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the Gave; a big, jolly, round man, in a sedan-chair, his hands crossed
over his belly, who looks on us with a paternal air, and reads his
newspaper; three ladies of sufficiently ripe age, very slender, very
lean, very stiff, who, for dignity's sake, set their beasts on a trot
as we draw near them. The cicisbeo is a bony cartilaginous gentleman,
fixt perpendicularly on his saddle like a telegraph-pole. We hear
a harsh clucking, as of a choked hen, and we recognize the English
tongue.

Beyond Gèdres is a wild valley called Chaos, which is well named.
After a quarter of an hour's journey there, the trees disappear, then
the juniper and the box, and finally the moss. The Gave is no longer
seen; all noises are hushed. It is a dead solitude peopled with
wrecks. The avalanches of rocks and crusht flint have come down from
the summit to the very bottom. The horrid tide, high and a quarter
of a league in length, spreads out like waves its myriads of sterile
stones, and the inclined sheet seems still to glide toward inundating
the gorge. These stones are shattered and pulverized; their living
fractures and thin, harsh points wound the eye; they are still
bruising and crushing each other. Not a bush, not a spear of grass;
the arid grayish train burns beneath a sun of brass; its débris are
scorched to a dull hue, as in a furnace.

A hundred paces further on, the aspect of the valley becomes
formidable. Troops of mammoths and mastadons in stone lie crouching
over the eastern declivity, one above another, and heaped up over the
whole slope. These colossal ridges shine with a tawny hue like iron
rust; the most enormous of them drink the water of the river at their
base. They look as if warming their bronzed skin in the sun, and
sleep, turned over, stretched out on their side, resting in all
attitudes, and always gigantic and frightful. Their deformed paws are
curled up; their bodies half buried in the earth; their monstrous
backs rest one upon another. When you enter into the midst of the
prodigious band, the horizon disappears, the blocks rise fifty feet
into the air; the road winds painfully among the overhanging masses;
men and horses seem but dwarfs; these rusted edges mount in stages to
the very summit, and the dark hanging army seems ready to fall on the
human insects which come to trouble its sleep.

Once upon a time, the mountain, in a paroxysm of fever, shook its
summits like a cathedral that is falling in. A few points resisted,
and their embattled turrets are drawn out in line on the crest; but
their layers are dislocated, their sides creviced, their points
jagged. The whole shattered ridge totters. Beneath them the rock fails
suddenly in a living and still bleeding wound. The splinters are lower
down, strewn over the declivity. The tumbled rocks are sustained one
upon another, and man to-day passes in safety amidst the disaster.

But what a day was that of the ruin: It is not very ancient, perhaps
of the sixth century, and the year of the terrible earthquake told of
by Gregory of Tours. If a man could without perishing have seen the
summits split, totter and fall, the two seas of rock come bounding
into the gorge, meet one another and grind each other amidst a shower
of sparks, he would have looked upon the grandest spectacle ever seen
by human eyes.

On the west, a perpendicular mole, crannied like an old ruin, lifts
itself straight up toward the sky. A leprosy of yellowish moss has
incrusted its pores, and has clothed it all over with a sinister
livery. This livid robe upon this parched stone has a splendid effect.
Nothing is uglier than the chalky flints that are drawn from the
quarry; just dug up, they seem cold and damp in their whitish shroud;
they are not used to the sun; they make a contrast with the rest. But
the rock that has lived in the air for ten thousand years, where the
light has every day laid on and melted its metallic tints, is the
friend of the sun, and carries its mantle upon its shoulders; it
has no need of a garment of verdure; if it suffers from parasitic
vegetations, it sticks them to its sides and imprints them with its
colors. The threatening tones with which it clothes itself suits the
free sky, the naked landscape, the powerful heat that environs it; it
is alive like a plant; only it is of another age, one more severe and
stronger than that in which we vegetate.

