To the Gold Coast for Gold
By Richard F. Burton
Public Domain Books
MADEIRA (continued)–CHRISTMAS–SMALL INDUSTRIES– WINE–DEPARTURE FOR TENERIFE.
The Christmas of 1881 at Madeira could by no means be called gay. The foreign colony was hospitable, as usual, with dinners, dances, and Christmas trees. But amongst the people festivities seemed to consist chiefly of promenading one’s best clothes about the military band and firing royal salutes, not to speak of pistols and squibs. The noise reminded me of Natal amongst the Cairene Greeks; here, as in the Brazil, if you give a boy a copper he expends it not on lollipops, but on fireworks. We wished one another boas entradas, the ’buon’ principio’ of Italy, and remembered the procession of seventeen years ago. The life-sized figures, coarsely carved in wood and dressed in real clothes, were St. Francis, St. Antonio de Noto, a negro (Madeiran Catholics recognise no ’aristocracy of the skin’); a couple of married saints (for even matrimony may be sanctified), SS. Bono and Luzia, with half a dozen others. The several platforms, carried by the brotherhoods in purple copes, were preceded by the clergy with banners and crosses and were followed by soldiers. The latter then consisted of a battalion of caçadores, 480 to 500 men, raised in the island and commanded by a colonel entitled ’Military Governor.’ They are small, dark figures compared with the burly Portuguese artillerymen stationed at the Loo Fort and São Thiago Battery, and they are armed with old English sniders.
Behind the Tree of Penitence and the crosses of the orders came an Ecce Homo and a bit of the ’true Cross’ shaded by a canopy. The peasantry, who crowded into town–they do so no longer–knelt to kiss whatever was kissable, and dodged up and down the back streets to gain opportunities. Even the higher ranks were afoot; they used to acquire in infancy a relish for these mild amusements. And one thing is to be noted in favour of the processions; the taste of town-decoration was excellent, and the combinations of floral colours were admirable. Perhaps there is too much of nosegay in Madeira, making us remember the line–
Posthume, non bene olet qui bane semper olet.
I went to the Jesuit church to hear the predica, or sermon. The preacher does not part his hair ’amidships,’ or display cambric and diamond-rings, yet his manner is none the less maniérée. For him and his order, in Portugal as in Spain, the strictest minutiae of demeanour and deportment are laid down. The body should be borne upright, but not stuck up, and when the congregation is addressed the chest is slightly advanced. The dorsal region must never face the Sacrament; this would be turning one’s back, as it were, upon the Deity. The elbow may not rest upon the cushion. The head, held erect, but not haughtily, should move upon the atlas gently and suavely, avoiding ’lightness’ and undue vivacity. The lips must not smile; but, when occasion calls for it, they may display a saintly joy. The eyebrows must not be raised too high towards the hair-roots; nor should one be elevated while the other is depressed. The voice should be at times tremolando, and the tone periodically ’sing-song.’ Finally, the eyes are ordered to wander indiscriminately, and with all pudicity, over the whole flock, and never to be fixed upon a pretty lamb.
Our countrymen are not over-popular in Portugal or in Madeira; such mortal insults as those offered by Byron, to name only the corypheus, will rankle and can never be forgotten. In this island strangers, especially Englishmen, have a bad practice of not calling upon the two governors, civil and military. The former, Visconde de Villa Mendo, is exceptional; he likes England and the English. As a rule the highest classes mix well with strangers; not so the medio ceto who, under a constitutional régime, rule the roast. Men with small fixed incomes have little to thank us for; we make things dear, and we benefit only the working men. Bourgeois exactions have driven both French ships and American whalers to Tenerife; and many of them would do the same with the English and German residents and visitors of Funchal. Not a few have noble and historic names, whose owners are fallen into extreme poverty. Professor Azevedo’s book is also a nobiliaire de Madère. The last generation used to be remarkably prim and precise, in dress as in language and manner. They never spoke of ’hogs’ or ’horns,’ and they wore the skimpy waistcoats and the regulation whiskers of Wellington’s day. The fair sex appeared only at ’functions,’ at church, and at the Sunday promenade in the Place. The moderns dress better than their parents, who affected the most violent colours, an exceedingly pink pink upon a remarkably green green; and the shape of the garment was an obsolete caricature of London and Paris. They no longer assume the peculiar waddle, looking as if the lower limbs were unequal to the weight of the upper story; but the walk never equals that of the Spanish woman. This applies to Portugal as well. The strong points, here as in the Peninsula, are velvety black eyes and blue-black hair dressed à la Diane. It is still the fashion, as at Lisbon, to look somewhat boudeuse when abroad, by way of hint that man must not expect too much; yet these cross faces at home or with intimates are those of bonnes enfants. Lastly, the dark complexions and the irregular features do not contrast well with the charming faces and figures of Tenerife, who mingle the beauty of Guanchedom with that of Spain and Ireland.
