By the success of Columbus’s first voyage, doubt had been changed into admiration; from the honours with which he was rewarded, admiration degenerated into envy. To deny that his discovery carried in its train consequences infinitely more important than had resulted from any made since the creation, was impossible. His enemies had recourse to another expedient, and boldly asserted that there was neither wisdom in the plan, nor hazard in the enterprise.
When he was once at a Spanish supper, the company took this ground, and being by his narrative furnished with the reflections which had induced him to undertake his voyage, and the course that he had pursued in its completion, sagaciously observed, that “it was impossible for any man, a degree above an idiot, to have failed of success. The whole process was so obvious, it must have been seen by a man who was half blind! Nothing could be so easy!”
“It is not difficult now I have pointed out the way,” was the answer of Columbus: “but easy as it will appear, when you are possessed of my method, I do not believe that, without such instruction, any person present could place one of these eggs upright on the table.” The cloth, knives, and forks were thrown aside, and two of the party, placing their eggs as required, kept them steady with their fingers. One of them swore there could be no other way. “We will try,” said the navigator; and giving an egg, which he held in his hand, a smart stroke upon the table, it remained upright. The emotions which this excited in the company are expressed in their countenances. In the be-ruffed booby at his left hand it raises astonishment; he is a dear me! man, of the same family with Sterne’s Simple Traveller, and came from Amiens only yesterday. The fellow behind him, beating his head, curses his own stupidity; and the whiskered ruffian, with his fore-finger on the egg, is in his heart cursing Columbus. As to the two veterans on the other side, they have lived too long to be agitated with trifles: he who wears a cap, exclaims, “Is this all!” and the other, with a bald head, “By St. Jago, I did not think of that!” In the face of Columbus there is not that violent and excessive triumph which is exhibited by little characters on little occasions; he is too elevated to be overbearing; and, pointing to the conical solution of his problematical conundrum, displays a calm superiority, and silent internal contempt.
Two eels, twisted round the eggs upon the dish, are introduced as specimens of the line of beauty; which is again displayed on the table-cloth, and hinted at on the knife-blade. In all these curves there is peculiar propriety; for the etching was given as a receipt-ticket to the Analysis, where this favourite undulating line forms the basis of his system.
In the print of Columbus, there is evident reference to the criticisms on what Hogarth called his own discovery; and in truth the connoisseurs’ remarks on the painter were dictated by a similar spirit to those of the critics on the navigator: they first asserted there was no such line, and when he had proved that there was, gave the honour of discovery to Lomazzo, Michael Angelo, &c. &c.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55