Saturday, 7 February 2009

Narrative of a spring tour in Portugal


I must not omit to mention the English church as I speak of Lisbon, for this, with its cypress-planted cemetery, is no unimportant spot on the Estrella, and, overhanging the very beautiful Estrella gardens, is a conspicuous point in a general view of the city. Moreover, it is no small matter to have secured so spacious a church and so large a burial-ground in any southern capital for our much abused, though in reality most catholic. Church of England. As regards the building, indeed, I cannot congratulate my countrymen on its ecclesiastical aspect ; for anything more mean externally, or more ill adapted for our services within, it would be difficult to conceive. Without vestige of chancel, meanly furnished with altar, and with square, well be-curtained boxes on either hand for his Excellency the English Minister at this court; with towering desk, and still more towering pulpit, the great, ugly room which does duty for our church, but is in reality the counterpart of some of our meeting-houses at home, offers to the inhabitants of Portugal but a sorry spectacle of our ecclesiastical arrangements. It is de- plorable, indeed, that such should be the case, and that, with perhaps a natural desire to exhibit to our country- men the contrast between our simple services and the more elaborate ceremonious services of the Ivomish faith, those who built our English fabric at Lisbon have run into the disastrous extreme of erecting, as a sample of Anglican church architecture, the very barest, baldest, coldest, I will even say most hideous building, which gives no oppor- tunity for the exercise of our ordinary ritual, and in no wa}^ resembles our ecclesiastical buildings at home. What wonder that in this, as in so many instances throughout Europe, the members of another Communion, more pro- fuse than ourselves in artistic accessories to public worship, turn away from our services in derision as well as disgust, despising the bare white walls and the cold, unadorned structure which, from east to west, shows no token of Christianity, no single sign or emblem that it does not belong to the Socinian or the Jew. It is true that perfect freedom of design with regard to the exterior of English churches is not always permitted by Grovernments devoted to the Eomish faith ; but many instances might be adduced where this difficulty has been overcome with great success, even as regards the exterior ; while, whatever the outward aspect, the interior could of course be satisfactorily ar- ranged in accordance with the services as appointed in our Prayer Book, and generally celebrated by the church at home. During one of the Sundays which we spent at Lisbon, a confirmation was held in the English church by the ex-Bishop of Labuan (Dr. MacDougall) ; but the miserable arrangement of the altar and its rails, and the general seating of the church, rendered the holy rite any- thing but impressive — indeed, prevented a large propor- tion of the congregation from witnessing it at all ; and I felt quite vexed to think hovv^ poor an impression of that solemn service must have been carried away by the Portuguese spectators, many of whom were on that oc- casion attracted within the walls of our church. Great indeed was the contrast to emerge from the bare white walls of that forbidding building into the brilliant sunshine ; to wander beneath the deep shade of the dark cypresses in the cemetery ; to stroll through the beautiful gardens of the Estrella, gay wdth a hundred flowers ; or even to saunter through the streets, where the good taste of the colour-loving south has covered the faces of many of the houses with glazed tiles of porcelain, sometimes of a red or brown hue, but far more frequently of a blue colour, and always in a pretty pattern. This is known as azulejo, and imparts a remarkably bright finish to the houses ; and when (as is often the case) several adjoining buildings are thus decorated, the appearance is extremely pleasing.