Gavarnie is a very ordinary village, commanding a view of the
amphitheater we are come to see. After you have left it, it is still
necessary to go three miles through a melancholy plain, half buried in
sand by the winter inundations; the waters of the Gave are muddy and
dull; a cold wind whistles from the amphitheater; the glaciers, strewn
with mud and stones, are stuck to the declivity like patches of dirty
plaster. The mountains are bald and ravined by cascades; black cones
of scattered firs climb them like routed soldiers; a meager and wan
turf wretchedly clothes their mutilated heads. The horses ford the
Gave stumblingly, chilled by the water coming from the snows. In this
wasted solitude you meet, all of a sudden, the most smiling parterre.
A throng of the lovely iris crowds itself into the bed of a dried
torrent; the sun stripes with rays of gold their velvety petals of
tender blue; and the eye follows over the whole plain the folds of the
rivulet of flowers.

We climb a last eminence, sown with iris and with stones. There is a
hut where you breakfast and leave the horses. You arm yourself with a
stout stick, and descend upon the glaciers of the amphitheater.

These glaciers are very ugly, very dirty, very uneven, very slippery;
at every step you run the risk of falling, and if you fall, it is on
sharp stones or into deep holes. They look very much like heaps of old
plaster-work, and those who have admired them must have a stock of
admiration for sale. The water has pierced them so that you walk
upon bridges of snow. These bridges have the appearance of kitchen
air-holes; the water is swallowed up in a very low archway, and, when
you look closely, you get a distinct sight of a black hole.

After the glaciers we find a sloping esplanade; we climb for ten
minutes bruising our feet upon fragments of sharp rock. Since leaving
the hut we have not lifted our eyes, in order to restore for ourselves
an unbroken sensation. Here at last we look.

A wall of granite crowned with snow hollows itself before us in a
gigantic amphitheater. This amphitheater is twelve hundred feet high,
nearly three miles in circumference, three tiers of perpendicular
walls, and in each tier thousands of steps. The valley ends there; the
wall is a single block and impregnable. The other summits might fall,
but its massive layers would not be moved. The mind is overwhelmed
by the idea of a stability that can not be shaken and an assured
eternity. There is the boundary of two countries and two races; this
it is that Roland wanted to break, when with a sword-stroke he opened
a breach in the summit. But the immense wound disappeared in the
immensity of the unconquered wall. Three sheets of snow are spread out
over the three tiers of layers.

The sun falls with all its force upon this virginal robe without being
able to make it shine. It preserves its dead whiteness. All this
grandeur is austere; the air is chilled beneath the noonday rays;
great, damp shadows creep along the foot of the walls. It is the
everlasting winter and the nakedness of the desert. The sole
inhabitants are the cascades assembled to form the Gave. The
streamlets of water come by thousands from the highest layer, leap
from step to step, cross their stripes of foam, unite and fall by a
dozen brooks that slide from the last layer in flaky streaks to lose
themselves in the glaciers of the bottom.

The thirteenth cascade on the left is twelve hundred and sixty-six
feet high. It falls slowly, like a dropping cloud, or the unfolding of
a muslin veil; the air softens its fall; the eye follows complacently
the graceful undulation of the beautiful airy veil. It glides the
length of the rock, and seems to float rather than to fall. The sun
shines, through its plume, with the softest and loveliest splendor.
It reaches the bottom like a bouquet of slender waving feathers, and
springs backward in a silver dust; the fresh and transparent mist
swings about the rock it bathes, and its rebounding train mounts
lightly along the courses. No stir in the air; no noise, no living
creature in the solitude. You hear only the monotonous murmur of the
cascades, resembling the rustle of the leaves that the wind stirs in
the forest.

On our return, we seated ourselves at the door of the hut. It is a
poor, squat little house, heavily supported upon thick walls; the
knotty joists of the ceiling retain their bark. It is indeed necessary
that it should be able to stand out alone against the snows of winter.
You find everywhere the imprint of the terrible months it has gone
through. Two dead fir-trees stand erect at the door. The garden, three
feet square, is defended by enormous walls of piled-up slates. The low
and black stable leaves neither foot-hold nor entry for the winds. A
lean colt was seeking a little grass among the stones. A small bull,
with surly air, looked at us out of the sides of his eyes; the
animals, the trees and the site, wore a threatening or melancholy
aspect. But in the clefts of a rock were growing some admirable
buttercups, lustrous and splendid, which looked as if painted by a ray
of sunshine.

