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She, with bare arms, and fixing on the sky
every pause between, as Miriam sang,
114, 115.—THE GREAT EARTHQUAKE AT LISBON.
[In 1787 were published two octavo volumes, entitled Letters addressed chiefly to a Young Gentleman upon the Subject of Literature, by the Rev. Charles Davy. In these letters there is nothing very remarkable, with the exception of a most graphic account of the earthquake at Lisbon, in 1755. We remember that our attention was first called to the book by a passage in some one of M. De Quincey's writings, in which he exclaims "Oh, that I could describe like Davy!” It is held, however, that Davy did not write this description, but that it was given to him by an English merchant, who was residing at Lisbon at the time of the event he narrates. In some books of extract this narrative is much curtailed; we prefer to give it entire, dividing it into two Half-hours.)
There never was a finer morning seen than the 1st of November; the sun shone out in its full lustre; the whole face of the sky was perfectly serene and clear; and not the least signal or warning of that approaching event, which has made this once flourishing, opulent, and populous city, a scene of the utmost horror and desolation, except only such as served to alarm, but scarcely left a moment's time to fly from the general destruction.
It was on the morning of this fatal day, between the hours of nine and ten, that I was set down in my apartment, just finishing a letter, when the papers and table I was writing on began to tremble with a gentle motion, which rather surprised me, as I could not perceive a breath of wind stirring. Whilst I was reflecting with myself what this could be owing to, but without having the least apprehension of the real cause the whole house began to shake from the very foundation, which at first I imputed to the rattling of several coaches in the main street, which usually passed that way, at this time, from Belem to the palace ; but on hearkening more attentively, I was soon undeceived, as I found it was owing to a strange frightful kind of noise under ground, resembling the hollow distant rumbling of thunder. All this passed in less than a minute, and I must confess I now began to be alarmed, as it naturally occurred to me that this noise might possibly be the forerunner of an earthquake, as one I remembered, which had happened about six or seven years ago, in the island of Madeira, commenced in the same manner, though it did little or no damage.
Upon this I threw down my pen, and started upon my feet, remaining a moment in suspense, whether I should stay in the apartment or run into the street, as the danger in both places seemed equal; and still flattering myself that this tremor might produce no other effects than such inconsiderable ones as had been felt at Madeira ; but in a moment I was roused from my dream, being instantly stunned with a most horrid crash, as if every edifice in the city had tumbled down at once. The house I was in shook with such violence, that the upper stories immediately fell, and though my apartment (which was the first floor) did not then share the same fate, yet every thing was thrown out of its place, in such a manner that it was with no small difficulty I kept my feet, and expected nothing less than to be soon crushed to death, as the walls continued rocking to and fro in the frightfullest manner, opening in several places ; large stones falling down on every side from the cracks, and the ends of most of the rafters starting out from the roof. To add to this terrifying scene, the sky in a moment became so gloomy that I could now distinguish no particular object; it was an Egyptian darkness indeed, such as might be felt; owing, no doubt, to the prodigious clouds of dust and lime raised from so violent a concussion, and, as some reported, to sulphureous exhalations, but this I cannot affirm; however, it is certain I found myself almost choked for near ten minutes.
As soon as the gloom began to disperse, and the violence of the shock
seemed pretty much abated, the first object I perceived in the room was a woman sitting on the floor with an infant in her arms, all covered with dust, pale and trembling. I asked her how she got hither, but her consternation was so great she could give me no account of her escape. I suppose that when the tremor first began, she ran out of her own house, and finding herself in such imminent danger, from the falling stones, retired into the door of mine, which was almost contiguous to hers, for shelter, and when the shock increased, which filled the door with dust and rubbish, ran upstairs into my apartment, which was then open; be it as it might, this was no time for curiosity. I remember the poor creature asked me, in the utmost agony, if I did not think the world was at an end ; at the same time she complained of being choked, and begged, for God's sake, I would procure her a little drink. Upon this I went to a closet where I kept a large jar of water, (which you know is sometimes a pretty scarce commodity in Lisbon,) but finding it broken in pieces, I told her she must not now think of quenching her thirst but sav. ing her life, as the house was just falling on our heads, and if second shock came, would certainly bury us both. I bade her take hold of my arm, and that I would endeavour to bring her into some place of security.
I shall always look upon it as a particular providence that I happened on this occasion to be undressed; for had I dressed myself as proposed when I got out of bed, in order to breakfast with a friend, I should, in all probability, have run into the street at the beginning of the shock, as the rest of the people in the house did, and, consequently, have had my brains dashed out, as every one of them had. However, the imminent danger I was in did not hinder me from considering that my present dress, only a gown and slippers, would render my getting over the ruins almost impracticable: I had, therefore, still presence of mind enough left to put on a pair of shoes and a coat, the first that came in my way, which was everything I saved, and in this dress I hurried down stairs, the woman with me, holding by my arm, and made directly to that end of the street which opens to the Tagus. Finding the passage this way entirely blocked up with the fallen houses to the height of their second stories, I turned back to the other end which led into the main street, (the common thoroughfare to the palace,) having helped the woman over a vast heap of ruins, with no small hazard to my own life. Just as we were going into this street, as there was one part I could not well climb over
without the assistance of my hands as well as feet, I desired her to let go her hold, which she did, remaining two or three feet behind me, at which instant there fell a vast stone from a tottering wall, and crushed both her and the child in pieces. So dismal a spectacle at any other time would have affected me in the highest degree; but the dread I was in of sharing the same fate myself, and the many instances of the same kind which presented themselves all around, were too shocking to make me dwell a moment on this single object.
I had now a long narrow street to pass, with the houses on each side four or five stories high, all very old, the greater part already thrown down, or continually falling, and threatening the passengers with inevitable death at every step, numbers of whom lay killed before me, or what I thought far more deplorable-so bruised and wounded that they could not stir to help themselves. For my own part, as destruction appeared to me unavoidable, I only wished I might be made an end of at once, and not have my limbs broken, in which case I could expect nothing else but to be left upon the spot, lingering in misery, like these poor unhappy wretches, without receiving the least succour from any person.
As self-preservation, however, is the first law of nature, these sad thoughts did not so far prevail as to make me totally despair. I proceeded on as fast as I conveniently could, though with the utmost caution; and having at length got clear of this horrid passage, I found myself safe and unhurt in the large open space before St. Paul's church, which had been thrown down a few minutes before, and buried a great part of the congregation, that was generally pretty numerous, this being reckoned one of the most populous parishes in Lisbon. Here I stood some time considering what I should do, and not thinking myself safe in this situation, I came to the resolution of climbing over the ruins of the west end of the church, in order to get to the river's side, that I might be removed as far as possible from the tottering houses, in case of a second shock.
This, with some difficulty, I accomplished; and here I found a prodigious concourse of people of both sexes, and of all ranks and conditions, among whom I observed some of the principal canons of the patriarchal church, in their purple robes and rochets, as these all go in the habit of bishops ; several priests who had run from the altars in their sacerdotal vestments in the midst of their celebrating mass ;
ladies half dressed, and some without shoes : all these, whom their mutual dangers had here assembled as to a place of safety, were on their knees at prayers, with the terrors of death in their countenances, every one striking his breast and crying out incessantly Miserecordia
Amidst this crowd I could not avoid taking notice of an old venerable priest, in a stole and surplice, who, I apprehend, had escaped from St. Paul's. He was continually moving to and fro among the people, exborting them to repentance, and endeavouring to comfort them. He told them, with a flood of tears, that God was grievously provoked at their sins, but that if they would call upon the blessed Virgin, she would intercede for them. Every one now flocked around him, earnestly begging his benediction, and happy did that man think himself who could get near enough to touch the hem of his garment; several I observed had little wooden crucifixes and images of saints in their hands, which they offered me to kiss, and one poor Irishman, I remember, held out a St. Antonio to me for this purpose, and when I gently put his arm aside, as giving him to understand that I desired to be excused this piece of devotion, he asked me, with some indignation, whether I thought there was a God. I verily believe many of the poor bigoted creatures who saved these useless pieces of wood, left their children to perish. However, you must not imagine that I have now the least inclination to mock at their superstitions. I sincerely pity them, and must own, that a more affecting spectacle was never
Their tears, their bitter sighs and lamentations, would have touched the most flinty heart. I knelt down amongst them, and prayed as fervently as the rest, though to a much properer object, the only Being who could hear my prayers to afford me any succour.
In the midst of our devotions, the second great shock came on, little less violent than the first, and completed the ruin of those buildings which had been already much shattered. The consternation now became so universal, that the shrieks and cries of Miserecordia could be distinctly heard from the top of St. Catherine's Hill, at a considerable distance off, whither a vast number of people had likewise retreated ; at the same time we could hear the fall of the parish church there, whereby many persons were killed on the spot, and others mortally wounded. You may judge of the force of this shock, when I inform you it was so violent that I could scarce keep on my knees; but it was