Seeing Europe with Famous Authors, Volume 4 France and the Netherlands, Part 2 online

. (page 10 of 13)
Online LibraryVariousSeeing Europe with Famous Authors, Volume 4 France and the Netherlands, Part 2 → online text (page 10 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

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, Nôtre 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
façade 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

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

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

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

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

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


[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

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

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13

Online LibraryVariousSeeing Europe with Famous Authors, Volume 4 France and the Netherlands, Part 2 → online text (page 10 of 13)