Seeing Europe with Famous Authors, Volume 4 (of 10)
Author: Various
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The most fashionable quarters for residences of the wealthy classes are the broad and beautiful Avenue Louise and the streets and avenues of the Quartier Leopold. They in a sense correspond to the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, Avenue des Champs Elysees, and Boulevard St. Germain of Paris. There is another feature, too, that modern Brussels has in common with Paris of the immediate past and of to-day. It is being "Haussmannized," and the older and more quaint and interesting portions of the city, as has been and is the case in Paris, are gradually but surely disappearing to make way for the onward march of progress and expansion. Almost on every hand, and especially in the Porte de Namur Quarter, old buildings are constantly falling victims to the house-wrecker, and new, in the shape of handsome mansions and lofty blocks of flats, are arising from their ashes.

The last thirty—even twenty—years have seen many changes. During that period the sluggish little River Senne, which once meandered through the city, and upon whose banks stood many fine and picturesque old houses and buildings of past ages, has been arched over, and the fine Boulevard of the same name, and those of Hainaut and Anspach, have been built above its imprisoned waters. The higher portions of the city are undeniably healthy, and the climate of Brussels is less subject to extreme changes than that of Paris. It is not unbearably cold in winter, and tho hot in summer, is not so, we think, airless as either Paris or London, a fact accounted for by reason of its many open spaces, its height above sea-level, and comparative nearness to the North Sea.

Of its fine buildings, none excels the Hotel de Ville, which is certainly one of the most interesting and beautiful buildings of its kind in Belgium. It is well placed on one of the finest medieval squares in Europe, and is surrounded by quaint and historic houses. On this Grande Place many tragedies have from time to time been enacted, and some of the most ferocious acts of the inhuman Alva performed. In the spring of the terrible year, 1568, no less than twenty-five Flemish nobles were executed here, and in the June of the same year the patriots Lamoral, Count Egmont, Philip de Montmorency, and Count Hoorn were put to death. This atrocious deed is commemorated by a fountain with statues of the heroes, placed in front of the Maison du Roi, from a window of which the Duke of Alva watched his orders carried out.

This most beautiful Hotel de Ville, with its late Gothic facade approaching the Renaissance period, nearly 200 feet in length, was commenced, according to a well-known authority, either in 1401 or 1402, the eastern wing, or left-hand portion as one faces it across the Place, having been the first part to be commenced, the western half of the facade not having been begun until 1444. The later additions formed the quadrangle.

The Cathedral at Brussels is dedicated jointly to Ste. Gudule and St. Michael. The former is one of the luckiest saints in that respect, as probably but for this dedication, she would have remained among the many rather obscure saints of the early periods of Christianity.

It is to this church that most visitors to Brussels first wend their way after visiting the Grande Place and its delightful Flower Market, which is gay with blossoms on most days of the week all the year round. The natural situation of the church is a fine one, which was made the most of by its architects and builders of long ago. Standing, as it does, on the side of a hill reached from the Grande Place by the fine Rue de la Montagne and short, steep Rue Ste. Gudule, it overlooks the city with its two fine twin western towers dominating the neighboring streets. These towers have appeared to us when viewed up the Rue Ste. Gudule and other streets leading up from the lower town to the church, generally to be veiled by a mystic gray or ambient haze, and to gain much in impressiveness and grandeur from the coup d'oeil one obtains of them framed, as it were, in the end of the rising street.


[Footnote A: From "Les Miserables." Translated by Lascelles Wraxall.]


The battle of Waterloo is an enigma as obscure for those who gained it as for him who lost it. To Napoleon it is a panic; Bluecher sees nothing in it but fire; Wellington does not understand it at all. Look at the reports; the bulletins are confused; the commentaries are entangled; the latter stammer, the former stutter.

Jomini divides the battle of Waterloo into four moments; Muffing cuts it into three acts; Charras, altho we do not entirely agree with him in all his appreciations, has alone caught with his haughty eye the characteristic lineaments of this catastrophe of human genius contending with divine chance. All the other historians suffer from a certain bedazzlement in which they grope about. It was a flashing day, in truth the overthrow of the military monarchy which, to the great stupor of the kings, has dragged down all kingdoms, the downfall of strength and the rout of war....

In this event, which bears the stamp of superhuman necessity, men play but a small part; but if we take Waterloo from Wellington and Bluecher, does that deprive England and Germany of anything? No. Neither illustrious England nor august Germany is in question in the problem of Waterloo, for, thank heaven! nations are great without the mournful achievements of the sword. Neither Germany, nor England, nor France is held in a scabbard; at this day when Waterloo is only a clash of sabers, Germany has Goethe above Bluecher, and England has Byron above Wellington. A mighty dawn of ideas is peculiar to our age; and in this dawn England and Germany have their own magnificent flash. They are majestic because they think; the high level they bring to civilization is intrinsic to them; it comes from themselves, and not from an accident. Any aggrandizement the nineteenth century may have can not boast of Waterloo as its fountainhead; for only barbarous nations grow suddenly after a victory—it is the transient vanity of torrents swollen by a storm. Civilized nations, especially at the present day, are not elevated or debased by the good or evil fortune of a captain, and their specific weight in the human family results from something more than a battle. Their honor, dignity, enlightenment, and genius are not numbers which those gamblers, heroes and conquerors, can stake in the lottery of battles. Very often a battle lost is progress gained, and less of glory, more of liberty. The drummer is silent and reason speaks; it is the game of who loses wins. Let us, then, speak of Waterloo coldly from both sides, and render to chance the things that belong to chance, and to God what is God's. What is Waterloo—a victory? No; a prize in the lottery, won by Europe, and paid by France; it was hardly worth while erecting a lion for it.

Waterloo is the strangest encounter recorded in history; Napoleon and Wellington are not enemies, but contraries. Never did God, who delights in antitheses, produce a more striking contrast, or a more extraordinary confrontation. On one side precision, foresight, geometry, prudence, a retreat assured, reserves prepared, an obstinate coolness, an imperturbable method, strategy profiting by the ground, tactics balancing battalions, carnage measured by a plumb-line, war regulated watch in hand, nothing left voluntarily to accident, old classic courage and absolute correctness.

On the other side we have intuition, divination, military strangeness, superhuman instinct, a flashing glance; something that gazes like the eagle and strikes like lightning, all the mysteries of a profound mind, associated with destiny; the river, the plain, the forest, and the hill summoned, and, to some extent, compelled to obey; the despot going so far as even to tyrannize over the battlefield; faith in a star, blended with a strategic science, heightening, but troubling it.

Wellington was the Bareme of war, Napoleon was its Michelangelo, and this true genius was conquered by calculation. On both sides somebody was expected; and it was the exact calculator who succeeded. Napoleon waited for Grouchy, who did not come; Wellington waited for Bluecher, and he came.

Wellington is the classical war taking its revenge; Bonaparte, in his dawn, had met it in Italy, and superbly defeated it—the old owl fled before the young vulture. The old tactics had been not only overthrown, but scandalized. Who was this Corsican of six-and-twenty years of age? What meant this splendid ignoramus, who, having everything against him, nothing for him, without provisions, ammunition, guns, shoes, almost without an army, with a handful of men against masses, dashed at allied Europe, and absurdly gained impossible victories? Who was this new comet of war who possest the effrontery of a planet?

The academic military school excommunicated him, while bolting, and hence arose an implacable rancor of the old Caesarism against the new, of the old saber against the flashing sword, and of the chessboard against genius. On June 18, 1815, this rancor got the best; and beneath Lodi, Montebello, Montenotte, Mantua, Marengo, and Arcola, it wrote—Waterloo. It was a triumph of mediocrity, sweet to majorities, and destiny consented to this irony. In his decline, Napoleon found a young Suvarov before him—in fact, it is only necessary to blanch Wellington's hair in order to have a Suvarov. Waterloo is a battle of the first class, gained by a captain of the second.

What must be admired in the battle of Waterloo is England, the English firmness, the English resolution, the English blood, and what England had really superb in it, is (without offense) herself; it is not her captain, but her army. Wellington, strangely ungrateful, declares in his dispatch to Lord Bathurst that his army, the one which fought on June 18, 1815, was a "detestable army."

What does the gloomy pile of bones buried in the trenches of Waterloo think of this? England has been too modest to herself in her treatment of Wellington, for making him so great is making herself small. Wellington is merely a hero, like any other man. The Scots Grays, the Life Guards, Maitland's and Mitchell's regiments, Pack's and Kempt's infantry, Ponsonby's and Somerset's cavalry, the Highlanders playing the bagpipes under the shower of canister, Ryland's battalions, the fresh recruits who could hardly manage a musket, and yet held their ground against the old bands of Essling and Rivoli—all this is grand.

Wellington was tenacious; that was his merit, and we do not deny it to him, but the lowest of his privates and his troopers was quite as solid as he, and the iron soldier is as good as the iron duke. For our part, all our glorification is offered to the English soldier, the English army, the English nation; and if there must be a trophy, it is to England that this trophy is owing. The Waterloo column would be more just, if, instead of the figure of a man, it raised to the clouds the statue of a people....

