Item of the Day: Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1834)

Full Title: The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, by Washington Irving. Abridged and arranged by the author, expressly for the use of schools. New York: Published by N. and J. White, 108 Pearl-Street, 1834.


Birth, parentage, education, and early life of Columbus.

1. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, or Columbo, as the name is written in Italian, was a native of Genoa, and born about the year 1435. He was the oldest of four children, having two brothers, one named Bartholomew, the other Giacomo, or Diego as it is translated into Spanish, and one sister.

2. His father, Domenico Columbo, was a wool comber, as several of his ancestors had been before him. Attempts have been made, by those who attach value to hereditary rank, to prove Columbus of illustrious descent, and several noble families have laid claim to him since his name has become so renowned as to confer, rather than to receive, distinction. His son Fernando thought justly on the subject. “I am of opinion,” said he, ” that I shoud derive less dignity from any nobility of ancestry, than from being the son of such a father.”

3. Columbus evinced at a very early age, a decided inclination for the sea. His father, therefore, endeavoured, as far as his means afforded, to give him such an educaiton as would make him a skillful navigator. He even sent him to the university of Pavia, where he studied geometry, geography, astronomy and navigation, and the Latin tongue.

4. His father was too poor, however, to keep him longer at the university than was sufficient to acquire the rudiments of the necessary sciences. The deep insight into them, which he afterwards displayed, was the result of experience and self instruction. Men of strong genius derive an advantage from thus having, at their very outset, to contend with poverty and privations. They learn to depend upon themselves, to improve every casual advantage, and to effect great ends by small means. Such a man was Columbus. His own energy and invention supplied every deficiency, and in all his undertakings, the scantiness of his means enhanced the grandeur of his achievements.

5. His first voyage was made shortly after leaving the university, when he was about fourteen years of age. The seafaring life in those days was full of peril and adventure. The feuds between thte Italian states, and the holy wars with the Mahometan powers filled the seas with cruisers; some fitted out by sovereign states; some by powerful nobles; and some by desperate adventurers. Piracy was almost legalized; even a merchant had often to fight his way from port to port.

6. Such was the rugged school in which Columbus was first broken into naval discipline; and he had a teacher as rugged as the school. This was a relative named Colombo, a hardy old captain of the seas, bold and adventurous, ready to fight in any cause, and to take up a quarrel wherever it might lawfully be found.

7. With this veteran cruiser Columbus sailed several years, and served in a squadron, of which he was admiral, fitted out in Genoa in 1459, by John of Anjou, Duke of Calabria, to made a descent upon Naples, in the hope of recovering that kingdom for his father, Renato, Count of Provence. In the course of this expediton, Columbus was detached by the old admiral on a daring enterprise, to cut a galley from the port of Tunis, in which he acquitted himself with great resolution and address.

8. For several years afterwards, he continued to voyage to the Mediterranean, and up the Levant. Sometimes he was engaged in commercial employ; sometimes in perilous cruises with his old fighting relative, or with a no less fighting nephew of the same, named Colombo the younger; who, we are told, was so terrible for his deeds against the infidels, that the Moorish mothers used to frighten their unruly children with his name. The last anecdote we have of this obscure part of the life of Columbus is given by his son Fernando, and relates to a daring cruise with this bold rover.

9. Colombo the younger, hearing that four Venetian galleys, richly laden, were returning from Flanders, waylaid and attacked them with his squadron on the Portuguese coast, between Lisbon and Cape St. Vincent. A bloody battle ensued that lasted from morning until evening. The vessels grappled each other, the crews fought hand to hand, and from ship to ship. The vessel commanded by Columbus engaged with a large Venetian galley.

10. In the fury of the contest they threw hand grenades and other fiery missiles. The galley took fire, and as the vessels were grappled together and could not be separated, they soon became on flaming mass. The crews threw themselves into the sea. Columbus seized an oar that was floating near him, and swam to shore, which was full two leagues distant. Having recovered from his exhaustion, he repaired to Lisbon, where he found many of his Genoese countrymen, and was induced to take up his residence.

11. Such is the account given by Fernando Columbus of the first arrival of his father in Portugal. There are grounds for believing, however, that he had resided there some years previous to this battle, and that he was led thither, not by desperate adventure, but by a spirit of liberal curiosity, and in pursuit of honourable fortune.








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Filed under 1400's, 1830's, Columbus, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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