Richard Boyle Bernard.

A tour through some parts of France, Switzerland, Savoy, Germany and Belgium online

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which pass between the chief towns.

It would require scenery like that of the Rhine, to induce me to adopt
this conveyance; but many of these canals pass between banks which
exclude all view of the surrounding country. I found the Netherlander
generally impatient to be relieved from the great military expences,
incident to their present situation. There is, I think, little reason to
doubt, that when some of the existing taxes can be removed, the _Orange
family_ will become popular. The stamp duties are very heavy; there are
land and house taxes, and a personal tax. It is to be expected, that the
people should wish for a diminution of their burdens, but _Liege_ is the
only place I have visited in the countries lately relinquished by
France, where the separation seems to be generally regretted. I found
that the Prussian government, was by no means popular, on the left bank
of the Rhine, and that an union with either Austria or Bavaria, was much
wished for in those provinces, whose future destiny remains to be
decided at the Congress of Vienna.

Having met with but few English travellers since I had quitted
Switzerland, I was much struck on entering Brussels with the _vast
numbers_ of my fellow subjects, moving in all directions. The garrison
was almost entirely composed of English troops, so that I felt here
quite at home. I found that there was an _English theatre_, as well as a
French one, and that balls, and entertainments of all descriptions, _à
l'Anglaise_, were in abundance. Indeed the upper part of the city
differed little in appearance from an English watering place.

Brussels is a city of great extent, built partly on the river Senne
(naturally a very inconsiderable stream, but which, being formed here
into a canal, becomes of much advantage), and partly on a hill,
commanding an extensive view of the rich and fertile plain by which it
is surrounded; much of which resembles a vast kitchen garden. It is,
like Louvain, surrounded by a ruined wall of brick, as formerly all the
towns of Flanders were fortified. This was the capital of the Austrian
Netherlands, and lately the chief place of the French department of the
Dyle: it will, probably, now become, for a part of the year, the
residence of its new sovereign, whose sons are at present amongst its
inhabitants. The inhabitants of Brussels are calculated at 70,000, and
its environs give the traveller an idea of its importance, as they have
an appearance of much traffic and are decorated with many villas which
announce the opulence, but not always the good taste of their owners.
The city is, in general, irregularly built, and the lower part does not
deserve commendation; but the _place royale_ is fine: the park is
surrounded by many handsome public buildings, and by a number of private
houses, which would ornament any capital in Europe. The park is of
considerable extent, and forms an agreeable promenade. Its avenues are
kept in excellent order; they abound with statues and other formal
decorations, which are, however, more admissible in a city promenade
than in the retirement of the country. A fountain here was celebrated by
_Peter the Great's_ having fallen into it, as that monarch, like Cato,
was said,


"Sæpe mero caluisse virtus."

"His virtue oft with wine to warm."

The circumstance was recorded by the following inscription:


"Petrus Alexowitz, Czar Moscoviæ, magnus dux, margini hujus fontis
insidiens, illius aquam nobilitavit libato vino hora post meridiam
tertia, die 16 Aprilis, 1717."

"That renowned General P.A., Czar of Moscovy, having poured forth
ample libations of wine, whilst sitting on the brink of this
fountain fell into, and ennobled its waters about three o'clock in
the afternoon of the 16th of April, 1717."

The town-house is one of the most conspicuous of the public buildings at
Brussels, although it is situated in the lowest part of the town, its
steeple rising to the height of 364 feet; it is a very fine piece of
Gothic architecture. The equestrian statue, noticed by M. Dutens, as
being placed on the _top of a house_ in the square before the
town-house, has disappeared; the horse and his rider having been removed
to a more suitable situation. The church of St. Gudule presents a
venerable and interesting appearance; it contains several fine
paintings, and windows of stained glass. There are many ancient tombs of
the old Dukes of Brabant. The church of St. James is also worthy of
notice, and its façade of the Corinthian order, is an elegant and
uniform piece of architecture, which does honour to the taste of the
builder.

Brussels contains many fine collections of paintings, which I have not
time to enumerate; but I was much pleased with some pictures of _M.
Danoots_, to whom I had a letter. They are not very numerous, but are
undoubted originals of S. Rosa, Teniers, Rembrandt, Myiens, and of J.
Bassano, who is remarkable for having attained a greater age (82) than
most of the great painters, he has accordingly left behind him a
greater number of pictures than almost any other master. He is said to
have expressed great regret on his death-bed, that he should be obliged
to quit the world at the moment when he had begun to make some little
progress in his art. A shorter life than Bassano's, is, however,
sufficient to establish the reputation of an artist. _Raphael_ died in
his 37th year, but public opinion has placed him at the head of his art
for _general proficiency_.

There are several excellent hotels in Brussels which command a view of
the park. I was at one of these, the _Hotel de Bellevue_, and found the
hour of the _table d'hote_ had been changed to accommodate the English,
to four o'clock, at least two hours later than the usual time; but as
the company consisted always entirely of English it was but reasonable
they should fix the hour. The dinner here more resembled an _English
one_ than any I had hitherto seen on the Continent, and reminded me of
the public tables at Cheltenham.

Brussels was some months since a very _cheap_ residence, but I have
been assured, that the prices of most articles have more than doubled
since our troops first arrived here. Living at an hotel here is nearly
as expensive as in London; but no doubt there is a considerable saving
in the expences of a family who are recommended to honest trades-people.
There are still a number of good houses to be let, notwithstanding the
great influx of English, many of whom have engaged houses for _four or
five years_, on terms which seem _very reasonable_ to those accustomed
to the _London prices_.

The country round Brussels presents several excursions which would
probably have better answered my expectations had the weather been more
favourable. The Abbey of _Jurourin_, was a country seat of the princes
of the Austrian family, and was formerly famous for its menagerie. The
forest of _Sogne_ is of great extent; and its numerous avenues, which
now had a sombre appearance, are, no doubt, in summer, much frequented
by the inhabitants of Brussels. This forest was the property of the
Emperor of Germany, and is said to have produced an annual revenue of
one million of florins.

The prison, or house of correction, at _Vilvorde_, is worthy of
attention, from the excellent manner in which it is conducted. Those who
wish for the introduction of some improvements into our workhouses,
might surely derive many useful hints from the manner in which similar
establishments are conducted abroad; and although I have never thought
much on the subject, yet I did not fail to remark the cleanliness,
regularity, and industry, which prevailed here and in another place of
the same kind near Berne.

Brussels is seen to great advantage from the ancient ramparts which
surround it. I went entirely round the city in about two hours, and
afterwards attended divine service, which was performed in English, to a
congregation which proved the great number of English now here. There
are at present but _few very strongly fortified cities_ in Belgium,
compared with the vast number which it formerly contained. The period is
past, when, after the ablest engineers had exerted their utmost skill
in the construction of fortifications around its cities, generals, not
less distinguished, contended for the honour of reducing them. Amongst
numberless other instances, the siege of _Ostend_ sufficiently attests
how successful the engineers have been in rendering those places strong;
and also bears ample testimony to the perseverance of the commanders who
at last succeeded in taking them. Ambrose Spinola entered Ostend in
1604, after a siege of above three years, during which the besieged lost
50,000 and the besiegers 80,000 men. The siege and capture of
_Valenciennes_ might also be adduced, if testimony were wanting of the
zeal and bravery of British armies and commanders. But however justly
these sieges are celebrated in _modern times_, the _antiquarian_ who
contends for the _supremacy of past ages_ over the present, will not
fail to instance the siege of _Troy_ and the exploits of Achilles and
Agamemnon, as a more distinguished instance of perseverance than any to
be met with in these _degenerate_ _days_, and if he should meet with
some _sceptic_ who insists that the heroes of Homer owe their existence
only to the imagination of the poet, although he can assent to no such
hypothesis, yet he will also instance the siege of _Azotus_, on the
frontiers of Egypt, which Psammeticus, meditating extensive conquests,
and thinking it beneath him to leave so strong a fortress unsubdued, is
related to have spent 29 years of his reign in reducing.

As I was desirous of visiting Antwerp and Ghent, and as the period
allotted for my tour was drawing to a close (a circumstance which the
advanced season of the year gave me but little reason to regret) I left
Brussels, enveloped in a fog, which might remind the English
fashionables of those so prevalent in London during the gloomy season of
November, and proceeded to Malines, 14 miles distant, formerly one of
the greatest cities of Belgium, but now like too many other once
celebrated places in that country, affording a melancholy contrast to
its former splendour, and proving that in the vicissitude of all
sublunary affairs, cities, as well as their inhabitants, are subject to
decay.


Non indignemur mortalia corpora solvi Cernimus exemplis oppida
posse mori.

Here are several manufactories of excellent lace and many breweries, but
the beer is considered as greatly inferior to that of Louvain. The
houses are spacious, and exhibit singular specimens of ancient taste;
the roofs rise to a great height and terminate in a sharp point. Their
walls are generally of an excessive whiteness. The tower of the
cathedral is highly finished, and rises to a vast height. There being
little to detain me here, Malines being more remarkable for what it once
was, than for what it now is, I continued my way to Antwerp along an
excellent paved road, lined by avenues of trees, which are often so cut
(the Dutch differing from the Minorquins, who never prune a tree,
saying, that nature knows best how it should grow) as not to be at all
ornamental, and in some places cannot be said to afford either "from
storms a shelter, or from heat a shade." In that state, however
unnatural, they answer the intention of their planters, by marking the
course of the road in the snowy season, without excluding the air from
it in the wet weather, prevalent in autumn.

Antwerp is one of the most celebrated cities of Europe, and although its
present situation is far from comparable with its former celebrity, yet
it has revived greatly of late years; and the events which have restored
to these provinces their independence, will, no doubt, fill with the
vessels of all trading nations those docks, which were constructed by
the French Government at such incredible expence, and with far different
views than the encouragement of commercial speculations. The canals by
which these docks communicate with Bruges and Ostend, that the navy of
Napoleon might run no risks by passing on the _high seas_, are vast
works, which must have cost enormous sums of money. The Scheld is here
about half the width of the Thames at Westminster; but _Antwerp_ is
above fifty miles from its mouth. Its depth is very considerable; and
such was at one period the commerce of Antwerp, that not less than 2000
vessels annually entered its port. The present population of this city
is stated at 60,000. There are manufactures of lace, silk, chocolate,
and extensive establishments for refining sugar. The export of the
productions of the fruitful district which surrounds the city is very
considerable. Nothing proves more strongly the _riches of these
provinces_, than the short period in which they recover the evils of a
campaign; and it was their fertility in grain, which principally
rendered them of such importance to the French government. During the
late scarcity in France, the crops succeeded tolerably well here; and
Buonaparte obliged the inhabitants of Belgium to supply France at a
price which he fixed himself, and by which _they lost_ considerably.

There are many buildings at Antwerp, which are justly admired for their
magnificence, particularly the cathedral, which, like many other
churches here, was decorated by the pencil of Rubens. The tower of the
cathedral is a rich specimen of Gothic. The general effect of this
building is lessened by a number of mean houses which surround it. The
church of St. Andre contains a monument to the memory of Mary Queen of
Scotland. The town-house is a large building; its façade is 250 feet in
length, and is composed of all the orders of architecture. Many of the
streets at Antwerp are tolerably well built. I was informed that many
individuals have good collections of paintings, by the chief painters
which this country has produced. It is impossible to pass through
Flanders without being struck with the exactness with which its painters
have represented the face of their country, and the persons of its
inhabitants. Antwerp, on the whole, has a tolerably cheerful appearance.
The promenade of Penipiere is pleasant, and much frequented by the
citizens.

The country between Antwerp and Gand, presents, like the rest of
Flanders, a level surface, highly cultivated, traversed by excellent
roads, running in straight lines from one town to another. I must,
however, own that I have seldom traversed a more uninteresting country.
But as the reign of a prince, which affords the fewest incidents for the
commemoration of the historian, is thought to be often the most
fortunate for the interests of his subjects, so a country, which is
passed over in silence by the tourist, as devoid of those natural
beauties, which fix his attention, often contains the most land
susceptible of cultivation, which best repays the labours of the
husbandman, and is the most valuable to the possessor. Many of the
Flemish inns are very neat; but the traveller who has recently quitted
Germany, is struck with their inferiority in point of decoration
(although, perhaps, in no other respect) to those of that country, which
abound with gilding, trophies, and armorial bearings, to invite the
stranger, who here has a less shewy intimation of the entertainment he
seeks for. The peasants here commonly wear wooden shoes; and they who do
not consider how powerful is the force of custom, are surprised how
they contrive to walk so well, in such awkward and clumsy machines.

* * * * *



CHAP. XVIII.


Gand, or _Ghent_, is the capital of Flanders, and is one of the greatest
cities in Europe as to extent; it is seven miles in circumference. It is
situated on the Scheldt and Lys, which are here joined by two smaller
rivers, which with numerous canals intersect the city, and form upwards
of twenty islands, that are united by above 100 bridges. No position can
be conceived more favourable for trade than this. But Gand is greatly
fallen from the once splendid situation she held amongst the cities of
Europe, and although superior to either Brussels or Antwerp in point of
appearance, its population is now inferior to those cities, being
reduced to 58,000: a very inconsiderable number for a city of such
extent. Gand is celebrated as the birthplace of the Emperor Charles the
Fifth. It exhibited at different periods proofs of his attachment to a
place of which he boasted being a citizen, and of the severity with
which he punished the revolt of its inhabitants. In more ancient times
Gand produced another character of political importance, _d'Arteville_,
a brewer, whose influence in this city (then one of the first in Europe)
made King Edward the Third of England solicitous for his friendship; and
history informs us, that one of his sons, at the head of 60,000 Gantois,
carried on a war against his sovereign.

Here was concluded the celebrated treaty in 1516, called the
Pacification of Gand; and it may in future times be famous for the
conclusion of a treaty between England and America.

Charles the Fifth comparing the extent of Paris with that of this city,
is said to have remarked, "_qu'il auroit mis tout Paris dans Gand_;"
and, except Paris, and perhaps Cologne, it is the largest city I have
seen on the Continent. Many of the canals have some appearance of trade.
I observed many very extensive bleach-greens beyond the ancient ditches
and works which surround the city. The walls along the canal of _la
Coussure_ are the most frequented by the inhabitants.

The cathedral is a handsome structure, and contains some beautiful
carving. The church of St. Michael is also a noble and venerable
edifice. There are many other handsome churches amongst the number which
the city contains, and I do not recollect ever to have been in a place
where there are such a number and variety of _chimes_.

The town-house is an extremely large and handsome building, in the
ancient taste, as indeed are most of those in the Netherlands. The city
contains many elegant private houses. The streets are remarkably clean
and spacious, but the want of an adequate population is very
perceptible. Here is a good public library, and the Botanic Garden is
considered as the best in the Netherlands. The prison built by the
Empress Maria Teresa is well worthy of a visit; and the stranger cannot
fail of being struck with the extreme activity and industry which
prevails within its walls. Every thing seems conducted much in the same
manner, of which I had occasion to notice the advantages at Vilvorde.
There is a theatre; but those who have lately arrived from Brussels or
Lisle will not be much struck with the merits of the performers. From
Gand to Ostend and Dunkirk there are no public conveyances, except along
the canals. This mode of travelling I was not inclined to adopt; and
hearing that the road by Lisle, although thirty miles longer, passed
through a finer country, I determined to proceed that way. I did not
hear a favourable account of _Ostend_; and, notwithstanding the peace,
above a third of the houses were said to be untenanted. Bruges has
neither river nor fountain, but abundance of stagnant canals and
reservoirs. The word _Bourse_, as designating the place where merchants
assemble to transact business, had its first origin from a house at
Bruges, then belonging to the family of _Van der Bourse_, opposite to
which the merchants of the city used to meet daily. As the road between
Ghent and Lisle did not claim any minute survey, and as I had been
satisfied with the trial I had before made of a diligence in their
country, I engaged a place for Lille for the next morning.

I was awakened, long before daybreak, by the noise of packing in the
carriages in the yard, and by the vociferations of several Frenchmen in
the house, who seemed to exert their lungs more than the occasion
required. I was not sorry to see them set off in a different carriage
from that in which I was to proceed, as their extreme noise would have
been tiresome. I had not to complain that my companions made an
unnecessary _depense de parole_. They were, I believe, all Flemish. One
of them prided himself on being able to speak a little English, which he
said he could read perfectly, and pulled from his pocket "The Vicar of
Wakefield," which, he assured me, he admired extremely. I have, on many
occasions, in Germany, been in company with persons who were more
desirous of beginning a conversation in English, than able afterwards to
continue it; but in general I have found that the English make less
allowance for the want of proficiency of foreigners in their language
than foreigners do for our ignorance of theirs. On one occasion, at a
_table d'hote_, a person who sat near me pointed out a gentleman at some
distance, and observed that it would be impossible to please him more
than by giving him an opportunity of speaking English, as he valued
himself much on his knowledge of that language. He was not long without
finding the opportunity he sought for, but not the approbation which he
had probably expected.

But to return to the diligence. The rest of the passengers being
lethargic after dinner, an elderly lady and I had the conversation to
ourselves. She complained frequently of her _poor bonnet_, which, from
its _extraordinary elevation_ (having to all appearance antiquity to
boast of) was frequently forced in contact with the top of the carriage
by the roughness of the pavement. I told her, I had heard that the
bonnets at Paris had been much reduced in point of height, and that
perhaps something between the French and English fashions would in time
be generally worn. But although she had to complain of the
inconvenience arising from the unnecessarily large dimensions of her
headdress, she expressed a hope that no such reduction might take
place, as the English bonnets were in her opinion so extremely
unbecoming, that she should much regret any bias in the French ladies
towards such an innovation.

The pavement on which we travelled was rendered very necessary by the
weight of the carriages, which would soon make the road impassable. The
country resembled the rest of Flanders. I observed a greater number of
sportsmen than I had yet seen, well provided with dogs, ranging a
country which is too thickly inhabited to abound in game; and I have
seldom seen a district where there are fewer birds of any kind. Courtray
is a large and handsome town. Here I observed some large dogs employed
in drawing small carts, a custom very general in Holland. The town-house
bears an inscription, indicating that it was erected _by the senate and
people of Courtray_; a style lately used by all the cities of Germany
which depended on the empire, however inconsiderable they had become in
the course of years. There are many beggars here although the town and
neighbourhood exhibits more industry than I had observed since I left
Antwerp.

At Courtray and Menin the garrisons are English, and a little beyond the
last named place we entered France. The _boundary stone_ was pointed out
to me as curious, from having escaped unnoticed during the revolutionary
times, as it bears the royal arms of France on one side and those of
Austria on the other, and after a series of eventful years, it serves
again to point out the ancient and legitimate limits of France. We were
detained above an hour at the custom-house, as the diligence was heavily
laden and all merchandise, as well as the baggage of the passengers, was
examined with minute attention.

The tax was however only on the patience, the purse not being diminished
by any claim from the officers, who were extremely civil in assisting to
arrange what their search had convinced them not to be illegal. Our
passports were not demanded until we reached the out-posts of Lille, and
we were not long detained, as every thing was satisfactory. I was told
that a few days before, two English travellers not being provided with
sufficient passports, were taken out of the diligence and conveyed under
an escort into Lille, where they were next day recommended to return to
England, and provide themselves with proper passports.

Lille is the capital of French Flanders, and the chief place in the
department _du Nord_; it is one of the handsomest and best built cities
of France, as well as the strongest fortified. The _citadel_ especially,
is considered as the _chef d'oeuvre_ of the celebrated _Vauban_, this
place having been one of the most important fortresses on this side of
France; it has again become so, although far removed from that line


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Online LibraryRichard Boyle BernardA tour through some parts of France, Switzerland, Savoy, Germany and Belgium → online text (page 14 of 15)