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splendid fruits. The bonds of the Middle Ages were burst, and man awoke to the existence of two vast new worlds—the inner kingdom of the mind and the great regions beyond the western seas.
At the same time, the very gradual character of the discovery of America is a fact to be remembered. That discovery was no isolated or brilliant feat, for which exclusive glory must be claimed by one or two great names. It is nearer the truth to affirm that neither Columbus nor Cabot grasped the real magnitude of their own work, and had little idea that they had touched the shores of a new continent. The very name of the West Indies, and of the term Indian, as applied to the aborigines, proves the intense preoccupation of the early explorers with Asia rather than America. Columbus probably died in the belief that he had landed on the eastern coast of the former continent. Cabot was no less earnestly concerned with the search for Cathay. Long years were to pass before the physical character of the New World was in any sense grasped by its European discoverers, to whom the existence of a great barrier continent was an unthinkable idea. More than a century later we find the early French settlers in Canada labouring under the same Asiatic delusionà delusion to which the name of a suburb of Montreal, La Chine, still bears witness. Whatever confusion, however, may have existed in the minds of the early navi. gators as to the actual goal they had reached, such confusion in no sense reflects on the fame which attaches eternally to the prosecution of their hazardous enterprises. The dying Beowulf speaks of the
sailors who drive from afar their tall ships through the mists of the ocean'-a fine, almost prophetic image of those dauntless seamen of the fifteenth century steering their frail vessels into the wastes of unknown waters.
The pre-eminence of Italy in the task of exploration is as undoubted as her pre-eminence in other matters during this brilliant epoch. In the study of scientific geography and cartography she had no equal. But it is a curious and suggestive fact, and one which illustrates strikingly the lack of any homogeneous national feeling among the Italian States, that Italy, numbering the most famous of the explorers among her sons, nevertheless sent no expedition to the New World. It was in the service of foreign princes and borne by alien keels that the intrepid Italians of the fifteenth century first touched the shores of America. Columbus and Cabot, natives of Genoa, found their patrons respectively in the monarchs of Spain and England, and their discoveries were the basis of Spanish and English claims in the New World. Similarly, the explorations of Verrazano, a Florentine, won fame for France; and to the services of Amerigo Vespucci, merchant of Seville and Pilot Major to his Most Catholic Majesty, the whole Western hemisphere bears witness by its name.
The final break-up of the Greek Empire in 1453, and the dispersion like winged seeds throughout Europe of that knowledge and civilisa
tion which, even in the hour of decadence, found shelter at Constantinople, was an influence profoundly affecting the later Renaissance. It had an effect no less important upon geographical discovery and commercial development. The unconscious influence of the Turk upon the history of exploration is one of the most curious factors in the development of modern Europe. The practical closing of the great Eastern trade routes after the fall of Constantinople, the commercial paralysis resulting from the wave of barbarism which had submerged the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, forced merchants and traders to bend their energies to the discovery of fresh channels of commerce. With the Turk in victorious possession of the East the eyes of Europe began to turn eagerly to the West. The spirit of adventure was abroad; the adventurers themselves were at hand; it rested with the Turk to give a determining direction to their voyages. The discovery of the West Indies by Columbus in 1492 revolutionised the commercial venue of Europe. For the first time in history the centre of gravity shifted from the shores of the Mediterranean to those of the Atlantic Ocean. Little by little the commercial importance of the Mediterranean cities began to dwindle, while for the nations along the Atlantic seaboard, Spain, Portugal, France, England, a new era set in. Among the silent revolutions of history none has been more weighty in its consequences than this.