But this great England will be irritated by what we are writing here; for she still has feudal illusions, after her 1688 and the French 1789. This people believes in inheritance and hierarchy, and while no other excels it in power and glory, it esteems itself as a nation and not as a people. As a people, it readily subordinates itself, and takes a lord as its head; the workman lets himself be despised; the soldier puts up with flogging. It will be remembered that, at the battle of Inkerman, a sergeant who, as it appears, saved the British army, could not be mentioned by Lord Raglan, because the military hierarchy does not allow any hero below the rank of officer to be mentioned in dispatches. What we admire before all, in an encounter like Waterloo, is the prodigious skill of chance. The night raid, the wall of Hougoumont, the hollow way of Ohain, Grouchy deaf to the cannon, Napoleon's guide deceiving him, Bulow's guide enlightening him—all this cataclysm is marvelously managed.

There is more of a massacre than of a battle in Waterloo. Waterloo, of all pitched battles, is the one which had the smallest front for such a number of combatants. Napoleon's three-quarters of a league. Wellington's half a league, and seventy-two thousand combatants on either side. From this density came the carnage. The following calculation has been made and proportion established: loss of men, at Austerlitz, French, fourteen per cent.; Russian, thirty per cent.; Austrian, forty-four per cent.; at Wagram, French, thirteen per cent.; Austrian, fourteen per cent.; at Moscow, French, thirty-seven per cent.; Russian, forty-four per cent.; at Bautzen, French, thirteen cent.; Russian and Prussian, fourteen per cent.; at Waterloo, French, fifty-six per cent.; allies, thirty-one per cent.—total for Waterloo, forty-one per cent., or out of one hundred and forty-four thousand fighting men, sixty thousand killed.

The field of Waterloo has at the present day that calmness which belongs to the earth, and resembles all plains; but at night, a sort of a visionary mist rises from it, and if any traveler walk about it, and listen and dream, like Virgil on the mournful plain of Philippi, the hallucination of the catastrophe seizes upon him. The frightful June 18th lives again, the false monumental hill is leveled, the wondrous lion is dissipated, the battlefield resumes its reality, lines of infantry undulate on the plain; furious galloping crosses the horizon; the startled dreamer sees the flash of sabers, the sparkle of bayonets, the red lights of shells, the monstrous collision of thunderbolts; he hears like a death groan from the tomb, the vague clamor of the fantom battle.

These shadows are grenadiers; these flashes are cuirassiers; this skeleton is Napoleon; this skeleton is Wellington: all this is non-existent, and yet still combats, and the ravines are stained purple, and the trees rustle, and there is fury even in the clouds and in the darkness, while all the stern heights, Mont St. Jean, Hougoumont, Frischemont, Papelotte, and Plancenoit, seem confusedly crowned by hosts of specters exterminating one another.


[Footnote A: From "Two Months Abroad." Privately printed. 1878.]


The French wished to call it the battle of Mont St. Jean, but Wellington said "The Battle of Waterloo." The victor's wish prevailed. I know not why, except because he was the victor. The scene of the battle is four miles from the village of Waterloo and, besides Mont St. Jean, several villages from any one of which it might well have been named, are included in the field. Before the battle, however, the village of Waterloo had been the headquarters of the Duke and there he rested for two days after the battle was won.

I am now on this memorable spot as the solitary guest of a small hotel at the base of the Lion's Mound, after having made a night of it in crossing from Aix-la-Chapelle to Brussels and thence, through a storm of mist and rain to the little station of Braine-l'Alleud, which is a good mile from the battlefield. The train reached Braine-l'Alleud long before daybreak. When the morn had really dawned, I left the little waiting room, a solitary loiterer, and set out to find the battleground. From the platform of the station the eye surveyed a wide, thickly populated but rural plain, and in one direction afar off, clearly set against the dark rain-dripping sky, rose in solemn majesty a mound of earth, bearing on its lofty summit an indistinct figure of a lion.

A small rustic gate from the station led in the direction of the Mound. From necessity, I began a tramp through the rain alone, no conveyance being obtainable. The soil of Belgium here being alluvial, a little rain soon makes a great deal of mud and little rains at this season (January) are frequent. Along a small unpaved mud-deep road, having meanwhile been joined by a peasant with a two wheeled cart drawn by a single mule, I was soon hastening onward toward the Mound which was growing more and more visible on the horizon. The road soon turned away, however, but a path led toward the mound. The peasant took the road and I the path, which led into a little clump of houses, where were boys about their morning duties, and dogs that barked vigorously until one of the boys to whom I had spoken silenced them.

Passing onward through streets not more than six feet wide, along neatly trimmed hedges and past small cottage doorways, I soon entered an open plain, but in a crippled state with heavy mud-covered shoes. Mud fairly obliterated all trace of leather. With this burden, and wet to the skin with rain, there rose far ahead of me that historic mound, and at last I stood at its base alone, there in the midst of one of the greatest battlefields history records, soon to forget in the momentary joys of a beefsteak breakfast that man had ever done anything in this world except eat and drink.

I must borrow an illustration—Victor Hugo's letter A. The apex is Mount St. Jean, the right hand base La Belle Alliance, the left hand base Hougoumont, the cross bar that sunken road which perhaps changed the future of Europe, the two sides broad Belgian roads, paved with square stones and bordered with graceful and lofty poplar trees, their proud heads waving in every breeze that drifts across this undulating plain. The Lion's Mound is just below the middle of this cross bar. Mont St. Jean, La Belle Alliance and Hougoumont, at the three angles of the triangle, are small villages—scarcely more than hamlets. All were important points in the fortunes of that memorable 18th of June, 1815. Hougoumont, with its chateau and wall, in some sense was like a fortress.

Go with me if you will in imagination to the summit of the Lion's Mound. A flight of 225 stone steps will take us there, a toilsome ascent in this chilling air and this persistent rain. Toward Mont St. Jean, the surface of the ground is rolling, the waves of it high enough to conceal standing men from view. Except the lofty poplars at the road sides, there are no trees. An admirable place for an army on the defensive, you will at once say, since reserves can be concealed behind the convolutions of the rolling plain. These convolutions may also serve in the fight as natural fortifications.

Here at Mont St. Jean, Wellington pitched his tent. Hougoumont lay far off in front of his center, and had that morning a small garrison. Napoleon, with his army, was a mile away, his line extending to the right and left beyond La Belle Alliance. We must turn squarely around as we stand alongside the lion if we are to see in the distance the ground he occupied. Our place is nearly in the center of the field. Hougoumont we realize to have been worthy of the prodigious struggle the French made to capture it. Half a fortress then, it provided an admirable stand for artillery. A few men might hold it against superior numbers.

At Waterloo the Duke had about 67,000 men—some accounts say 70,000—but many, perhaps 15,000, fled in desertion at an early hour of the day. With these figures correct, the fighting forces of the Allies later in the day, would remain little more than 55,000 men. The Emperor's army has usually been placed at 70,000. His soldiers were probably better trained than the Duke's and combined with long service an abundance of enthusiasm for their old general, now restored to his imperial throne and confident of victory.

The night before the battle had been wet and stormy, but the morning gave some promise of clearing; the sky, however, remained overcast and some rain continued to fall. The French were weary after a long march, and the artillery moved with difficulty across this wet and muddy plain. Altogether they were in poor condition for a battle, in which all their fortunes were at stake. It was just such a morning as ours, except that it was then June and is now January. If the battle began at 8 o'clock, as one account reads, we are here on the Lion's Mound at that same hour. Even if this be January, daisies are in blossom at our feet.

Jerome Bonaparte, leading the attack, moves on Hougoumont, where the Allies, who have come down from Mont St. Jean, repulse him. He renews the attack "with redoubled fury," and a gallant resistance is made, but he forces a way into the outer enclosure of the chateau that crowns the hill. British howitzers are at once discharged upon the French and compel them to retreat. New assaults are then made. Overwhelming numbers seem to bear down upon the Allies. The stronghold is more than once nearly lost, but it is defended with "prodigies of valor" and firmly held to the last. Had Hougoumont been taken, the result of the battle "would probably have been very different."

Meanwhile, the Emperor has ordered a second attack elsewhere—this time against the left wing of Wellington. Marshal Ney sends forward six divisions, who encounter the Netherlandish troops and easily scatter them. Two brigades of British numbering 3,000 men then prepare to check the advancing French. A struggle, brief but fierce, ensues, in which the French are repulsed. They rally again, however, and Scotch Highlanders, their bagpipes sounding the cry, advance against them, along with an English brigade. These make an impetuous assault, while cavalry charge Napoleon's infantry, and force a part of them back on La Belle Alliance. But here the pursuing British meet with a check in a scene of wild carnage that sweeps over the field.

We may look down upon the scene of that frightful struggle. It lies just below us. Grass is growing there luxuriantly now. A north wind sweeps over the plain. A mournful requiem seems to whistle through the poplar trees.

If we look toward Hougoumont, French gunners are seen to have been slain. Many cannon are silent. With the chateau in flames, confusion reigns. Napoleon, ordering a new cavalry attack, directs Jerome to advance with his infantry. Immediately the Allies discharge grape and canister on the advancing host. But no Frenchman wavers. On the contrary, the French cavalry capture Wellington's outward battalion and press onward toward his hollow squares of infantry. All efforts to break these squares end in failure. For a time the French abandon the attack, but only to renew it and then follows a remarkable scene. The French charge with unprecedented fury, and the squares are partially broken, while friends and enemies, wounded or killed, are mingled in inextricable confusion.

