We visited the good fathers of this convent on a Thursday day evening, just before supper-time, and they received us with great politeness: “We will not ask you, said they, to sup with us, because we are not prepared, but if you will come to-morrow, though it is a fast with us, we will have a turkey roasted for you.” This invitation, which shewed a liberality of sentiment not to have been expected in a convent of Portuguese friars at this place, gratified us much, though it was not in our power to accept it.
[Footnote 64: Mr Barrow is no admirer of the monks that swarm in Madeira—he represents them as a very worthless, and a very ignorant race of beings.—E.]
We visited also a convent of nuns, dedicated to Santa Clara, and the ladies did us the honour to express a particular pleasure in seeing us there: They had heard that there were great philosphers among us, and not at all knowing what were the objects of philosophical knowledge, they asked us several questions that were absurd and extravagant in the highest degree; one was, when it would thunder; and another, whether a spring of fresh water was to be found any where within the walls of their convent, of which it seems they were in great want. It will naturally be supposed that our answers to such questions were neither satisfactory to the ladies, nor, in their situation, honourable to us; yet their disappointment did not in the least lessen their civility, and they talked, without ceasing, during the whole of our visit, which lasted about half an hoar.
[Footnote 65: According to Mr Barrow’s account, it should seem, that though there are several nunneries in this island, “not a single instance of the veil being taken has occurred for many years past.”—E.]
The hills of this country are very high; the highest, Pico Ruivo, rises 5,068 feet, near an English mile, perpendicularly from its base, which is much higher than any land that has been measured in Great Britain. The sides of these hills are covered with vines to a certain height, above which there are woods of chesnut and pine of immense extent, and above them forests of wild timber of various kinds not known in Europe; particularly two, called by the Portuguese Mirmulano and Paobranco, the leaves of both which, particularly the Paobranco, are so beautiful, that these trees would be a great ornament to the gardens of Europe.