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THE HIGHEST NORTHERN LATITUDE REACHED BY CABOT-AUTHORITIES
COLLECTED BY HAKLUIT_ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN THEIR SUPPOSED
With a view to greater clearness, it is proposed to attempt, in the first instance, the settlement of certain points around which confusion has been suffered to gather, and which, demanding only a careful examination of authorities, may be advantageously considered apart from the narrative.
The first question—as one affecting materially the claim of Cabot to the character of an intrepid navigator—is as to the point to which he urged his way in the north, a fact with regard to which statements exist seemingly quite irreconcilable.
The volumes of Hakluyt, usually regarded as of the highest authority, are supposed to present, on this subject, a chaos which, so far from lending assistance to clear up difficulties, rather dims, and threatens every moment to extinguish, the feeble light supplied from other quarters. In the “Chronological History of Voyages into the Arctic Regions, &c. by John Barrow, F. R. S.," it is said (p. 32), “ there is no possible way of reconciling the various accounts collected by Hakluyt, and which amount to no less a number than six, but by supposing John Cabot to have made one voyage at least previous to the date of the patent, and some time between that and the date of the return of Columbus.” The hypothesis thus declared to be indispensable is directly at variance with the terms of the original patent, and with the language of every original writer; and an effort will, therefore, now be made to show, that the confusion complained of, does not exist in the materials for forming an opinion, but arises from the hasty and superficial manner in which they have been considered.
Taking up the accounts in the order in which they stand, they may be thus stated (Hakluyt, vol. iii. p. 6).
1. “An extract from the map of Sebastian Cabot, cut by Clement Adams, concerning his discovery of the West Indies, which is to be seen in his majesty's privy gallery, at Westminster, and in many other ancient merchants' houses." Nothing is said in this as to the latitude reached.
2. “A discourse of Sebastian Cabot,” &c., wherein the narrator asserts, that he heard the pope's legate say, that he had heard Cabot state, that he sailed only to the 56° of lati. tude, and then turned about.
3. A passage in the preface to the third volume of Ramusio': Collection of Voyages. In this, the author says that in a written communication to him Sebastian Cabot stated that he reached the latitude of 67o and a half.
4. Part of the sixth chapter of the third decade of Peter Martyr d'Angleria, in which nothing is said of the latitude reached, but the fact is stated, that he proceeded so far north, that it was in manner continually day-light."
5. The statement of Francis Lopez Gomara, who, according to Hakluyt, represents Cabot to have “sailed beyond the Cape of Labrador, until he found himself in 58° and better." Cabot is here also said to have found the days very long, in a manner without any night, and for that short night that they had, it was very clear."
6. An extract from Robert Fabyan's Annals, and from a letter of Robert Thorn of Bristol, containing nothing as to the point under consideration.
Thus it is apparent
that the discrepance exists on a comparison of the second, third and fifth items.
Postponing Gomara for the present, we pause on the two passages of Ramusio which are supposed to embody contradictory statements.
It is obvious that if the present were an inquiry in a court of justice affecting the reputation or property of a living person, the evidence which limits Cabot to 56° would be at once rejected as incompetent. The alleged communication from him is exposed, in its transmission, not only to all the chances of misconception on the part of the pope's legate, but admitting that personage to have truly understood, accurately remembered, and faithfully reported what he heard, we are again exposed to a similar series of errors on the part of our informant, who furnishes it to us at second hand. But the dead have not the benefits of the rules of evidence; and we must, therefore, look to the circumstances which affect its credibility. It appears thus in Hakluyt:
~ A discourse of Sebastian Cabot touching his discovery of part of the West India
out of England in the time of king Henry the Seventh, used to Galeacius Bu. trigarius, the pope's legate in Spaine, and reported by the sayd legate in this sort:
“Doe you not understand, sayd he (speaking to certaine gentlemen of Venice), how to passe to India toward the North-west, as did of late a citizen of Venice, 80 yaliant a man, and so well practised in all things pertaining to navigations, and the science of cosmographie, that at this present he hath not his like in Spaine, insomuch that for his vertues he is preferred above all other pilots that saile to the West Indies, who may not passe-thither_without his license, and is therefore called Piloto Mayor, that is, the grand pilot? And when we sayd that we knew him not, he proceeded, saying, that being certaine yeres in the city of Sivil, and desirous to have some knowledge of the navigations of the Spanyards, it was tolde him that there was in the city a valiant man, a Venetian borne, named Sebastian Cabot, who had the charge of those things, being an expert man in that science, and one that coulde make cardes for the sea with his owne hand, and that by this report, seeking his acquaintance, he found him a very gentle person, who entertained him friendly, and shewed him many things, and among other a large mappe of the world, with certaine particuler navigations, as well of the Portugals as of the Spanyards, and that he spake further unto him to this effect:
