"An odd angle of the isle."—THE
AND such was the
old smuggler's tale, told to us in broken fits, as we steamed down
the Orwell on that sunny day. Just in the hour when, after
years of defiant adventure, he had resolved to "furl the sails of
his trading," and anchor on shore in comfort for the rest of his
days,—where "the laws he had broken he'd never break more,"—grim
misfortune came down upon him; and in one fell swoop the schemes and
gains of a life of perilous outlawry were laid waste for ever.
And perhaps, when far away upon the lonely sea, pacing the deck in
anxious watch by night, he had many a time reckoned up the gains of
his dangerous trade, and indulged in dreams of peaceful comfort for
the evening of his days. Perhaps many a time, whilst gazing
vacantly upon the watery wilderness, his thoughts have lingered with
delight on some snug nook of his native town, where, with the
friends of his youth around him, he hoped to end a hard life in the
lap of ease and respectability; basking in his own firelight; and
whiling away the wintry gloom with tales of wild adventure on the
But the bold smuggler's pitcher went once too often to the
well. That moonless November night which was to fill the cup
of his fortunes to the brim, saw the ruin of his hopes, and the
cheated revenue avenged; and thenceforth, the pleasant waters of the
wood-fringed Orwell were never ploughed by his lawless keel again.
"Aye, aye, gentlemen," said he, returning to us, after being called
away for a few minutes on duty, "just when I thought to lay up snug
and tight, on shore, for the rest of my days, the sharks came down
on us with a rush. I lost my cargo,—I lost my vessel,—and I
lost my all; and ever since I came out of jail, old age and poverty
have had me in tow. But, after all," said he, stretching his
wiry frame, "it might have been worse. This old hulk is not
quite broken up yet." And during the rest of our trip, as the
battered smuggler came and went on deck at the call of duty, he
stops, now and then, for another chat with us; and, as he told of
daring runs he had made in days gone by, many a time he looked out
to sea-ward, as a caged lion might gaze towards the forests where he
used to range at will.
Meanwhile, we were approaching the confluence of the Stour
and the Orwell. The stream was rapidly expanding; and the open
sea was right before us. On a spit of land, upon the low-lying
northern shore, the famous "Landguard Fort " was visible; and, on
the opposite bank, the ancient town of Harwich was in full view,
occupying a small peninsula on the Essex shore, and looking, from
the distance, as if it were almost level with the water. The
town made a pretty picture, sharp and distinct, in the clear air,
close by the sea, with its old towers over-topping the houses, and
its little fringe of masts rocking in the water. All along the
joint estuaries of the Stour and the Orwell vessels lay at anchor,
here and there; and, within half a mile of the town, we passed
within a hundred yards of a man-of-war, heaving hugely with the
motion of the sluggish wave. A few minutes more, and we landed
right in front of the Great Eastern Hotel,—one of the handsomest
places of the kind I have seen. And now for a peep at Harwich.
This little peninsula, upon which the old town of Harwich
stands, washed by the waves of the German Ocean,—that stormy
war-path of the ancient Baltic pirates,—is memorable ground in the
history of the land. Before entering the town, I will glance
at a few points of its history. Its condition in the time of
the Britons, when the wild Iceni roved the neighbouring woods, is
mere matter of conjecture; but Harwich was unmistakably a Roman
station. The remains of a large Roman camp may still be
traced, a little south of the town. The road leading to this
camp still bears the name of "The Street." Many Roman coins
have been found upon this line of road; and within the past few
years, a tesselated pavement was discovered near the same route.
Antiquaries generally believe that, during the Roman occupation,
"The Count of the Saxon shore" had a stronghold at Harwich.
This "Count of the Saxon shore" was an important officer of the
empire,—a kind of commander of the coast-guard,—to whom was
entrusted the defence of the line of shore which lay open to the
habitual attacks of the Saxon pirates of that time. From this
we get one of our earliest glimpses of that warlike German
tribe,—the first piratical ravagers of the coast of
Britain,—hovering, with rapacious eyes, upon the skirt of the green
island which they afterwards won and held with such enduring
The Saxon Chronicle tells us that in 885 a great naval fight
took place off the mouth of the river, at Harwich, between sixteen
Danish ships and the fleet of King Alfred, "The Darling of England,"
who was completely victorious. And probably this famous Saxon
King,—the first organiser of an English navy,—never dreamt that his
little handful of little fighting ships would ever grow up to the
great puissance and renown achieved by the English at sea in after
Later in our history Harwich became, and for some centuries
continued to be the chief port of communication between England and
Holland; and the narrow streets of the ancient town often swarmed
with the rude soldiers of the Middle Ages. Isabella, Queen of
Edward the Second, landed at Harwich in 1326 with an army, to fight
against her husband and his allies. In 1338, Edward the Third
embarked here on his first campaign against France. It was at
Harwich, too, that the same king mustered the fleet with which he
won the great naval victory at Slut's. In 1578, Martin
Frobisher sailed from this port with fifteen ships, on his third
voyage to explore the north-west passage. In 1666, the great
naval fight between the Dutch, under De Ruyter and De Witt, and the
English, under Monk, was fought in sight of the town of Harwich, and
was watched by excited crowds from Beacon Hill. Sir William
Clarke was killed in this battle, in which the English were
victorious. In later days the Hanoverian kings embarked and
disembarked at this port, from whence, in 1821, the remains of Queen
Caroline were despatched for Brunswick.
In Murray's Handbook, I find the following interesting
passage in relation to this place. "Johnson accompanied
Boswell to Harwich in 1763, when the latter was on his way to
Leyden; and it was here that, after visiting the church, and sending
Boswell to his knees 'now that he was about to leave his native
country,' Johnson stood talking of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious
sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter. The doctor
'struck his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he
rebounded from it, —'I refute it thus.' The friends embraced
on the beach, and Boswell embarked. 'As the vessel put out to
sea, I kept my eyes upon him for a considerable time, while he
remained rolling his majestic frame in his usual manner; and at last
I saw him walk back into the town, and he disappeared." . . .
This port maintained its great importance until steam vessels
came into general use, when its foreign traffic went to London.
Railways, however, have partly restored the ancient fame of Harwich
as a port of departure for the Continent. There was formerly a
government dockyard here, where sixty ships of war have been built,
fifteen of which were three-deckers. This dockyard is now the
property of private builders. Harwich is, also, a great
nursery for lobsters, which are brought hither from the coast of
Norway, fed in tanks, and then sent to Billingsgate. In the
month of May, a fleet of shrimpers from Kent, generally from thirty
to forty boats, enter the Harwich harbour, where they remain till
October. The shrimps are boiled on board, and sent daily to
the London market. Harwich and its neighbourhood is to the people of
Essex and Suffolk what Blackpool is to the toiling swarms of
Lancashire; although the country of the Lancashire coast is a tame
tract of monotonous sand in comparison with the beautiful wooded
hills, the fertile vales, and charming streams of East Anglia by the
Upon a low-lying point of land, the northern shore of the
estuary opposite the town of Harwich, stands the famous Landguard
Fort, washed by the waves of the open sea. This fort was built
in the reign of James the First, and mounts thirty-six guns, and as
the old song says, it "has seen a little sarvice." In 1667 it
was attacked by the Dutch, who landed three thousand men here; who
were quickly driven back to their ships, as the ancient Danes had
often been, from the same coast, a thousand years before.
There is a fifteen-gun battery at Shotley, on the Suffolk side of
the Stour, near Harwich,—another four-gun battery east of Harwich;
and several Martello towers on the Suffolk coast. All of these
mount guns of heavy calibre, and with Landguard form the defence of
the harbour. The eccentric Philip Thicknesse was for some time
Governor of Landguard Fort. Here he patronised Gainsborough,
soon after that artist had settled at Ipswich; and (as Thicknesse
tells us in his curious memoirs, printed in 1788) "I desired him to
come and eat a dinner with me, and to take down in his pocket-book
the particulars of the Fort, the adjacent hills, and the distant
view of Harwich, in order to form a landscape of yachts passing the
garrison under the salute of guns, of the size of a panel over my
chimney piece." This picture was unfortunately destroyed by
damp. Major was employed by Thicknesse to engrave it.
His print exists, but is very rare. It is interesting to mark
how proud the people of this part of East Anglia are of their two
native painters, Gainsborough and Constable; and how their memories
still hover about its beautiful woods and waters.
