Age of Discovery

"Discovery of the World and of Man"

In 1453 the Turks took Constantinople, driving the Greek scholars to take refuge in Italy, which at once became the most civilized nation in Europe. Poetry, philosophy, and art thence found their way to France, England, and Germany, being greatly assisted by the invention of printing, which just then was beginning to make books cheaper than they ever had been. At the same time feudalism was ruined, because the invention of gunpowder had previously been changing the art of war. For example, the King of France, Louis XI, as well as the King of England, Henry VII, had entire disposal of the national artillery; and therefore overawed the barons and armored knights. Neither moated fortresses nor mail-clad warriors, nor archers with bows and arrows, could prevail against powder and shot. The middle ages had come to an end; modern Europe was being born. France had become concentrated by the union of the south to the north on the conclusion of the "Hundred Years' War," the final expulsion of the English, and the abolition of all the great feudatories of the kingdom. England, at the same time, had entirely swept away the rule of the barons by the recent "Wars of the Roses," and Henry had strengthened his position by alliance with France, Spain, and Scotland. Spain, by the expulsion of the Moors from Granada in A. D. 1492, was for the first time concentrated into one great state by the union of Isabella's Kingdom of Castile-Leon to Ferdinand's Kingdom of Aragon-Sicily.

From the importance of the word renaissance  as indicating the "movement of transition from the medieval to the modern world," Matthew Arnold gave it the English form "renascence"—adopted by J. R. Green, Coleridge, and others. In Germany, this great revival of letters and learning was contemporaneous with the Reformation, which had long been preparing (e. g., in England since John Wyclif) and was specially assisted by the invention of printing, which we have just mentioned. The minds of men everywhere were expanded: "whatever works of history, science, morality, or entertainment seemed likely to instruct or amuse were printed and distributed among the people at large by printers and booksellers."

Thus it was that, though the Turks never had any pretension to learning or culture, yet their action in the middle of the fifteenth century indirectly caused a marvelous tide of civilization to overflow all the western countries of Europe. Another result in the same age was the increase of navigation and exploration—the discovery of the world as well as of man. When the Turks became masters of the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, the European merchants were prevented from going to India and the East by the overland route, as had been done for generations. Thus, since geography was at this verytime improved by the science of Copernicus and others, the natural inquiry was how to reach India by sea instead of going overland. Columbus, therefore, sailed due west to reach Asia, and stumbled upon a "New World" without knowing what he did; then Cabot, sailing from Bristol, sailed northwest to reach India, and stumbled upon the continent of America; and during the same reign (Henry VII) the Atlantic coast of both North and South America was visited by English, Portuguese, or Spanish navigators. The third expedition to reach India by sea was under De Gama. He set out in the same year as Cabot, sailing into the South Atlantic, and ultimately did find the west coast of India at Calicut, after rounding the cape.

The mere enumeration of so many events, all of first-rate importance, proves that that half century (say from A. D. 1460 to 1520) must be called "an age of marvels," sæclum mirabile. The concurrence of so many epoch-making results gave a great impulse, not only to the study of literature, science, and art, but to the exploration of many unknown countries in America, Africa, and Asia, and the universal expansion of human knowledge generally.

I.—We shall now consider the first of these discoverers, who was also the greatest.

Columbus , the Latinized form of the Italian Colombo, Spanish, Colon. This Genoese navigator must throughout all history be called the discoverer of America, notwithstanding all the work of smaller men. From his study of geographical books in several languages, Columbus had convinced himself that our planet is spherical or ball-shaped, not a flat, plane surface. Till then India had always been reached by traveling overland toward the rising sun. Why not sail westward from Europe over the ocean, and thus come to the eastern parts of Asia by traveling toward the setting sun? By doing so, since our world is ball-shaped, said Columbus, we must inevitably reach Zipango (i. e., "Japan") and Cathay (i. e., "China"), which are the most eastern parts of Asia. India then will be a mere detail. Judging from the accounts of Asia and its eastern islands given by Marco Polo, a Venetian, as well as from the maps sketched by Ptolemy, the Egyptian geographer, Columbus believed that the east coast of Asia was not so very far from the west coast of Europe. Columbus was confirmed in this opinion by a learned geographer of Florence, named Paul, and henceforward impatiently waited for an opportunity of testing the truth of his theory.

He convinced himself, but could not convince any one else, that a westerly route to India was quite feasible. First he laid his plans before the authorities at Genoa, who had for generations traded with Asia by the overland journey, and ought therefore to have been glad to learn of this new alternative route, since the Turks were now playing havoc with the other; but no, they told Columbus that his idea was chimerical! Next he applied to the court of France. "Ridiculous!" was the reply, accompanied with a polite sneer. Next Columbus sent his scheme to Henry VII of England, a prince full of projects, but miserly. "Too expensive!" was the Tudor's reply, though presently, after the Spanish success, he became eager to despatch expeditions from Bristol under the Cabots. Then Columbus, by the advice of his brother, who had settled in Lisbon as a map-maker, approached King John, seeking patronage and assistance, pleading the foremost position of Portugal among the maritime states. The Portuguese neglected the golden opportunity, ocean navigation not being in their way as yet; their skippers preferred "to hug the African shore."

At last Columbus gained the ear of Isabella, Queen of Castile; she believed in him and tried to get the assistance of her husband, Ferdinand, King of Aragon, in providing an outfit for the great expedition. Owing to Ferdinand's war in expelling the Moors from Granada, Columbus had still to wait several years.

In a previous year, 1477, Columbus had sailed to the North Atlantic, perhaps in one of those Basque whalers already referred to, going "a hundred leagues beyond Thule." If that means Iceland, as is generally supposed, it seems most probable that, when conversing with the sailors there he must have heard how Leif, with his Norsemen, had discovered the American coasts of Newfoundland and Vinland some five centuries earlier, and how they had settled a colony on the new continent. Other writers have pointed out that Columbus could very well have heard of Vinland and the Northmen before leaving Genoa, since one of the Popes had sanctioned the appointment of a bishop over the new diocese. If so, the visit of Columbus to Iceland probably gave him confirmation as to the Norse discovery of the American continent.

When at last King Ferdinand had taken Granada from the Moors, Columbus was put in command of three ships, with 120 men. He set sail from the port of Palos, in Andalusia, on a Friday, August 3, 1492, first steering to the Canary Islands, and then standing due west. In September, to the amazement of all on board, the compass was seen to "vary": an important scientific discovery—viz., that the magnetic needle does not always point to the pole-star. Some writers have imagined that the compass was for the first time utilized for a long journey by Columbus, but the occult power of the magnetic needle or "lodestone" had been known for ages before the fifteenth century. The ancient Persians and other "wise men of the East" used the lodestone as a talisman. Both the Mongolian and Caucasian races used it as an infallible guide in traveling across the mighty plains of Asia. The Cynosure in the Great Bear was the "guiding star," whether by sea or land; but when the heavens were wrapped in clouds, the magic stone or needle served to point exactly the position of the unseen star. What Columbus and his terrified crews discovered was the "variation of the compass," due to the fact that the magnetic needle points, not to the North Star, but to the "magnetic pole," a point in Canada to the west of Baffin's Bay and north of Hudson Bay.

If Columbus had continued steering due west he would have landed on the continent of America in Florida; but before sighting that coast the course was changed to southwest, because some birds were seen flying in that direction. The first land reached was an island of the Bahama group, which he named San Salvador. As the Spanish boats rowed to shore they were welcomed by crowds of astonished natives, mostly naked, unless for a girdle of wrought cotton or plaited feathers. Hence the lines of Milton:

Such of late
Columbus found the American, so girt
With feathered cincture, naked else and wild,
Among the trees on isles and woody shores.

The spot of landing was formerly identified by Washington Irving and Baron Humboldt with "Cat Island"; but from the latest investigation it is now believed to have been Watling's Island. Here he landed on a Friday, October 12, 1492.

So little was then known of the geography of the Atlantic or of true longitude, that Columbus attributed these islands to the east coast of Asia. He therefore named them "Indian Islands," as if close to Hindustan, a blunder that has now been perpetuated for four hundred and ten years. The natives were called "Indians" for the same reasons. As the knowledge of geography advanced it became necessary to say "West Indies" or "East Indies" respectively, to distinguish American from Asiatic—"Indian corn" means American, but "Indian ink" means Asiatic, etc. Even after his fourth and last voyage Columbus believed that the continent, as well as the islands, was a portion of eastern Asia, and he died in that belief, without any suspicion of having discovered a New World.

A curious confirmation of the opinion of Columbus has just been discovered (1894) in the Florence Library, by Dr. Wieser, of Innsbruck. It is the actual copy of a map by the Great Admiral, drawn roughly in a letter written from Jamaica, July, 1503. It shows that his belief as to the part of the world reached in his voyages was that it was the east coast of Asia.

The chief discovery made by Columbus in his first voyage was the great island of Cuba, which he imagined to be part of a continent. Some of the Spaniards went inland for sixty miles and reported that they had reached a village of more than a thousand inhabitants, and that the corn used for food was called maize —probably the first instance of Europeans using a term which was afterward to become as familiar as "wheat" or "barley." The natives told Columbus that their gold ornaments came from Cubakan, meaning the interior of Cuba; but he, on hearing the syllable kan, immediately thought of the "Khan" mentioned by Marco Polo, and therefore imagined that "Cathay" (the China of that famous traveler) was close at hand. The simple-minded Cubans were amazed that the Spaniards had such a love for gold, and pointed eastward to another island, which they called Hayti, saying it was more plentiful there than in Cuba. Thus Columbus discovered the second in size of all the West Indian islands, Cuba being the first; he, after landing on it, called it "Hispaniola," or Little Spain. Hayti in a few years became the headquarters of the Spanish establishments in the New World, after its capital, San Domingo, had been built by Bartholomew Columbus. It was in this island that the Spaniards saw the first of the "caziques," or native princes, afterward so familiar during the conquest of Mexico; he was carried on the shoulders of four men, and courteously presented Columbus with some plates of gold. In a letter to the monarchs of Spain the admiral thus refers to the natives of Hayti:

The people are so affectionate, so tractable, and so peaceable that I swear to your Highnesses there is not a better race of men, nor a better country in the world; ... their conversation is the sweetest and mildest in the world, and always accompanied with a smile. The king is served with great state, and his behavior is so decent that it is pleasant to see him.

The admiral had previously described the Indians of Cuba as equally simple and friendly, telling how they had "honored the strangers as sacred beings allied to heaven." The pity of it, and the shame, is that those frank, unsuspicious, islanders had no notion or foresight of the cruel desolation which their gallant guests were presently to bring upon the native races—death, and torture, and extermination!

A harbor in Cuba is thus described by Columbus in a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella:

I discovered a river which a galley might easily enter.... I found from five to eight fathoms of water. Having proceeded a considerable way up the river, everything invited me to settle there. The beauty of the river, the clearness of the water, the multitude of palm-trees and an infinite number of other large and flourishing trees, the birds and the verdure of the plains, ... I am so much amazed at the sight of such beauty, that I know not how to describe it.

