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- The Voyage of Verrazzano - 2/30 -


The letter, in which the pretension is advanced, professes to be addressed by Verrazzano to the king of France, at that time Francis I, from Dieppe, in Normandy, the 8th of July (O. S.), 1534, on his return to that port from a voyage, undertaken by order of the king, for the purpose of finding new countries; and to give an account of the discoveries which he had accordingly made. He first reminds his majesty that, after starting with four ships, originally composing the expedition, he was compelled by storms, encountered on the northern coasts, to put into Brittany in distress, with the loss of two of them; and that after repairing there the others, called the Normanda and Delfina (Dauphine), be made a cruize with this FLEET OF WAR, as they are styled, along the coast of Spain. He finally proceeded on the voyage of discovery with the Dauphine alone, setting sail from a desolate rock near the island of Madeira, on the 17th of January, 1524, with fifty men, and provisions for eight months, besides the necessary munitions of war. This voyage, therefore, is to be regarded, according to the representations here made, to have been begun with the sailing of the four ships, from Dieppe, in the preceding year they fell upon a "country never before seen by any one either in ancient or modern times." [Footnote: Some writers have regarded this introductory as referring to two voyages or cruises, one with the four ships before the disaster, and the other with the Dauphine afterwards. But it seems clear from their being described as assailed by tempests in the north, which compelled them to run into Brittany for safety, that they were not far distant from Dieppe when the storms overtook them; and must have been either on their way out or on their return to that port. If they were on their return from a voyage to America, as Charlevoix infers (Fastes Chronologques 1523-4), or simply from a cruise, as Mr. Brevoort supposes, they would, after making their repairs, have proceeded home, to Dieppe, instead of making a second voyage. They must, therefore, be regarded as on their way from Dieppe. The idea of a voyage having been performed before the storms seems to be due to alteration which Ramusio made in this portion of the letter, by introducing the word "success," as of the four ships, Charelvoix expressly refers to Ramusio as his authority and Mr. Brevoort makes a paraphrase from the Carli and Ramusio versions combined. (Notes on the Verrazzano Map in Journal of the Am. Geog. Society of New York, vol. IV, pp 172-3)] On leaving Madeira they pursued a westerly course for eight hundred leagues and then, inclining a little to the north, ran four hundred leagues more, when on the 7th of March [Footnote: There is some ambiguity in the account, as to the time when they first saw land. The letter reads as follows: "On the 17th of last January we set sail from a desolate rock near the island of Madeira, and sailint westward, in twenty-five days we ran eight hundred leagues. On the 24th of February, we encountered as violent a hurricane as any ship ever weathered. Pursuing our voyage toward the west, a little northwardly, in twenty-four days more, have run four hundred leagues, we reached a new country," &c. If the twenty- four days be calculated from the 24th of February, the landfall would have taken place on the 20th of March; but if reckoned from the first twenty-five days run, it would have been on the 7th of that month. Ramusio changes the distance first sailed from 800 to 500 leagues; the day when they encountered the storm from the 24th to the 20th of February; and the twenty-four days last run to twenty-five; making the landfall occur on the 17th or 10th of March according to the mode of calculating the days last run. As it is stated, afterwards, that they encountered a gale WHILE AT ANCHOR ON THE COAST, EARLY in March, the 7th of that month must be taken as the time of the landfall.] It seemed very low and stretched to the south, in which direction they sailed along it for the purpose of finding a harbor wherein their ship might ride in safety; but DISCOVERING NONE in a distance of fifty leagues, they retraced their course, and ran to the north with no better success. They therefore drew in with the land and sent a boat ashore, and had their first communication with the inhabitants, who regarded them with wonder. These people are described as going naked, except around their loins, and as being BLACK. The land, rising somewhat from the shore, was covered with thick forests, which sent forth the sweetest fragrance to a great distance. They supposed it adjoined the Orient, and for that reason was not devoid of medicinal and aromatic drugs and gold; and being IN LATITUDE 34 Degrees N., was possessed of a pure, salubrious and healthy climate. They sailed thence westerly for a short distance and then northerly, when at the end of fifty leagues they arrived before a land of great forests, where they landed and found luxuriant vines entwining the trees and producing SWEET AND LUSCIOUS GRAPES OF WHICH THEY ATE, tasting not unlike their own; and from whence they carried off a boy about eight years old, for the purpose of taking him to France. Coasting thence northeasterly for one hundred leagues, SAILING ONLY IN THE DAY TIME AND NOT MAKING ANY HARBOR in the whole of that distance, they came to a pleasant situation among steep hills, from whence a large river ran into the sea. Leaving, in consequence of a rising storm, this river, into which they had entered for a short distance with their boat, and where they saw many of the natives in their CANOES, they sailed directly EAST for eighty leagues, when they discovered an island of triangular shape, about ten leagues from the main land, EQUAL IN SIZE TO THE ISLAND OF RHODES. This island they named after the mother of the king of France. WITHOUT LANDING UPON IT, they proceeded to a harbor fifteen leagues beyond, at the entrance of a large bay, TWELVE LEAGUES BROAD, where they came to anchor and remained for fifteen days. They encountered here a people with whom they formed a great friendship, different in appearance from the natives whom they first saw,--these having a WHITE COMPLEXION. The men were tall and well formed, and the women graceful and possessed of pleasing manners. There were two kings among them, who were attended in state by their gentlemen, and a queen who had her waiting maids. This country was situated in latitude 41 Degrees 40' N, in the parallel of Rome; and was very fertile and abounded with game. They left it on the 6th of May, and sailed one hundred and fifty leagues, CONSTANTLY IN SIGHT OF THE LAND which stretched to the east. In this long distance THEY MADE NO LANDING, but proceeded fifty leagues further along the land, which inclined more to the north, when they went ashore and found a people exceedingly barbarous and hostile. Leaving them and continuing their course northeasterly for fifty leagues FURTHER, they discovered within that distance thirty-two islands. And finally, after having sailed between east and north one hundred and fifty leagues MORE, they reached the fiftieth degree of north latitude, where the Portuguese had commenced their discoveries towards the Arctic circle; when finding their provisions nearly exhausted, they took in wood and water and returned to France, having coasted, it is stated, along an UNKNOWN COUNTRY FOR SEVEN HUNDRED LEAGUES. In conclusion, it is added, they had found it inhabited by a people without religion, but easily to be persuaded, and imitating with fervor the acts of Christian worship performed by the discoverers.

The description of the voyage is followed by what the writer calls a cosmography, in which is shown the distance they had sailed from the time they left the desert rocks at Madeira, and the probable size of the new world as compared with the old, with the relative area of land and water on the whole globe. There is nothing striking or important in this supplement, except that it emphasizes and enforces the statements of the former part of the letter in regard to the landfall, fixes the exact point of their departure from the coast for home again at 50 Degrees N. latitude, and gives seven hundred leagues as the extent of the discovery. The length of a longitudinal degree along the parallel of thirty-four, in which it is reiterated they first made land, and between which and the parallel of thirty- two they had sailed from the Desertas, is calculated and found to be fifty-two miles, and the whole number of degrees which they had traversed across the ocean between those parallels, being twelve hundred leagues, or forty-eight hundred miles, is by simple division made ninety-two. The object of this calculation is not apparent, and strikes the reader as if it were a feeble imitation of the manner in which Amerigo Vespucci illustrates his letters. A statement is made, that they took the aim's altitude from day to day, and noted the observations, together with the rise and fall of the tide, in a little boat, which was "communicated to his majesty, in the hope of promoting science." It is also mentioned that they had no lunar eclipses, by means of which they could have ascertained the longitude during the voyage. This fact is shown by the tables of Regiomontanus, which had been published long before the alleged voyage, and were open to the world. The statement of it here, therefore, does not, as has been supposed, furnish any evidence in support of the narrative, by redeem of its originality. Such is the account, in brief; which the letter gives of the origin, nature and extent of the alleged discovery; and as it assumes to be the production of the navigator himself, and is the only source of information on the subject, it suggests all the questions which arise in this inquiry. These relate both to the genuineness of the letter, and the truth of its statements; and accordingly bring under consideration the circumstances under which that instrument was made known and has received credit; the alleged promotion of the voyage by the king of France; and the results claimed to have been accomplished thereby. It will be made to appear upon this examination, that the letter, according to the evidence upon which its existence is predicated, could not have been written by Verrazzano; that the instrumentality of the King of France, in any such expedition of discovery as therein described, is unsupported by the history of that country, and is inconsistent with the acknowledged acts of Francis and his successors, and therefore incredible; and that its description of the coast and some of the physical characteristics of the people and of the country are essentially false, and prove that the writer could not have made them, from his own personal knowledge and experience, as pretended. And, in conclusion, it will be shown that its apparent knowledge of the direction and extent of the coast was derived from the exploration of Estevan Gomez, a Portuguese pilot in the service of the king of Spain, and that Verrazzano, at the time of his pretended discovery, was actually engaged in a corsairial expedition, sailing under the French flag, in a different part of the ocean.

II.

THE VERRAZZANO LETTER NOT GENUINE

No proof that the letter ascribed to Verrazzano, was written by him, has ever been produced. The letter itself has never been exhibited, or referred to in any authentic document, or mentioned by any contemporary or later historian as being in existence, and although it falls within the era, of modern history, not a single fact which it professes to describe relating to the fitting out of the expedition, the voyage, or the discovery, is corroborated by other testimony, whereby its genuineness might even be inferred. The only evidence in regard to it, relates to two copies, as they purport to be, both in the Italian language, one of them coming to us printed and the other in manuscript, but neither of them traceable to the alleged original. They are both of them of uncertain date. The printed copy appears in the work of Ramusio, first published in 1556; when Verrazzano and Francis I, the parties to it, were both dead, and a generation of men had almost passed away since the events which it announced had, according to its authority, taken place, and probably no one connected with the government of France at that time could have survived to gainsay, the story, were it


The Voyage of Verrazzano - 2/30

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