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The influence of the passage just quoted is curiously visible in Purchas. On reading it, he saw, at once, that the statement of Navarro had reference to the visit spoken of by Oviedo, and it therefore passed into his mind that the expedition proceeded, in the first instance, to the North. When he had occasion, however, to advert to the circumstance afterwards, he evidently could not recollect whence he had derived the impression, or there would have been found a reference to Herrera in his ambitious margin, instead of the vague assertion : “ Afterwards the same Sir Sebastian Cabot was sent, A. D. 1516, by king Henry the VIII., together with Sir Thomas Pert, Vice-Admiral of England, which after coasting this Continent the second time, as I have read, discovered the Coast of Brasil, and returned from thence to St. Domingo and Porto Rico,” (vol. iv. p. 1812.)
A peculiar anxiety is felt with regard to this voyage, because it bears directly on our estimate of Cabot's character. He had taken up, with all the ardour which belongs to the conceptions of a man of his stamp, the opinion that a North-West passage was practicable, and we are grieved, as well as surprised, to find him apparently faltering in the pursuit. We know from Peter Martyr, his undiminished confidence in 1515, and cannot understand why, immediately afterwards, he should be found in a confused, rambling voyage to the South, instead of following up his great purpose.
The examination thus far has assumed that the date given by Ramusio, in his translation of Oviedo, and adopted by Hakluyt, is correct. It now remains to shew that there has been an entire misconception on this point, and that Hakluyt has paid the deserved penalty of his folly in quoting a Spanish book from an Italian translation.
The reference is correctly given to book xix. cap. xiii. of Oviedo ; but on turning to the passage, he is found to represent the visit of the English ship as occurring not in 1517, but in 1527. There are in the library of the British Museum the edition of his work published at Seville in 1535 and the next edition, corrected by the author, published at Salamanca, in 1547. In the King's library there is a copy of the latter edition. The date given in both editions is MDXXVII. It may be very idle to attempt to fortify the statement of a writer of the highest credit, and who resided in St. Domingo at the very period in question; but the fact may be mentioned that his narrative had not only carried him up to this period but beyond it, for in a preceding chapter (the vii.) of the same book, he speaks of an incident which occurred in September, 1530.
As the reliance of Hakluyt is exclusively on the “famous Spanish writer Oviedo,” it might be sufficient to shift to its proper side of the scale the weight which has been thus misplaced. The point, however, is one of interest, in reference to the subsequent voyage from England, in 1527, and we may draw to the rectification the testimony of Herrera.
That writer, it is true, affixes no date to the visit, and while considering, at an early period, the condition of the colonies, he adverts to this as one of the circumstances which had led to complaint and uneasiness. This sort of grouping is always dangerous in the hands of an ambitious and florid historian, anxious to be relieved from a chronological detail of isolated facts, and to treat them in combination, and in their supposed influence on results. He has, while considering an early incident, taken up this and others which, though posterior in point of time, yet preceded the measures of precaution, of which they, in succession, indicated the necessity. The question is placed beyond doubt by another occurrence almost contemporary. Oviedo, in the same chapter which refers to the visit of the English vessel adds, that about a year afterwards, (“desde a poco tiempo o en el siguiente anno,") a French corsair made its appearance at Cuba, guided by a villainous Spaniard, named Diego Ingenio, ("guiado por un mal Espagnol llamado Diego Ingenio.") This incident is mentioned by Herrera, under the year 1529, and he states it to have taken place in the middle of October, of that year, (Herrera, Dec. iv. lib. vi. chap. xii.) His next chapter (xiii.) is occupied ships.*
with the precautions taken for the security of the Indies, and they are expressly referred to the visit of the English and French
Thus is obtained a decided, though superfluous, confirmation of the accuracy of Oviedo.
So soon as we are assured of his real statement, the improbability that this visit could have been on the part of Cabot's expedition occurs with irresistible force.
Is it at all likely that one who had just quitted the service of Spain, and who knew the jealous system of exclusion adopted with regard to her American possessions, would be found engaged in a silly and confused attempt to carry on a commerce in that quarter? Again, is it not probable that Navarro would have recognised one whom we may presume to have been familiarly known to the seamen of that day? Would a man, moreover, who had been one of the captains of the King of Spain, and afterwards a member of the council of the Indies, have been anxious to open a communication with the authorities of St. Domingo? Cabot would have known not only that the application was idle, but that it would subject him to the most odious reproaches, for endeavouring to turn against Spain the knowledge acquired by having so recently held a confidential post in her service.
This last consideration, indeed, suggests a pleasing reflection that his fame may be successfully relieved from the suspicion of having, even at a moment of pique, consented to engage in such an enterprise. The pure and lofty character to which all the incidents of his life lay claim, renders us unwilling to credit what could not but be deemed derogatory. His vindication has already, it is hoped, been made out; and when we come, in its proper place, to a voyage from England, in 1527, under totally different auspices, there will be seen the happy application of what Oviedo correctly refers to that year. By keeping separate the clews which Hakluyt has crossed and entangled, there will be attained, in each case, a point from which a survey may be made with the greatest clearness and assurance of accuracy.
* “ Con occasion de la nave Inglesa que havia llegada al Puerto de la Ciudad de Santo Domingo de la Isla Espanola, i de los Franceses de que se ha tratado en el capitulo precedente, el Obispo de Santo Domingo, Presidente del Audencia hiço una Junta de todos las Estados de la Isla, adonde se confiriò lo que se debia hacer,” &c.
VOYAGE OF 1517 THE ONE REFERRED TO BY CABOT IN HIS LETTER
It being, then, certain that the expedition of 1517 had for its object the North-West Passage, was it on the 11th of June 1517, that Cabot attained the point mentioned in his letter to Ramusio ? The day of the month is given, not only in that letter but again by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, (iii. Hakluyt p. 16,) from Cabot's map. Many circumstances of corroboration press on us. When Eden speaks, in magnificent phrase, of the opportunity lost to England of taking the lead of Spain, his language is naturally referrible, as has been said, to the frustration of that great effort to find a way to Cataya which Cabot had already essayed, and which Peter Martyr, in 1515, expressly tells us he was on the eve of again undertaking. In the letter to Ramusio, Cabot declares that when arrested at 67o and-a-half by the timidity of his associates he was sanguine of success, and that if not overruled he both could and would have gone to Cataya. Does not Eden, then, merely supply the name of the principal object of this reproach ? Let us refer again to the language of Thorne, which applies, we know, to the expedition of 1517, (i. Hakluyt, p. 219, “Of the which there is no doubt, as now plainly appeareth, if the mariners would then have been ruled and followed their pilot's mind, the lands of the West-Indies, from whence al} the gold cometh, had been ours,” Can it be doubted that thes several passages all point to the same incident ?
In the work of Peter Martyr, written before this last voyage, no allusion is found to a mutiny in the North, but he mentions expressly that in the South the expedition was stopped by a failure