Leaving the raw grandeur of the Great Eastern Hotel, which
fronts the landing place, we walked off at the end of that imposing
pile, into the town immediately behind. Old Harwich lies in a
nutshell still, and seems as if it had known very little change for
centuries. In appearance, and in condition, the temper of the
middle ages seems to cling to it still. As we wandered about
its narrow streets, between overhanging balconies, and upper
stories, with, here and there, a venerable building, bulging beneath
a load of centuries, and, here and there, a sleepy nook, all knots
and gnarls, and worn memorials of the olden time, we found
everywhere "an ancient and a fish-like smell,"—in spite of the
sea-breeze, which has been its familiar playmate and chief scavenger
for the last thousand years. One or two of the main streets
were remarkably clean, and of a good width, with many an interesting
old house therein; for the rest of the town,—it belongs entirely to
a by-gone time. Quiet as the place looks now, it has often
swarmed with the turbulent chivalry of ancient England; and, as we
rambled about, I caught sight of many a curious corner which seemed
so little changed that the rugged soldiers of Edward the Third, who
mustered there for the French wars above five centuries ago, might
only have left the place a week ago. To the eyes of one long
accustomed to endless piles of sooty brick, of perishable build, and
of one bald, featureless, monotonous pattern, that brief stroll
amongst the picturesque streets of old Harwich was very interesting.
We lingered long amongst the curious nooks and corners of the
old English sea-port, dreaming of the strange scenes which have been
enacted there in the centuries long gone by. At last the bell
rang for the return trip of the steamer; we ran on board; and, in an
hour and a half, the churning paddles had brought us back again, up
the beautiful river Orwell, to Ipswich town.
HITHERTO, all my
excursions into the neighbourhood of Ipswich, have been in the
direction of the sea; but on the day after our visit to the town of
Harwich, I was favoured with a delightful ride of eleven miles into
the most beautiful part of all the country, which lies immediately
westward of Ipswich town; and the scenery of that trip into the
valley of the Stour, although marked by many generic characteristics
of the country which stretches from old "Gyppeswick" down to the
ocean, has yet some charming features of its own, which make it
peculiarly interesting; in addition to which, it is the country of
Constable, the artist,—the place of his birth, and the scenery which
he loved better than any part of the world beside.
Our destination was the town of Dedham, about eleven miles
west of Ipswich, and seven miles from ancient Colchester. The
town stands, sleepy and sweet, in the heart of its beautiful vale,
on the Essex bank of the river Stour. There, in the afternoon, my
friend had to lecture on geology to the students of the Grammar
School—one of the best and oldest foundations of the kind in the
kingdom. In the course of our quiet ride to Dedham we saw no great
tracts of lonely wold, like "Kesgrave Heath," stretching afar its
dark and silent wilderness amidst the smiling landscape around; all
was soft, cultivated richness—a thoroughly English paradise—which,
seen through the openings in the trees by the way as we rolled
along, seemed as if it were all park, and garden, and lush meadow
flats, watered by sleepy streams, with never a bleak spot in the
landscape to break the spell of its luxuriant beauty. And yet there
was nothing monotonous in the scenery. Soft change of form and
feature met the eye at every turn; for the whole land was full of
ever-varying undulations, and graceful slopes, white over with
sheep, and little hills, cushioned to their very tops with verdure. In the holms and hollows, clean, well-fed kine were grazing sleepily
among grass of the greenest green, or standing, with half-shut eyes,
whisking away the flies with their tails, whilst they cooled their
hoofs in some glassy stream. And all over the landscape, here and
there, an ancient greenwood waved quietly in the wind, and, here and
there, a grand old detached forest tree, the growth of centuries,
spread its wide umbrageous shade upon the surrounding green. And now
I noticed, again and again, in old houses by the way-side, or
half-seen among trees, across the intervening fields, those quaint
Hanoverian roofs, of dark red tile, sometimes delicately tinged with
moss, which are utterly unknown to us in the north.
Our way rose and
fell, and wandered in and out, with the changeful surface of the
land; and sometimes we found ourselves riding along a ridge, from
whence we could see down into the neighbouring vale, and over the
landscape around, beautifully besprent with farm-houses, and ancient
churches, and villages, each peeping out from its screen of summer
boskage,—and sometimes we were deep in a shady dell, where the steep
banks of the road were thickly embroidered with wild-flowers, above
which fine trees overspread the way with thick-leaved boughs,
through which the sunlight stole, here and there, in bright little
shafts of gold. And many a time, on our way to Dedham, we had to
pull up in these bonny green lanes of Suffolk, to let a great flock
of sheep go by. Everywhere we saw sheep,—fine, healthy-looking
sheep,—sometimes on their way from the washing, sometimes just new
clipped. The horses, too, were of a kind that I have never noticed
in the north. They are all of a massive, strong build, and all of
one dull brick colour. These, with the numerous pollard oaks which
grow by the waysides, are amongst the features which seem to me
peculiar to this part of England.
We were still on the Suffolk side
of the river Stour, in the parish of East Bergholt, where Constable,
the artist, was born. As we descended a gentle slope of the road,
the beautiful valley of the Stour lay before us, with the spire of
Dedham Church rising above the trees, about two miles off, on the
opposite side of the river. At the foot of the slope stood Flatford
Mill, the subject of one of Constable's famous pictures. Never man
loved his native nook of the land better than did that gifted
miller's son, who rose to such eminence in his art. As I looked
round upon that lovely landscape, I longed to see it after a heavy
summer shower,—an aspect of the scene in which the great artist felt
especial delight. I suppose that no English painter has ever caught
the vivid beauty of the poet's "rain-drop lingering on the pointed
thorn" so well as Constable did. A man cannot look upon his pictures
without feeling the coolness and freshness of a newly-fallen shower
come over him; nay, he may almost hear the heavy drops come
pattering down in a rush, with every gust of wind that shakes the
Constable was born at Flatford, in East Bergholt
parish, in the year 1776. He was the son of the miller of Flatford,
which, as he often said with pride, accounted for the many mills,
and streams, and dams, and weirs in his pictures. The house in which
he was born is now pulled down; but I understand that no man, who is
acquainted with his pictures, can wander about the place of his
birth without recognising, again and again, features of the scene
upon which he has often mused with intense delight, and which he
reproduced on canvas with such vivid truth, lighted with the mystic
beauty of his own artistic nature. Speaking of the scenes of his
childhood, he says: "East Bergholt is pleasantly situated in the
most cultivated part of Suffolk, on a spot which overlooks the
valley of the Stour, which river separates that county on the south
from Essex. The beauty of the surrounding scenery, its gentle
declivities, its luxuriant meadow flats sprinkled with flocks and
herds, its well-cultivated uplands, its woods and rivers, with
numerous scattered villages and churches, farms and picturesque
cottages, all impart to this particular spot an amenity and elegance
hardly anywhere else to be found. . .
"I associate," says he, "my
careless boyhood with all that lies on the banks of the Stour; those
scenes made me a painter, and I am grateful." This passage comes
warm from the heart of a man who truly loved the place of his birth. Wherever Constable wandered in after years, the scenes of his
nativity clung to him with great tenacity to the end. Even his cows
are always of the Suffolk breed, without horns. A view of the house
in which he was born forms the frontispiece to his "English
Landscape;" and many of his favourite subjects are in the immediate
neighbourhood of his birth-place. He often introduced into his
pictures the spire of Dedham Church, which is on the Essex side of
the river Stour, and nearly opposite to the place where he was born. At Dedham we are within seven miles of Colchester, the ancient Camulodunum of the Romans,—where, in the year 62, the legions of the
Empire suffered one of the greatest defeats they ever experienced in
their conflicts with the ancient Britons. The old turnpike road from
Ipswich to Colchester runs near Dedham, and Constable tells us that
once, when travelling in a coach, with two strangers, through the
Vale of Dedham, he (Constable) chanced to say, as he gazed upon the
scene, "This is a beautiful country." "Yes, sir," replied one of the
strangers, "this is Constable's country!" "I then told him who I
was," says Constable, "for fear he should spoil it."
We found Dedham a remarkably clean and quaint old town; consisting
principally of one wide street, with many genteel residences
therein. It is in the heart of a beautiful country; and the
greenness of the surrounding scenery creeps into the town. It seems
that the cloth trade flourished here in the reign of Richard the
Second; since when it has wholly declined. Upon a slight elevation,
near the middle of the town, stands the noble old church of St.
