A Parody Outline of History
By Donald Ogden Stewart

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Public Domain Books

Chapter Two: Cristofer Colombo
A Comedy of Discovery. In the Manner of James Branch Cabell

 In fourteen hundred ninety two  In the city of Genoa.            
         —Old Song. 

They of Genoa tell with a shrug how in the old days Cristofer Colombo whom men called the Dreamer left Dame Colombo to go in search of the land of his imagining.

And the tale tells how, on a twilight Thursday, Colombo walked alone on the edge of a doubtful wood, and viewed many things not salutary to notice. And there came to him one who was as perversely tall as a certain unmentionable object and bearded in a manner it is not convenient to describe.

But Colombo set about that which the stranger said was necessary and when he had finished he drank the contents of the curious skull as had been foretold on a certain All-Saints day. Then it was that the stranger spoke.

“Whom are you”, said he, “to be thus wandering in the very unspeakable forest of the very unnamable sorcerer Thyrston?”

Said Colombo, “I have heard of this Thyrston. And while I do not criticize, yet I cannot entirely agree with your improper use of the pronoun WHOM, and oh my dear sir”, said Colombo, “those two VERYS would surely—oh, most surely—be mentioned in ’The Conning Tower’.”

“Eh!” said Thyrston, frowning.

“I allude”, said Colombo, “to the scribbling of a certain Adams with whom you are doubtless familiar, and of course, my dear Thyrston”, said Colombo, “I spoke only jestingly, for I am Cristofer Colombo whom men call the Dreamer, and I go in search of the land of my imagining and it is truly a pleasure to meet the greatest sorcerer since Ckellyr, and how”, said Colombo, “is dear Mrs. Thyrston?”

Then Thyrston showed Colombo what was written on the insecure parchment. It frightened Colombo a little, but he assented. And when the sorcerer had borrowed a silk hat and a gold watch he caused the skies to darken and Colombo saw that which men refuse to believe.

“But, oh, now really sir”, said Colombo, “that is indeed extremely clever and I do wish that the children were here to see it and would you mind, my dear Thyrston”, said Colombo, “doing that egg trick again?”

Then Thyrston showed Colombo that he had nothing up either sleeve and after an interval he consented to teach Colombo the secret of his conjuring.

“Why now to be sure”, said Colombo, after he had thoroughly mastered the trick, “that is indeed quite simple and I am sorry I broke those four eggs by mistake in your silk hat, and while I do not wish to appear oversensitive, do you not think, my dear Thyrston”, said Colombo, “that the trick would go just as well without those abominable jokes about married life?”

“My dear sir”, said Thyrston, “those jokes have been used by every conjurer since Merlin, and while perhaps without them your trick would work, yet I have never heard of it being done and I have found”, said Thyrston, “that in sorcery the best results are obtained by doing the customary thing.”

“Which only goes to show”, said Colombo, “that sorcery is somewhat akin to business, and now that I think of it”, said Colombo, “I believe that the term wizard of industry is perhaps not entirely a misnomer.”

Thus it was that Colombo took leave of Thyrston, and the tale tells how on Walburga’s Eve he came to the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel. And as he entered one met him who was not unpleasing to the eye, and she was weeping. And, as it was somewhat dark, Colombo decided to comfort her.

“Now, do you tell me, my dear”, said Colombo, after an interval, “why it is you weep, for I am Colombo whom men call the Dreamer, and I go in search of the land of my imagining, and I think”, said Colombo, “that you have most remarkably lovely eyes.”

“Oh messire”, said the lady, “I weep because it is this evening that I am to entertain the ladies of our Progress Literary Club, and Donna Margarita whom men call the Spanish Omelet, but who really, messire, has a lovely voice, was going to sing ’The Rosary’ and now she has a cold and cannot sing, and King Ferdinand is coming, and oh, messire, what”, said the lady, “shall I do?”

“Why now, truly”, said Colombo, “in Genoa it was the judgment of all the really musically intelligent ladies, except perhaps my wife, that I sang not an unpleasing baritone, and while I do not know the song to which you refer, yet I have devoted most of my life to the composition of a poem concerning the land of my imagining which might well be sung and besides that”, said Colombo, “I can do a most remarkable egg trick.”

