Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Monserrate 1842

My second visit to Cintra was in the Spring, when surrounding nature was decked with radiant beauty, and breathed forth richest fragrance. The orange and lemon trees were laden with their golden fruit, while the peach, the lilac, and a thousand other plants and shrubs were thickly hung with blossoms of every richly varied hue and color, charming the eye with their beauty, and loading every passing breeze with balmy and refreshing odors. Every peak and crag along the mountain's side, was clothed with foliage of deep and living green, presenting a striking contrast to the blossoms of the numerous wild plants scattered thickly around, as also to the brown and barren walls of granite which form the summits of the cliffs above. Both Nature and Art had done their perfect work, and each of the numerous ravines which connect the mountain gorges with the fair and fertile plains beneath, and each romantic point projecting out towards the lovely vale below, had its cottage, its mansion house, or its palace, surrounded with a rich variety of flowering plants and shrubs, with bowers and gardens,— with fruit and forest trees.

The streams which the numerous mountain springs supply, conveyed in aqueducts, or rushing in their untamed wildness down their rocky beds, discharge themselves in tasteful reservoirs, or flow forth from classic fountains, diffusing abroad their beneficent influence, giving life, richness, and beauty to all surrounding nature. As I turned my eye from the stern and barren grandeur of the topmost cliffs above, to the teeming fertility caused by the waters which they draw from the clouds as diffused abroad in the vales below, my mind was more deeply impressed than ever before with the evidence we have of divine benevolence, in the manner in which those things that at first view appear but as useless blanks in creation, prove on closer inspection to contribute in no slight degree, to the welfare and happiness of man.

Such, as above described, is the scenery which for miles presents itself at the base, and along the numerous ravines of the mountains of Cintra. But there is yet another feature in the landscape. Passing over the range of fertile and beautiful hills in the distance, on one of which the gigantic convent and palace of Mafra are seen ; the wide Atlantic opens to the view, exciting in the mind those vivid emotions which the sea, with its thousand varied forms of beauty, splendor, and more than poetic magnificence and grandeur is so well fitted to inspire. When I thus gazed upon it, a lively breeze had ruffled its surface, and here and there an ambitious wave, among the myriads which chased each other to the shore, would rear its whitened head above its fellows, and sparkling for a moment, as the brilliant sunbeams fell upon it, then, as if exhausted by its efforts, sunk again, — and was lost amid the undistinguished mass around. Such, thought I, is the state of man, tossed on the wide-spread and excited sea of human existence. Like the rolling waves of the ocean, each one moves rapidly onwards, at once pursuing and pursued; and if, like the brilliant surf-crowned billow, some favored son of genius rise for a moment above his fellows, in a moment too he sinks again, and is forgotten. Look, too, at these same waves as they end their course along the shore. Here they quietly expend themselves upon the smooth and beaten sand, like the good man yielding up his breath in peace: and there, tossing and foaming among the rocks like the sons of vice on their deathbed, when the mind is thrown back upon itself, and the angry lashing of remorse fills them with fearful .anxiety and grief.

Montserrat is the name of the residence of Beckford, the author of Vathek and other works of genius, who, during the last century, connected himself with one of the noble families of Portugal, and in his mansion at Cintra, surrounded himself with more than oriental magnificence and splendor. Byron says of him —

There thou too, Vathek ! England's wealthiest son
Once formed thy Paradise;
But now, as if a thing unblest by man,
Thy fairy dwelling is as lone as thou;
Here giant weeds a passage scarce allow,
To halls deserted, portals gaping wide.

This mansion occupies a gentle promontory projecting from the mountain and encircled with trees. It is square with two wings, and surmounted with Gothic turrets. The floors are broken in, and it is wholly in ruins! yet such is the peculiar beauty of its location, as to make it a place of retirement from the cares of the world, worthy of a poet, a prince, or a philosopher.

Sketches of foreign travel
Charles Rockwell

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