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- European Background Of American History - 4/42 -


northeast, which reached, for the first time, the islands of Nova Zembla. [Footnote: Beazley, Henry the Navigator.] The Portuguese ambition was finally crowned with success in the exploit of Vasco da Gama in reaching the coast of India by way of the southern point of Africa, in 1498; the Spanish expedition under Magellan reached the same lands by the westward route twenty years afterwards. Even after these successes, efforts continued to be made to reach China and the Indies by a northeast passage around the northern coast of Europe. Successive expeditions of Portuguese, English, French, and Dutch were sent out only to meet invariable failure in those icy seas, until the terrible hardships the explorers endured gradually brought conviction of the impracticability of this, as of the northwestern, route. What was the origin of this eagerness to reach the Indies? Why did Portuguese, Spaniards, English, French, and Dutch vie with one another in centuries of effort not only to discover new lands, but to seek these sea-routes to the oldest of all lands? Why were the old lines of intercourse between the East and the West almost deserted, and a new group of maritime nations superseding the old Mediterranean and mid-European trading peoples? The answer to these questions will be found in certain changes which were in progress in those lands east of the Mediterranean Sea, which lie on the border-line between Europe and Asia. Through this region trade between Europe and the far East had flowed from immemorial antiquity; but in the fifteenth century its channels were obstructed and its stream much diminished.

Mediaeval Europe was dependent for her luxuries on Asia Minor and Syria, Arabia and Persia, India and the Spice Islands, China and Japan. Precious stones and fabrics, dyes and perfumes, drugs and medicaments, woods, gums, and spices reached Europe by many devious and obscure routes, but all from the eastward. One of the chief luxuries of the Middle Ages was the edible spices. The monotonous diet, the coarse food, the unskilful cookery of mediaeval Europe had all their deficiencies covered by a charitable mantle of Oriental seasoning. Wines and ale were constantly used spiced with various condiments. In Sir Thopas's forest grew "notemuge to putte in ale." [Footnote: Chaucer, Sir Thopas, line 52.] The brewster in the Vision of Piers Plowman declares:

"I have good ale, gossip, Glutton wilt thou essay? 'What hast thou,' quoth he, 'any hot spices?' I have pepper and peony and a pound of garlic, A farthing-worth of fennel seed for fasting days" [Footnote: Text C, passus VII, lines 355, etc.]

Froissart has the king's guests led to "the palace, where wine and spices were set before them." [Footnote: Froissart, Chronicles, book II, chap lxxx] The dowry of a Marseilles girl, in 1224, makes mention of "mace, ginger, cardamoms, and galangale." [Footnote: Quoted in Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, II, 433, n.] In the garden in the Romaunt of the Rose, "Ther was eek wexing many a spyce, As clow- gelofre, and licoryce, Gingere, and greyn de paradys, Canelle, and setewale of prys, And many a spyce delitable, To eten when men ryse fro table." [Footnote: Chaucer (Skeat's ed), lines 1367-1373.]

When John Ball wished to draw a contrast between the lot of the lords and the peasants, he said, "They have wines, spices, and fine bread, when we have only rye and the refuse of the straw." [Footnote: Froissart, Chronicles, book II, chap lxxiii.] When old Latimer was being bound to the stake he handed nutmegs to his friends as keepsakes. [Footnote: Froude, History of England.]

Pepper, the most common and at the same time the most valued of these spices, was frequently treated as a gift of honor from one sovereign to another, or as a courteous form of payment instead of money. "Matilda de Chaucer is in the gift of the king, and her land is worth 8 pounds, 2d, and 1 pound of pepper and 1 pound of cinnamon and 1 ounce of silk," reads a chance record in an old English survey. [Footnote: Festa de Nevil, p 16.] The amount of these spices demanded and consumed was astonishing. Venetian galleys, Genoese carracks, and other vessels on the Mediterranean brought many a cargo of them westward, and they were sold in fairs and markets everywhere. "Pepper-sack" was a derisive and yet not unappreciative epithet applied by German robber-barons to the merchants whom they plundered as they passed down the Rhine. For years the Venetians had a contract to buy from the sultan of Egypt annually 420,000 pounds of pepper. One of the first vessels to make its way to India brought home 210,000 pounds. A fine of 200,000 pounds of pepper was imposed upon one petty prince of India by the Portuguese in 1520. In romances and chronicles, in cook-books, trades-lists, and customs- tariffs, spices are mentioned with a frequency and consideration unknown in modern times.

Yet the location of "the isles where the spices grow" was very distant and obscure to the men of the Middle Ages. John Cabot, in 1497, said that he "was once at Mecca, whither the spices are brought by caravans from distant countries, and having inquired from whence they were brought and where they grew, the merchants answered that they did not know, but that such merchandise was brought from distant countries by other caravans to their home; and they further say that they are also conveyed from other remote regions." [Footnote: Letter of Soncino, in Hart, Contemporaries, I., 70.] Such lack of knowledge was pardonable, considering that Marco Polo, one of the most observant of travellers, after spending years in Asia, believed, mistakenly, that nutmegs and cloves were produced in Java. [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule's ed.), book III., chap vi., 217, n.] It was only after more direct intercourse was opened up with the East that their true place of production became familiarly known in Europe. Nutmegs and mace, cloves and allspice were the native products of but one little spot on the earth's surface: a group of small islands, Banda, Amboyna, Ternate, Tidore, Pulaway, and Prelaroon, the southernmost of the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, just under the equator, in the midst of the Malay Archipelago. Their light, volcanic soil, kept moist by the constant damp winds and hot by the beams of an overhead sun, furnished the natural conditions in which the spice-trees grew. Here the handsome shrubs that-yield the nutmeg and its covering of mace produced a continuous crop of flowers and fruit all the year around. Cloves grew in the same islands, as clusters of scarlet buds, hanging at the ends of the branches of trees which rise to a greater height and grow with even a greater luxuriance than the nutmeg-bushes. [Footnote: Wallace, The Malay Archipelago, chap. xix.]

Pepper had scarcely a wider field of production. The forests that clothed a stretch of the Malabar coast of India some two hundred miles in length, and extending some miles back into the interior, were filled with an abundant growth of pepper-vines. One of the earliest of European travellers in India, Odoric de Pordenone, says: "The province where pepper grows is named Malabar, and in no other part of the world does pepper grow except in this country. The forest where it grows is about eighteen days in length." [Footnote: Odoric de Pordenone (D'Avezac's ed), chap. x.] John Marignolli, in 1348, also speaks of this district as "where the world's pepper is produced." [Footnote: Quoted in Marco Polo (Yule's ed), II., 314, n., and Sir John Mandeville, chap, xviii.] Its habitat was, however, somewhat more extensive, for in less abundance and of inferior quality the pepper- vines were raised all the way south to Cape Comorin, and even in the islands of Ceylon and Sumatra.

Cinnamon-bark was the special product of the mountain-slopes in the interior of Ceylon, but this also grew on the Indian coast to the westward, [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule's ed), book III, chaps, xiv., xxv.] and, in the form of cassia of several varieties, was obtained in Thibet, in the interior provinces of China, and in some of the islands of the Malay Archipelago. Ginger was produced in many parts of the East; in Arabia, India, and China. Odoric attributes to a certain part of India "the best ginger that can be found in the world" [Footnote: Odoric de Pordenone (D'Avezac's ed), chap. x.] and Marco Polo records its production of good quality in many provinces of India and China. [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule's ed), book II, chap. lxxx., book III., chaps, xxii., xxiv., xxv, xxvi.] A great number of other kinds of spices were produced in various parts of the Orient, and consumed there or exported to Europe. Precious stones were of almost as much interest to the men of the Middle Ages as were spices. For personal ornament and for the enrichment of shrines and religious vestments, all kinds of beautiful stones exercised an attraction proportioned to the small number and variety of articles of beauty and taste in existence.

"No saphir ind, no rube riche of price, There lakked than, nor emeraud so grene." [Footnote: Chaucer, Court of Love, lines 78, 79.]

These were as much characteristic products of the East as were spices. Diamonds, before the discovery of the American and African fields of production, were found only in certain districts in the central part of India, especially in the kingdom of Mutfili or Golconda. Marco Polo tells the same story of the method of getting them there that is reported by Sindbad the Sailor. [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule's ed), book III., chap, xix.; Arabian Nights.] Rubies, the next most admired stone of the Middle Ages, were also found, to some extent, in India, but more largely in the island of Ceylon, in farther India, and, above all, in the districts of Kerman, Khorassan, Badakshan, and other parts of the highlands of Persia along the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., App., I.] Sapphires, garnets, topaz, amethyst, and sardonyx were found in several of the same districts and also in the mountains and streams of the west coast of India, from the Gulf of Cambay all the way to Ceylon. The greatest markets in the world for these stones were the two Indian cities of Pulicat and Calicut; the former on the southeastern, the latter on the western shore of the great peninsula. Pearls were then, as now, produced only in a very few places, principally in the strait between Ceylon and the mainland of India, and in certain parts of the Persian Gulf. In the native states in the south of India they were, however, accumulated in enormous quantities, and scarcely a list of Eastern articles of merchandise omits mention of them. One of the early European expeditions brought home among its freight 400 pearls chosen for their size and beauty, and forty pounds of an inferior sort. The passion of the native rajahs of India for gems had made the treasury of every petty prince a storehouse where vast numbers of precious stones had been garnered through thousands of years of wealth and civilization. This mass served as the booty of successive conquerors, and from time to time portions of it came into the hands of traders, along with stones newly obtained from natural sources. An early chronicler, in describing the return of the Polos to Venice from the East, tells how, from the seams of their garments, they took out the profits of their journeys in the East, in the form of "rubies, sapphires, carbuncles, diamonds, and emeralds." [Footnote: Ramusio, Raccolta, quoted in Marco Polo (Yule's ed.), book I., chap, xxxvii.] Drugs, perfumes, gums, dyes, and fragrant woods had much the same attraction as spices and precious stones, and came from much the same lands. The lofty and beautiful trees from which camphor is obtained grew only in Sumatra, Borneo, and certain provinces of China and Japan. Medicinal rhubarb was native to the mountainous districts of China, whence it was brought to the cities and the coast of that country on the backs of mules. Musk was a product of the borderlands of China and Thibet. The sugar-cane, although it grew widely in the East, from India and China to Syria and Asia Minor, was successfully managed so as to produce sugar in quantities that could be exported only in certain parts of Arabia and Persia. Bagdad was long famous for its sugar and articles preserved in sugar. Indigo was grown and prepared for dyeing purposes in India. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., App., I.] Brazil wood grew more or less abundantly in all parts of the peninsula of India and as far east as Siam and southern China. This wood, from which was extracted a highly valued dye, made a particularly strong impression on the mediaeval imagination. European travellers in India gave accounts of its being burned there for firewood, as their


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