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"We saw you were not very religious," said one of the old ladies, with
a red, wrinkled, good-humored face, "by your behavior yesterday in

And yet we did not laugh and talk as we used at college, but were
profoundly affected by the scene that we saw there. It was a fête-day;
a work of Mozart was sung in the evening - not well sung, and yet so
exquisitely tender and melodious, that it brought tears into our eyes.
There were not above twenty people in the church; all, save three or
four, were women in long black cloaks. I took them for nuns at first.
They were, however, the common people of the town, very poor indeed,
doubtless, for the priest's box that was brought round was not
added to by most of them, and their contributions were but two-cent
pieces - five of these go to a penny; but we know the value of such,
and can tell the exact worth of a poor woman's mite!

The box-bearer did not seem at first willing to accept our
donation - we were strangers and heretics; however, I held out my hand,
and he came perforce as it were. Indeed it had only a franc in it; but
"que voulez vous?" I had been drinking a bottle of Rhine wine that
day, and how was I to afford more? The Rhine wine is dear in this
country, and costs four francs a bottle.

Well, the service proceeded. Twenty poor women, two Englishmen, four
ragged beggars, cowering on the steps; and there was the priest at the
altar, in a great robe of gold and damask, two little boys in white
surplices serving him, holding his robe as he rose and bowed, and the
money-gatherer swinging his censer, and filling the little chapel with

The music pealed with wonderful sweetness; you could see the prim
white heads of the nuns in their gallery. The evening light streamed
down upon old statues of saints and carved brown stalls, and lighted
up the head of the golden-haired Magdalen in a picture of the
entombment of Christ. Over the gallery, and, as it were, a kind
protectress to the poor below, stood the statue of the Virgin.


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


Flanders owes everything to its water communications. At the junction
of the Schelde with the Lys and Lei, there grew up in the very early
Middle Ages a trading town, named Gent in Flemish, and Gand in French,
but commonly Anglicized as Ghent. It lay on a close network of rivers
and canals, formed partly by these two main streams, and partly by the
minor channels of the Lieve and the Moere, which together intersect it
into several islands.

Such a tangle of inland waterways, giving access to the sea and to
Bruges, Courtrai, and Tournai, as well as less directly to Antwerp
and Brussels, ensured the rising town in early times considerable
importance. It formed the center of a radiating commerce. Westward,
its main relations were with London and English wool ports; eastward
with Cologne, Maastricht, the Rhine towns, and Italy.

Ghent was always the capital of East Flanders, as Bruges or Ypres were
of the Western province; and after the Counts lost possession of
Arras and Artois, it became in the thirteenth century their principal
residence and the metropolis of the country....

Early in the fourteenth century, the burghers of Ghent, under their
democratic chief, Jacob or Jacques Van Artevelde, attained practical
independence. Till 1322, the counts and people of Flanders had been
united in their resistance to the claims of France; but with the
accession of Count Louis of Nevers, the aspect of affairs changed.
Louis was French by education, sympathies, and interests, and
artistocratic by nature; he sought to curtail the liberties of the
Flemish towns, and to make himself despotic. The wealthy and populous
burgher republics resisted and in 1337 Van Artevelde was appointed
Captain of Ghent. Louis fled to France and asked the aid of Philip of

Thereupon, Van Artevelde made himself the ally of Edward III. of
England, then beginning his war with France; but as the Flemings did
not like entirely to cast off their allegiance - a thing repugnant to
medieval sentiment - Van Artevelde persuaded Edward to put forward his
trumped-up claim to the crown of France, and thus induced the towns
to transfer their fealty from Philip to his English rival. It was
therefore in his character as King of France that Edward came to
Flanders. The alliance thus formed between the great producer of raw
wool, England, and the great manufacturer of woolen goods, Ghent,
proved of immense importance to both parties.

But as Count Louis sided with Philip of Valois, the breach between the
democracy of Ghent and its nominal soverign now became impassable. Van
Artevelde held supreme power in Ghent and Flanders for nine years - the
golden age of Flemish commerce - and was treated on equal terms by
Edward, who stopt at Ghent as his guest for considerable periods. But
he was opposed by a portion of the citizens, and his suggestion that
the Black Prince, son of Edward III., should be elected Count
of Flanders, proved so unpopular with his enemies that he was
assassinated by one of them, Gerald Denys. The town and states
immediately repudiated the murder; and the alliance which Van
Artevelde had brought about still continued. It had far-reaching
results; the woolen industry was introduced by Edward into the Eastern
Counties of England, and Ghent had risen meanwhile to be the chief
manufacturing city of Europe.