The list of public amusements at Funchal is not extensive. Years ago the theatre was converted into a grain-store, and now it is a wine-store. The circus of lumber has been transferred from under the Peak Fort to near the sea; it mostly lacks men and horses. The Germans have a tolerable lending library; and the public bibliotheca in the Town House, near the Jesuit church, is rich in old volumes, mostly collected from religious houses. In 1851 the books numbered 1,800; now they may be 2,000; kept neat and clean in two rooms of the fine solid old building. Of course the collection is somewhat mixed, Fox’s ’Martyrs’ and the ’Lives of the Saints’ standing peacefully near the ’Encyclopédie’ and Voltaire. A catalogue can hardly be expected.
There are three Masonic lodges and two Portuguese clubs, one good, the other not; and the former (Club Funchalense), well lodged in a house belonging to Viscountess Torre Bella, gives some twice or three times a year very enjoyable balls. The Café Central, with estaminet and French billiard-table, is much frequented by the youth of the town, but not by residents. The great institution is the club called the ’English Rooms,’ which has been removed from over a shop in the Aljube to Viscondessa de Torre Bella’s house in the Rua da Alfandega. The British Consulate is under the same roof, and next door is Messieurs Blandy’s ubiquitous ’Steamer Agency.’ The roomy and comfortable quarters, with a fine covered balcony looking out upon the sea, are open to both sexes. The collection of books is old; but the sum of 100l. laid out on works of reference would bring it fairly up to the level of the average English country-club. Strangers’ names were hospitably put down by any proprietary member as guests and visitors if they did not outstay the fortnight; otherwise they became subscribers. But crowding was the result, and the term has been reduced to three days: a month’s subscription, however, costs only 10s. 6d. The doors close at 7.30 P.M.: I used to think this an old-world custom kept up by the veteran hands; but in an invalid place perhaps it is wisely done.
The principal passetemps at Madeira consists of eating, drinking, and smoking; it is the life of a horse in a loose box, where the animal eats pour passer le temps. After early tea and toast there is breakfast à la fourchette at nine; an equally heavy lunch, or rather an early dinner (No. 1), appears at 1 to 2 P.M.; afternoon tea follows, and a second dinner at 6 to 7. Residents and invalids suppress tiffin and dine at 2 to 3 P.M. In fact, as on board ship, people eat because they have nothing else to do; and English life does not admit of the sensible French hours–déjeuner à la fourchette at 11 A.M. and dinner after sunset.
The first walk through Funchal shows that it has not improved during the last score of years, and to be stationary in these days is equivalent to being retrograde. It received two heavy blows–in 1852 the vine-disease; and, since that time, a gradual decline of reputation as a sanatorium. Yet it may, I think, look for a better future when the Land Bill Law system, extending to England and Scotland, will cover the continent with colonies of British rentiers who rejoice in large families and small incomes. Moreover, Anglo-African officials are gradually learning that it is best to leave their ’wives and wees’ at Madeira; and the coming mines of the Gold Coast will greatly add to the numbers. For the economist Funchal and its environs present peculiar advantages. The dearness of coin appears in the cheapness of houses and premises. Estates which cost 5,000l. to 15,000l. a generation ago have been sold to ’Demerarists’ for one-tenth that sum. ’Palmeira,’ for instance, was built for 42,000l., and was bought for 4,000l. A family can live quietly, even keeping ponies, for 500l. per annum; and it is something to find a place four to seven days’ sail from England inhabitable, to a certain extent all the year round. The mean annual temperature is 67.3 degrees; that of summer varies from 70 degrees to 85 degrees, and in winter it rarely falls below 50 degrees to 60 degrees. The range, which is the most important consideration, averages 9 degrees, with extremes of 5 degrees to 35 degrees. The moist heat is admirably adapted for old age, and I doubt not that it greatly prolongs life. Youth, English youth, cannot thrive in this subtropical air; there are certain advantages for education at Funchal; but children are sent north, as from Anglo-India, to be reared. Otherwise they will grow up yellow and languid, without energy or industry, and with no object in life but to live.
