« PreviousContinue »
Read in the temper that he wrote,
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
THERE is a spirit in the old Spanish Chroniclers of the sixteenth century that may be compared to the freshness of water at the fountain-head. Their simplicity, their sensibility to the strange and the wonderful, their very weaknesses give an infinite value, by giving a life and a character to every thing they touch; and their religion, which bursts out every where, addresses itself to the imagination in the highest degree. If they err, their errors are not their own. They think and feel after the fashion of the time; and their narratives are so many moving pictures of the actions, manners, and thoughts of their contemporaries.
What they had to communicate, might well make them eloquent; but, inasmuch as relates to Columbus, the Inspiration went no farther. No National Poem appeared on the subject; no Camoëns did honour to his Genius and his Virtues. Yet the materials, that have descended to us, are surely not unpoetical; and a desire to avail myself of them, to convey in some instances as far as I could, in others
as far as I dared, their warmth of colouring and wildness of imagery, led me to conceive the idea of a Poem written not long after his death, when the great consequences of the Discovery were beginning to unfold themselves, but while the minds of men were still clinging to the superstitions of their fathers.
The Event here described may be thought too recent for the Machinery; but I found them together.* A belief in the agency of Evil Spirits prevailed over both hemispheres; and even yet seems almost necessary to enable us to clear up the Darkness,
And justify the ways of God to Men.
* Perhaps even a contemporary subject should not be rejected as such, however wild and extravagant it may be, if the manners be foreign and the place distant-major è longinquo reverentia. L'éloignement des pays, says Racine, répare en quelque sorte la trop grande proximité des temps; car le peuple ne met guere de différence entre ce qui est, si j'ose ainsi parler, à mille ans de lui, et ce qui en est à mille lieues.
Columbus, having wandered from kingdom to kingdom, at length obtains three ships and sets sail on the Atlantic. The compass alters from its ancient direction; the wind becomes constant and unremitting; night and day he advances, till he is suddenly stopped in his course by a mass of vegetation, extending as far as the eye can reach, and assuming the appearance of a country overwhelmed by the sea. Alarm and despondence on board. He resigns himself to the care of Heaven, and proceeds on his voyage.
Meanwhile the deities of America assemble in council; and one of the Zemi, the gods of the islanders, announces his approach. “ In vain," says he, “ have we guarded the Atlantic for ages. A mortal has baffled our power ; nor will our votaries arm against him. Yours are a sterner race. Hence; and, while we have recourse to stratagem, do you array the nations round your altars, and prepare for an exterminating war." They disperse while he is yet speaking; and, in the shape of a condor, he directs his flight to the fleet. His journey described. He arrives there. A panic. A mutiny. Columbus re
stores order ; continues on his voyage; and lands in a New World. Ceremonies of the first interview. Rites of hospitality. The ghost of Cazziva.
Two months pass away, and an Angel, appearing in a dream to Columbus, thus addresses him: “Return to Europe; though your Adversaries, such is the will of Heaven, shall let loose the hurricane against you. A little while shall they triumph ; insinuating themselves into the hearts of your followers, and making the World, which you came to bless, a scene of blood and slaughter. Yet is there cause for rejoicing. Your work is done. The cross of Christ is planted here; and, in due time, all things shall be made perfect !”