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Great Earthquake At Lisbon In 1775

( Originally Published 1851 )



Many natives of Portugal yet remember the morning of the first of November, 1775. The day dawned clear and beautiful. The sun shone out in its full lustre; the whole face of the sky was perfectly serene, and no one conceived of the horrible contrast, which was soon after to present itself. The earth had trembled at short intervals for a year. An English merchant, who resided at Lis-bon, gives the following account of the approach of the final catastrophe:

It was on the morning of this fatal day, between the hours of nine and ten, that I was sat down in my apartment, just finishing a letter, when the papers and table I was writing on, began to tremble with a gentle motion, which rather suprised me, as 1 could not perceive a breath of wind stirring. 'Whilst I was reflecting with myself what this could be owing to, but without having the least apprehension of the real cause, the whole house began to shake from the very foundation; which at first I imputed to the rattling of several coaches in the main street, which usually passed that way, at this time, from Belem to the palace; but on hearkening more attentively, I was soon undeceived, as I found it was owing to a strange frightful kind of noise under ground, resembling the hollow distant rumbling of thunder. All this passed in less than a minute, and I must confess I now began to be alarmed, as it naturally occurred to me that this noise might possibly be the forerunner of an earth-quake; as one I remembered, which had happened about six or seven years ago, in the island of Madeira, commenced in the same manner, though it did little or no damage.

" Upon this I threw down my pen and started upon my feet, remaining a moulent in suspense, whether I should stay in the apartment or run into the street, as the danger in both places seemed equal; and still flatterrng myself that this tremor might produce no other effects than such inconsiderable ones as had been felt at Madeira; but in a moment I was roused from my dream, being instantly stunned with a most horrid crash, as if every edifice in the city had tumbled down at once. The house I was in shook with such violence, that the upper stories immediately fell, and though my apartment (which was the first floor) did not then share the same fate, yet every thing was thrown out of its place in such a manner, that it was with no small difficulty I kept my feet, and expected nothing less than to be soon crushed to death, as the walls continued rocking to and fro in the fright-fullest manner, opening in several places; large stones falling down on every side from the cracks, and the ends of most of the rafters starting out from the roof. To add to this terrifying scene, the sky in a moment became so gloomy that I could now distinguish no particular object; it was an Egyptian darkness indeed, such as might be felt; owing, no doubt, to the prodigious clouds of dust and lime raised from so violent a concussion, and, as some reported, to sulphureous exhalations, but this I cannot affirm; however it is certain I found myself almost choked for near ten minutes."

During the whole of November the shocks continued to be violent. Lisbon was reduced to a heap of ruins. The loss of lives was computed at upwards of 30,000. In the lower part of the town not a street could be traced but by the fragments of broken walls, and the accumulation of ashes and rubbish. Palaces, churches, convents and private houses, appeared as if the angel of desolation had just passed by. The following cut gives a faint idea of the ruins of the church of St. Pauls. The falling of this church buried a great part of the congregation, which was very numerous, beneath its walls.

At night the city was deserted by the surviving inhabitants, and only infested by robbers who proceeded in gangs to break open and plunder. The heights around Lisbon were so covered with tents, that they seemed a continued encampment. The great aqueduct over the valley of Alcantara remained entirely unshaken, though its height is so great and its line of arches so extensive. It was remarked, that during the month of November, the tides did not observe their proverbial regularity.

The terrors of a conflagration were added to those of the earthquake. On the night of the 1st of November, the whole city appeared in a blaze, which was so bright, that persons could see to read by it. It continued burning for six days, without the least attempt being made to stop it. The people were so dejected and terrified, that they made no exertion even to save their own property. Dead bodies remained unburied in the churches, in the streets, and among the rubbish. The scene inspired melancholy even into dumb animals.

The property of all kinds consumed or engulfed was of immense value. Many years elapsed before Lisbon recovered from the calamity, and the traces of it are still visible in many places.

When we read the lives of distinguished men in any department, we find them almost always celebrated for the amount of labor they could perform. Demosthenes, Julius Caesar, Henry the Fourth of France, Lord Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, Franklin, Washington, Napoleon,—different as they were in their intellectual and moral qualities, were all renowned as hard-workers. We read how many days they could support the fatigues of a march ; how early they rose ; how late they watched ; how many hours they spent in the field, in the cabinet, in the court ; how many secretaries they kept employed ; in short how hard they worked.

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