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CONDITION OF THE PEASANTRY.
vale itself looks like the dried-up bed of a great torrent, as the sides are almost perpendicular ; the bottom is studded with cottages peeping from out groves of bananas, with their long light-green plumes and feathery foliage, waving in the evening breeze. Before us lay the Cabo Giram, one of the highest headlands in the island, rising beyond the valley, with the fringe of pines that crowns its towering summit gilded by the setting sun, and mirrored in the wave beneath. Having passed the valley, we commenced ascending through the finest district in the island; here the vines are all trained on trellises that stretch over the road, and the houses become more frequent. We passed numerous groups of the peasantry who, having disposed of their fruit or wine at Funchal, were returning home, laden with preserved fish of the most wretched description, and salted gulls, which latter are caught on the rocks called Salvages, and pickled and packed in barrels for inland consumption. But in general the poorer people eat no meat, their principal food being porridge made of the meal of the Indian corn, with fruit and vegetables ; and yet we see what a stout, healthy, hardy race they are, capable of enduring the greatest fatigue. The land is held by the tenant for one half of the produce, be it more or less; on this they live, seemingly both contented and happy.
The moon rose in most imposing brilliancy as we entered the mountains through which the narrow bridle-path now led, amidst the most romantic scenery; and as we traversed the deep ravines, the dark shadows of the impending cliffs above were occasionally relieved by full streams of silver light thrown across the gloaming. Perhaps in no place is the witchery of moonlight scenery so much enhanced as in the forest and on the mountain. The hushed repose of nature among those proud battlements of the land, calms, while it elevates the mind. Below us rested the ocean, placid and serene, without a wave to ripple its silver bosom; and the very surf, usually so high along this bold and rocky shore, had scarcely power to sing its own lullaby; while in the valleys the crickets kept up a most incessant chirping among the tall reeds. I love the cricket; it reminds one of the days of home and childhood, when we sat by our own fireside to listen to the tale of wonder, and watched the little insect as it peeped forth at us from the hob.
During the day it was rather cold, and there was much wind at Funchal; but we found none of it whatever on the hills, where
THE JARDIM DA SERRA.
it was much warmer. It is not an uncommon occurrence, in the lower parts of the island, to have some wind at the heat of the day, dying away towards evening. It is said to arise from this cause :—in those ravines which intersect the higher and internal parts of the island, the morning sun, acting on the confined atmosphere which settles in those gorges, greatly heats the air, and necessarily rarifies it, forming a tendency to vacuum; then the wind from the sea rushes towards the centre of the island, to fill up the spaces where this draught is created, until an equilibrium is established—this creates the day breeze. At the elevation of the Jardim it was piercingly cold during the night.
Next morning I had a better opportunity of examining the beauties of this garden of the desert. It is, indeed, a lovely spot; so wild, so calm, and so perfectly shut out from the rest of the world ; the hills, on either side, forming an amphitheatre, with but a single outlet, where you get a glimpse of the sea. The immediate sides of the vale are clothed with groves of magnificent chestnuts, their autumnal liveries well contrasting with the fresher tinting of the leafy evergreens; in the bottom, which is watered by a gentle rivulet, the vine grows even at this elevation, and the numerous class of cucurbitæ—the melons, gourds, and pumpkins—form graceful festoons, as they wreathe from branch to branch of the young chestnut and orange trees—their golden blossoms and enormous fruit, hanging by a single stem, so light and graceful, look as if suspended in mid-air. Numerous plants of balm scent the air, and the fuschia and hydrangia grow to a size almost incredible. Small white cottages, neatly thatched with rye-straw, with the villagers seated before them grinding the quern for their morning meal, give life and animation to this fairy scene.
Mr. Veitch, to whom much credit is due for his endeavours to introduce the tea-plant, showed us his plantation here. It is situated on a sunny terrace behind the house ; the plants were then looking exceedingly healthy, and in the most luxuriant state of vegetation, the greater number being in blossom; they were then twelve years old. The original plants are small, and principally kept for seed, which is now ripening on them, and they are also laid down in layers for the next year. The first generation that was procured from these was in a still more flourishing condition, proving the advantages of acclimatization, and the value that might be made of Madeira for introducing plants into
VIEW OF THE COURAL.
Europe. Here we find both the green, black, and gunpowder ; the leaves are gathered in May, when fresh and tender, but must be kept a year before using. We partook of some of it for our breakfast, and, though hardly strong enough, it was of a fine flavour, and had not that coppery taste perceived at times on the tea at home. Mr. Veitch is in the habit of mixing with it the flower of the olea fragrans, which adds considerably to its quality. The fresh leaf has little or no taste, and so much of the flavour is the effect of the drying process, that it must be some time ere we can arrive at the perfection of the Chinese in tea manufacturing, while they are so anxious to prevent our receiving information concerning it.
