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The following Poem (or, to speak more properly, what remains of it*) has here and there a lyrical turn of thought and expression. It is sudden in its transitions, and full of historical allusions ; leaving much to be imagined by the reader.
The subject is a voyage the most memorable in the annals of mankind. Columbus was a person of extraordinary virtue and piety, acting under the sense of a Divine impulse ; and his achievement the discovery of a New World, the inhabitants of which were shut out from the light of Revelation, and given up, as they believed, to the dominion of malignant spirits.
Many of the incidents will now be thought extravagant ; yet they were once perhaps received with something more than indulgence. It was an age of miracles ; and who can say that among the venerable legends in the library of the Escurial, or the more authentic records which fill the great chamber in the Archivo of Simancas, and which relate entirely to the deep tragedy of America, there are no volumes that mention the marvellous things here described ? Indeed the story, as already told throughout Europe, admits of no heightening. Such was the religious enthusiasm of the early writers, that the Author had only to transfuse it into his verse; and he appears to have done little more; though some of the circumstances, which he alludes to as well-known, have long ceased to be so. By using the language of that day, he has called up Columbus “in his habit as he lived ;” and the authorities, such as exist, are carefully given by the Translator.
* The Original in the Castilian language, according to the Inscription that follows, was found among other MSS. in an old religious house near Palos, situated on an island formed by the river Tinto, and dedicated to our Lady of La Rábida. The Writer describes himself as having sailed with Columbus; but his style and manner are evidently of an after-time.
INSCRIBED ON THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT. ·
UNCLASP me, Stranger; and unfold,
In RABIDA's monastic fane
I cannot ask, and ask in vain.
No earthly thought has here a place,
Yet here, in consecrated dust, Here would I sleep, if sleep I must. From GENOA when COLUMBUS came, (At once her glory and her shame) 'Twas here he caught the holy flame. 'Twas here the generous vow he made ; His banners on the
Here tempest-worn and desolate*
* We have an interesting account of his first appearance in Spain, that country which was so soon to be the theatre of his glory. According to the testimony of Garcia Fernandez, the physician of Palos a sea-faring man, accompanied by a very young boy, stopped one day at the gate of the convent of La Rábida and asked of the porter a little bread and water for his child. While they were receiving this humble refres nt, the Prior, Juan Perez, happening to pass by, was struck with the look and manner of the stranger, and, entering into conversation with him, soon learnt the particulars of his story. The stranger was Columbus; the boy was his son Diego; and, but for this accidental interview, America might have remained long undiscovered : for it was to the zeal of Juan Perez that he was finally indebted for the accomplishment of his great purpose. See Irving's History of Columbus.