Madeira has at once gained credit for comfort and has lost reputation as a sanatorium, a subject upon which fashion is peculiarly fickle. During the last century the Faculty sent its incurables to Lisbon and Montpellier despite the mistral and the fatal vent de bise. The latter town then lodged some 300 English families of invalids, presently reduced to a few economists and wine-merchants. Succeeded Nice and Pisa, one of the most wearying and relaxing of ’sick bays;’ and Pau in the Pyrenees, of which the native Béarnais said that the year has eight months of winter and four of inferno. Madeira then rose in the world, and a host of medical residents sounded her praises, till Mentone was written up and proved a powerful rival. And the climate of the hot-damp category was found to suit, mainly if not only, that tubercular cachexy and those, bronchial affections and lung-lesions in which the viscus would suffer from the over-excitement of an exceedingly dry air like the light invigorating medium of Tenerife or Thebes. Lastly, when phthisis was determined to be a disease of debility, of anæmia, of organic exhaustion, and of defective nutrition, cases fitted for Madeira were greatly limited. Here instruments deceive us as to humidity. The exceeding dampness is shown by the rusting of iron and the tarnishing of steel almost as effectually as upon the West African coast. Yet Mr. Vivian’s observations, assuming 100 to be saturation, made Torquay 76 and Funchal 73. [Footnote: Others make the mean humidity of Funchal 76, and remark that in the healthiest and most pleasant climates the figures range between 70 and 80]. Moreover it was found out that consumption, as well as intermittent fevers, are common on the island, so common, indeed, as to require an especial hospital for the poorer classes, although the people declare them to have been imported by the stranger. I may here observe that while amongst all the nations of Southern Europe great precautions are taken against the contagion of true phthisis, English medicos seem to ignore it. A Pisan housekeeper will even repaper the rooms after the death of a consumptive patient. At Funchal sufferers in every stage of the disease live in the same house and even in the same rooms.
Then came the discovery that for consumptives dry cold is a medium superior to damp heat. Invalids were sent to the Tyrol, to the Engadine, to Canada, and even to Iceland, where phthisis is absolutely unknown, and where a diet of oleaginous fish is like feeding upon cod-liver or shark-liver oil. The air as well as the diet proved a tonic, and patients escaped the frequent cough, catarrh, influenza, and neuralgia which are so troublesome at Funchal. Here, too, the invalid must be accompanied by a ’prudent and watchful friend,’ or friends, and the companions will surely suffer. I know few climates so bad and none worse for those fecund causes of suffering in Europe, liver-affections (’mucous fevers’), diarrhoeas, and dysenteries; for nervous complaints, tic douloureux, and neuralgia, or for rheumatism and lumbago. Asthma is one of the disorders which shows the most peculiar forms, and must be treated in the most various ways: here some sufferers are benefitted, others are not. Madeira is reputedly dangerous also for typhoid affections, for paralysis, and for apoplexy. There is still another change to come. The valley north of the beautiful and ever maligned ’Dead Sea’ of Palestine, where the old Knights Templar had their sugar-mills and indigo-manufactories, has peculiar merits. Lying some 1,350 feet below the Mediterranean, it enables a man to live with a quarter of a lung: you may run till your legs fail with fatigue, but you can no more get out of breath than you can sink in the saline waters of Lake Asphaltites. When a railway from Jafa to Jerusalem shall civilise the ’Holy Land,’ I expect great things from the sites about the Jordan embouchure.
After the ’gadding vine’ had disappeared the people returned to their old amours, the sugar-cane, whose five loaves, disposed crosswise, gave the island her heraldic cognisance. Madeira first cultivated sugar in the western hemisphere and passed it on to the New World. Yet the cane was always worked under difficulties. Space is limited: the upper extreme of cultivation on the southern side may be estimated at 1,000 feet. The crop exhausts the soil; the plant requires water, and it demands what it can rarely obtain in quantity–manure. Again, machinery is expensive and adventure is small. Jamaica and her slave-labour soon reduced the mills from one hundred and fifty to three, and now five. My hospitable friend, Mr. William Hinton, is the only islander who works sugar successfully at the Torreão. The large rival mill with the tall regulation smoke-stack near the left mouth of the Ribeira de São’ João, though inscribed ’Omnia vincit improbus labor,’ and though provided with the most expensive modern appliances, is understood not to be a success for the Companhia Fabril d’Assucar.
