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Chapter 50


I have said that I must pass over Rio without a description; but
just now such a flood of scented reminiscences steals over me,
that I must needs yield and recant, as I inhale that musky air.

More than one hundred and fifty miles' circuit of living green
hills embosoms a translucent expanse, so gemmed in by sierras of
grass, that among the Indian tribes the place was known as "The
Hidden Water." On all sides, in the distance, rise high conical
peaks, which at sunrise and sunset burn like vast tapers; and
down from the interior, through vineyards and forests, flow
radiating streams, all emptying into the harbour.

Talk not of Bahia de Todos os Santos--the Bay of All Saints; for
though that be a glorious haven, yet Rio is the Bay of all
Rivers--the Bay of all Delights--the Bay of all Beauties. From
circumjacent hill-sides, untiring summer hangs perpetually in
terraces of vivid verdure; and, embossed with old mosses, convent
and castle nestle in valley and glen.

All round, deep inlets run into the green mountain land, and,
overhung with wild Highlands, more resemble Loch Katrines than
Lake Lemans. And though Loch Katrine has been sung by the
bonneted Scott, and Lake Leman by the coroneted Byron; yet here,
in Rio, both the loch and the lake are but two wild flowers in a
prospect that is almost unlimited. For, behold! far away and
away, stretches the broad blue of the water, to yonder soft-
swelling hills of light green, backed by the purple pinnacles
and pipes of the grand Organ Mountains; fitly so called, for in
thunder-time they roll cannonades down the bay, drowning the
blended bass of all the cathedrals in Rio. Shout amain, exalt
your voices, stamp your feet, jubilate, Organ Mountains! and roll
your Te Deums round the world!

What though, for more than five thousand five hundred years, this
grand harbour of Rio lay hid in the hills, unknown by the Catholic
Portuguese? Centuries ere Haydn performed before emperors and kings,
these Organ Mountains played his Oratorio of the Creation, before
the Creator himself. But nervous Haydn could not have endured that
cannonading choir, since this composer of thunderbolts himself died at
last through the crashing commotion of Napoleon's bombardment of Vienna.

But all mountains are Organ Mountains: the Alps and the Himalayas;
the Appalachian Chain, the Ural, the Andes, the Green Hills and the
White. All of them play anthems forever: The Messiah, and Samson, and
Israel in Egypt, and Saul, and Judas Maccabeus, and Solomon.

Archipelago Rio! ere Noah on old Ararat anchored his ark, there
lay anchored in you all these green, rocky isles I now see. But
God did not build on you, isles! those long lines of batteries;
nor did our blessed Saviour stand godfather at the christening of
yon frowning fortress of Santa Cruz, though named in honour of
himself, the divine Prince of Peace!

Amphitheatrical Rio! in your broad expanse might be held the
Resurrection and Judgment-day of the whole world's men-of-war,
represented by the flag-ships of fleets--the flag-ships of the
Phoenician armed galleys of Tyre and Sidon; of King Solomon's
annual squadrons that sailed to Ophir; whence in after times,
perhaps, sailed the Acapulco fleets of the Spaniards, with
golden ingots for ballasting; the flag-ships of all the Greek and
Persian craft that exchanged the war-hug at Salamis; of all the
Roman and Egyptian galleys that, eagle-like, with blood-dripping
prows, beaked each other at Actium; of all the Danish keels of
the Vikings; of all the musquito craft of Abba Thule, king of the
Pelaws, when he went to vanquish Artinsall; of all the Venetian,
Genoese, and Papal fleets that came to the shock at Lepanto; of
both horns of the crescent of the Spanish Armada; of the
Portuguese squadron that, under the gallant Gama, chastised the
Moors, and discovered the Moluccas; of all the Dutch navies red
by Van Tromp, and sunk by Admiral Hawke; of the forty-seven
French and Spanish sail-of-the-line that, for three months,
essayed to batter down Gibraltar; of all Nelson's seventy-fours
that thunder-bolted off St. Vincent's, at the Nile, Copenhagen,
and Trafalgar; of all the frigate-merchantmen of the East India
Company; of Perry's war-brigs, sloops, and schooners that
scattered the British armament on Lake Erie; of all the Barbary
corsairs captured by Bainbridge; of the war-canoes of the
Polynesian kings, Tammahammaha and Pomare--ay! one and all, with
Commodore Noah for their Lord High Admiral--in this abounding Bay
of Rio these flag-ships might all come to anchor, and swing round
in concert to the first of the flood.

Rio is a small Mediterranean; and what was fabled of the entrance
to that sea, in Rio is partly made true; for here, at the mouth,
stands one of Hercules' Pillars, the Sugar-Loaf Mountain, one
thousand feet high, inclining over a little, like the Leaning
Tower of Pisa. At its base crouch, like mastiffs, the batteries
of Jose and Theodosia; while opposite, you are menaced by a rock-
founded fort.

The channel between--the sole inlet to the bay--seems but a
biscuit's toss over; you see naught of the land-locked sea within
till fairly in the strait. But, then, what a sight is beheld!
Diversified as the harbour of Constantinople, but a thousand-fold
grander. When the Neversink swept in, word was passed, "Aloft,
top-men! and furl t'-gallant-sails and royals!"

At the sound I sprang into the rigging, and was soon at my perch.
How I hung over that main-royal-yard in a rapture High in air,
poised over that magnificent bay, a new world to my ravished
eyes, I felt like the foremost of a flight of angels, new-lighted
upon earth, from some star in the Milky Way.

Herman Melville