Having lost his flag-ship, Columbus returned to Spain with the two small caravels that remained from his petty fleet of three, arriving in the port of Palos March 15, 1493. The reception of the successful explorer was a national event. He entered Barcelona to be presented at court with every circumstance of honor and triumph. Sitting in presence of the king and queen he related his wondrous tale, while his attendants showed the gold, the cotton, the parrots and other unknown birds, the curious arms and plants, and above all the nine "Indians" with their outlandish trappings—brought to be made Christians by baptism. Ferdinand and Isabella heaped honors upon the successful navigator; and in return he promised them the untold riches of Zipango and Cathay. A new fleet, larger and better equipped, was soon found for a second voyage.

With his new ships, in 1498, Columbus again stood due west from the Canaries; and at last discovering an island with three mountain summits he named it Trinidad (i. e., "Trinity") without knowing that he was then coasting the great continent of South America. A few days later he and the crew were amazed by a tumult of waves caused by the fresh water of a great river meeting the sea. It was the "Oronooko," afterward called Orinoco; and from its volume Columbus and his shipmates concluded that it must drain part of a continent or a very large island.

Where Orinoco in his pride,
Rolls to the main no tribute tide,
But 'gainst broad ocean urges far
A rival sea of roaring war;
While in ten thousand eddies driven
The billows fling their foam to heaven,
And the pale pilot seeks in vain,
Where rolls the river, where the main.

That was the first glimpse which they had of America proper, still imagining it was only a part of eastern Asia. In the following voyage, his last, Columbus coasted part of the Isthmus of Darien. It was not, however, explored till the visit of Balboa.

Cipher autograph of Columbus.
Cipher autograph of Columbus.
The interpretation of the cipher is probably:
servatf Christus Maria Yosephus (Christoferens).

It was during his third voyage that the "Great Admiral" suffered the indignity at San Domingo of being thrown into chains and sent back to Spain. This was done by Bobadilla, an officer of the royal household, who had been sent out with full power to put down misrule. The monarchs of Spain set Columbus free; and soon afterward he was provided with four ships for his fourth voyage. Stormy weather wrecked this final expedition, and at last he was glad to arrive in Spain, November 7, 1504. He now felt that his work on earth was done, and died at Valladolid, May 20, 1506. After temporary interment there his body was transferred to the cathedral of San Domingo—whence, 1796, some remains were removed with imposing ceremonies to Havana. From later investigations it appears that the ashes of the Genoese discoverer are still in the tomb of San Domingo.

It was in the cathedral of Seville, over his first tomb, that King Ferdinand is said to have honored the memory of the Great Admiral with a marble monument bearing the well-known epitaph:

A CASTILLA Y ARAGON
NUEVO MUNDO DIO COLON

or, "To the united Kingdom of Castile-Aragon Columbus gave a New World."

After the death of Columbus, it seemed as if fate intended his family to enjoy the honors and rewards of which he had been so unjustly deprived. His son, Diego, wasted two years trying to obtain from King Ferdinand the offices of viceroy and admiral, which he had a right to claim in accordance with the arrangement formerly made with his father. At last Diego began a suit against Ferdinand before the council which managed Indian affairs. That court decided in favor of Diego's claim; and as he soon greatly improved his social position by marrying the niece of the Duke of Alva, a high nobleman, Diego received the appointment of governor (not viceroy), and went to Hayti, attended by his brother and uncles, as well as his wife and a large retinue. There Diego Columbus and his family lived, "with a splendor hitherto unknown in the New World."

II.—Henry VII of England, after repenting that he had not secured the services of Columbus, commissioned John Cabot to sail from Bristol across the Atlantic in a northwesterly direction, with the hope of finding some passage thereabouts to India. In June, 1497, a new coast was sighted (probably Labrador or Newfoundland), and named Prima Vista. They coasted the continent southward, "ever with intent to find the passage to India," till they reached the peninsula now called Florida. On this important voyage was based the claim which the English kings afterward made for the possession of all the Atlantic coast of North America. King Henry wished colonists to settle in the new land, tam viri quam feminæ, but since, in his usual miserly character, he refused to give a single "testoon," or "groat" toward the enterprise, no colonies were formed till the days of Walter Raleigh, more than a century later.

Sebastian Cabot, born in Bristol, 1477, was more renowned as a navigator than his father, John, and almost ranks with Columbus. After discovering Labrador or Newfoundland with his father, he sailed a second time with 300 men to form colonies, passing apparently into Hudson Bay. He wished to discover a channel leading to Hindustan, but the difficulties of icebergs and cold weather so frightened his crews that he was compelled to retrace his course. In another attempt at the northwest passage to Asia, he reached latitude 67½° north, and "gave English names to sundry places in Hudson Bay." In 1526, when commanding a Spanish expedition from Seville, he sailed to Brazil, which had already been annexed to Portugal by Cabrera, explored the River La Plata and ascended part of the Paraguay, returning to Spain in 1531. After his return to England, King Edward VI had some interviews with Cabot, one topic being the "variation of the compass." He received a royal pension of 250 marks, and did special work in relation to trade and navigation. The great honor of Cabot is that he saw the American continent before Columbus or Amerigo Vespucci.

III.—Of the great navigators of that unexampled age of discovery, as Spain was honored by Columbus and England by Cabot, so Portugal was honored by De Gama. Vasco de Gama, the greatest of Portuguese navigators, left Lisbon in 1497 to explore the unknown world lying east of the Cape of Good Hope, arriving at Calicut, May, 1498. Before that, Diaz had actually rounded the cape, but seems to have done so merely before a high gale. He named it "the stormy Cape." Cabrera, or Cabral, was another great explorer sent from Portugal to follow in the route of De Gama; but being forced into a southwesterly route by currents in the south Atlantic, he landed on the continent of America, and annexed the new country to Portugal under the name of Brazil. Cabrera afterward drew up the first commercial treaty between Portugal and India.

IV.—Magellan, scarcely inferior to Columbus, brought honor as a navigator both to Portugal and Spain. For the latter country, when in the service of Charles V, he revived the idea of Columbus that we may sail to Asia or the Spice Islands by sailing west. With a squadron of five ships, 236 men, he sailed, in 1519, to Brazil and convinced himself that the great estuary was not a strait. Sailing south along the American coast, he discovered the strait that bears his name, and through it entered the Pacific, then first sailed upon by Europeans, though already seen by Balboa and his men "upon a peak in Darien"—as Keats puts it in his famous sonnet.[7] From the continuous fine weather enjoyed for some months, Magellan naturally named the new sea "the Pacific." After touching at the Ladrones and the Philippines, Magellan was killed in a fight with the inhabitants of Matan, a small island. Sebastian, his Basque lieutenant (mentioned in Chapter I) then successfully completed the circumnavigation of the world, sailing first to the Moluccas and thence to Spain.

V.—Of all the world-famous navigators contemporary with Colon, the Genoese, there remains only one deserving of our notice, and that because his name is for all time perpetuated in that of the New World. Amerigo (Latin Americus ) Vespucci, born at Florence, 1451, had commercial occupation in Cadiz, and was employed by the Spanish Government. He has been charged with a fraudulent attempt to usurp the honor due to Columbus, but Humboldt and others have defended him, after a minute examination of the evidence. In a book published in 1507 by a German, Waldseemüller, the author happens to say:

And the fourth part of the world having been discovered by Americus, it may be called Amerige, that is the land of Americus, or America.

Vespucci never called himself the discoverer of the new continent; as a mere subordinate he could not think of such a thing. As a matter of fact, he and Columbus were always on friendly terms, attached, and trusted. Humboldt explains the blunder of Waldseemüller and others by the general ignorance of the history of how America was discovered, since for some years it was jealously guarded as a "state secret." Humboldt curiously adds that the "musical sound of the name caught the public ear," and thus the blunder has been universally perpetuated:

statque stabitque
in omne volubilis ævum.

Another reason for the universal renown of Amerigo was that his book was the first that told of the new "Western World"; and was therefore eagerly read in all parts of Europe.

Cuba, though the largest of the West Indian islands, and second to be discovered, was not colonized till after the death of Columbus. Thus for more than three centuries and a half, as "Queen of the Antilles" and "Pearl of the Antilles," Cuba has been noted as a chief colonial possession of Spain, till recent events brought it under the power of the United States. The conquest of the island was undertaken by Velasquez, who, after accompanying the great admiral in his second voyage, had settled in Hispaniola (or Hayti) and acquired a large fortune there. He had little difficulty in the annexation of Cuba, because the natives, like those of Hispaniola, were of a peaceful character, easily imposed upon by the invaders. The only difficulty Velasquez had was in the eastern part of the island, where Hatuey, a cazique or native chief, who had fled there from Hispaniola, made preparations to resist the Spaniards. When defeated, he was cruelly condemned by Velasquez to be burned to death, as a "slave who had taken arms against his master." The scene at Hatuey's execution is well known:

When fastened to the stake, a Franciscan friar promised him immediate admittance into the joys of heaven, if he would embrace the Christian faith. "Are there any Spaniards," says he, after some pause, "in that region of bliss which you describe?" "Yes," replied the monk, "but only such as are worthy and good." "The best of them have neither worth nor goodness: I will not go to a place where I may meet with one of that accursed race."

Being thus annexed in 1511, by the middle of the century all the native Indians of Cuba had become extinct. In the following century this large and fertile island suffered severely by the buccaneers, but during the eighteenth century it prospered. During the nineteenth century, the United States Government had often been urged to obtain possession of it; for example, the sum of one hundred million dollars was offered in 1848 by President Polk. Slavery was at last abolished absolutely in 1886. In recent years Spain, by ceding Cuba and the Philippines to the United States and the Carolines to Germany, has brought her colonial history to a close.

Two other important events occurred when Velasquez was Governor of Cuba: first, the escape of Balboa from Hispaniola, to become afterward Governor of Darien; and, second, the expedition under Cordova to explore that part of the continent of America which lies nearest to Cuba. This expedition of 110 men, in three small ships, led to the discovery of that large peninsula now known as Yucatan. Cordova imagined it to be an island. The natives were not naked, like those of the West Indian islands, but wore cotton clothes, and some had ornaments of gold. In the towns, which contained large stone houses, and country generally, there were many proofs of a somewhat advanced civilization. The natives, however, were much more warlike than the simple islanders of Cuba and Hispaniola; and Cordova, in fact, was glad to return from Yucatan.

Velasquez, on hearing the report of Cordova, at once fitted out four vessels to explore the newly discovered country, and despatched them under command of his nephew, Grijalva. Everywhere were found proofs of civilization, especially in architecture. The whole district, in fact, abounds in prehistoric remains. From a friendly chief Grijalva received a sort of coat of mail covered with gold plates; and on meeting the ruler of the province he exchanged some toys and trinkets, such as glass beads, pins, scissors, for a rich treasure of jewels, gold ornaments and vessels.