Some of the Belgian troops take flight and in mad terror run back to Brussels, causing great consternation there by reporting a defeat for Wellington. The squares maintain their ground to the end admirably, and with severe losses the French retire. Hougoumont near by, all this time was not silent. The attack being continued, the commander is killed and at last its heights are gained. From elsewhere in the field, Wellington learns of his loss, places himself at the head of a brigade, and commands it to charge. Amid the utmost enthusiasm of the Allies the French are driven back from Hougoumont.

Napoleon now turns his efforts against La Haye Sainte, a small height forward from Mont St. Jean, occupied by the enemy's left wing. Ney, in a furious cannonade, begins the attack, in which the Allies are overwhelmed and their ammunition is exhausted. Masters of this point, the French again move on Hougoumont. It is seven o'clock in the evening, with Napoleon in fair way to succeed, but his men are already exhausted and their losses are heavy. Some of them plunge into that famous sunken road, unheeded of him and them, and still so great a mystery to historians. It was a charging cavalry column that plunged in, unknowingly, rider and horse together, in indescribable confusion and dismay. We may see that road to-day, for we have walked in a part of it when coming across the plain from the station—a narrow road cut many feet deep, its bed paved with little stones. Hugo's words on that frightful scene are these:

"There was the ravine, unlooked for, yawning at the very feet of the horses, two fathoms deep between its double slope. The second rank pushed in the first, the third pushed in the second; the horses reared, threw themselves over, fell upon their backs, and struggled with their feet in the air, piling up and overturning their riders; no power to retreat; the whole column was nothing but a projectile. The force acquired to crush the English crusht the French. The inexorable ravine could not yield until it was filled; riders and horses rolled in together pell-mell, grinding each other, making common flesh in this dreadful gulf, and when this grave was full of living men, the rest marched over them and passed on. Almost a third of the Dubois' brigade sank into this abyss."

Two hours before this, Bluecher, with his Prussians, had appeared—Bluecher who was to turn the tide of battle. He had promised Wellington to be there. His soldiers had complained bitterly on the long march over muddy ground, but he told them his word as a soldier must be kept. From far beyond La Belle Alliance had Bluecher come, a cow boy showing him the way—a boy who, if he had not known the way, or had lied, might have saved Napoleon from St. Helena. The ground where Bluecher entered the field is just visible to us from the mound as with strained eyes, we peer through the morning mist. During Ney's attack, Bluecher opens fire on La Haye Sainte. By six o'clock he has forty-eight guns in action and some of the guns send shot as far as La Belle Alliance. As the conflict deepens, Napoleon's fortunes are seen to be obviously in grave, if not critical, danger, but he strengthens his right wing and again hazards Hougoumont. Eight battalions are sent forward, an outlying stronghold is captured, but more Prussians advance and threaten to regain the point.

At seven o'clock while Ney is renewing the attack on Hougoumont other Prussians appear. The real crisis being at hand, Napoleon resolves on a final, concentrated movement against the enemy's center. His soldiers being worn out and discouraged, he gives out a false report that reinforcements are at last coming—that Grouchy has not failed him. A furious cannonade opens this new attack, causing "frightful havoc" among the Allies. The Prince of Orange holds back the French on the very ground where the lion is now elevated, but falls wounded. Napoleon, in an address to the Imperial Guard, rouses them to great enthusiasm. For a half hour longer the French bear down on the enemy, but British gunners make gaps in their ranks. With his horse shot from under him, Ney goes forward on foot.

The Duke now takes personal command. He sends a shower of grape and cannister against a column of French veterans, but they never waver. Reserves, suddenly called for, pour a fierce charge against the advancing French, rending them asunder. The attack is closely followed up and the French are driven down the hill. Elsewhere in the field the battle still rages. Bluecher continues his attack on Napoleon's right and forces it back. Reduced to despair, Napoleon now gives his final and famous order: "Tout est perdu! Sauve qui peut." But the Young Guard resists Bluecher. Wellington, descending from his height, follows the retreating enemy as far as La Belle Alliance. At eight o'clock, after a most sanguinary struggle, the Young Guard yields. The success of Bluecher elsewhere completes the victory of the Allies.

One man will never surrender—Cambronne. Who was Cambronne? No one can tell you more than this—he was the man at Waterloo who would not surrender. "The Old Guard dies, but never surrenders." "Among those giants then," says Hugo, "there was one Titan—Cambronne. The man who won the battle of Waterloo was not Napoleon, put to rout; not Wellington, giving way at four o'clock, desperate at five; not Bluecher, who did not fight. The man who won the battle of Waterloo was Cambronne. To fulminate at the thunderbolt which kills you, is victory."

As we look over this field from our height and try to realize what mighty fortunes were here at stake, we note that the mementoes of that day are few. A Corinthian column and an obelisk are seen at the roadside as memorials of the bravery of two officers. This Lion's Mound, two hundred feet high and made from earth piled up by cart loads, commemorates the place where a prince was wounded. Colossal in size, the lion was cast from French cannon captured in the fight. On this broad plain upward of 50,000 men, who had mothers, sisters, and wives at home, gave up their lives. Poplar trees sigh forth perpetually their funeral dirge. Grass grows where their blood was poured out. Modern Europe can show few scenes of more sublime tragedy. Our visiting day, with its chilling air and penetrating rain, has been a fit day for seeing Waterloo. The old woman who served me with breakfast spoke English easily. It was well—doubly well. No other language than English should be spoken on the field of Waterloo. I passed a few French words with the boy who called off the dogs, but was afterward sorry for having done so.


[Footnote A: From "The Cathedrals and Churches of Belgium." Published by James Pott & Co.]


Byzantium—Venice—Antwerp, these are the centers around which the modern world has revolved, for we must include its commercial with its social progress, and with those interests which develop with society. Indeed, the development of the arts has always run concurrently with commerce. One could wish to add that the converse were equally true.

Antwerp—the city on the wharf—became famous at the beginning of the sixteenth century under the reign of the enterprising Charles V. "Antwerp was then truly a leading city in almost all things, but in commerce it headed all the cities of the world," says an old chronicler. Bruges, the great banking center yielded her position, and the Hanseatic merchants removed to the banks of the Scheldt. "I was astonished, and wondered much when I beheld Antwerp," wrote an envoy of the Italian Republic, "for I saw Venice outdone."

In what direction Venice was outdone is not recorded. Not in her architecture, at least; scarcely in her painting. We can not concede a Tintoretto for a Rubens. Yet, as Antwerp was the home of Matsys, of Rubens, Van Dyck, and the Teniers, the home also of Christopher Plantin, the great printer, her glory is not to be sought in trade alone. She is still remembered as a mother of art and letters, while her mercantile preeminence belongs to a buried past.

It must, however, be confest that the fortunes of Antwerp as a city, prospering in its connection with the Hanseatic League, were anything but advantageous to the student of architectural history. Alterations and buildings were the order of the day, and so lavish were the means devoted to the work that scarcely a vestige of architecture in the remains is of earlier date than the fourteenth century.

The grandly dimensioned churches raised in every parish afford ample evidence of the zeal and skill with which the work of reconstruction was prosecuted, and as specimens of the style of their day can not fail to elicit our admiration by the nobility of their proportions, so that in the monuments the wealthy burghers of Antwerp have left us we have perhaps no reason to regret their zeal. At the same time, one is tempted to wish that they had spared the works of earlier date by raising their new ones on fresh ground, instead of such wholesale demolition of the labors of preceding generations.

Notre Dame at Antwerp, the most spacious church in the Netherlands, originated in a chapel built for a miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin. This chapel was reconstructed in 1124, when the canons of St. Michel, having ceded their church to the Praemonstratensians, removed hither. Two centuries later, the canons of St. Michel, animated by the prevailing spirit, determined on rebuilding their church on a more magnificent scale, and they commenced the work in 1352 by laying the foundations for a new choir. But slow progress was made with this great undertaking, more than two centuries and a half elapsing before the church assumed that form with which we are familiar to-day. In 1520, the chapter, dissatisfied with its choir, started upon the erection of a new one, the first stone of which was laid in the following year by the Emperor Charles V., accompanied by King Christian II. of Denmark and a numerous retinue.

The new plan included a crypt, partly above ground, probably like that we see in St. Paul's in the same town, and the work was progressing when, in 1533, a disastrous fire did such damage to the western parts of the church that the project of enlargement was suspended, and the funds destined for its employment were applied to restoring the damaged portions. Had the design been realized, the eastern limb of the church would have been doubled in size.

As regards its dimensions, Notre Dame at Antwerp is one of the most remarkable churches in Europe, being nearly 400 feet long by 170 feet in width across the nave, which, inclusive of that covered by the western towers, has seven bays, and three aisles on either side. This multiplication of aisles gives a vast intricacy and picturesqueness to the cross views of the interior; but there is a poverty of detail, and a want of harmony among the parts and of subordination and proportion, sadly destructive of true architectural effect; so that, notwithstanding its size, it looks much smaller internally than many of the French cathedrals of far less dimensions. If there had been ten bays in the nave instead of only seven, and the central division had been at least ten feet wider, which could easily have been spared from the outermost aisles, the apparent size of the church would have been much greater. The outermost south aisle is wider than the nave, and equal in breadth to the two inner aisles; the northernmost aisle is not quite so broad.

The transepts have no aisles, but they are continued beyond the line of the nave aisles, so that they are more than usually elongated. The two inner aisles of the nave open into the transepts, but the outer ones, which, it should be remarked, are continuous, and not divided into a series of chapels, are walled up at their eastern extremities.

