« AnteriorContinua »
scenery of the vast pine or chestnut forests that clothe the mountainous regions of the north and east. There is also the homelier beauty of the narrow cultivated valley enclosed by lofty pine-clothed hills, the little upland fields, green with forage grasses in winter and in summer with maize and vine, and no bigger than cottage-garden patches, the water runlets and little shining streams of running water, carrying fertility everywhere, the yeoman's comfortable granitebuilt house, with surrounding orchards and orange groves, and with the trellised vines that give their pleasant shade in the noontide heat. These are the scenes that the traveller finds nowhere but in northern Portugal, and that, once seen, he can never forget.
There is a certain curious opalescence in what artists would call the atmospheric values of the more fertile regions of the country, a thing which I have found neither in Greece or Italy, nor in any Eastern land. It is due perhaps to the neighbourhood of the greater ocean. This characteristic of Portugal scenery was remarked upon by my friend, the late John Burgess, R.A., when he travelled with me in the province of Beira. Mr. Burgess knew Spain well, and he told me had seen nothing like these colour effects in that country. The excellent coloured illustrations in Major Hume's book reproduce for the first time something of these atmospheric effects. In the month of May the mountains of northern Portugal are rose-red with the flowers of a species of the bell heather, and a rich orange yellow with those of a flowering shrub named carqueja. This combination lends an indescribable beauty to the hill scenery of parts of Portugal, to be found, I think, nowhere else.
The time will no doubt come when Portugal will once again be the health resort of northern Europe, but that time is not yet. The hotels are not at present prepared for fastidious guests. Lisbon, to which our forefathers went as to a winter health-resort, is an interesting but a dusty and not a particularly healthy city. Portugal has not yet been exploited from a sanitary point of view. There are probably many sites in the country where abiding places for those who leave our shores for warmth and health could be found. The extreme north of Portugal is rather rainy, the extreme south over-dry; but there are intermediate hill-ranges, running east and west, on the southern slopes of which ideal winter climatic stations might be formed. I could name several such places. The chief drawback to the warm winters of the French and Italian Rivieras is the mistral, the cold northern wind which passes over the snow-clad Alps before it reaches the Mediterranean shores. Portugal is free from this plague. The north-east wind does indeed reach the Portuguese shores of the Atlantic, but it has to pass over the great pine forests that lie about the Spanish frontier, and it is tempered and its edge is taken off, and it is markedly perfumed by the odour of pines. The chief advantage, however, of the Portuguese climate over that of the Riviera is that one is upon the shores of a poorly oxygenated, tideless inland sea, and that the other is neighboured by the everfresh waters of the limitless Atlantic.
Portugal cannot be accounted as a happy hunting-ground for the sportsman. There is, indeed, good variety of game. The bustard, the little bustard, and the sand-grouse are found to the south of the Tagus, the woodcock and the snipe are fairly abundant in the forests and on the marshes of middle and northern Portugal. In the forest regions there are wild boar and red deer, while the quail abounds in every maize-field in autumn, and the red-legged partridge is found on moorlands and rough wooded grounds. The grey partridge is to be found high up on the uplands, and is only a relic of the Arctic period, like the ptarmigan in Scotland. Ducks and wild geese congregate on the marshes, but neither in very great numbers. There are hares and rabbits : both are of the common species, but the rabbit, in my experience, is undersized. Wolves are still found in the wilder mountainous region of the north and east, and foxes are common everywhere. The wolf is, to the best of my belief, a species, or perhaps only a variety, of the common wolf. He is Canis Lycaon, not Canis Vulpes, a larger and a darker-coated animal than the wolf of Europe north and west of the Pyrenees. Neither is the fox the animal that we hunt in England—the Portuguese fox is shorter of leg, stouter of build, and darker of fur, but he runs as gamely as our northern foxes. I know it, for I have hunted the Portuguese fox with English foxbounds. His name in science is Vulpes melanogaster.
If the sport is poor, the natural history of Portugal-chiefly the avifauna-affords a field in which labourers are wanted. My friend Mr. William Tait, a resident merchant, has done much, but his observations have never been widely published. Mr. Chapman, the eminent naturalist, has been on the ground, but I do not know that any observations of his have been published in any but the scientific journals.
