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Lisbon 1859

From Alfred, Lord Tennyson's, letter-diary of a journey with F.T. Palgrave and F.C.Grove

August 21st. Braganza Hotel, Lisbon. Just arrived at Lisbon> and settled at the Braganza Hotel after a very prosperous voyage tho' with a good deal of rolling. We merely touched at Vigo which looked fruitful, rolled up in a hot mist, and saw Oporto from the sea, looking very white in a fat port-wine country. It is here just as hot as one would wish it to be but not at all too hot. There was a vast deal of mist and fog all along the coast as we came. Lisbon I have not yet seen except from the sea, and it does not equal expectation as far as seen Note: Except the convent chapel at Belem). Palgrave and Grove have been helpful and pleasant companions, and so far all has gone well. We shall go to Cintra either to-morrow or next day. It is said to be Lisbon's Richmond and rather cockney tho' high and cool. The man who is landlord here is English and an Englishman keeps the hotel at Cintra. I hope with good hope that I shall not be pestered with the plagues of Egypt. I cannot say whether we shall stick at Cintra or go further on. Brookfield gave a good account of the cleanliness of Seville.

August 23rd. Cintra. We drove over Lisbon yesterday in a blazing heat and saw the Church of St Vincent, and the Botanical Gardens where palms and prickly pears and huge cactuses were growing, and enormous oleanders covered all over with the richest red blossom, and I thought of our poor one at Farringford that won't blossom. There were two strange barbaric statues at the gate of the garden, which were dug up on the top of a hill in Portugal: some call them Phoenician but no one knows much about them. I tried to see the grave of Fielding the novelist, who is buried in the Protestant cemetery, but could find no one to let me in; he lies among the cypresses. In the evening we came on here; the drive was a cold one, and the country dry, tawny, and wholly uninteresting. Cintra disappointed me at first sight, and perhaps will continue to disappoint, tho' to southern eyes from its ever green groves, in contrast to the parched barren look of the landscape, it must look very lovely. I climbed with Grove to the Pefia, a Moorish-looking castle on the top of the hill, which is being repaired, and which has gateways fronted with tiles in pattern; these gates look like those in the illustrated Arabian Nights of Lane (Note: Then they strolled to the Bay of Apples).

August 26th. It is, I think, now decided that we are to go on to Cadiz and Seville on the 2nd, and then to Gibraltar and possibly to Tangiers, possibly to Malaga and Granada. The King's Chamberlain has found me out by my name: his name is the Marquis of Figueros or some such sound; and yesterday even the Duke of Saldanha came into the salle a manger, described himself as "having fought under the great Duke, and having been in two and forty combats and successful in all, as having married two English wives, both perfect women," etc., and ended with seizing my hand and crying out "Who does not know England's Poet Laureate? I am the Duke of Saldanha." I continue pretty well except for toothache; I like the place much better as I know it better. A visit to Santarem (the city of convents) was greatly enjoyed.

[From F.T. Palgrave's manuscript. The town itself proved a labyrinth of narrow and filthy streets, though here also were many large ecclesiastical buildings, ending in a vast ruined castle, which from an immense height commanded the river valley. Here we two (for our pleasant comrade had now left us) sat long, and beneath us saw miles on miles of level land, forest and vineyard, dotted with unknown villages, and lighted up by the long of the Tagus. This undoubtedly is one of the great panoramic landscapes of Europe, and I suppose the least visited. Nearer the city, thorny lines of glaucous aloe, here and there throwing out lofty flower-stems, ran up the hill-sides planted thick with olive-trees, beneath which the sun now cast down long separate shadows, and illuminated the Tagus flowing right below our eyes between wide tawny sandbanks in the deepest fold of its green and sinuous channel.]

Sept. 2nd. Lisbon. The heat and the flies and the fleas and one thing or another have decided us to return by the boat to Southampton which starts from this place on the 7th. (...)

[From F.T. Palgrave's manuscript. Our visit, we gradually found, was not at the most favourable season: the fields browned and burnt by heat, the mosquitoes afflicting. Against the latter, Tennyson had provided himself with an elaborate tent (first contrived, I believe, by Sir C. Fellowes for use in Asia Minor, during the night-time): a sheet formed into a large bag, but ending in a muslin canopy, which was distended by a cane circle, and hung upwards, to accommodate head and shoulders, from a nail which I took the freedom to run into his bedroom wall. Into this shelter the occupant crept by a narrow sheet-funnel, which he closed by twisting; and once in, he was unable to light a match outside for fear lest the action should set the muslin on fire. Hence one night Tennyson, able to command the bell, summoned the waiter. I brought him in through my (contiguous) room with a light; and the man's terror at the spectacle of the great ghost, looking spectral within its white canopy, was delightful. He almost ran off. But I think that after this experience Tennyson abandoned the tent and took his chances: only pretending to wish that he had a little baby in bed with him, as a whiter and more tempting morsel to the insect world.

More serious than the mosquito was the sun. This so wrought upon and disturbed Tennyson, in a manner with which many English travellers to Italy during the heat will be unpleasantly familiar, that he now began gravely to talk about leaving his bones by the side of the great novelist Fielding, who died and was buried at Lisbon in 1754.]

To the Duke of Argyll

Oct. 3rd, 1859.

We are delighted to hear that your Duchess has added another scion to your race, and that mother and child are both prospering. I had fancied that the event would have come off while I was in Portugal (for in Portugal I have been), and made enquiries thereanent of Mr Henry Howard but he could tell me nothing.

If I came back with "bullion" in the "Tagus," it was nowhere in my packages. I went to see that Cintra which Byron and Beckford have made so famous: but the orange-trees were all dead of disease, and the crystal streams (with the exception of a few sprinkling springlets by the wayside) either dried up, or diverted thro' unseen tunnels into the great aqueduct of Lisbon. Moreover the place is cockney, and, when I was there, was crammed with Lisbon fashionables and Portuguese nobility; yet Cintra is not without its beauties, being a mountain of green pines rising out of an everywhere arid and tawny country, with a fantastic Moorish-looking castle on the peak, which commands a great sweep of the Atlantic and the mouth of the Tagus: here on the topmost tower sat the king (they say) day by day in the old times of Vasco da Gama watching for his return, till he saw him enter the river: there, perhaps, was a moment worth having been waited for. I made some pleasant acquaintances, but I could not escape autograph hunters; a certain Don Pedro Something even telegraphed for one after I had returned to Lisbon.

As to Macaulay's suggestion of the Sangreal, I doubt whether such a subject could be handled in these days, without incurring a charge of irreverence. It would be too much like playing with sacred things. The old writers believed in the Sangreal. Many years ago I did write " Lancelot's Quest of the Grail" in as good verses as I ever wrote, no, I did not write, I made it in my head, and it has now altogether slipt out of memory.
My wife, I am sorry to say, has been very unwell. Yours ever, A. TENNYSON.

Source: Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir (1897) by Hallam Tennyson

Time Out Lisbon

"Time Out" Lisbon

  Beautifully laid out on seven hills overlooking the River Tejo and littered with monuments testifying to Portugal's former maritime glory, Lisbon is a sightseeing delight as well as a mecca for clubbers and party people in search of a wild weekend. Written and researched by Lisbon residents, this awardwinning Time Out guide escorts you around the coffeehouses of the Chiado, the bars and restaurants of the Bairro Alto, the clubs of the Docas and Santa Apolonia, down into the city's deepest African and Brazilian dives and out to the finest beaches of the Caparica Coast.
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