The choir consists of three bays, but has only one aisle on either side. This is continued round the apse, and five pentagonal chapels radiate from it. Three chapels flank the north aisle of the choir, the first two opening, as does the north transept, into one large chapel of the same breadth as the southernmost aisle of the nave.... The facade is flanked by towers equal in width to the two inner aisles of the nave. The northern one has alone been completed, and altho it may seem to a severe judgment to possess some of the defects of the late Flemish style, it is rivaled for beauty of outline only by the flamboyant steeples of Chartres and Vienna. As might be expected from its late age—it was not finished until 1530—this northwestern spire of Notre Dame at Antwerp exhibits some extravagances in design and detail, but the mode in which the octagonal lantern of openwork bisects the faces of the solid square portion with its alternate angles, thus breaking the outline without any harsh or disagreeable transition, is very masterly, while the bold pinnacles, with their flying buttresses, which group around it, produce a most pleasing variety, the whole serving to indicate the appearance the steeple of Malines would have presented had it been completed according to the original design.

If size were any real test of beauty, the interior or Notre Dame at Antwerp ought to be one of the finest in Belgium. Unfortunately, altho it was begun at a time when the pointed style had reached the full maturity of perfection, a colder and more unimpressive design than is here carried out it would be difficult to find. Still, notwithstanding the long period that elapsed between its commencement and completion, there is a congruity about the whole building which is eminently pleasing, and to some extent redeems the defects in its details and proportions, while the views afforded in various directions by the triple aisles on either side of the nave are undeniably picturesque.

The high altarpiece, placed on the chord of the apse, is a noble and sumptuous example of early Renaissance taste and workmanship, but like the stallwork, its dimensions are such as to diminish the scale of the choir, the five arches opening to the procession path being completely obscured by it. Of the numerous creations of Rubens' pencil none perhaps more thoroughly declares to us his comprehension of religious decorative art than the "Assumption" which fills the arched compartment in the lower portion of this altarpiece. It was finished in 1625, and, of twenty repetitions of the subject, is the only example still preserved at the place it was intended by the painter to occupy. In spirit we are reminded of Titian's "Assumption" in the cathedral at Verona, but Rubens' proves perhaps a higher conception of the subject. The work is seen a considerable way off, and every outline is bathed in light, so that the Virgin is elevated to dazzling glory with a power of accession scarcely, if ever, attained by any master.

In the celebrated "Descent from the Cross," which hangs in the south transept, the boldness of the composition, the energy in the characters, the striking attitudes and grouping, the glowing, vigorous coloring, are astonishing proofs of Rubens' power. The circumstances which gave rise to this wondrous effort of art are interesting. It is said that Rubens, in laying the foundations of his villa near Antwerp, had unwittingly infringed on some ground belonging to the Company of Gunsmiths (arquebusiers). A law suit was threatened, and Rubens prepared to defend it, but, being assured by one of the greatest lawyers of the city that the right lay with his opponents, he immediately drew back, and offered to paint a picture by way of recompense. The offer was accepted, and the company required a representation of its patron saint, St. Christopher, to be placed in its chapel in the cathedral, which at that time Notre Dame was.

Rubens, with his usual liberality and magnificence, presented to his adversaries, not merely a single representation of the saint, but an elaborate illustration of his name—The Christ-bearer. The arquebusiers were at first disappointed not to have their saint represented in the usual manner, and Rubens was obliged to enter into an explanation of his work. Thus, without knowing it, they had received in exchange for a few feet of land a treasure which neither money nor lands can now purchase. The painting was executed by Rubens soon after his seven years' residence in Italy, and while the impression made by the work of Titian and Paul Veronese were yet fresh in his mind. The great master appeared in the fulness of his glory in this work—it is one of the few which exhibits in combination all that nature had given him of warmth and imagination—with all that he acquired of knowledge, judgment and method, and in which he may be considered fully to have overcome the difficulties of a subject which becomes painful, and almost repulsive, when it ceases to be sublime.




[Footnote A: From "Holland and Its People." Translated by Caroline Tilton. By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, G.P. Putnam's Sons. Copyright, 1880.]


The first time that I crossed the old Rhine, I had stopt on the bridge, asking myself whether that small and humble stream of water was really the same river that I had seen rushing in thunder over the rocks at Schaffhausen, spreading majestically before Mayence, passing in triumph under the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, beating in sonorous cadence at the foot of the Seven Mountains; reflecting in its course Gothic cathedrals, princely castles, fertile hills, steep rocks, famous ruins, cities, groves, and gardens; everywhere covered with vessels of all sorts, and saluted with music and song; and thinking of these things, with my gaze fixt upon the little stream shut in between two flat and desert shores, I had repeated, "Is this that Rhine?"

The vicissitudes which accompany the agony and death of this great river in Holland, are such as really to excite a sense of pity, such as is felt for the misfortunes and inglorious end of a people once powerful and happy. From the neighborhood of Emmerich, before reaching the Dutch frontier, it has lost all the beauty of its banks, and flows in great curves through vast and ugly flats, which seem to mark the approach to old age. At Millingen it runs entirely in the territory of Holland; a little farther on it divides. The main branch shamefully loses its name, and goes to throw itself into the Meuse: the other branch, insulted by the title of the Dannerden canal, flows nearly to the city of Arnehm, when it once more divides into two branches. One empties into the Gulf of Zuyder-Zee; the other still called, out of compassion, the Lower Rhine, goes as far as the village of Durstede, where it divides for the third time; a humiliation now of old date.

One of these branches, changing its name like a coward, throws itself into the Meuse near Rotterdam; the other still called the Rhine, but with the ridiculous surname of "curved," reaches Utrecht with difficulty, where for the fourth time it again divides; capricious as an old man in his dotage. One part, denying its old name, drags itself as far as Muiden, where it falls into the Zuyder-Zee; the other, with the name of Old Rhine, or simply the Old, flows slowly to the city of Leyden, whose streets it crosses almost without giving a sign of movement, and is finally gathered into one canal by which it goes to its miserable death in the North Sea.

But it is not many years since this pitiful end was denied it. From the year 839, in which a furious tempest had accumulated mountains of sand at its mouth, until the beginning of the present century, the Old Rhine lost itself in the sand before reaching the sea, and covered a vast tract of country with pools and marshes. Under the reign of Louis Bonaparte the waters were collected into a large canal protected by three enormous sluicegates, and from that time the Rhine flows directly to the sea. These sluices are the greatest monument in Holland and, perhaps, the most admirable hydraulic work in Europe.

The dikes which protect the mouth of the canal, the walls, pillars, and gates, present altogether the aspect of a Cyclopian fortress, against which it seems that not only that sea, but the united forces of all seas, must break as against a granite mountain. When the tide rises the gates are closed to prevent the waters from invading the land; when the tide recedes they are opened to give passage to the waters of the Rhine which have accumulated behind them; and then a mass of three thousand cubic feet of water passes through them in one minute. On days when storms prevail, a concession is made to the sea, and the most advanced of the sluicegates is left open; and then the furious billows rush into the canal, like an enemy entering by a breach, but they break upon the formidable barrier of the second gate, behind which Holland stands and cries, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther!" That enormous fortification which, on a desert shore, defends a dying river and a fallen city from the ocean, has something of solemnity which commands respect and admiration....

Napoleon said that it [Holland] was an alluvion of Trench rivers—the Rhine, the Scheldt, and the Meuse—and with this pretext he added it to the empire. One writer has defined it as a sort of transition between land and sea. Another, as an immense crust of earth floating on water. Others, an annex of the old continent, the China of Europe, the end of the earth, and the beginning of the ocean, a measureless raft of mud and sand; and Philip II. called it the country nearest to hell.

But they all agreed upon one point, and all exprest it in the same words:—Holland is a conquest made by man over the sea—it is an artificial country—the Hollanders made it—it exists because the Hollanders preserve it—it will vanish whenever the Hollanders shall abandon it.

To comprehend this truth, we must imagine Holland as it was when first inhabited by the first German tribes that wandered away in search of a country. It was almost uninhabitable. There were vast tempestuous lakes, like seas, touching one another; morass beside morass; one tract covered with brushwood after another; immense forests of pines, oaks, and alders, traversed by herds of wild horses; and so thick were these forests that tradition says one could travel leagues passing from tree to tree without ever putting foot to the ground. The deep bays and gulfs carried into the heart of the country the fury of the northern tempests. Some provinces disappeared once every year under the waters of the sea, and were nothing but muddy tracts, neither land nor water, where it was impossible either to walk or to sail. The large rivers, without sufficient inclination to descend to the sea, wandered here and there uncertain of their day, and slept in monstrous pools and ponds among the sands of the coasts. It was a sinister place, swept by furious winds, beaten by obstinate rains, veiled in a perpetual fog, where nothing was heard but the roar of the sea, and the voice of wild beasts and birds of the ocean.

Now, if we remember that such a region has become one of the most fertile, wealthiest and best regulated of the countries of the world, we shall understand the justice of the saying that Holland is a conquest made by man. But, it must be added, the conquest goes on forever.

