QUEST FOR THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE
Too Long; Didn't ReadPortugal now had practically a monopoly of the traffic with the Orient, and the finding of new paths to India by her maritime rivals was essential in the struggle for commercial supremacy. A passage by way of “Cathay” had the most powerful attractions.
“Great Cathay,” the marvellous empire of the remote East, whence travellers had brought wonderful tales in the latter Middle Ages, had become the ultimate goal of adventurous voyages. The hazy region was the “extremity of the habitable world” of the ancients. Early Christian fancy had identified within it the Earthly Paradise, the seat of the old “Garden of Eden,” beyond the Ocean stream, “raised so high on a triple terrace of mountain that the deluge did not touch it.” Under the name of Cathay the strange empire had been opened to the speculation of mediæval Europe in the thirteenth century, with the vast conquest of the Mongol Genghis Khan, reckoned in history one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen.