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Some Portuguese Sketches
by [?]

The Portuguese are wholly inoffensive, except when their pride is touched. In politics, or when they hunger after African territory we fancy needed for our own people, they may not seem so. When a rebuff excites them against the English, Lisbon may not be pleasant for Englishmen. But in such cases would London commend itself to a triumphant foreigner? For my own part, I found a kind of gentle, unobtrusive politeness even among those Portuguese who knew I was English when I went to Lisbon on the last occasion of the two nations quarrelling about a mud flat on the Zambesi. Occasionally, on being taken for an American, I did not correct the mistake, for having no quarrel with Americans they sometimes confided to me the bitterness of their hearts against the English. I stayed in Lisbon at the Hotel Universal in the Rua Nova da Almeda, a purely Portuguese house where only stray Englishmen came. At the table d’hote one night I had a conversation with a mild-mannered Portuguese which showed the curious ignorance and almost childish vanity of the race. I asked him in French if he spoke English. He did so badly and we mingled the two languages and at last talked vivaciously. He was an ardent politician and hated the English virulently, telling me so with curious circumlocutions. He was of opinion, he said, that though the English were unfortunately powerful on the sea, on land his nation was a match for us. As for the English in Africa, he declared the Portuguese able to sweep them into the sea. But though he hated the English, his admiration for Queen Victoria was as unbounded as our own earth-hunger. She was, he told me, entirely on the side of the Portuguese in the sad troubles which English politicians were then causing. He detailed, as particularly as if he had been present, a strange scene reported to have taken place between Soveral, their ambassador, and Lord Salisbury, in which discussion grew heated. It seemed as if they would part in anger. At last Soveral arose and exclaimed with much dignity: “You must now excuse me, my Lord Salisbury, I have to dine with the Queen to-night.” My Lord Salisbury started, looked incredulous, and said coldly, “You are playing with me. This cannot be.” “Indeed,” said the ambassador, producing a telegram from Windsor, “it is as I say.” And then Salisbury turned pale, fell back in his chair, and gasped for breath. “And after that,” said my informant, “things went well.” Several people at the table listened to this story and seemed to believe it. With much difficulty I preserved a grave countenance, and congratulated him on the possession of an ambassador who was more than a match for our Foreign Minister. Before the end of dinner he informed me that the English were as a general rule savages, while the Portuguese were civilised. Having lived in London he knew this to be so. Finding that he knew the East End of our gigantic city, I found it difficult to contradict him.

Certainly Lisbon, as far as visible poverty is concerned, is far better than London. I saw few very miserable people; beggars were not at all numerous; in a week I was only asked twice for alms. One constantly hears that Lisbon is dirty, and as full of foul odours as Coleridge’s Cologne. I did not find it so, and the bright sunshine and the fine colour of the houses might well compensate for some draw-backs. The houses of this regular town are white, and pale yellow, and fine worn-out pink, with narrow green painted verandahs which soon lose crudeness in the intense light. The windows of the larger blocks are numerous and set in long regular lines; the streets if narrow run into open squares blazing with white unsoiled monuments. All day long the ways are full of people who are fairly but unostentatiously polite. They do not stare one out of countenance however one may be dressed. In Antwerp a man who objects to being wondered at may not wear a light suit. Lisbon is more cosmopolitan. But the beauty of the town of Lisbon is not added to by the beauty of its inhabitants. The women are curiously the reverse of lovely. Only occasionally I saw a face which was attractive by the odd conjuncture of an olive skin and light grey eyes. They do not wear mantillas. The lower classes use a shawl. Those who are of the bourgeois class or above it differ little from Londoners. The working or loafing men, for they laugh and loaf, and work and chaff and chatter at every corner, are more distinct in costume, wearing the flat felt sombrero with turned-up edges that one knows from pictures, while the long coat which has displaced the cloak still retains a smack of it in the way they disregard the sleeves and hang it from their shoulders. These men are decidedly not so ugly as the women, and vary wonderfully in size, colour and complexion, though a big Portuguese is a rarity. The strong point in both sexes is their natural gift for wearing colour, for choosing and blending or matching tints.