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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus_volume 2 - Appendix - No. 12
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The Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus_volume 2 - Appendix - No. 12 Post by :DiaMondBusteR Category :Nonfictions Author :Washington Irving Date :April 2012 Read :675

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The Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus_volume 2 - Appendix - No. 12

Appendix. No. XII.

Rumor of the Pilot Said to Have Died in the House of Columbus.


Among the various attempts to injure Columbus by those who were envious of his fame, was one intended to destroy all his merit as an original discoverer. It was said that he had received information of the existence of land in the western parts of the ocean from a tempest-tossed pilot, who had been driven there by violent easterly winds, and who on his return to Europe, had died in the house of Columbus, leaving in his possession the chart and journal of his voyage, by which he was guided to his discovery.

This story was first noticed by Oviedo, a contemporary of Columbus, in his history of the Indies, published in 1535. He mentions it as a rumor circulating among the vulgar, without foundation in truth.

Fernando Lopez de Gomara first brought it forward against Columbus. In his history of the Indies, published in 1552, he repeats the rumor in the vaguest terms, manifestly from Oviedo, but without the contradiction given to it by that author. He says that the name and country of the pilot were unknown, some terming him an Andalusian, sailing between the Canaries and Madeira, others a Biscayan, trading to England and France; and others a Portuguese, voyaging between Lisbon and Mina, on the coast of Guinea. He expresses equal uncertainty whether the pilot brought the caravel to Portugal, to Madeira, or to one of the Azores. The only point on which the circulators of the rumor agreed was, that he died in the house of Columbus. Gomara adds that by this event Columbus was led to undertake his voyage to the new countries. (308)

The other early historians who mention Columbus and his voyages, and were his contemporaries, viz. Sabellicus, Peter Martyr, Giustiniani, Bernaldez, commonly called the curate of los Palacios, Las Casas, Fernando, the son of the admiral, and the anonymous author of a voyage of Columbus, translated from the Italian into Latin by Madrignano, (309) are all silent in regard to this report.

Benzoni, whose history of the New World was published in 1565, repeats the story from Gomara, with whom he was contemporary; but decidedly expresses his opinion, that Gomara had mingled up much falsehood with some truth, for the purpose of detracting from the fame of Columbus, through jealousy that any one but a Spaniard should enjoy the honor of the discovery. (310)

Acosta notices the circumstance slightly in his Natural and Moral History of the Indies, published in 1591, and takes it evidently from Gomara. (311)

Mariana, in his history of Spain, published in 1592, also mentions it, but expresses a doubt of its truth, and derives his information manifestly from Gomara. (312)

Herrera, who published his history of the Indies in 1601, takes no notice of the story. In not noticing it, he may be considered as rejecting it; for he is distinguished for his minuteness, and was well acquainted with Gomara's history, which he expressly contradicts on a point of considerable interest. (313)

Garcilasso de la Vega, a native of Cusco in Peru, revived the tale with very minute particulars, in his Commentaries of the Incas, published in 1609. He tells it smoothly and circumstantially; fixes the date of the occurrence 1484, "one year more or less;" states the name of the unfortunate pilot, Alonzo Sanchez de Huelva; the destination of his vessel, from the Canaries to Madeira; and the unknown land to which they were driven, the island of Hispaniola. The pilot, he says, landed, took an altitude, and wrote an account of all he saw, and all that had occurred in the voyage. He then took in wood and water, and set out to seek his way home. He succeeded in returning, but the voyage was long and tempestuous, and twelve died of hunger and fatigue, out of seventeen, the original number of the crew. The five survivors arrived at Tercera, where they were hospitably entertained by Columbus, but all died in his house in consequence of the hardships they had sustained; the pilot was the last that died, leaving his host heir to his papers. Columbus kept them profoundly secret, and by pursuing the route therein prescribed, obtained the credit of discovering the New World. (314)

Such are the material points of the circumstantial relation furnished by Garcilasso de la Vega, one hundred and twenty years after the event. In regard to authority, he recollects to have heard the story when he was a child, as a subject of conversation between his father and the neighbors, and he refers to the histories of the Indies, by Acosta and Gomara, for confirmation. As the conversations to which he listened must have taken place sixty or seventy years after the date of the report, there had been sufficient time for the vague rumors to become arranged into a regular narrative, and thus we have not only the name, country, and destination of the pilot, but also the name of the unknown land to which his vessel was driven.

This account, given by Garcilasso de la Vega, has been adopted by many old historians, who have felt a confidence in the peremptory manner in which he relates it, and in the authorities to whom he refers. (315) These have been echoed by others of more recent date; and thus a weighty charge of fraud and imposture has been accumulated against Columbus, apparently supported by a crowd of respectable accusers. The whole charge is to be traced to Gomara, who loosely repeated a vague rumor, without noticing the pointed contradiction given to it seventeen years before, by Oviedo, an ear-witness, from whose book he appears to have actually gathered the report.

It is to be remarked that Goinara bears the character, among historians, of inaccuracy, and of great credulity in adopting unfounded stories. (316)

It is unnecessary to give further refutation to this charge, especially as it is clear that Columbus communicated his idea of discovery to Paulo Toscanelli of Florence, in 1474, ten years previous to the date assigned by Garcilasso de la Vega for this occurrence.

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Appendix. No. XI.Martin Alonzo Pinzon.In the course of the trial in the fiscal court, between Don Diego and the crown, an attempt was made to depreciate the merit of Columbus, and to ascribe the success of the great enterprise of discovery to the intelligence and spirit of Martin Alonzo Pinzon. It was the interest of the crown to do so, to justify itself in withholding from the heirs of Columbus the extent of his stipulated reward. The examinations of witnesses in this trial were made at various times and places, and upon a set of interrogatories formally drawn up by
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