H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

Voyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) online

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Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 9 of 29)
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solent deportment to the lower classes of people, gave


the most certain indications of a despotic government.
Where the common soldier thinks himself above the
mechanic or artizan, and the officer occupies a rank
distinct from, and above the people, civil liberty is
scarcely more than a name. In the new part of the city
the houses are better constructed, but the best have
but an indifferent appearance when compared to those
in our cities ; they seem also to be constructed on a
plan calculated to insure a jealous seclusion from every
human eye. We visited the public gardens so particu-
larly described in Macartney's Embassy ; but whether
it was owing to the season, this being the period of
frequent rains, or whether attributable to neglect, we
found them in a very different state from that which
we had been led to expect. We saw but few people in
them, and these not of the most prepossessing appear-
ance. In the shrubs and trees of the garden, I saw but
little to attract my attention, except the coffee plant
which grows here in great perfection, and which was
at this time loaded with berries. As to much of what I
had seen thus far, I found that my residence in New
Orleans, had made me acquainted with many objects
which a citizen of our middle or northern states, who has
never been abroad, would contemplate with wonder.
On our return towards the quay, we stepped into the
king's chapel, where we were told mass had just been
said for the Princess Charlotte of England ; the news of
whose death had reached Rio some time before our
arrival. There was a great profusion of ornaments and
gilding through the chapel, and behind the altar a picture
of the royal family, no way remarkable for design or
execution. The priest who had been officiating, a man
of gigantic stature, and exhibiting strong indications of
good feeding, brushed hastily past us towards the door,
with long strides, in order to take a look at our frigate,



which was then firing a salute ; he was careful however,
although in great haste, and his mind occupied with the
idea of powder and smoke, to bow his knee before a
crucifix which he had to pass.

The day after our arrival, we went by invitation of
our minister, Mr. Sumpter, to dine at his house, si-
tuated in the direction of the Sugar Loaf, and at the
distance of about three miles from our anchorage.
We were rowed in the barge into a beautiful little
sandy bay of a circular fonn, with a clear, smooth, re-
gular beach, and bordered by very handsome country
retreats, all built since the arrival of the king, since
which time, improvements of every kind are said to
have advanced with prodigious rapidity. There is
here a small level plain at the foot of the mountains,
and similar to those of which I have spoken as being
very numerous around this magnificent harbour, which
in following its indents, is said to be nearly one hun-
dred miles in circumference. We were received by
Mr. Sumpter with the pleasure which is natural to sup-
pose would be felt by him, on' meeting his countrymen
at so great a distance from the United States, while
the satisfaction on our part was scarcely less. Mrs
Sumpter, we were informed, had retired to an elevated
part of the mountain some twelve miles off, on account
of a sick child, in order to try the efiiect of the
fresher and purer air of the more elevated region.
The honours of the house were very gTacefully per-
formed by the daughter of the minister, a young
lady of sixteen or seventeen years of age. Mr. Sumpter
has a numerous and amiable family, who all speak
the Portuguese, and the younger hardly any other. He
has been six or seven years at this court, and is ex-
tremely anxious to return home. He speaks highly qf
the climate, and of the vast resources of the coimtry ;


thinks well of the king, but expresses great dislike to the
state of society, as well as disapprobation of the thou-
sand vexations and abuses practised on the people in
the name of government. He said, that there was a sin-
cere wish on the part of the king, to cultivate a good
understanding and friendship with the people of the
United States, and in this he was much more liberal than :
his courtiers. On the subject of the insunectional move-
ments, he seemed to think, that the spirit of revolt was
by no means extensive through Brazil, and he gave no
credit to the assertions, that similar designs to those of
Pernambuco, had been formed at St. Salvador and Rio.
On the subject of the mission, probably mistaking its
objects, he thought it premature. He professed to be
well acquainted with the state of things at Buenos
Ayres, and expressed a very unfavourable opinion of
the kind of spirit by which they were generally ac-
tuated. He appeared to think, that selfish rivalry and,
false ambitiouj actuated a greater part of those who
aspired to authority ; there was hardly a major, he
said, who did not think himself qualified to be supreme
director! With respect to men at present in power,^.
Pueyrredon and others, he said, they were the rational,
and moderate men of the country, who were aiming at
something like a settled order of things, but that the
people were of a restless and inconstant character,
and fit subjects to be acted upon by turbulent de-
magogues. Upon the whole, his opinions as to the
state of things in the country to which we were going,
was rather unfavourable. He gave us to understand,
that a very considerable Spanish force from Peru, had
taken possession of Talcahuana in Cliili, and that a
second struggle would ensue between St. Martin and
the much more powerful force, than that which he had.
subdued the year before. He likewise informed us,

H 3


that the Portuguese were unable to make any progress
in the subjugation of Artigas, while the war was carried
on by them at great expense. Buenos Ay res seemed to
be determined to maintain a neutral attitude as long as
possible, on account of the important warfare she was
carrying on with the Spaniards in Chili and Peru. He
related to us a curious anecdote respecting some agents
of Buenos Ayres, who had outwitted the court of Brazil,
and he seemed to think, that a depth of diplomacy was
displayed by them, hardly to be expected or admired in
so young a state.

I shall not stop to describe the dinner, which was
partly American, and partly in the style of the countiy.
The fish of Rio are excellent, the poultry is good, and
the beef very indifferent. The vegetables are luicom-
monly fine, the potatoes are imported from Great Britain.
The dessert was composed of a great variety of fruits
and sweetmeats ; the fruits were melons, bananas, man-
goes, oranges, and a number of others peculiar to the
climate ; to the natives, all no doubt exquisite ; but by
a stranger, even some of those that are most esteemed,
are not relished at first. In the immediate vicinity of
this place, our northern fruits do not succeed so well;
but in the high mountains, to the south-west, I am in-
foimed they do. Among the guests at table, were two
young men, one a Portuguese, and the other a French-
man by birth ; they were both addressed, Signor Conde,
or Count, and wore small slips of ribbon in their button-
holes. What rank of nobility they held I did not
know ; they were plain and modest in their demeanor,
and but for the designation before mentioned, I should
have taken one of them, who had been touching the
piano, for a music master, and the other for a teacher of
the French language. The Frenchman was the more
communicative of the two ; and in a conversation with


him, he gave me to miderstand that he was in some kind
of public employment. I put a number of questions to
him respecting the country, but found that he knew very
little of the subjects on which I was desirous of being
informed. He contented himself with declamation on
the magnificence of the Brazilian empire, and spoke with
some warmth, of the endeavours of the British govern-
ment to persuade the royal family to return to Lisbon.
He declared, that they would never be able to prevail on
the king to exchange his present high and independent
situation, in order to place himself once more under the
wing of English protection. The English had been
greatly disappointed and chagrined by this resolution,
but had not yet abandoned the hope of prevailing on
him to change it. There may be a more powerful
reason than the mere pride of royalty, for not taking
this step ; it is the uncertainty of his being able to
retain this immense country by any other mode than a
permanent transfer of his residence. It would be utterly
impossible to reduce the Brazils once more to the colo-
nial state, after having once enjoyed an exemption from
the colonial restrictions. It is as difficult as it is dis-
agreeable, to contract one's self after having filled a
considerable space. One might as well expect to see a
youth who had escaped the restiaint of his tutor, return
to his pupilage without -a struggle. The Portuguese
royal family never will, nor ever can, quit the Brazils,
unless driven away by the inhabitants. The numerous
restraints that have been taken off since they ceased to
be a colony, and their rapid expansion, each day in-
creases the difficulty of putting them back to the colo-
nial state.

After dinner we strolled into the garden, shaded with
a great many beautiful trees, and adorned with all the
rich luxuriance of tropical vegetation. The country


seats along the road on each side, reminded me a good
deal of the vicinity of New Orleans. The day was
extremely fine, though rather hot, but not more so than
a warm day in June or July in the northern parts of the
United States. In front of the house, at the distance of
a few hundred yards, the mouutain rose in bold and rude
masses, in some places presenting nothing but a naked
precipice of granite; in others, covered with a great
variety of beautiful shrubs and trees. A naked peak,
called the Parrot Head, intercepted the clouds above us.
Its height is 2500 feet ; there is a path which leads to
the top, but so winding, that the ascent is at least five or
six miles.

