Major W. E Frye.

After Waterloo: Reminiscences of European Travel 1815-1819 online

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fallen into decay; its usual dullness is however just now interrupted by
the bustle of troops landing to join the allied army. Cavalry, infantry,
artillery, horses, guns, stores, etc., are landed every minute. The quays
are the only parts of this city which can boast of handsome buildings; the
fortifications seem to be much out of repair; in fact, the aggrandizement
of Antwerp occasioned necessarily the deterioration of Ostend.

The General and myself went to put up at the _Tête d'Or_, the only inn
where we could procure beds; and we embarked early next morning at the
embouchure of the canal on board of a _treckschuyt_ which conveyed us in
three hours to Bruges.

The landscape between Ostend and Bruges is extremely monotonous, it being a
uniformly flat country; yet it is pleasing to the eye at this season of the
year from the verdure of the plains, which are all appropriated to
pasturage, and from the appearance of the different villages and towns, of
which the eye can embrace a considerable number. There is a good road on
the banks of the canal, and the troops, on their line of march, enlivened
much the scene. Bruges, formerly the grand mart and emporium of the
commerce of the East, not only for the Low Countries, but for all the North
of Europe, seems, if we may judge from the state of the buildings and the
stillness that prevails, to be also in a state of decline. We however had
only time to visit the _Hotel de Ville_ and to remark the immense height of
the steeple on the _Grande Place_. We observed a number of pretty women in
the streets and in the shops employed in lace making. Bruges has been at
all times renowned for the beauty of the female sex, and this brought to my
recollection a passage in Schiller's tragedy of the _Maid of Orleans_,
wherein the Duke of Burgundy says that the greatest boast of Bruges is the
beauty of its women.

Another _treckschuyt_ was to start at twelve o'clock for Ghent; but we
preferred going by land and General Wilson hired a carriage for that
purpose. The distance is about thirty miles. The road from Bruges to Ghent
or Gand is perfectly straight, lined with trees and paved like a street.
The country is quite flat, and though there is nothing to bound the
horizon, the trees on each side of the road intercept the view.

We arrived at Ghent about six in the afternoon of the 4th and had some
difficulty in finding room, as the different hotels were filled with
officers of the allied army; but at length, after many ineffectual
applications at several, we obtained admission at the _Hotel de Flandre_,
where we took possession of a double-bedded room, the only one unoccupied.

Gand seems to be a very neat, clean and handsome city, with an air of
magnificence about it. The _Grande Place_ is very striking, and the
promenades are aligned with trees. We inspected the exterior of several
public buildings and visited the interior of several churches. In the
cathedral we had the honour of seeing at High Mass his most Christian
Majesty, Monsieur and the Comte de Blacas, Vicomte de Chateaubriand and
others, composing the Court of _notre Père de Gand_, as Louis XVIII is
humorously termed by the French, from his having fixed his head-quarters
here. A great many French officers who have followed his fortunes are also
here, but they seem principally to belong to the Gardes du Corps. A number
of military attended the service in the cathedral in order to witness the
devotions of the Bourbon family. Monsieur has all the appearance of a worn
out debauchee, and to see him with a missal in his hand and the strange
contrite face he assumes, is truly ridiculous. These princes, instigated no
doubt by the priests, make a great parade of their sanctity, for which
however those who are acquainted with their character will not give them
much credit. But religious cant is the order of the day _intra et extra
Iliacos muros_, abroad as well as in England. The King of France takes the
lead, having in view no doubt the advice of Buckingham to Richard III:

A pray'r book in your hand, my Lord, were well,
For on that ground I'll make an holy descant.

and M. de Chateaubriand will no doubt trumpet forth the devotion and
Christian humility of his master. Those, however, who are at all acquainted
with this prince's habits, and are not interested in palliating or
concealing them, insinuate that his devotions at the table are more sincere
than at the altar and that, like the Giant Margutte in the Morgante
Maggiore of Pulci, he places more faith and reliance on a cappone lesso
ossia arrosto than on the consecrated but less substantial wafer.[2]

