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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

And in the latitude of Lisbon 19




It is generally taken for granted that the great movement of the Renaissance, which spread through western Europe in the 15th and the 16th centuries, quickening men's interest in the world about them rather than the world to come, and inspiring them with an eagerness and a confident belief in their own power to explore its hidden secrets, was among the forces which brought about the great geographical discoveries of the period. Its influence in this direction is evident enough in England and elsewhere later on; but, judging by the difficulties of Columbus in securing support, it was not in his time potent with those in control of government policy and government funds. The Italian navigator John Cabot and his son Sebastian made their voyages from England in 1498 and 1500 with very feeble support from Henry VII, though it was upon their discoveries that England later based her American claims. Even in Spain there seems to have been little eagerness to emulate the methods by which her neighbor Portugal had so rapidly risen to wealth and power.

But the influence of revived classical information on geographical matters was keenly felt; and the idea of a direct westerly passage to India was suggested, not only by Portugal's monopoly of the Cape route, but by classical authority, generally accepted by the best

geographers of the time. The _Imago Mundi_ of 1410, already mentioned, embodying Roger Bacon's arguments that the Atlantic washed the shores of Asia and that the voyage thither was not long, was a book carefully studied by Columbus. Paul Toscanelli, a Florentine physicist and astronomer, adopting and developing this theory, sent in 1474 to Alfonso V of Portugal a map of the world in which he demonstrated the possibilities of the western route. The distance round the earth at the equator he estimated almost exactly to be 24,780 statute miles, and in the latitude of Lisbon 19,500 miles; but he so exaggerated the extent of Europe and Asia as to reduce the distance between them by an Atlantic voyage to about 6500 miles, putting the east coast of China in about the longitude of Oregon. This distance he still further shortened by locating Cipango (Japan) far to the eastward of Asia, in about the latitude of the Canary Islands and distant from them only 3250 miles.

With all these opinions Columbus was familiar, for the list of his library and the annotations still preserved in his own handwriting, show that he was not an ignorant sailor, nor yet a wild visionary, but prepared by closest study for the task to which he gave his later years. His earlier career, on the other hand, had supplied him with abundant practical knowledge. Born in Genoa, a mother city of great seamen, probably in the year 1436, he had received a fair education in Latin, geography, astronomy, drafting, and other subjects useful to the master-mariner of those days. He had sailed the Mediterranean, and prior to his great adventure, had been as far north as Iceland, and on many voyages down the African coast. Following his brother Bartholomew, who was a map-maker in the Portuguese service, he came about 1470 to Lisbon, even then a center of geographical knowledge and maritime activity. Probably as early as this time the idea of a western voyage was in his mind.

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