Westward! Westward! Westward!
Many hundreds of years passed. Amid strife and warfare the wild Northmen forgot about the strange country far in the West which their forefathers had discovered. They heard of it only in the old, half-forgotten tales which the minstrels sometimes sang. They thought of it only as a fairy country—a land of nowhere.
Then there came a time when all the earth was filled with unrest. The world, men said, was round, not flat, as the learned ones of old had taught. Then, if the world was round, India might be reached by sailing west as easily as by sailing east. So brave and daring men stepped into their ships and sailed away toward the setting sun. They steered out into wide, unknown waters in search of a new way to lands of gold and spice.
Columbus, the great sailor of Genoa, sailed into the west, and returned with many a strange story of the countries which he had seen and claimed for the King of Spain. Then there came to England a sailor of Venice, called John Cabot. If the King of Spain might find and claim new lands, he asked, why not the King of England too?
So one fair May morning the little ship named the Matthew sailed out from Bristol harbour. Crowds of people came to see it as it spread its white wings and sped away and away into the unknown. Followed by the wishes and the prayers of many an anxious heart it glided on and on until it was but a speck in the distance, and the sailors turning their eyes backward, saw the land dwindle and fade to a thin grey streak and then vanish away. They were alone on the wide blue waters, steering they knew not whither.
To the West they sped, week by week. A month passed. Still there was no sign of land. Six weeks, seven weeks passed, still no land. Master John Cabot walked apart on the deck, his sailors looked askance at him. Would their faith hold out? he asked himself. How much longer would they sail thus into the unknown? These were days of danger and dread. For Master John well knew that the passion of man's heart and the madness of famine and despair, were more to be feared than the howl of the winds and the anger of the waves.
But at length one bright June morning there came a cry from the sailor on the outlook, "Land a-hoy." Master John Cabot was saved. He had reached at last the port of his golden hopes. They still sailed, the tide running gently and bearing them onward, and so on the 24th of June 1497 A.D., John Cabot landed on "New-found-land."
Where he landed he planted a cross with the arms of England carved upon it. The flag of England fluttered out to the sound of an English cheer as the brave sailor claimed the land for Henry VII., King of England and France, and lord of Ireland.
Cabot called the country St. John's Land, because he first came there on St. John's Day. The exact spot is not known, but it is thought to have been either at Cape Breton or at some point on the coast of Labrador.
After staying a little time, Cabot and his men set sail again, and turned their vessel homeward. The country that they had found seemed fertile and fruitful. But it was not the land of gold and spice, of gems and silken riches which they had hoped to find. So they returned with empty hands, and but little guessing upon what a vast continent they had planted the flag of England. They returned, little knowing that the people of England would carry that flag across the continent to the sea beyond, and that in days to come state should be added to state till the great Dominion of Canada was formed.
But although Cabot returned with empty hands, the King of England received him kindly. He was, however, "a king wise but not lavish." Indeed, he liked but little to spend his gold. So as a reward he gave Cabot £10. It does not seem much, even when we remember that £10 then was worth as much as £120 now. Still, Cabot had a good time with it. He dressed himself in silk and grandeur, and walked about the streets, followed by crowds who came to stare and wonder at the man who had found "a new isle." Later, the king gave Cabot £20 a year. Not much more is known about his life, but it is thought that he, with his son Sebastian, sailed again—perhaps more than once—to the "Isle beyond the Seas."
Over the hazy distance,
Beyond the sunset's rim,
For ever and for ever
Those voices called to him,
Westward! westward! westward!
The sea sang in his head,
At morn in the busy harbour,
At nightfall in his bed—
Westward! westward! westward!
Over the line of breakers,
Out of the distance dim,
For ever the foam-white fingers
All honour to this grand old Pilot,
Whose flag is struck, whose sails are furled,
Whose ship is beached, whose voyage ended;
Who sleeps somewhere in sod unknown,
Without a slab, without a stone,
In that great Island, sea-impearled.
Yea, reverence with honour blended,
For this old seaman of the past,
Who braved the leagues of ocean hurled,
Who out of danger knowledge rended,
And built the bastions, sure and fast,
Of that great bridge-way grand and vast,
Of golden commerce round the world.
Yea, he is dead, this mighty seaman!
Four long centuries ago.
Beating westward, ever westward,
Beating out from old Bristowe,
Far he saw in visions lifted,
Down the golden sunset's glow,
Through the bars of twilight rifted,
All the glories that we know.
Yea, he is dead; but who shall say
That all the splendid deeds he wrought,
That all the lofty truths he taught
(If truth be knowledge nobly sought)
Are dead and vanished quite away?
Greater than shaft or storied fane
Than bronze and marble blent,
Greater than all the honours he could gain
From a nation's high intent,
He sleeps alone, in his great isle, unknown,
With the chalk-cliffs all around him for his
mighty graveyard stone,
And the league-long sounding roar
Of old ocean, for evermore
Beating, beating, about his rest,
For fane and monument.