To drain the lakes of the country the Hollanders prest the air into their service. The lakes, the marshes, were surrounded by dikes, the dikes by canals; and an army of windmills, putting in motion force-pumps, turned the water into the canals, which carried it off to the rivers and the sea. Thus vast tracts of land buried under the water, saw the sun, and were transformed, as if by magic, into fertile fields, covered with villages, and intersected by canals and roads. In the seventeenth century, in less than forty years, twenty-six lakes were drained. At the beginning of the present century, in North Holland alone, more than six thousand hectares, or fifteen thousand acres, were thus redeemed from the waters; in South Holland, before 1844, twenty-nine thousand hectares; in the whole of Holland, from 1500 to 1858, three hundred and fifty-five thousand hectares. Substituting steam-mills for windmills, in thirty-nine months was completed the great undertaking of the draining of the lake of Haarlem, which measured forty-four-kilometers in circumference, and for ever threatened with its tempests the cities of Haarlem, Amsterdam, and Leyden. And they are now meditating the prodigious work of drying up the Zuyder-Zee, which embraces an area of more than seven hundred square kilometers.

But the most tremendous struggle was the battle with the ocean. Holland is in great part lower than the level of the sea; consequently, everywhere that the coast is not defended by sand-banks, it has to be protected by dikes. If these interminable bulkwarks of earth, granite, and wood were not there to attest the indomitable courage and perseverance of the Hollanders, it would not be believed that the hand of man could, even in many centuries have accomplished such a work. In Zealand alone the dikes extend to a distance of more than four hundred kilometers. The western coast of the island of Walcheren is defended by a dike, in which it is computed that the expense of construction added to that of preservation, if it were put out at interest, would amount to a sum equal in value to that which the dike itself would be worth were it made of massive copper.

Around the city of Helder, at the northern extremity of North Holland, extends a dike ten kilometers long, constructed of masses of Norwegian granite, which descends more than sixty meters into the sea. The whole province of Friesland, for the length of eighty-eight kilometers, is defended by three rows of piles sustained by masses of Norwegian and German granite. Amsterdam, all the cities of the Zuyder Zee, and all the islands—fragments of vanished lands—which are strung like beads between Friesland and North Holland, are protected by dikes. From the mouths of the Ems to those of the Scheldt Holland is an impenetrable fortress, of whose immense bastions the mills are the towers, the cataracts are the gates, the islands the advanced forts; and like a true fortress, it shows to its enemy, the sea, only the tops of its bell-towers and the roofs of its houses, as if in defiance and derision.

Holland is a fortress, and her people live as in a fortress on a war-footing with the sea. An army of engineers, directed by the Minister of the Interior, spread over the country, and ordered like an army, continually spy the enemy, watch over the internal waters, foresee the bursting of the dikes, order and direct the defensive works. The expenses of the war are divided; one part to the State, one part to the provinces; every proprietor pays, besides the general imposts, a special impost for the dikes, in proportion to the extent of his lands and their proximity to the water. An accidental rupture, an inadvertence, may cause a flood; the peril is unceasing; the sentinels are at their posts upon the bulwarks at the first assault of the sea; they shout the war-cry, and Holland sends men, material, and money. And even when there is not a great battle, a quiet, silent struggle is for ever going on.

The innumerable mills, even in the drained districts, continue to work unresting, to absorb and turn into the canals the water that falls in rain and that which filters in from the sea.

But Holland has done more than defend herself against the waters; she has made herself mistress of them, and has used them for her own defense. Should a foreign army invade her territory, she has but to open her dikes and unchain the sea and the rivers, as she did against the Romans, against the Spaniards, against the army of Louis XIV., and defend the land cities with her fleet. Water was the source of her poverty, she has made it the source of wealth. Over the whole country extends an immense net-work of canals which serve both for the irrigation of the land and as a means of communication. The cities, by means of canals, communicate with the sea; canals run from town to town, and from them to villages, which are themselves bound together by these watery ways, and are connected even to the houses scattered over the country; smaller canals surround the fields and orchards, pastures and kitchen-gardens, serving at once as boundary-wall, hedge, and roadway; every house is a little port. Ships, boats, rafts move about in all directions, as in other places carts and carriages. The canals are the arteries of Holland, and the water her life-blood.

But even setting aside the canals, the draining of the lakes, and the defensive works, on every side are seen the traces of marvelous undertakings. The soil, which in other countries is a gift of nature, is in Holland a work of men's hands. Holland draws the greater part of her wealth from commerce; but before commerce comes the cultivation of the soil; and the soil had to be created. There were sand-banks, interspersed with layers of peat, broad downs swept by the winds, great tracts of barren land apparently condemned to an external sterility. The first elements of manufacture, iron and coal, were wanting; there was no wood, because the forests had already been destroyed by tempests when agriculture began; there was no stone, there were no metals.

Nature, says a Dutch poet, had refused all her gifts to Holland; the Hollanders had to do everything in spite of nature. They began by fertilizing the sand. In some places they formed a productive soil with earth brought from a distance, as a garden is made; they spread the siliceous dust of the downs over the too watery meadows; they mixed with the sandy earth the remains of peat taken from the bottoms; they extracted clay to lend fertility to the surface of their lands; they labored to break up the downs with the plow; and thus in a thousand ways, and continually fighting off the menacing waters, they succeeded in bringing Holland to a state of cultivation not inferior to that of more favored regions. That Holland, the sandy, marshy country that the ancients considered all but uninhabitable, now sends out yearly from her confines agricultural products to the value of a hundred millions of francs, possesses about one million three hundred thousand head of cattle, and, in proportion to the extent of her territory, may be accounted one of the most populous of European states.

But however wonderful may be the physical history of Holland, her political history is still more so. This small territory invaded from the beginning by different tribes of the Germanic races, subjugated by the Romans and the Franks, devastated by the Normans and by the Danes, desolated by centuries of civil war with all its horrors, this small people of fisherman and traders, saves its civil liberty and its freedom of conscience by a war of eighty years against the formidable monarchy of Philip II., and founds a republic which becomes the ark of salvation to the liberties of all the world, the adopted country of science, the Exchange of Europe, the station for the commerce of the world; a republic which extends its domination to Java, Sumatra, Hindustan, Ceylon, New Holland, Japan, Brazil, Guiana, the Cape of Good Hope, the West-Indies, and New York; a republic which vanquished England on the sea, which resists the united arms of Charles II. and Louis XIV., and which treats on equal terms with the greatest nations, and is, for a time, one of the three Powers that decide the fate of Europe.


[Footnote A: From "Holland and Its People." By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, S.P. Putnam's Sons. Copyright, 1880.]


It is a singular thing that the great cities of Holland, altho built upon a shifting soil, and amid difficulties of every kind, have all great regularity of form. Amsterdam is a semicircle, the Hague square, Rotterdam an equilateral triangle. The base of the triangle is an immense dike, which defends the city from the Meuse, and is called the Boompjes, signifying, in Dutch, small trees, from a row of little elms, now very tall, that were planted when it was first constructed.

The whole city of Rotterdam presents the appearance of a town that has been shaken smartly by an earthquake, and is on the point of the falling ruin. All the houses—in any street one may count the exceptions on their fingers—lean more or less, but the greater part of them so much that at the roof they lean forward at least a foot beyond their neighbors, which may be straight, or not so visibly inclined; one leans forward as if it would fall into the street; another backward, another to the left, another to the right, at some points six or seven contiguous houses all lean forward together, those in the middle most, those at the ends lass, looking like a paling with a crowd pressing against it. At another point, two houses lean together as if supporting one another. In certain streets the houses for a long distance lean all one way, like trees beaten by a prevailing wind; and then another long row will lean in the opposite direction, as if the wind had changed.

Sometimes there is a certain regularity of inclination that is scarcely noticeable; and again, at crossings and in the smaller streets, there is an indescribable confusion of lines, a real architectural frolic, a dance of houses, a disorder that seems animated. There are houses that nod forward as if asleep, others that start backward as if frightened, some bending toward each other, their roofs almost touching, as if in secret conference; some falling upon one another as if they were drunk, some leaning backward between others that lean forward, like malefactors dragged onward by their guards; rows of houses that curtsey to a steeple, groups of small houses all inclined toward one in the middle, like conspirators in conclave.

Broad and long canals divide the city into so many islands, united by drawbridges, turning bridges, and bridges of stone. On either side of every canal extends a street, flanked by trees on one side and houses on the other. All these canals are deep enough to float large vessels, and all are full of them from one end to the other, except a space in the middle left for passage in and out. An immense fleet imprisoned in a city.

When I arrived it was the busiest hour, so I planted myself upon the highest bridge over the principal crossing. From thence were visible four canals, four forests of ships, bordered by eight files of trees; the streets were crammed with people and merchandise; droves of cattle were crossing the bridges; bridges were rising in the air, or opening in the middle, to allow vessels to pass through, and were scarcely replaced or closed before they were inundated by a throng of people, carts, and carriages; ships came and went in the canals, shining like models in a museum, and with the wives and children of the sailors on the decks; boats darted from vessel to vessel; the shops drove a busy trade; servant-women washed the walls and windows; and all this moving life was rendered more gay and cheerful by the reflections in the water, the green of the trees, the red of the houses, the tall windmills, showing their dark tops and white sails against the azure of the sky, and still more by an air of quiet simplicity not seen in any other northern city.