So it was that Colombo became for a short time not undeservedly the life of the Progress Literary Club party. And the tale tells how, after a paper by Donna Violet Balboa on “Spanish Architecture—Then and Now”, Colombo sang to them the song of the land of Colombo’s imagining. And poignantly beautiful was the song, for in it was the beauty of a poet’s dream, and the eternal loveliness of that vision which men have glimpsed in all ages if ever so faintly. And when he had finished, the eyes of Colombo were wet with tears, for into this poem had he woven the dreams of his disillusionment. And somewhat ironical to Colombo was the applause of those fine ladies who did not at all understand.

“Now that is a pretty song”, said King Ferdinand, “and do you tell us, Colombo, how one may get to this land, so that I may extend the borders of my most Catholic Kingdom and spread the teachings of the true faith, for to bring the world under the blessed influence of my religion is my only purpose, and really now”, said King Ferdinand, “is there as much gold there as you describe?”

“Ah, King Ferdinand”, replied Colombo, “there is more gold than ever I can tell, and I see only too plainly how grievously you suffer to think that perhaps these people are living in ignorance of the true faith. And I could ask nothing better than that King Ferdinand give me ships in which I may sail to the westward and come at last to the land of my imagining. This I would do in order that the blessed soldiers of King Ferdinand who will follow me may show to the inhabitants of my discovered land the grievous errors of their ways and bring them at last to a realization of the true faith which has been so helpful to our own dear Spain, and”, added Colombo, “our gracious sovereign Ferdinand.”

And droll it was to Colombo to think what might possibly happen were King Ferdinand to take his dream seriously or were the King perhaps to be informed as to the true meaning of Colombo’s subtleties.

“Well, now”, said King Ferdinand, “of course, to fit out such an expedition would require great expense, my dear Colombo—great expense. And, of course, you know, Colombo, that when investors can buy Inquisition 4 1/4’s for 89 it would be extremely difficult to raise the money for such a speculative project—oh, extremely difficult. And then you must consider the present depression—tell me now, Colombo”, said King Ferdinand, “how long do you think this depression will last, for I seek, above all things, a return to healthy normalcy.”

“Well, truly”, replied Colombo, “that would be most difficult to say. I note that on Rodigruez Babsyn’s last chart—”

“I wish this Babsyn and his charts were in hell”, said King Ferdinand, “for it was he who advised me to sell Queen Isabel’s silver holdings. But it occurs to me, Colombo, that in connection with this land-of-gold scheme of yours, you mentioned something about sailing to the westward. Now Colombo, that would be a distinct disadvantage when it came to marketing the bonds, for as you must already know, one cannot sail to the west without encountering fierce and enormous monsters who swallow, I am told, whole ships at a gulp.”

“Now as to that”, said Colombo, somewhat embarrassed at the turn of the conversation for WEST had merely happened to better suit the rhymes of his poem, “you may be right, and I should not go so far as to say you are wrong, but still at the same time”, said Colombo, “is there any gentleman in the audience who can lend me an egg and a silk hat?”

And when an unmentionable egg and a doubtful silk hat had been produced in a manner which it is not convenient to mention Colombo rolled up both his sleeves and spoke the magic speech as he had learned it on a certain Thursday from the sorcerer Thyrston.

“Ladies and gentlemen”, said Colombo, “I have here a common household egg which I shall now ask the ushers to pass among you so you may see for yourself that there are no wires or strings attached. While this is being done, ladies and gentlemen, I wish that three of you would step up on the stage. Any three—don’t be bashful girls— I won’t hurt you. Won’t that couple over there kindly oblige me— that married couple—no, folks, I guess they aren’t married either— they look too happy.”

Very painful it was to Colombo to hear these horrible jokes coming from his mouth, but Thyrston had quoted the authority of all successful sorcerers and not for anything would Colombo have had his trick a failure.

“Now ladies and gentlemen”, said Colombo, “I am going to ask this lady and these two gentlemen if they will be so good as to see if they can take this little egg and make it stand on end without any support.”

And very droll it was to see the unsuccessful attempts which the three made. Finally Colombo said:

“Now ladies and gentlemen, I want you to watch me closely. I put the silk hat on my head—thus. And I take the egg in my right hand—thus. Now, if this young lady will be kind enough to hold my left hand—I hope that her best fellow doesn’t mind letting such a pretty girl hold my hand—it’s lucky my wife can’t see me, though—a friend said to me the other day, ’Who was that lady I seen you with?’ and I said, ’That wasn’t no lady, that was my wife’. Now ladies and gentlemen I take this egg, and in order to make it stand upright I tap one end gently— thus against the table until that end is flattened— and then, presto—the egg stands upright. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you one and all for your kind attention.”

Thus it was that Colombo impressed King Ferdinand and his court with his profound knowledge of geography. Next the tale tells how there came to Colombo on Michaelmas Eve one sent by Queen Isabel, And when Colombo had buckled on his sword Impavide he followed the messenger through winding corridors and came at last to the chamber of the Queen. And as he knelt before her it seemed to Colombo that never before had he seen such unforgettable beauty as shone in the eyes of Queen Isabel. Yes, truly, this was the loveliest girl that Colombo had ever imagined.

“Now do you rise”, said she, “and you and I shall have a nice chat alone here together, and you can tell me all about geography of which I am oh, frightfully ignorant. In truth”, said she, “I have tried to get Ferdinand to instruct me, but I fear”, said Queen Isabel, “that Ferdinand does not understand me.”

So Colombo instructed Queen Isabel in the fundamentals of geography. And after a while he spoke.

“Now many people”, said Colombo, “believe that the earth is flat, but”, said Colombo, “such is not at all the case.”

And after an interval Colombo said, “There, my dear, do you not see how ridiculous it is to suppose that the earth is anything but round?”

“Why surely, sire”, said Queen Isabel, “you make it appear very round. And I wonder that I had not thought of that before. And I think”, said Queen Isabel, “that geography is a most fascinating subject and oh, messire Colombo”, said the Queen, “you must come and instruct me often.”

Thus it was that Colombo became Royal Geographer. And the tale tells how after a while various whisperings came to King Ferdinand of his queen’s curious enthusiasm for study.

“Now about this geography”, said King Ferdinand one evening to the Queen, “I am, my dear, indeed glad to see you take an interest in such an important study and I have arranged”, said the King, “to have your tutoring in the future done by Father Bernadino who has had fifty-two years’ experience at the University, and your lessons”, said the King, “will commence tomorrow.”

Said the Queen, “How can I thank you enough, dear Ferdinand, for your untiring interest in my welfare. For I have been struggling along in my study of geography with a horribly dull clod whose name”, said the Queen, “I cannot remember.”

“Was it, by any chance, Colombo?” asked the King.

“Perhaps”, said the Queen. “But I am oh so glad to be rid of him.” And indeed so great was the happiness of Queen Isabel that her pillow that night was wet with tears.

But King Ferdinand was an unusually efficient king, and he spared no pains in his craving for normalcy. So it was that the next day he called to him the man who had chanced to be Royal Geographer before the coup d’oeuf of Colombo.

“Now tell me”, said the King, “is there any chance that a man who sails to the westward will ever return?”

“None, your Majesty”, said the ex-Royal Geographer. “For many have tried and horrible are the tales which they tell of demons and monsters lying in wait for the ships of men. And I should say definitely, oh King”, said he, “that whoever sails to the westward will never return.”

And the tale tells how that afternoon Colombo stood before King Ferdinand. And very strange to Colombo was the enthusiasm which burned in the King’s otherwise somewhat fishlike eye.

“For know you, Colombo”, the King was saying, “that God has spoken to me and commanded me to save from the fires of hell the inhabitants of those golden lands of which you sang. And to you, my dear Colombo, is to be given the chance which you so ardently desire. For I have this day purchased three ships which await your command, and within a week you should be well on your way on this glorious mission for God and for Spain, and”, said the King, “I might add that the Queen, too, is much interested in this voyage and has even been persuaded to dispose of her jewels in order that you may make haste.”

“Such instant obedience to the will of God”, said Colombo, “and such fine enthusiasm to further His kingdom on earth, does your Majesties great credit. And I shall indeed congratulate the inhabitants of this to-be-discovered land for their good fortune in obtaining such a devout King.”

And the tale tells how that night Colombo took leave of Queen Isabel. “Now do not weep, oh Queen”, said he, “for I am only Colombo whom men call the Dreamer, and I go in search of the land of my imagining, and perhaps”, said Colombo, “I shall return." But they tell how Queen Isabel refused to be comforted for many and many a day. And unexplainably curious to Father Bernadino was his absolute and complete failure as a royal instructor in geography, for Father Bernadino had taught for fifty-two years at the University.

And so it was that Colombo sat alone in the cabin of the ship which carried him towards the land of his imagining. And strange and somewhat fearsome it was to the sailors to see their captain sitting thus motionless night after night, for already had they left the Canaries far behind and some there were who said that a madman commanded their ship, and others who whispered of horrible monsters in these western seas.

And the tale tells how one night Colombo observed across his table one who had not been sitting there a moment before and whose hair was strangely red.