Mary,—the spire of which Constable so often brought into his
pictures. Beneath the arches are the Roses of York and Lancaster;
and on the east side of the battlements is a statue of Margaret,
Countess of Richmond. During our short stay, we were hospitably
entertained by Dr. Lermit, who, with his amiable family, spared no
pains in making our visit to the sweet old town of Dedham very
pleasant; and twilight sank down on the beautiful valley of the
Stour, as we rode back to Ipswich, through wooded Bergholt, that
fine summer night.
How fair thou art, let others tell,
To feel how fair thou art, be mine.
AND now, the
record of my first visit to this beautiful nook of the Eastern
Counties of England draws to a close, and I must bid farewell to the
"town of the old Iceni," which stands at the head of Orwell's tide;
and to the pleasant scenery which girdles it round; the
"Illustrious land, where Saxon, and proud
Kings of East Anglia, feudal lord and thane,
Have flourished, faded, died."
During my stay in that district, I was happy in the companionship of
an eminent man, and an old friend—a man not only learnèd in the
botany and geology of the land, but a man whose whole nature was
keenly alive to the beauty of the scenery around him, wherever we
chanced to be [Note]. To read his books,
which are not only truly scientific, but full of true poetry—to read
his "Half Hours in the Green Lanes" of England—is a delightful
thing, even to an unscientific mind; but to wander with the writer
himself in a green lane, and to linger, again and again, listening
to the fervid yet simple and poetic beauty of his discourse upon
little tendrils, and creeping plants, shy delicate mosses, and "wee,
modest" wild flowers growing by the dusty wayside, is a thing not
easily to be forgotten by any one of a susceptible spirit.
When I remember, now, our pleasant rambles together, in the green
nooks of the land, I feel that to him, indeed,
"The meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
In that delightful retrospect I feel the full significance of the
words of that contemplative poet who says
"How sweet it is, when mother Fancy rocks
The wayward brain, to saunter through a wood
An old place, full of many a lovely brood,
Tall trees, green arbours, and ground flowers in flocks;
And wild-rose tip-toe upon hawthorn stocks,
Like to a bonny lass, who plays her pranks
At wakes and fairs with wandering mountebanks—
When she stands cresting the clown's head, and mocks
The crowd beneath her. Verily I think
Such place to me is sometimes like a dream
Or map of the whole world: thoughts, link by link,
Enter through ears and eyesight, with such gleam
Of all things, that at last in fear I shrink,
And leap at once from the delicious stream."
In Ipswich, too, it was my good fortune to meet with so much
kindness, that every convenient interval that came between my
wanderings to and fro was filled with courteous hospitality. I
was especially indebted to one old English gentleman,—a rare
combination of humour and cultivated intelligence,—a man whose
genial nature has gathered "troops of friends" around his declining
years, amongst high and low. To him I owe many a pleasant
hour, spent in his fine "Old House," in the centre of the town,
where the bowery "pleasaunce" at the rear swarms with pets, which
frolic about, each after its kind, in a region of delight; and their
eyes seem to brighten with pleasure at the sight of himself, or any
of his household,—so tenderly are they cared for, "no man making
Accompanied by him, too, I was taken through some of the
choicest estates in the neighbourhood,—which is famous all over the
eastern counties for the beauty of its ancient parks and gardens.
I shall never forget the beautiful scenery of Wolverstone Park,
Stoke Park, and Orwell Park, through which I rode with my friend.
In the grounds of Orwell Park there is an immense evergreen oak, of
great beauty. In the same park, too, where herds of red deer
were trooping across the glades, I saw,—for the first time in my
life,—a great heronry,—which is a very rare thing in these days.
In the house, also, which is the seat of Colonel Tomline, and to
which we were admitted through the influence of my friend, I saw a
noble collection of pictures, among which are three of the best
Murillos in England. One of these,—Christ healing the lame man
at the pool of Bethesda,—was painted by Murillo for the Church of
the Caridad, at Seville; and was bought from Marshal Soult for
£6,000. "All things considered," says Waagen, "I look upon
this as the finest Murillo in England." Amongst the collection
are the following pictures. Christ and the Magdalene in the
Garden, by Carracci. Dancing Peasants, by A. Van
Ostade. Charles the Fifth, bust in armour, by Titian.
The Magdalene, with a skull, by Giovanni Pedrini.
Moonlight Landscape, by Artus Van der Neer. View of
Dort, morning, by A. Cuyp. Landscape, with dogs, by
P. Wouvermans. A Courtyard, with peasants, by Teniers.
Portrait of himself, by Vandyck. St. Augustine in
Ecstasy, adoring a burning heart, by Murillo; with others, by W.
Van der Velde, Bergbem, Murillo, Salvator Rosa, Gains-borough, Frans
Spiders, Stanfield, Raffaelle, Titian, Andrea del Sarto, Holbein, F.
Backhuysen. The house also contains fine marble busts of Lord Bacon,
Sir Walter Scott, Pitt, Fox, the Duke of Wellington, and Byron.
And now that I am here in the north again, which, in spite of
all its smoke, I love so well, for the brave, sturdy, kindly life
there is in it, I shall look back upon my short sojourn in East
Anglia with undiminished pleasure; and I feel as if I had read over
again an old page of the history of my native land in more vivid
characters than before.
Note: the author of the book to which
Waugh refers ("Half Hours in the Green Lanes") — and, apparently,
his friend and guide during his visit to Ipswich — was Dr. John
Ellor Taylor (1837-95), author, lecturer and curator of Ipswich
Museum. For further details on Taylor, see his entry in the Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography. . . . Ed.
A RUN UP THE RHINE.
IN the heart of
our dingy city there is a little kernel of rural life, which is
always refreshing,—especially to those poor exiles from the country
who are doomed to soak their daily bread in sulphuric acid and
slutch; and who weep by the streams of Manchester when they remember
the rivers that water the posied wild.
To the prowling Arabs of trade, this spot is like a spring in
the bricky desert, reviving their weary hearts with a touch of
natural beauty. It stands between "The Old Church" and the
Exchange; and, with genial admonitory smile, it seems to lay a
kindly hand upon the shoulder of each. On Saturday mornings,
"in the season of the year," there is a constant surge of old and
young towards this vernal pleasaunce, where they wander in and out
among the new plants, and snuff the sweetened air, and buy posies
for their button-holes; and at holidays, and other pretty by-times,
the church bells rain down their old romantic music upon the busy
scene; whilst a ceaseless medley of twittering song rings out,
through the livelong day, from the bird-shops in Old Millgate, hard
by. It is a garden which continually changes the features of
its beauty; and it "smells as sweet as Bucklersbury, at simple
time," for there green Cheshire teems her fragrant stores, and the
air is filled with the aroma of fresh herbs and flowers from day to
day; and there the comely, brown-faced country women sit chatting in
the sun, among baskets of fruit, bunches of posies, pats of cream
cheese, crisp lettuces, and pots of honey; and, here and there as
one wanders among the stalls, the hearty ring of rustic speech comes
upon the ear, fresh as a mountain breeze from wild slopes of
flowering heather. . . .
So it was with me one morning early in May. I had yet
two hours to spare before I left Manchester for my first peep at the
Continent; and I turned into the old market-place. The market
folk were unloading their carts, and arranging their flowers and
plants; and a smart shower of rain was falling. "Mally," said
an old Dutch-built gardener to the woman at the next stall, "Mally;
this is a saup o' nice wayter." "It's nought else, Joseph,"
replied Mally; "it's nought else. There's butter in it."
"There is that," said the old man, switching the wet from his
billy-cock, "and I doubt it'll spoil little potitos, if it'll keep
agate." "It will, Joseph; it will; it's rainin' sallet,"
replied Mally. "I'll tell yo what, Mary," said a neighbour
man, who was lifting down a rhododendron from his cart, "I doubt th'
hay's gooin' to be leet this time." "Well, it just depends,
Abraham; it wants nought but rain; an' there's plenty o' time."
"Well, well; as yo say'n, Mary; but I'm flayed we's ha' some
backenin', yet." "Abraham," replied Mary, "thou'rt al'ays
lookin' at th' dark side o' things. Keep thi heart up, mon;
it'll happen turn out better nor likely." . . . "Come, sir,"
continued she, turning to a person who was looking at a fine
rhododendron, "let me sell yo that plant." "What's the price?"