The quarrel between the democratic weavers and their exiled counts
was still carried on by Philip van Artevelde, the son of Jacques, and
godson of Queen Philippa of England, herself a Hainaulter. Under his
rule, the town continued to increase in wealth and population. But
the general tendency of later medieval Europe toward centralized
despotisms as against urban republics was too strong in the end for
free Ghent. In 1381, Philip was appointed dictator by the democratic
party, in the war against the Count, son of his father's opponent,
whom he repelled with great slaughter in a battle near Bruges.

He then made himself Regent of Flanders. But Count Louis obtained
the aid of Charles VI. of France, and defeated and killed Philip van
Artevelde at the disastrous battle of Roosebeke in 1382. That was
practically the end of local freedom in Flanders. Tho the cities
continued to revolt against their sovereigns from time to time, they
were obliged to submit for the most part to their Count and to the
Burgundian princes who inherited from him by marriage.

The subsequent history of Ghent is that of the capital of the
Burgundian Dukes, and of the House of Austria. Here the German king,
Maximilian, afterward Emperor, married Mary of Burgundy, the heiress
of the Netherlands; and here Charles V. was born in the palace of
the Counts. It was his principal residence, and he was essentially a

The real interest of the Cathedral centers, not in St. Bavon, nor in
his picture by Rubens, but in the great polyptych of the Adoration
of the Lamb, the masterpiece of Jan van Eyck and his brother Hubert,
which forms in a certain sense the point of departure for the native
art of the Netherlands....

Stand before the west front at a little distance, to examine the
simple but massive architecture of the tower and façade. The great
portal has been robbed of the statues which once adorned its niches.
Three have been "restored"; they represent, center, the Savior; at the
left, the patron, St. Bavon, recognizable by his falcon, his sword as
duke, and his book as monk; he wears armor, with a ducal robe and cap
above it; at the right, St. John the Baptist, the earlier patron.

Then, walk to the right, round the south side, to observe the external
architecture of the nave, aisles and choir. The latter has the
characteristic rounded or apsidal termination of Continental Gothic,
whereas English Gothic usually has a square end. Enter by the south

The interior, with single aisles and short transepts (Early Gothic)
is striking for its simple dignity, its massive pillars, and its high
arches, tho the undeniably noble effect of the whole is somewhat
marred to English eyes by the unusual appearance of the unadorned
brick walls and vaulting. The pulpit, by Delvaux (1745), partly in
oak, partly in marble, represents Truth revealing the Christian Faith
to astonished Paganism, figured as an old and outworn man. It is a
model of all that should be avoided in plastic or religious art.
The screen which separates the choir from the transepts is equally
unfortunate. The apsidal end of the Choir, however, with its fine
modern stained glass, forms a very pleasing feature in the general
coup d'oeil....

The sixth chapel (of the Vydts family) contains the famous altar piece
of the Adoration of the Lamb, by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, to study
which is the chief object of a visit to Ghent. See it more than once,
and examine it carefully. Ask the sacristan to let you sit before it
for some time in quiet or he will hurry you on. You must observe it in
close detail. Taking it in its entirety, then, the altar-piece, when
opened, is a great mystical poem of the Eucharist and the Sacrifice of
the Lamb, with the Christian folk, both Church and World, adoring. The
composition contains over 200 figures. Many of them, which I have
not here identified, can be detected by a closer inspection, which,
however, I will leave to the reader.

Now, ask the sacristan to shut the wings. They are painted on the
outer side (all a copy) mainly in grisaille, or in very low tones
of color, as is usual in such cases, so as to allow the jewel-like
brilliancy of the internal picture to burst upon the observer the
moment the altar-piece is opened.

Old Ghent occupied for the most part the island which extends from the
Palais de Justice on one side to the Botanical Gardens on the other.
This island, bounded by the Lys, the Schelde, and an ancient canal,
includes almost all the principal buildings of the town, such as the
Cathedral, St. Nicholas, the Hôtel-dé-Ville, the Belfry, and St.
Jacques, as well as the chief Places, such as the Marché aux Grains,
the Marché aux Herbes, and the Marché du Vendredi. It also extends
beyond the Lys to the little island on which is situated the church of
St. Michael, and again to the islet formed between the Lieve and the
Lys, which contains the château of the Counts and the Palace Ste.

In the later middle ages, however, the town had spread to nearly its
existing extreme dimensions, and was probably more populous than at
the present moment. But its ancient fortifications have been destroyed
and their place has been taken by boulevards and canals. The line
may still be traced on the map, or walked round through a series of
shipping suburbs; but it is uninteresting to follow, a great part of
its course lying through the more squalid portions of the town.
The only remaining gate is that known as the Rabot (1489), a very
interesting and picturesque object situated in a particularly slummy

Bruges is full of memories of the Burgundian Princes. At Ghent it is
the personality of Charles V., the great emperor who cumulated in his
own person the sovereignties of Germany, the Low Countries, Spain and
Burgundy, that meets us afresh at every turn. He was born here in 1500
and baptized in a font, otherwise uninteresting, which still stands in
the north transept of the Cathedral. Ghent was really, for the greater
part of his life, his practical capital, and he never ceased to be at
heart a Ghenter.

