Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Monserrat by Dorothy Wordsworth Quillinan (April 1846)

On our way [to the Cork Convent] we again passed the Marialva palace, and Penha Verde, and kept on the Collares road as far as Mr. Beckford’s place, Monserrat ; so called, not after one of his West Indian estates, as it was pretended, but because the site on which he erected his villa had long been known by that name, from an oratory built there in 1540 by Gaspar Preto, a priest, who however seems to have had no fancy either for the colour or substance of the image of Monserrat in Catalonia, for instead of a black wooden Virgin he procured one of alabaster from Rome. The villa of “England’s wealthiest son” as Childe Harold termed him, stands on a green knoll that projects far into the valley, forming a complete promontory, and thus commanding unobstructed views in every direction. The ground immediately about it is exceedingly beautiful, with sloping lawns, now green

p. 75

... and soft as the richest velvet, dashing sparkling, leaping roaring waterfalls, silent pools, gardens and orange groves, stately trees, and wooded park-like sward, extending to the outskirts of the uncultivated country, and so partaking both of the wild and cultivated beauty of Cintra. The house is a temple for the winds – many buildings that have been ruins for centuries are not so ruinous, not a tile of a roof remaining ; a truly melancholy spectacle. We were told that the French soldiers unroofed the house, and industriously destroyed everything that could be destroyed, out of malice to the English. On the other hand, it has been asserted that the original vicious construction of the building, hastily run up, was the cause of its delapidation, and that, like the Tower of Fonthill, it was devoted to early ruin by the negligence of the architect, or the impatience of his employer. On leaving the gateless gateway of Monserrat, we crossed the road, and at once began to ascend the hill – very steep in places, wild and beautiful in all.

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