"Three-an'-six-pence." "I'll give you three shillings."
"Well," replied she, "that's good,—as far as it goes; but who's to
gi' me t'other sixpence?"
The rain was still falling, to the delight of all the green
world; and, at ten in the forenoon, I bade adieu to the sweet
Irwell, and its pretty tributaries, and took the train for Ipswich,
on my way to the Continent, from the old port of Harwich, in
Suffolk; which is the favourite route for Holland and Belgium.
As we wriggled our way through the suburban smoke, I caught
sight of Dukinfield Old Hall and Chapel, looking gloomy and
disconsolate in the ugly landscape. Colonel Dukinfield, the
famous Cromwellian leader, who lies buried there, would hardly
recognise his native scene now. Coal-pits, shale, and cinders;
all-embracing smoke; no trees; slutchy rivers, and sickly bits of
greenery struggling for life in a poisonous atmosphere,—this is what
we see. In the dingy village, hard by, George Fox, the founder
of the Society of Friends, once preached at the market-cross.
The flat round stone on which he stood is now in the possession of a
learnèd friend of mine, who resides there. In Dukinfield, too,
Livingstone, the African traveller, worked for some time, as a
labouring man, in the service of Moffatt, the missionary. It
seems hardly credible, now, though it is true, that Dukinfield
figures as one of the gems of English scenery, in Finden's
well-known illustrated work, called "The Picturesque Beauties of
England and Wales."
Away we go. The tall chimneys flit behind us.
Gradually the smoke and blight of manufacture fade into nature's
unsullied green; and we are rolling onward through heathery hills,
and clear mountain rindles; whilst down in the valley at the left,
one after another, the lakes which supply Manchester with water lie
gleaming in the sun, at the foot of the wild moors. The
landscape looks glorious, in its rich, fresh beauty. "The
small birds rejoice in the green fields returning;" and all the
world seems to smile upon "the victory of the awakening divinities
of nature over the demons of winter." . . .
A whistle and a whisk, and we are rumbling through the long tunnel
at Woodhead. Ten minutes of rattling gloom, and rushing steam,
and we are out in the sun again. Past old Penistone we
run,—grey Penistone, which has stood upon the green slope, there,
for more than a thousand years; through lurid Sheffield we go; and
now, once more, we begin to breathe the pure air, and gaze upon the
posied plains of Middle England,—where sleepy rivers glide through
fertile lands and ancient hamlets peep out of their old nests of
verdure and the green fields are white with sheep and lambs, as far
as the eye can see. The bright, fresh verdure of the plain,
and the varied foliage of the woods are delightful to smoke-wearied
eyes. And now, yonder comes old Peterborough, with its grand
cathedral, and the nest-like, gardened purlieus around it.
Ancient "Medeshamstead,"—so quaint, and clean; and so rich in
At Peterborough I had an hour's ramble in the city.
Outside the cathedral, and its interesting environment, I met with
racing notices, racing pictures, and racing talk, grooms; jockeys,
and horsey swells, in all directions; and, after my hurried glance,
I came away with the impression that these old cathedral towns are
great places for red necks and paradise noses. At Ely we halt
for a few minutes; and I have just time for a good look at the noble
cathedral, which stands finely upon a hill-side, about a quarter of
a mile from the station. We are now in Oliver Cromwell's
country. Fertile plains, and glittering drains stretch away to
the edge of the horizon; and yonder, the towers and spires of
Cambridge sail into sight.
At Cambridge we had nearly two hours' delay; and I went into
the city, which is about a mile and a half from the station. I
had seen the place once before; but I was delighted afresh with the
clean, well-paved, wandering streets,—the marvellous purity of the
air,—the quaint, old, well-conditioned houses, with over-hanging
balconies, and curiously-carved upper stories,—the peeping bits of
garden, the bright foliage, gushing out between the houses,—the
utter absence of dirt and squalor,—the grand old collegiate
piles,—and the evening sun sleeping upon the grey towers, and
cloistral nooks of ancient churches and colleges . . . .
This is a great country for sheep, and horses of the old Flemish
build; and for grain, and green crops; and I notice that the people
are of a healthy, ruddy hue; and incline to what one may call the
The next station of any importance after we leave Cambridge
is Newmarket, where, of course, everything that we see at the
station smacks of the racecourse. The moon was up when we
reached the town of St. Edmund's Bury; and in her mild radiance, the
country looked like a great garden flitting by, for the next
fourteen miles. I reached Ipswich about ten, where I found my
old friend, the professor, awaiting me; and, that night, I was sung
to sleep, once more, by the Suffolk nightingales.
Oh, Bothwell bank, thou bloomest fair.
THE lad who began
his school-essay upon the horse with the words, "The horse is an
animal with four legs,—one at each corner," was a genius in his way.
The words, taken in themselves, are disgustingly true; but there is
something original in the point from which our literary fledgling
viewed his subject. He was strikingly correct in the number of
the creature's legs, and all that, but,—who ever heard of there
being "one at each corner" before? That bit of news redeems
the whole thing from commonplace, and startles one like a pistol
fired off close to the ear. It is trite as the rest, but it is
so remarkably fresh;—and one feels astonished that one has never
heard it before. I should like to know what became of that
promising young student of natural history, for there was a daring
quality in his mind that was very rare. . . . And thus it is in
describing what one sees as one goes about the world; it is easier
to tell a few obvious truths in an ordinary way,—guide-book truths,
if you will,—than to tell the truth from a new point of view; it is
easier to talk than to think; and it is easier to think in a
ready-made rut than to strike out a path of one's own. But,
after all, a man can't whistle without top-lip; and I can only say
that I will do my best, under the circumstances, to take my reader
along with me.
And now, I could not resist the invitation to take a farewell
frisk in the beautiful country about Ipswich, before crossing the
sea. It is the very garden of Eastern England; the more I have
seen of it the more I have been inclined to linger there. In
the course of our ramble I met with one or two things which may,
perhaps, be worthy of a short chapter by the way; and then, after
"one crowded day of glorious life" upon this pleasant shore, I will
take to the water at once.
On the morning after my arrival, as I roved about the green
edge of "The Mount," listening to the nightingales in the woods
below, and gazing upon the landscape which lay between me and the
towers and spires of Ipswich, I thought I had never seen the country
look so rich and beautiful in spring-time before. That
charming scene was one paradise of bloom, and bright fresh greenery,
up to the tops of the hills which shut the landscape in on the
landward side. Ipswich is one of the most delightful old towns
I know to wander in; everything is so clear, and bright, and quaint,
and cheery-looking, and the air is so pure and exhilarating.
It was market-day, and great droves of clean-looking cattle
were crowding through the streets, followed by hearty-looking
English drovers. Somehow, cattle seem more at home on the
streets of Ipswich than they do on the streets of Manchester.
The cattle that come through Manchester have always a jaded,
frightened, and over-driven look; they get fearfully abused, and
worried, and knocked about, among the bewildering traffic of crowded
thoroughfares; and they are frequently lamed, and run over. . . .
Early in the forenoon we set out for a drive into the country
west of the town,—the beautiful country that Constable painted and
loved so well. As we rode along under overhanging boughs, I
remarked again the prevalence, in this quarter, of the pollard
willow,—"the queen of the meadows,"—which appeared so often in
Our first halting-place was the clean little town of Needham.
It stands on the river Gipping, that gives name to Ipswich, and it
is a town of little more than one long street; and contains less
than two thousand inhabitants. It was once a seat of the
woollen manufacture; but, somehow, that glided out of its hands, and
the place became "poor to a proverb." Just outside the town
there is a farm, called "Hungry-gut Hall," which may be some way
connected with its declined fortunes; and one sees faded bits of
gentility here and there among its best buildings. There is a
touch of pathetic interest in the following inscription, which I
copied from a slab over the doorway of an ancient almshouse, in the
main street: "This almshouse, for eight poor widowers belonging to
this place, was originally endowed by some benevolent individual
whose name is now unknown."
From this place we drove on, three miles, to the town of
Stowmarket. Stowmarket is a charming old English town.
It is as clean as a new pin; and it combines the quaint features of
the olden time, with a perfect air of modern comfort, order, and
prosperity. Barley, hempen fabrics, sacking, and twine these
are what old Stowmarket grows fat upon. This is the old town
of the Tyrells. Sir Walter Tyrell, who shot Red William, in
the New Forest, was one of this family. In the church there
are some remarkable monuments of the Tyrells, well worth seeing.
The poet, Crabbe, went to school in this town. Young, Milton's
tutor, was vicar of Stowmarket, and his monument is in the church.
Young was chaplain to the English factory, at Hamburg, when Milton,
then aged eighteen, wrote his "Elegy," which has been translated by
Cowper. Milton afterwards visited Young here, at "Stoa
Icenorum," as he calls Stowmarket and a mulberry tree, of great
size, in the vicarage garden, is said to have been planted by the
After seeing the vicarage, the tombs of the Tyrells, and of
the Abbot of St. Osyth, we dined at the King's Head, in a quaint
wainscoted room overlooking the main street, and then went forth to
look at the town; and I may say, in passing, that sauntering about
old Stowmarket, on a fine day, is like bathing in wine.
The old church clock was striking two as we took the road
again. Mile after mile we rode along the grand woods of "Shrublands;"
and a little way off, on the right hand side of the road, my friend
pointed out a long, low range of building, in the midst of the
fields, which was the modern monastery of the celebrated Father
Ignatius, who certainly has pitched his tent in a scene remarkable
for its peaceful beauty.
From this point we cross over into the valley of the Stour,
and take our way through village the quaint old English village of
Bergholt. Bergholt is associated with many ancient customs,
and many famous English names. King Harold gave it to his
brother Gurth, "the tallest and strongest man in England;" after
which, passing from one Norman lord to another, it became,
eventually, the property of Cardinal Wolsey. It is a sleepy,
green spot; and, with the exception of two or three modern houses on
the skirt of the village, everything in the place seems centuries
old. The country around around it is very beautiful and
serene. From Bergholt we descend to the banks of the Stour at
Flatford Mill, the birth-place of Constable, the painter. The
mill, and the miller's house, where Constable was born, are still
standing and in good condition. From this place we went on to
the little town of Manningtree, on the Stour, which does a lively
trade in corn, coals, and malt. In Manningtree Church there is
a monument to one Thomas Ormond, who was roasted alive, in the reign
of Mary Tudor, because he would'nt go to mass. Matthew
Hopkins, the witch-finder, was born here. In 1644 he and some
others were sent out by Parliament in search of witches. They
went through Suffolk, Norfolk, and Huntingdon; and hanged sixteen
persons at Yarmouth, forty at Bury St. Edmunds, besides others in
Suffolk, to the number of sixty. Butler thus alludes to this
worthy in "Hudibras,"—
Has not this present Parliament
A ledger to the devil sent,
Fully empowered to treat about
Finding revolted witches out?
And has he not within one year
Hanged three score of them in a shire?
It is rather consoling to remember that Master Matthew, at last, had
"a peck measured out of his own seck," as we say in Lancashire.
He was flung into the water with his thumbs and great toes tied
together. He swam; and so—
Proved himself a witch,
And made a rod for his own breech.
The cattle market here was famous in the olden time; and our
Shaksperian readers will remember that Prince Hal calls Falstaff
"that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly."
From Manningtree we returned to Ipswich through the pleasant old
town of Dedham, where for the first time, I noticed the famous mock
window, painted by Constable, upon the church wall, before his name
was known to the world.
In the evening I sat at an open window, in the ancient
seaport of Harwich, waiting for the steamboat for Antwerp.
I'm afloat; I'm afloat;
And the rover is free.
THE day was far
spent when I stepped ashore at Harwich, after a run of sixteen miles
down the river Orwell. There it was my good fortune to fall in
with Captain Rivers, the harbour-master, whose noble conduct in the
Black Sea is mentioned by Dr. Russell, in his account of the Crimean
War. Under genial convoy, I crept out of the hot sun, and
wandered about the narrow streets, which, in ancient times, have so
often swarmed with martial crowds of our own rugged islanders, on
their way to the Continental wars. There had not been a cloud
upon the sky all day; and, as evening came on, hues of unearthly
grandeur sank down upon the stilling scene.
The holy time was quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Was sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven was on the sea.
It wanted half-an-hour to the starting time when I stepped on
board the steamer for Antwerp, accompanied by my two friends, Quartz
and Tinto,—the artist and the geologist.
Harwich is a fine harbour, formed by the confluence of two
important rivers,—the Orwell and the Stour,—and it is at any time a
remarkable scene, with the vessels riding at anchor upon its broad
expanse, and its entrance guarded on one hand by the ancient town,
and on the other by the formidable "Landguard Fort;" but, on this
evening, the scene, from the deck of the steamer, was very striking;
and Tinto's fine eye blazed with unusual light as he gazed in
silence around. The sun had just dipped his golden disk behind
the Suffolk woods; leaving a trail of lingering grandeur upon land
and sea, too fine for mortal tongue to tell. The very air was
suffused with a solemn and subtle beauty; and the smooth sea was
flushed with a glory that deepened as the light declined.
Vessels of all kinds lay at anchor, far and near in the broad
harbour; but they were as still upon the water as "painted ships
upon a painted ocean;" and the man-of-war, "Penelope," whose huge
bulk was clearly reflected in the glassy deep, about a mile off,
might have been a phantom ship but for the pacing sentinels, here
and there, on deck. It was a scene of solemn beauty.
At last our starting-bell rang. We cast loose, and
churned away from old Harwich, gazing back upon the broad harbour we
were leaving, as English sailors have gazed upon it a thousand years
ago; for it was from this harbour that the fleet of King Alfred,—the
first English fleet on record,—sailed, to fight the Danes, in the
open water, outside, in the year 885. The "Darling of England"
was victorious, and captured the Danish ships. In 1326, Prince
Edward and his mother landed here from Hainault, and proceeded to
make war against the king. In 1338, the same Prince, now
Edward the Third, embarked from Harwich with a fleet of five hundred
ships, on his first expedition against France; and, in 1340, he
again assembled his forces here, and beat the French fleet, lying
In the time of the Rump,
When old Admiral Tromp
With his broom swept the Chops of the Channel;
and during the reign of Charles the Second, the engagements between
the English and Dutch fleets frequently took place so near these
coasts that the inhabitants were spectators from the cliffs.
This harbour was often crowded with fighting ships during the Dutch
We are now out upon the open sea—the war path of the ancient
Scandinavian pirate; for their "nailed barks" swept down this way
upon the shores of England and the Continent. These waters
have seen a great deal of the horrors of war.
Wrecks are darkly spread below,
Where with lonely keel we go;
Gentle brows and bosoms brave
Those abysses richly pave.
Night is advancing; Harwich, and the far-stretching shores,
fade away behind us. The moon is up; the sea is as smooth as a
looking-glass; and the wild tone of the bell-buoy comes with solemn
clang across the lonely sea as we churn away from Old England.
The boat was crowded with passengers; and, amongst the
number, I particularly noticed two broad-set men, with great open
faces and bullet-heads. Those I had pointed out to my two
friends as being remarkably like the old breed of Lancashire men, to
which Tinto replied that they were the very pattern of a pair of "Owdhammers;"
and, soon after this, as we paced the deck, I overheard one of them
saying to the other as he pointed towards us with his thumb, "Yon
three are Lancashire chaps." "I've bin thinkin' so," replied
the other. "I'm sure they are," answered his friend, "for I've
just yerd one on 'em axin' tother for a reech of bacco." When
roosting time came on they disappeared, but they turned up again
I spent the night on deck. The half-moon was up; the
cloudless sky was crowded with stars; the air was balmy; and the sea
was as smooth as glass. I shall never forget the solemn
splendour of that moonlight night at sea: nor the weird beauty of
the break of day upon the slumbering ocean.
Our first peep of land was the dim outline of the Belgian
shore, about Ostend; and, in two hours after that, we were close to
the Dutch town of Flushing, at the mouth of the river Scheldt.
We were so near to the town that we could see into the streets; and
we could hear the church clock striking six. And now the
passengers began to creep out of their nooks and corners, and
amongst them the two Lancashire strangers. "Hello, Jone!" said
one to the other, "wheer hasto bin o' neet?" "By th' mass,"
replied his friend, "I couldn't bide a minute longer down i' that
hole so I crope up here, an' I dropt asleep among a lot o' ropes, at
tother end yon; an' I slept like a top." "Well, come; get thi
face weshed, an' let us goo an' have a bit o' breakfast." When
he had washed his face, he stood with the basin in his hand, looking
helplessly around. "Jone," said he to his friend, "Wheer mun I
put this dirty wayter?" "Put it i'th say, theer," replied the
other, "put it i'th say what the dule, it'll howd it!"
Great in courage; poor in goods; sword in
That is the motto of Guelderland.
As we crossed the sea at break of day, the
sailors pointed out the dim, low-lying shore, where they lay; and
their names stirred the hair upon one's head like a point of war.
And here we are, right in front of Flushing, at the mouth of the
Scheldt,—the first foreign town I ever saw. There is nothing
foreign about it,—so far as I can see,—except the steep, red-tiled
roofs, and the frowning fortifications. We are so near the
town that it seems as if I could hit the outer walls with a stone,
from the deck of the steamer. I can see up one or two of the
lines of street, with, here and there, a bit of greenery gushing out
between the houses. All is quiet, and clear, and Sunday-like;
for it is early in the day. Outside the town there are three
or four great windmills,—but there is no wind,—so, they too, are
still. And, from the church tower, in full view yonder, the
stroke of six comes booming on the clear air of this pleasant May
morning, as we slacken speed to take in a boat-load of passengers.
Flushing is what one may call a sentinel-town of Holland; and
it has heard the roar of war, with a vengeance; as, indeed, where
has it not been heard. The quiet bed of this river Scheldt,
and all the waters that lave the Netherland shores, are paved with
cannon-balls, and the wreck of war. Flushing is a town of
about 12,000 inhabitants, with a naval dockyard, and a harbour for
merchant ships. Its fortifications are very strong; and, with
Fort Breskens, on the opposite (Belgian) shore, completely command
the mouth of the Scheldt,—which is about a mile and a half wide at
this point. There they lie,—these great forts,—still
enough,—but glaring across the entrance of the river, like two
mastiffs, ready to spring.
In 1809, Flushing was bombarded, and taken, by the English
fleet, under Lord Chatham, when,—amongst the usual bloodshed and
breakage,—the fine town hall, and two churches, and one hundred
houses were destroyed. Since then, we have been gradually
finding out,—as usual,—that the whole of that business was a
mistake. We wrecked, and took the town, and killed the people;
and "that was the sole and useless result of the English expedition
to the Island of Walcheren, undertaken by one of the finest English
fleets ever equipped." Philip the Second,—whose memory the
brave, long-suffering Dutch have no special reason to love,—embarked
from the town of Flushing to return to the Netherlands no more; and,
no doubt, the brave Netherlanders thought it "a good shuttance," as
we say in Lancashire. Admiral de Ruyter, who was the "Nelson"
of the Dutch, was born here, in 1607. He was the son of a
rope-maker, but his mother, whose name he assumed, was of noble
origin. Englishmen ought to respect the memory of this brave
sailor, for, in 1667, he took his fleet up the Thames, with flying
colours, destroying fortifications, and ships of war, and throwing
all London, together with the "Merry Monarch," and his court, into a
great fit of consternation. This triumph is now attributed to
the cupidity and negligence of the king, who spent the money
destined for the navy upon the pleasures of the court. From
such monarchs, and their merriment,—"Good Lord, deliver us!"
The new passengers are now on board; and the boat that
brought them is pulling back quietly to the town. The steamer
begins to move again; and our way lies, for the next fifty or sixty
miles, up the river Scheldt, as far as the city of Antwerp, with the
shore of Holland hard by on our left, and the Belgian shore, in full
view, on the right.
It is a beautiful morning. Several of the passengers
are taking a kind of rough-and-ready breakfast on deck; and amongst
the rest, the two Lancashire men, whose appearance I have noticed
before, were seated amongst the luggage, regaling themselves on hard
biscuits and cheese, and coffee, and continually calling to the
steward to "bring some moore." I had been amused by the
curious looks with which their eyes had followed us about the deck,
as if they wanted to speak to us; and, at last, the elder of the two
came sidling up, with a cup of coffee in his hand, and said,—"Excuse
me, maister; but yon mate o' mine an' me, we'n bin watchin' yo
three, a good while. Now, if I mun be so bowd, aren't yo
Lancashire chaps?" We told him that it was so. "By th'
mass," said he, flinging the remains of his coffee out, "I durst ha'
sworn it! I con tell 'em amung a million! Gi' me yor
hond! . . . Heigh, Joe! It is as I said! They're Lancashire
chaps,—every one on 'em!" "I thought so," said the other,
coming slowly up, with slinging gait, and smiling face; "I've just
bin sayin' that yo favvour't a lot o' shoddy-chaps. I don't
know whether it is so or not; but I'm fain 'at we'n let on yo,—as
what yo are." "Ay, by th' mass; and so am I, too," said his
friend; "so am I, too. We're o' reet, now, Joe. Keep thi
heart up I towd thi we should leet o' company afore lung!" . . . .
"Ay," continued he, laying his hand upon his friend's shoulder, "Joe
here's a cousin o' mine,—they co'n him 'Camomile,' for a by-name.
His faither wur Owd Croddy, th' bonksman,—I dar say yo'n yerd tell
on him. Joe's just had a bit o' brass laft him bi a relation
of his, 'at live't at Ipswich; an' I come down wi' him a-drawin' it;
an' so I towd him, that, while we were here, we met as weel have a
bit of a marlock, oather i' Lunnon or somewheer else. An' wi'
that, he says, 'Sam if thou'll be as hard as me, we'n goo reet
across th' herrin'-poand, an' have a flirt amung oather th' French
or th' Dutch, or some other strange folk.' An' I said, 'Agreed
on; but, by th' hectum, we's be getten taen up or some lumber.'
An' then Joe says, 'Keep thi pluck up, men; I'll back thi till thi
yed flies off! Stick to me, an' I'll poo thi through! If
ony o' these foreigneerin' chaps turns reawsty, thee tell 'em wheer
thou comes fro, an' who thi faither wur,—an' if that'll not do,—set
thi shoon agate o' gooin', an' keep 'em gooin', till I come up; an'
then we'n sattle wi' 'em, thou'll see! If I can get my back
again a wole, it'll tak a lot o' thoose craiters to get o'er me!'
An' so I said to him, 'Joe, thou'rt to rough. If thou'll
promise to keep both thi shoon an' thi tung still, I'll go with tho
but if thou doesn't, I'll not stir a peg!' So he promised 'at
he would; an' here we are, yo see'n. We dunnot know a soul i'
this country; an' its mich if ever we getten whoam again. I'm
fain 'at we'n let on yo: I'm beawn down into th' lower shop a bit.
We's be seein' yo' again afore aught's lung."
Wij leven vrij, wij leven blij,
Op Neêrlands dierben grond.
We liven free, we liven blithe,
On Netherland's dear ground.
AWAY we go, up
the river Scheldt, between Holland and Belgium; passing, now and
then, a heavy-laden Dutch vessel, slow-moving with the tide;—not
what some people call "pretty" to look at, but broad-fronted,
broad-bottomed, quaint, and strong all over,—and made of good stuff,
and plenty of it,—like the men who built them. And, here and
there, we saw boats, with lofty careen prows, something like ancient
Roman galleys, as we see them in pictures. On each side of the
river, the country presents the same general aspect, reminding me
sometimes of "The Fylde," and sometimes of the banks of the
Humber,—except for the great fortifications, and the vast
embankments which line this water. On each hand, the country
stretches away, in great green plains as far as the eye can see.
On the shore, "dunes," or "downs," or sand-hills, and osier-grown
embankments of sand. Beyond the shore, great fertile
levels,—where there are no hedgerows, nor shady old lanes, with
sprawling borders of wild greenery, such as we have in England,—the
divisions of the land being marked, here and there, by lines of
tall, slim-looking trees; and, sometimes, the country, hard by the
shore, lies so much below the level of the river we are sailing
upon, that the red-tiled roofs of the houses, and the towers of
little village churches, only just peep over the tops of the
enormous embankments which are necessary to keep out the sea.
