BLTC Press Titles


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The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian


Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller


A voyage to Cochinchina, in the years 1792 and 1793

by Sir John Barrow

Excerpt:

The few good dwelling-houses that are found in the town are those which are occupied by the British merchants, who have established themselves here in the wine trade; these houses are in general sufficiently spacious, but neither commodious nor comfortable. These and a few others excepted, all the rest have rather a mean appearance. Their roofs are chiefly covered with tiles, on which large loose stones are laid to prevent their being carried away by the blasts of wind that occasionally blow with great violence from the mountains behind the town. The extent of Funchal may be nearly a mile in a line parallel with the beach, and rather more than half a mile in depth. It is said to contain two \ thousand houses, occupied by about twelve thousand inhabitants. There are besides six other small towns or villages on the island, the whole population of which, including Funchal, is estimated to amount to about ninety thousand persons.

At a little distance behind the government-house, which stands within the fort Lorenco, and overlooks the bay,.is the Passao Publico, the public mall, a short but very pretty walk, well shaded with orange or lime trees, willows and poplars. On one side of the entrance stands the theatre, which is seldom opened, and on the other the hospital. Funchal, like other towns and cities of Roman Catholic countries, has no scarcity of churches and convents; but we met with little iti any of them that could be considered as deserving of particular notice. The beams and the roof of the cathedral are pointed out to strangers as being of cedar, a species of tree with which it is said the island was at its discovery nearly covered. Another curiosity which is shewn in the town is a -chamber in one of the wings of the Franciscan convent, the walls and ceiling of which are completely covered with rows of human skulls and human thigh bones, so arranged that in the obtuse angle made by. every pair of the latter, crossing each other obliquely, is placed a skull. The only vacant space that appears is in the centre of the side opposite to the door, on which there is an extraordinary painting above

a kind of altar, but what the subject is intended to represent I am really at a loss to decide. A figure in the picture, intended probably for St. Francis, the patron saint, seems to be intent on trying in a balance the comparative weight of a sinuAr and a saint. But the very accurate drawing from wirier the annexed print was taken, and with which I have been favoured by Mr. Daniell, will perhaps best explain the subject. A dirty lamp suspended from the ceiling, and just glimmering in the socket, served dimly to light up this dismal den of skulls. The old monk who attended as shewman was very careful to impress us with the idea that they were all relics of holy men who had died on the island; but I suspect they must occasionally have robbed the churchyard of a few lay-brethren, and perhaps now and -then of a heretic, (as strangers are interred in their burying ground,) in order to accumulate such a prodigious number which, on a rough computation, I should suppose to amount to at least three thousand. The skull of one of the holy brotherhood was pointed out as having a lock-jaw, which occasioned his death; and, from the garrulity of our attendant, I have no doubt we might have heard the history of many more equally important, which, though thrown away upon us who had no taste for craniology, would, in all probability, have been highly interesting to Doctor Gall, the famous lecturer on skulls in Vienna. On taking leave we deposited our mite on the altar, as chanty to the convent, which seems to be

/

the principal object in view of collecting and exhibiting this memento mori of the monastic and mendicant order of St. Francis.

There are other convents, to which young women are sometimes sent for the purpose of completing their education; but not a single instance of the veil having been taken occurs for many years past. Married women also, who are particularly tenacious of their character, and who wish to be considered as models of chastity and virtue, sometimes retire into a convent during the absence of their husbands. In tiiose which were visited by our party, Avc saw only a few antiquated virgins, who affected a considerable degree of shyness; and though their air and general appearance were not ill calculated to inspire feelings of pity, it Mas not, however, of that kind which "melts the soul to love," but whose less powerful influence pleads rather to the purse than to the heart: and accordingly we gave them, what was considered to be the most acceptable, a few dollars in exchange for pieces of paper cut into representations of the virgin, and saints, and crucifixes. A general languor, occasioned by confinement and the unvaried insipidity of a monastic life, frequently passes in tiie nun as the token of patient resignation; and we are apt to attach a lively interest to young females, who are thus so cruelly, as we suppose, separated for ever from all society except that of each other: but it is by no means clear that we do not often ascribe to persons under such circumstances notions of purity and delicacy, which are more romantic than just. It is extremely doubtful if they possess those exalted sentiments, nice feelings, and sound understandings, which prevail among females of those countries where they are allowed to enjoy unrestrained freedom. The education of the former is suited to prepare them for their future condition: they are held in such little consideration in their own family, that they are fully

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