From canal to canal, and from bridge to bridge, I finally reached the dike of the Boompjes upon the Meuse, where boils and bubbles all the life of the great commercial city. On the left extends a long row of small many-colored steamboats, which start every hour in the day for Dordrecht, Arnhem, Gonda, Schiedam, Brilla, Zealand, and continually send forth clouds of white smoke and the sound of their cheerful bells. To the right lie the large ships which make the voyage to various European ports, mingled with fine three-masted vessels bound for the East Indies, with names written in golden letters—Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Samarang—carrying the fancy to those distant and savage countries like the echoes of distant voices. In front the Meuse, covered with boats and barks, and the distant shore with a forest of beech trees, windmills, and towers; and over all the unquiet sky, full of gleams of light, and gloomy clouds, fleeting and changing in their constant movement, as if repeating the restless labor on the earth below.

Rotterdam, it must be said here, is, in commercial importance, the first city in Holland after Amsterdam. It was already a flourishing town in the thirteenth century. Ludovico Guicciardini, in his work on the Low Countries, adduces a proof of the wealth of the city in the sixteenth century, saying that in one year nine hundred houses that had been destroyed by fire were rebuilt. Bentivoglio, in his history of the war in Flanders, calls it "the largest and most mercantile of the lands of Holland." But its greatest prosperity did not begin until 1830, or after the separation of Holland and Belgium, when Rotterdam seemed to draw to herself everything that was lost by her rival, Antwerp.

Her situation is extremely advantageous. She communicates with the sea by the Meuse, which brings to her ports in a few hours the largest merchantmen; and by the same river she communicates with the Rhine, which brings to her from the Swiss mountains and Bavaria immense quantities of timber—entire forests that come to Holland to be transformed into ships, dikes, and villages. More than eighty splendid vessels come and go, in the space of nine months, between Rotterdam and India. Merchandise flows in from all sides in such great abundance that a large part of it has to be distributed through the neighboring towns....

Rotterdam, in short, has a future more splendid than that of Amsterdam, and has long been regarded as a rival by her elder sister. She does not possess the wealth of the capital; but is more industrious in increasing what she has; she dares, risks, undertakes like a young and adventurous city. Amsterdam, like a merchant grown cautious after having made his fortune by hazardous undertakings, begins to doze over her treasures. At Rotterdam fortunes are made; at Amsterdam they are consolidated; at the Hague they are spent....

In the middle of the market-place, surrounded by heaps of vegetables, fruit, and earthenware pots and pans, stands the statue of Desiderius Erasmus, the first literary light of Holland; that Gerrit Gerritz—for he assumed the Latin name himself, according to the custom of writers in his day—that Gerrit Gerritz belonged, by his education, his style, and his ideas, to the family of the humanists and erudite of Italy; a fine writer, profound and indefatigable in letters and science, he filled all Europe with his name between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; he was loaded with favors by the popes, and sought after and entertained by princes; and his "Praise of Folly," written in Latin like the rest of his innumerable works, and dedicated to Sir Thomas More, is still read. The bronze statue, erected in 1622, represents Erasmus drest in a furred gown, with a cap of the same, a little bent forward as if walking, and in the act of reading a large book, held open in the hand; the pedestal bears a double inscription, in Dutch and Latin, calling him, "The Foremost Man of His Century," and "The Most Excellent of All Citizens." In spite of this pompous eulogium, however, poor Erasmus, planted there like a municipal guard in the market-place, makes but a pitiful figure. I do not believe that there is in the world another statue of a man of letters that is, like this, neglected by the passer-by, despised by those about it, commiserated by those who look at it. But who knows whether Erasmus, acute philosopher as he was, and must be still, be not contented with his corner, the more that it is not far from his own house, if the tradition is correct? In a small street near the market-place, in the wall of a little house now occupied as a tavern, there is a niche with a bronze statuette representing the great writer, and under it the inscription: "This is the little house in which the great Erasmus was born." ...

Rotterdam in the evening presents an unusual aspect to the stranger's eye. While in other northern cities at a certain hour of the night all the life is concentered in the houses, at Rotterdam at that hour it expands into the streets. The Hoog-straat is filled until far into the night with a dense throng, the shops are open, because the servants make their purchases in the evening, and the cafes crowded. Dutch cafes are peculiar. In general there is one long room, divided in the middle by a green curtain, which is drawn down at evening and conceals the back part, which is the only part lighted; the front part, closed from the street by large glass doors, is in darkness, so that from without only dark shadowy forms can be seen, and the burning points of cigars, like so many fireflies. Among these dark forms the vague profile of a woman who prefers darkness to light may be detected here and there....

Walking through Rotterdam in the evening, it is evident that the city is teeming with life and in process of expansion; a youthful city, still growing, and feeling herself every year more and more prest for room in her streets and houses. In a not far distant future, her hundred and fourteen thousand inhabitants will have increased to two hundred thousand.[A] The smaller streets swarm with children; there is an overflow of life and movement that cheers the eye and heart; a kind of holiday air. The white and rosy faces of the servant-maids, whose white caps gleam on every side; the serene visages of shopkeepers slowly imbibing great glassfuls of beer; the peasants with their monstrous ear-rings; the cleanliness; the flowers in the windows; the tranquil and laborious throng; all give to Rotterdam an aspect of healthful and peaceful content, which brings to the lips the chant of "Te Beata," not with the cry of enthusiasm, but with the smile of sympathy....

[Footnote A: The population now (1914) is 418,000, as stated In the New Standard Dictionary.]

The Hague—in Dutch, s'Gravenhage, or s'Hage—the political capital, the Washington of Holland, Amsterdam being the New York—is a city half Dutch and half French, with broad streets and no canals; vast squares full of trees, elegant houses, splendid hotels, and a population mostly made up of the rich, nobles, officials, artists, and literati, the populace being of a more refined order than that of the other Dutch cities.

In my first turn about the town what struck me most were the new quarters, where dwells the flower of the wealthy aristocracy. In no other city, not even in the Faubourg St. Germain at Paris, did I feel myself such a very poor devil as in those streets. They are wide and straight, flanked by palaces of elegant form and delicate color, with large shutterless windows, through which can be seen the rich carpets and sumptuous furniture of the first floors. Every door is closed; and there is not a shop, nor a placard, nor a stain, nor a straw to be seen if you were to look for it with a hundred eyes. The silence was profound when I passed by. Only now and then I encountered some aristocratic equipage rolling almost noiselessly over the brick pavement, or the stiffest of lackeys stood before a door, or the blonde head of a lady was visible behind a curtain. Passing close to the windows and beholding my shabby traveling dress ruthlessly reflected in the plate-glass I experienced a certain humiliation at not having been born at least a Cavaliere, and imagined I heard low voices whispering disdainfully: "Who is that low person?"

Of the older portion of the city, the most considerable part is the Binnenhof, a group of old buildings of different styles of architecture, which looks on two sides upon vast squares, and on the third over a great marsh. In the midst of this group of palaces, towers, and monumental doors, of a medieval and sinister aspect, there is a spacious court, which is entered by three bridges and three gates. In one of these buildings resided the Stadtholders, and it is now the seat of the Second Chamber of the States General; opposite is the First Chamber, with the ministries and various other offices of public administration. The Minister of the Interior has his office in a little low black tower of the most lugubrious aspect, that hangs directly over the waters of the marsh.

The Binnenhof, the square to the west, called the Bintenhof, and another square beyond the marsh, called the Plaats, into which you enter by an old gate that once formed part of a prison, were the theaters of the most sanguinary events in the history of Holland.

In the Binnenhof was decapitated the venerated Van Olden Barneveldt, the second founder of the republic, the most illustrious victim of that ever-recurring struggle between the burgher aristocracy and the Statholderate, between the republican and the monarchical principle, which worked so miserably in Holland. The scaffold was erected in front of the edifice where the States General sat. Opposite is the tower from which it is said that Maurice of Orange, himself unseen, beheld the last moments of his enemy.

The finest ornament of the Hague is its forest; a true wonder of Holland, and one of the most magnificent promenades in the world. It is a wood of alder-trees, oaks, and the largest beeches that are to be found in Europe, on the eastern side of the city, a few paces from the last fringe of houses, and measuring about one French league in circuit; a truly delightful oasis in the midst of the melancholy Dutch plains. As you enter it, little Swiss chalets find kiosks, scattered here and there among the first trees, seem to have strayed and lost themselves in an endless and solitary forest. The trees are as thickly set as a cane-brake, and the alleys vanish in dark perspective.

There are lakes and canals almost hidden under the verdure of their banks; rustic bridges, deserted paths, dim recesses, darkness cool and deep, in which one breathes the air of virgin nature, and feels oneself far from the noises of the world. This wood, like that of Haarlem, is said to be the remains of an immense forest that covered, in ancient times, almost all the coast, and is respected by the Dutch people as a monument of their national history.


[Footnote A: From "Holland of To-day."]


A few minutes bring us from Leyden to Haarlem by the railway. It crosses an isthmus between the sea and a lake which covered the whole country between Leyden, Haarlem, and Amsterdam till 1839, when it became troublesome, and the States-General forthwith, after the fashion of Holland, voted its destruction. Enormous engines were at once employed to drain it by pumping the water into canals, which carried it to the sea, and the country was the richer by a new province.