Grijalva was therefore the first European to step on the Aztec soil and open an intercourse with the natives. Velasquez, the Governor, at once prepared a larger expedition, choosing as leader or commander an officer who was destined henceforth to fill a much larger place in history than himself, one who presently appeared capable of becoming a general in the foremost rank, Hernando Cortés, greatest of all Spanish explorers.


[7]The poet, however, makes the clerical blunder of writing Cortez for Balboa.

The New World

GREATER CHANGES than those which were wrought by governments or armies on the battlefield of Italy were accomplished at the same time, thousands of miles away, by solitary adventurers, with the future of the world in their hands. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to understand that the ocean is not a limit, but the universal waterway that unites mankind. Shut in by Spain, they could not extend on land, and had no opening but the Atlantic. Their arid soil gave little scope to the territorial magnate, who was excluded from politics by the growing absolutism of the dynasty, and the government found it well to employ at a distance forces that might be turbulent at home.

The great national work of exploration did not proceed from the State. The Infante Henry had served in the African wars, and his thoughts were drawn towards distant lands. He was not a navigator himself; but from his home at Sagres, on the Sacred Promontory, he watched the ships that passed between the great maritime centre at the mouth of the Tagus and the regions that were to compose the Portuguese empire. As Grandmaster of the Order of Christ he had the means to equip them, and he rapidly occupied the groups of islands that lie between Africa and mid Atlantic, and that were a welcome accession to the narrow territory of Portugal. Then he sent his mariners to explore the coast of the unknown and dreaded continent. When they reached the Senegal and the Gambia, still more, when the coast of Guinea trended to the East, they remembered Prester John, and dreamed of finding a way to his fictitious realm which would afford convenient leverage for Christendom, at the back of the dark world that faced the Mediterranean.

As the trade of the country did not cover the outlay, Henry began in 1442 to capture negroes, who were imported as slaves, or sold with advantage to local chiefs. In five years, 927 blacks from Senegambia reached the Lisbon market; and, later on, the Guinea coast supplied about a thousand every year. That domestic institution was fast disappearing from Europe when it was thus revived; and there was some feeling against the Infante, and some temporary sympathy for his victims. On the other side, there were eminent divines who thought that the people of hot countries may properly be enslaved. Henry the Navigator applied to Rome, and Nicholas V issued Bulls authorising him and his Portuguese to make war on Moors and pagans, seize their possessions, and reduce them to perpetual slavery, and prohibiting all Christian nations, under eternal penalties, from trespassing on the privilege. He applauded the trade in negroes, and hoped that it would end in their conversion. Negro slavery struck no deep root in Europe. But the delusion, says Las Casas, lasted to his own time, when, half a century after the death of its founder, it began to control the destinies of America.

Henry's brother, the Regent Dom Pedro, had visited the courts of Europe, and brought Marco Polo's glowing narrative of his travels in the Far East, still, in Yule's edition, one of the most fascinating books that can be found. Emmanuel the Great, in the Charter rewarding Vasco da Gama, affirms that, from 1433, the Infante pursued his operations with a view to India. After his death, in 1460, they were carried on by the State, and became a secondary purpose, dependent on public affairs. Africa was farmed out for some years, on condition that a hundred leagues of coast were traced annually. There was a moment of depression, when the Guinea coast, having run eastward for a thousand miles and more, turned south, apparently without end. Toscanelli of Florence was a recognised authority on the geography of those days, and he was asked what he thought of the situation. No oracle ever said anything so wise as the answer of the Tuscan sage. For he told them that India was to be found not in the East, but in the West; and we shall see what came of it twenty years later, when his letter fell into predestined hands. The Portuguese were not diverted from their aim. They knew quite well that Africa does not stretch away for ever, and that it needed only a few intrepid men to see the end of it, and to reach an open route to Eastern Asia. They went on, marking their advance beyond the Congo, and erected crosses along the coast to signify their claim; but making no settlements, for Africa was only an obstruction on the way to the Indies.

Each successive voyage was made under a different commander, until 1486, when the squadron of Bartholomew Diaz was blown offshore, out into the Atlantic. When the storm fell he sailed east until he had passed the expected meridian of Africa, and then, turning northward, struck land far beyond Cape Agulhas. He had solved the problem, and India was within his reach. His men soon after refused to go farther, and he was forced to renounce the prize. On his way back he doubled the Cape, which, from his former experience, he called the Cape Tempestuous, until the king, showing that he understood, gave it a name of better omen. Nevertheless, Portugal did no more for ten years, the years that were made memorable by Spain. Then, under a new king, Emmanuel the Fortunate, Vasco da Gama went out to complete the unfinished work of Diaz, lest Columbus, fulfilling the prophecy of Toscanelli, should reach Cathay by a shorter route, and rob them of their reward. The right man had been found. It was all plain sailing; and he plucked the ripe fruit. Vasco da Gama's voyage to the Cape was the longest ever made till then. At Malindi, on the equatorial east coast of Africa, he found a pilot, and, striking across the Indian Ocean by the feeble monsoon of 1497, sighted the Ghats in May. The first cargo from India covered the expenses many times over. The splendour of the achievement was recognised at once, and men were persuaded that Emmanuel would soon be the wealthiest of European monarchs. So vast a promise of revenue required to be made secure by arms, and a force was sent out under Cabral.

The work thus attempted in the East seemed to many too much for so small a kingdom. They objected that the country would break its back in straining so far; that the soil ought first to be cultivated at home; that it would be better to import labour from Germany than to export it to India. Cabral had not been many weeks at sea when these murmurs received a memorable confirmation. Following the advice of Da Gama to avoid the calms of the Gulf of Guinea, he took a westerly course, made the coast of South America, and added, incidentally and without knowing it, a region not much smaller than Europe to the dominions of his sovereign.

The Portuguese came to India as traders, not as conquerors, and desired, not territory, but portable and exchangeable commodities. But the situation they found out there compelled them to wage war in unknown seas, divided from supports, and magazines, and docks by nearly half the globe. They made no attempt on the interior, for the Malabar coast was shut off by a range of lofty mountains. Their main object was the trade of the Far East, which was concentrated at Calicut, and was then carried by the Persian Gulf to Scanderoon and Constantinople, or by Jeddah to Suez and Alexandria. There the Venetians shipped the products of Asia to the markets of Europe. But on the other side of the isthmus the carrying trade, all the way to the Pacific, was in the hands of Moors from Arabia and Egypt. The Chinese had disappeared before them from Indian waters, and the Hindoos were no mariners. They possessed the monopoly of that which the Portuguese had come to take, and they were enemies of the Christian name. The Portuguese required not their share in the trade, but the monopoly itself. A deadly conflict could not be avoided. By the natives, they were received at first as friends; and Vasco da Gama, who took the figures of the Hindoo Pantheon for saints of the Catholic Calendar, reported that the people of India were Christians. When this illusion was dispelled, it was a consolation to find the Nestorians settled at Cochin, which thus became a Portuguese stronghold, which their best soldier, Duarte Pacheco, held against a multitude. Calicut, where they began operations, has disappeared like Earl Godwin's estate. Forbes, who was there in 1772, writes: "At very low water I have occasionally seen the waves breaking over the tops of the highest temples and minarets." It was an international city, where 1500 vessels cleared in a season, where trade was open and property secure, and where the propagation of foreign religion was not resented.

The Zamorin, as they called the Rajah of Calicut, ended by taking part with the old friends from the Arabian Seas, who supplied his country with grain, against the visitors who came in questionable shape. The Portuguese lacked the diplomatic graces, and disregarded the art of making friends and acquiring ascendency by the virtues of humanity and good faith. When it came to blows, they acquitted themselves like men conscious that they were the pioneers of History, that their footsteps were in the van of the onward march, that they were moulding the future, and making the world subservient to civilisation. They were Crusaders, coming the other way, and robbing the Moslem of their resources. The shipbuilding of the Moors depended on the teak forests of Calicut; the Eastern trade enriched both Turk and Mameluke, and the Sultan of Egypt levied duty amounting to L290,000 a year. Therefore he combined with the Venetians to expel the common enemy from Indian waters. In 1509 their fleet was defeated by the Viceroy Almeida near Diu, off the coast of Kattywar, where the Arabian seaman comes in sight of India. It was his last action before he surrendered power to his rival, the great Albuquerque. Almeida sought the greatness of his country not in conquest but in commerce. He discouraged expeditions to Africa and to the Moluccas; for he believed that the control of Indian traffic could be maintained by sea power, and that land settlements would drain the resources of the nation. Once the Moslem traders excluded, Portugal would possess all it wanted, on land and sea.

Almeida's successor, who had the eye of Alexander the Great for strategic points and commercial centres, was convinced that sea-power, at six months from home, rests on the occupation of seaports, and he carried the forward policy so far that Portugal possessed fifty-two establishments, commanding 15,000 miles of coast, and held them, nominally, with 20,000 men. Almeida's victory had broken the power of the Moors. Albuquerque resolved to prevent their reappearance by closing the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. With Aden, Ormuz, and Malacca, he said, the Portuguese are masters of the world. He failed in the Red Sea. When Socotra proved insufficient, he attacked Aden, and was repulsed. There was a disconcerting rumour that no Christian vessel could live in the Red Sea, as there was a loadstone that extracted the nails. Albuquerque succeeded in the Persian Gulf, and erected a fortress at Ormuz, and at the other end of the Indian world he seized Malacca, and became master of the narrow seas, and of all the produce from the vast islands under the equator. He made Goa the impregnable capital of his prodigious empire, and the work that he did was solid. He never perceived the value of Bombay, which is the best harbour in Asia, and did not see that the key of India is the Cape of Good Hope. His language was sometimes visionary. He beheld a cross shining in the heavens, over the kingdom of Prester John, and was eager for an alliance with him. He wished to drain the Nile into the Red Sea. He would attack Mecca and Medina, carry off the bones of the prophet, and exchange them for the Holy Sepulchre. The dependency was too distant and too vast. The dread proconsul in his palace at Goa, who was the mightiest potentate between Mozambique and China, was too great a servant for the least of European kings. Emmanuel was suspicious. He recalled the victorious Almeida, who perished on the way home; and Albuquerque was in disgrace, when he died on his quarter-deck, in sight of the Christian city which he had made the capital of the East.