CHAPTER V. CINTRA. In the last chapter I was at issue with Lord Byron in regard to the general character of the Portuguese : not less do I dissent from what appears to me his most exaggerated praise of Cintra. To be sure, a poet is allowed a great deal of licence, and perhaps it is unfair to take his description au pied de lettre; still, as I believe that half the English world has received its impression of Portugal in general, and Cintra in particular, from ' Childe Harold,' and has therefore the very highest idea of its superlative beauty, I desire to state what I consider the unvarnished truth, as it strikes a matter-of-fact, prosaic traveller. In the first place, however, all due allowance must be made for the disappointment which is certain to ensue, when expectation has been strung up too highly ; and doubtless we, in common with the rest of our countrymen, drove over from Lisbon to Cintra with anticipations in regard to the scenery of the latter place which were not likely to be realised. The carriage which conveyed us was a narrow chariot, not unlike an old-fashioned English post-chaise, and our horses were a pair of rough, sturdy cart-horses; the driver a good-humoured, jovial fellow, who was twisting up cigarettes and smoking them through the whole journey. Twice we stopped to bait our horses, which was a very marvellous proceeding; they were not taken from the carriage, but the bits were removed from their mouths, and then slices of coarse black bread, dipped in red wine, were given to each animal in due order. So far the bait was intelligible enough ; but now our coachman proceeded to pour a Clip of red wine over the backs and loins of the horses, which, he assured us, gave them great refreshment and courage ; and when we still appeared sceptical on the point, he reiterated his assertions with redoubled violence and at the top of his voice, in all of which he was well seconded by an old lady who did duty as the ostler. It is a journey of about five leagues, or sixteen miles, from Lisbon to Cintra : the first league through the interminable suburbs of the capital ; then we reach the large hamlet of Bemfica, which, however, is now connected with Lisbon by an unbroken succession of houses ; and now, for another league, villas with their gardens and quintas, and high stone walls shutting in the retreats of the more wealthy Lisbonites, line the road on either hand ; for the third and fourth league the road traverses the open corn fields, brown, scorched, and treeless, ugly and uninviting enough; though, as our first introduction to rural scenes in Portugal, we found ample objects of interest, and an occasional glimpse of the aqueduct spanning a valley or creeping along a hill-side diversified the general monotony of the scene. And then, as we drew near to Cintra, the rocky mountains and forest-clad hills seemed to bar all approach, and it was pleasant to exchange the dazzling sunshine and the glaring road for welcome shade, as we drove under huge oak and plane and cork trees which met overhead. And now, as we crawled up the steepest inclines, and descended terrific hills at a furious pace, with villas and palaces and their respective gardens on either hand, we were fairly in the long straggling town of Cintra ; but we traversed it from end to end, till after a more than ordinarily steep declivity, galloped down at a greater speed than before, our merry driver pulled up his horses with a jerk, and we were deposited at the hotel of our compatriot, good Mrs, Lawrence. We spent a week at Cintra, and during that time I wandered, gun in hand, through forests and valleys, climbed up all the higher mountains, and very thoroughly explored the whole district, so that I flatter myself I am somewhat better qualified to pronounce an opinion on its merits than the great majority of my countrymen in Portugal, whose habit generally appears to be, to drive over in the morning from Lisbon, dine at Cintra, and back to the capital in the evening ; or, if they should be very enthusiastic sight-seers, they will devote two days to the excursion ; spending one night in rural retirement, and returning the following day, I need scarcely say, that such a hurried glimpse conveys no real notion of the place, for Cintra nestles amidst a collection of hills, and extends over a considerable area. Indeed, its great charm is, that it affords a cool retreat in summer from the oppressive heat of Lisbon ; and its grateful shades, deep forests, pleasant groves and gardens, as well as pure air and abundant springs, must seem delightful after the perpetual glare and dust of the capital in the dog-days. And so the villas and private houses and country seats of the wealthy occupy every inviting nook for a league or more on every side of the little town, each embowered in its quinta, hidden amidst the dense foliage which is so highly appreciated, and striving with all its might to escape from the vertical rays of the sun. For certainly no sun-worshippers are the Portuguese at Cintra : the one aim and object of these veritable giaours seems to be to shut out their fierce enemy; and with this end in view, they build their houses in some odd corner, where an over-hanging rock casts perpetual shade, and their