“Well now, truly, sir”, said Colombo, “This is very curious. For I do not remember seeing you among the crew nor were you ever at the court, and on the whole”, said Colombo, “your red hair and your sneering grin interrupt my dreams, and dreams”, said Colombo, “are all that I have left.”

“For know you, sir”, continued he to the stranger who did not speak, “that on this earth man has been able to endure only by playing the ape to his dreams. And in every generation”, said Colombo, “there have been those who dreamed of beautiful things and in every age there have been those who caught some glimpse of that perfect beauty which the Greeks call Helen, and to have seen Helen”, said Colombo, “is to have been touched with divine and unbearable madness.”

And it became strangely quiet in the cabin as Colombo continued:

“And those authors who wrote perfectly of beautiful dreams”, said he, “will, perchance, endure, and those who saw only men as they are, will perish—for so has it been in the past and so will it be in the future. All of which”, said Colombo, “is a rather tiresome and pedantic excuse for the fact that I am about to read you my own poem.”

And Colombo read to the stranger the dream of the land of Colombo’s imagining, and when he had finished the stranger smiled and shook his head sadly.

“Come, now,” said Colombo, somewhat hurt. “Do not, I pray you, pretend to like it unless you really do. Of course it is not at all the kind of thing that will sell, is it— and the metre must be patched up in places, don’t you think? And some of the most beautiful passages would never be permitted by the censor—but still—” and Colombo paused hopefully, for it was Colombo’s poem and into it he had poured the heart of his life and it seemed to him now, more than ever, a beautiful thing.

The stranger handed Colombo a book.

“There”, said he, “is the land of your imagining”, and in his eyes gleamed a curious sardonic mockery.

And Colombo read the book. And when he had finished his face was grey as are old ashes in ancient urns, and about the mouth of him whom men called the Dreamer were curious hard lines.

“Now, by Heaven”, said Colombo brandishing his sword Impavide, “you lie. And your Gopher Prairie is a lie. And you are all, all contemptible, you who dip your pens in tracing ink and seek to banish beautiful dreams from the world.”

But the red-haired stranger had vanished and Colombo found that he was alone and to Colombo the world seemed cheerless and as a place that none has lived in for a long time.

“Now this is curious”, mused Colombo, “for I have evidently been dreaming and a more horrible dream have I never had, and I think”, said Colombo, “that while all this quite certainly did not actually take place, yet that grinning red head has upset me horribly and on the whole”, said Colombo, “I believe the safest course would be to put back at once for Spain, for certainly I have no desire to take the remotest chance of discovering anything which may in the least resemble that Gopher Prairie.”

And the tale tells that as Colombo started for the deck in order that he might give the signal for the return to Spain, there came across the water from one of the other ships the faint cry of a sailor. And the sailor was waving his hat and shouting, “Land Ho!”

Thus it was that Cristofer Colombo became the discoverer of the land of his imagining, and as he stood on the deck Colombo mused.

“Now this is a sorrowful jest and a very unfair jest that is happening,” said he. “For I who have dreamed a beautiful dream of the land of my imagining will quite probably henceforth be known only as the discoverer of what will turn out to be merely one more hideous and stupid country.” And tears came to the eyes of Colombo, for on the waves behind him floated the torn and scattered pages of the poem which sang the imagined vision of Beauty of him whom men long and long ago called the Dreamer.

Thus it was in the old days.

Analysis and Summary Of the Foregoing Article
In the Manner of Dr. Frank Crane

There is a lesson for us all in this beautiful story of how Columbus realized his ambition to be a great discoverer.

Men called Columbus a Dreamer—but that is just what folks once said about Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford.

The world has a place for Dreamers—if they are Practical Dreamers.

Columbus was ambitious. Ambition is a great thing if it is unselfish ambition. By unselfish I mean for the greatest good of the greatest number. Shakespeare, the great teacher, shows us in “Macbeth” what happens to the selfishly ambitious man.

Columbus got ahead by paying attention to small details. Whatever he did, he did to the best of his ability. Even when engaged in teaching geography to the Queen, Columbus was the best geography teacher he knew how to be. And before long he was made Royal Geographer.

In our daily lives let us all resolve to be good teachers of geography. We may not all become Royal Geographers—but there will be to us the lasting satisfaction of having done our best. And that, as a greater than I has said, is “more precious than rubies—yea, than much fine gold”.


Preface  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    • 

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A Parody Outline of History drawings penciled by Herb Roth
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