The whole district of Rio Janeiro is exceedingly
mountainous, and its rallies are in general deep and
narrow. The mountains are not as lofty as those of
Switzerland, but resemble them more than our Allegha-
nies. Though not covered with snow% they sometimes
let loose upon the vallies, what is even more dreadful
than the Avalanche; huge masses of earth loosening
from the rock, by the moisture insinuated between them
in the rainy seasons, slip down, and overwhelm every
thing below. It is not long since an instance of this
kind occured, when more than fifty families were buried
alive. In the afternoon, the sun having disappeared
behind the mountain, its broad shade was now spread
over us, and we seated ourselves on the terrace, in order
to enjoy the cool air. It was not long before we dis-
covered a cavalcade coming along the road. Mr.
Sumpter informed us, it was some of the royal family
taking an airing, and that they very frequently passed
this way. A couple of Indian looking dragoons gallop
up, their swords rattling by their sides. They were fol-
lowed at a very considerable distance by several indif-
ferent old fashioned carriages, carrying the great people.


On approaching the house they stopped a few moments,
and spoke in a famaliar, friendly manner, to Miss
Sumpter. The queen and princesses, were plain in their
dress, and in their manners affable and polite. But for
the guards and retinue, I should have taken them to be of
the respectable class of citizens. I have seen much
more parade in the great people of our own country.
I should have felt, I must confess, less respect for
royalty, if I had seen it on this occasion aiTayed in the
pomp and magnificence I had figured to my imagination.
Although I had read a great deal of kings, and queens,
and princesses, I had no idea that I should feel so little
of that awe, supposed to be produced by the irradiations
of majesty. Paine oberves, " that kings, among them-
selves, are good republicans ;" and being of a country
where every citizen is a sovereign, I merely looked
upon these people as my equals. The princess Leo-
poldina was distinguished from the rest, by the fairness
of her complexion; I saw nothing remarkable in her
appearance ; and there are thousands of my country-
women I would choose in preference for a wife. It is
said her situation is extremely unpleasant, in this bar-
barous land, a land removed so far from the common'
wealth of courts y and seemingly fitted only for vulgar
republicanism. A number of scandalous stories are
related, respecting the bickerings, and quarrellings, and
parties, in the palace ; for the house is said to be divided
against itself.* The cavalcade proceeded along the
beach ; on passing the barge crew, composed of twenty-

• Among the people I heard of no parties ; affairs of government
do not concern them ; as in Venice, it would be as dang^erous to
applaud the government as to speak against it. If they venture to
speak on these subjects at all, it must bo with great caution, and
even secresy. In a Mord, the government is a despotism.


four of our best looking men, and such as could hardly
be picked out of the whole city, these manifested their
politenesss by touching their hats, and received in re-
turn a most gracious inclination of the head from
mighty queens and peerless princesses. Royalty stopped
some minutes to contemplate the manly erect figures and
open countenances of freemen, glowing with the youth
and health of our northern climate ; and was no doubt
stnick with the contrast between these modern Greeks,
and its own vile, degraded slaves, of the same calling
or occupation. Our proud spirited fellows did not,
however, choose to imitate the Portuguese, by falling on
their knees, until majesty passed by; a species of
idolatry which experienced a salutary check in the per-
son of Mr. Sumpter, some time ago. The incident has
been related in our newspapers : I shall here give it as
I had it from the minister himself. The guards who
precede her majesty, were in the habit, without respect
to persons, of compelling them to dismount and stand
with the hat off, until the whole retinue had passed ; the
insult had been borne without resistance by all the
foreign agents here, except the American, whose repub-
lican pride could not be brought to stoop to this degra-
dation. He was, however, desirous to avoid, if possi-
ble, bringing the matter to issue. Tt was at last thro\\Ti
upon him by necessity ; being unable to avoid the caval-
cade, he stopped his horse, and saluted the queen ;
but this was not satisfactory to her majesty, who is
represented to be a proud and haughty woman. She
ordered her guards to compel him to dismount ; but on
making the attempt, by brandishing their swords, the
American minister stood on the defensive with his stick ;
on which they retreated, and he went on, leaving her
majesty highly oftended. The Portuguese minister re-
monstrated, urging the example of oth(?r foreign agents


