To Lisbon From The Sea
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In the morning our captain concluded that he had got into lat. 40 degrees, and was very little short of the Endings, as they are called in the charts. We came up with them at five in the afternoon, being the first land we had distinctly seen since we left Devonshire. They consist of abundance of little, rocky islands, a little distance from the shore, three of them only showing themselves above the water. Here the Portuguese maintain a kind of garrison, if we may allow it that name. It consists of male-factors, who are banished hither for a term, for divers small offenses—a policy which they may have copied from the Egyptians, as we may read in Diodorus Siculus. That wise people, to pre-vent the corruption of good manners by evil communication, built a town on the Red Sea, whither they transported a great number of their criminals, having first set an indelible mark on them, to prevent their returning and mixing with the sober part of their citizens... .
These rocks lie about fifteen leagues north-west of Cape Roxent, or, as it is commonly called, the Rock of Lisbon, which we passed early the next morning. This is a very high mountain, situated on the northern side of the mouth of the river Tagus, which, rising about Madrid, in Spain, and soon becoming navigable for small craft, empties itself, after a long course, into the sea, about four leagues below Lisbon.
On the summit of the rock stands a hermitage, which is now in the possession of an Englishman, who was formerly master of a vessel trading to Lisbon; and having changed his religion and his manners, the latter of which, at least, were none of the best, betook himself to this place, in order to do penance for his sins. He is now very old, and has inhabited this hermitage for a great number of years, during which he has received some countenance from the royal family, and particularly from the present queen dowager, whose piety refuses no trouble or expense by which she may make a proselyte, being used to say that the saving one soul would repay all the endeavors of her life.
Here we waited for the tide, and had the pleasure of surveying the face of the country, the soil -of which, at this season, exactly resembles an old brick-kiln, or a field where the green-sward is pared up and set a-burning, or rather a-smoking, in little heaps to manure the land. The sight will, perhaps, of all others, make an Englishman proud of, and pleased with, his own country, which in verdure excels, I believe, every other country. Another deficiency here is the want of large trees, nothing above a shrub being here to be discovered in the circumference of many miles.
We did not enter the Tagus till noon, when, after passing several old castles and other buildings which had greatly the aspect of ruins, we came to the castle of Bellisle, where we had a full prospect of Lisbon, and were, indeed, within three miles of it. Here we were saluted with a gun, which was a signal to pass no farther till we had complied with certain ceremonies which the laws of this country require to be observed by all ships which arrive in this port. We were obliged then to cast anchor, and expect the arrival of the officers of the customs, without whose passport no ship must proceed farther than this place. In the evening, at twelve, our ship, having received previous visits from all the necessary parties, took advantage of the tide, and, having sailed up to Lisbon, cast anchor there, in a calm and a moonshiny night, which made the passage incredibly pleasant to the women, who remained three hours enjoying it, while I was left to the cooler transports of enjoying their pleasures at second-hand; and yet, cooler as they may be, whoever is totally ignorant of such sensation is, at the same time, void of all ideas of friendship.
Lisbon, before which we now lay at anchor, is said to be built on the same number. of hills with old Rome; but these do not all appear to the water; on the contrary, one sees from thence one vast high hill and rock, with buildings arising .above one another, and that in so steep and almost perpendicular a manner, that they all seem to have but one foundation. As the houses, convents, churches, etc., are large, and all built with white stone, they look very beautiful at a distance; but as you approach nearer, and find them to want every kind of ornament, all idea of beauty vanishes at once. While I was surveying the prospect of this city, which bears so little resemblance to any other that I have ever seen, a reflection occurred to me that, if a man was suddenly to be removed from Palmyra hither, and should take a view of no other city, in how glorious a light would the ancient architecture appear to him ! and what desolation and destruction of arts and sciences would he conclude had happened between the several areas of these cities !