Haarlem, on the river Spaarne, stands out distinct in recollection from all other Dutch towns, for it has the most picturesque market-place in Holland—the Groote Markt—surrounded by quaint houses of varied outline, amid which rises the Groote Kerk of S. Bavo, a noble cruciform fifteenth-century building. The interior, however, is as bare and hideous as all other Dutch churches. It contains a monument to the architect Conrad, designer of the famous locks of Katwijk, "the defender of Holland against the fury of the sea and the power of tempests." Behind the choir is the tomb of the poet Bilderijk, who only died in 1831, and near this the grave of Laurenz Janzoom—the Coster or Sacristan—who is asserted in his native town, but never believed outside it, to have been the real inventor of printing, as he is said to have cut out letters in wood, and taken impressions from them in ink, as early as 1423. His partizans also maintain that while he was attending a midnight mass, praying for patience to endure the ill-treatment of his enemies, all his implements were stolen, and that when he found this out on his return he died of grief.

It is further declared that the robber was Faust of Mayence, the partner of Gutenburg, and that it was thus that the honor of the invention passed from Holland to Germany where Gutenberg produced his invention of movable type twelve years later. There is a statue of the Coster in front of the church, and, on its north side, his house is preserved and adorned with his bust.

Among a crowd of natives with their hats on, talking in church as in the market-place, we waited to hear the famous organ of Christian Muller (1735-38), and grievously were we disappointed with its discordant noises. All the men smoked in church, and this we saw repeatedly; but it would be difficult to say where we ever saw a Dutchman with a pipe out of his mouth. Every man seemed to be systematically smoking away the few wits he possest.

Opposite the Groote Kerk is the Stadhuis, an old palace of the Counts of Holland remodeled. It contains a delightful little gallery of the works of Franz Hals, which at once transports the spectator into the Holland of two hundred years ago—such is the marvelous variety of life and vigor imprest into its endless figures of stalwart officers and handsome young archers pledging each other at banquet tables and seeming to welcome the visitor with jovial smiles as he enters the chamber, or of serene old ladies, "regents" of hospitals, seated at their council boards. The immense power of the artist is shown in nothing so much as in the hands, often gloved, dashed in with instantaneous power, yet always having the effect of the most consummate finish at a distance. Behind one of the pictures is the entrance to the famous "secret-room of Haarlem," seldom seen, but containing an inestimable collection of historic relics of the time of the famous siege of Leyden.

April and May are the best months for visiting Haarlem, which is the bulb nursery garden of the world. "Oignons a fleurs" are advertised for sale everywhere. Tulips are more cultivated than any other flower, as ministering most of the national craving for color; but times are changed since a single bulb of the tulip "L'Amiral Liefkenshoch" sold for 4,500 florins, one of "Viceroy" for 4,200, and one of "Semper Augustus" for 13,000.


[Footnote A: From "Holland of To-Day." By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the author and of the publishers, Moffat, Yard & Co. Copyright, 1909.]


Let us go down to the North Sea and see how the Dutch people enjoy themselves in the summer. Of course the largest of the watering-places in the Netherlands is Scheveningen, and it has a splendid bathing beach which makes it an attractive resort for fashionable Germans and Hollanders, and for summer travelers from all over the world. At the top of the long dyke is a row of hotels and restaurants, and when one reaches this point after passing through the lovely old wood of stately trees one is ushered into the twentieth century, for here all is fashion and gay life, yet with a character all its own.

Along the edge of the beach are the bathing machines in scores, and behind them are long lines of covered wicker chairs of peculiar form, each with its foot-stool, where one may sit, shaded, from the sun and sheltered from the wind, and read, chat or doze by the hour. Bath women are seen quaintly clad with their baskets of bathing dresses and labeled with the signs bearing their names, such as Trintje or Netje; everywhere there are sightseers, pedlers calling their wares, children digging in the sand, strolling players performing and the sound of bands of music in the distance. So there is no lack of amusement here during the season.

The spacious Kurhaus with its verandas and Kursaal, which is large enough to accommodate 2,500 people, is in the center of the dike. There are concerts every evening, and altho the town is filled with hotels, during the months of June, July, August, and September they are quite monopolized by the Hollanders and the prices are very high.

The magnificent pier is 450 yards long. The charges for bathing are very moderate, varying from twenty cents for a small bathing box to fifty cents for a large one, including the towels. Bathing costumes range from five to twenty-five cents. The tickets are numbered, and as soon as a machine is vacant a number is called by the "bath man" and the holder of the corresponding number claims the machine. The basket chairs cost for the whole day twenty cents, Dutch money. One may obtain a subscription to the "Kurhaus" at a surprisingly reasonable rate for the day, week or season. There is a daily orchestra; ballet and operatic concerts once a week; dramatic performances and frequent hops throughout the season.

There is a local saying that when good Dutchmen die they go to Scheveningen, and this is certainly their heaven. To stand on the pier on a fine day during the season looking down on these long lines of wicker chairs, turned seaward, is an astonishing sight. They are shaped somewhat like huge snail-shells, and around these the children delight to dig in the sand, throwing up miniature dunes around one. Perhaps no seashore in the world has been painted so much as Scheveningen. Mesdag, Maris, Alfred Stevens, to name only a few of the artists, have found here themes for many paintings, and the scene is a wonderful one when the homing fleet of "Boms," as the fishing-boats are called, appears in the offing to be welcomed by the fisherwomen. There are other smaller watering-places on the coast, but Scheveningen is unique.

In the little fishing town itself, the scene on the return of the men is very interesting. Women and children are busily hurrying about from house to house, and everywhere in the little streets are strange signs chalked up on the shutters, such as "water en vuur te koop," that is water and fire for sale; and here are neatly painted buckets of iron, each having a kettle of boiling water over it and a lump of burning turf at the bottom. Fish is being cleaned and the gin shops are well patronized, for it seems a common habit in this moist northern climate frequently to take "Een sneeuw-balletje" of gin and sugar, which does not taste at all badly, be it said. All sorts of strange-looking people are met in the little narrow street, and all doing strange-looking things, but with the air of its being in no wise unusual with them. All in all, Scheveningen is an entertaining spot in which to linger.


[Footnote A: From "Sketches in Holland and Scandinavia."]


An excursion must be made to Delft, only twenty minutes distant from The Hague by rail. Pepys calls it "a most sweet town, with bridges and a river in every street," and that is a tolerably accurate description. It seems thinly inhabited, and the Dutch themselves look upon it as a place where one will die of ennui. It has scarcely changed with two hundred years. The view of Delft by Van der Meer in the Museum at The Hague might have been painted yesterday. All the trees are dipt, for in artificial Holland every work of Nature is artificialized. At certain seasons, numbers of storks may be seen upon the chimney-tops, for Delft is supposed to be the stork town par excellence. Near the shady canal Oude Delft is a low building, once the Convent of St. Agata, with an ornamental door surmounted by a relief, leading into a courtyard. It is a common barrack now, for Holland, which has no local histories, has no regard whatever for its historic associations or monuments. Yet this is the greatest shrine of Dutch history, for it is here that William the Silent died.

Philip II. had promised 25,000 crowns of gold to any one who would murder the Prince of Orange. An attempt had already been made, but had failed, and William refused to take any measures for self-protection, saying, "It is useless: my years are in the hands of God; if there is a wretch who has no fear of death, my life is in his hand, however I may guard it."

At length, a young man of seven-and-twenty appeared at Delft, who gave himself out to be one Guyon, a Protestant, son of Pierre Guyon, executed at Besancon for having embraced Calvinism, and declared that he was exiled for his religion. Really he was Balthazar Gerard, a bigoted Catholic, but his conduct in Holland soon procured him the reputation of an evangelical saint.

The Prince took him into his service and sent him to accompany a mission from the States of Holland to the Court of France, whence he returned to bring the news of the death of the Duke of Anjou to William. At that time the Prince was living with his court in the convent of St. Agata, where he received Balthazar alone in his chamber. The moment was opportune, but the would-be assassin had no arms ready. William gave him a small sum of money and bade him hold himself in readiness to be sent back to France.

With the money Balthazar bought two pistols from a soldier (who afterward killed himself when he heard the use which was made of the purchase). On the next day, June 10, 1584, Balthazar returned to the convent as William was descending the staircase to dinner, with his fourth wife, Louise de Coligny (daughter of the Admiral who fell in the massacre of St. Bartholomew), on his arm. He presented his passport and begged the Prince to sign it, but was told to return later. At dinner the Princess asked William who was the young man who had spoken to him, for his expression was the most terrible she had ever seen.

The Prince laughed, said it was Guyon, and was as gay as usual. Dinner being over, the family party were about to remount the staircase. The assassin was waiting in a dark corner at the foot of the stairs, and as William passed he discharged a pistol with three balls and fled. The Prince staggered, saying, "I am wounded; God have mercy upon me and my poor people." His sister Catherine van Schwartz-bourg asked, "Do you trust in Jesus Christ?" He said, "Yes," with a feeble voice, sat down upon the stairs, and died.

Balthazar reached the rampart of the town in safety, hoping to swim to the other side of the moat, where a horse awaited him. But he had dropt his hat and his second pistol in his flight, and so he was traced and seized before he could leap from the wall.

Amid horrible tortures, he not only confest, but continued to triumph in his crime. His judges believed him to be possest of the devil. The next day he was executed. His right hand was burned off in a tube of red-hot iron; the flesh of his arms and legs was torn off with red-hot pincers; but he never made a cry. It was not till his breast was cut open, and his heart torn out and flung in his face, that he expired. His head was then fixt on a pike, and his body, cut into four quarters, exposed on the four gates of the town.

