3 SEPTEMBER 1898, Page 17

THE CABOTS. , THE literature associated with the names of the

Cabots is far from inconsiderable, and of late years the claims of the father

and son have been examined with exhaustive minuteness by

M. Harrisse, the author of a ponderous volume on The Discovery of North America, and also of a work published two years ago, with a title similar to that adopted by Mr. Beazley. In that book, each page of which testifies to the elaborate research of the writer, M. Harrisse may be said to have carefully examined every authority, and so clearly

and fully is the subject treated that, if the student cannot always accept his conclusions, he is not likely to dis- pute the statements upon which they are based. It must be confessed, however, that this learned Frenchman, has not written an attractive volume. The general reader asks for results, and does not care to weigh evidence step by step upon minute questions which the research of four centuries has failed to make clear.

It has been Mr. Beazley's effort in writing for a populat series to tell the story of the Cabots in a less controversial,. and therefore in a more interesting, form, but it must be said, and without any disparagement of the author's ability, that he has been only partially successful.

The truth is that there is not solid and open ground• enough for a biographer to walk upon. He is liable to stumble at every step. Sometimes he is lost in a mist, some-

times he is in doubt which road to take, and sometimes, like- Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress, he is in danger, while shunning the ditch on one side, "to tip over into the mire on, the other." The volumes devoted to the Cabot voyages show

us how little we really know, but modern research has served, at least to reinstate John Cabot in the honourable position from which it was the unfilial effort of Sebastian to oust him. Marvellous to relate, he succeeded in the attempt, and lived a long and prosperous life on the credit of discoveries which he never made. For these assumed discoveries he received substantial honours in England, for these he was rewarded as Pilot-Major of Spain, and for these he has held a respectable position ever since in the pages of historians. Even the reputation for which he has had general credit as a cartographer and geographer

seems to have been ill-deserved. Mr. Beazley thinks that M. Harrisse is too hard upon Sebastian, who, "being a man and not a demigod, had his full share of human feelings ;"

but his own narrative goes far towards sustaining the severe judgment of the accomplished Frenchman. He admits that

Sebastian was unscrupulous, that he defrauded his father of, much of the credit that was due to him, that "his talk is-

generally incoherent and suspicious," and that though it is- hardly fair to regard him as a mere charlatan, "the claim* made by him or for him to superiority over, or even to equal

eminence with, his father during his father's lifetime must be dismissed as fabulous." Mr. Beazley adds :- " It must be allowed that the best evidence is very damaging. to Sebastian's claims and character ; he undoubtedly intrigued with Venice while holding employment and taking pay from the Governments of Spain and England. Further, he gives on various. occasions perfectly inconsistent accounts of the same event ; in that age of vague knowledge and vast hopes he cannot be excused from the charge of sometimes trading on the ignorance and credulity of ambitious men, and making pretensions which were either untrue in the light of past fact or impossible from the standpoint of later achievements and final verification. All that we would plead for is some allowance of possible merit in face of- the great difficulty in otherwise crediting some parts of the success- of his life."

If it be merit to cheat successfully and through a long life, no one, we suppose, will question the consummate ability of Sebastian Cabot, who traded on "the vague knowledge and vast hopes" of the age. There are doubtless strange

• John and Sebastian Cabot: the Discovery of North America. By C. Raymond Beasley, Mai. London : Fisher Unwita.

mysteries in his life, and one of them, as the author truly says, is "his amazing influence over the most important men

of his time." The only expedition in which the younger

Cabot is known to have had a share was the La Plata voyage, when he was in the service of Spain. It ended disastrously, and on his return he was sentenced to four years' banishment in the Spanish penal colony in Morocco. Yet it appears that in spite of the condemnation of the Queen-Regent, Charles V., on returning to Spain, pardoned Cabot for all his offences, and employed him in extensive Government works. Sebastian's latter years were spent in the service of England, and Charles showed his appreciation of the Pilot-Major's former services by requesting Queen Mary to allow him to visit Spain once more. Cabot excused himself on the ground of illness, and wrote a long letter to the Emperor, for which, as Mr. Beazley observes, three explanations seem possible :— "Either Cabot was betraying the English Government while taking its pay ; or like Hawkins with Philip II. in after days, he was trying to draw valuable secrets from the Spanish authorities by a pretence of treachery ; or lastly, he was endeavouring to keep up his credit with his old master by the revelation of plots invented by himself to enhance his own value in view of a possible return to the Spanish service."

The third suggestion is the least probable, for Cabot must have been nearly eighty years old when this letter was written. He was, however, a hearty old gentleman, since more than two years later, upon visiting Burrough's fleet, which was to sail in search of Sir Hugh Willoughby, "the right-worshipful Sebastian entertained the captain and made great cheer, and for very joy entered into the dance himself."

It is the irony of fate that Sebastian Cabot, who did little as a discoverer, should occupy the place in history among

the builders of Greater Britain" that belongs of right to his father. It is possible that research may eventually put John Cabot into his rightful position by supplying the biographer with fresh materials. Oar present historians have to confess that they know very little about him. This, however, we do know, that to him, by his discoveries in 1497 and 1493, England owes, as Mr. Beazley points out, her "title in the New World," and that if the only notices of him which we

possess are "so few and so fragmentary that they could all be printed in a few paragraphs," his fame as a discoverer, *hanks to modern researches, rests upon a sound basis. " There are few indeed," says the author, "among the more shadowy

great men of the Tudor age who have won so much from nineteenth-century study."