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Monte Video

Monte Video
James' sketch of Monte Video bay

Monday 7th – arrived at Monte Video at one P.M. and as our proposed stay was at least to be 48 hours we came to anchor near the Town. I did not go ashore with the Captain & Master, looking upon the scene before one with all the curiosity and interest which novelty seldom fails to call forth – for as I told you before, an attack of indisposition confined me to my Cabin when last we anchored here. Before me lay extended a very moderate size Bay of a semi-circular form on the left hand of which at the entrance was a hill of tolerable elevation with a light house and signal station on the top, which has given the name to the place, and on the right directly opposite was the Town. In the centre and at the distant extremities of the Bay were several merchant-men of considerable [burthen] with many others of small burthen. The appearance of the country from the mountain on the one side to the Town on the other was very barren & dreary in aspect but it being rather high the prospect was very confined. On the Town itself we could hardly express as yet a decided opinion. It seemed to have very few large or public buildings, the towers of the Cathedral being the only object which attracted your attention. In its situation it appears to be of great strength to seaward, but in truth in viewing a place for the first time and from distance, you can only pronounce upon the general impression, until a more particular inspection confirms or overthrows your first opinion - and therefore to judge rather for myself on.

Tuesday 8th March – I took advantage of our boat going on shore, and landed at a wooden Wharf, where all boats must come. This wharf was of considerable length, projecting into the water, and had two flights of steps where persons could disembark, besides several pulleys for the hoisting in of goods. It might well be called a scandal place for here assembled politiciary, Idlers, merchants, et hoc omnee genaes, fighting battles, settling the affairs of state and nations – discussing commercial speculations & projects, and indulging not a little in private scandal & family chit-chat. For the convenience of the above personages two benches ran along the whole length and to shelter them from the Sun and from the rain the place was covered in with a substantial roof at a considerable elevation.

Leaving this useful, if not elegant promenade, you came at once to the streets of the Town, and if you are at first undecided which direction to follow, there is nothing here to guide you. No very wide & clean streets invite you to pace its trottoir, no object worthy of remark meets your eye and ha_esits your curiosity, but to the right and to the left of you are two equally dirty, narrow and disagreeable roads, which will lead you round the ramparts. Fortunately I was not under the necessity of chusing either, but striking right from the Mole (as the Wharf is called) passed thro’ a tolerably decent street to the American Hotel, kept by a Mr. Titus. After a short time spent there, I by myself, for I could get no one to brave with me the heat of the day and the dust of the road, peregrinated the Whole Town, round the ramparts – up to the Cathedral &.cc

The impression made upon my mind after my return was in general very unfavourable to Monte Video. There are a very few tolerably good streets, with many very good houses & well filled shops – They are in general of a proper width – the footpaths broad & well paved, but the middle of the street is full of holes and horse-traps, by which you ran no small risk of breaking your neck. The rest of the Streets not included in the above are filthy, narrow & dirty, replete with dust in hot weather and with mud in wet. Most of the houses are only one storey, with flat roofs. Some of them are painted or white washed, whilst others are seen in all the plain redness of the original brick. In the outskirts of the Town the appearance of the habitations is most miserable. There are numerous houses in ruins – the rank weed & the noxious herbs unchecked reared themselves into the air close to and encroaching upon the habitations of the poor, as I found them afterwards to be. When first I saw the low and narrow erections thus surrounded, I really thought that these constituted the last abode of the dead, as they exactly resembled some of the larger tombs which you often meet with in our church yards, and was certainly surprised to find them to be the residence of poor whites and still poorer blacks.