At the village we met our companions of the journey who had sat down
there. The good tourists get fatigued, stop ordinarily at the inn,
take a substantial dinner, have a chair brought to the door, and
digest while looking at the amphitheater, which from there appears
about as high as a house. After this they return, praising the sublime
sight, and very glad that they have come to the Pyrenees.




VI

BELGIUM




BRUGES[A]

[Footnote A: From "Cities of Belgium."]

BY GRANT ALLEN


The Rhine constituted the great central waterway of medieval Europe;
the Flemish towns were its ports and its manufacturing centers. They
filled in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries much the same place
that Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester, and Birmingham fill in the
nineteenth. Many causes contributed to this result.

Flanders, half independent under its own counts, occupied a middle
position, geographically and politically, between France and the
Empire; it was comparatively free from the disastrous wars which
desolated both these countries, and in particular it largely escaped
the long smouldering quarrel between French and English, which so long
retarded the development of the former. Its commercial towns, again,
were not exposed on the open sea to the attacks of pirates or hostile
fleets, but were safely ensconced in inland flats, reached by rivers
or canals, almost inaccessible to maritime enemies. Similar conditions
elsewhere early ensured peace and prosperity for Venice.

The canal system of Holland and Belgium began to be developed as early
as the twelfth century (at first for drainage), and was one leading
cause of the commercial importance of the Flemish cities in the
fourteenth. In so flat a country, locks are all but unnecessary. The
two towns which earliest rose to greatness in the Belgian area were
thus Bruges and Ghent; they possest in the highest degree the combined
advantages of easy access to the sea and comparative inland security.

Bruges, in particular, was one of the chief stations of the Hanseatic
League, which formed an essentially commercial alliance for the mutual
protection of the northern trading centers. By the fourteenth century
Bruges had thus become in the north what Venice was in the south,
the capital of commerce. Trading companies from all the surrounding
countries had their "factories" in the town, and every European king
or prince of importance kept a resident minister accredited to the
merchant republic.

Some comprehension of the mercantile condition of Europe in general
during the Middle Ages is necessary in order to understand the early
importance and wealth of the Flemish cities. Southern Europe, and in
particular Italy, was then still the seat of all higher civilization,
more especially of the trade in manufactured articles and objects of
luxury. Florence, Venice and Genoa ranked as the polished and learned
cities of the world. Further east, again, Constantinople still
remained in the hands of the Greek emperors, or, during the Crusades,
of their Latin rivals. A brisk trade existed via the Mediterranean
between Europe and India or the nearer East. This double stream of
traffic ran along two main routes - one, by the Rhine, from Lombardy
and Rome; the other, by sea, from Venice, Genoa, Florence,
Constantinople, the Levant, and India.

On the other hand, France was still but a half civilized country,
with few manufactures and little external trade; while England was an
exporter of raw produce, chiefly wool, like Australia in our own time.
The Hanseatic merchants of Cologne held the trade of London; those of
Wisby and Lübeck governed that of the Baltic; Bruges, as head of the
Hansea, was in close connection with all of these, as well as with
Hull, York, Novgorod, and Bergen.

The position of the Flemish towns in the fourteenth century was thus
not wholly unlike that of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston at the
present day; they stood as intermediaries between the older civilized
countries, like Italy or the Greek empire, and the newer producers of
raw material, like England, North Germany, and the Baltic towns.

In a lost corner of the great lowland flat of Flanders, defended from
the sea by an artificial dike, and at the point of intersection of an
intricate network of canals and waterways, there arose in the early
Middle Ages a trading town, known in Flemish as Brugge, in French as
Bruges (that is to say, The Bridge), from a primitive structure that
here crossed the river. A number of bridges now span the sluggish
streams. All of them open in the middle to admit the passage of
shipping.

Bruges stood originally on a little river, Reye, once navigable, now
swallowed by canals; and the Reye flowed into the Zwin, long silted
up, but then the safest harbor in the Low Countries. At first the
capital of a petty Count, this land-locked internal harbor grew in
time to be the Venice of the North, and to gather round its quays or
at its haven of Damme, the ships and merchandise of all neighboring
peoples. Already in 1200 it ranked as the central mart of the
Hanseatic League.