After contemplating this edifying spectacle, we returned to our inn, and
the next morning after breakfast we set out on our journey to Bruxelles.
The road is exactly similar to that between Bruges and Gand, but the
country appears to be richer and more diversified, and many country houses
were observable on the road side. We passed thus several neat villages. At
one o'clock we stopped at Alost to refresh our horses and dine. At the
table d'hôte were a number of French officers belonging to the Gardes du
Corps. On entering into conversation with one of them, I found that he as
well as several others of them had served under Napoleon, and had even been
patronised and promoted by him; but I suppose that being the sons of the
ancient _noblesse_ they thought that gratitude to a _parvenu_ like him was
rather too plebeian a virtue. Some of them, however, with whom I conversed
after dinner seemed to regret the step they had taken. "If we are
successful," said they, "it can only be by means of the Allied Armies, and
who knows what conditions they may impose on France? If we should be
unsuccessful, we are exiled probably for life from our country." During
dinner, two pretty looking girls with musical instruments entered the hall,
and regaled our ears with singing some romances, among which were _Dunois
le Troubadour_ and _La Sentinelle_. They sang with much taste and feeling.
I surmise this is not the only profession they exercise, if I might judge
from the _doux yeux_ they occasionally directed to some of the officers.
These girls did not at least seem by their demeanour as if likely to incur
the anathema of Rinaldo in the _Orlando Furioso_:

meritamente muoro Una crudele,

but rather more disposed to

dar vita all'amator fidele.[3]

Alost is a neat, clean town or large village, and the same description will
serve for all the towns and villages in Brabant and Flanders, as they are
built on the same plan. We arrived at Bruxelles late in the evening and put
up at the _Hotel d'Angleterre_.

This morning, the General and myself went to pay our respects to the _Gran
Capitano_ of the _Holy League_, and we left our cards. He is, I hear, very
confident of the result of the campaign, and no doubt he has for him the
prayers of all the pious in England against those atheistical fellows the
French; and these prayers will surely elicit a "host of angels" to come
down to aid in the destruction of the Pandemonium of Paris where Satan's
lieutenant sits enthroned. The reflecting people here are astonished that
Napoleon does not begin the attack. The inhabitants of Belgium are in
general, from all that I can hear or see, not at all pleased with the
present order of things, and they much lament the being severed from
France. The two people, the Belgians and Hollanders, do not seem to
amalgamate; and the former, though they render ample justice to the
moderation, good sense, and beneficent intentions of the present monarch,
who is personally respected by every one, yet do not disguise their wish to
be reunited to France and do not hesitate to avow their attachment to the
Emperor Napoleon. This union does not please the Hollanders either, on
other grounds. They complain that their interests have been sacrificed
entirely to those of the house of Orange, and they say that from the
readiness they displayed in shaking off the yoke of France, and the great
weight they thereby threw into the scale, they were entitled to the
restitution of all their colonies in Asia, Africa, and America. The
colonies of the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon are what they most regret; for
these colonies in particular furnished ample employment and the means of
provision for the cadets of patrician families. If you tell them they have
acquired the Belgic provinces as an indemnification, they answer: "So much
the worse for us, for now the patronage of the colonial offices must be
divided between us and the Belgians."

The preparations for the grand conflict about to take place are carried on
with unabating activity; the conscription is rigorously enforced and every
youth capable of bearing arms is enrolled. Almost all the officers of the
Belgian army and a great proportion of the soldiery have served with the
French and have been participators of their laurels; one cannot therefore
suppose that they are actuated by any very devouring zeal against their
former commander; nor have I found amongst the shop-keepers or respectable
people with whom I have conversed, and who have been falsely represented as
having suffered much from the tyranny of Napoleon, any who dislike either
his person or government, and certainly none either high or low express the
cannibal wish that I heard some English country gentlemen and London
merchants utter for the destruction of Paris and of the French people, nor
would it be easy to find here men of the _humane_ and _generous_ sentiments
professed by some of our aldermen and contractors when they welcomed with
ferocious acclamations of joy and were ready to embrace the Baschkir or
Cossack who told them that he had slaughtered so many French with his own
hand; nor would the ladies here be so eager to kiss old Blucher as was the
case in London.

This city is filled with British and Hanoverian troops. Their conduct is
exemplary, nor is any complaint made against them. The Highland regiments
are however the favourites of the Bruxellois, and the inhabitants give them
the preference as lodgers. They are extremely well behaved (they say, when
speaking of the Highlanders) and they cheerfully assist the different
families on whom they are quartered in their household labour. This
reflects a good deal of credit on the gallant sons of Caledonia. Their
superior morality to those of the same class either in England or in
Ireland must strike every observer, and must, in spite of all that the
_Obscuranten_ or _Chevaliers de l'Eteignoir_ and others who wish to check
the progress of the human mind may urge to the contrary, be mainly
attributed to the general prevalence of education _a la portée de tout le
monde_. Wherever the people are enlightened there is less crime; ignorance
was never yet the safeguard of virtue. As for myself I honour and esteem
the Scottish nation and I must say that I have found more liberal ideas and
more sound philosophy among individuals of that nation than among those of
any other, and it is a tribute I owe to them loudly to proclaim my
sentiments; for though personal gratitude may seem to influence me a little
on this subject, yet I should never think of putting forth my opinion in
public, were it not founded on an impartial observation of the character of
this enterprising and persevering people. A woman who had some Highlanders
quartered in her house told me in speaking of them: "Monsieur, ce sont de
si bonnes gens; ils sont doux comme des agneaux." "Ils n'en seront pas
moins des lions an jour du combat," was my reply.

I have amused myself with visiting most of the remarkable objects here, but
you must not expect from me a detail of what you will find in every
description book. You wish to have my ideas on the subjects that most
strike me individually, and those you shall have; but it would be very
absurd and presumptuous in me to attempt to give a _catalogue raisonné_ of
buildings and pictures and statues, or to set up as a connoisseur when I
know nothing either of sculpture, of architecture or painting; nor am I
desirous of imitating the young Englishman, who, in writing to his father
from Italy, described so much in detail, and so scientifically, every
production, or staple, peculiar to the cities which he happened to visit,
that he wrote like a cheese-monger from Parma, like a silk mercer from
Leghorn, like an olive and oil merchant from Lucca, like a picture dealer
from Florence, and like an antiquarian from Rome.


BRUXELLES, May 10.

The _Hôtel d'Angleterre_ where we are lodged is within four minutes walk
from the finest part of the city, where the Parc and Royal Palace is
situated. The Parc is not large, but is tastefully laid out in the Dutch
style, and is the fashionable promenade for the _beau monde_ of Bruxelles.
The women, without being strikingly handsome, have much grace; their air,
manner and dress are perfectly _à la francaise_. A good café and restaurant
is in the centre of one of the sides, and the buildings on the quadrangle
environing the Parc, which form the palace and other tenements are superb.
The next place I went to see was the _Hôtel de Ville_ and its tower of
immense height. It is a fine Gothic building, but that which should be the
central entrance is not directly in the centre of the edifice, so that one
wing of it appears considerably larger than the other, which gives it an
awkward and irregular appearance. On the Place or Square as we should call
it, where the _Hôtel de Ville_ stands, is held the fruit and vegetable
market, and a finer one or more plentifully supplied I never beheld. This
_Place_ is interesting to the historian as being the spot where Counts
Egmont and Hoorn suffered decapitation in the reign of Philip II of Spain,
by order of the Duke of Alva, who witnessed the execution from a window of
one of the houses. The conduct of these noblemen at the place of execution
was so dignified that even the ferocious duke could not avoid wiping his
eyes, hardened as his heart was by religious and political fanaticism; and
though he held them in abhorrence as rebels and traitors a tear did fall
for them down his iron cheek. How fortunate for the liberties of Holland
that William the Taciturn did not also fall into the claws of that Moloch
Philip! I next visited the museum and picture gallery, where I witnessed
the annual exposition of the modern school of painting. The specimens I saw
pleased me much, particularly because the subjects were well chosen from
history and the mythology, which to me is far more agreeable than the
subjects of the paintings of the old Flemish school; but I am told often
that I know nothing about painting, so I shall make no further remarks but
content myself with sending you a catalogue, with the pictures marked
therein which made most impression on me. With respect to the churches of
Brussels those of Ste. Gudule and of the Capuchins are the finest and most
remarkable. In the former is the Temptation of Adam by the Serpent, richly
carved in wood in figures as large as life grouped round the pulpit.[4]

The _Place du Sablon_ is very striking from the space it occupies, and on
it is a fountain erected by Lord Bruce.[5] The fountains which are to be
met with in various parts of the city are highly ornamental, and among them
I must not omit to mention a singularly grotesque one which is held in
great veneration by the lower orders of the Bruxellois and is by them
regarded as a sort of Palladium to the city. It is the figure of a little
boy who is at _peace_, according to the late Lord Melville's[6]
pronunciation of the words, and who spouts out his water incessantly,
reckless of decorum and putting modesty to the blush. What would our
vice-hunters say to this? He is a Sabbath breaker in the bargain and
continues his occupation on Sundays as well as other days and _in fine_ he
rejoices in the name of _Mannekenpis_.

The ramparts, or rather site of the ramparts (for the fortifications of
Bruxelles no longer exist), form an agreeable promenade; but the favourite
resort of all the world at Bruxelles in the afternoon is the _Attee verte_.
Here all classes meet; here the rich display their equipages and horses;
and the lower orders assemble at the innumerable _guinguettes_ which are to
be met with here, in order to play at bowls, dominoes, smoke and drink
beer, of which there is an excellent sort called _Bitterman._ The avenues
on each side of the carriage road are occupied by pedestrians, and on one
side of the road is the canal, covered at all times with barges and boats
decked with flags and streamers. At the cabarets are benches and tables in
the open air under the trees; and here are to be seen the artisan, the
bargeman and the peasant taking their afternoon _délassement_, and groups
of men, women and children drinking beer and smoking. These groups reminded
me much of those one sees so often in the old Flemish pictures, with this
difference, that the old costume of the people is almost entirely left off.
Female minstrels with guitars stroll about singing French romances and
collecting contributions from this cheerful, laughter-loving people. The
dark walk, as it is called, near the park is a favourite walk of the upper
classes in the evening. There his Grace of Wellington is sometimes to be
seen with a fair lady under his arm. He generally dresses in plain clothes,
to the astonishment of all the foreign officers. He is said to be as
successful in the fields of Idalia as in those of Bellona, and the ladies
whom he honours with his attentions suffer not a little in their
reputations in the opinion of the _compères_ and _commères_ of Bruxelles.

I have only been twice to the theatre since I have been here. The _Salle de
Spectacle_ is indifferent, but they have an excellent company of comedians.
The representations are in French. I saw the _Festin de Pierre_ of
Corneille exceedingly well performed. The actors who did the parts of Don
Juan and Sganarelle were excellent, and the scene with M. Dimanche, wherein
he demands payment of his bill, was admirably given. I have also seen the
_Plaideurs_ of Racine, a very favourite piece of mine; every actor played
his part most correctly, and the scene between the Comtesse de Pimbeche and
Chicaneau and L'Intimé wherein the latter, disguised as a _Bailli_, offers
himself to be kicked by the former, was given in very superior style. The
scene of the trial of the dog, with the orations of Petit Jean as
_demandeur_ and L'Intimé as _défenseur_, were played with good effect. I
never recollect having witnessed a theatrical piece which afforded me
greater amusement.


NAMUR, May 12.

We left Brussels yesterday afternoon, and having obtained passports to
visit the military posts we went to Genappe, a small village half-way
between Bruxelles and Namur, where we brought to for the night at a small
but comfortable inn called _Le Roi d'Espagne_. Two battalions of the
regiment Nassau-Usingen are quartered in Genappe. We arrived at Namur this
morning at nine o'clock and put up at the _Hôtel d'Arenberg_. On the road
we stopped at a peasant's house to drink coffee; and we were entertained by
our hostess with complaints against the Prussians, who commit, as she said,
all sorts of exactions on the peasantry on whom they are quartered. Not
content with exacting three meals a day, when they were only entitled to
two, and for which they are bound to give their rations, they sell these,
and appropriate the money to their own use; then the demand for brandy and
_schnapps_ is increasing. But what can be expected from an army whose
leader encourages them in all their excesses? Blucher by all accounts is a
vandal and is actuated by a most vindictive spirit. The Prussians reproach
the Belgians with being in the French interest; how can they expect it to
be otherwise? They have prospered under French domination, and certainly
the conduct of the Prussians is not calculated to inspire them with any
love towards themselves nor veneration for the Sovereign who has such
all-devouring allies. I asked this woman why she did not complain to the
officers. She answered! "Hélas, Monsieur, c'est inutile; on donne toujours
la même réponse: '_Nichts verstehn_,'" for it appears when these complaints
are made the Prussian officers pretend not to understand French.

Namur is now the head-quarters of Marshal Blucher, who is in the enjoyment
of divers _noms de guerre_, such as "Marshall Vorwärts," "Der alte Teufel."
On the high road, about two miles and a half before we reached Namur, we
met with a party of Prussian lancers, who were returning from a foraging
excursion. They were singing some warlike song or hymn, which was
singularly impressive. It brought to my recollection the description of the
Rhenish bands in the _Lay of the Last Minstrel_:

Who as they move, in rugged verse
Songs of Teutonic feuds rehearse.

The Prussian cavalry seem to be composed of fine-looking young men, and I
admire the genuine military simplicity of their dress, to which might be
most aptly applied the words of Xenophon when describing the costume of the
younger Cyrus: [Greek: _En tae Persikae stolae ouden ti hubrsmenae_][7] in
substituting merely the word [Greek: _Prussikae_] for [Greek: _Persikae_].
One sees in it none of those absurd ornaments and meretricious foppery
which give to our cavalry officers the appearance of Astley's men.[8]

The situation of Namur is exceedingly picturesque, particularly when viewed
from the heights which tower above the town, whereon stood the citadel
which was demolished by order of Joseph II, as were the fortifications of
all the frontier fortresses. The present Belgian Government however mean to
reconstruct them, and Namur in particular, the citadel of which, from the
natural strength of its position, is too important a post to be neglected.
The town itself is situated on the confluent of the Sambre and Meuse and
lies in a valley completely commanded and protected by the citadel. The
churches are splendid, and there is an appearance of opulence in the shops.
The inhabitants, from its being a frontier town, are of course much alarmed
at the approaching contest, for they will probably suffer from both
parties. We heard at the inn and in the shops which we visited the same
complaints against the Prussians. The country in the environs of this place
is exceedingly diversified, and it presents the first mountain scenery we
have yet met with. The banks of the Meuse hereabouts present either an
abrupt precipice or coteaux covered with vines gently sloping to the
water's edge. Namur is distant thirty-four miles from Brussels, and there
is water conveyance on the Meuse from here to Liége and Maastricht.


MONS, May 14.

We started yesterday morning at four o'clock from Namur. The whole road
between Namur and Mons presents a fine, rich open country abounding in
wheat, but not many trees. We stopped to breakfast at Fleurus, at an inn
where there were some Prussian officers. One of them, a lieutenant in the
2nd West Prussian Regiment, had the kindness to conduct us to see the field
of battle where the French under Jourdan defeated the Austrians in 1794. It
is at a very short distance from the town; he explained the position of the
two armies in a manner perfectly clear and satisfactory to us. The Prussian
officers all seem very eager for the commencement of hostilities, and their
only fear is now that all these mighty preparations will end in nothing;
viz., either that the French people, alarmed at the magnitude of the
preparations against them, will compel the Emperor Napoleon to abdicate, or
that the Allies will grow cool and, under the influence of Austria, bring
about a negotiation which may end in a recognition of the Imperial title
and dynasty. They would compound for a defeat at first, provided the war
were likely to be prolonged. In the meantime, reinforcements continue to
arrive daily for their army. We hear but little news of the intentions or
movements of the other Allies; it being forbidden to enter into political
discussions, it is difficult to ascertain the true state of affairs.

We continued our journey through Charleroy and Binch to this place. At a
small village between Binch and Mons we were stopped by a sentinel at a
Prussian outpost and our passports demanded. Neither the sentinel, however,
nor the sergeant, nor any of the soldiers present, could read or understand
French, in which language the passport was drawn up; but the sergeant told
me that the officers were in a house about a quarter of a mile distant and
that he would conduct me thither, but that he himself could not presume to



Online LibraryMajor W. E FryeAfter Waterloo: Reminiscences of European Travel 1815-1819 → online text (page 2 of 36)