The part played by England in the early exploration of North America is somewhat insignificant, and bore no proportion to the ultimate influence she was to wield in the New World. A variety of reasons had combined to leave her in the rear of that great forward movement which marks the golden age of Portuguese and Spanish maritime discovery. At the close of the fifteenth century the country was in a state of political and economic exhaustion, thanks to the chaos resulting from the Wars of the Roses. Commerce, population and finances were at their lowest ebb. The first of the Tudors, & cautious, commercially minded monarch, was concerned primarily, and, be it added, rightly, with the restoration of law and order in his distracted realm. Henry the Seventh was in no sense attracted by adventure for the mere love of adventure. Like all the Tudors he excelled at a bargain, but his bargains were devoid of that touch of panache and genius which in Henry the Eighth and Elizabeth dignified and excused much royal huckstering. His services to the realm, nevertheless, were very great. By his restoration of order and settled government, even by the somewhat inglorious peace he effected, breathing-space was obtained, in which the country was able to make good the devastations of prolonged civil strife and to prepare for the struggles and triumphs of the coming century. Obviously, however, the Court of such a monarch, unlike those of Spain and Portugal, held out little encouragement to adventurers with schemes for the discovery of Cathay. Hence Henry the Seventh turned a deaf ear to the proposals of Columbus when the latter, in search of a patron, made overtures that his American enterprise should be undertaken under the protection of the English king. But, in spite of so many inauspicious omens, the destiny of England bore her forward at this moment. To her, in whose hand lay the future sovereignty of North America, the glory of the first discovery of the mainland was not denied, even though her eyes were long holden to the true bearings of that discovery.
The success of Columbus in 1492, and the stories at once set on foot of fabulous wealth in these new regions, encouraged Henry to listen with more attention to the schemes of John Cabot, born a Genoese, but a naturalised Venetian, who in the last decade of the fifteenth century appears to have settled with his wife and family at Bristol. Bristol in the fifteenth century was one of the most important cities in England. What maritime enterprise the country possessed at this time—and it was at a low ebb-found its headquarters on the Bristol Channel. The fishermen of this district were known as a hardy and a courageous race, and the rank and file of American exploration was for many years recruited among them. It was a Bristol ship manned by Bristol seamen that first cast anchor on the shores of the American mainland, five years after the discovery by Columbus, far to the south, of the outlying islands, and more than a year before his subsequent voyage to Venezuela. English and Italians, between whom in latter days so close a tie of sympathy exists, will remember gladly that an Italian led an English company on the initial stages of a great destiny, and that the Lion of St. Mark floated by the Cross of St. George when the symbol of British rule was first raised on the shores of Canada.
History has preserved but meagre accounts of the voyages of the Cabots. Their significance and importance were but little appreciated in the England of the day. In March 1496 Henry the Seventh granted a patent to John Cabot and his sons to undertake a voyage for the discovery of Cathay and the countries of Northern China. The agreement between the English monarch and the Italian adventurers was one of those characteristic bargains at which the Tudors excelled. The Cabots took all the risk and the King graciously shared the profits. In May 1497 Cabot set forth on his perilous journey from the port of Bristol. His vessel was of that minute tonnage common enough in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but appalling to the imagination of latter-day travellers who have experienced Atlantic storms on a modern Atlantic liner. The Matthew, Cabot's ship, registered 60 tons and she carried a crew of eighteen men. How these small and often untrustworthy vessels ever came to their journey's end must remain one of the standing marvels of exploration. The women of the period must, indeed, have required stout nerves to endure the disappearance for months and years of those dear to them, and the absolute silence in which their perilous ventures were shrouded. Mr. Dawson, in his exhaustive and scholarly work on the St. Lawrence, points out how much greater were the difficulties which beset the task of Cabot even than those which had fallen to the lot of Columbus Columbus had the immense advantage of sailing in fair weather latitudes, where night by night the stars rose in a clear sky. Cabot, on the contrary, following a northerly course, found himself in a region of stormy seas, thick fog, and adverse winds. Both men alike steered by the compass, but the greater variation of the magnetic needle in northern as compared with southern latitudes was not as yet calculated, and this fact must have added a fresh element of perplexity to Cabot's task. In spite of all difficulties, however, the Matthew beat her way steadily across the Atlantic in the space of about fifty days. Authorities have differed as to the exact point on the Canadian shore which marks Cabot's landfall, but the latest evidence points to the eastern coast of Cape Breton Island, a beautiful and fertile portion of the present Dominion of Canada. The climate is extremely temperate for so high a latitude, and Cabot must have arrived at the height of the brief but beautiful Canadian summer. The mildness of the summer climate no doubt served to confirm him in the delusion that he had reached the shores of Cathay, that land of marvels which Marco Polo at an earlier date had described to an astonished Europe. Satisfied on so important a point, Cabot, whose first voyage was nothing but a reconnoitring cruise, set sail and hurried back to England.
He was welcomed by the nation after a prosperous and rapid return journey with real enthusiasm. The imagination of even Henry the Seventh was stirred by the prospect of a new trade route to China, and money and honours were conferred on the successful explorer.
Cabot's hour of triumph was doomed to be but brief, An expedition of five armed ships, to which the king contributed, sailed from Bristol the following spring, the London merchants sending stores of goods, including silks and laces, with which they aspired to open up a profitable trade with the inhabitants of Cathay. Expectation ran high as regards this expedition, but its fate is shrouded in complete mystery. It is not supposed that actual disaster overtook the ships, but that the venture ended in an absolute fiasco from a commercial point of view is certain. Cabot must have pursued a more northerly course than on his first voyage. The scanty references to this abortive enterprise in the literature of the period speak of the icebergs and icefields in which his ships were involved. After skirting the shores of Labrador he would appear to have turned south, followed the coast as far as the 38th parallel, and then returned to England. We know no details of that homecoming, the anger of the disappointed merchants
, the probable wrath of the king. The expedition simply disappears without comment from English history, and with it John
The Saint Lawrence Basin, by Samuel Edward Dawson.
Vol. LXIV--No. 377
Cabot vanishes entirely from view. Sebastian Cabot, his son, held high rank in the naval service, first of Spain, and then of England, but as to the fate of his illustrious father contemporary records are silent.
Thus in gloom and disappointment ended the preliminary venture of England in the New World. The mood of the people, as already stated, was thoroughly unheroic at this moment. The gentlemen adventurers of a later date were yet unborn, and the nation, crippled by long and exhausting civil strife, was in no condition to prosecute hazardous enterprises the benefits of which were doubtful. The firstfruits of Cabot's great discovery fell to the ground unheeded, and the prize won back eventually through fire and sword was doomed to pass for nearly three hundred years into the keeping of France. This period of maritime depression in England was but brief. The vigorous national consciousness given to their country by Henry the Eighth and his great daughter little by little redressed the balance, and brought the English navigators into the front rank. For the moment, however, the laurels of discovery pass elsewhere, and the golden age of Elizabethan adventure is not concerned with Canada, but found its theatre far to the south.
Expeditions to the New World undertaken by Portuguese, by French, and by Spaniards had followed closely on the wake of Cabot's discovery. Some of these voyages were private ventures, some were undertaken under royal charter; all practically were haunted by visions of the much-sought-for North-West Passage. These royal expeditions bore useful fruits of a geographical character, but commerce rather than the caprice of kings was pushing the task of exploration in North America. Newfoundland was the point round which it centred. The name Bacallaos (stockfish) applied to the island by the early navigators at once explains the presence of fishermen in this locality. The Newfoundland fisheries have been famous from the first moment of American discovery and played a great part in the opening up of the continent. The waters swarm with codfish, and in the days of a Catholic Europe, when the fasts of the Church were strictly kept, the demand for dried fish was considerable and created a most profitable trade. These fisheries were first opened up by Portuguese and Breton sailors; but the navigation laws of Henry the Eighth and Elizabeth prove that these monarchs were soon alive to the importance of pushing British trade in this part of the world. In a statute of Elizabeth's reign we can almost catch the ricochet of the religious disputes of the time, when her Majesty prescribes that the fleet shall eat fish twice a week for the benefit of the fishing trade, adding, how. ever, with Tudor peremptoriness, that any person daring to connect the eating of fish with the service of God would be most severely punished. The marvellous wealth of the sea was a prize for which all nations strove alike off the Newfoundland shores, and by the middle of the sixteenth century we find the banks frequented by English sailors