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Steure, muthiger Segler! Es mag der Wik dich verhöhnen,
Columbus was a man of great and inventive genius. The operations of his mind were energetic but irregular; sallying forth at times with that irresistible force which characterizes intellects of this order. * * *
He was decidedly a visionary ; but a visionary of an uncommon and successful kind. The manner in which his ardent, imaginative and mercurial nature was controlled by a powerful judgment, and directed by an acute sagacity, is the most extraordinary feature in his character. Thus governed, his imagination, instead of exhausting itself in idle soarings, lent wings to his judgment, and bore it away to remote conclusions, at which common minds could never have arrived, nay, which they could not perceive when pointed out.
To his intellectual vision it was given to read in the signs of the times, and in the conjectures and reveries of past ages, the indications of an unknown world; as soothsayers were said to read predictions in the stars, and to foretel events from the visions of the night. "His soul,' observes a Spanish writer, 'was superior to the age in which he lived. For him was reserved the great enterprize to plough a sea which had given rise to so many fables, and to decipher the mystery of his time.'
With all the visionary fervor of his imagination, its fondest dreams fell short of the reality. He died in ignorance of the real grandeur of his discovery. * ** What visions of glory would have broke upon his mind, could he have known that he had indeed discovered a new continent, equal to the whole of the old world in magnitude, and separated by two vast oceans from all of the earth hitherto known by civilized man; and how would his magnanimous spirit have been consoled, amidst the chills of age and cares of penury, the neglect of a fickle public, and the injustice of an ungrateful king, could he have anticipated the splendid empires which were to spread over the beautiful world he had discovered, and the nations, and tongues, and languages, which were to fill its lands with his renown, and to revere and bless his name to the latest posterity!
The memory of Columbus ought to be peculiarly dear to Americans. He it was that disclosed to astonished Europe the rich expanse of this western world. The penetrating and adventurous Italian revealed to his contemporaries, and through them to our fathers, the path across the broad. ocean, which sunders the two great continents of the earth. Taught by his wisdom, and guided by his resolute spirit, the nations of Europe sent forth colony after colony, allured by the silver imbedded in our mountains, or driven hither by intolerable oppressions at home, to explore, to conquer, and to people the wide regions of America. In common with the whole human race, we are under infinite obligations to him for giving án extension to the efforts of commercial enterprise, of which no past ages could have formed any conception ; for opening to mankind a boundless field for the exertion of industry, skill, intelligence, the cultivation of science, literature, and the arts, and the acquisition of riches and all its consequent advantages; for giving that impulse to colonization, by reason whereof so many enlightened millions have sprung up to inhabit the soil he discovered ; in fine, for enlarging the bounds of civilization and improvement, by adding another world to their empire.
But our own duty of gratitude is more peculiarly imperative. That we subsist as an independent state, perhaps that we have being as individuals, that it is our happy lot to constitute a free and flourishing Republic, that we enter into the great farnily of civilized nations, which inhabit this continent,-is because the Genoese mariner conceived and accomplished his splendid adventure. It matters not whether any equally daring navigator in remote antiquity, impelled by chance, by design, or by the violence of winds and waves, had succeeded in piloting his frail galley along the selfsame track with Columbus. Plato may have learnt of the Atlantic Isles from the priests of Egypt. The sublime vision of Seneca was not, it may be, entirely prophetic. The Phenicians, those intrepid seamen, who circumnavigated Africa, might have made, also, the far less perilous voyage to America. But, if they did, the belief, nay the memory of the event was already become, in the lapse of ages, as if it had never been unfolded to man; and therefore it detracts nothing from the glory of Columbus.
True it is, likewise, had he never drawn the breath of life, or had his overpowering conviction of the existence of undiscovered lands, far off in the western ocean, perished with himself, still among those acute and bold Italians, who abounded in every court of Europe, another Columbus might have arisen to develope the grand secret, blest in imparting it to a more worthy master than the jealous, ungrateful, and bigoted Ferdinand. Yet who will undertake to unrol the stupendous consequences depending on the single incident of the discovery of America, at that conjuncture and under those circumstances, and by the very person to whom destiny did actually give it in charge ? Who is capable of conceiving what chain of extraordinary events might have ensued, if the discovery had taken place under materially different auspices? What influence, baneful or fortunate, it would have exerted upon our fate, no mortal eye can trace; and we may be content, therefore, with reiterating our grateful acknowledgments to the enterprising genius of Columbus.
It is not my purpose, on this occasion, to enter into continuous narration of the life of Columbus. Passing cursorily over the voyages made by him in the service of Spain, and his doings in the West Indies, I shall confine myself to the incidents of his private and early life, his family history, and to appropriate comment on some personal particulars of his later days.