Monte Video-By William Henry Leonard Poe
(As per requested by a friend, here is a piece by dearest Henry. Please enjoy.)
FOREIGN SCENES AND CUSTOMS.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE NORTH AMERICAN.
After a passage in which we had the usual quantity of good and bad weather, we arrived at the entrance of the Giver Plate, where we saw a large Brazilian fleet at anchor–Not caring to be overhauled, and feeling a little proud of our vessel, we determined to shew them it was in our power, and not in theirs, whether we would submit to it or not–and so it proved, for the vessel they had sent in chase of us, whether from fear, as we looked “rakish,” or from dull sailing, was soon far behind, and ere night we had lost sight of her entirely. As we were now near the place of destination, Monte Video, we anchored until the coming day–our captain, with that caution so natural to a yankee, would not risk his vessel at the very port, after having successfully passed the dangers of “The dark and stormy ocean.”
It was almost sun-down when we arrived at the harbor, and there was something sombre and gloomy in the place which I did not like–perhaps the number of vessels which had seen their best days, and have by accident or design drifted on shore: or the gloomy towers of their large cathedral,–the low long dark buildings designed for barracks and hospitals–to which you may add a dark evening,–caused the feeling, but certain it is, the place made an unfavorable impression on me, although during my stay there I found it the very reverse of what I at first anticipated. Yet when I think of it, the impressions of my mind on first beholding the city, still forcibly revert back, notwithstanding the subsequent proof of the incorrectness with which they were formed:–so firmly does first ideas cling to the remembrance.
Monte Video is at present in possession of the Brazilians–but the Patriots were almost at the very gates, and it was a common occurrence to observe a skirmish between parties of the contending armies;–but whether it was the effusion of some hot-headed young officer, who thought it a pleasant way of ending the day, or was dictated by the more experienced head of age, I cannot determine; but the former opinion seems the most probable, as not benefit could be expected by either party from their occurrence, and they generally ended with the loss of two or three killed or wounded on either side.
I had the good fortune to be there during the Carnival–I say good fortune, but I think I am rather wrong, as I received some not very agreeable effects of their frolic–however, as I witnessed something novel, and as we must generally contribute in some manner for the indulgence of our curiosity, I must fain be satisfied. The officers of the French Corvette Zelé, then in port, with the gaiety peculiar to their nation, appeared to be in their proper element. On the morning of the first day, their largest boat, manned with sixteen oars and the white pennon of France flying, was seen approaching the town. In her bows, leaning on a staff and dressed only in a pair of tarry trowsers and tarpaulin hat, was a person whom I had taken for a negro, and it was therefore with no small surprise that I learnt he was the captain of the corvette–In the stern were seven or eight other officers, all in masquerade dresses. As this was the first scene of the kind which I had ever beheld, you may be assured it afforded me considerable amusement.
In strolling through the streets gazing at the strange figures before me, I received a blow, which gave me,–not the appendage of a gentleman,–in the appearance of an essential member of my physiognomy. Surprised at this unlooked for compliment, I turned round as hastily as the effects of my mishap would permit, and discovered that the persons who had thus cavalierly treated me, were some young ladies, stationed on a neighboring terrace, who immediately began to pelt me with eggs filled with cologne water, and from one of which well-aimed missiles I received the mark, which, in my own country, would have caused a suspension of my perambulations for some time–I was afterwards informed that iw as a great compliment to be noticed in so striking a manner by the fair ones of the city–but notwithstanding this intimation, I felt no anxiety to receive any more of them, if they were to be conferred in a similar coin.
The commerce of Monte Video is not very great. Its imports are beef, pork, soap, wines, brandy, gin, &c. Its exports are principally hides and horns, but vessels generally return from thence in ballast, as hides are frequently shipped at a great loss. It can never be a place of much trade–the harbour is gradually filling up, and vessels drawing more than sixteen feet water cannot come within some miles of the town–and lying in the open roads is very dangerous, as the anchorage is not good, and the heavy gales which are so frequent, have driven many a gallant ship from its proper element to the land. The Macedonian dragged her anchors to within an hundred yards of a reef–and our commodore after that, at the least appearance of a blow, had every thing safe and snug.
The inhabitants of Monte Video are principally Portuguese–but there are many Americans and Englishmen in the place, all intent on making money,–no matter how. It is an actual fact, that most of the vessels which have forced the blockade and arrived at Buenos Ayres, were first purchased at Monte Video–and I have many reasons to believe that the principal authorities wink at the procedure. The inhabitants are generally believed to be in favor of the Patriots, but if so, they do not and dare not openly avow it.
Peaches, apples, melons, &c. are now (February,) in great plenty; and, whist I am complaining of the warmth, you are no doubt blowing your fingers, and wishing for a residence in a milder clime. But with all the novelties and all the attractions which a foreign country possesses, still in the midst of pleasure the heart will turn to its home, and long to be there. There is something in tis very name, which crowds the mind with such pleasurable sensations that it is impossible to describe them.
As an instance of the kindly feeling with which our countrymen greet each other in a foreign land, I will state a little circumstance that transpired whilst at Monte Video. One Sunday a friend and myself had strayed a short distance out of the gates, when we perceived two persons approaching us; I do not know if it was instinct, but I immediately fancied they were my countrymen–and I thought they were yankees-“You’ve guessed right,” says one; and in fifteen minutes we were almost as well acquainted as if we had been brothers–and I verily believe I never passed a more pleasant afternoon.
But I had nearly forgotten the ladies, who of course are entitled to some notice in my attempt to describe their city. They are generally rather handsome, with somewhat of the Spanish cast–and so far from being disinclined to intimacy with foreigners, as most of their countrymen are, many have intermarried with the English and Americans resident here, and are gradually losing that restraint imposed on their sex in Catholic countries. I am. &c.
(*I apologize if there were any mistakes when transcribing this piece. Please let me know if this is the case, and I will fix it.)