A World Of Wonder


But if the natives were to be disillusioned, so too was Columbus himself. As voyage succeeded voyage, it began to be clear to the Spanish authorities that they had given the Admiral altogether too much, and he was whittled down. Between the first great stroke of discovery and the long, wearisome fight to maintain his own authority and prerogatives against mutinous subordinates and schemers at court, Columbus fell on difficult times. Yet the faith that was the obverse side of the coin, with him—the faith that went hand in hand with his God-given curiosity and eagerness—never deserted him. Seven years after the discovery, deserted by fortune, Columbus wrote thus in his journal:

The day after Christmas Day, 1499, all having left me, I was attacked by the Indians and the bad Christians, and was placed in such extremity that fleeing death I took to sea in a small caravel. Then Our Lord aided me, saying, “Man of little faith, do not fear, I am with thee.” And he dispersed my enemies, and showed me how I might fulfill my vows. Unhappy sinner that I am, to have placed all my hopes in the things of this world!

Actually, Columbus had placed his hopes not so much in the things of this world as in the belief that this world contained ever so much more than any of his contemporaries suspected. These hopes were abundantly sustained. The belief that went with them has colored the American consciousness ever since.