Chronicles of America 

Toscanelli and Behaim

Concerning Columbus, however, the important question is: Was he indebted to Behaim for his own ideas of cosmography — for the idea, especially, of a small earth? It would hardly seem so. The two men may have met in Portugal, but, even if they had, each at the time was guarding a secret, or the approaches to one: Columbus, that of islands — perchance of a specific island — to be discovered; and Behaim, that of a scheme for exploiting Asia. That not very much confidential communication between them was likely under the circumstances may be conjectured.

Columbus, according to his own statement, entered Spain after fourteen years spent in vain labors in Portugal. As a matter of fact, his stay there did not at the utmost exceed ten years, probably only five or six. He came accompanied by his son Diego, for Felipa, beautiful daughter of the Convent of Saints, had probably died soon after Diego's birth. Furthermore, he quitted Portugal, for what reason may never be known, "secretly at night."

In Spain Columbus's first objective was Palos. Here, at the monastery of La Rbida, whose guardian, Antonio de Marchena, the future discoverer is said to have known in Portugal, he found lodgings for himself and a temporary home for his son.

It use to be the unquestioned belief that the views regarding the proximity of eastern Asia to western Europe, which Columbus is known to have come to entertain, were due to a letter sent him, about 1480, by Paolo Toscanelli, a distinguished Florentine astronomer. The letter was accompanied, so it was claimed, by a chart of the confronting European and Asiatic seaboards, which Toscanelli himself had drafted, showing Antillia and Japan as, so to speak, halting points or stepping-stones across the intervening Atlantic Ocean. But the belief in a Toscanelli letter no longer is unquestioned. Consult the writings of Vignaud and of Bourne.

The supposition is that at Palos, which as a seaport was the resort of mariners and where there were many Portuguese, Columbus counted upon obtaining special information with regard to the landfall of some particular early voyage or voyages into the West.

But if Palos was Columbus's first objective in Spain, his second was the Court of the Spanish sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella. To these personages Columbus worked his way, so to speak, by the influence of the Duke of Medina Coeli, who had wealth; and who at first contemplated assuming in the schemes of Columbus a role not unlike that of Estreito in the project of Behaim. But, coming to realize that the affair was one to be accomplished successfully only under royal patronage, the Duke applied to the sovereigns, who commanded that Columbus himself be sent to Court.

Cordova now for some time had been the seat of government, and here Columbus arrived on January 20, 1486. The sovereigns were then absent, but returned at the end of April or first of May, and the coveted audience took place. What occurred is not known. Presumably Ferdinand and Isabella, after a courteous hearing, smilingly put by the question of exploration, for they referred it to the Queen's confessor, Hernando de Talavera, an ecclesiastic by no means ungenerous or bigoted, with instructions to summon a council for its consideration. As for the council, not a soul who was a member ever revealed aught of its composition or doings, save Dr. Rodrigo de Maldonado, who says that men of science and mariners were in attendance, no less than literary men and theologues, and that Columbus himself was subjected to interrogation.

Talavera's council conferred at intervals for five years, often at Salamanca, and at length, late in 1490, reported adversely for Columbus, and the sovereigns accepted the report. In the life of the great Italian adventurer, our future discoverer and admiral, these five years are among the most interesting and significant. They mark, it is true, a moral and material decline, but, like the first years in Portugal, they mark an intellectual advance.

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