Christopher Columbus

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How would you describe the tone of Christopher Columbus's letters?

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The tone of Christopher Columbus 's letters is triumphant and positive when he's describing his discoveries. In his first letter, he even opens by saying that the recipient will take pleasure in hearing the success of his undertaking. From the beginning, it's clear that Columbus is pleased with his actions...

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The tone of Christopher Columbus's letters is triumphant and positive when he's describing his discoveries. In his first letter, he even opens by saying that the recipient will take pleasure in hearing the success of his undertaking. From the beginning, it's clear that Columbus is pleased with his actions and what he's found as he traveled.

He describes positive meetings with the Native people he encounters and explains things he thinks Sanchez will want to hear. For example, he says that they never refuse to give away things that they're asked for and that they're naturally timid. They don't want to fight. They don't have advanced weaponry. His details are colorful and focus on things that the finance minister would be interested in hearing.

The recipient makes a difference in the tone, however. For example, when Columbus is writing to the finance minister of the king and queen, it sounds like he's writing an equal. He's forthright and excited and shares details openly and at great length. When he's writing directly to the king and queen, however, he has a different tone. He's much more respectful sounds like a person addressing his superiors. His writing is more straightforward and organized; it's less colorful and descriptive. He's writing with a purpose when he writes to the king and queen—not just to explain and describe what he's seen and done. He's trying to convince them that his ideas are the right way to go for the colonists and the ships.

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Christopher Columbus did not write all of his letters in exactly the same style, but certain patterns and tendencies were established. In his letters fo King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, his tone was very deferential, which is not surprising: aside from being royalty, they were sponsoring his enterprise. The language might be characterized as lofty and flowery. He was very descriptive and wrote in long sentences; to a degree, this style is a reflection of his era. Finally, Columbus extensively used the first person and made frequent references to himself and his opinions. The letter preceding his journal (linked below), as well as the letter concerning the collection of gold in Hispaniola, from his second voyage (also linked below), exhibit this self-assured tone. He was very aware of his talents and did not hesitate to speak of them. In his Book of Prophecies later in life, he wrote very openly about his superior attributes and even suggested that he was the fulfiller and even fulfillment of prophecies.

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Christopher Columbus drafted several letters to the Spanish King and Queen immediately upon making landfall in the New World. In them, he announces that his letters are to be chiefly informative. He opens by saying "I have determined to write you this letter to inform you of everything that has been done and discovered in this voyage of mine."

His tone, however, is far more than merely descriptive. With great enthusiasm, Columbus paints a colorful and exciting picture of his findings. He is very boastful of his successes and describes the islands using many superlatives. The land is bountiful and the natives amiable, he writes. He optimistically describes the land as ripe for the taking and a boon for the Spanish Empire.

It is no wonder that he is very boastful and exuberant in his early letters. He needs to justify the expense that his voyage cost to his royal backers in Spain. His tone is not entirely unlike that of a salesman. Indeed, he is already trying to convince the Spanish monarchs to fund future voyages. Nowhere does Columbus express doubts or misgivings about his endeavors.

However, his tone is dramatically different in his later letters describing his fourth and final voyage. By this time, the exaggerations of his earlier letters had been discovered. He was out of favor with the Spanish Court, and there was distressing political instability in the new Spanish colonies. These final letters have a much more dour and subdued tone as Columbus expresses his misgivings. He is much more desperate in his final letters as he pleads with the King for the "restitution of my honor." In many cases, he is downright cynical as he describes the destruction wrought on the land by the Spanish conquest. The events that occurred between Columbus's first voyage and his final one seem to have changed his outlook and disposition greatly.

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I would say the that the tone of Columbus' letters represents excitement and pure confidence.  Part of this is manufactured by Columbus himself.  He immediately sets out to write letters to officials in Spain to justify and cost of his current expedition and future voyages. He has to create a general mood or feeling of conquest and success because his ability to finance further support for his endeavors hangs in the balance of what he did on this one.  Given the fact that the letters are written to high ranking Spanish monarchy officials, it makes sense that he would create a tone of excitement and the sense of wonder about his accomplishment. Many believed him.  Columbus' letters and diaries were big selling literary products of the time period precisely because it embodied the wonder of exploration that was so intrinsic to the context in which Columbus lived and wrote.  It is here where the tone has to be positive and overtly optimistic, never acknowledging failure of any kind or any possible misgivings.  Such a tone is what helped create the narrative for so long about the Age of Exploration, and Columbus, in particular.

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