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Houses, Churches & a museum

Pavement & Houses at Buenos Ayres

The first thing you are called by your own comfort to notice are the streets, whether they are paved or not. Many of them are paved but very inefficiently, while others are innocent of such a convenience. The foot[path] is not flagged except in very few instances & it is elevated considerably above the cart road. Not many years ago B. Ayres was not paved at all – a thing which created no inconvenience to the natives, but was very unpleasant to the more fastidious foreigners. In every street the carriage road is separated from the footpath by wooden posts driven into the earth at very short distances. The first notion I had formed of their use and purpose was a very erroneous one – for from their resemblance to our louping stones, I had fancied that they were intended to assist you in mounting & dismounting – only I thought that their number seemed out of all proportion to the necessity of employing them. Never was I more out in my life. They are never used as louping posts - & their design is merely to separate a path for foot passengers, and protect them from horses, carriages & carts. I consider them as a great eye sore but readily admit their utility & necessity. The foot path thus marked off is very narrow, hardly permitting two persons to walk comfortably together.

From the paving of the streets to the building of the houses, the transition is easy & natural. Almost all the houses consist only of one story & are pretty substantially built. The abodes of the wealthier class, after passing thro’ the outer gate, have large courts of a square form & frequently paved with marble in diamonds. A few houses have two courts, around which are various doors leading to different [parts] of the house. I saw one side of a street built by foreigners of two stories, which had a very neat appearance. All the houses have flat roofs, so that you can traverse a whole street from one end to the other, the stone divisions being so low as to prove no obstacle to your progress. This part of the houses is called the Azotea, and is a delightful place for lounging in the cool of the evening. Where the houses are near the river, you will see many people up there during the day looking out for vessels with glasses, which are made to rest in notches cut out of upright pieces of wood for the purpose. The doors and windows are the same as in other Spanish towns. Many of the windows fronting the street have no glass panes, on account of the heat, but all of them are protected by bars of iron, like our area windows at home. As in most cities of warm climates, there [are] no native show windows – tho’ I perceive several belonging to foreigners. From the strength of the houses, & their peculiar construction, it is easy to see why the expedition under Whitelock proved unfortunate, since every house was a fortress whence they could send death and destruction upon our countrymen, and at the same time be perfectly secure from their revenge. Tho’ Buenos Ayres is like Sparta without walls, seeming to say to the invader come enter, yet let him not be thus seduced, but watching his time & annoying the inhabitants in every possible way from without, it will not be long ere he receive the reward of  his prudent forbearance in the free surrender of the City.

Churches of Buenos Ayres

At different points in the Town, your attention is called from the common edifices to the various churches with their Towers, domes, & spires. Of these there are a pretty considerable number, & they are both ornamental and useful. I visited several & was much gratified with the inspection. They are (I mean those I saw) by no means rich or gaudy in adornments – the architecture of the interior is simple, chaste & from the magnitude, grand in effect. The little adornment that appears relieves the bareness & uniformity of the plain part & you would admit that there existed a good correspondence between the labours of the builder & those who were empowered to adorn. The Cathedral is an immense large building but unfinished in front, where you perceive many pillars of noble proportions of brick, concealed by a ugly mass of scaffolding, and not soon likely to be cased as originally intended, from want of funds. What I have said of the churches in general is particularly applicable to this one – and if the poverty of the people alone prevents them from bestowing a lavish expenditure of good purple & tinsel on the interior, I am glad of it.

Museum at Buenos Ayres

I was likewise much pleased with the Church of Saint Domingo  except & excepting one thing viz. the English flags taken from us, which are here most ostentatiously displayed to the great annoyance of all English visitors. Attached to this Church is a Museum, which one day I was induced to visit. It is kept in a long room & the contents form a most heterogeneous mass. Some birds, some serpents, some fish, some monkeys, some insects – two casts of the brain – two lusus naturae – a number of scientific & philosophical instruments, on which I observed the names of Leslie &.C.o well known in Europe – an immensely large electrical machine - & several minor indescribable articles – composed the collection. I believe there was no arrangement or classification – no names of the objects given, nor the uses of the instruments explained. Dust & dirt was almost all you could with certainty know the name of in the room. You might with as much advantage visit the bazaar at Constantinople, & look upon objects, the use of which may be unknown to you. I observed no person present who had any charge, or of whom you might have required any explanation. Men, women, & children all crowded the room, laughing & chattering – now giving a casual glance to a bird, now eagerly intent on some gay toy-like instrument – but every soul of them evidently come more for amusement & to while away an hour than from any rational motive. I must however do the Buenos Ayreans the justice to say that they were particularly careful not to injure any thing & that even the very youngest among them never in the mere wantonness of childhood stole broke or dirtied the different articles scattered about. Would that I could say as much for my own countrymen. Well then however little I valued this Museum for the number & value of its contents, & however much I am inclined to find fault with its management, to the natives themselves, it is the ne plus ultra of perfection & the envy of all strangers – and nothing at all more to be desired. For my part I should never endeavour to dispossess them of the source of pride, & should conscientiously bestow some praise in finding even a little where I had expected to find nothing – but entre nous that is quite a different thing, as among us at home we are accustomed to bestow the need of praise where it is really merited.

There are many public buildings in Buenos Ayres but none very remarkable. The fort on the beach attracts most attention. It is a square form & surrounded by a dry ditch. Within it is the Governor’s house & other buildings for the soldiers. In my opinion it is more for shew than use - & gives more the appearance of strength than the reality. The public hospital is a large plain edifice – but I did not see the interior. The barracks are small but good. The market place near to one of them is not particularly commendable. It is rather small & rather dirty, well furnished with crazy stands, which in the morning appear ready to tumble down under the superincumbent weight.

At night the city is lighted by lanterns with candles in them which yield a dim religious light. Should there be any wind, some of then are sure to go – for accidents will happen such as the breaking of the glass, on one side or another. As honest people have no business to be prowling about the streets during the night, these candles are not intended to last longer than it is proper & decent to be walking the streets – so if you are detained by any circumstance & have to go home late in the morning, if you fall into a pit, or receive unto your body the knife of an assassin, why who is to blame but yourself. For it is plain that if you had [been] home in bed as you ought to have been, such a mischance could not have befallen you. The instance of wise legislation – oh prudent professors of economy & morality, why are your names not blazoned forth in the roll of fame with a radiance as bright at that which hallows the memory of a Lyurgus or a Solon?