Portugal – Present And Future

LITTLE Portugal no longer shares with her neighbour, Spain, in the dominion of the world, as in the fifteenth century. The secrecy observed with a view to the retention of the monopoly of trade with countries newly discovered proved in the end most injurious to Portugal. Other nations appeared upon the stage which the Portuguese had dreamt of occupying for ever, and though the latter still hold colonies vastly superior in area to the mother country, this is nothing in comparison with what has been irretrievably lost. Vasco da Gama discovered the ocean high-road to India, but the few settlements which Portugal still holds there she owes to the favour of England. In the Malay Archipelago Portugal has been supplanted almost completely by the Dutch, and Macao, at the entrance of the Canton River, as hardly more than a slave market until quite recently, from which Chinese ” emigrants” were exported to Peru. In Africa Portugal holds vast possessions, if we are to believe in official documents and maps, but in reality only a very small tract of territory is under the dominion of the Portuguese, and most of the commerce is carried on through Dutch and other foreign houses. As to Brazil, it now surpasses the mother country in population and wealth. Madeira and the Azores, the first conquests made by Lisbon navigators, are looked upon as integral portions of Portugal ; they enjoy the same rights, and are quite equal to it in wealth.*

When Brazil was lost to Portugal that small country found itself in a position of lamentable prostration. Exhausted by foreign and internecine wars, its finances utterly ruined, and without roads to enable it to export its produce, it might have disappeared from our maps without any interests, except those of a few English vine-growers and Spanish smugglers, being affected. Even in 1851 there only existed a single carriage road in the country, namely, that which connected Lisbon with the royal palace ut Cintra. No attention whatever was paid to education, and about a generation ago a girl able to read was a phenomenon. At the same time we must not forget that these illiterate Portuguese knew how to discuss a subject without quarrelling, had great command of their language, and were able even to improvise verses of great poetical merit, in all of which respects they contrasted favourably with the peasantry of Northern Europe.

In the course of the last generation education has made much progress in Portugal; t and in other respects, too, the country has gradually assimilated with the rest of Europe. Roads and railways have been constructed,: and the latter connect Lisbon not only with the leading provincial towns, but also w ith Spain. The commerce with the latter country increases regularly wit h the occurrence of civil war, w hen Portugal profits at the expense of the Spanish ports of the Mediterranean.

Much of the ordinary commerce with Spain never appears in the customs registries, for it is carried on by smugglers, who glory in evading the vigilance of the frontier police.

The commerce of Portugal has increased very much in the course of the last thirty years. More than half of it falls to the share of Great Britain, a circumstance not to be wondered at when we bear in mind the relative geographical position of the two countries, for Portugal lies upon the direct route followed by English steamers proceeding to the Mediterranean, Western Africa, or Brazil.

But, after all, it will be Spain with which the most intimate commercial relations must finally be established, in spite of national prejudices and dynastic interests. The two nations will in the end become one, as the Aragonese and Castilians, the Andalusians and Manchegos, have become one. It is merely a question of time ; but who can doubt that community of industrial and social relations will lead to a political union. We only trust that this union may be brought about without a resort to brute force, and with due regard to special interests.