In a country so made up of lofty mountain ranges, fertile plains, and marine and inland marshland, great rivers, and dry and sunny upland wilderness, and extending from the rainy Galicia frontier to the arid semi-tropical plain facing Africa, it may be supposed that bird species are many and various. There are many birds to be seen commonly in Portugal which are unknown or extinct in Great Britain, and some, again, common with us are rare or unknown. The woodpigeon, coming to be a farmer's plague in England, is seldom seen in Portugal; the rook is not common, and, to the best of my knowledge, the song-thrush is never seen. On the other hand, the birds which the excessive game preserving of England has exterminated in England are still common in Portugal: the larger and smaller hawks, the raven, the kite, and the owls, even the eagle owl which a few years ago bred on the cliffs of the Douro, not many miles above the city of Oporto. On every marsh the buzzards and harriers can be seen winging their slow flight, close over the tops of reeds and rushes, quartering the ground like a setter. The great bustard is still not uncommon on
the plains of Estremadura and Algarve, and the little bustard ranges still further northwards. The bittern, whose extinction in Britain our naturalists never cease to deplore, is a fairly common bird in the reedy Portuguese marshlands. He gets up tamely at the feet of the trespasser in his haunts, looking like a huge grey snipe, with a slow and buoyant flight. The skylark is a rare bird in my experience, but the calendra lark, a larger species with a sweet song, is common. Though the song-thrush is absent, the nightingale is far commoner than in England. Of semi-tropical birds there is the bee-eater, a haunter, like our swallows, of the upper air. It is found, commonly, south of the Tagus. The blue thrush, a dweller among the rocks, is another brilliantly plumaged bird, that does not seem to belong to the European avifauna.
Perhaps there is no country in Europe where the mysteries of migration might be studied with more advantage than in this western outpost of Europe. There are plenty of facts patent to the poorest observer; for instance, when the wind is in the north in the first weeks of September, vast multitudes of common starlings fit along the coast, going southward. A few days later, there pass every hour from sunrise till eight o'clock along in the western coast-line, in the same direction, still vaster multitudes of turtle-doves following the same route, in numbers enough seemingly to people all Africa with doves. Whence do they come ? Are the turtle doves of all Western Europe taking this circuitous route to their winter quarters in Africa ? They come, now in twos or threes down the wind with the velocity of swooping hawks, now in flights of a hundred, now in flocks of thousands, now in a continuous stream, high up, beyond gunshot if the wind is light, brushing the tops of the stunted pines on the seashore if the north wind is strong. The native sportsmen line the coast at passage time and kill thousands. Fifty miles further south, amid the pine forests, many of the birds stop to rest and drink. Here shallow ponds are dug, and at these the birds are netted in tens of thousands ; but nothing seems to diminish the vast hosts of turtledoves that pass from north to south every September.
There would seem to be minor movements of migration from east to west of some of the smaller birds. Mr. Tait has made and published valuable observations in regard to this obscure point. There is a bird whose migratory movements, known to every resident, are yet very mysterious. From time to time throughout the winter, when the weather is unusually cold and inclement, swallows are seen to be flitting over the meadows and hunting for insects. Year after year, the Portuguese journalists make the mistake of supposing that this is the swallow of spring and summer, either belated or come before its time. It is, however, a swallow of quite another species, and even of another genus, Cotile rupestris—a swallow with a slower, smoother flight, which is never seen in the more genial regions of the country save in winter. Its nesting-places would seem to be in the lofty frontier mountain ranges. I have seen it in summer time at a point high up the River Douro, where the river runs narrow and dark between lofty overtowering cliffs in a series of cataracts. Here amid the noise of falling waters and the mists of rising spray the rock-swallow flits between the river cliffs with its feeble graceful flight. Here it builds its nest and rears its young. It is possibly a resident bird that never leaves the country at all.
The ballads, myths, folklore, and popular beliefs current among the Portuguese peasantry are perhaps not more important to the sociologist and the folklorist than they are in other countries, but deriving, as they do, from three separate origins, they present great variety and they are very picturesque. They certainly seem, too, to be thicker on the ground than elsewhere. Some of the ballads of Portugal (which have been collected) are variants of those found in other parts of the Peninsula, but the Portuguese form seems to me generally to possues a fulness and a grace wanting in other variants. A great proportion i the ballad songs of Portugal are of a chivalrous and feudal cast, and derive from times when there was clash of arms between the Christian and the Moor, or they come from later periods, of the long fight between the various Christian nations dwelling between the Pyrenees and the two seas.
