Columbus was not the man to neglect his opportunities, and there can be no doubt that as soon as his purpose had established itself in his mind he made use of every opportunity that presented itself for improving his meagre scientific knowledge, in order that his proposal might be set forth in a plausible form. In other words, he got up the subject. The whole of his geographical reading with regard to the Indies up to this time had been in the travels of Marco Polo; the others—whose works he quoted from so freely in later years were then known to him only by name, if at all. Behaim, however, could tell him a good deal about the supposed circumference of the earth, the extent of the Asiatic continent, and so on. Every new fact that Columbus heard he seized and pressed into the service of his Idea; where there was a choice of facts, or a difference of opinion between scientists, he chose the facts that were most convenient, and the opinions that fitted best with his own beliefs. The very word “Indies” was synonymous with unbounded wealth; there certainly would be riches to tempt the King with; and Columbus, being a religious man, hit also on the happy idea of setting forth the spiritual glory of carrying the light of faith across the Sea of Darkness, and making of the heathen a heritage for the Christian Church. So that, what with one thing and another, he soon had his proposals formally arranged.
Imagine him, then, actually at Court, and having an audience of the King, who could scarcely believe his ears. Here was a man, of whom he knew nothing but that his conduct of a caravel had been well spoken of in the recent expedition to Guinea, actually proposing to sail out west into the Atlantic and to cross the unknown part of the world. Certainly his proposals seemed plausible, but still—. The earth was round, said Columbus, and therefore there was a way from East to West and from West to East. The prophet Esdras, a scientific authority that even His Majesty would hardly venture to doubt, had laid it down that only one-seventh of the earth was covered by waters. From this fact Columbus deduced that the maritime space extending westward between the shores of Europe and eastern coast of Asia could not be large; and by sailing westward he proposed to reach certain lands of which he claimed to have knowledge. The sailors’ tales, the logs of driftwood, the dead bodies, were all brought into the proposals; in short, if His Majesty would grant some ships, and consent to making Columbus Admiral over all the islands that he might discover, with full viceregal state, authority, and profit, he would go and discover them.