Chapter 7a, Part 1 of Book 4

The Discoveries of Christopher Columbus Icon

March 23, 2020

8 But the countries Columbus discovered did not resemble those he was looking for.

Instead of the wealth, cultivation, and populousness of China and India, he found countries which were= uncultivated and covered with wood inhabited by tribes of naked and miserable savages He was not willing to believe that they were different from the countries described by Marco Polo. Marco Polo was the first European to visit and describe China or the East Indies. It had a very slight resemblance. He found the name of Cibao, a mountain in St. Domingo, to resemble the name of Cipango mentioned by Marco Polo. It was sufficient to make him frequently return to this favourite prepossession, though contrary to the clearest evidence. In his letters to Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus called the countries he discovered as the Indies. He entertained no doubt that they were the extremity of those described by Marco Polo. He thought that they were not very far from the Ganges or from the countries conquered by Alexander. Even when he was convinced that they were different, he still flattered himself that those rich countries were not far. In a subsequent voyage, he went in quest of them along the coast of Terra Firma and towards the Isthmus of Darien.

9 Because of Columbus’ mistake, the name of the Indies has stuck to those unfortunate countries ever since.

When it was finally clearly discovered that the new Indies were different from the old Indies, the former were called the West Indies and the old Indies were called the East Indies.

10 It was important to Columbus that his discovered countries should be represented of very great consequence to the Spanish court.

The real riches of every country then was the animal and vegetable produce of the soil. Those countries had nothing which could justify such a representation.

11 The Cori was something between a rat and a rabbit.

It was supposed by Mr. Buffon to be the same with the Aperea of Brazil (Guinea Pig).

It was the largest viviparous quadruped in St. Domingo and was never very numerous. The dogs and cats of the Spaniards have long ago almost entirely destroyed it with other smaller species.

These and a pretty large lizard, called the Iguana, was the main animal food from the land. 12 The vegetable food of the inhabitants was not so scanty, though it was not very abundant because of their lack of industry.

It consisted in plants which were then unknown in Europe= Indian corn, yams, potatoes, bananas, etc. Those plants have never been very much esteemed. It was not supposed to yield more sustenance than the common grain and pulse already cultivated.

13 The cotton plant afforded the material of a very important manufacture.

At that time, it was the most valuable of all plants of those islands to Europeans. In the end of the 15th century, the muslins and other cotton goods of the East Indies were much esteemed in Europe. But the cotton manufacture itself was not cultivated in Europe. Even this production, therefore, at that time was not of very great consequence to Europeans.

14 Columbus turned to the minerals of the newly discovered countries after finding nothing in their animals or vegetables which could justify an advantageous representation.

He flattered himself that he found a full compensation in minerals for the insignificance of those plants and animals. The inhabitants ornamented their dress with bits of gold from the small streams from the mountains. Those were sufficient to satisfy him that those mountains abounded with the richest gold mines. St. Domingo was represented as a country abounding with gold. According to the prejudices of those times and the present time, this was an inexhaustible source of real wealth to Spain. When Columbus returned from his first voyage, he was introduced with triumphal honours to the sovereigns of Castile and Arragon. The main produce of the countries he discovered were carried in solemn procession before him. The only valuable part of them consisted in= some little fillets, bracelets, and ornaments of gold some bales of cotton. The rest were mere objects of vulgar wonder and curiosity= some reeds of an extraordinary size some birds of a very beautiful plumage some stuffed skins of the huge alligator and manati all of which were preceded by six or seven of the wretched natives

15 Because of the representations of Columbus, the council of Castile determined to possess those defenceless countries.

“The pious purpose of converting them to Christianity sanctified the injustice of the project.” But the hope of finding treasures of gold there was its sole motive.

To give this motive greater weight, Columbus proposed that half of all the gold and silver found there should belong to the crown. This proposal was approved of by the council.

16 As long as the gold could be easily got by plundering the defenceless natives, it was perhaps not very difficult to pay even this heavy 50% tax.