gardens and pleasure-grounds resemble intricate groves and well-kept shrubberies, where the one requirement is shelter from the sun. Amongst the innumerable villas which occupy every available position, but always with this chief essential of shade prominently in view, there is one which more especially deserves notice, not only as the renowned creation of the luxurious author of ' Vathec ;' but still more as re-built by its present proprietor, and the gardens and grounds laid out anew with consummate taste, it bears away the palm as, in all respects, the most lovely of its compeers. This is the famous Montserrat, and it is indeed a little paradise : perched amid swelling knolls on the hill-side, surrounded by gardens and shrubberies, where oriental palms and Mexican palms vie with one another, where araucarias of many species, Brazilian shrubs of great rarity, and whole groves of tree camellias flourish side by side, and scent the air with the perfume of a thousand flowers. Then it is flanked by groves of orange, lemon, and fig trees, and backed by deep woods of gigantic cork, and olive, and chestnut, and dark fir trees, beneath whose branches reigned so impenetrable a gloom as to defy even the mid-day sun ; while, high up overhead, rose the bare and broken crests of the rocky mountains which formed the shelter on the south; and far away to the west we could see the broad expanse of the Atlantic, never at rest even in the calmest weather, but always breaking on the shore with a surf which whitened the coast-line with a broad fringe, discernible for many a league. Montserrat is in truth exceedingly lovely, and if it might do duty as a sample of all Cintra, then I should think no praise could be too great for its deserts ; but I am bound to add that it stands quite alone, and that no other quinta comes near the perfection of this favoured spot. Moreover, not only is the English proprietor, Mr. Cook, evidently a man of refined taste, but his excellent head gardener, Mr. Burt, knows how to make the most of the position ; and with sun and shade, and springs of water to any extent at his command, he has so mingled the wild and the cultivated, so arranged the shrubs and plants of both hemispheres, that as you lie on the soft turf, under the shade of a gigantic magnolia, you seem in enchanted ground, so surrounded are you with the most flourishing specimens of a hundred tropical plants and shrubs, never seen before. No wonder that, having obtained permission to wander at pleasure with my gun through its extensive walks and woods and quintas, I spent a considerable part of several days within its precincts; and I always came back to it with fresh appreciation of its beauties, and renewed convictions that it formed the jewel of Cintra. But my rambles extended amongst many other properties, and many a pretty glen and many a charming nook did I stumble on ; and most kind and obliging were the inhabitants, who freely invited me to enter their grounds, and walk where I pleased ; though there was one great drawback to such trespassing, in the lofty stone walls with which each quinta was surrounded ; so that, once within the ring fence, it was generally imperative on the intruder to return to the gate by which he entered. Now these villas and quintas, surrounded each by its own wall, and backed by its own woods, succeed one another all along the slopes of the hills on which Cintra stands ; far below them lies the red, scorched, glowing plain, far above them stand the bare jagged rocks, which seem so strangely distorted, and look so uneven and rough, and whose summits reach two thousand feet above the sea. To me these heights were a great attraction, and almost every day I climbed to one and another peak, now wandering out westwards to the point which overhangs the mouth of the Tagus, now ascending to the point crowned by the Penha palace, now choosing some intermediate height fur my mountain scramble. From all, the view was in most respects the same : the rocks themselves the strangest collection of boulders, thrown together in huge masses, like an immense stone heap on a gigantic scale. Immediately below lay the town of Cintra, with its long suburbs of villas and gardens, and woods stretching along the hills on both hands ; to the north the flat, interminable, treeless plain, glowing in the sun, and abounding in cornfields and vine- yards, with Mafra four leagues away, showing its vast pile of buildings like a second Escorial, colossal in size, even from here ; to the south the hills of Alemtejo, stretching far away into the clear distance, and, perhaps, as some report, in the extreme horizon, even the mountains of the little southern province of Algarve; to the west the broad Atlantic, of whose waters I had never seen at one glance half such an expanse before; to the east the Tagus, winding up towards the capital, and extending into a broad bay above it, though Lisbon itself was hidden from view by the lower hills which intervene. There was always a fresh breeze blowing on the top of these elevated ridges, and there was always an un- clouded sky and the very brightest of suns, and it was diffi- cult to decide which of the many peaks was the highest, for each in turn, as seen from some