Page:Lectures on Modern History.djvu/78

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II

THE NEW WORLD

Greater changes than those which were wrought by governments or armies on the battlefield of Italy were accomplished at the same time, thousands of miles away, by solitary adventurers, with the future of the world in their hands. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to understand that the ocean is not a limit, but the universal waterway that unites mankind. Shut in by Spain, they could not extend on land, and had no opening but the Atlantic. Their arid soil gave little scope to the territorial magnate, who was excluded from politics by the growing absolutism of the dynasty, and the government found it well to employ at a distance forces that might be turbulent at home.

The great national work of exploration did not proceed from the State. The Infante Henry had served in the African wars, and his thoughts were drawn towards distant lands. He was not a navigator himself; but from his home at Sagres, on the Sacred Promontory, he watched the ships that passed between the great maritime centre at the mouth of the Tagus and the regions that were to compose the Portuguese empire. As Grandmaster of the Order of Christ he had the means to equip them, and he rapidly occupied the groups of islands that lie between Africa and mid Atlantic, and that were a welcome accession to the narrow territory of Portugal. Then he sent his mariners to explore the coast of the unknown and dreaded continent. When they reached the Senegal and the Gambia, still more, when the

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