It was the port of entry for English wool and Russian furs: the port
of departure for Flemish broadcloths, laces, tapestries, and linens.
Canals soon connected it with Ghent, Dunkirk, Sluys, Furnes and Ypres.
Its nucleus lay in a little knot of buildings about the Grand Place
and the Hotel de Ville, stretching out to the Cathedral and the Dyver;
thence it spread on all sides till, in 1362, it filled the whole space
within the existing ramparts, now largely abandoned or given over to
fields and gardens. It was the wealthiest town of Europe, outside
Italy.

The decline of the town was due partly to the break-up of the
Hanseatic system; partly to the rise of English ports and
manufacturing towns; but still more, and especially as compared with
our Flemish cities, to the silting of the Zwin, and the want of
adaption in its waterways to the needs of great ships and modern
navigation. The old sea entrance to Bruges was through the Zwin, by
way of Sluys and Kadzand; up that channel came the Venetian merchant
fleet and the Flemish galleys, to the port of Damme. By 1470, it
ceased to be navigable for large vessels.

The later canal is still open, but as it passes through what is now
Dutch territory, it is little used; nor is it adapted to any save
ships of comparatively small burden. Another canal, suitable for
craft of 500 tons, leads through Belgian territory to Ostend; but few
vessels now navigate it, and those for the most part only for local
trade. The town has shrunk to half its former size, and has only a
quarter of its medieval population.

The commercial decay of Bruges, however, has preserved its charm for
the artist, the archeologist, and the tourist; its sleepy streets and
unfrequented quays are among the most picturesque sights of bustling
and industrial modern Belgium. The great private palaces, indeed,
are almost all destroyed; but many public buildings remain, and the
domestic architecture is quaint and pretty.

Bruges was the mother of arts in Flanders: Jan van Eyck lived here
from 1428 to 1440. Memling, probably from 1477 till 1494. Caxton, the
first English printer, lived as a merchant at Bruges, in the Domus
Anglorum or English factory, from 1446 to 1476, and probably put in
the press here the earliest English book printed, tho strong grounds
have been adduced in favor of Cologne. Colard Mansion, the great
printer of Bruges at that date, was one of the leaders in the art of
typography....

The very tall square tower which faces you as you enter the Grand
Place is the Belfry, the center and visible embodiment of the town of
Bruges. The Grand Place itself was the forum and meeting place of the
soldier citizens, who were called to arms by the chimes in the Belfry.
The center of the place is therefore appropriately occupied by a
colossal statue group, modern, of Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breidel,
the leaders of the citizens of Bruges at the Battle of the Spurs
before the walls of Courtrai in 1302, a conflict which secured the
freedom of Flanders from the interference of the Kings of France. The
group is by Devigne. The reliefs on the pedestal represent scenes from
the battle and its antecedents.

The majestic Belfry itself represents the first beginnings of freedom
in Bruges. Leave to erect such a bell-tower, both as a mark of
independence and to summon the citizens to arms, was one of the first
privileges which every Teutonic trading town desired to wring from its
feudal lord. This brick tower, the pledge of municipal rights, was
begun in 1291, to replace an earlier one of wood, and finished about a
hundred years later; the octagon, in stone at the summit, which holds
the bell, having been erected in 1393-96.

It consists of three stories, the two lower of which are square and
flanked by balconies with turrets; the windows below are of the simple
early Gothic style, but show a later type of architecture in the
octagon. The niche in the center contains the Virgin and Child, a
group restored after being destroyed by the French revolutionists.
Below it on either side are smaller figures holding escutcheons. From
the balcony between these last, the laws and the rescripts of the
counts were read aloud to the people assembled in the square.

The Belfry can be ascended by steps. Owing to the force of the wind,
it leans slightly to the southeast. The view from the top is very
extensive and striking. It embraces the greater part of the Plain of
Flanders, with its towns and villages. The country, tho quite flat,
looks beautiful when thus seen. In early times, however, the look-out
from the summit was of practical use for purposes of observation,
military or maritime. It commanded the river, the Zwin, and the sea
approach by Sluys and Damme; the course of the various canals; and the
roads to Ghent, Antwerp, Tournai, and Courtrai. The Belfry contains a
famous set of chimes, the mechanism of which may be inspected by the
visitor. He will have frequent opportunities of hearing the beautiful
and mellow carillon, perhaps to excess. The existing bells date only
from 1680: the mechanism from 1784.




A PEN PICTURE OF BRUGES[A]

[Footnote A: From "The Paris Sketch Book."]

BY WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY


It is the quaintest and prettiest of all the quaint and pretty towns I
have seen. A painter might spend months here, and wander from church
to church, and admire old towers and pinnacles, tall gables, bright
canals, and pretty little patches of green garden and moss-grown wall,
that reflect in the clear quiet water. Before the inn-window is a
garden, from which in the early morning issues a most wonderful odor
of stocks and wallflowers; next comes a road with trees of admirable
green; numbers of little children are playing in this road (the place
is so clean that they may roll on it all day without soiling
their pinafores), and on the other side of the trees are little
old-fashioned, dumpy, whitewashed, red-tiled houses.

A poorer landscape to draw never was known, nor a pleasanter to
see - the children especially, who are inordinately fat and rosy. Let
it be remembered, too, that here we are out of the country of ugly
women; the expression of the face is almost uniformly gentle and
pleasing, and the figures of the women, wrapt in long black monk-like
cloaks and hoods, very picturesque. No wonder there are so many
children: the "Guide-book" (omniscient Mr. Murray!) says there are
fifteen thousand paupers in the town, and we know how such multiply.

How the deuce do their children look so fat and rosy? By eating
dirt-pies, I suppose. I saw a couple making a very nice savory one,
and another employed in gravely sticking strips of stick betwixt the
pebbles at the house-door, and so making for herself a stately garden.
The men and women don't seem to have much more to do. There are a
couple of tall chimneys at either suburb of the town, where no doubt
manufactories are at work, but within the walls everybody seems
decently idle.

We have been, of course, abroad to visit the lions. The tower in the
Grand Place is very fine, and the bricks of which it is built do not
yield a whit in color to the best stone. The great building round this
tower is very like the pictures of the Ducal Palace at Venice; and
there is a long market area, with columns down the middle, from which
hung shreds of rather lean-looking meat, that would do wonders under
the hands of Cattermole or Haghe.

In the tower there is a chime of bells that keep ringing perpetually.
They not only play tunes of themselves, and every quarter of an hour,
but an individual performs selections from popular operas on them at
certain periods of the morning, afternoon, and evening. I have heard
to-day "Suoni la Tromba," "Son Vergin Vezzosa," from the "Puritani,"
and other airs, and very badly they were played too; for such a great
monster as a tower-bell can not be expected to imitate Madame Grisi or
even Signor Lablache. Other churches indulge in the same amusement, so
that one may come here and live in melody all day or night, like the
young woman in Moore's "Lalla Rookh."

In the matter of art, the chief attractions of Bruges are the pictures
of Memling, that are to be seen in the churches, the hospital, and the
picture-gallery of the place. There are no more pictures of Rubens to
be seen, and, indeed, in the course of a fortnight, one has had quite
enough of the great man and his magnificent, swaggering canvases.
What a difference is here with simple Memling and the extraordinary
creations of his pencil! The hospital is particularly rich in them;
and the legend there is that the painter, who had served Charles the
Bold in his war against the Swiss, and his last battle and defeat,
wandered back wounded and penniless to Bruges, and here found cure and
shelter.

This hospital is a noble and curious sight. The great hall is almost
as it was in the twelfth century; it is spanned by Saxon arches, and
lighted by a multiplicity of Gothic windows of all sizes; it is very
lofty, clean, and perfectly well ventilated; a screen runs across the
middle of the room, to divide the male from the female patients, and
we were taken to examine each ward, where the poor people seemed
happier than possibly they would have been in health and starvation
without it.

Great yellow blankets were on the iron beds, the linen was
scrupulously clean, glittering pewter-jugs and goblets stood by the
side of each patient, and they were provided with godly books (to
judge from the building), in which several were reading at leisure.
Honest old comfortable nuns, in queer dresses of blue, black, white,
and flannel, were bustling through the room, attending to the wants
of the sick. I saw about a dozen of these kind women's faces; one was
young, - all were healthy and cheerful. One came with bare blue arms
and a great pile of linen from an out-house - such a grange as Cedric
the Saxon might have given to a guest for the night. A couple were in
a laboratory, a tall, bright, clean room, 500 years old at least.


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