maps and charts through out the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
There was the island of Brazil, to the west of Cape St. Vincent; the islands of Royllo, San Giorgio, and Isola di Mam; but they were all islands of dreams, seen by the eyes of many mariners in that imaginative time, but never trodden by any foot of man. To Columbus, however, and the mariners of his day, they were all real places, which a man might reach by special good fortune or heroism, but which, all things considered, it was not quite worth the while of any man to attempt to reach.
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They have all disappeared from our charts, like the Atlantis of Plato, that was once charted to the westward of the Straits of Gibraltar, and of which the Canaries were believed to be the last peaks unsubmerged. Sea myths and legends are strange things, and do not as a rule persist in the minds of men unless they have had some ghostly foundation; so it is possible that these fabled islands of the West were lands that had actually been seen by living eyes, although their position could never be properly laid down nor their identity assured. Of all the wandering seamen who talked in the wayside taverns of Atlantic seaports, some must have had strange tales to tell; tales which sometimes may have been true, but were never believed.
Vague rumours hung about those shores, like spray and mist about a headland, of lands seen and lost again in the unknown and uncharted ocean. Doubtless the lamp of faith, the inner light, burned in some of these storm-tossed men; but all they had was a glimpse here and there, seen for a moment and lost again; not the clear sight of faith by which Columbus steered his westward course.
The actual outposts of western occupation, then, were the Azores, which were discovered by Genoese sailors in the pay of Portugal early in the fourteenth century; the Canaries, which had been continuously discovered and rediscovered since the Phoenicians occupied them and Pliny chose them for his Hesperides; and Madeira, which is believed to have been discovered by an Englishman under the following very romantic and moving circumstances.
In the reign of Edward the Third a young man named Robert Machin fell in love with a beautiful girl, his superior in rank, Anne Dorset or d'Urfey by name.
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