" When my father departed from Venice, many yeeres since, to dwell in Eng. land, to follow the trade of marchandises, hee tooke mee with him to the citie of London, while I was very yong, yet baving neverthelesse some knowledge of let. ters of humanitie, and of the sphere And when my father died in that time
when newes were brought that Don Christopher Colonus Genoese had discovered the coasts of India, whereof was great talke in all the court of king Henry the Seventh, who then raigned, insomuch that all men with great admiration affirmed it to be a thing more divine than humane, to saile hy the West into the East, where spices growe, by a way that was neuet knowen before, by this fame and report there increased in my heart a great fame of desire to attempt some notable thing. And understanding by reason of the sphere, that if I should saile by way of the North-west, I should by a shorter tract come into India, I thereupon caused the king to be advertised of my devise, who immediately commanded two caravels to hee furnished with all things appertaining to the voyage, which was as farre as I remember in the yeere 1496, in the beginning of sommer. I began therefore to saile toward the North-west, not thinking to finde any other lande than that of Cathay, and from thence to turn toward India; but after certaine dayes I found that the land ranne towards the north, which was to mee a great displeasure. Nev. erthelesse, sayling along by the coast to see if I coulde finde any gulfe that turned, I found the land still continent to the 56 degree under our pole. And seeing that there the coast turned toward the East, despairing to finde the passage, I turned backe againe, and sailed downe by the coast of that land toward the equinoctiall (ever with intent to finde the said passage to India), and came to that part of this firme lande which is now called Florida, where my victuals failing, i departed from thence and returned into England, where I found great tumults among the people, and preparation for warres in Scotland; by reason whereof there was no more consideration bad to this voyage.
“Whereupon I went into Spaine to the Catholique King, and Queene Elizabeth, which being advertised what I had done, entertained me, and at their charges furnished certaine ships, wherewith they caused me to saile to discover the coastes of Brasile, where I found an exceeding great and large river, named at this present Rio de la Plata, that is, the river of silver, into the which I sailėd and followed it into the firme land, more then six score leagues, finding it every where very faire, and inhabited with infinite people, which with admiration came running dayly to our ships. Into this river runne so many other rivers, that it is in manter incredible.
“After this I made many other voyages, which I nowe pretermit, and waxing olde, I give myself to rest from such travels, because there are nowe many yong and lustie pilots and mariners of good experience, by whose forwardnesse I doe rejoy.ce in the fruit of my labours, and rest with the charge of this office, as you
In giving this conversation to his readers, Hakluyt professes to have derived it from the second volume of Ramusio, and subsequent compilers have assumed the accuracy of the reference. It seems, for the first time, to have occurred to the writers of the “ Biographie Universelle,” to look into the original, and they declare that no such passage is to be there found!
“Hakluyt dans sa collection nous a transmis la piece ou l'on trouve le plus de details sur la navigation et la vie de Sebastian Cabot. Il dit l'avoir tirée du second volume de la collection de Ramusio; mais nous l'y avons cherchée en vain. Cette piece est attribuée a Galearius Butrigarius légât du pape en Espagne qui dit tenir les particularités qu'elle contient d'un habitant de Cadiz lequel avait eu plusieurs conversations avec Sebastian." “Ramusio, connu par son exactitude n'a donné aucun extrait des navigations de Sebastian Cabot; il se contente de citer dans la preface de son 3e volume un passage d'une Lettre qu'il avoit reçue de lui.
A striking proof here occurs of the facility with which errors are fallen into in reporting even the written expressions of another when memory is relied on.
The Collaborateurs of the Biographie Universelle are supposed to have just turned from the page of Hakluyt, and yet, in this brief statement, mark the changes! Butrigarius has no longer the conversation with Cabot, but gets his information at second hand, and this, too, from an inhabitant of Cadiz; thus utterly confounding both place and person, and making; also, the communication to have been the result of many conversations held with Cabot by this new member of the dramatis persone, the “habitant de Cadiz." All this too, from those who bitterly denounce their predecessors for carelessness and inaccuracy!
But we have a yet more serious complaint to urge. When the charge is preferred against Hakluyt, of having made a fraudulent citation, we may be permitted to say, with some plainness, that after the lofty eulogium passed on Ramusio, by the associates of the Biographie Universelle, not only incidentally here, but in the article subsequently devoted to him, it is to the last degree discreditable, that a mere mistake of reference to the proper Volume, should have so completely baffled their knowledge of the work. Nor is the mention of Cabot confined, as they suppose, to the preface of the third volume: it occurs in five different places, as will be hereafter shown.
The passage immediately in question will be found not in the second but in the first volume of Ramusio. It is part of the interesting article entitled, “ Discorso notabile sopra varii viaggi per liquali sono state condotte fino à tempi nostri le spetiarie,” beginning at fol. 414. D. of the edition of 1554, and referred to in the index of all the editions under the titles