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Christopher Columbus and the New World of His Discovery   By: (1876-1938)

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Often while I have been studying the records of colonisation in the New World I have thought of you and your difficult work in Ireland; and I have said to myself, "What a time he would have had if he had been Viceroy of the Indies in 1493!" There, if ever, was the chance for a Department such as yours; and there, if anywhere, was the place for the Economic Man. Alas! there war only one of him; William Ires or Eyre, by name, from the county Galway; and though he fertilised the soil he did it with his blood and bones. A wonderful chance; and yet you see what came of it all. It would perhaps be stretching truth too far to say that you are trying to undo some of Columbus's work, and to stop up the hole he made in Ireland when he found a channel into which so much of what was best in the Old Country war destined to flow; for you and he have each your places in the great circle of Time and Compensation, and though you may seem to oppose one another across the centuries you are really answering the same call and working in the same vineyard. For we all set out to discover new worlds; and they are wise who realise early that human nature has roots that spread beneath the ocean bed, that neither latitude nor longitude nor time itself can change it to anything richer or stranger than what it is, and that furrows ploughed in it are furrows ploughed in the sea sand. Columbus tried to pour the wine of civilisation into very old bottles; you, more wisely, are trying to pour the old wine of our country into new bottles. Yet there is no great unlikeness between the two tasks: it is all a matter of bottling; the vintage is the same, infinite, inexhaustible, and as punctual as the sun and the seasons. It was Columbus's weakness as an administrator that he thought the bottle was everything; it is your strength that you care for the vintage, and labour to preserve its flavour and soft fire.

Yours, FILSON YOUNG. RUAN MINOR, September 1906.


The writing of historical biography is properly a work of partnership, to which public credit is awarded too often in an inverse proportion to the labours expended. One group of historians, labouring in the obscurest depths, dig and prepare the ground, searching and sifting the documentary soil with infinite labour and over an area immensely wide. They are followed by those scholars and specialists in history who give their lives to the study of a single period, and who sow literature in the furrows of research prepared by those who have preceded them. Last of all comes the essayist, or writer pure and simple, who reaps the harvest so laboriously prepared. The material lies all before him; the documents have been arranged, the immense contemporary fields of record and knowledge examined and searched for stray seeds of significance that may have blown over into them; the perspective is cleared for him, the relation of his facts to time and space and the march of human civilisation duly established; he has nothing to do but reap the field of harvest where it suits him, grind it in the wheels of whatever machinery his art is equipped with, and come before the public with the finished product. And invariably in this unequal partnership he reaps most richly who reaps latest.

I am far from putting this narrative forward as the fine and ultimate product of all the immense labour and research of the historians of Columbus; but I am anxious to excuse myself for my apparent presumption in venturing into a field which might more properly be occupied by the expert historian... Continue reading book >>

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