Imatges de pàgina


Portuguese Discoveries.

EUROPE, for ten centuries, during the decline of the Ro man empire, the irruption of the barbarous nations, and the operation of the rude systems of feudal polity, remained sunk in profound apathy respecting all objects relating to science, discovery, and distant commerce. The splendour

of the Crescent for a short interval outshone all that was brightest in the Christian world; and the courts of Bagdad, of Fez, and of Cordova were more refined and more enlightened than those of London and Paris. At a somewhat early period, it is true, the Hanse Towns and the Italian republics began to cultivate manufactures and commerce, and to lay the foundation of a still higher prosperity; but they carried on chiefly an inland or coasting trade. The naval efforts even of Venice and Genoa extended no farther than to bring from Alexandria and the shores of the Black Sea the commodities of India, which had been con veyed thither chiefly by caravans overland. Satisfied with the wealth and power to which they had been raised by this local and limited commerce, these celebrated republics made no attempt to open a more extended path over the ocean. Their pilots, indeed, guided most of the vessels which were engaged in the early voyages of discovery; but they were employed, and the means furnished, by the great monarchs whose ports were situated upon the shores of the Atlantic.

About the end of the fifteenth century, the human mind began to make a grand movement in every direction; in religion, science, freedom, and industry. It eagerly sought, not only to break loose from that thraldom in which it had been bound for so many ages, but to rival and even surpass all that had been achieved during the most brilliant eras of antiquity. These high aims were peculiarly directed to he department of maritime discovery. The invention of the compass, the skill of the Venetian and Genoese pilots, and the knowledge transmitted from former times, inspired

mankind with the hope of being able to pass all the ancient barriers, and to throw light upon regions hitherto unknown. A small power, long sunk in apathy and political degradation, started first in this career, and took the lead for a certain time of all the European states. Portugal, during the reign of its kings John and Emmanuel, stood pre-eminent in enterprise and intelligence. Prince Henry, in particular, a younger son of John I., devoted all his thoughts and his whole life to the promotion of naval undertakings. No idea, however, was yet entertained of the new worlds which were afterward discovered by the daring spirit of Columbus. The local position of Portugal, its wars and expeditions against Morocco, led to the idea that the western border of Africa was the best field for discovery. The information respecting this coast was still very limited; so that the passage of Cape Bojador by Gilianez, in 1433, caused a surprise and admiration almost equal to what were afterward excited by the discovery of America. A rapid progress was afterward made along the shore of the Sahara, and the Portuguese navigators were not long in reaching the fertile regions watered by the Senegal and the Gambia.

The early part of this progress was dreary in the extreme. The mariners saw only naked rocks and burning sands, stretching immeasurably into the interior, and affording no encouragement to any project of settlement. Beyond Cape Blanco, however, Nuno Tristan, in 1443, discovered the island of Arguin; and notwithstanding the disaster of Gonzalo da Cintra, who, in 1445, was killed by a party of Moors, the Portuguese made it for some time their principal establishment. The country was far from presenting a brilliant aspect, though it was visited by caravans of the "Brabariis and Luddaias" (the people of Bambarra and Ludamar), who gave a very favourable report of the interior regions. Besides the expected accession to the power and splendour of the monarchy, the Portuguese cherished another object still more fondly. They hoped to open an intercourse with a prince, or person, of whom they had heard much under the mysterious appellation of Prester John. This singular name seems to have been first introduced by travellers from Eastern Asia, where it had been applied to some Nestorian bishop, who held there a species of sovereignty; and as soon as ru

mours arrived of the Christian king of Abyssinia, he was concluded to be the real Prester John. His dominions being reported to stretch far inland, and as the breadth of the African continent was very imperfectly understood, the conclusion was formed, that a mission from the western coast might easily reach his capital. What were the precise expectations formed from an intercourse with this personage does not fully appear; but it seems to have been thoroughly rooted in the minds of the Portuguese, that they would be raised to a matchless height of glory and felicity, if they could by any means arrive at the court of Prester John. The principal instruction given to all officers employed in African service was, that, in every quarter and by every means, they should endeavour to effect this grand discovery. They accordingly never failed to put the question to all the wanderers of the desert, and to every caravan that came from the interior; but in vain-the name of Prester John had never been heard. The Portuguese then besought the natives, at all events, into whatever region their journeys might lead them, studiously to inquire if Prester John was there, or if any one knew where he was to be found; and, on the promise of a splendid reward in case of success, this was readily undertaken.

