« PreviousContinue »
(Falconer.) N vain the cords and axes were prepared,
For now the audacious seas insult the yard; High o'er the ship they throw a horrid shade, And o'er her burst in terrible cascade. Uplifted on the surge, to Heaven she flies, Her shatter'd top half buried in the skies;
Then headlong plunging, thunders on the ground, -
THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.
(Robertson.) BOUT two hours before midnight, Columbus, standing
on the forecastle, observed a light at a distance, and pointed it out to two of his people. All three saw it in motion, as if it were carried from place to place. A
little after midnight, the joyful sound of “Land ! land!” was heard from the Pinta. But having been so often deceived by fallacious appearances, they were now become slow of belief, and waited, in all the anguish of impatience, for the return of day. As soon as morning dawned, their doubts were dispelled; they beheld an island about two leagues to the north, whose flat and verdant fields, well stored with wood, and watered by many rivulets, presented to them the aspect of a delightful country. The crew of the Pinta instantly began a hymn of thanksgiving to God, and were joined by those of the other ships, with tears of joy and congratulation. This office of gratitude to Heaven was followed by an act of justice to their commander. They threw themselves at the feet of Columbus. They implored him to pardon their ignorance, incredulity, and insolence, which had caused him so much unnecessary disquiet, and had so often obstructed the prosecution of his well-concerted plan; and, passing from one extreme to another, they now pronounced the man whom they had so lately reviled and threatened, to be a person inspired by Heaven with sagacity and fortitude more than human, to accomplish a design so far beyond the ideas and conceptions of all former ages.
As soon as the sun rose, all the boats were manned and armed. They rowed towards the island with their colours displayed, warlike music, and other martial pomp. As they approached the coast, they saw it covered with a multitude of people, whom the novelty of the spectacle had drawn together, and whose gestures expressed astonishment at the strange objects which presented themselves to their view. Columbus was the first European who set foot in the New World. He landed in a rich dress, and with a naked sword in his hand. His men followed him, and kneeling down, they all kissed the ground which they had so long desired to see, and returned thanks to God for conducting their voyage to such a happy issue.
The Spaniards, while thus employed, were surrounded by the natives, who gazed in silent admiration upon actions which they could not comprehend, and of which they did not foresee the consequences. The dress of the Spaniards, the whiteness of their skins, their beards, their arms, appeared strange and surprising. The vast machines in which they had traversed the ocean, that seemed to move upon the water with wings, and uttered a dreadful sound resembling thunder, accompanied with lightning and smoke, struck them with such terror, that they began to respect their new guests as a superior order of beings, and concluded that they were children of the sun, who had descended to visit the earth.
The Europeans were hardly less amazed at the scene now before them. Every herb, and shrub, and tree was different from those which flourished in Europe. The soil seemed to be rich, but bore few marks of cultivation. The climate, even to Spaniards, felt warm, though extremely delightful. The inhabitants appeared in the simple innocence of Nature, entirely naked. Their black hair, long and uncurled, floated upon their shoulders, or was bound in tresses around their heads. They had no beards, and every part of their bodies was perfectly smooth. Their complexion was of a dusky copper colour; their features singular, rather than disagreeable; their aspect gentle and timid. Though not tall, they were well-shaped and active. Their faces, and other parts of their bodies, were fantastically painted with glaring colours. Though shy at first, they soon became familiar with the Spaniards; and, with transports of joy, received from them hawks' bells, glass beads, and other baubles; in return for which they gave such provisions as they had, and some cotton yarn, the only commodity of value that they could produce. Towards evening, Columbus returned to his ships, accompanied by many of the islanders in their boats, which they called canoes, and which, though rudely formed out of a trunk of a single tree, they rowed with surprising dexterity. Thus, in the first interview between the inhabitants of the Old and New Worlds, everything was conducted amicably, and to their mutual satisfaction. The former, enlightened and ambitious, formed already vast ideas of the advantages they might derive from those regions that began to open to their view. The latter, simple and undiscerning, had no foresight of the calamities which were now threatening their country.