The secret of Portuguese prosperity was the small bulk and the enormous market value of the particular products in which they dealt. In those days men had to do without tea, or coffee, or chocolate, or tobacco, or quinine, or coca, or vanilla, and sugar was very rare. But there were the pepper and the ginger of Malabar, cardamoms in the damp district of Tellicherry; cinnamon and pearls in Ceylon. Beyond the Bay of Bengal, near the equator, there was opium, the only conqueror of pain then known; there were frankincense and indigo; camphor in Borneo; nutmeg and mace in Amboyna; and in two small islands, only a few miles square, Ternate and Tidor, there was the clove tree, surpassing all plants in value. These were the real spice islands, the enchanted region which was the object of such passionate desire; and their produce was so cheap on the spot, so dear in the markets of Antwerp and London, as to constitute the most lucrative trade in the world. From these exotics, grown on volcanic soil, in the most generous of the tropical climates, the profit was such that they could be paid for in precious metals. When Drake was at Ternate in 1579, he found the Sultan hung with chains of bullion, and clad in a robe of gold brocade rich enough to stand upright. The Moluccas were of greater benefit to the Crown than to the Portuguese workman. About twenty ships, of 100 to 550 tons, sailed for Lisbon in the year. A voyage sometimes lasted two years out and home, and cost, including the ship, over L4000. But the freight might amount to L150,000. Between 1497 and 1612 the number of vessels engaged in the India trade was 806. Of these, ninety-six were lost. After the annexation by Philip II, Lisbon was closed to countries at war with Spain. Dutch and English had to make their own bargains in the East, and treated Portugal as an enemy. Their empire declined rapidly, and the Dutch acquired the islands long before the English succeeded on the mainland of India.

The Portuguese acknowledged no obligations of international law towards Asiatics. Even now, many people know of no law of nations but that which consists in contracts and conventions; and with the people of the East there were none. They were regarded as outlaws and outcasts, nearly as Bacon regarded the Spaniards and Edmund Burke the Turks. Solemn instruments had declared it lawful to expropriate and enslave Saracens and other enemies of Christ. What was right in Africa could not be wrong in Asia. Cabral had orders to treat with fire and sword any town that refused to admit either missionary or merchant. Barros, the classic historian of Portuguese Asia, says that Christians have no duties towards pagans; and their best writers affirm to this day that such calculated barbarities as they inflicted on women and children were justified by the necessity of striking terror. In the Commentaries of the great Albuquerque, his son relates with complacency how his father caused the Zamorin to be poisoned. These theories demoralised the entire government. S. Francis Xavier, who came out in 1542, found an organised system of dishonesty and plunder, and wrote home that no official in India could save his soul. By him and his brethren many converts were made, and as intermarriages were frequent, the estrangement grew less between the races. Just then, the Inquisition was introduced into Portugal, and sent a branch to Goa. One of the governors afterwards reported that it had helped to alienate the natives, whose temples were closed. But the solid structure of Almeida and Albuquerque was strong enough to defeat a second expedition from Egypt, after Egypt had become a province of Turkey, and an Indian war and insurrection. It declined with the decline of Portugal under Sebastian, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, but it perished through its association with Spain, at the hands of enemies not its own, and not from internal causes.

While the Asiatic empire was built up by the sustained and patient effort of a nation, during seventy years, the discovery of the West was due to one eager and original intellect, propelled by medieval dreams. Columbus had sailed both North and South; but the idea which changed the axis of the globe came to him from books. He failed to draw an inference favourable to his design from the driftwood which a tropical current carries to Iceland, and proceeded on the assurance of Pierre d'Ailly and of Toscanelli, that Asia reaches so far east as to leave but a moderate interval between Portugal and Japan. Although he rested his case on arguments from the classics and the prophets, his main authority was Toscanelli; but it is uncertain whether, as he affirmed, they had been in direct correspondence, or whether Columbus obtained the letter and the Chart of 1474 by means which were the cause of his disgrace.

Rejected by Portugal, he made his way into Spain. He was found, starving, at the gate of a Franciscan convent; and the place where he sank down is marked by a monument, because it is there that our modern world began. The friar who took him in and listened to his story soon perceived that this ragged mendicant was the most extraordinary person he had known, and he found him patrons at the court of Castile. The argument which Columbus now laid before the learned men of Spain was this: The eastern route, even if the Portuguese succeed in finding it, would be of no use to them, as the voyage to Cipango, to Cathay, even to the spice islands, would be too long for profit. It was better to sail out into the West, for that route would be scarcely 3000 miles to the extremity of Asia; the other would be 15,000, apart from the tremendous circuit of Africa, the extent of which was ascertained by Diaz while Columbus was pursuing his uphill struggle. The basis of the entire calculation was that the circumference of the earth is 18,000 miles at the equator, and that Asia begins, as is shown in Toscanelli's chart, somewhere about California. Misled by his belief in cosmographers, he blotted out the Pacific, and estimated the extent of water to be traversed at one-third of the reality. The Spaniards, who were consulted, pointed out the flaw, for the true dimensions were known; but they were unable to demonstrate the truths against the great authorities cited on the other side. The sophisms of Columbus were worth more than all the science of Salamanca. The objectors who called him a visionary were in the right, and he was obstinately wrong. To his auspicious persistency in error Americans owe, among other things, their existence.

A majority reported favourably—a majority composed, it would appear, of ignorant men. Years were spent in these preliminaries, and then the war with Granada absorbed the resources and the energies of the Crown. Columbus was present when the last Moorish king kissed the hand of Isabella, and he saw the cross raised over the Alhambra. This victory of Christendom was immediately followed by the expulsion of the Jews, and then the Catholic queen gave audience to the Genoese projector. His scheme belonged to the same order of ideas, and he was eloquent on its religious aspect. He would make so many slaves as to cover all expenses, and would have them baptized. He would bring home gold enough in three years to reconquer Palestine. He had one impressive argument which was not suggested by the situation at Court. Toscanelli had been at Rome when envoys came from the Grand Khan, petitioning for missionaries to instruct his people in the doctrines of Christianity. Two such embassies were sent, but their prayer was not attended to. Here were suppliants calling out of the darkness: Come over and help us. It was suitable that the nation which conquered the Moslem and banished the Jews should go on to convert the heathen. The Spaniards would appear in the East, knowing that their presence was desired. In reality they would come in answer to an invitation, and might look for a welcome. Making up by their zeal for the deficient enterprise of Rome, they might rescue the teeming millions of Farthest Asia, and thus fulfil prophecy, as there were only a hundred and fifty-five years to the end of the world. The conversion of Tartary would be the crowning glory of Catholic Spain.

All this was somewhat hypothetical and vague; but nothing could be more definite than the reward which he demanded. For it appeared that what this forlorn adventurer required for himself was to be admiral of the Atlantic, ranking with the constable of Castile, Viceroy with power of life and death, in the regions to be occupied, and a large proportion of the intended spoil. And he would accept no less. None divined what he himself knew not, that the thing he offered in return was dominion over half the world. Therefore, when he found that this would not do, Columbus saddled his mule and took the road to France. In that superb moment he showed what man he was, and the action was more convincing than his words had been. An Aragonese official, Santangel, found the money, the L1500 required for the expedition, and the traveller was overtaken by an alguazil a couple of leagues away, and recalled to Granada. Santangel was, by descent, a Jew. Several of his kindred suffered under the Inquisition, before and after, and he fortified himself against the peril of the hour when he financed the first voyage of Columbus. Granada fell on the 2nd of January 1492. The Jews were expelled on the 10th of March. On the 17th of April the contract with Columbus was signed at Santa Fe. The same crusading spirit, the same motive of militant propagandism, appears in each of the three transactions. And the explorer, at this early stage, was generally backed by the clergy. Juan Perez, the hospitable Franciscan, was his friend; and Mendoza, the great cardinal of Toledo, and Deza, afterwards Archbishop of Seville. Talavera, the Archbishop of Granada, found him too fanciful to be trusted.

Sailing due west from the Canaries he crossed the Atlantic in its widest part. The navigation was prosperous and uneventful until, changing their course to follow the flight of birds, they missed the continent and came upon the islands. It was the longest voyage that had ever been attempted in the open sea; but the passage itself, and the shoals and currents of the West Indies, were mastered with the aid of nautical instruments from Nuremberg, and of the Ephemerides of Regiomontanus. These were recent achievements of the Renaissance, and without them the undertaking was impossible. Even with the new appliances, Columbus was habitually wrong in his measurements. He put Cuba 18 degrees too far to the west; he thought San Domingo as large as Spain; and he saw mountains 50,000 feet high in Yucatan. Indeed, he protested that his success was not due to science, but to the study of the prophet Isaiah. Above all things, he insisted that Cuba was part of the Asiatic continent, and obliged his companions to testify to the same belief, although there is evidence that he did not share it.

He had promised Cathay. If he produced an unknown continent instead, a continent many thousands of miles long, prohibiting approach to Cathay, he would undo his own work; the peasants who had exposed his fallacies would triumph in his failure, and the competing Portuguese would appropriate all that he had undertaken to add to the crown of Castile. Without civilisation and gold his discoveries would be valueless; and there was so little gold at first that he at once proposed to make up for it in slaves. His constant endeavour was not to be mistaken for the man who discovered the new world. Somewhere in the near background he still beheld the city with the hundred bridges, the crowded bazaar, the long train of caparisoned elephants, the palace with the pavement of solid gold. Naked savages skulking in the forest, marked down by voracious cannibals along the causeway of the Lesser Antilles, were no distraction from the quest of the Grand Khan. The facts before him were uninteresting and provisional, and were overshadowed by the phantoms that crowded his mind. The contrast between the gorgeous and entrancing vision and the dismal and desperate reality made the position a false one. He went on seeking gold when it was needful to govern, and proved an incapable administrator. Long before his final voyage he had fallen into discredit, and he died in obscurity.

Many miserable years passed after his death before America began, through Cortez, to weigh perceptibly in the scales of Europe. Landing at Lisbon from his first expedition, Columbus, in all his glory, had an audience of the king. It was six years since Diaz proved that the sea route to India was perfectly open, but no European had since set eyes on the place where Table Mountain looks down on the tormented Cape. Portugal apparently had renounced the fruits of his discovery. It was now reported that a Spanish crew had found in the West what the Portuguese had been seeking in the East, and that the Papal privilege had been infringed. The king informed Columbus that the regions he had visited belonged to Portugal. It was evident that some limit must be drawn separating the respective spheres. Rome had forbidden Spain from interfering with the expeditions of Portugal, and the Spaniards accordingly demanded a like protection. On the surface, there was no real difficulty. Three Bulls were issued in 1493, two in May and one in September, admonishing Portuguese mariners to keep to the east of a line drawn about 35 degrees west of Greenwich. That line of demarcation was suggested by Columbus, as corresponding with a point he had reached on 13th September, 100 leagues beyond the Azores. On that day the needle, which had pointed east of the Pole, shifted suddenly to the west. There, he reckoned, was the line of No Variation. At that moment, the climate changed. There was a smooth sea and a balmy air; there was a new heaven and a new earth. The fantastic argument did not prevail, and in the following year Spain and Portugal agreed, by the treaty of Tordesillas, to move the dividing meridian farther west, about midway between the most westerly island of the Old World and the most easterly island of the New. By this agreement, superseding the Papal award, Portugal obtained Brazil. When the lines of demarcation were drawn in 1493 and 1494, nobody knew where they would cut the equator on the other side of the globe. There also was matter for later negotiation.

After the fall of Malacca, Albuquerque sent a squadron to examine the region of islands farther east. One of his officers, Serrano, remained out there, and after as many adventures as Robinson Crusoe, he found his way to the very heart of the Moluccas, to Ternate, the home of the clove. In describing his travels to a friend, he made the most of the distance traversed in his eastward course. Magellan, to whom the letter was addressed, was out of favour with his commander Albuquerque, and on his return home found that he was out of favour with King Emmanuel. For the country which had repelled Columbus repelled the only navigator who was superior to Columbus. Magellan remembered Serrano's letter, and saw what could be made of it. He told the Spaniards that the spice islands were so far east that they were in the Spanish hemisphere, and he undertook to occupy them for Spain. He would sail, not east, but west, in the direction which was legally Spanish. For he knew a course that no man knew, and America, hitherto the limit of Spanish enterprise, would be no obstacle to him.

It seemed an apparition of Columbus, more definite and rational, without enthusiasm or idealism, or quotations from Roger Bacon, and Seneca, and the greater prophets. Cardinal Adrian, the Regent, refused to listen, but Fonseca, the President of the Board of Control, became his protector. Magellan wanted a good deal of protection; for his adventure was injurious to his countrymen, and was regarded by them as the intrigue of a traitor. Vasconcellos, Bishop of Lamego, afterwards Archbishop of Lisbon, advised that he should be murdered; and at night he was guarded in the streets of Valladolid by Fonseca's men. Magellan was not the first to believe that America comes to an end somewhere. Vespucci had guessed it; the extremity is marked on a globe of 1515; and a mercantile house that advanced funds is supposed to have been on the track.

Without a chart Magellan made his way through the perilous straits that perpetuate his name in twelve days' sailing. Drake, who came next, in 1577, took seventeen days, and Wallis, one hundred and sixteen. And then, at Cape Deseado, the unbroken highway to the fabled East, which had been closed against Columbus, opened before him. The Spaniards discovered Cape Horn five years later, but it was doubled for the first time in 1616 by the Dutchman who gave his name to it. From the coast of Chili, Magellan sailed north-west for three months, missing all the Pacific Islands until he came to the Ladrones. He was killed while annexing the Philippines to the Crown of Spain, and his lieutenant Delcano, the first circumnavigator, brought the remnant of his crew home by the Cape. On 9th September, 1522, thirteen wasted pilgrims passed barefoot in procession through the streets of Seville, not so much in thanksgiving for that which had not been given to man since the Creation, as in penance for having mysteriously lost a day, and kept their feasts and fasts all wrong. Magellan's acquisition of the Philippines lasted to the present year (1899), but his design on the Moluccas was given up. Nobody knew, until the voyage of Dampier, to whom, by the accepted boundary, they belonged; and in 1529 Spain abandoned its claim for 350,000 ducats. The Portuguese paid that price for what was by right their own; for Magellan was entirely wrong both as to the meridian and as to the South American route, which was much the longest, and was not followed by sailors.

For more than twenty years Spain struggled vainly with the West Indian problem. Four large islands and forty small ones, peopled by barbarians, were beyond the range of Spanish experience in the art of government. Grants of land were made, with the condition that the holder should exercise a paternal rule over the thriftless inhabitants. It was thought to pay better to keep them underground, digging for gold, than to employ them on the surface. The mortality was overwhelming; but the victims awakened little sympathy. Some belonged to that Arcadian race that was the first revealed by the landfall of Columbus, and they were considered incurably indolent and vicious. The remainder came from the mainland and the region of the Orinoco, and had made their way by the Windward Islands as far as San Domingo, devouring the people they found there. Neither the stronger nor the weaker race withstood the exhausting labour to which they were put by taskmasters eager for gold. Entire villages committed suicide together; and the Spaniards favoured a mode of correction which consisted in burning Indians alive by a slow fire. Las Casas, who makes these statements, and who may be trusted for facts and not for figures, affirms that fifty millions perished in his time, and fifteen millions were put to death.

Without a fresh labour supply, the colony would be ruined. It was the office of the clergy to prove that this treatment of the natives was short-sighted and criminal, and their cause was taken up by the Dominican missionaries. In 1510 the preacher Montesino, taking for his text the words, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness," denounced the practice. Their mouthpiece with the Home Government, their immortal mouthpiece with posterity, is Las Casas, whose narrative is our authority. The government was anxious to preserve conquests that began to yield some profit. They appointed Commissions to advise, and followed sometimes one report, sometimes the other, taking generally the line of least resistance. The most important Commission of all, in which Las Casas asserted the duties of Christians and the rights of savages, against Sepulveda, who denied them, never came to a decision.

Failing the native supply, the Spaniards substituted negroes. The slaves forwarded by Columbus had been sent back with tokens of the queen's displeasure, and Ximenes would not permit the importation of Africans. But the traffic went on, and the Indies were saved. Under Charles V 1000 slaves were allotted to each of the four islands. It did not seem an intolerable wrong to rescue men from the devil-worshippers who mangled their victims on the Niger or the Congo. Las Casas himself was one of those who advised that the negro should be brought to the relief of the Carib, and he would have allotted twelve slaves to each settler. He survived half a century, lived to lament his error, and declared his repentance to the world. He repented from motives of humanity rather than from principle; his feelings were more sensitive than his conscience, and he resembled the imperious Parliaments of George III which upheld the slave trade until imaginations were steeped in the horrors of the middle passage.

The supreme moment in the conquest of America is the landing of Cortez at Vera Cruz in 1521. He was an insubordinate officer acting in defiance of orders, and the governor of Cuba, in just indignation, despatched a force under Narvaez to bring him back. Cortez came down from the interior to the coast, deprived Narvaez of his command, and took possession of his men. With this unexpected reinforcement he was able to conquer Mexico, the capital of an illimitable empire. There was plenty of hard fighting, for the dominant race about the king was warlike. They were invaders, who reigned by force, and as they worshipped beings of the nether world who were propitiated with human sacrifice, they took their victims from the subject people, and their tyranny was the most hateful upon earth. The Spaniards, coming as deliverers, easily found auxiliaries against the government that practised unholy rites in the royal city. When Mexico fell Cortez sent a report to Charles V, with the first-fruits of his victory. Then, that no protesting narrative might follow and weaken his own, that his men might have no hope except in his success, he took the most daring resolution of his life, and scuttled his ships. Fonseca had signed the order for his arrest, when the most marvellous tale in that sequence of marvels reached his hands, and the disgraced mutineer was found to have added to the Emperor's dominions a region many times vaster and wealthier than all he possessed in Europe. In 1522 the accumulated treasure which had been extracted from Mexican mines since the beginning of ages came pouring into the imperial exchequer, and the desire of so many explorers during thirty unprofitable years was fulfilled at last.

Cortez was not only the most heroic of the Conquistadors, for there was no lack of good soldiers, but he was an educated man, careful to import the plants and quadrupeds needed for civilisation, and a statesman capable of ruling mixed races without help from home. From the moment of his appearance the New World ceased to be a perplexing burden to Spain, and began to foreshadow danger and temptation to other nations. And a man immeasurably inferior to him, a man who could not write his name, whose career, in its glory and its shame, was a servile imitation, almost a parody, of his own, succeeded thereby in establishing a South American empire equal to that of Cortez in the North. One of the ships sailing from the islands to the isthmus carried a stowaway hidden in a cask, whose name was Balboa, and who discovered the Pacific.

The third name is Francisco Pizarro. He stood by and listened while a native described a mighty potentate, many days to the south, who reigned over the mountains and the sea, who was rich in gold, and who possessed a four-footed beast of burden, the only one yet encountered, which was taken at first for a camel. He waited many years for his opportunity. Then, with 168 armed men, and with aid from an associate who risked his money in the business, he started for the Andes and the civilised and prosperous monarchy in the clouds, which he had heard of when he was the lieutenant of Balboa. The example of Cortez, the fundamental fact of American history, had shown what could be done by getting hold of the king, and by taking advantage of internal dissension. How much could be accomplished by treachery and unflinching vigour Pizarro knew without a teacher. Whilst he established his power in the highlands under the equator, Almagro occupied the coast in the temperate zone, 1000 miles farther. Together they had conquered the Pacific. Then, as no man had the ascendency of Cortez, the time that succeeded the occupation was disturbed by internal conflict, in which both the conquerors perished. They had done even more for the Spanish empire than their greater rival. There were 4,600,000 ducats in the treasury of the Inca, and he filled his prison with gold as high as he could reach for the ransom which did not save his life. The mines were soon in working order; and, as the expanse of fertile soil was 3000 miles long, it was clear that Peru, added to Mexico, constituted an important factor in European finance.

As time carried away the tumult of conquest, and the evil generation that achieved it, Spanish America became the seat of such abundance and profusion as was not found in any European capital; and the natives, instructed and regulated by the missionaries, were the object of an elaborate protective legislation, which gave reason for attachment to the mother country. The prodigality of nature was too much for tropical society, and it accomplished nothing of its own for the mind of man. It influenced the position of classes in Europe by making property obtained from afar, in portable shape, predominate over property at home. Released from the retarding pressure of accumulated years, it developed towards revolution; and all the colonies founded by the Conquistadors on the continent of America became Republics. These events shifted the centre of political gravity from land to sea. The resources of the ocean world extended the physical basis of modern History; and increase of wealth, involving increase of power, depended thenceforward on the control of distant regions. Vasco da Gama created a broad channel for the pursuit of Empire, and Columbus remodelled the future of the world. For History is often made by energetic men, steadfastly following ideas, mostly wrong, that determine events.

Spain and India

In the words of Mr. Froude: “Before the sixteenth century had measured half its course the shadow of Spain already stretched beyond the Andes; from the mines of Peru and the custom-houses of Antwerp the golden rivers streamed into her imperial treasury; the crowns of Aragon and Castile, of Burgundy, Milan, Naples, and Sicily, clustered on the brow of her sovereigns.”[312] But with all their great martial qualities, the Spaniards seem to have been incapable of attaining the same velocity of movement as the races with which they had to compete. They never emerged from the imaginative period, they never developed the economic type, and in consequence they never centralized as the English centralized. Even as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century this peculiarity had been observed, for the Duke de Sully remarked that with Spain the “legs and arms are strong and powerful, but the heart infinitely weak and feeble.”

Captain Mahan has explained the military impotence of the mighty mass which, scattered over two continents, could not command the sea, and in the seventeenth century an intelligent Dutchman boasted that “the Spaniards have publicly begun to hire our ships to sail to the Indies.... It is manifest that the West Indies, being as the stomach to Spain (for from it nearly all the revenue is drawn), must be joined to the Spanish head by a sea force”;[313] and the glory of the Elizabethan sailors lay not only in having routed this sea force, but in having assimilated no small portion of the nutriment which the American stomach should have supplied to the Spanish heart.

As Spain lingered long in the imaginative age, the priest and soldier there reigned supreme after the mercantile and sceptical type had begun to predominate elsewhere; and the instinct of the priest and soldier has always been to exterminate their rivals when pressed by their competition. In the Spanish peninsula itself the Inquisition soon trampled out heresy, but by the middle of the sixteenth century the Low Countries were a hotbed of Protestantism, and in Flanders these opposing forces fought out their battle to the death. The war which ruined Antwerp made England.

In 1576 Antwerp was sacked and burned; in 1585 the town was reduced to starvation by the Duke of Parma, and its commerce having been scattered by successive disasters, some of it migrated to Amsterdam, and some sought shelter in the Thames. In London the modern man was protected by the sea, and the crisis of the combat came in 1588, when the Spaniards, having decided to pursue their enemy to his last stronghold, sent the Armada to perish in the Channel. With that supreme effort the vitality of the great imaginative empire began to fail, disintegration set in, and on the ruins of Spain rose the purely economic centralization of Great Britain.

Like the Venetians, the British laid the basis of their high fortune by piracy and slaving, and their advantage over Spain lay not in mass, but in a superior energy, which gave them more rapid movement. Drake's squadron, when he sailed round the world, numbered five ships, the largest measuring only one hundred and twenty tons, the smallest twelve, but with these he succeeded because of their speed. For example, he overtook the Cacafuego, whose ballast was silver, and whose cargo gold and jewels. He never disclosed her value, but the Spanish government afterward proved a loss of a million and a half of ducats, beside the property of private individuals. In like manner the Armada was destroyed by little ships, which sailed round their clumsy enemy, and disabled him before he could strike a blow in self-defence.

The Spanish wars were halcyon days for the men of martial blood who had lost their land; they took to the sea by thousands, and ravaged the Spanish colonies with the energy and ferocity of vikings. For nearly a generation they wallowed in gold and silver and gems, and in the plunder of the American towns. Among these men Sir Francis Drake stood foremost, but, after 1560, the southern counties swarmed with pirates; and when, in 1585, Drake sailed on his raid against the West Indies, he led a force of volunteers twenty-five hundred strong. He held no commission, the crews of his twenty-five ships served without pay, they went as buccaneers to fatten on the commerce of the Spaniard. As it happened, this particular expedition failed financially, for the treasure fleet escaped, and the plunder of the three cities of Santiago, Saint Domingo, and Carthagena yielded only £60,000, but the injury done to Spain was incalculable.

No computation can be attempted of the spoil taken during these years; no reports were ever made; on the contrary, all concerned were anxious to conceal their doings, but certain prizes were too dazzling to be hidden. When Drake surprised three caravans on the Isthmus, numbering one hundred and ninety mules, each mule loaded with three hundred pounds of silver, the fact became known. No wonder Drake ate off “silver richly gilt, and engraved with his arms,” that he had “all possible luxuries, even to perfumes,” that he dined and supped “to the music of violins,” and that he could bribe the queen with a diamond cross and a coronet set with splendid emeralds, and give the lord chancellor a service of plate. What he gave in secret he alone knew.

As Francis Drake was the ideal English corsair, so John Hawkins was the ideal slaver. The men were kinsmen, and of the breed which, when driven from their farms at the end of the Middle Ages, left their mark all over the world. Of course the two sailors were “gospellers,” and Mr. Froude has quoted an interesting passage from the manuscript of a contemporary Jesuit, which shows how their class was esteemed toward the close of the sixteenth century: “The only party that would fight to the death for the queen, the only real friends she had, were the Puritans, the Puritans of London, the Puritans of the sea towns.”[314] These the priest thought desperate and determined men. Nevertheless they sometimes provoked Elizabeth by their sermonizing. The story is told that one day after reading a letter of Hawkins to Burleigh she cried: “God's death! This fool went out a soldier, and has come back a divine.”

Though both Drake and Hawkins possessed the predatory temperament, Hawkins had a strong commercial instinct, and kept closely to trade. He was the son of old William Hawkins, the first British captain who ever visited Brazil, and who brought from thence a native chief, whom he presented to Henry VIII. As a young man John had discovered at the Canaries “that negroes were a very good commodity in Hispaniola,”[315] and that they might easily be taken on the coast of Guinea. Accordingly, in 1562, he fitted out three ships, touched at Sierra Leone, and “partly by the sword and partly by other means,” he obtained a cargo, “and with that prey he sailed over the ocean sea” to Hispaniola, where he sold his goods at a large profit. The West India Islands, and the countries bordering the Gulf of Mexico, cannot be cultivated profitably by white labourers; therefore, when the Spaniards had, by hard usage, partially exterminated the natives, a fresh supply of field hands became necessary, and these could be had easily and cheaply on the coast of Africa.

At first Spain tried to exclude foreigners from this most lucrative traffic; but here again the English moved too quickly to be stopped. Wherever Hawkins went, he went prepared to fight, and, if prevented from trading peaceably, he used force. In his first voyage he met with no opposition, but subsequently, at Burburata, leave to sell was denied him, and, without an instant's hesitation, he marched against the town with “a hundred men well armed,” and brought the governor to terms. Having supplied all the slaves needed at that port, Hawkins went on to Rio de la Hacha, where he, in like manner, made a demonstration with “one hundred men in armour,” and two small guns, and in ten days he had disposed of his whole stock.

As at that time an able negro appears to have been worth about £160 in the West Indies,[316] a cargo of five hundred ought to have netted between seventy and eighty thousand pounds, for the cost of kidnapping was trifling. No wonder, therefore, that slaving flourished, and that, by the middle of the eighteenth century, England probably carried not far from one hundred thousand blacks annually from Africa to the colonies. The East offered no such market, and doubtless Adam Smith was right in his opinion that the commerce with India had never been so advantageous as the trade to America.[317]

Both slavers and pirates brought bullion to England, and presently this flow of silver began to stimulate at London a certain amount of exchange between the East and West. The Orientals have always preferred payment in specie, and, as silver has usually offered more profit than gold as an export, the European with a surplus of silver has had the advantage over all competitors. Accordingly, until Spain lost the power to protect her communications with her mines, the Spanish peninsula enjoyed almost a monopoly of the trade beyond the Cape; but as the war went on, and more of the precious metal flowed to the north, England and Holland began to send their silver to Asia, the Dutch organizing one East India Company in 1595, and the British another in 1600.

Sir Josiah Child, who was, perhaps, the ablest merchant of the seventeenth century, observed that in 1545 “the trade of England then was inconsiderable, and the merchants very mean and few.”[318] Child's facts are beyond doubt, and the date he fixed is interesting because it coincides with the discovery of Potosi, whence most of the silver came which supplied the pirates and the slavers. Prior to 1545 specie had been scarce in London, but when the buccaneers had been scuttling treasure galleons for a generation, they found themselves possessed of enough specie to set them dreaming of India, and thus piracy laid the foundation of the British empire in Asia.

But robbing the Spaniards had another more immediate and more startling result, for it probably precipitated the civil war. As the city grew rich it chafed at the slow movement of the aristocracy, who, timid and peaceful, cramped it by closing the channels through which it reached the property of foreigners; and, just when the yeomanry were exasperated by rising rents, London began to glow with that energy which, when given vent, was destined to subdue so large a portion of the world. Perhaps it is not going too far to say that, even from the organization of the East India Company, the mercantile interest controlled England. Not that it could then rule alone, it lacked the power to do so for nearly a hundred years to come; but, after 1600, its weight turned the scale on which side soever thrown. Before the Long Parliament the merchants were generally Presbyterians or moderate Puritans; the farmers, Independents or Radicals; and Winthrop, when preparing for the emigration to Massachusetts, dealt not only with squires like Hampden, but with city magnates like Thomas Andrews, the lord mayor. This alliance between the rural and the urban Puritans carried through the Great Rebellion, and as their coalition crushed the monarchy so their separation reinstated it.

Macaulay has very aptly observed that “but for the hostility of the city, Charles the First would never have been vanquished, and that, without the help of the city, Charles the Second could scarcely have been restored.”[319] At the Protector's death the Presbyterians abandoned the farmers, probably because they feared them. The army of the Commonwealth swarmed with men like Cromwell and Blake, warriors resistless alike on land and sea, with whom, when organized, the city could not cope. Therefore it scattered them, and, throwing in its lot with the Cavaliers, set up the king.

For about a generation after the Restoration, no single interest had the force to impose its will upon the nation, or, in other words, parties were equally balanced; but from the middle of the century the tide flowed rapidly. Capital accumulated, and as it accumulated the men adapted to be its instruments grew to be the governing class. Sir Josiah Child is the most interesting figure of this period. His acquaintance remembered him a poor apprentice sweeping the counting-house where he worked; and yet, at fifty, his fortune reached £20,000 a year, a sum almost equal to the rent-roll of the Duke of Ormond, the richest peer of the realm. Child married his daughter to the eldest son of the Duke of Beaufort, and gave her £50,000, and his ability was so commanding that for years he absolutely ruled the East India Company, and used its revenues to corrupt Parliament. On matters of finance such a man would hardly err, and he gave it as his opinion that in 1635 “there were more merchants to be found upon the Exchange worth each one thousand pounds and upwards, than were in the former days, viz., before the year 1600, to be found worth one hundred pounds each.”

“And now ... there are more men to be found upon the Exchange now worth ten thousand pounds estates, than were then of one thousand pounds. And if this be doubted, let us ask the aged, whether five hundred pounds portion with a daughter sixty years ago, were not esteemed a larger portion than two thousand pounds is now; and whether gentlewomen in those days would not esteem themselves well clothed in a serge gown, which a chambermaid now will be ashamed to be seen in.... We have now almost one hundred coaches for one we had formerly. We with ease can pay a greater tax now in one year than our forefathers could in twenty. Our customs are very much improved, I believe above the proportion aforesaid, of six to one; which is not so much in advance of the rates of goods as by increase of the bulk of trade....

“I can myself remember since there were not in London used so many wharves or keys for the landing of merchants' goods, by at least one third part, as now there are, and those that were then could scarce have employment for half what they could do; and now, notwithstanding one-third more used to the same purpose, they are all too little, in time of peace, to land the goods at, that come to London.”[320]

Child estimated that, within twenty years, wages had risen one-third, and rents twenty-five per cent, while “houses new-built in London yield twice the rent they did before the fire.”[321] Farms that “their grandfathers or fathers bought or sold fifty years past ... would yield, one with another, at least treble the money, and in some cases, six times the money, they were then bought and sold for.”[322] Macaulay has estimated the population of London in 1685 at half a million, and believed it to have then become the largest city in Europe.

The aristocracy were forced to tolerate men of the predatory type while they feared a Spanish invasion, but after the defeat of the Armada these warriors became dangerous at home, and the oligarchy, very naturally, tried to purge the island of a class which constantly menaced their authority. Persecution drove numbers of Nonconformists to America, and the story of Captain John Smith shows how hardly society then pressed on the race of adventurers, even where the bitterness of the struggle did not produce religious enthusiasm.

Smith lived a generation too late. Born in 1579, he was a child of nine when the Armada perished, and only sixteen when Drake and Hawkins died at sea. Smith's father had property, but when left an orphan his guardians neglected him, and at fifteen let him set out on his travels with only ten shillings in his pocket. At home no career was open to him, for the Cecils rather inclined to imprison and behead soldiers of fortune than to reward them. Accordingly he went abroad, and by twenty-five had seen service in most countries of the Continent, had been enslaved by the Turks, had escaped and wandered to Barbary, had fought the Spanish on a French man-of-war, and at last had learned that the dreams of his youth belonged to a past age, and that he must enter a new path. He therefore joined himself to a party bound for Virginia, and the hardship of the times may be gauged by the fact that out of a company of a hundred, fifty-two were gentlemen adventurers as needy as himself, none of whom sought exile for religion.

Smith's voyages to America brought him nothing but bitterness. He returned to England and passed his last years in obscurity and neglect, and perhaps the fate that awaited soldiers under James, has been nowhere better told than in Smith's own words. He spent five years and more than five hundred pounds in the service of Virginia and New England, yet “in neither ... have I one foot of land, nor the very house I builded, nor the ground I digged with my own hands, nor ever any content or satisfaction at all, and though I see ordinarily those two countries shared before me by them that neither have them, nor know them but by my descriptions.”[323]

As long as the Tudor aristocracy ruled, Great Britain afforded small comfort for men like Smith. That aristocracy had genius neither for adventure nor for war, and few Western nations have a sorrier military history than England under the Stuarts. Yet beneath the inert mass of the nobility seethed an energy which was to recentralize the world; and when capital had accumulated to a certain point, the men who gave it an outlet laid their grasp upon the State. In 1688 the commercial adventurers conquered the kingdom.

The change was radical; at once social, political, and religious. The stronghold of the Tories had been the royal prerogative. The victors lodged the power of the Crown in a committee chosen by the House of Commons. The dogma of divine right immediately vanished, and with it all that distinguished Anglicanism. Though perverted by the Tudors, this great tenet of the Church of Henry VIII. had been at least a survival of an imaginative age; and when the merchants swept it away, all trace of idealism departed. Thenceforward English civilization became a purely materialistic phenomenon.

In proportion as movement accelerates societies consolidate, and as societies consolidate they pass through a profound intellectual change. Energy ceases to find vent through the imagination, and takes the form of capital; hence as civilizations advance, the imaginative temperament tends to disappear, while the economic instinct is fostered, and thus substantially new varieties of men come to possess the world.

Nothing so portentous overhangs humanity as this mysterious and relentless acceleration of movement, which changes methods of competition and alters paths of trade; for by it countless millions of men and women are foredoomed to happiness or misery, as certainly as the beasts and trees, which have flourished in the wilderness, are destined to vanish when the soil is subdued by man.

The Romans amassed the treasure by which they administered their Empire, through the plunder and enslavement of the world. The Empire cemented by that treasure crumbled when adverse exchanges carried the bullion of Italy to the shore of the Bosphorus. An accelerated movement among the semi-barbarians of the West caused the agony of the crusades, amidst which Constantinople fell as the Italian cities rose; while Venice and Genoa, and with them the whole Arabic civilization, shrivelled, when Portugal established direct communication with Hindostan.

The opening of the ocean as a highroad precipitated the Reformation, and built up Antwerp, while in the end it ruined Spain; and finally the last great quickening of the age of steam, which centralized the world at London, bathed the earth in blood, from the Mississippi to the Ganges. Thus religions are preached and are forgotten, empires rise and fall, philosophies are born and die, art and poetry bloom and fade, as societies pass from the disintegration wherein the imagination kindles, to the consolidation whose pressure ends in death.

In 1688, when the momentum of England suddenly increased, the change was equivalent to the conquest of the island by a new race. Among the family of European nations, Great Britain rose as no people had risen since the Punic Wars. Almost instantly she entered on a career of conquest unparalleled in modern history. Of the hundred and twenty-five years between the Boyne and Waterloo, she passed some seventy in waging ferocious wars, from which she emerged victorious on land and sea, the mistress of a mighty empire, the owner of incalculable wealth, and the centre of the world's exchanges. Then, from this culminating point of expansion by conquest, she glided subtly, and almost imperceptibly, into the period of contraction, as Rome went before her under the Cæsars.

Although abundant metallic currency does not, probably, of itself, create mercantile prosperity, such prosperity is hardly compatible with a shrinking stock of money; for when contraction sets in and prices fall, producers and debtors are ruined, as they were ruined in Italy under the later emperors. Toward the close of the seventeenth century Europe appeared to be on the brink of such a contraction, for though Peru had lavishly replenished the supply of the precious metals a hundred years previously, the drain to Asia and the increasing demands of commerce had been so considerable, that the standard coin had generally depreciated. From the reign of Augustus downward, commerce between Europe and Asia has usually favoured Asia, and this was particularly true of the seventeenth century, when the value of bullion fell in the West, and therefore encouraged lavish exports to the East, where it retained its purchasing power. According to Adam Smith, “the banks of Venice, Genoa, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Nuremberg, seem to have been all originally established” to provide an ideal currency for the settlement of bills of exchange, and the money “of such banks, being better than the common currency of the country, necessarily bore an agio, which was greater or smaller, according as the currency was supposed to be more or less degraded below the standard of the State.”[324] Smith estimated the depreciation at Hamburg at fourteen per cent, and at Amsterdam, early in the previous century, at nine per cent; in short, all European countries suffered, but in England the evil reached a climax through the inertia of the new aristocracy.

In England, silver had always been the standard, and by the third year of Elizabeth the coin had been restored to its proper fineness, which thenceforward was scrupulously maintained. But though the metal was not degraded by the government, the stock of bullion, if not constantly replenished from without, tended to diminish in proportion to the growth of the country and the export of specie to Asia. After the discovery of America, the value of silver in relation to gold fell, in Europe, to about fourteen or fifteen to one, while in China or India it stood pretty steady at from ten to twelve to one. Consequently from 1600 downward, silver remained the most profitable cargo which could be sent round the Cape of Good Hope, and, unhappily for British prosperity, at the very moment when the East India Company came into being, piracy ceased. The chief supply of bullion being thus cut off, the strain of the export trade fell upon the coin, and within a little more than a generation the effect become apparent in a degeneration of the currency.

To make good her position as a centre of exchanges, England had no choice but to supply her necessities by force. Cromwell understood the situation perfectly, and had hardly assumed the office of Protector when he laid plans to cut the evil at the root by conquering Spanish America, and robbing Spain of her mines. To this end he fitted out his great expedition against Saint Domingo, which was to serve him as his base; but for once his military genius failed him, his commanders blundered, the attack miscarried, and the island of Jamaica was all that came of the campaign.

Meanwhile, however, that no time might be lost while fighting for the mines themselves, Cromwell sent Blake to intercept the treasure ships off the coast of Spain. At first Blake also had ill-luck. In 1655 the plate fleet escaped him, but the next year, though forced himself to go to port for supplies, he detached Captain Stayner, with six sail, to cruise off Cadiz, and on September 19, General Montague was able to report that his “hart [was] very much warmed with the apprehension of the singular providence of God,” who had permitted Stayner to meet, “with the Kinge of Spain's West India fleete,” and take among other prizes “a gallion reported to have in her two million pieces of plate.”[325] If the “plate” were Mexican “pieces of eight” at four shillings and sixpence, the cargo was worth £450,000, or considerably more than the whole annual export to the East at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Had the Protector lived, there can be little doubt that, by some such means as this, he would have fostered British resources, and maintained the integrity of British coin; but in less than two years from the date of Montague's dispatch, Cromwell was dead, and the inertia of the Tory landlords paralyzed the nation for another generation. No foreigner was robbed, and the stock of domestic silver dwindled from year to year, until at the Revolution the golden guinea, which, from its first issue in 1662 down to the accession of William and Mary, had been nominally current for twenty shillings, actually sold in the market for thirty shillings of the money in use.

“This diminishing and counterfeiting the money was at this time so excessive, that what was good silver was worth scarcely one-half of its current value, whilst a great part of the coins was only iron, brass, or copper plated, and some no more than washed over.”[326]

One of the first acts of the new government was a complete recoinage, which was finished in 1699; but the measure failed of its purpose, for the reason that the exports of silver regularly exceeded the imports.

In 1717, a committee of the House of Lords considered the condition of the currency, and Lord Stanhope then explained very lucidly the cause of the scarcity of silver. Among other papers he produced a report from the Custom House, by which it appeared that, in the year 1717, “the East India Company had exported near three million ounces of silver, which far exceeding the imports of the bullion in that year, it necessarily followed that vast quantities of silver specie must have been melted down, both to make up the export, and to supply the silversmith.”[327] For the decade from 1711 to 1720 the annual export of bullion by the East India Company averaged £434,000.[328] At the accession of George III., in 1760, Lord Liverpool estimated that shillings had lost one-sixth, and sixpences one-quarter of their original weight, while the crown-piece had almost wholly disappeared.[329] Even Adam Smith admitted that because of this outflow silver had risen in value, and probably purchased “a larger quantity both of labour and commodities” than it otherwise would.[330]

In this emergency the British merchants showed the resource which has always been their characteristic, and, in default of an adequate supply of specie, relieved the strain upon their currency by issuing paper. Mediæval banking had gone no further than the establishment of reserves of coin, to serve as a medium for clearing bills of exchange; the English took the great step of accelerating the circulation of their money, by using this reserve as a basis for a paper currency which might be largely expanded. The Bank of England was incorporated in 1694, the Bank of Scotland in 1695, and the effect was unquestionably considerable. Adam Smith has thus described the impetus received by Glasgow:—

“The effects of it have been precisely those above described. The business of the country is almost entirely carried on by means of the paper of those different banking companies, with which purchases and payments of all kinds are commonly made. Silver very seldom appears except in the change of a twenty shillings bank note, and gold still seldomer. But though the conduct of all those different companies has not been unexceptionable ... the country, notwithstanding, has evidently derived great benefit from their trade. I have heard it asserted, that the trade of the city of Glasgow doubled in about fifteen years after the first erection of the banks there; and that the trade of Scotland has more than quadrupled since the first erection of the two public banks at Edinburgh.”[331]

But although by this means a certain degree of relief was given, and though prices rose slowly throughout the first half of the eighteenth century, the fundamental difficulty remained. There was insufficient silver for export, exchanges were adverse, and that stock of coined money was lacking which is the form in which force clothes itself in highly centralized communities. How England finally supplied her needs is one of the most dramatic pages of history.