Here sugar-working in the present day requires for bare existence high protective duties. The Government, however, has had the common sense, and the Madeirans patriotic feeling enough, to defend their industry from certain ruinous vagaries, by taxing imported growths 80 reis (4d.) per kilo. A hard-grit free-trader would abolish this abomination and ruin half the island. And here I would remark that in England the world has seen for the first time a wealthy and commercial, a great and generous nation proclaim, and take pride in proclaiming, the most immoral doctrine. ’Free Trade,’ so called, I presume, because it is practically the reverse of free or fair trade, openly abjures public spirit and the chief obligation of the citizen–to think of his neighbour as well as himself, and not to let charity end, as it often begins, at home. ’Buy cheap and sell dear’ is the law delivered by its prophets, the whole duty of ’the merchant and the man.’ When its theorists ask me the favourite question, ’Would you not buy in the cheapest market?’ I reply, ’Yes, but my idea of cheapness is not yours: I want the best, no matter what its price, because it will prove cheapest in the end.’ How long these Free-trade fads and fooleries will last no one can say; but they can hardly endure till that millennium when the world accepts the doctrine, and when Free Trade becomes free trade and fair trade.
As regards petite industrie in Madeira, there is a considerable traffic in ’products of native industry,’ sold to steamer-passengers. The list gives jewellery and marquetry or inlaid woodwork; feather-flowers, straw hats, lace and embroidery, the latter an important item; boots and shoes of unblackened leather; sweetmeats, especially guava-cheese; wax-fruits, soap-berry bracelets, and ’Job’s tears;’ costumes in wood and clay; basketry, and the well-known wicker chairs, tables, and sofas. The cooperage is admirable; I have nowhere seen better-made casks. The handsomest shops, as we might expect, are the apothecaries’; and, here, as elsewhere, they thrive by charging a sixpence for what cost them a halfpenny.
An enterprising Englishman lately imported sheep from home. The native mutton was described in 1842 as ’strong in flavour and lean in condition;’ in fact, very little superior to that of Trieste. Now it is remarkably good, and will be better. Silk, I have said, has not been fairly tried, and the same is the case with ginger. Cotton suffered terribly from the worm. Chinchona propagated from cuttings, not from the seed, did well. Dr. Grabham [Footnote: The Climate and Resources of Madeira. By Michael C. Grabham, M.D., F.R.G.S., F.R.C.P. London; Churchill, 1870.] tells us that the coffee-berry ripens and yields a beverage locally thought superior to that of the imported kinds. It has become almost extinct in consequence of protracted blights: the island air is far too damp. Tea did not succeed. [Footnote: Page 189, Du Climat de Madère, etc., par C. A. Mourão Pitta, Montpellier, 1859.] Cochineal also proved a failure. The true Mexican cactus (Opuntia Tuna) was brought to supplant the tree-like and lean-leafed native growth; but there is too much wind and rain for the insects, and the people prefer to eat the figs or ’prickly pears.’ Bananas grow well, and a large quantity is now exported for the English market. But the climate does not agree with European fruits and vegetables; strawberries and French beans are equally flavourless. I remarked the same in the glorious valley of the Lower Congo: it must result from some telluric or atmospheric condition which we cannot yet appreciate.
Tobacco has been tried with some success, though the results do not equal those of the Canaries; there, however, the atmosphere is too dry, here it is not. The estanco (monopoly) and the chronic debt to those who farm the import-tax long compelled the public to pay dear for a poor article. Home-growth was forbidden till late years; now it is encouraged, and rate-payers contribute a small additional sum. Hitherto, however, results have not been over-favourable, because, I believe, the tobacco-beds have been unhappily placed. Rich valley-soils and sea-slopes, as at Cuban Vuelta de Abajo and Syrian Latakia, are the proper habitats of the ’holy herb.’ Here it is planted in the high dry grounds about the ’Peak Fort’ and the uplands east of the city. Manure also is rare and dear, and so is water, which, by the by, is sadly wasted in Madeira for want of reservoirs. Consequently the peasants smoke tobacco from the Azores.
