Illustration from Portuguese periodical O Panorama showing the railroad between London and Greenwich, 1840

Illustration from Portuguese periodical O Panorama showing the railroad between London and Greenwich,1840

Contributor: Jorge Bastos da Silva

Location: Author’s own collection

Description: O Panorama (The Panorama) was one of the most ambitious cultural magazines of the Romantic period in Portugal, considered to be the years between ca. 1825 and 1865. This illustration reflects an increasing tendency among Romantic period Portuguese intellectuals to see England as a nation at the forefront of progress, and the railroad as the means of ensuring the spread of progressive ideas, objects and people across Europe. It thus serves as a corrective to other more celebrated, and more pessimistic, accounts by Romantic artists of modern technology, its clarity and optimism standing in stark contrast with Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, which the Romantic painter J. M. W. Turner was to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1844.

O Panorama was launched in Lisbon by the Sociedade Propagadora dos Conhecimentos Úteis, and ran through a total of five series between 1837 and 1868. The SPCU was the Portuguese counterpart of the (London) Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (founded in 1826), whose name it adopted, and the SDUK’s The Penny Magazine (1832-45) inspired the layout and preoccupations of O Panorama which often borrowed subjects and, indeed, plates from it. O Panorama was a collectible weekly covering a wide range of topics, from national history and heritage to literature, agriculture, medicine, biology, engineering, political economy, and the material realities and customs of many different peoples and countries across the world. It thus addressed the problems of national regeneration and public instruction in the wake of a protracted period of social and political unrest in Portugal which included the Peninsular War (1807-14), a liberal revolution (1820), the restoration of absolute monarchy (1828), a civil war (1832-34), and finally, the establishment of a fairly stable constitutional regime after another revolution in September 1836.

Shortly after the railroad between London Bridge and Greenwich was completed in 1838, O Panorama featured an unsigned article on it headed by this engraving, which shows a first-class train coming from London, and a train to London on the other track (Volume IV, nr 159, 16 May 1840). The winding line of the Thames on the far right contrasts with the diagonal straight line of the railroad. The great capital and the river are irregular and heterogeneous. By contrast, the straight line of the railroad dominates the composition, stamping it with a sense of modern linearity and regularity. Despite this contrast, the picture appears to celebrate a happy reconciliation of the organic and the mechanic. The railway is depicted as an aesthetic achievement, its straight line balanced by the curves of the arches of the viaduct that appear to be mirrored by the shape of the very elegant, first-class carriages of the train itself in a subtle geometrical arrangement. The viaduct rests on and is harmoniously embedded in a landscape whose fields and windmills remain virtually untouched, but at the same time it civilizes the countryside, by introducing a foot-path. Riding on the train and indulging in a wholesome walk go side by side; there is no contradiction between the pedestrian and the train placed slightly off centre. The path, like the railroad, is a seemingly endless line, stretching all the way to the horizon.

The article itself is written for readers who were unfamiliar with trains (the first railroad track in Portugal would be opened in 1856). It describes how technical difficulties of the terrain were overcome, the safety measures put in place for pedestrians and for passengers, first and second-class carriages, the train station and the purchase of tickets. It also elaborates on the novelty, variety and charm of the experience of travelling by train. The earliest significant reference to the railroad in O Panorama appears in 1837 (“Caminhos de Ferro”, Volume I, nr 11, 15 July 1837, pp. 86-7) This article argues that ‘those two creatures of the English genius’, the railroad and the steam engine, are revolutionary because they ‘promise to produce such changes among men that can only be equalled by those arising from the invention of printing’:

If the latter allowed the thought of a man to be communicated to thousands of individuals almost with the speed of lightning, cars moved by steam on iron rails will one day bring peoples into contact, so to speak, immediately, even though they may live at distances from one another which used to be and are still today called remote, the railroads thus becoming for physical objects what printing was for thought. In the future, Europe, crisscrossed in all directions by such means of communication, will make up a single country, and its inhabitants a single people. Thus will the great revolution fermenting in the spirit of men be accelerated, a revolution which tends to establish the utmost similarity of customs, beliefs, commodities and interests; to finally create a true brotherhood among all nations. It will therefore not be an exaggeration to say that printing, steam engines and railroads will really create the golden age for the human species.

The author of this vision of cosmopolitanism may have been the polymath Alexandre Herculano de Carvalho (1810-1877), Portugal’s answer to Sir Walter Scott, novelist, historian, translator, first editor of O Panorama, and, in sum, a foremost intellectual of Portuguese Romanticism.

Date: c.1840

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Illustration in O Panorama – Jornal Litterario e Instructivo da Sociedade Propagadora dos Conhecimentos Uteis (Lisbon, 1837-1868), [1st series], Volume IV, nr 159, 16 May 1840, p. 157

Media rights: Copyright held by the author (author’s own copy)

Object type: Engraving

Publisher: O Panorama

Digital collection record: Full scans of O Panorama are accessible on the website of Biblioteca Nacional in Lisbon (http://purl.pt/23739) as well as Hemeroteca Municipal de Lisboa (http://hemerotecadigital.cm-lisboa.pt/OBRAS/OPanorama/OPanorama.htm).

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