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CABOT DID NOT CONFER THE NAME
The question as to the name Prima Vista stands apart from that which has just been dismissed, and is in itself sufficiently curious.
It is to be remembered, that the description, in Latin, is not only the highest but the only authority on the subject, and that Hakluyt had no better materials for conjecture than we now possess. From this document we gather that John and Sebastian Cabot,
“ Eam terram fecerunt perviam quam nullus prius adire ausus fuit die 24 Junii circiter horam quintam bene manè. Hanc autem appellavit Terram pri-, mum visam credo quod ex mari in eam partem primùm oculos injecerat.”
A passage thus translated by Hakluyt
“ They discovered that land which no man before that time had attempted, on the 24th June, about five of the clock, early in the morning. This land he called Prima Vista, that is to say, first seen, because as I suppose it was that part, whereof they had the first sight from sea.”
It is plain, that the original map could have furnished no clew to the motive for conferring the appellation, because the suggestion of the person who prepared the “ Extract,” is offered, confessedly, as a conjecture. We know only that there was something on the map which led him to consider the region as designated, “Terra primum visa.” This bare statement will shew how utterly gratuitous is Hakluyt's assumption, that the name given was Prima Vista; for it is obviously impossible to determine, whether it was in Latin, Italian, or English.
If the name Prima Vista, or Terra primum Visa, or First Sight, was conferred, why is nothing said of it in the various conversations of Sebastian Cabot? We hear continually of Baccalaos, and find that name on all the old maps, but not a word of the other, which yet is represented as the designation applied to the more important item of discovery-to the “terra,” as distinguished from the “ insula.”
The origin of the misconception is suspected to have been this: The Map of the New World which accompanies the copy of Hakluyt's work, in the King's Library, has the following inscription on the present Labrador, “ This land was discovered by John et Sebastian Cabote, for Kinge Henry VII., 1497.” Now, the “Extract” which we are considering, says, that John and Sebastian Cabot first discovered the land “ which no man before that time had attempted," ("quam nullus prius adire ausus fuit.") These expressions are, of course, intended to convey an assertion found on the original map, of which it professes to give an abstract
can assertion equivalent, doubtless, to the language quoted from the map in Hakluyt. How would such an inscription run? Probably, thus : “ Terra primum visa Joanne Caboto et Sebas tiano illius filio die, 24 Junio, 1497, circiter horam quintam bene mane.” To us who have just been called on to expose the absurd mistakes committed by men of the highest reputation for learning and sagacity, is it incredible, that the artist who prepared the broad sheet, should have hastily supposed the initial words, to be intended as a designation of the country discovered—particularly, when in the Law, we have to seek at every turn a similar explanation of such titles, as Scire-facias, Mandamus, Quo Warranto, &c. &c. ?
Such a designation might even have got into use without necessarily involving misconception. There is a tendency, in the absence of a convenient epithet, to seize, even absurdly, on the leading words of a description, particularly when couched in a foreign language. Thus, the earliest collection of voyages to the New World, is entitled, “ Paesi novamente retrovati et Novo Mondo da Alberico Vespucio Florentino intitulato.” It
is usually quoted as the “ Paesi novamente retrovati," and a bookseller, therefore, when asked for “ Land lately discovered,” exhibits a thin quarto volume, published at Vicenza, in 1507. The same is the case with the “ Novus Orbis,” the “ Foedera,” &c.
Another consideration may be mentioned. The island which “ stands out from the land," was discovered on the 24th June, and named from that circumstance. One would suppose this to have been first encountered; and if so, the designation of “ First Sight,” would hardly be given to a point subsequently seen on the same day. Not only were the chances in its favour from its position, but we cannot presume that Cabot would have quitted immediately his main discovery, had that been first recognized, and stood out to sea to examine a small island, or that he would have dedicated to the Saint the inferior, and later, discovery of
We repeat, all that is known on the subject is the appearance of the three Latin words in question on the original map. The rest is mere conjecture; first, of the artist, as to the meaning of the words, and then, of Hakluyt, yet wilder, that “ Terra primum visa,” must have been a translation of something in Italian. This solution explains why there is no reference to any such title in the conversations of Cabot, or in Ortelius who had the map of that navigator before him.
It is not improbable, that Hakluyt was assisted to his conclusion by the prominence given on the early maps of Newfoundland to a name conferred by the Portuguese. Though he has not put into words the reflection which silently passed through his mind, it becomes perceptible in others who have adopted his hypothesis. Thus, for example, we recognise its vague influence on Forster, (p. 267,) who supposes “that Sebastian Cabot had the first sight of Newfoundland off Cape Bonavista.”
The subject seems, indeed, on every side, the sport of rash and even puerile conceits. Dr. Robertson tells us, (Hist. of America, book ix.) “after sailing for some weeks due West, and
nearly on the parallel of the port from which he took his departure, he discovered a large Island, which he called Prima Vista, and his sailors, Newfoundland !--and in a few days, he descried a smaller Isle, to which he gave the name of St. John.” Thus is presented, gratuitously, to the imagination, a sort of contest about names, between the commander of the expedition and the plain-spoken Englishmen under his command !
RICHARD EDEN's “ DECADES OF THE NEW WORLD"-CABOT'S STATEMENT
AS TO THE PLACE OF HIS BIRTH.
As reference has already been made, more than once, to the volume of Eden, and there will be occasion to draw further on its statements, a few remarks may not be out of place as to the claims which that rare and curious work presents to credit and respect. In selecting from the various tributes to its merits, that of Hakluyt, it is difficult to forbear a somewhat trite reflection on the fortuitous circumstances which influence the fate of books, as frequently as they are arbiters of fame and success in the pursuits of active life. Eden has, in our view, far stronger claims to consideration as an author, and to the grateful recollection of his countrymen, than the writer whose testimony it is proposed to adduce in his favour. He preceded the other half-acentury, and was, indeed, the first Englishman who undertook to present, in a collective form, the astonishing results of that spirit of maritime enterprise which had been everywhere awakened by the discovery of America. Nor was he a mere compiler. We are indebted to him for several original voyages of great curiosity and value. He is not exempt, as has been seen, from error, but in point of learning, accuracy, and integrity, is certainly superior to Hakluyt; yet it is undoubted, that while the name of the former, like that of Vespucci, has become indelibly associated with the new World, his predecessor is very little known. Hakluyt has contrived to transfer, adroitly, to bis volumes, the labours of others, and to give to them an aspect artfully attractive to those for whom they were intended. The very title—“ Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation,"