fresh point of view, seemed to claim the right of precedence. However, leaving others to settle that knotty point, we may affirm of all of them, that they boasted the same glorious prospect, that they were all equally rugged and barren, and that here silence and solitude reigned supreme, broken only by the occasional tinkle of a sheep-bell, or the shrill reed-pipe of a goat- herd, for in these upland rocks the Arcadian herdsmen thus beguiled the monotony of their lives. Nor was animal life much more abundant than the vegetation: for of the mammalia I saw not a single specimen ; of birds, a colony of choughs and an occasional raven monopolised the upper rocks, while larks and pipits contented themselves with a lower elevation. But the reptile world was better repre- sented; for brown and green lizards basked on the glowing rocks, and darted in and out amidst the huge boulders, and on one occasion I succeeded in shooting a fine specimen of the beautiful ' eyed ' or ' great spotted ' green lizard (Zacevta ocellata), which measured nearly two feet in length, and was of the most vivid green hue, speckled and spotted with deep black or bright blue. Subsequently, I saw several of this gigantic species, but on no occasion, not even in the museum at Lisbon, did I meet with so large a specimen as in the rocks above Cintra. If, however, I might credit the assertion of an unscientific witness, who certainly had no wish to exaggerate, but related what he believed to be true, my large lizard would appear to be but a mere pigmy ; for I was repeatedly told of a gigantic green lizard which haunted some rock terraces at Montserrat, which measured about four feet in length ! but this, I take leave to say, was an unintentional over-estimate. Pre-eminently conspicuous on one of the highest summits stands the Penha or Pena Convent, once (as its name implies) a monastery, but now the palace of the enlightened Dom Fernando, father to the present king. Now, if it be the case, as the ancient Persians thought, that ' a palace ought to have a lofty site, and look down on the habitations of meaner men,' then, undoubtedly, the Penha Palace is most admirably situated, for by many hundred feet it out-tops all other buildings in the place. Otherwise, notwithstanding the excellent carriage road which winds up to the castle gate, methought it was somewhat inconvenient to have one's dwelling so high in these peaceable times, when strength and security from attack are not the first considerations in choosing a dwelling-place. Moreover, perched on the extreme summit, this semi-regal palace is exposed to every wind which blows, and though it is well to feel a gentle breeze stirring, when the heat below is almost tropical, it is another thing to be exposed to such frequent hurricanes and rude blasts, as coming in direct from the wide Atlantic, seem to haunt these heights with a pertinacity which reminds one they have had nothing to worry for many a thousand miles, on their course across the ocean. With this trifling exception of situation (which however has its advantages in a sultry clime), the Penha Castle is a pleasant residence : it is built after the Moorish style, with horse-shoe arches, and the walls glitter with bright blue glazed tiles or azulejo ; and it is castellated, turreted, and balconied at every possible point. It is also provided with ramparts, drawbridges, porcullis, and mock defences, and cannon pointing in all directions, to frighten away Moors or other would-be in- vaders, in case they should think it worth while to climb so high. From the Penha turrets conspicuous on one side is a colossal statue of the great discoverer Vasco de Grama, armed with lance and shield, who stands on the very summit of an elevated peak ; and on the other side the ruins of two Moorish towers, which crown other heights, and which must have been impregnable fortresses in troublous times when such elevated positions were of real advantage. Below the Castle are gardens and shrubberies, admirably laid out and beautifully kept ; and here we strolled without hindrance, for all here is liberally thrown open to the public ; indeed, Dom Fernando is in all respects a liberal, generous man, and much beloved by people of all ranks. There are other lions to be visited at Cintra, which are all duly chronicled in the Handbook, and on which I need not enlarge. There is the royal palace, which attracts the eye before you enter the town, and is always a prominent feature in the view, remarkable for its tall, sugar-loaf chimneys, which remind one of glass works, or other facto- ries, rather than of a king's summer residence. There is a large, rambling villa, of no external beauty, but interesting as the spot where the famous Convention of Cintra was signed. There is an unpretending quinta, once the humble possession of the famous Joao de Castro. There is the Cork Convent, so called from the lining of cork wherewith the walls are cased in this semi-subterranean monastery. And here I am reminded that I must not take leave of Cintra without special mention of the cork trees, which grow here in greater profusion and to a larger size than I have ever seen elsewhere. Moreover, all parts of the tree — trunk, limbs, and branches — are fringed