Owing to light airs we did not get a-breast of the city of St. Sebastian, in the harbour of Rio de Janeiro, until the 7th of the month, when we anchored about three quarters of a mile from the shore.
From the Arrival of the Fleet at Rio de Janeiro, till its Departure for the Cape of Good Hope; with some Remarks on the Brazils.
Brazil is a country very imperfectly known in Europe. The Portugueze, from political motives, have been sparing in their accounts of it. Whence our descriptions of it, in the geographical publications in England, are drawn, I know not: that they are miserably erroneous and defective, is certain.
The city of St. Sebastian stands on the west side of the harbour, in a low unhealthy situation, surrounded on all sides by hills, which stop the free circulation of air, and subject its inhabitants to intermittents and putrid diseases. It is of considerable extent: Mr. Cook makes it as large as Liverpool; but Liverpool, in 1767, when Mr. Cook wrote, was not two-thirds of its present size. Perhaps it equals Chester, or Exeter, in the share of ground it occupies, and is infinitely more populous than either of them. The streets intersect each other at right angles, are tolerably well built, and excellently paved, abounding with shops of every kind, in which the wants of a stranger, if money is not one of them, can hardly remain unsatisfied. About the centre of the city, and at a little distance from the beach, the Palace of the Viceroy stands, a long, low building, no wise remarkable in its exterior appearance; though within are some spacious and handsome apartments. The churches and convents are numerous, and richly decorated; hardly a night passes without some of the latter being illuminated in honour of their patron saints, which has a very brilliant effect when viewed from the water, and was at first mistaken by us for public rejoicings. At the corner of almost every street stands a little image of the Virgin, stuck round with lights in an evening, before which passengers frequently stop to pray and sing very loudly. Indeed, the height to which religious zeal is carried in this place, cannot fail of creating astonishment in a stranger. The greatest part of the inhabitants seem to have no other occupation, than that of paying visits and going to church, at which times you see them sally forth richly dressed, en chapeau bras, with the appendages of a bag for the hair, and a small sword: even boys of six years old are seen parading about, furnished with these indispensable requisites. Except when at their devotions, it is not easy to get a sight of the women, and when obtained, the comparisons drawn by a traveller, lately arrived from England, are little flattering to Portugueze beauty. In justice, however, to the ladies of St. Sebastian, I must observe, that the custom of throwing nosegays at strangers, for the purpose of bringing on an assignation, which Doctor Solander, and another gentleman of Mr. Cook’s ship, met with when here, was never seen by any of us in a single instance. We were so deplorably unfortunate as to walk every evening before their windows and balconies, without being honoured with a single bouquet, though nymphs and flowers were in equal and great abundance.