The whole Town in encircled with a wall in its whole circumference, which is in some parts more solid & stronger than in others. As far as I could see this wall is neither so well mounted nor so well manned as it ought to be, and would afford but a feeble resistance to a strong English force. Towards the land it seemed to me that an attack might be made with every prospect of success, but I believe that in the opinion of military Engineers – Monte Video is looked upon as a very strong position, being built on a hill or eminence & commanding the whole bay. I have said that the Cathedral is the only remarkable building and as a matter of curiosity I went to visit it. It is of very considerable size, & is dedicated to the Deity, the virgin Mary & several of the Saints. It is built of well burnt bricks, which meet the eye of the spectator in their full staring redness of colour. It has a large dome, two Towers, the one covered with porcelain, the other plain, whether done intentionally or not I cannot learn. When you enter the Cathedral you will find it to be divided into a large broad centre or body, and two sides or aisles of rather narrow dimensions. In these sides are several shrines, where you can perform your weekly devotions and for Sunday worship there is our saviour on the Cross with his Sainted Mother placed at the extremity of the building and directly fronting the centre division, to which I have alluded. There are also several very good pictures but my knowledge of the Sainthood did not enable me to understand the subjects of them. Taken altogether the appearance and ornaments of the interior of the Cathedral had no pretensions to be styled magnificent or elegant – and the best you could say of it was that it was lofty & spacious. You must not imagine from what I say of the Cathedral being the only remarkable object & that there are no spires in Monte Video, that there are therefore no other places, to which religion is especially consecrated. Altho’ the Town is of very inconsiderable extent, there are not wanting convents, nunneries and Chapels – indeed I am told that of these there is no lack.

Visit the Chamber of Representatives

I regret much that my want of acquaintance as much as my ignorance of the language prevented me from becoming observing the different public institutions – the schools of education & other interesting matters. By mere chance a gentleman (a Mr. Constant, Surgeon to whom I was much obliged for his kindness & civility) invited me to accompany  him to the Chamber of representatives. Their meetings of this body, (the institution of which is in imitation of the forms of Europe) are held in a large building, exactly opposite the Cathedral. You ascend by a spacious staircase to the height of two stories and enter by a small door into the Parliament Room. The door was open to all who pleased, and no sentinel kept watch there to observe or control you. Altho’ tis true, at the bottom of the stairs there was a regular guard house. I found myself when I entered in a large, and long Hall, and in the midst of an audience of about 100 respectable people, clean, decently dressed, and amongst whom the utmost silence and attention prevailed. Right in front of us (for I too had taken possession of an excellent chair, one of those placed for the accommodation of the public) was a strong palisade of wood, and beyond it a clear open space, well carpeted, and furnished with benches & chairs for the members of the House. At the extremity of this place was a table elevated very high, covered with green, at which Sat the President or Speaker with his silver bell, and at his right hand again was a person who seemed engaged in writing the resolutions & motions. Immediately behind the Presidents back was a painting representing the leap of Liberty and the arms of Monte Video, in a very tolerable style of execution. The Hall was very well lighted indeed by Chandeliers and mirrors, - and the windows were concealed by elegant red moreen curtains, surmounted by an eagle with an olive branch in his beak. In short the Chamber where the Monte Vidian Representatives met was far superior in point of accommodation, and (excepting our Kings throne) and appearance to St. Stephens or the House of Lords.

From a hasty review of the plenithing of the House I soon turned to the scene which was enacting before me by the different members. During my stay several feegan (I had almost said, but that is impossible, stood up) to speechify. They commenced their harangue in a slow deliberate tone and appeared to me a stranger to be conversing with not addressing the chairman. In a short time however they fanned or talked themselves into a furry – slapped their hands with a loud noise upon their thighs. At other times set their arms akimbo, and yelled so loud to the utmost bent of their voices, as if they meant to crack their throats or split the ears of their hearers. Speech produced speech – reply was succeeded by Reply – and the Ministerial & opposition benches were set by the ears. In all their speeches little correct elocution was displayed, and the custom which they follow and to which I am going to allude, whilst they address the Speaker, prevented them from exhibiting their powers of graceful gesture, & how far they could come up to direction delivered by Hamlet when he says “Suit the action to the word & the word to the Action.” Will it be believed there, that the polite and civilised Monte Vidians address their President setting a posture which, under such circumstances, with is implies contempt or disrespect. Of course of this custom I am ignorant – but I believe that they have a plausible reason. It is to say the least of it a very bad one, and is detrimental to all good oratory, since it precludes the exercise of that grand principle in Eloquence, laid down by Demosthenes “Action! Action! Action!”

After writing for nearly an hour, the President a very fine looking man rung a silver bell, upon which all the members rose up and left the Hall and we followed this example.