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Introduction To The World Displayed
by [?]


Navigation, like other arts, has been perfected by degrees. It is not easy to conceive that any age or nation was without some vessel, in which rivers might be passed by travellers, or lakes frequented by fishermen; but we have no knowledge of any ship that could endure the violence of the ocean before the ark of Noah.

As the tradition of the deluge has been transmitted to almost all the nations of the earth, it must be supposed that the memory of the means, by which Noah and his family were preserved, would be continued long among their descendants, and that the possibility of passing the seas could never be doubted.

What men know to be practicable, a thousand motives will incite them to try; and there is reason to believe, that from the time that the generations of the postdiluvian race spread to the seashores, there were always navigators that ventured upon the sea, though, perhaps, not willingly beyond the sight of land.

Of the ancient voyages little certain is known, and it is not necessary to lay before the reader such conjectures as learned men have offered to the world. The Romans, by conquering Carthage, put a stop to great part of the trade of distant nations with one another, and because they thought only on war and conquest, as their empire increased, commerce was discouraged; till under the latter emperours, ships seem to have been of little other use than to transport soldiers.

Navigation could not be carried to any great degree of certainty without the compass, which was unknown to the ancients. The wonderful quality by which a needle or small bar of steel, touched with a loadstone or magnet, and turning freely by equilibration on a point, always preserves the meridian, and directs its two ends north and south, was discovered, according to the common opinion, in 1299, by John Gola of Amalfi, a town in Italy.

From this time it is reasonable to suppose that navigation made continual, though slow, improvements, which the confusion and barbarity of the times, and the want of communication between orders of men so distant as sailors and monks, hindered from being distinctly and successively recorded.

It seems, however, that the sailors still wanted either knowledge or courage, for they continued for two centuries to creep along the coast, and considered every head-land as impassable, which ran far into the sea, and against which the waves broke with uncommon agitation.

The first who is known to have formed the design of new discoveries, or the first who had power to execute his purposes, was Don Henry the fifth[2], son of John, the first king of Portugal, and Philippina, sister of Henry the fourth of England. Don Henry, having attended his father to the conquest of Ceuta, obtained, by conversation with the inhabitants of the continent, some accounts of the interiour kingdoms and southern coast of Africa; which, though rude and indistinct, were sufficient to raise his curiosity, and convince him, that there were countries yet unknown and worthy of discovery.

He, therefore, equipped some small vessels, and commanded that they should pass, as far as they could, along that coast of Africa which looked upon the great Atlantick ocean, the immensity of which struck the gross and unskilful navigators of those times with terrour and amazement. He was not able to communicate his own ardour to his seamen, who proceeded very slowly in the new attempt; each was afraid to venture much farther than he that went before him, and ten years were spent before they had advanced beyond cape Bajador, so called from its progression into the ocean, and the circuit by which it must be doubled. The opposition of this promontory to the course of the sea, produced a violent current and high waves, into which they durst not venture, and which they had not yet knowledge enough to avoid, by standing off from the land into the open sea.