Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

been convinced that mankind are much more deeply interested in contemplating the progress of industry, civilization, social order, comfortable subsistence, and happiness, which in every part of the world go band-in-hand with well-directed commerce, than in studying the revolutions of empire, or the miseries brought upon the human race by the sanguinary exploits of conquerors. In noticing the time employed upon the work, I do not propose to make the reader expect a finished or elegant performance, but merely to show that it is not one of the crude publications, which are got up in a hurry, and obtruded upon the world with scarcely any attention to the authenticity of facts'

p. v, vi.

When we say that this design has been fairly executed, and that it is comprised within the compass of a single quarto volume, we presume that we need not offer any apology for abstaining from an attempt to lay before our readers a regular abstract of a series of facts already so closely condensed. The necessity of such an abstract is, indeed, in the present case, wholly superseded by the ful! and valuable index with which we are already supplied by Mr. Macpherson. We shall therefore content ourselves with giving a mere outline of the author's very elaborate history; with tracing the channels through which the stream of Asiatic commerce has, at different periods, been poured into Europe ; and with marking the obstacles by which, from time to time, the deviations of its current have been occasioned. We trust that even such an imperfect summary will be of some use in preparing our readers for that examination of the controversy to which the author's whole narrative is, in point of present interest, subordinate and introductory.

The Arabians are probably the earliest merchants whose transactions appear on any record, since it was to a company of Ishmaelites come from Gilead with their camels, bearing spicery, and balm, and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt,' that Joseph, as we learn from the 37th chapter of Genesis, was sold by his brethren. The spicery conveyed by this caravan may possibly have been some article of Arabian growth, and cannot prove that the Sabæans had already acquired such nautical skill as to import from the coast of Coromandel, or Ceylon, or from still more distant islands, those rare and valuable spices, of which, at a much later period, their queen composed her present to King Solomon; but that these people have been at all times distinguished for mercantile enterprize, may be clearly shewn by comparing the book of Job, or the Chronicles of the reign of Solomon, with the testimonies of modern travellers. The Sabæans had establishments in Africa; they supplied to Tyre and Sidon those articles of eastern growth which were thence communicated to Carthage, and to all the coasts of the Mediterranean; and they continued to be the com

mercial

[ocr errors]

mercial agents of Egypt, until the subjugation of that country by the Romans; after which the Egyptian Greeks were induced, by the prospect of supplying so large an empire, to attempt a direct trade to India ; and having subsequently discovered the periodical recurrence of the monsoons, pursued it to such an extent as to render Alexandria the great emporium of Europe.

Still, however, the Arabians continued, by means of the Persian Gulph, of the Euphrates, and of the caravans, to preserve their intercourse with the coasts of Syria and Asia Minor, and to share the market of Constantinople with the merchants of Boukaria, (the ancient Seres,) through whose agency the produce of India has, in all ages, been conveyed to Europe by the way of the Caspian and Euxine seas.

The enthusiasm inspired by Mahomet converted the Arabians into a nation of military apostles, whose successive conquests fur. nished a succession of armed proselytes sufficiently numerous to extend and to confirm their empire, and at the same time to ingross the entire commerce of Asia and Africa, as well as of a considerable part of Europe. They were complete masters of the Mediterranean ; their commercial navy was spread over the whole expanse of the Indian ocean; and its shores were generally covered by their factories, and subjected to their influence. Even when the fruits of their unparalleled valour had been torn from them; when the Moorish power was extinct in Spain ; and when the throne of the Caliphs had been overturned by the Turks; their commercial preponderance still remained to them, not only over a great part of Africa, but even in the inost distant parts of India, where the general prevalence of their language still attests the almost boundless expansion of their mercantile industry.

To this singular people it must be confessed that Europe owes considerable obligations. Though prevented by the genius of their religion, and perhaps by that of their language, from availing themselves of the models of ancient Greek literature and eloquence, they adopted from Greece, and improved many useful arts and sciences which they introduced into their Spanish schools, from whence the neighbouring nations derived their first knowledge of chemistry, and of algebra, and some other branches of the mathematics. The Turkish, and other barbarous tribes, who inherited the name and the religious tenets of the real Saracens, were only conspicuous for their stupid fanaticism; but even that fanaticism was perhaps even: tually advantageous to the western world, by provoking the crusades. By means of those distant expeditions, geography, navigation and astronomy, could not but make some progress; some refinement of manners must have been introduced amongst the cru: saders by their contact with the Greeks at the imperial court of

Constantinople;

Constantinople; the knowledge of many new comforts and luxuries must have resulted from their campaigns; and their conquests in Syria, a country at that time connected in trade with the richest nations of the East, gave considerable extension to the commerce of the Genoese and Venetians. Even after the expulsion of the Christians from Jerusalem, towards the close of the 12th century, St. Jean d'Acre long continued to be the centre of the Indian trade with the Mediterranean, a trade which was afterwards divided between Constantinople and Alexandria.

