ATTEMPTS TO SECURE ASSISTANCE.
An enterprise so vast and hazardous as that proposed by Columbus was not likely to receive adequate assistance from any private benefactor. Though the Portuguese had long been considered daring navigators, no one of them had yet undertaken an expedition in any way comparable in point of novelty and boldness with that now proposed. The explorers of Prince Henry had skirted along the coasts of Africa, following out lines of discovery that had already been somewhat plainly marked out. But what Columbus now proposed was the bolder course of cutting loose from old traditions and methods, and sailing directly west into an unknown space. Capital was even more conservative and timid in the fifteenth century than it is at the present time; and therefore great expeditions were much more dependent upon governmental assistance. It was not singular, therefore, that Columbus found himself obliged to seek for governmental support and protection.
But in this, as in so many other details in the life of Columbus, it is impossible at the present time to be confident that we have ascertained the exact truth. Many of the early accounts are conflicting; and not a few of the prevailing impressions are founded on evidence that will not bear the test of critical examination. For example, nearly all of the historians assert that Columbus made application for assistance to the governments of Genoa and Venice.
The only authority for belief that the Admiral applied to Genoa is a statement of Ramusio, who affirms that he received his information from Peter Martyr. In the course of the narrative he says that when the application was rejected, Columbus, at the age of forty, determined to go to Portugal. Unfortunately, to our acceptance of this circumstantial statement there are several very serious obstacles. In the first place, no authority for such an assertion can be found in all the writings of Peter Martyr. Again, the archives of Genoa have been thoroughly explored in vain for any evidence of such an application. But most important of all, the assertion, if true, would prove that Columbus was born as early as 1430. We should also be obliged to infer that two of his children by the same mother differed in age by at least thirty-six years. The impression that Columbus made application for assistance to Genoa may therefore safely be dismissed as apocryphal.
The evidence in regard to an application to Venice, though less positive in its nature, is also inconclusive. The Venetian historian Carlo Antonio Marin, whose history of Venetian commerce was not published till the year 1800, was the first to give currency to the story. His authority is this. He says that Francesco Pesaro said to him some ten or twelve years before,-that is, about 1780,-that in making some researches in the archives of the Council of Ten, he had seen and read a letter of Columbus making application to the Venetian Government for assistance. But although diligent search has since been made at two different times throughout the archives for the years between 1470 and 1492, no trace of such a letter has ever been found. It is possible that this important document may have been destroyed when, just before the preliminaries of Leoben, in May, 1797, a mob invaded the hall of the Council of Ten and dispersed such of the papers as could be found. But until some further evidence comes to light, it must be considered doubtful whether application to Venice was ever made.
In regard to applications to Portugal, England, and France, the evidence is less incomplete, though here, too, we meet with not a few conflicting statements.
In one of his letters to the Spanish sovereigns Columbus says: "For twenty-seven years I had been trying to get recognition, but at the end of that period all my projects were turned to ridicule.... But notwithstanding this fact," he cont