The Portuguese folk-myth is often based on Roman traditions. The wehr-wolf myth takes a more pronounced and picturesque shape here than in the less form-shaping brains of the peoples of northern Europe. The wehr-wolf in Portugal is the Lobishomen (Lupus homo). The child destined to be a Lobishomen, or a Lobeira (the female of this ghastly being) goes through a probationary period of seven years, beginning at the age of puberty, when the boy or girl takes the shape of some animal, hare, badger, deer, or fox, and runs the woods by night. It is not till the seven years are over that the nightly transformation is into some ravening beast of prey, with cannibal instincts, delighting in the slaughter of men, women, and children. In every case the Lobishomen or Lobeira resumes the human form by day, and sometimes the nightly transformation is unsuspected for years by relations and neighbours.
The sea-going folk and fishermen along the Atlantic coast of Portugal people the seas with supernatural forms, as did the ancient inhabitants of Italy. The fisherman of to-day believes he sees the ocean nymphs playing among the white crests of the sea waves, and still calls them Sirens (Sireias).
It is, indeed, clear that the superstitious beliefs of the Portuguese peasant derive mainly from Latin sources; the names alone are evidence enough of the fact, but the feats ascribed to the personages of the Portuguese mythology are strange and grotesque beyond what we know of the myths of ancient Italy. One may read into them something of the realistic imaginations of the East mingled with the more fantastic dream fancies of the peoples of northern Europe.
It is, of course, difficult to disentangle the Portugal folklore which belongs to each strain in the composite race which inhabits modern Portugal. For instance, it would be difficult to say what in the wealth of peasant beliefs and traditions belongs to the East; but this at least is certain, that the presence and influence of the Moors has left a strong romantic aftermath in the memory of the people. There is bardly a parish but has some ruin or hill castle connected with a Moorish myth, and many a spring is known as the Fonte da Mourathe well-spring of the Moorish woman-and is firmly believed to be haunted by the spirit of an enchanted maid. Tales are told of ruined castles once inhabited by the departed race and still tenanted by some lingering spellbound Moorish ghost (like the Laidlaw Worm) hiding away in gruesome monster form in dark caverns by the sea, or dark recesses of the forest—no real monsters, but Moorish maidens under enchantment, waiting for some bold, reckless champion to release them. There is, or was, a noble family of Portugal which has been said to owe its origin to a marriage between one such champion and the Moorish maiden, delivered by him from some spell.
Of the various giants, gnomes, warlocks, sorceresses, and spirits, either evil-working or benevolent, that people the countryside, the number is remarkable, and more remarkable still their grotesque and strange character.
There are the Olharapos, who seem by some accounts to be one-eyed Cyclops ; there is Pedro das Malasartes (Peter of the Devil's Cantrips), a mischief-working warlock; Medo (Panic), the invisible spirit that haunts desert places and drives the solitary way. farer mad with a sudden terror; Trazgo, the Spirit of the Mist; Tardo, the night wanderer ; Pesadello, the nightmare; the friar of the pierced band (Fradello da maõ furada), all names of fear to the dwellers in Portuguese peasant cottages.
There are also the Fadas, the Fairies, the good people, and above all the Bruxas, omnipresent spirits of the air, invisible for the most part, sometimes mischievous, but seldom malevolent towards mankind, wishful to be left alone, but resentful and dangerous if intruded upon. All the small misfortunes of the countryside are familiarly ascribed by the peasants to As Bruxas. If the field mice or the finches eat the farmer's seed-corn or the gardener's new-sown peas, it is the Bruxas that have haunted field and garden; if the cow casts her calf, or the ploughing ox goes lame, the Bruxas have surely had a hand in the misfortune. If the new-born kid or lamb disappears from the hillside it is the Bruxas, not the fox, the wolf, or the eagle, that have carried it off.
To this enchanting and enchanted land, Major Hume, a more recent sojourner in it than myself, tells us that access is now easy. I cannot do a better service to those who desire to know more of this charming country and interesting people than to refer them to his book.