In 1446, Diniz Fernandez discovered Cape Verd, and in the following year Lancelot entered the Senegal. The Portuguese found in this neighbourhood fertile and popu lous regions, that promised to reward their exertions much more effectually than the visionary name after which they had so eagerly inquired. A circumstance occurred, also, most convenient for monarchs who contemplate an extension of dominion. Bemoy, a prince of the Jaloff nation, came to Arguin, complaining that he had been driven from the throne, and entreating the aid of the Portuguese to restore to him his crown, which he was willing to wear as their ally, and even as their vassal. Bemoy was received with open arms, and conveyed to Lisbon. Here he experienced a brilliant reception, and his visit was celebrated by all the festal exhibitions peculiar to that age,-bullfights, puppet-shows, and even feats of dogs. On this occasion Bemoy made a display of the agility of his native attendants, who, on foot, kept pace with the swiftest horses.


mounting and alighting from these animals at full gallop. After being instructed in the Christian religion, he was baptized, and did homage to the king and to the Pope for the crown which was to be placed on his head; for which purpose a powerful armament, under the command of Pero Vaz d'Acunha, was sent out with him to the banks of the Senegal.

The conclusion of this adventure was extremely tragical. A quarrel having arisen between Bemoy and the com mander, the latter stabbed the prince on board of his vessel. Whether this violent deed was prompted by the heat of passion, or by well-grounded suspicions of Bemoy's fidelity, was never fully investigated; but the king learned the event with deep regret, and even, in consequence, gave up his design of building a fort on the Senegal. He made, however, no pause in his indefatigable efforts to trace the abode of Prester John. Ambassadors were sent into the interior, and, according to De Barros, even as far as Timbuctoo. All endeavours were vain as to the primary object; but the Portuguese thereby gained a more complete know ledge of this part of Interior Africa than was afterward attained in Europe till a very recent period. Most of this intelligence, however, has either perished, or still remains locked up in the archives of the Lusitanian monarchy.

The Portuguese continued to prosecute African disco very, till, in 1471, they reached the Gold Coast, when, dazzled by the importance and splendour of the commodity, the commerce of which gave name to that region, they built Elmina (the mine), making it the capital of their pos sessions in this continent. Pushing onward to Benin, they received a curious account of an embassy said to be sent, at the accession of every new monarch, to the court of a sovereign called Ogane, resident seven or eight hundred miles in the interior. When the ambassadors were introduced, a silk curtain shrouded the monarch from their view, till the moment of their departure, when the royal foot was graciously put forth from under the veil, and "reverence done to it as to a holy thing." This statement greatly excited the curiosity of the Portuguese, to whom this mys terious monarch appeared, more likely than any they had yet heard of, to be Prester John. Who this Ogane really was has been a subject of much doubtful discussion.

The Portuguese had for some time been desirous to frame a title to this extensive coast, part of which they had now discovered. They appealed chiefly to the reli gion, or rather to the superstition, of the age. The maxim had been early established, that whatever country should be conquered from infidel nations was to be held the property of the victors. This claim was rendered available by a grant obtained from the Pope, assigning to them in full dominion all lands which should be discovered beyond Cape Bojador, and in their farther progress eastward. Hence, after the establishment at Elmina, the king no longer hesitated to assume the pompous title of Lord of Guinea, and instructed his commanders that, instead of the wooden cross hitherto erected in sign of conquest, they should raise pillars of stone double the height of a man, with suitable inscriptions, surmounted by crucifixes inlaid with lead. In 1484, Diego Cam sailed from Elmina in quest of new shores on which this emblem of Portuguese dominion might be planted. After passing Cape St. Catherine, he found himself involved in a very strong current setting out from the land, which was still distant; though the water, when tasted, was found to be fresh. It was conjectured, therefore, that he was near the mouth of a great river, which proved to be the fact. It has since been celebrated under the name of the Zaire or Congo. Diego, on reaching its southern bank, erected his first pillar,-an event considered so memorable, that the stream itself has often, by Portuguese writers, been termed the "River of the Pillar." He ascended its borders, opened an intercourse with the natives, and inquired after the residence of their sovereign. They pointed to a place at a considerable distance in the interior, and undertook to guide thither a mission, which they pledged themselves, within a stipulated period, to lead back in safety. As the natives meantime passed and repassed on the most intimate footing, Diego took advantage of a moment when several of the principal persons were on board his ship, weighed anchor, and stood out to sea. He soothed the alarm visible in the countenances of their countrymen on shore, by signs, intimating that this step was taken solely to gratify the anxious desire of his sovereign to see and converse with these African chiefs; that in fifteen moons they should certainly

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