who had submitted; but Mr. Sumpter declared, that
if others tamely put up with such insults, it was no
reason why he should. He now went armed, and a se-
cond attempt being made similar to the first, he was very
near shooting the guard. The subject was brought be-
fore the king by complaints on both sides; the king
inclined in favour of the American minister, and apo-
logised for the insult he had received, at the same time
giving assurances that it should not be repeated. The
queen, determined not to be out-done, being met again
some time afterwards, she stopped her carriage, and or-
dered her guards, ten or twelve in number, to go forward
and compel the proud republican to pay the just homage
to royalty. Mr. Sumpter, who continued to go armed,
drew his pistols, dashed through them, approached the
queen's carriage, and in a determined manner reminded
her of the assurances lately given by the king, asserting
his determination never to submit. He went imme-
diately to the king, stated what had passed, declared
that he considered his life unsafe, as the queen seemed
determined, and he was himself equally so. The king
appeared much hurt, and insisted on making an apology
with his own hand, which was actually done. He or-
dered the guards to be imprisoned, and offered to have
them punished ; but Mr. Sumpter, whose ideas of
justice were somewhat different, requested this might
not be. The other foreign ministers offered to join
Mr. Sumpter in a remonstrance, but the object was
already gained, as the new order extended to all.

Mr. Sumpter entertained a high opinion of the li-
berality and good intentions of the king; but thought
him much at the mercy of his ministers.* He is fond

* The author of the Picture of Lisbon, (Murphy) gives the fol-
lowing character of him at twenty-five years of age. •• He is natu-


of seeing strangers, and there is no great difficulty in
being presented. It is usual for commanders of ships
of war touching at this place, to go through this ce-
remony. Commodore Sinclair according to custom
was presented by our minister, at the country palace a
few miles from town. He describes him as rather be-
low the middle size, enormously fat, of very dark
complexion, large black eyes with a good-natured face.
He was in a military dress, spoke in French to Mr.
Sumpter, and asked the commodore a great many
questions respecting his profession and country. He
professed a great respect for the government of the
United States, and declared himself extremely de-
sirous of cultivating its friendship ; this he said he
valued highly, because he knew when we professed a
friendship it might be safely relied on. In withdraw-
insf. it is the custom to imitate the movement of a
certain animal, not yet the most graceful of the crea-
tion, as it is considered indecorous to turn one's back
upon the king; the audience room being very long,
the commodore found it inconvenient, and not a little
difficult, to hack out with safety and grace. The com-
missioners did not think proper to claim the honour of a
presentation ; having no communication to hold, they
could only be regarded here in the light of private
The day after our visit to Mr. Sumpter, a little ex-

rally of a good disposition, but young. Experience has not yet
enlightened Iiis understanding, or fortifled his courage. He is timid,
and his ministers make him pusillanimous ; he wislies to know every
thing, and his ministers conceal every thing from him ; he wants to
govern, and his ministers keep him aloof from the government ; he
fancies that he reigns, and he only lends his name to the ministers

who reign over him."


