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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus_volume 2 - Appendix - No. 13
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The Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus_volume 2 - Appendix - No. 13 Post by :DocWeb Category :Nonfictions Author :Washington Irving Date :April 2012 Read :1307

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The Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus_volume 2 - Appendix - No. 13

Appendix. No. XIII.

Martin Behem.


This able geographer was born in Nuremburg, in Germany, about the commencement of the year 1430. His ancestors were from the circle of Pilsner, in Bohemia, hence he is called by some writers Martin of Bohemia, and the resemblance of his own name to that of the country of his ancestors frequently occasions a confusion in the appellation.

It has been said by some that he studied under Philip Bervalde the elder, and by others under John Muller, otherwise called Regiomontanus, though De Murr, who has made diligent inquiry into his history, discredits both assertions. According to a correspondence between Behem and his uncle discovered of late years by De Murr, it appears that the early part of his life was devoted to commerce. Some have given him the credit of discovering the island of Fayal, but this is an error, arising probably from the circumstance that Job de Huertar, father-in-law of Behem, colonized that island in 1466.

He is supposed to have arrived at Portugal in 1481, while Alphonso V was still on the throne; it is certain that shortly afterwards he was in high repute for his science in the court of Lisbon, insomuch that he was one of the council appointed by king John II to improve the art of navigation, and by some he has received the whole credit of the memorable service rendered to commerce by that council, in the introduction of the astrolabe into nautical use.

In 1484 king John sent an expedition under Diego Cam, as Barros calls him, Cano according to others, to prosecute discoveries along the coast of Africa. In this expedition Behem sailed as cosmographer. They crossed the equinoctial line, discovered the coast of Congo, advanced to twenty-two degrees forty-five minutes of south latitude, (317) and erected two columns, on which were engraved the arms of Portugal, in the mouth of the river Zagra, in Africa, which thence, for some time, took the name of the River of Columns. (318)

For the services rendered on this and on previous occasions, it is said that Behem was knighted by king John in 1485, though no mention is made of such a circumstance in any of the contemporary historians. The principal proof of his having received this mark of distinction, is his having given himself the title on his own globe of _Eques Lusitanus_.

In 1486 he married at Fayal the daughter of Job de Huerter, and is supposed to have remained there for some few years, where he had a son named Martin, born in 1489. During his residence at Lisbon and Fayal, it is probable the acquaintance took place between him and Columbus, to which Herrera and others allude; and the admiral may have heard from him some of the rumors circulating in the islands, of indications of western lands floating to their shores.

In 1491 he returned to Nuremburg to see his family, and while there, in 1492, he finished a terrestrial globe, considered a masterpiece in those days, which he had undertaken at the request of the principal magistrates of his native city.

In 1493 he returned to Portugal, and from thence proceeded to Fayal.

In 1494 king John II, who had a high opinion of him, sent him to Flanders to his natural son prince George, the intended heir of his crown. In the course of his voyage Behem was captured and carried to England, where he remained for three months detained by illness. Having recovered, he again put to sea, but was captured by a corsair and carried to France. Having ransomed himself, he proceeded to Antwerp and Bruges, but returned almost immediately to Portugal. Nothing more is known of him for several years, during which time it is supposed he remained with his family in Fayal, too old to make further voyages. In 1506 he went from Fayal to Lisbon, where he died.

The assertion that Behem had discovered the western world previous to Columbus, in the course of the voyage with Cam, was founded on a misinterpretation of a passage interpolated in the chronicle of Hartmann Schedel, a contemporary writer. This passage mentions, that when the voyagers were in the Southern Ocean not far from the coast, and had passed the line, they came into another hemisphere, where, when they looked towards the east, their shadows fell towards the south, on their right hand; that here they discovered a new world, unknown until then, and which for many years had never been sought except by the Genoese, and by them unsuccessfully.

"Hii duo, bono deorum auspicio, mare meridionale sulcantes, a littore non longe evagantes, superato circulo equinoctiali, in alterum orbem excepti stint. Ubi ipsis stantibus orientem versus, umbra ad meridiem et dextram projiciebatur. Aperuere igitur sua industria, alium orbem hactenus nobis incognitum et multis annis, a nullis quam Januensibus, licet frustra temptatum."

These lines are part of a passage which it is said is interpolated by a different hand, in the original manuscript of the chronicle of Schedel. De Murr assures us that they are not to be found in the German translation of the book by George Alt, which was finished the 5th October, 1493. But even if they were, they relate merely to the discovery which Diego Cam made of the southern hemisphere, previously unknown, and of the coast of Africa beyond the equator, all which appeared like a new world, and as such was talked of at the time.

The Genoese alluded to, who had made an unsuccessful attempt were Antonio de Nolle with Bartholomeo his brother, and Raphael de Nolle his nephew. Antonio was of a noble family, and, for some disgust, left his country and went to Lisbon with his before-mentioned relatives in two caravels; sailing whence in the employ of Portugal, they discovered the island of St. Jago, &c. (319)

This interpolated passage of Schedel was likewise inserted into the work De Europa sub Frederico III of AEneas Silvius, afterwards Pope Pius II, who died in 1464, long before the voyage in question. The misinterpretation of the passage first gave rise to the incorrect assertion that Behem had discovered the New World prior to Columbus; as if it were possible such a circumstance could have happened without Behem's laying claim to the glory of the discovery, and without the world immediately resounding with so important an event. This error had been adopted by various authors without due examination, some of whom had likewise taken from Magellan the credit of having discovered the strait which goes by his name, and had given it to Behem. The error was too palpable to be generally prevalent, but was suddenly revived in the year 1786 by a French gentleman of highly respectable character of the name of Otto, then resident in New York, who addressed a letter to Dr. Franklin, to be submitted to the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, in which he undertook to establish the title of Behem to the discovery of the New World. His memoir was published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. ii., for 1786, article No. 35, and has been copied into the journals of most of the nations of Europe.

The authorities cited by M. Otto in support of his assertion are generally fallacious, and for the most part given without particular specification. His assertion has been diligently and satisfactorily refuted by Don Christoval Cladera. (320)

The grand proof of M. Otto is a globe which Behem made during his residence in Nuremburg, in 1492, the very year that Columbus set out on his first voyage of discovery. This globe, according to M. Otto, is still preserved in the library of Nuremburg, and on it are painted all the discoveries of Behem, which are so situated that they can be no other than the coast of Brazil and the straits of Magellan. This authority staggered many, and, if supported, would demolish the claims of Columbus.

Unluckily for M. Otto, in his description of the globe, he depended on the inspection of a correspondent. The globe in the library of Nuremburg was made in 1520, by John Schoener, professor of mathematics, (321) long after the discoveries and death of Columbus and Behem. The real globe of Behem, made in 1492, does not contain any of the islands or shores of the New World, and thus proves that he was totally unacquainted with them. A copy, or planisphere, of Behem's globe is given by Cladera in his investigations.

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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
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