Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Happy Columbus Day! (Uh, Yesterday.)

Yeah, I know, Columbus Day was yesterday but I didn't come across Instapundit's post until the afternoon and I haven't had a chance to post this until today. So, well, whatever. Hope you had a nice day off, if you got the day off. If not, I still hope you had a nice day.

Meanwhile, no matter your feelings about the great explorer - and please, spare me the cracks of how Columbus was lost when found the New World - you can't deny that his accomplishments changed the course of world history. I'll use the same excerpt Instapundit uses from Samuel Eliot Morison's "Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus," to make my point. Which is the very same point of Instapundit's, I guess:
At the end of 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. . . .

Yet, even as the chroniclers of Nuremberg were correcting their proofs from Koberger’s press, a Spanish caravel named Nina scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon with news of a discovery that was to give old Europe another chance. In a few years we find the mental picture completely changed. Strong monarchs are stamping out privy conspiracy and rebellion; the Church, purged and chastened by the Protestant Reformation, puts her house in order; new ideas flare up throughout Italy, France, Germany and the northern nations; faith in God revives and the human spirit is renewed. The change is complete and startling: “A new envisagement of the world has begun, and men are no longer sighing after the imaginary golden age that lay in the distant past, but speculating as to the golden age that might possibly lie in the oncoming future.”

Christopher Columbus belonged to an age that was past, yet he became the sign and symbol of this new age of hope, glory and accomplishment. His medieval faith impelled him to a modern solution: Expansion.

I remember in 1992, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' accomplishment, PBS ran a series about the life of Columbus. Surprisingly even-handed, I read the companion book and came away with a deep appreciation of what Columbus managed to do. A compelling story on both the historical and personal levels.

It's too bad there are people who'd like to just overlook the day.

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