As Jevons has aptly observed, Asia is “the great reservoir and sink of the precious metals.” From time immemorial the Oriental custom has been to hoard, and from the Mogul blazing with the diamonds of Golconda, to the peasant starving on his wretched pittance, every Hindoo had, in former days, a treasure stored away against a day of trouble. Year by year, since Pizarro had murdered the Inca Atahualpa for his gold, a stream of bullion had flowed from America to Europe, and from Europe to the East: there it had vanished as completely as though once more buried in the bowels of the mine. These hoards, the savings of millions of human beings for centuries, the English seized and took to London, as the Romans had taken the spoil of Greece and Pontus to Italy. What the value of the treasure was, no man can estimate, but it must have been many millions of pounds—a vast sum in proportion to the stock of the precious metals then owned by Europeans. Some faint idea of the booty of the conqueror may be drawn from Macaulay's description of the first visit of an English soldier to an Oriental treasure chamber:—

“As to Clive, there was no limit to his acquisitions but his own moderation. The treasury of Bengal was thrown open to him. There were piled up, after the usage of Indian princes, immense masses of coin, among which might not seldom be detected the florins and byzants with which, before any European ship had turned the Cape of Good Hope, the Venetians purchased the stuffs and spices of the East. Clive walked between heaps of gold and silver, crowned with rubies and diamonds, and was at liberty to help himself.”[332]

The lives of few men are better known than those of Clive and Hastings, and yet there are few whose influence upon the fate of mankind has had such scant appreciation. It is not too much to say that the destiny of Europe hinged upon the conquest of Bengal. Robert Clive was of the same stock as Drake and Hawkins, Raleigh, Blake, and Cromwell; he was the eldest son of one of those small farmers whose ancestors had held their land ever since the Conquest, and who, when at last evicted and driven out to sea, had fought and conquered on every continent and on every ocean. Among the throng of great English adventurers none is greater than he.

He was born in 1725, and from childhood displayed those qualities which made him pre-eminent on the field of battle; fighting was his delight, and so fierce was his temper that his family could not control him. At last, when eighteen, his father gladly sent him to Madras as a clerk in the service of the East India Company; and there, in a torrid climate which shattered his health, poor and neglected, lonely and forlorn, he pined, until in melancholy he twice attempted suicide. But he was destined to found an empire, and at last his hour came.

When Clive went to India, the Company was still a purely commercial concern, holding only the land needed for its warehouses, and having in their pay a few ill-disciplined sepoys. In the year 1746, when Clive was twenty-one, the war of the Austrian Succession was raging, and suddenly a French fleet, commanded by Labourdonnais, appeared off Madras, and attacked Fort Saint George. Resistance was hopeless, the place surrendered, and the governor and chief inhabitants were taken to Pondicherry. Clive, however, managed to escape, and, volunteering, received an ensign's commission, and began his military career.

Shortly after, peace was made in Europe, but in India the issue of the struggle lay undecided between the French and English, the prize being the peninsula. Dupleix, the French governor of Pondicherry, was a man of commanding intellect, who first saw the possibility of constructing a European empire in Hindostan by controlling native princes. Following up his idea, he mixed in a war of succession, and having succeeded in establishing a sovereign of the Deccan, he made himself master of Southern India. The Nizam's treasure was thrown open to him, and beside many jewels of price, he is said to have appropriated two hundred thousand pounds in coin. This was the man whom Clive, when only a clerk of twenty-five, without military education or experience, attacked and overthrew.

Clive began his campaigns by the capture and defence of Arcot, one of the most daring deeds of a generation given over to perpetual war. Aided by their native allies, the French had laid siege to Trichinopoly, and Clive represented to his superiors that with the fate of Trichinopoly was bound up the fate of the whole peninsula. He recommended making a diversion by assaulting Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic; his plan met with approval, and, with two hundred Europeans and three hundred sepoys, he marched to fight the greatest power in the East. He succeeded in surprising and occupying the town without loss, but when within the city his real peril began. Arcot had neither ditches nor defensible ramparts, the English were short of provisions, and the Nabob hurried forward ten thousand men to relieve his capital. With four officers, one hundred and twenty British, and two hundred sepoys, Clive held the town for fifty days, and when the enemy assaulted for the last time he served his own guns. He won a decisive victory, and from that hour was recognized as among the most brilliant officers of the world.

Other campaigns followed, but his health, undermined by the tropics, gave way, and at twenty-seven he returned home to squander his money and contest an election to Parliament. He soon reached the end of his resources, and, just before the opening of the Seven Years' War, he accepted a lieutenant-colonel's commission, and set sail to take command in Hindostan. The Company appointed him governor of Fort Saint David, a settlement near Madras; but he had hardly assumed his office before an event occurred which caused the conquest of Bengal. The Nabob of Bengal captured Calcutta, and imprisoned one hundred and forty-six of the English residents in the “Black Hole,” where, in a single night, one hundred and twenty-three perished.

Clive was summoned, and acted with his usual vigour. He routed the Nabob's army, recovered Calcutta, and would have taken vengeance at once had not the civilians, who wanted to be restored to their places, interfered.

Long and tortuous negotiations followed, in which Clive displayed more than Oriental cunning and duplicity, ending in a march into the interior and the battle of Plassey. There, with one thousand English and two thousand sepoys, he met and crushed the army of the Nabob, sixty thousand strong. On June 23, 1757, one of the richest provinces of Asia lay before him defenceless, ripe for plunder. Eight hundred thousand pounds were sent down the Hooghly to Calcutta, in one shipment; Clive himself took between two and three hundred thousand pounds.

Like Drake and Hawkins, Clive had done great things for England, but he was a military adventurer, one of the class in whom the aristocracy recognized an enemy; and though in London he was treated with outward respect, and even given an Irish peerage, the landed interest hated him, and tried to destroy him, as in the next generation it tried to destroy Hastings.

Upon the plundering of India there can be no better authority than Macaulay, who held high office at Calcutta when the administration of Hastings was still remembered; and who less than any of the writers who have followed him, was a mouth-piece of the official class.[333] He has told how after Plassey “the shower of wealth” began to fall, and he has described Clive's own gains: “We may safely affirm that no Englishman who started with nothing has ever, in any line of life, created such a fortune at the early age of thirty-four.”[334] But the takings of Clive, either for himself or for the government, were trifling compared to the wholesale robbery and spoliation which followed his departure, when Bengal was surrendered a helpless prey to a myriad of greedy officials. These officials were absolute, irresponsible, and rapacious, and they emptied the private hoards. Their only thought was to wring some hundreds of thousands of pounds out of the natives as quickly as possible, and hurry home to display their wealth.

“Enormous fortunes were thus rapidly accumulated at Calcutta, while thirty millions of human beings were reduced to the extremity of wretchedness.” “The misgovernment of the English was carried to a point such as seems hardly compatible with the very existence of society. The Roman proconsul, who, in a year or two, squeezed out of a province the means of rearing marble palaces and baths on the shores of Campania, of drinking from amber, of feasting on singing birds, of exhibiting armies of gladiators and flocks of camelopards; the Spanish viceroy, who, leaving behind him the curses of Mexico or Lima, entered Madrid with a long train of gilded coaches, and of sumpter-horses trapped and shod with silver, were now outdone.”[335]

Thus treasure in oceans flowed into England through private hands, but in India the affairs of the Company went from bad to worse. Misgovernment impoverished the people, the savings of long years of toil were exhausted, and when, in 1770, a drought brought famine, the resources of the people failed, and they perished by millions: “the very streets of Calcutta were blocked up by the dying and the dead.” Then came an outbreak of wrath from disappointed stockholders; the landed interest seized its opportunity to attack Clive in Parliament; and the merchants chose Hastings to develop the resources of Hindostan.

As Sheridan said, the Company “extended the sordid principles of their origin over all their successive operations; connecting with their civil policy, and even with their boldest achievements, the meanness of a pedlar and the profligacy of pirates.” In Hastings the Company found a man fitted to their hands, a statesman worthy to organize a vast empire on an economic basis. Able, bold, cool, and relentless, he grasped the situation at a glance, and never faltered in his purpose. If more treasure was to be wrung from the natives, force had to be used systematically. Though Bengal might be ruined, the hoards of the neighbouring potentates remained safe, and these Hastings deliberately set himself to drain. Macaulay has explained the policy and the motives which actuated him:—

“The object of his diplomacy was at this time simply to get money. The finances of his government were in an embarrassed state, and this embarrassment he was determined to relieve by some means, fair or foul. The principle which directed all his dealings with his neighbours is fully expressed by the old motto of one of the great predatory families of Teviotdale, ‘Thou shalt want ere I want.' He seems to have laid it down, as a fundamental proposition which could not be disputed, that, when he had not as many lacs of rupees as the public service required, he was to take them from anybody who had. One thing, indeed, is to be said in excuse for him. The pressure applied to him by his employers at home, was such as only the highest virtue could have withstood, such as left him no choice except to commit great wrongs, or to resign his high post, and with that post all his hopes of fortune and distinction.”[336]

How he obtained his money, the pledges he violated, and the blood he spilt, is known as few passages of history are known, for the story has been told by Macaulay and by Burke. How he robbed the Nabob of Bengal of half the income the Company had solemnly promised to pay, how he repudiated the revenue which the government had covenanted to yield to the Mogul as a tribute for provinces ceded them, and how, in consideration of four hundred thousand pounds, he sent a brigade to slaughter the Rohillas, and placidly saw “their villages burned, their children butchered, and their women violated,” has been described in one of the most popular essays in the language. At Hastings' impeachment, the heaviest charge against him was that based on his conduct toward the princesses of Oude, whom his creature, Asaph-ul-Dowlah, imprisoned and starved, whose servants he tormented, and from whom he wrung at last twelve hundred thousand pounds, as the price of blood. By these acts, and acts such as these, the treasure which had flowed to Europe through the extermination of the Peruvians, was returned again to England from the hoards of conquered Hindoos.


[312] History of England, viii. 425.
[313] Influence of the Sea Power upon History, Mahan, 41.
[314] English Seamen of the Sixteenth Century, 6.
[315] Anderson's History of Commerce, i. 400.
[316] S. P. Dom. Eliz., 53.
[317] Wealth of Nations, book 4, ch. i.
[318] Discourse of Trade, Child, ed. 1775, 8.
[319] History of England, ch. iii.
[320] Discourse of Trade, Josiah Child, ed. 1775, 8, 9, 10.
[321] Ibid., Pref. xxxi.
[322] Ibid., 41.
[323] American Biography, Sparks, ii. 388.
[324] Wealth of Nations, bk. iv. c. 3, pt. 1.
[325] Thurloe's State Papers, v. 433, 434.
[326] Annals of the Coinage of Britain, Ruding, iii. 378.
[327] Annals of the Coinage, Ruding, iii. 470.
[328] Investigations in Currency and Finance, Jevons, 140.
[329] Annals of the Coinage, Ruding, iv. 26.
[330] Wealth of Nations, bk. iv. c. 1.
[331] Wealth of Nations, bk. ii. c. 2.
[332] Lord Clive.
[333] Macaulay's essays have been the subject of much recent adverse criticism; but, in regard to the plundering of Hindostan, nothing of consequence has been brought forward against him. All recent historical work relating to India must be taken with suspicion. The whole official influence has been turned to distorting evidence in order to make a case for the government.
[334] Lord Clive.
[335] Lord Clive.
[336] Warren Hastings.