with the elegant maiden-hair fern, which seems to get a footing in the rough bark and cling and grow in the most surprising manner. The general aspect of the cork tree is very much that of the oak — the same fantastic twist of the branches, the same rugged bark, the same expansive spread, over- shadowing a large space of ground; and with the luxuriant undergrowth which prevails here, it is one of the most picturesque, as well as one of the most umbrageous trees of the forest. Next to the cork, the olive is the most conspicuous tree at Cintra, and it is preserved and tended with considerable care ; and, under the favourable conditions of sufficient heat and an ample supply of water to the roots, it attains a size as well as a vigour which cannot be sur- passed. English travellers are apt to decry the olive as of a dull, dusty colour, and with no pretensions to beauty; but I have long learned to see infinite attractions in this singular tree ; and those who have lived in sultry weather near an olive-yard know what a grateful shade from a glar- ing sun these distorted trees offer, and how pleasantly their silvery leaves shimmer in the lightest breeze, and rustle and murmur with a soothing, gentle whisper, very conducive to repose. Both the cork and olive, as well as the chestnut, abound throughout the length and breadth of Portugal, but nowhere do they reach a greater degree of perfection than at Cintra, which is essentially the home of these southern trees, and where soil and climate combine to supply the conditions required. For the same reason, the gardens and shrubberies here are so flourishing, for the scorching rays of the sun are tempered by the cool breezes, and copious springs burst from the mountain side, and trickle down the hills in every gully ; and so camellias and many other kindred shrubs, which cannot exist in the scorching climate of Lisbon, thrive here with a luxuriance that astonishes the Northern traveller. And herein, indeed, consists the real charm of Cintra, the profusion and magnificence of its vegetation, which produces plenty of cool shade and a delightful retreat, which can only be duly ap- preciated by those who have been parched, and fried, and powdered by the intolerable summer heat, and glare, and dust of Lisbon. During the latter end of April, which we spent in these mountains, the sun was by no means overpowering ; indeed, though the days were hot enough, the nights were almost chilly ; and as I came out to Portugal for the express pur- pose of gaining a good store of caloric, I was not sorry to find myself on the 1st of May on my way back to Lisbon, on the top of an omnibus or diligence, when we had a most amusing journey, and on as splendid a morning as one could desire. For, to our great satisfaction, a large fair was held midway between Cintra and Lisbon ; and the consequence was, that the road was thronged by country people, all in holiday attire. It is true, there was no Jack-in-the-green, such as one may see on Mayday in England ; but the costumes of many of these good folks were strange and picturesque enough. Their variety, too, was charming ; and the airs and graces adopted by those most elaborately dressed added much to the quaintness of the scene. Everybody was on horseback, if that term may be applied generically to those who bestrode mules and donkeys as well, for by far the larger number was mounted on these inferior animals; and though droves of cattle, cows and calves and bullocks, horses, mules, and donkeys, blocked up the road at frequent intervals, these were almost universally consigned to the care of the drudges, the women and the boys ; while their lords and masters flourished on in front on elaborately worked saddles, the trappings and cloths and bridles of their animals as gorgeous and gay as their own many-coloured garments. But when we stopped at the half-way station, to bait our horses, after precisely the same form as that adopted by our driver before, including the liberal libation of wine over the back and loins of each horse, in order to give them courage and strength, it was grand to see one and another of these fair-going dandies gallop up to the door of the inn, tie his richly-caparisoned mule to an iron ring, after the genuine fashion of a Spanish bait, and then strut in and out of the door of the hostelry, and swagger and com- port himself with the most ridiculous pretensions ; and all ))ecause his velvet hat was peaked and adorned with a feather, his bright blue jacket was frogged and braided and garnished with silver buttons, his boots were adorned with tassels, his saddle-cloth was scarlet, and his large, flat, wooden stirrups studded with silver nails. It was amidst crowds of such gaily-dressed farmers and dealers, and amidst a string of carts and carriages of marvellous shape and colour; and, above all, amidst a general holiday look, and real joyity and merriment conspicuous in the faces of all, as if they were out for a day's pleasure, and meant to enjoy it, that we drove back to the capital, which we found in a glowing heat, with the thermometer at 86° in the shade, notwithstanding a gentle breeze, which blew almost daily up the river from the sea.

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