Emerging from the valley of the Jardim, and proceeding through the village, a troop of guides soon collected, who each disputed for the honour of conducting the Signor Inglese to the Coural. I was led to the top of the hill surmounting the Jardim ; the guide assumed a mysterious air, and holding my horse by the bridle-lo! the Coural opened to view—so suddenly, indeed, that I started back in horror at finding myself on the very brink of a precipice upwards of 1300 feet in depth. This immense abyss stretches across the island, far as the eye can reach. It is a series of valleys inclosed on all sides by enormous perpendicular precipices, some of which are the principal heights of Madeira, as Pico Grande, the Torrinhas, and the Pico Ruivo, 6237 feet in elevation,—the bottom and sides being a forest of the noblest trees. The height of the surrounding mountains—the roaring torrents which dash through the hills—the azure sky, and the wild sublimity of the spot, have justly procured for it the title of the Switzerland of Madeira. From the place where I stood, the white cottages that sprinkle the bottom looked like so many egg-shells; and the stream that swept through the valley, and the rivulets upon the mountain sides, appeared so many veins of molten silver, as the sun glistened on their changing surfaces. I know not how long I might have remained fixed in admiration of this scene, had not my guides, each supplicating for a pistarine, reminded me that I had still farther to go. These I dismissed, and trusting to the guidance of my burriqueiro for the rest of my journey, commenced the descent.
A narrow path leads off to the left along the edge of the Coural, over dry barren tufa, where a few stunted brooms show
SPLENDOUR OF THE VEGETATION.
the only trace of vegetation ; but farther on, the arborescent heaths appear
grow to a great size. The path now leads over a ridge of mountain that divides the Coural from the Serra d’Agoa, a valley similar to that of the Coural, and in my mind no way inferior, except in being more inaccessible. Here the path is very steep, being supported merely by the jutting cornice of a rock, and in some places so rugged and uneven, that it is with great difficulty a horse can be led over it. The laurus Indicus, the vinhatico or mahogany of the island, clothed with its dark foliage the sides of the cliffs, growing at a great elevation, whereas the chestnut is scarce, and principally confined to the bottom and the lower parts of the island, being an introduced tree.* The day was one of the finest we had for some time—not a cloud or mist could be seen throughout the Coural, nor in the sky above us, save an occasional “woolpack” floating at a great elevation, which was for an instant caught in its transit by one of the highest peaks, as if to remind one of their elevation; but it would soon pass away, and all would again become serene and spotless in the intense azure of the canopy above. The descent was difficult, and took us until three o'clock. As we neared the bottom, vegetation increased; many of the splendid laurels around us were covered with a beautiful white feathery moss, (usnea barbata,) that made them look as if clothed with hoar-frost. The ragged scoriæ along the banks were draped with numerous lichens ; and where a fissure occurred in the basalt itself, large bunches of the Madeirian house-leek sprouted out like so many cockades. I did not see a single arbutus in this region, nor could I find the arnica montana, described by Bowditch, but this may be owing to the season of the year.
* Bowditch, one of the most talented and interesting of modern travellers, and who has so graphically and at the same time so scientifically, described the scenery, botany, and geology of this garden of the Hesperides, divides the regions of vegetation into—First, The vines, which will grow and give fruit as high as 2700 feet, but will not produce wine higher than 2080, the bottom of the Coural. Second, The region of the brooms, in which, I think, may be also ranked the pines, together with the ferns and some chestnuts--this ascends as high as 3700 feet. Third, That of the vaccinium and laurels, to 5600. Fourth, That of the heaths, even as high as 6000 feet.
balm is in great quantity ; the sonchus grows to a vast size ; and two species of saxifrage occupy any spots of moisture that may occur ; there are different species of origanum, and numerous heaths, but which a cursory visit would not allow me to examine. Woodcocks are said to inhabit this valley the whole year
round. We reached the bottom just as the declining sun had thrown one-half of the Coural into shade. It is rich in every species of vegetation, and although 2080 feet above the level of the sea, the grape produces wine.
The Coural das Freiras, or "sheepfold of the nuns," is so called from its retired lonely situation, and being a place of security to send the women and defenceless to in case of invasion. In the centre of the valley stands the small chapel of the Livramento upon a rising knoll—a pleasing object in that wild and beautiful spot. There is something in basaltic scenery calculated to inspire awe; I never felt it more than to-day, on looking round me in this noble amphitheatre, from which there seemed no possible outlet, and whose hanging crags and perpendicular walls seemed as if they would momentarily crumble and crush me in their ruin. It is a spot whose scenic beauty defies alike the pencil and the pen; the powers of the latter have been frequently tried on it, but have always failed, for nature seems here to have studied the sublime. The heart of man may indeed devise, and the hand may execute what is justly to be admired in its day, but what efforts can bear comparison with such as these? The proudest triumphs of genius—the noblest monuments of the Egyptians—the Grecians—the Romanswhere are they now ? Fast crumbling into their original elements; while this picture in the book of nature's landscape smiles on unchanged and unchangeable for ages, and tells of Him from whose master-touch the very dead creation assumes a mimic life.
It seemed to have but one want—that of the deep autumnal tints, that add so much variety to our scenery, and which are never to be seen amidst the evergreens of the Coural. The road leading out of the valley is of frightful steepness, and, as I looked back upon the scene I had left, its parting glance seemed even yet more transcendently lovely than before; for now the fast declining sun, as it topped peak after peak, looked as if a crown of glory shed down its golden rays upon those stupendous crags of fluted basalt, that appeared like so many vast cathedral