Respecting the nature or extent of this trade at different periods, we know so little, that even the following slight notices may perhaps be worth recording. Pliny (c. xii. $ 41. 18.) estimates the sum paid to India, to the

Seres, and to the Arabians by the Roman empire, at 100,000,000 of sesterces (above 800,000l. sterling,) wholly for articles of luxury, such as silks, pearls, and spices, particularly cinnamon, of which enormous quantities were burned at funerals; insomuch that Nero is said to have reduced to ashes a whole year's supply of that article in honour of his wife Poppæa. An estimate formed from such data cannot inspire much confi. dence; but as it is plain that Pliny did not mean to underrate the truth, and as Rome had at that time reached the height of its opulence, we may safely assume that the usual consumption of the Roman empire did not, at any time, surpass the amount which he has assigned to it: yet it is probable that the general demand for articles of India produce, and particularly spices, during the 14th and 15th centuries exceeded the alleged expenditure of the mistress of the world, and the extravagance of imperial luxury. Whilst, from the scarcity of the precious metals, wheat, wool, and other necessary articles performed, in many parts of Europe, the offices of money, spices also were employed for the same purpose; a strong proof of their almost universal use. Thus, in France, the salaries and fees of judges are still called épices, though no longer paid in kind. Spices and wine were equally employed in medicine and in cookery; and are always mentioned together by our old historians and romance writers. The commerce of Asia, therefore, afforded the most general articles of exchange in the trade of Europe, and became the source of the vast wealth accumulated by the Genoese and Venetian republics. About the year 1420, Venice was able to coin annually at its mint 1,000,000 of golden ducats; to pay to England a balance of 100,000 ducats, in return for the wool, which after being manufactured at Florence, was exported to the Levant, and to employ 500,000 ducats, besides various articles of merchandize, in investments in the ports of Egypt and Syria. Hitherto the Spanish peninsula had been scarcely connected,

eithes

either commercially or politically, with the other states of Europe. Having been, for centuries, the theatre of eternal war between the Christians and Mahometans, and of incessant dissentions betweel the little independent chieftains of each persuasion, it could not rise into importance until one of the rival religions should have finally prevailed, and until a certain number of its petty states should coalesce and be consolidated. The latter condition was not fulfilled till towards the close of the 15th century, when the Spanish monarchy was united under Ferdinand and Isabella; but many of the provinces which form the kingdom of Portugal had been conquered from the Moors in 1139, and were defended and strengthened by new conquests during many succeeding reigns, till the accession in 1585 of Johm I, to whose younger son, Henry Duke of Viseo, Europe is indebted for the present boundless extension of its commerce. Jolin, the ablest monarch of the age, was well able to estiinate, and inost anxious to improve the extraordinary genius of his child, whose rapid progress in science he constantly superintended, and whom he encouraged in the pursuit of those various speculations which were suggested to an ardent and vigorous mind by the then imperfect and unsatisfactory state of knowledge. To excel in arms, and to wield them in defence of the church, and against the unbelievers, was, at that time, the great duty

prince, and Henry, in various engagements in Africa, and particularly at the siege of Ceuta, distinguished himself by that enthasiastic and chivalrous valour which was sure to attract the admiration of his warlike countrymen. But the great objects of his ambition were to procure for Portugal the empire of the sea; to extend the doctrines of Christianity to the most distant parts of the eastern world, and to obtain the advantages of a trade, wholly maritime, with India. This scheme presupposed the possibility of sailing round the southern point of Africa, a possibility at that time much disputed; and as the extent of this vast continent was totally unknowo, it was previously necessary to examine the whole of its western coast. Yet such was Henry's confidence of success, and such the solidity of the reasoning on which that confidence was grounded, that he procured, in 1412, the equipment of a voyage of discovery, during which, the coast was explored as far as Cape Boiador. He was, at this time, only 16 years of age, so that the gigantic project to which he devoted his whole subsequent life, must have been the result of very early reflection. Cape Boiador was not doubled till 1434, nor was the progress of Portugueze discovery carried, during the life of Henry, who died in 1463, very far to the south of the equinoctial line: but he had at least insured the ultimate accomplishment of the design which he was not destined to complete. Whilst invested with the command of the Portu

gueze

gueze army in Africa, after the reduction of Ceuta, he collected, from the Moors, a large stock of valuable information respecting the geography of that country. On his return he built and fortified, near Cape Si. Vincent, the town of Sagres, where he established his residence, formed a naval arsenal, superintended the construction of ships, improved the mariner's compass, studied incessantly the application of astronomy to nautical purposes, and communicated his knowledge to the navigators of all nations whom he attracted into his service. The fertile island of Madeira had begun, long before his death, to afford a liberal compensation for the expense attending its discovery, and large quantities of gold imported from Africa had reconciled the Portugueze to the pursuit of a project, the advantage of which they had long considered as chimerical. Hence the perseverance with which that enterprize was continued during several successive reigns, till Gama, in 1494, had the honour of passing that formidable and stormy boundary which, though it arrested the progress of Diaz in 1486, had already received the prophetic appellation of the Cape of Good Hope.

Such had been the advance of nautical knowledge under the auspices of Henry, and such the spirit of enterprize awakened by him, that navigators were become familiar with the dangers of the open sea, and Christopher Columbus, a disciple of the Portugueze school, proposed to John II. the bold project of conducting a fleet to India by a straight course across the Atlantic. It is now well known that his proposed route, had it been practicable, was longer, by not less than 150 degrees of longitude than he expected to find it, and that he was deceived by the very imperfect state of the geography in the 15th century; but, had his premises been correct, his inference was certain; and he had, in 1492, the satisfaction of displaying to the King of Portugal, who had rejected his services, the proofs of a discovery still more extraordinary and splendid than that of Gama.

The advantages which Henry had anticipated from the circumnavigation of Africa were, for a time, completely realized. The navy of Portugal soon rode triumphant in every part of the Iudian ocean. The Moorish power in India was reduced and almost annihilated. Ample space was afforded to the exertions of the Christian missionaries by the subjugation of large and populous districts on the coasts. The treasury of the court of Lisbou was enriched by the tributes of many Indian princes, and hy the profits of a safe and abundant commerce, with which the precarious trade of Venice was unable to maintain a competition. During this period the history of the Portugueze exhibits a course of events without a parallel in the sober annals of mankind, and scarcely equalled by the wildest fictions of romance. All the talents and virtues which

ennoblo

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »