Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562

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Author: Washington Irving  | Date: 1493

Reception of Columbus in Spain

THE triumphant return of Columbus was a prodigious event in the history of the little port of Palos, where everybody was more or less interested in the fate of his expedition. The most important and wealthy sea-captains of the place had engaged in it, and scarcely a family but had some relative or friend among the navigators. The departure of the ships, upon what appeared a chimerical and desperate cruise, had spread gloom and dismay over the place; and the storms which had raged throughout the winter had heightened the public despondency. Many lamented their friends as lost, while imagination lent mysterious horrors to their fate, picturing them as driven about over wild and desert wastes of water without a shore, or as perishing amidst rocks, and quicksands, and whirlpools; or a prey to those monsters of the deep, with which credulity peopled every distant and unfrequented sea. There was something more awful in such a mysterious fate than in death itself, under any defined and ordinary form.

Great was the agitation of the inhabitants, therefore, when they beheld one of the ships standing up the river; but when they learnt that she returned in triumph from the discovery of a world, the whole community broke forth into transports of joy. The bells were rung, the shops shut, all business was suspended: for a time there was nothing but hurry and tumult. Some were anxious to know the fate of a relative, others of a friend, and all to learn the particulars of so wonderful a voyage. When Columbus landed, the multitude thronged to see and welcome him, and a grand procession was formed to the principal church, to return thanks to God for so signal a discovery made by the people of that place,—forgetting, in their exultation, the thousand difficulties they had thrown in the way of the enterprise. Wherever Columbus passed, he was hailed with shouts and acclamations. What a contrast to his departure a few months before, followed by murmurs and execrations; or, rather, what a contrast to his first arrival at Palos, a poor pedestrian, craving bread and water for his child at the gate of a convent!

THE letter of Columbus to the Spanish monarchs, had produced the greatest sensation at court, event he announced was considered the most extraordinary of their prosperous reign, and following so close upon the conquest of Granada, was pronounced a signal mark of Divine favor for that triumph achieved in the cause of the true faith. The sovereigns themselves were for a time dazzled by this sudden and easy acquisition of a new empire, of indefinite extent, and apparently boundless wealth; and their first idea was to secure it beyond the reach of dispute. Shortly after his arrival in Seville, Columbus received a letter from them expressing their great delight, and requesting him to repair immediately to court, to concert plans for a second and more extensive expedition….

The fame of his discovery had resounded throughout the nation, and as his route lay through several of the finest and most populous provinces of Spain, his journey appeared like the progress of a sovereign. Wherever he passed, the country poured forth its inhabitants, who lined the road and thronged the villages. The streets, windows, and balconies of the towns were filled with eager spectators, who rent the air with acclamations. His journey was continually impeded by the multitude pressing to gain a sight of him and of the Indians, who were regarded with as much astonishment as if they had been natives of another planet. It was impossible to satisfy the craving curiosity which assailed him and his attendants at every stage with innumerable questions; popular rumor, as usual, had exaggerated the truth, and had filled the newly found country with all kinds of wonders.

About the middle of April Columbus arrived at Barcelona, where every preparation had been made to give him a solemn and magnificent reception. The beauty and serenity of the weather in that genial season and favored climate, contributed to give splendor to this memorable ceremony. As he drew near the place, many of the youthful courtiers, and hidalgos, together with a vast concourse of the populace, came forth to meet and welcome him. His entrance into this noble city has been compared to one of those triumphs which the Romans were accustomed to decree to conquerors. First, were paraded the Indians, painted according to their savage fashion, and decorated with their national ornaments of gold. After these were borne various kinds of live parrots, together with stuffed birds and animals of unknown species, and rare plants supposed to be of precious qualities; while great care was taken to make a conspicuous display of Indian coronets, bracelets, and other decorations of gold, which might give an idea of the wealth of the newly discovered regions. After this, followed Columbus on horseback, surrounded by a brilliant cavalcade of Spanish chivalry. The streets were almost impassable from the countless multitude; the windows and balconies were crowded with the fair; the very roofs were covered with spectators. It seemed as if the public eye could not be sated with gazing on these trophies of an unknown world; or on the remarkable man by whom it had been discovered. There was a sublimity in this event that mingled a solemn feeling with the public joy. It was looked upon as a vast and signal dispensation of Providence in reward for the piety of the monarchs; and the majestic and venerable appearance of the discoverer, so different from the youth and buoyancy generally expected from roving enterprise, seemed in harmony with the grandeur and dignity of his achievement.

To receive him with suitable pomp and distinction, the sovereigns had ordered their throne to be placed in public, under a rich canopy of brocade of gold, in a vast and splendid saloon. Here the King and Queen awaited his arrival, seated in state, with the Prince Juan beside them, and attended by the dignitaries of their court, and the principal nobility of Castile, Valentia, Catalonia, and Arragon, all impatient to behold the man who had conferred so incalculable a benefit upon the nation. At length Columbus entered the hall, surrounded by a brilliant crowd of cavaliers, among whom, says Las Casas, he was conspicuous for his stately and commanding person, which with his countenance, rendered venerable by his gray hairs, gave him the august appearance of a senator of Rome: a modest smile lighted up his features, showing that he enjoyed the state and glory in which he came; and certainly nothing could be more deeply moving to a mind inflamed by noble ambition, and conscious of having greatly deserved, than these testimonials of the admiration and gratitude of a nation, or rather of a world. As Columbus approached, the sovereigns rose, as if receiving a person of the highest rank. Bending his knees, he offered to kiss their hands; but there was some hesitation on their part to permit this act of homage. Raising him in the most gracious manner, they ordered him to seat himself in their presence; a rare honor in this proud and punctilious court.

At their request, he now gave an account of the most striking events of his voyage, and a description of the islands discovered….

When he had finished, the sovereigns sank on their knees, and raising their clasped hands to heaven, their eyes filled with tears of joy and gratitude, poured forth thanks and praises to God for so great a providence: all present followed their example; a deep and solemn enthusiasm pervaded that splendid assembly, and prevented all common acclamations of triumph….

When Columbus retired from the royal presence, he was attended to his residence by all the court, and followed by the shouting populace. For many days he was the object of universal curiosity, and wherever he appeared, was surrounded by an admiring multitude.

While his mind was teeming with glorious anticipations, his pious scheme for the deliverance of the holy sepulcher was not forgotten. It has been shown that he suggested it to the Spanish sovereigns, at the time of first making his propositions, holding it forth as the great object to be effected by the profits of his discoveries. Flushed with the idea of the vast wealth now to accrue to himself, he made a vow to furnish within seven years an army, consisting of four thousand horse and fifty thousand foot, for the rescue of the holy sepulcher, and a similar force within the five following years. This vow was recorded in one of his letters to the sovereigns, to which he refers, but which is no longer extant; nor is it certain whether it was made at the end of his first voyage, or at a subsequent date, when the magnitude and wealthy result of his discoveries became more fully manifest. He often alludes to it vaguely in his writings, and he refers to it expressly in a letter to Pope Alexander VI., written in 1502, in which he accounts also for its non-fulfillment. It is essential to a full comprehension of the character and motives of Columbus, that this visionary project should be borne in recollection. It will be found to have entwined itself in his mind with his enterprise of discovery, and that a holy crusade was to be the consummation of those divine purposes, for which he considered himself selected by Heaven as an agent. It shows how much his mind was elevated above selfish and mercenary views—how it was filled with those devout and heroic schemes, which in the time of the crusades had inflamed the thoughts and directed the enterprises of the bravest warriors and most illustrious princes.

THE joy occasioned by the great discovery of Columbus was not confined to Spain; the tidings were spread far and wide by the communications of ambassadors, the correspondence of the learned, the negotiations of merchants, and the reports of travelers, and the whole civilized world was filled with wonder and delight…. The news was brought to Genoa by the return of her ambassadors, Francisco Marchesi and Giovanni Antonie Grimaldi, and was recorded among the triumphant events of the year: for the republic, though she may have slighted the opportunity of making herself mistress of the discovery, has ever since been tenacious of the glory of having given birth to the discoverer. The tidings were soon carried to England, which as yet was but a maritime power of inferior importance. They caused, however, much wonder in London, and great talk and admiration in the court of Henry VII., where the discovery was pronounced "a thing more divine than human." . . .

We have a brief testimony of the emotions of the learned in a letter, written at the time, by Peter Martyr, to his friend Pomponius Laetus. "You tell me, my amiable Pomponius," he writes, "that you leaped for joy, and that your delight was mingled with tears, when you read my epistle, certifying to you the hitherto hidden world of the antipodes. You have felt and acted as became a man eminent for learning, for I can conceive no aliment more delicious than such tidings to a cultivated and ingenuous mind. I feel a wonderful exultation of spirits when I converse with intelligent men who have returned from these regions. It is like an accession of wealth to a miser. Our minds, soiled and debased by the common concerns of life and the vices of society, become elevated and ameliorated by contemplating such glorious events."

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Chicago: Washington Irving, "Reception of Columbus in Spain," Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562 in America, Vol.1, Pp.170-177 Original Sources, accessed August 9, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=WEQLUIVKSGF9LZE.

MLA: Irving, Washington. "Reception of Columbus in Spain." Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562, in America, Vol.1, Pp.170-177, Original Sources. 9 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=WEQLUIVKSGF9LZE.

Harvard: Irving, W, 'Reception of Columbus in Spain' in Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562. cited in , America, Vol.1, Pp.170-177. Original Sources, retrieved 9 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=WEQLUIVKSGF9LZE.