cursion was agreed upon by Mr. Reed and myself,
with Dr. Baldwin, the surgeon of the Congress, and
whose reputation as a naturalist is well known. We
were desirous of ascending to the top of the Parrot's
Head, which we were informed might be accomplished
in a day. On our arrival at Mr. Sumpter's, he politely
furnished us with a guide, and we proceeded some dis-
tance through a valley which gradually narrowed as we
went up a rapid mountain stream, brawling among loose
rocks and stones. A number of negro washerwomen
were plying their tasks on its borders. On each side of
us we saw bare masses of granite of great height, the
water oozing from underneath the vegetation on their
summits, and in some places the drippings collected
into a tolerable stream, rushed down several hundred
feet. In the season of drought the streams are said
to fail, which may possibly be owing to their not
being so well supplied with perennial fountains, but
in the manner I have described. At this season,
clouds are continually settling on the tops of the moun-
tains and descending in vapour. The droughts of
summer are among the most serious complaints in a
great part of Brazil, especially to the west of the first
range of mountains. We were greatly surprised to
see so much good soil and such marks of industry and
cultivation, where we expected to find every thing
waste and barren. In every little winding of the tor-
rent or shelf of rock, the ground was cultivated, and a
neat cottage of brick covered with burnt tiles, peered
amid the thick verdure of tropical fruit trees. The
chief culture near the city is grass, which is cut daily
and carried to town for the supply of the immense
number of domestic animals, kept for the pleasure or
use of the inhabitants. They cultivate besides, Indian


corn, coffee, bananas, mangoes, oranges, and the king
of fruits, the pine apple.*

To describe the richness, variety, and beauty of nature
as she appears in these countries, is impossible. No-
thing so much strikes the stranger with wonder, as the
luxuriant garb mth which the earth is clothed in tropical
climates ; he sees plants and trees entirely new to him,
or the few that he has known rising here to a gi-
gantic size ; shrubs have become trees, and humble
herbs enlarged to shrubs. He sees here in their native
splendour, those productions of the vegetable kingdom,
which he was accustomed to admire in hot-houses.
Among the most conspicuous are the palms, of many
different kinds, the opuntia, and others so often de-
scribed by travellers in these regions ; pyramids of the
most beautiful flowers, besides a number of aromatic
plants, shed a delightful fragrance ; and, as if nature
was not satisfied with the exuberance of the earth, a
numerous race of parasites attach themselves to the
boughs and trunks of trees, receiving their nourish-
ment from the air. The whole forms a solid perennial
impenetrable mass, bound together with innumerable
vines or creeping plants.

Nature seems no less prolific in animated creatures-
birds of the most brilliant plumage and the most me-
lodious song — thousands of insects of the most beautiful
colours fill the thickets. Innumerable species of lizards
are moving in every direction ; and it is said that no

A Portuguese poet has the following conceit :

He o regie AnanaZt fructa tao boa,
■Que a mesma Natureza namoradu
Quiz como a Rey cingilla de Coroa.


country is more bountifully replenished with snakes and
venomous reptiles ; though we are informed that the
inhabitants experience less uneasiness from them than
we should imagine. Dr. Baldwin, who lost no time in
examining the plants with the eye and skill of the
botanist, expressed himself highly gratified. For my
part, although at first as it were overpowered with ad-
miration and astonishment, 1 must declare that on
reflection, I preferred the wild forests of my own coun-
try, although stripped of their leaves during a portion of
the year. The vegetation is not so strong and so vi-
gorous, but it is more delicate and pleasing to the eye,
than this unshapen exuberance. When I recollected
how often I have wandered along a meandering stream
in the shady groves of oak, hickory, poplar, or syca-
more of my native country, under whose boughs sot^
grass and flowery herbs spring up as a carpet to the
feet, I could not but give them the preference to the
forests of the tropic. It is difficult to concei-ve how the
Indians of this country can make their way with any
facility through this continuous hedge. It is not, how-
ever, for me to judge of a vast country from the little
I have seen ; but if all be like this, and I am informed
it is so, give me my native groves in preference to all the
glories of the south.

After proceeding about two miles in this lUanner,
we began to ascend the mountain by a very steep and
winding path. We found this exceedingly fatiguing,
which was probably, in some measure, owing to our
having been so long shut up and deprived of the usual
exercise of our limbs. It was fortunate that the day
was cloudy, otherwise we should have been unable to
withstand the heat. On each side of the path to our
surprise, we observed a number of small patches of
cultivation. When about two-thirds of the way up.


we came to a place where the water rushes down the
rock, in a small clear stream ; it was to us a most de-
licious treat, after having suffered much from thirst.
In these climates where an eternal summer reigns,
there can be no object so delightful to the eye as the

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 9 of 29)