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THE BOTANIC GARDEN.
lifetime, but fearful of its being neglected by his own family, he presented it to the government on his death. This act has had a fatal tendency; for the government, instead of fostering it, tried to compel his own son to keep it up, but having failed in the attempt they left it to ruin. It is now in the hands of a most ignorant Frenchman, who is neither a botanist nor a gardener. Some time ago the Prussian government offered to purchase it, in order to naturalize some of the plants of the western world before they were brought to Europe : but the Spanish, with becoming dignity and pride, chose to let it fall to ruin in their own hands, rather than allow it to flourish in any others ! A garden such as this would be a great acquisition to the English-foremost as they are in the cultivation of every minute, as well as great and noble scheme by which knowledge can be increased, and man rendered happy in its possession—to such, it would be a great desideratum, for the experiment of acclimatising exotic plants, so as to render them hardy enough to bear our northern temperature, might here be tried at a trifling cost. Surely such a one ought to be here or in Madeira, where the plants of the varied climes of India, Australia, Africa, and South America, could meet a congenial atmosphere ; and might in time be introduced into Europe. How many horticultural societies could well afford to retain an intelligent gardener or botanist in this cheap country, and with a rich reward.
The town of Oratava not only looks deserted, but is so in reality. Many of the houses are perfect palaces, and were originally the residences of the aristocracy of the island--the real “blue blood,” as the Spanish nobility were wont to call themselves ; but the moss is fast creeping over the proud escutcheons that still decorate their entrances.
This place is beautifully situated, and has a small stream of water running through each of the streets, like the Lavadas of Madeira. We were directed to the garden where the Dragontree (dracæna draco) stands ; and found it in much better preservation than we could have expected, and still very like Mr. Williams' faithful representation of it. The species of tree to which this belongs has an odd and grotesque appearance : it is characterised by a short, thick, leafless trunk, branching out at top into a number of diminutive arms, not unlike a candelabrum, each crowned with a tuft of leaves. The measurement of this
THE DRAGON TREE.
hestnut ofaubenstein—the bs mentioned in
specimen is forty-seven feet nine inches in circumference above the roots; the trunk is partly hollow, and the opening, which is built up with stones, is thirteen feet in the clear; it must have increased since Humboldt's time, who made the circumference but forty-five feet. The branches are propped up with a number of poles, which look like so many crutches supporting its old age; it is, however, going fast to decay ; two young shoots have sprung out of the hollow, and although it still produces leaves, it has not borne flowers or fruit for some years. Beside it waves one of the finest date-palms I ever saw, which rears its tall majestic form as if in mockery of its tottering neighbour. One feels a degree of veneration on standing beside such a patriarch of the vegetable world, which has withstood the suns and storms of centuries. It is supposed to be one of the oldest trees in existence, and is a fit associate for the Cowthorpe oak—the great chestnut of Tamworth—the olives of Gethsemane—the plane tree of Frauhenstein—the Castagno di Cento Cavalli, at Etna—and the still older Baobabs mentioned in Macartney's Embassy to China. The combined ages of a few of those would bring us to the first dawn of life upon our planet.
Towards evening I became quite excited and restless, between the desire to proceed and the fear of failure. We had provisions and water packed for several days in case of accident; as should we be caught in the snow, or overtaken by a storm, our only chance would have been to remain in some crevice of a rock until it had passed over. Our consul kindly sent us a present of wine and brandy, that of the town being most wretched stuff. At nine o'clock, the moon, then within one day of the full, rose in the most tempting splendour. We put on a double suit of every thing; and besides a pair of great coats, and a large cloak, a couple of blankets were provided for each. At 10 o'clock, P. M. the guides made their appearance, with four horses, two of which were for our use, and two to carry the provisions.
At half-past ten o'clock every thing was ready, our cigars lighted, and we started. Our cavalcade consisted of my friend Mr. William Meiklam and myself, on horse-back, preceded by our principal guide Christoval, on foot; then came the two sumpter horses, and lastly our two other guides, an old man and a boy, who formed our rere-guard ; and we had also with us a magnificent black spaniel. The night was very fine and warm;
we set off in high spirits, and commenced our ascent almost immediately on leaving the town. We soon, however, began to feel the effects of the cold, and were obliged to add to our clothing, and the men to put on their blankets. Our guide Christoval, generally known by the soubriquet of El Gomero, pleased us much; he was one of the finest models of a man I ever beheld, and although of Herculean form, he had all the grace of a Spaniard, and a countenance of extreme intelligence. He is not the usual guide to the top, but provides horses as far as the Estancia ; having offered, however, to become our guide to the summit on giving him the usual additional allowance of four dollars, we gladly accepted his proposal—and I would advise all travellers to do the same, as they thus give him an additional interest to get them to the top, besides making him hasten on the horses so as to bring them to the Estancia in proper time; for many have gone thus far, and, from useless delays, have been obliged to return without accomplishing their object. We found him a good guide in every respect. Our older guide seemed to suffer much from the cold, and rode the greater part of the way on one of the provisionhorses. “The boy,” as he was termed, was about twenty-five, and quite astonished us—he was a light-hearted, good-humoured fellow, of powerful build, though low-sized. The greater part of the night he sung a loud chant, in the chorus of which the others joined. His indifference to the cold was surprising, although his dress was like that worn by the Madeiranese in summer; it consisted of a coarse loose shirt and breeches of linen, the latter reaching but half-way on his thigh—from this downward, he had no covering of any description except shoes—a hat and vest completed his costume, and, although he had a blanket he did not use it, but threw it on one of the horses, or carried it across his arm. Our small white nags perfectly comprehended their business, never once missing the path, though to us it was often imperceptible ; they were exceedingly hardy, and all we could do would not make them go out of Indian file, or from the place that custom had made their own.