The Casa Funchalense, north of the Cathedral, is the chief depôt for island-growths. It sells ’Escuros’ (dark brands) of 20 reis, or 1d., and 50 reis, according to size. The ’Claros,’ which seem to be the same leaf steamed, fetch from 40 to 100 reis. A small half-ounce of very weak and poor-flavoured pipe-tobacco also is worth 1d.
An influential planter, Senhor João de Salles Caldeira, kindly sent to Mr. John Blandy some specimens of his nicotiana for me to test in Africa. The leaf-tobaccos, all grown between 1879 and 1881, at Magdalena in the parish of St. Antonio, were of three kinds. The Havano was far too short for the trade; the Bahiano, also dark, was longer; and the so-called ’North-American’ was still longer, light-coloured and well tied in prick-shape. The negro verdict was, ’Left, a lilly he be foine,’ meaning they want but little to be excellent. The Gold Coast prefers yellow Virginia, whose invoice price is 7d. per lb. The traders are now introducing Kentucky, which, landed from Yankee ships, costs 6d. But, here as elsewhere, it is difficult to bring about any such change.
There were two qualities of Madeiran charutos (cigars): one long Claro which smoked very mild, and a short Escuro, which tasted a trifle bitter. The blacks complained that they were too new; and I should rank them with the average produce of Brazilian Bahia. A papered cigarilha, clad in an outer leaf of tobacco, was exceptionally good. The cígarros (cigarettes), neatly bound in bundles of twenty-five, were of three kinds, fortes (strong), entre-fortes, and fracos (mild). All were excellent and full of flavour; they did not sicken during the voyage, and I should rank them with the far-famed Bragança of the Brazil.
The most successful of these small speculations is that of Mr. E. Hollway. Assisted by an able gardener from Saint Michael, Azores, where the pineapple made a little fortune for Ponta Delgada, he has converted Mount Pleasant, his father’s house and grounds on the Caminho do Meio, into one huge pinery. The Madeiran sun does all the work of English fires and flues; but the glass must be whitewashed; otherwise, being badly made, with bubbles and flaws, it would burn holes in the plants. The best temperature for the hot-houses is about 90° F.: it will rise after midday to 140°, and fall at night to 65°. The species preferred are, in order of merit, the Cayena, the black Jamaica, and the Brazilian Abacaxi. The largest of Mr. Hollway’s produce weighed 20 lbs.–pumpkin size. Those of 12 lbs. and 15 lbs. are common, but the market prefers 8 lbs. His highest price was 2l., and he easily obtains from 10s. to 15s. In one greenhouse we saw 2,500 plants potted and bedded; the total numbers more than double that figure. The proprietor has a steam-saw, makes his own boxes, and packs his pines with dry leaves of maize and plantain. He is also cultivating a dwarf banana, too short to be wind-wrung. His ground will grow anything: the wild asparagus, which in Istria rises knee-high, here becomes a tall woody shrub.
And now of the wine which once delighted the world, and which has not yet become ’food for the antiquary.’ To begin with, a few dates and figures are necessary. In 1852, that terrible year for France, the Oïdium fungus attacked the vine, and soon reduced to 2,000 the normal yearly production of 20,000 and even 22,000 pipes.
[Footnote: Between 1792 and 1827 the yearly average was 20,000. In 1813 it was 22,000. “ 1814 “ 14,000. “ 1816 “ 15,000.
In 1816 it was 12,000. “ 1818 “ 18,000. “ 1825 “ 14,000.
It then decreased to an average of 7,000 till the oïdium-year (Miss E. M, Taylor, p. 74).]
The finest growths suffered first, as animals of the highest blood succumb the soonest to epidemics. When I wrote in 1863 the grape was being replanted, chiefly the white verdelho, the Tuscan verdea. In 1873 the devastating Phylloxera appeared, and before 1881 it had ruined two of the finest southern districts. The following numerals show the rapid decline of yield:–6,000 pipes in 1878, 5,000 in 1879, 3,000 in 1880, and 2,000 in 1881. There are still in store some 30,000 pipes, each=92 gallons (forty-five dozen); and a single firm, Messrs. Blandy Brothers, own 3,000. Mr. Charles R. Blandy, the late head of the house, bought up all the must grown since 1863; but he did not care to sell. This did much harm to the trade, by baulking the demand and by teaching the public to do without it. His two surviving sons have worked hard and advertised on a large scale; they issue a yearly circular, and the result is improved enquiry. Till late years the world was not aware that the Madeiran vine has again produced Madeira wine; and a Dutch admiral, amongst others, was surprised to hear that all was not made at Cettes. I give below Messrs. Blandy’s trade-prices, to which some 20 per cent, must be added for retail.
[Footnote: Sound light medium Madeiras from 26s. to 32s. per dozen, packed and delivered in London; light, golden, delicate, 36s.; tawny Tinta, also called ’Madeira Burgundy,’ a red wine mixing well with water, 40s.; fine old dry Verdelho, 48s.; rich soft old Bual, not unlike Amontillado, 54s.; very fine dry old Sercial (the Riesling grape), 56s.; and the same for highly-flavoured soft old Malmsey, ’Malvasia Candida,’ corrupted from ’Candia’ because supposed to have been imported from that island in 1445. ’Grand Old Oama de Lobos’ is worth 70s., and the best Old Preserve wine 86s. For wines very old in bottle there are special quotations.]
The lowest price free on board is 23l, and the values rise from 40l. at four years old to 1OOl. at ten years old.
’Madeira’ was most popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, especially at the Court of Francois I. Shakespeare in ’Henry IV.’ makes drouthy Jack sell his soul on Good Friday for a cup of Madeira and a cold capon’s leg. Mr. H. Vizetelly, whose professional work should be read by all who would master the subject, marvels why and how this ’magnificent wine’ went out of fashion. The causes are many, all easy to trace. Men not yet very old remember the day when England had no vino de pasto fit to be drunk at meals; when they found only ports, sherries, and loaded clarets; and when they sighed in vain for light Rhine or Bordeaux growths, good ordinaire being to drink what bread is to food.
[Footnote: This, however, is a mere individual opinion. I have lately read a book recommending strong and well-brandied wines as preventing the crave for pure alcohol.]
Now, however, the national taste has changed; the supply of Madeira not sufficing for the demand, the class called boticarios (apothecaries) brought rivals into the market; and extensive imitation’s with apples, loquats (Japanese medlars), and other frauds, brandied to make the stuff keep, plastered or doctored with Paris-plaster to correct over-acidity, and coloured and sweetened with burnt sugar and with boiled ’must’ (mosto) to mock the Madeira flavour, gave the island-produce a bad name. Again, the revolution in the wine-trade of 1860-61 brought with it certain Continental ideas. In France a glass of Madeira follows soup, and in Austria it is drunk in liqueur-glasses like Tokay.
[Footnote: ’Madeira’ is the island modification of the Cyprus and the Candia (?) grape. ’Tokay’ comes from the Languedoc muscatel, and ’Constantia’ from Burgundy, like most of the Rhine-wines.]
The island wine must change once more to suit public taste. At present it ships at the average strength of 18°-25° per cent, of ’proof spirit,’ which consists of alcohol and water in equal proportions. For that purpose each pipe is dosed with a gallon or two of Porto Santo or São Vicente brandy. This can do no harm; the addition is homogeneous and chemically combines with the grape-juice; but when potato-spirit and cane-rum are substituted for alcohol distilled from wine, the result is bad. The vintage is rarely ripened by time, whose unrivalled work is imperfectly done in the estufa or flue-stove, the old fumarium, or in the sertio (apotheca), an attic whose glass roofing admits the sun. The voyage to the East Indies was a clumsy contrivance for the same purpose; and now the merchants are beginning to destroy the germs of fermentation not by mere heat, but by the strainer extensively used in Jerez. The press shown to me was one of Messrs. Johnson and Co., which passes the liquor through eighteen thick cottons supported by iron plates. It might be worth while to apply electricity in the form used to destroy fusel-oil. Lastly, the wine made for the market is a brand or a blend, not a ’vintage-wine.’ At any of the armazems, or stores, you can taste the wines of ’70, ’75, ’76, and so forth, of A 1 quality; and you can learn their place as well as their date of birth. But these are mixed when wine of a particular kind is required and the produce becomes artificial. What is now wanted is a thin light wine, red or white, with the Madeira flavour, and this will be the drink of the future. The now-forgotten tisane de Madère and the ’rain-water Madeira,’ made for the American markets, a soft, delicate, and straw-coloured beverage, must be the models.
I sampled the new wines carefully; and, with due remembrance of the peaches in ’Gil Blas,’ I came to the conclusion that they are no longer what they were. The wine is tainted with sulphur in its odorous union with hydrogen. It is unduly saccharine, fermenting irregularly and insufficiently. For years the plant has constantly been treated against oidium with antiseptics, which destroy the spores and germ-growths; and we can hardly expect a first-rate yield from a chronically-diseased stock. Still the drink is rich and highly flavoured; and, under many circumstances, it answers better than any kind of sherry. No more satisfactory refreshment on a small scale than a biscuit and a glass of Bual. Moreover, the palate requires variety, and here finds it in a harmless form. But as a daily drink Madeira should be avoided: even in the island I should prefer French Bordeaux, not English claret, with an occasional change to Burgundy. Meanwhile, ’London particular’ is a fact, and the supply will probably exceed the demand of the present generation.
I also carefully sampled the wines of the north coast, which had not, as in Funchal, been subjected to doctoring by stove, by spirits, and by blend. They are lighter than the southern; but, if unbrandied, some soon turn sour, and others by keeping get strong and heady. The proportion of alcoholism is peremptorily determined by climate–that is, the comparative ratio of sun and rain. In Europe, for instance, light wines cannot be produced without ’liquor,’ as the trade calls aqua pura, by latitudes lower than Germany and Southern France. When heat greatly exceeds moisture, the wines may be mild to mouth and nose, yet they are exceedingly potent; witness the vino d’oro of the Libanus.
At Funchal I also tasted a very neat wine, a vin de pays with the island flavour and not old enough to become spirituous. If the vine be again grown in these parts, its produce will be drunk in England under some such form. But Madeira has at last found her ’manifest destiny:’ she will be an orchard to Northern Europe and (like the England of the future) a kitchen-garden to the West African Coast, especially the Gold Mines.
My sojourn at the Isle of Wood and its ’lotus-eating’ (which means double dinners) came to an end on Sunday, January 8, the s.s. Senegal Captain W. L. Keene, bringing my long-expected friend Cameron, of African fame. The last day passed pleasantly enough in introducing him to various admirers; and we ate at Santa Clara a final dinner, perfectly conscious that we were not likely to see its like for many a month. We were followed to the beach by a choice band of well-wishers–Baron Adelin de Vercour, Colonel H. W. Keays Young, and Dr. Struthers–who determined upon accompanying us to Tenerife. The night was black as it well could be, and the white surf rattled the clicking pebbles, as we climbed into the shore-boat with broad cheek-pieces, and were pulled off shipwards. On board we found Mr. William Reid, junior, who had carefully lodged our numerous impediments; and, at 10 P.M., we weighed for Tenerife.
I must not leave the Isle of Wood, which has so often given me hospitality, without expressing a hearty wish that the Portuguese ’Government,’ now rhyming with ’impediment,’ will do its duty by her. The Canaries and their free ports, which are different from ’free trade,’ have set the best example; and they have made great progress while the Madeiras have stood still, or rather have retrograded. The Funchal custom-house is a pest; the import charges are so excessive that visitors never import, and for landing a single parcel the ship must pay high port-charges where no port exists. The population is heavily taxed, and would willingly ’pronounce’ if it could only find a head. The produce, instead of being spent upon the island, is transmitted to Lisbon: surely a portion of it might be diverted from bureaucratic pockets and converted into an emigration fund. It is sad to think that a single stroke of the Ministerial pen would set all right and give new life to the lovely island, and yet that the pen remains idle.
And a parting word of praise for Madeira. Whatever the traveller from Europe may think of this quasi-tropical Tyrol, those homeward-bound from Asia and Africa will pronounce her a Paradise. They will enjoy good hotels, comfortable tables d’hôte, and beef that does not resemble horseflesh or unsalted junk. Nor is there any better place wherein to rest and recruit after hard service in the tropics. Moreover, at the end of a month spent in perfect repose the visitor will look forward with a manner of dismay to the plunge into excited civilised life.
But Madeira is not ’played out;’ au contraire, she is one of those ’obligatory points’ for commerce which cannot but prosper as the world progresses. The increasing traffic of the West African coast will make men resort to her for comforts and luxuries, for climate and repose. And when the Gold Mines shall be worked as they should be this island may fairly look forward to catch many a drop of the golden shower.
The following interesting table, given to me by M. d’Oliveira, clerk of the English Rooms, shows what movement is already the rule of Funchal.
Summary of Vessels Entered in the Port From January 1 to December 31.
|Totals: 2 4|