Close to the Prinsenhof is the Oude Kerk with a leaning tower. It is arranged like a very ugly theater inside, but contains, with other tombs of celebrities, the monument of Admiral van Tromp, 1650—"Martinus Harberti Trompius"—whose effigy lies upon his back, with swollen feet. It was this Van Tromp who defeated the English fleet under Blake, and perished, as represented on the monument, in an engagement off Scheveningen. It was he who, after his victory over the English, caused a broom to be hoisted at his mast-head to typify that he had swept the Channel clear of his enemies.


[Footnote A: From "Holland and Its People." Translated by Caroline Tilton. By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, G.P. Putnam's Sons. Copyright, 1880.]


Leyden, the antique Athens of the north, the Saragossa of the Low Countries, the oldest and most illustrious of the daughters of Holland, is one of those cities which make you thoughtful upon first entering them, and are remembered for a long time afterward with a certain impression of sadness.

I had hardly arrived when the chill of a dead city seemed to fall upon me. The old Rhine, which crosses Leyden, dividing it into many islets joined together by one hundred and fifty stone bridges, forms wide canals and basins which contain no ship or boat, and the city seems rather invaded by the waters than merely crossed by them. The principal streets are very broad and flanked by rows of old blockhouses with the usual pointed gables, and the few people seen in the streets and squares are like the survivors of a city depopulated by the plague.

In the smaller streets you walk upon long tracts of grass, between houses with closed doors and windows, in a silence as profound as that of those fabled cities where all the inhabitants are sunk in a supernatural sleep. You pass over bridges overgrown with weeds, and long canals covered with a green carpet, through small squares that seem like convent courtyards; and then, suddenly, you reach a broad thoroughfare, like the streets of Paris; from which you again penetrate into a labyrinth of narrow alleys. From bridge to bridge, from canal to canal, from island to island, you wander for hours seeking for the life and movement of the ancient Leyden, and finding only solitude, silence, and the waters which reflect the melancholy majesty of the fallen city.

In 1573 the Spaniards, led by Valdez, laid siege to Leyden. In the city there were only some volunteer soldiers. The military command was given to Van der Voes, a valiant man, and a Latin poet of some renown. Van der Werf was burgomaster. In brief time the besiegers had constructed more than sixty forts in all the places where it was possible to penetrate into the city by sea or land, and Leyden was completely isolated. But the people of Leyden did not lose heart. William of Orange had sent them word to hold out for three months, within which time he would succor them, for on the fate of Leyden depended that of Holland; and the men of Leyden had promised to resist to the last extremity....

The Prince of Orange received the news of the safety of the city at Delft, in church, where he was present at divine service. He sent the message at once to the preacher, and the latter announced it to the congregation, who received it with shouts of joy. Altho only just recovered from his illness, and the epidemic still raging at Leyden, William would see at once his dear and valorous city. He went there; his entry was a triumph; his majestic and serene aspect put new heart into the people; his words made them forget all they had suffered. To reward Leyden for her heroic defense, he left her her choice between exemption from certain imposts or the foundation of a university. Leyden chose the university.

How this university answered to the hopes of Leyden, it is superfluous to say. Everybody knows how the States of Holland with their liberal offers drew learned men from every country; how philosophy, driven out of France, took refuge there; how Leyden was for a long time the securest citadel for all men who were struggling for the triumph of human reason; how it became at length the most famous school in Europe. The actual university is in an ancient convent. One can not enter without a sentiment of profound respect the great hall of the Academic Senate, where are seen the portraits of all the professors who have succeeded each other from the foundation of the university up to the present day.


[Footnote A: From "Sketches in Holland and Scandinavia."]


Our morning at Dortrecht was very delightful, and it is a thoroughly charming place. Passing under a dark archway in a picturesque building of Charles V., opposite the hotel, we found ourselves at once on the edge of an immense expanse of shimmering river, with long, rich meadows beyond, between which the wide flood breaks into three different branches. Red and white sails flit down them. Here and there rises a line of pollard willows or clipt elms, and now and then a church spire. On the nearest shore an ancient windmill, colored in delicate tints of gray and yellow, surmounts a group of white buildings.

On the left is a broad esplanade of brick, lined with ancient houses, and a canal with a bridge, the long arms of which are ready to open at a touch and give a passage to the great yellow-masted barges, which are already half intercepting the bright red house-fronts ornamented with stone, which belong to some public buildings facing the end of the canal. With what a confusion of merchandise are the boats laden, and how gay is the coloring, between the old weedy posts to which they are moored!

It was from hence that Isabella of France, with Sir John de Hainault and many other faithful knights set on their expedition against Edward II. and the government of the Spencers.

From the busy port, where nevertheless they are dredging, we cross another bridge and find ourselves in a quietude like that of a cathedral close in England. On one side is a wide pool half covered with floating timber, and, in the other half, reflecting like a mirror the houses on the opposite shore, with their bright gardens of lilies and hollyhocks, and trees of mountain ash, which bend their masses of scarlet berries to the still water. Between the houses are glints of blue river and of inevitable windmills on the opposite shore. And all this we observe standing in the shadow of a huge church, the Groote Kerk, with a nave of the fourteenth century, and a choir of the fifteenth and a gigantic trick tower, in which three long Gothic arches, between octagonal tourelles, enclose several tiers of windows. At the top is a great clock, and below the church a grove of elms, through which fitful sunlight falls on the grass and the dead red of the brick pavement (so grateful to feet sore with the sharp stones of other Dutch cities), where groups of fishermen are collecting in their blue shirts and white trousers.

There is little to see inside this or any other church in Holland; travelers will rather seek for the memorials at the Kloveniers Doelen, of the famous Synod of Dort, which was held 1618-19, in the hope of effecting a compromise between the Gomarists, or disciples of Calvin, and the Arminians who followed Zwingli, and who had recently obtained the name of Remonstrants from the "remonstrance" which they had addrest eight years before in defense of their doctrines. The Calvinists held that the greater part of mankind was excluded from grace, which the Arminians denied; but at the Synod of Dort the Calvinists proclaimed themselves as infallible as the Pope, and their resolutions became the law of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Arminians were forthwith outlawed; a hundred ministers who refused to subscribe to the dictates of the Synod were banished; Hugo Grotius and Rombout Hoogerbeets were imprisoned for life at Loevestein; the body of the secretary Ledenberg, was hung; and Van Olden Barneveldt, the friend of William the Silent, was beheaded in his seventy-second year....

Through the street of wine—Wijnstraat—built over stonehouses used for the staple, we went to the museum to see the pictures. There were two schools of Dortrecht. Jacob Geritee Cuyp (1575); Albert Cuyp (1605), Ferdinand Bol (1611), Nicolas Maas (1632), and Schalken (1643) belonged to the former; Arend de Gelder, Arnold Houbraken, Dirk Stoop, and Ary Scheffer are of the latter. Sunshine and glow were the characteristics of the first school, grayness and sobriety of the second. But there are few good pictures at Dort now, and some of the best works of Cuyp are to be found in our National Gallery, [London] executed at his native place and portraying the great brick tower of the church in the golden haze of evening, seen across rich pastures, where the cows are lying deep in the meadow grass. The works of Ary Scheffer are now the most interesting pictures in the Dortrecht Gallery. Of the subject, "Christus Consolator," there are two representations. In the more striking of these the pale Christ is seated among the sick, sorrowful, blind, maimed, and enslaved, who are all stretching their hands to Him. Beneath is the tomb which the artist executed for his mother, Cornelia Scheffer, whose touching figure is represented lying with outstretched hands, in the utmost abandonment of repose.


[Footnote A: From "Holland and Its People." Translated by Caroline Tilton. By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, G.P. Putnam's Sons. Copyright, 1880.]


This great basin of the North Sea, which bathes five provinces and has an extent of more than seven hundred square kilometers, six hundred years ago was not in existence. North Holland touched Friesland, and where the gulf now extends there was a vast region sprinkled with fresh-water lakes, the largest of which, the Flevo, mentioned by Tacitus, was separated from the sea by a fertile and populous isthmus. Whether the sea by its own force broke through the natural dikes of the region, or whether the sinking of the land left it free to invasion, is not certainly known. The great transformation was completed during the course of the thirteenth century.

About the formation of this gulf there has collected a varied and confused history of cities destroyed and people drowned, to which has been added in later times another history, of new cities rising on new shores, becoming powerful and famous, and being in their turn reduced to poor and mean villages, with streets overgrown with grass, and sand-choked ports. Records of great calamities, wonderful traditions, fantastic horrors, strange usages and customs, are found upon the waters and about the shores of this peculiar sea, born but yesterday, and already encircled with ruins and condemned to disappear; and a month's voyage would not suffice to gather up the chief of them; but the thought alone of beholding from a distance those decrepit cities, those mysterious islands, those fatal sand-banks, excited my imagination....

Marken is as famous among the islands of the Zuyder Zee as Broek is among the villages of Holland; but with all its fame, and altho distant but one hour by boat from the coast, few are the strangers, and still fewer the natives who visit it. So said the captain as he pointed out the lighthouse of the little island, and added that in his opinion the reason was, that when a stranger arrived at Marken, even if he were a Dutchman, he was followed by a crowd of boys, watched, and commented upon as if he were a man fallen from the moon. This unusual curiosity is explained by a description of the island. It is a bit of land about three thousand meters in length and one thousand in width, which was detached from the continent in the thirteenth century, and remains to this day, in the manners, and customs of its inhabitants, exactly as it was six centuries ago.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse