Sunday, 2 August 2009

Montserrat 1836

An abrupt and picturesque road led us, through the village, to the hotel of Madame Belem. As the sun was already fast declining, I set off immediately, on a burro, to visit Montserrat, the palace inhabited by Beckford during his residence in Portugal forty or fifty years since. The path was most romantic. Here, a sudden rise would afford a view on the one hand, over the groves
[27] beneath, of the vast expanse of fertile country to the north; or, on the other, of the savage summits of the impending mountains,—there, the path plunged down some dark hollow where the light of heaven was almost excluded by the canopying foliage,—now, it was shaded by majestic cork-trees, elms, or chesnuts,—now, bordered by orange and citron-groves in full blossom, whose perfume mingling with that of the various brilliant flowers overhanging the garden-walls, almost intoxicated the senses,—sometimes, a palace, a villa, or a rustic fountain, adorned the roadside,—and a stream occasionally crossed the path, and sunk murmuring to lose itself in the woods of willow and cane on the slope below.

A mile or two of such scenery, varied by wider views of the Atlantic, brought us to Montserrat, which lies a little below the road, on the brow of a hill, sinking gently to the plain. It is now, and has long been, in ruins—the roofless halls, the floors strewn with masses of rubbish, or overgrown with weeds, form a striking contrast to the appearance it must have presented when inhabited by the wealthy and luxurious " Vathek." The remains of its former magnificence are still visible in the painted walls and fallen fragments. I was surprised that this building should be suffered to continue in this condition, for it is most charmingly [28] situated at the foot of the mountains, having the ocean in the distance on one hand, and the romantic heights of Penha Verde, crowned with pines and cork-trees on the other.

Two miles beyond Montserrat, on the rocky slope, is the little village of Colares, famed for its wine, and its " truly elysian scenery", (to use the words of Beckford) where snow-white quintas gleam from the midst of luxuriant groves and orchards, watered by streams from the overhanging mountains. This village I reached only in time to see the sun sink into the golden waves of the broad Atlantic. I then retraced my steps towards Cintra, and long before I reached the inn, all was night. But what a night! what words can do justice to a summer night in such a climate, and amid such scenery ?

The moon was just rising over the mountain peaks, and shed a flood of light down the rugged slopes, tinging every prominent crag with her glow, and waking up the groves beneath. Such a moonlight I had never beheld. It was scarcely night, for the tints of even the distant landscape were in some degree distinguishable. It was a second day. Every object which caught the moonbeams seemed invested with the brilliancy of sunlight, and a brilliancy increased by the blackness and intensity of the shade, unlike the [29] faint shadow thrown by " day's garish eye." The palace, with its snowy towers, stood out like a glittering edifice of silver from the dark plain beyond—the breezes brought their tribute of orange perfume—the nightingales from the surrounding groves strove to charm the ear with their melody, mingling their notes with the music of falling waters — and innumerable fire-flies darted through the air, glittering one moment like sparks of fire, and the next, invisible. All Nature seemed to vie in overpowering the senses with pleasure. Such moments amid such scenes become the halting-places, where Memory in journeying over the fields of past existence, however drear and gloomy, will pause with delight to refresh herself with pure draughts from the well of Nature.

A summer in Andalucia

George Dennis

London, Richard Bently, 1839

No comments: