2 - What People Thought of the Idea
I do not wish you to think that Columbus
was the first man to say
that the earth was round, or the first to sail to the West
the Atlantic Ocean. He was not. Other men had said that
believed the earth was round; other men had sailed out
Atlantic Ocean. But no sailor who believed the earth was
had ever yet tried to prove that it was by crossing the
So, you see, Columbus was really the first man to say,
the earth is round and I will show you that it is by sailing
the lands that are on the other side of the earth.
He even figured out how far it was around the world. Your
geography, you know, tells you now that what is called
circumference of the earth--that is, a straight line drawn
around it - is nearly twenty-five thousand miles. Columbus
figured it up pretty carefully and he thought it was about
thousand miles. If I could start from Genoa, he said, and
straight ahead until I got back to Genoa again, I should
about twenty thousand miles. Cathay, he thought, would
take up so
much land on the other side of the world that, if he went
instead of east, he would only need to sail about twenty-five
hundred or three thousand miles.
If you have studied your geography carefully you will
see what a
mistake he made.
It is really about twelve thousand miles from Spain to
Cathay as he called it). But America is just about three
miles from Spain, and if you read all this story you will
Columbus's mistake really helped him to discover America.
I have told you that Columbus had a longing to do something
from the time when, as a little boy, he had hung around
wharves in Genoa and looked at the ships sailing east and
and talked with the sailors and wished that he could go
Perhaps what he had learned at school-- how some men said
the earth was round--and what he had heard on the wharves
the wonders of Cathay set him to thinking and to dreaming
might be possible for a ship to sail around the world without
falling off. At any rate, he kept on thinking and dreaming
longing until, at last, he began doing.
Some of the sailors sent out by Prince Henry of Portugal,
I have told you, in their trying to sail around Africa
two groups of islands out in the Atlantic that they called
Azores, or Isles of Hawks, and the Canaries, or Isles of
When Columbus was in Portugal in 1470 he became acquainted
young woman whose name was Philippa Perestrelo. In 1473
Now Philippa's father, before his death, had been governor
Porto Santo, one of the Azores, and Columbus and his wife
off there to live. In the governor's house Columbus found
of charts and maps that told him about parts of the ocean
had never before seen, and made him feel certain that he
right in saying that if he sailed away to the West he should
At that time there was an old man who lived in Florence,
of Italy. His name was Toscanelli. He was a great scholar
studied the stars and made maps, and was a very wise man.
Columbus knew what a wise old scholar Toscanelli was, for
Florence is not very far from Genoa. So while he was living
the Azores he wrote to this old scholar asking him what
thought about his idea that a man could sail around the
until he reached the land called the Indies and at last
Toscanelli wrote to Columbus saying that he believed his
the right one, and he said it would be a grand thing to
Columbus dared to try it. Perhaps, he said, you can find
those splendid things that I know are in Cathay--the great
with marble bridges, the houses of marble covered with
jewels and the spices and the precious stones, and all
wonderful and magnificent things. I do not wonder you wish
try, he said, for if you find Cathay it will be a wonderful
for you and for Portugal.
That settled it with Columbus. If this wise old scholar
was right, he must be right. So he left his home in the
and went to Portugal. This was in 1475, and from that time
for seventeen long years he was trying to get some king
to help him sail to the West to find Cathay.
But not one of the people who could have helped him, if
really wished to, believed in Columbus. As I told you,
that he was crazy. The king of Portugal, whose name was
a very unkind thing--I am sure you would call it a mean
Columbus had gone to him with his story and asked for ships
sailors. The king and his chief men refused to help him;
John said to himself, perhaps there is something in this
looking after and, if so, perhaps I can have my own people
Cathay and save the money that Columbus will want to keep
himself as his share of what he finds. So one day he copied
the sailing directions that Columbus had left with him,
them to one of his own captains without letting Columbus
anything about it, The Portuguese captain sailed away to
in the direction Columbus had marked down, but a great
up and so frightened the sailors that they turned around
hurry. Then they hunted up Columbus and began to abuse
getting them into such a scrape. You might as well expect
land in the sky, they said, as in those terrible waters.
And when, in this way, Columbus found out that King John
tried to use his ideas without letting him know anything
it, he was very angry. His wife had died in the midst of
mean trick of the Portuguese king, and so, taking with
little five-year-old son, Diego, he left Portugal secretly
went over into Spain.
Near the little town of Palos, in western Spain, is a
looking out toward the Atlantic. Upon this hill stands
building that, four hundred years ago, was used as a a
home for priests. It was called the Convent of Rabida,
priest at the head of it was named the Friar Juan Perez.
autumn day, in the year 1484, Friar Juan Perez saw a dusty
traveler with a little boy talking with the gate-keeper
convent. The stranger was so tall and fine-looking, and
such an interesting man, that Friar Juan went out and began
talk with him. This man was Columbus.
As they talked, the priest grew more and more interested
Columbus said. He invited him into the convent to stay
for a few
days, and he asked some other people--the doctor of Palos
some of the sea captains and sailors of the town--to come
talk with this stranger who had such a singular idea about
sailing across the Atlantic.
It ended in Columbus's staying some months in Palos, waiting
a chance to go and see the king and queen. At last, in
set out for the Spanish court with a letter to a priest
who was a
friend of Friar Juan's, and who could help him to see the
At that time the king and queen of Spain were fighting
out of Spain the people called the Moors. These people
Africa, but they had lived in Spain for many years and
been a very rich and powerful nation. They were not Spaniards;
they were not Christians. So all Spaniards and all Christians
hated them and tried to drive them out of Europe.
The king and queen of Spain who were fighting the Moors
named Ferdinand and Isabella. They were pretty good people
kings and queens went in those days, but they did a great
very cruel and very mean things, just as the kings and
those days were apt to do. I am afraid we should not think
were very nice people nowadays. We certainly should not
American boys and girls to look up to them as good and
When Columbus first came to them, they were with the army
camp near the city of Cordova. The king and queen had no
listen to what they thought were crazy plans, and poor
could get no one to talk with him who could be of any help.
was obliged to go back to drawing maps and selling books
enough money to support himself and his little Diego.
But at last, through the friend of good Friar Juan Perez
Rabida, who was a priest at the court, and named Talavera,
whom he had a letter of introduction, Columbus found a
talk over his plans with a number of priests and scholars
city of Salamanca where there was a famous college and
Columbus told his story. He said what he wished to do,
these learned men to say a good word for him to, Ferdinand
Isabella so that he could have the ships and sailors to
Cathay. But it was of no use.
What! sail away around the world? those wise men cried
Why, you are crazy. The world is not round; it is flat.
ships would tumble off the edge of the world and all the
money and all the king's men would be lost. No, no; go
must not trouble the queen or even mention such a ridiculous
So the most of them said. But one or two thought it might
worth trying. Cathay was a very rich country, and if this
fellow were willing to run the risk and did succeed, it
a good thing for Spain, as the king and queen would need
deal of money after the war with the Moors was over. At
it was a chance worth thinking about.
And so, although Columbus was dreadfully disappointed,
that if he had only a few friends at Court who were ready
a good word for him he must not give up, but must try,
And so he stayed in Spain.