As soon as we got into the open country, our dog commenced beating, and continued the whole night, enlivening the solitude by his short quick bark as he started a goat or a rabbit across our path. Having so often descanted on the grandeur of moonlight scenery, it would be now going over old ground to touch upon it
again; but here, by the extreme clearness of its silvery lustre, we were enabled to distinguish every trace of vegetation with the greatest accuracy. We had already passed the regions of the vine, the fern, and the heath, which, with the pine, the arbutus, and the broom, form successive belts around the lower parts of the Peak, rising one above another perfectly distinct, and with lines between of the most accurate demarcation.
After this we entered upon the vast plains of spartium (the broom) where the ground is more rugged, and the path so broken as to permit but a very easy walk. The cold increased momentarily as we gained the summit of the range of hills that encloses the vale of Oratava, which lay beneath us, slumbering in the most death-like stillness—the towns, the snow-white cottages, and the silvery sea, presenting a grand and most imposing diorama. At half-past two o'clock we stopped to feed the men and horses at a place called the “Black Rocks," where we remained about half an hour. The thermometer was 40° Fahr. ; the men seemed rather inclined to rest, and would have delayed here had we allowed them, in order to avoid being at a very high elevation at the coldest part of the morning, which is just before sunrise. Strange to say, that long before I had reached this, and when at an elevation of scarce 500 feet, I found my breathing improved ; when two-thirds of the way up, I was perfectly free from all trace of asthma or cough ; and subsequently I was the only person of the party, including the guides, who did not suffer from the rarity of the atmosphere at the top. We resumed our way at three o'clock, fortifying ourselves with a little brandy, a cigar, and what we found still more acceptable, a few Cayenne lozenges, which I would strongly recommend to all persons exposed to extreme cold.
We now commenced crossing “the pumice-stone plains," which lie at the foot of the actual Peak, and here it was that the novelty and sublimity of our situation most forcibly impressed us. The pumice-stone plain is a term applied to a gradual ascent of great extent, composed of exceedingly small grey lava and volcanic ashes, stretching far and wide, as distant as the eye can reach along the comparatively level surface immediately at the base of the Peak. From this, rise up occasional masses of dark obsidian, of immense size, and some scattered plants of retama, (a species of broom,) the only vegetable that exists in this barren waste. At the commencement of the plain it grows in great strength and
THE PUMICE-STONE PLAINS.
luxuriance, but gradually it becomes more detached, and at the higher extremity it is scattered few and far between in stunted bushes. There was a peculiar wildness in the hour and the scene ; the night was truly propitious—not a cloud was to be seen throughout the intense azure of the starry vault above us ; not a breath of air stirred around us ; the full moon shone forth with a splendour the most dazzling, as she sailed majestically through the broad expanse of blue, barely allowing the stars to appear as they twinkled in her path, whilst an occasional planet would now and then start up, as if to challenge her borrowed radiance, but soon fade before her approaching brightness. Before us lay the clear and boldly-defined outline of the Peak, frowning in all the grandeur of monarchy; and the great rarity of the atmosphere showed every break and unevenness that bounded our horizon as it cut sharply against the cold blue sky beyond; all was wrapped in the most solemn stillness; the deep silence seemed to impress each of us, not a little increased by our momentarily decreasing temperature, which had now completely silenced even our melodious muleteer. The tread of the horses made not the slightest noise, as we wound our way across that weary plain, where for the first time I felt sleep come heavily upon me; indeed I did dose for a few moments, and it was on suddenly awaking that I so forcibly perceived our loneliness and the true magnificence by which we were surrounded. We rode in front ; then came our provision horses; the three men in their long white cloaks closed the line, stalking along like so many of the ancient Guanches, who had come out of their caverns to speed us on our way; and the great masses of obsidian rose like huge antique castles, which assumed every fantastic shape the imagination could picture, and cast their long dark shadows across our path.
At the end of the plain our horses were forced up a steep and rugged ascent, for about half an hour, when we arrived at the Estançia des Ingleses—“the resting-place of the English ;” it was now half-past five o'clock, and although so closely muffled, our sufferings from cold were extreme, and our hands perfectly benumbed. This is the highest point where horses can possibly get up, and we only wondered they had ascended so far. We expected to have found some sort of a resting-place here, but it was only a small enclosure, made by the fragments of some enormous rocks which nature has piled around it—and one of the