Saturday, 16 May 2009

Monserrate 1821


Cintra, July. [1821]

We have this evening been to see the quinta of " Montserrat," by far the most picturesque place in this neighbourhood; it comprises every beauty and sublimity which Cintra has to boast, being situated upon very elevated ground, in the bosom of a wood of cork-trees, surrounded by orange-trees, and rocky fountains; hemmed in on three sides by mountains, (among which are those crowned by the Penha convent, and the Moorish castle,) and open on the other to the level champaign country, rich in vineyards and corn-fields, which stretches out for about six miles, when it is bounded by the sea. The mansion itself had a singular charm for me, delighting, as I have ever done, in those which call up images of romantic association; it was originally built by a rich Englishman,* in the style of our own villas, and was in consequence distinguished by an elegance of taste, a refinement of decoration, and a lightness and beauty of architecture, which are peculiar to buildings of this sort in England; here such a structure really appears as if raised by fairy hands; so far does it excel the ill-contrived and tawdry style, to which the natives of this country are generally accustomed: — but, alas! how has this enchanted spot been neglected! and how has the beautiful house been suffered to fall to decay! now become the property of a Portugueze family, they have evinced the most deplorable want of taste and feeling in regard to it, for at this moment it is completely a ruin—a fit residence only for the bat and the owl, or to serve as a casual shelter for the wandering goatherd and his shaggy flock, at those times when the wind is not high enough to blow down the shattered roof upon their heads. I never beheld so striking an image of desolate loveliness; and could have passed hours here in the indulgence of a reverie, mournful, yet fraught with a nameless charm that can only be comprehended by the veritable children of romance. Some of the carved doors of the best apartments (brought, at a great expense, from England), were still perfect, and some remains of the superb plates of glass in the light French windows were yet spared by the fury of the wintry storms which often rage with great violence among the surrounding mountains and woods; the hall (of Grecian elegance) once opened upon a sloping lawn of verdant turf, studded with rare shrubs and flower-beds; it has now been ploughed up, but I could still discover traces of its former designation; a splendid music-room, built in the form of a rotunda, the roof rising in a fine dome, to a considerable height, made the greatest impression upon my feelings; I tried my voice there, and was startled at the sound, which, as it died away, seemed to scare the long sleeping echoes of the place. Montserrat indeed is well calculated to afford a lesson of philosophy to every being who has learnt to think; here, in the days of its splendour, its original proprietor retired, to enjoy the luxuries of almost boundless wealth, and called around him the sons and daughters of prosperity, to enliven the retreats of a hitherto solitary Eden; now, what a change, and what a contrast!

Lisbon in the Years 1821, 1822, and 1823
Marianne Baillie
2nd Edition
Published by J. Murray, 1825

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