But when the natives were stripped of all their gold after 6-8 years, it became necessary to dig for it in the mines. It was no longer possible to pay this tax. The high taxes first caused the total abandonment of the mines of St. Domingo. Those mines were never wrought since. It was soon reduced to 1/3, then to 1/5, then to 1/10, and at last to 1/20 of the gross produce of the gold mines. The tax on silver continued for a long time to be 1/5 of the gross produce. It was reduced to 1/10 only during the present century. But the first adventurers were mainly interested in gold, not silver.

17 All the other Spanish enterprises in the new world after those of Columbus were prompted by the sacred thirst of gold.

This motive carried= Oieda, Nicuessa, and Vasco Nugnes de Balboa, to the Isthmus of Darien Cortez to Mexico Almagro and Pizzarro to Chili and Peru When those adventurers arrived on any unknown coast, their first inquiry was always if there was any gold to be found there. With this information, they determined to quit the country or settle in it.

18 The search for new silver and gold mines is perhaps the most ruinous of all those expensive and uncertain projects which can bring bankruptcy.

It is perhaps the most disadvantageous lottery in the world. It is a lottery where the gain of the winners bears the least proportion to the loss of the losers. “for though the prizes are few and the blanks many, the common price of a ticket is the whole fortune of a very rich man.” Mining projects absorb both capital and profit. They do not replace the capital employed in them with the ordinary profits of stock. A prudent law-giver who desired to increase the capital of his nation would least choose to encourage mining. “Such in reality is the absurd confidence which almost all men have in their own good fortune that, wherever there is the least probability of success, too great a share of it is apt to go to them of its own accord.”

19 The judgement of sober reason and experience has always been extremely unfavourable on mining projects.

The judgement of human avidity has commonly been extremely favourable. The same passion which suggested the absurd idea of the philosopher’s stone to so many people, has suggested the equally absurd idea of immensely rich gold and silver mines. “They did not consider that the value of those metals has, in all ages and nations, arisen chiefly from their scarcity” They did not consider that their scarcity arose from= The very small quantities which nature has deposited in one place. The hard and intractable substances which nature has surrounded those small quantities The labour and expence necessary to get to them. They flattered themselves that veins of those metals might be found as large and abundant as those of lead, copper, tin, or iron. “The dream of Sir Walter Raleigh concerning the golden city and country of Eldorado, may satisfy us that even wise men are not always exempt from such strange delusions.” More than 100 years after the death of that great man, the Jesuit Gumila was still convinced of the reality of El Dorado. Gumila expressed with great warmth and sincerity, his happiness in carrying the gospel to its people who could well reward his pious labours.

20 In the countries first discovered by the Spaniards, no gold or silver mines are presently known to be worth the working.

The first adventurers probably very much magnified= The quantities of those metals they found The fertility of the mines wrought immediately after their first discovery What those adventurers found was sufficient to inflame the avidity of all Spaniards. Every Spaniard who sailed to America expected to find an El Dorado. Fortune fulfilled the extravagant hopes of her devotees, something she does very seldomly. The discovery and conquest of Mexico happened about 30 years after the first expedition of Columbus. That of Peru happened about after 40 years of his expedition. Fortune presented the first adventurers with something similar to that profusion of precious metals they sought for.

21 A project of commerce to the East Indies caused the discovery of the West Indies.

A project of conquest created all Spanish establishments in those newly discovered countries. Their motive was a project of gold and silver mines. A course of accidents, which no human wisdom could foresee, rendered this project much more successful than expected.

22 The first adventurers of all other European nations who attempted to settle in America were animated by the like chimerical views.

But they were not equally successful. “It was more than 100 years after the first settlement of Brazil before any silver, gold, or diamond mines were discovered there.” None have yet been discovered in the English, French, Dutch, and Danish colonies that are worth the working. The first English settlers in North America offered 1/5 of all the gold and silver to the king as a motive for granting them their patents. This 1/5 was reserved to the crown in the patents to Sir Walter Raleigh, London and Plymouth Companies, Council of Plymouth, etc. Those first settlers joined the quest of discovering gold and silver mines and a northwest passage to the East Indies. They were disappointed in both.


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