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uted so greatly to the brilliancy of Spain's history at this period. He appears to have been more humane than the majority of his fellows. That he was more ingenuous and less self-seeking may be inferred from the ease with which Pedrarias outwitted him. His bravery, resource, and fortitude under misfortune were frequently exhibited in the course of a romantic and eventful life.
Twenty years after Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope Ferdinand Magellan made his famous voyage through the strait that bears his name and demonstrated the existence of a continuous waterway between Europe and the Orient. This feat rather stimulated than retarded the efforts to find a more direct passage, but thenceforth the search was mainly confined to the isthmian section of the American continents, where it had been definitely ascertained that the oceans lay least widely apart. Under the directions of Cortez, de Soto, de Cordova, and others, these explorations were carried on, and, although the principal object of them was never attained, they led to important discoveries and resulted in the establishment of overland routes from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The most important of these was the post road, constructed about 1521, between the old city of Panama and the settlement of Nombre de Dios on the Pacific Coast. At the close of the century the latter terminal was abandoned and one at Porto Bello took its place. Fifty years before this change was effected a route for light draught boats had been established from Nombre de Dios up the Chagres to Las Cruces; thence by land to Panama. This line of communication was in use at the time that the gold seekers from the United States made the journey to California by way of the Isthmus, and many of them travelled by the Chagres route.
The line of communication between Panama and the Atlantic port rapidly grew in importance after the conquest of Peru. Vast quantities of gold and silver were transported over it by the relays of horses that were constantly kept in service for the purpose. On the other hand large shipments of various commodities for the use of the colonists and articles to be bartered with the Indians were carried over the same road, and from Panama distributed to the settlements in the north and south. In time the trade of Panama extended to the main land of Asia and the Spice Islands of the Pacific.
The search for a strait, which Cortez took up after he had completed the conquest of Mexico, led to the discovery of facilities for the transit of the Isthmus in the Tehuantepec region. A route was established up the Coatzacoalcos, across the divide, and down the farther slope to the Pacific. Terminal ports were created, and, in a few years, a considerable trade was built up with the mother country on one hand and the countries of eastern Asia on the other. At the same time the explorations of Davila paved the way for interoceanic traffic in the Nicaraguan country.
Meanwhile the idea of a ship canal had already arisen in more than one mind, and each successive failure to find a natural channel connecting the oceans added to the advocates of an artificial waterway. Alvaro de Saavedra, a kinsman and follower of Cortez, seems to have been the first to broach this proposal. What a daring project it was we can better understand than did the men who originally entertained it. In fact, it is doubtful whether they had anything like a just appreciation of the difficulties in the way of consummating it. Even though no more than an eight-foot channel had been attempted, the excavation through the divide
would have presented a stupendous task in those days.
It is said that as early as 1520 Charles V ordered the Isthmus of Panama to be surveyed, with a view to ascertaining the best route for a canal across it. There is no record of this mandate having been carried out, and, indeed, it would have been no easy matter at that time to have made even the roughest kind of survey of the region in question. The mere passage across it, through the virgin forest, involved weeks of toil and danger. In the following decade the ship canal scheme was widely discussed and Saavedra made detailed plans for it in 1529. Five years later the King of Spain issued a more definite decree regarding the matter, and one more easy to comply with. This required that the territory between the head of navigation on the Chagres and the Pacific should be carefully examined by men of experience, to ascertain the feasibility of connecting the navigable waters of the river with the ocean. This was done, and the governor, Pascual Andagoya, reported that the difficulties in the way were insurmountable. He expressed the opinion that it would be practically impossible to construct a canal through the Isthmus at that or any other
point, and declared that the undertaking would exhaust the richest treasury in Christendom.
Nothing further was done in pursuit of the project during the remainder of the reign of King Charles, and the accession of his son Philip to the throne, at the close of the century, marked the inception of an entirely new policy towards the Spanish possessions in Terra Firma. Philip shrewdly decided to leave well alone. He realized that the stream of precious metals that then flowed into the coffers of the Crown from America would not be increased by improved methods of shipping, and that the contemplated facility for direct communication by water to the farther coast of the continent would be of greater benefit to other nations than it would to Spain, by enabling the former to reach the sources of supply with comparative ease. So strongly did King Philip maintain this view, which we must admit was a sensible one, that he strictly forbade all public advocacy of the mooted waterway and prohibited all exploration in connection with it. At about this time the navigation of the Atrato was opened up, and led to the discovery that the upper reaches of that river were comparatively near to the Pacific littoral. This, of course, suggested a