That did not prevent the citizens from unjustly rebelling against him
in 1540, after the suppression of which revolt Charles is said to have
ascended the cathedral tower, while the executioner was putting to
death the ringleaders in the rebellion, in order to choose with his
brother Ferdinand the site for the citadel he intended to erect, to
overawe the freedom loving city. He chose the Monastery of St. Bavon
as its site, and, as we have seen, built there his colossal fortress,
now wholly demolished. The palace in which he was born and which he
inhabited frequently during life, was known as the Cour du Prince. It
stood near the Ancient Grand Béguinage, but only its name now survives
in that of a street.


[Footnote A: From "The Belgians at Home." Published by Little, Brown &


The great commercial and material prosperity of the place dates from
the commencement of the rule of the House of Burgundy. It was then,
in the fifteenth century, that the most beautiful of its many fine
buildings were erected. The Church of St. Michael and St. Gudule has
its great nave and towers dating from this period; the Hôtel de Ville,
Notre Dame du Sablon, the Nassau Palace, the Palace of the Dukes of
Brabant, and many other buildings were commenced then. Manufactures
and commerce commenced to flourish, while the liberties of the
municipality were extended considerably.

It was undoubtedly under the rule of Charles V. that Brussels reached
its zenith of ancient prosperity. Then, with the era of Philip II. of
Spain, came a long period of bloodshed, persecution, and misery. The
religious disputes and troubles afflicting the Netherlands had their
effect upon the life, prosperity, and happiness of the Bruxellois. The
whole country was running with blood, and ruin stalked through the
land. But during this tragic period of Netherlands' history Brussels
saw several glorious events, and did as a city more than one noble
deed. It was in Brussels that the compromise of the nobles took place,
after which those who were rebelling against the cruelties of the
Inquisition were given the name of "Gueux," which had been bestowed
upon them contemptuously by the Comte de Barlaimont.... It was
Brussels which led the revolt against the most bloodthirsty of the
rulers sent to the Netherlands by Spain, the Duke of Alva, and
successfully resisted the imposition of the notorious "twentieth
denier" tax which it was sought to impose upon it, a tax which led
ultimately to the revolt of the whole of the Belgian provinces.

Certainly this ancient capital of the Province of Brabant, containing
nowadays with its suburbs a population of upward of 600,000, which has
quadrupled in sixty years, has come to take its place among the most
beautiful and charming capital cities of Europe. It is undoubtedly
healthy, and there is an engaging air about Brussels which soon
impresses itself upon the foreign visitor. Added to all its many
attractions of interesting museums - the homes of wonderful and in
some cases unrivaled collections of works of art - and of historical
associations with the past, it possesses the charm of being modern in
the best sense and of being a place where one may find much that is
finest in art and music. As a home of fashion it bids fair some day
to rival Paris herself, and the shops of the Montagne de la Cour,
Boulevard Anspach, and contiguous streets are scarcely less luxurious
or exclusive than those of the Rue de la Paix or Boulevard des
Italiens in the French capital. Brussels is a city of shady
boulevards, open spaces, and pleasant parks as is Paris; and the
beautiful Bois de la Cambre on its outskirts compares very favorably
with the world-renowned Bois de Boulogne as regards rural charm and

One impression that Brussels is almost certain to make upon the
visitor is its compactness. Its population, including the outskirts,
is nowadays rather over 600,000; but it is almost impossible to
realize that nearly one-eleventh of the whole population of Belgium
is concentrated in this one city, or, as might be said, in Greater
Brussels. Perhaps the real reason of this apparent lack of size
is because there are in reality two cities, Brussels interior and
Brussels exterior. The one with a population of about 225,000; the
latter with one of about 375,000. It is with the former, of course,
that the tourist and casual visitor are chiefly concerned.

The outlying suburbs are, however, connected with the city proper by a
splendid system of steam, electric, and other trams. In fact, it may
be said that Brussels is in a sense surrounded by a group of small
towns, which tho forming part of the great city are yet independent,
and are governed very much like the various boroughs which make up
Greater London, Curhegem, St. Gilles, Ixelles, St. Josse, Ten Noodle,
Molenbeek, St. Jean, and Schaerbeek, still further out, are all in a
sense separate towns, seldom visited by, and indeed almost unknown to
the tourist.

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 Élysées, 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 Hôtel 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 Hôtel de Ville, with its late Gothic façade
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 façade 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; Blücher 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 Blücher,
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 Blücher, 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 Barême of war, Napoleon was its Michelangelo, and

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Online LibraryVariousSeeing Europe with Famous Authors, Volume 4 France and the Netherlands, Part 2 → online text (page 8 of 13)