Sailing up this river Scheldt, one sees more than meets the
eye; for one feels that one is gliding between two famous
countries,—great battlefields, where, for the last two thousand
years, the strongest nations of the world have striven for the
mastery. On the right-hand side of our way lie Ghent, Bruges,
Lille, Namur, Brussels, and the field of Waterloo,—all Flanders, in
fact,—where our soldiers are said to have sworn terribly, during the
old wars,---as they used to do, sometimes, I believe. The
names of these places come upon the ear like blasts from a trumpet
of war; for the whole land is strewn with memories of bloody
conflict. On the left-hand side of the river lies Holland,—a
web whose weft is water, and whose warp is land,—salt water and
tulips,—Holland with its ancient cities, and towns, and its quaint,
brave people,—Holland, the "verdronken land" (the drowned land),—a
garden, fished up from the depths of the sea,—a country rich in
herrings, cheese, grain, posies, canals, windmills, fine arts, and
"derring-do" by land and by water,—a country whose history rings
with the great achievements and noble deeds of a brave and enduring
people,—who are in league with the wild ocean as their strong ally
against the foreign foe.
Our steamer clips the Dutch side of the river; and for more
than thirty miles we are gliding along the shore of Zeeland,—an
island province,—the general character of which is indicated by its
heraldic emblem, —a swimming lion,—and the motto, "Luctor et
emergo." The swimming lion would not be a bad emblem for
the whole Dutch nation. The greater part of the province of
Zeeland lies considerably below the sea-level,—which fact was very
evident to us, now and then, as we neared the shore, where the roofs
of tall houses peeped over the tops of the embankments. The
only natural elevation in all this amphibious province of Zeeland
consists of a few low sand-hills, on the west coast of the islands
of Schouwen and Walcheren,—the first bit of Dutch land we touched
at,—near Flushing. The rest of this province of Zeeland is
protected against the encroachments of the sea by immense
embankments, three hundred miles in length,—the annual repairs of
which cost about £85,000. The Dutch may well say that their
embankments are "worth their weight in silver." Holland is the
lowest country in the world in position, the greatest part of it
lying many feet below the sea-level. The safety of the whole
kingdom, therefore, depends upon these dykes, which are maintained
by continual watchfulness, at enormous expense; and, as Baedaker's
Guide pithily says:—
"The constant imminent nature of the danger will be
thoroughly appreciated by the stranger, if he stand at the foot of
one of the great dykes at high tide and hear the breakers dashing
against the other side of the barrier, at a height of sixteen or
eighteen feet above his head."
Gliding onward up the Scheldt, along the shore of William the
Silent's watery land, our two Lancashire friends, who were generally
hovering near, heard us talking of the nature of the country as we
came in sight of the peeping tops of a little Dutch village, when
"Sam," the elder of the two, laid his hand upon my shoulder, and
"I say, maister; is that wheer th' Dutch liven?"
"Heigh, Jo! Sitho! yon's wheer th' Dutch liven!"
"What, at th' back o' that knowe?"
"Ay, wheer thoose chimbley-tops are peepin' up."
"Oh, ay! By th' mon,—I'll tell yo what,—th' wayter'll
splash o'er into their porritch, now an' then,—winnot it?"
"Aye; thou'rt reet, owd lad. If ever th' say gets o'er
th' top o' that broo, it'll sleck their fires out for 'em."
"It has done that mony a time,—bi what they say'n."
"By th' mon, Sam, I'd as soon live in a cellar. I'll
tell tho what; they'n be terribly plague't wi' th' rheumatic,—wi'n
"Ay; an' there's a lot on 'em gets drown't every year,—accordin'
to o' accounts."
"Oh, ay? . . . I'll tell tho what, Sam; if I live't i' that
hole, I'd go to bed in a boat every neet."
"Ay; an' thou met happen find thisel' in another country when
thou wakken't i'th mornin'."
"Well,—that would be better nor findin' mysel' at th' bottom
"An', who lives at this tother side, here, say'n yo?"
"Oh, ay. Dun they live theer? Why; they're noan
so mich better off nor tother, bith look on 'em."
"Nawe," said Camomile, "they're about th' same bat, for bein'
"Belgians;" continued Sam, gazing dreamily at the coast of
Flanders, "I don't know 'at ever I see'd ony o' that sort. But
I guess we's be leetin' on 'em in a bit."
"Come, that'll do. Well—to tell truth, I've never sin
noan o'th Dutch, yet,—nobbut a bit of a doll that I bought th' last
Rushbearin', for a little lass 'at lives at th' end of our fowd."
"Oh, bother no moor about it!" said Joe, "thou'll see moore
sorts than one, afore aught's lung."
On we went, up the Scheldt, with the same generic features on
each side, all the way,—low down by the shore, grass grown, sandy
rabbit-warrens; vast embankments, and frowning forts; windmills,
scattered over the landscape, far and near; green meadows, gleaming
pools, and lazy kine,—scenes that Cuyp delighted to gaze upon.
Amongst the passengers on deck there is a good-looking Belgian
woman, —strong-built, and with gleaming eyes,—sitting in front of a
great cage-full of young canaries, scraping the perches, and making
the pretty little minstrels as comfortable as she can. The
birds evidently know her, for they are not a bit afraid when she
puts her hand into the cage.
The river winds about a good deal as we approach Antwerp;
and, as the lofty tower of the cathedral sails into sight, the
stream narrows considerably; the banks bristle, everywhere, with
formidable forts and batteries; large vessels lie at anchor in the
river, here and there; and great docks, and forests of masts, begin
to show themselves. At last we are alongside the pier at
Antwerp,—and the famous old city of Peter Paul Rubens lies before
us. With the exception of the dresses of the porters, and the
prevalence of military uniforms, I see nothing, at the first glance,
very different to the features of an English sea-port. The
custom-officers examine our luggage hastily, and write the usual
pass upon it, in chalk; but when he lays hold of the carpet-bag
belonging to our Lancashire friend, "Camomile," that hero says,
"Here, owd brid; what arto for? That's mine!" And, when
we explained the matter to him, he said, "Well, he's no 'casion to
look at ours,—we'n stown nought."
At last, we crushed our way through the crowd on shore; and,
before we had time to hail a cab,—for there are cabs here,—and
cabmen, too,—our Lancashire friend, "Sam," came up, with "Camomile "
close behind him, and said, "I say; wi'n yo let us go wi' yo?
We'n plenty o' brass. I've fifteen pound,—o' one mak' an'
another; an' Joe theer's five pound i' gowd, an' three five pound
notes stitched i'th inside of his waistcoat. . . . We're o' reet,
mon! But, we's be gettin' slatter't, afore we'n gone fur,—I
know. . . . Wi'n yo let us go?" "Come on!" "Fol der
diddle ido! Come on, Joe! I towd tho it would be o' reet!"
Thus far into the bowels of the land.
Antwerp,—the most interesting city in the Low Countries. The man who
has visited Antwerp may truly say that he has "heard the chimes at
midnight," for all through the silent hours, the air swarms with
strange melodies that wander forth from the towers of its ancient
Antwerp is pre-eminently a city of great painters. Its
very name reminds us of Rubens, Van Dyck, Quentin Matsys, Teniers,
and others, whose renown has come to us ringing "down the groove of
time." There is something sunny, homely, and serenely-singular
about the old city,—although it is a sea-port, subject, within
certain limits, to the restless change, and riotous bustle, which,
more or less, belongs to such places. It is the Liverpool of
Belgium,—the only other Belgian seaport of any importance being
Ostend. Belgium is deficient in outlets by the sea; and it
wants the coast of Holland to complete its facilities. Antwerp
is the Liverpool of Belgium,—and it will be some time before our
English Liverpool is as pleasant a place to dwell in as grey old
At Antwerp, on the Scheldt, we are sixty miles from the sea;
and the river is about a third of a mile broad, and thirty feet
deep, at high water. The name of the place comes from "Aen't
werf,"—"on the wharf." It was founded in the seventh century;
and, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, its population was
almost as great as it is now,—that is, about 135,000. In the
time of Charles V. it was reckoned the wealthiest city of all the
Continent; and it became, also, a nursery of fine art, second to
none in the world, but the city of Florence. During this era
flourished Quentin Matsys, Rubens, Van Dyck, Teniers, Jordaens, De
Crayer, Zeger, Snyders, and many other eminent painters of lesser
note. Their names are associated with the fame of the city;
and their works so enrich its ancient churches and museums, that the
young painter of these days wanders about Antwerp with a feeling of
reverence for the grey homestead of those great masters of the art
which catches the features of man and nature upon the balance of
expression, and holds them there, for the delight of future
generations. This was, indeed, the golden age of Antwerp, in
more senses than one. In those days, the great fairs of
Antwerp were attended by merchants from all parts of the civilised
world. More than a thousand foreign mercantile firms were,
then, established here; and one of the Fuggers,—a famous firm of
merchants,—died here, leaving a fortune of two million ducats,—which
meant a great deal more then than it does now. There is an old
monkish rhyme about the characteristics of Belgian cities, in which
the wealth of Antwerp is alluded to:—
Nobilibus Bruxella viris, Antwerpia
Gandavum laqueis, formosis Bruga puellis,
Lovanium doctis, gaudet Mechlinia stultis.
(Brussels rejoices in noble men, Antwerp in money, Ghent in halters,
Bruges in pretty girls, Louvain in learned men, Malines in fools).
Brussels for lads;
Antwerp for brass;
Ghent for a halter;
And Bruges for a lass.
Louvain for schoos, an' Malines for foos.
These old rhymes are said to be true in their application to this
day; and perhaps they are about as true as our own local allusions
to "Owdham Rough Yeds," "Bury Muffs," "Rachda' Chaps," and
The decline of Antwerp began during the Spanish rule.
The horrible tyranny of the Inquisition drove thousands of its most
valuable citizens forth into the world in search of homes.
Many of these settled in England, where they established silk-works,
and greatly enriched the land of their choice by their industry and
Antwerp has had many strange ups and downs in its time.
It suffered most severely under the Spaniard,—not only in the usual
way of pillage and slaughter, but through the dark terrors of the
Inquisition. In 1598 its population was reduced to 55,000.
Even then its fortunes had not reached their lowest ebb.
Through the intrigues of its Dutch rivals, and the Treaty of Munster
in 1648, by which Holland was declared independent of Spain, the
river Scheldt was almost entirely closed to Antwerp vessels,—and the
population of the city sank down to 40,000. It suffered
considerably in subsequent wars; and, at the close of the memorable
siege in 1833, "the city presented a frightful scene of desolation,"
and for many years after its commerce was completely prostrate.
But the sun of prosperity has dawned upon old Antwerp again; and its
port is now entered annually by 5,500 vessels of an aggregate burden
of 1,830,000 tons, So much for the history of the place.
The steamer is lashed to the pier, and the passengers are
hurrying ashore,—and we must wait our turn. The purity of the
air was quite exhilarating, and everything stood out with a
distinctness which was wonderful to fog-trained eyes, but the day
was blazing hot; and when we had crushed our way to the quay we
crept under the edge of a shed,—among blue-bloused porters with
close cropped hair, trim-looking officials in military uniform,
piles of luggage, and jabbering travellers claiming their
property,—whilst the Professor,—who, being a linguist, was our
speech-master, hailed a cab "in good set terms." In the
meantime I peered out along the line of buildings on the
quay,—mostly whitewashed,—shops, restaurants, drinking-houses,
shipping-offices, and sea-port haunts of various kinds,—not unlike
Liverpool, only not on such a large scale, not so dingy, nor so
substantial. The names on the signs were not all foreign. Here
and there was an English or a Scotch name. And now, as I look
more carefully around, at the details of life around me, I begin to
feel, distinctly, that I am not in England.
But, here comes the Professor, with an open conveyance, large
enough to hold us all, including "Camomile," and "Sam;" and away we
go to the "Hotel de I'Europe," a house in the centre of the city,
kept by an Englishman, and much frequented by English travellers.
A few minutes' drive, in the fierce sun, along the quay, and then we
turned into narrow, shady streets, getting deeper and deeper amongst
the quaint features of ancient Antwerp as we went. Here we
began to meet with priests gliding to and fro, in black robes, and
hats, of foreign cut,—soldiers at every stride, and shrines at every
street corner, fixed to the wall, about twelve feet above the
ground,— workmen, in blue blouses, and sabots, or wooden shoes,
—heavy, lumbering water-carts, drawn by heavy, lumbering, Flemish
horses, with bells at their necks; and women, with antique
head-dresses and great flaps of snow-white lace hanging down the
sides of the face. Now I know that I am on the Continent.
These strange features kept our eyes on the alert as we went along.
"Sam," said Camomile to his friend, "there mun be a barracks
somewhere about here."
"What makes tho think so?"
"Well,—I've sin seventeen different maks o' sodiurs i' less
than five minutes."
"They're happen for havin' a review, or summat."
"It's a parson, bith colour on him."
"What mak will he be, now?"
"Nay, I don't know. 'Dipper,'—happen!"
"Dipper, or no Dipper,—he's a fause joker, bi th' look on
"Now then,—look out! Sitho, Sam! What han we
"Why, they're two women,—an' noan sich feaw uns, noather."
"They'n bin doin' summat wrang, I guess."
"What makes tho say that?"
"Why, look, what they han o' their yeds."
"It's what they wear'n regilar."
"Bith mass, I thought they were circus-folk."
The next thing that caught Camomile's attention was the
short-cropped hair of the workmen passing by.
"Sitho, Sam," said he, "they known how to pow 'em i' this
"Ay; I've bin lookin' at yon a good while. Bith maskins,
he favvors a singe't ferret. . . . Another short-toppin't-un theer,
As we stepped out of the vehicle, in front of the hotel, Sam
whispered to his friend,—
"Now, let me gi' tho warnin', afore we goen into this hole.
Thou mun mind what thou puts i' thi inside,—for they heyten o' maks
o' garbage i' this country."
At length he spied those towers grey,
That catch the first bright blush of day;
And heard the sweet old wandering chimes,
That told the tale of by-gone times.
OUR hotel was
next to the post-office, on the eastern side of the "Place Verte,"—one
of the principal market-places,—near the centre of the city.
This pleasant opening is about five times the size of our own Saint
Ann's Square; and it swarms throughout the day with picturesque and
happy activity. The old come there to rest, and the young come
there to play. It is adorned with rows of healthy trees, and
good seats free to all comers. It is kept in excellent
condition; and in the centre stands a fine statue of Rubens, in
bronze, with his scrolls, books, brush, pallette, and hat lying at
his feet; and I caught my friend Tinto quietly lifting his hat to
this noble effigy of the great art-master. The north end of
the market-place is entirely occupied by the famous Cathedral,—the
largest and most beautiful Gothic church in all the Netherlands.
We were now in the very heart of old Antwerp; and we lingered
in front of the hotel to look around. The day was bright and
hot; nearly four hundred feet above the marketplace the marvellous
old Cathedral chimes were tinkling forth their silvery melodies into
the sunny air; and there was something so glad-looking, so quaint,
and so strikingly unlike anything I had ever seen before, that the
first glance at the romantic scene took all the weariness of a
sleepless night out of me at once. All dusty, and disordered
in apparel, we lingered a little while in front of the hotel,
delighted with the picture before us.
Whilst we were thus occupied, our two Lancashire friends
stood aside, engaged in a little by-play of their own.
"Camomile," who had been solemnly warned by "Sam" to beware of what
food he partook of in the hotel, now drew Sam apart, and laying his
hand upon his shoulder, he said to him in a serious undertone,
"Sam, owd lad; thou knows we're a good way fro' whoam,—in a
foreign lend. I'm dubious about these folk. They'n play
us some mak of a mank, if they finden out 'at we're English,—but, by
Guy, thou surely doesn't think 'at they'n poison us, doesto?"
"Well, happen not,—but I've yerd sich tales about their
cookin' i' this country, that it's turned my stomach mony a time.
Mon, they heyten snails, an' rattons, an' frogs, an' o' maks o'
slink, i' this quarter."
"Dun they ――! I'll ha' noan o' their garbage!
Here, stick to that! I'll go an' find some cake-brade an'
stew, somewheer! . . . But, thou'rt makin' a foo on me!"
"Nay, I'm not."
"How leets thou didn't tell me that afore we started; an'
then I could ha' brought a seck-full o' cheese an' loaf for us to
goo on wi'?"
"I never thought on't."
"They'n ha' summat fit to bite at, sure?"
"Not mich, I doubt: mon, it's a common thing for 'em, here,
to have a pint o' red ink an' a hond-full o' snails to their
"Here, that's enough I'm off!"
"Howd; howd! Dunno be in a hurry, mon! Let's see
how they shappen. If we dunnot like what they setten us, we
con order some lobscouse,—or a beef-bo' a piece — or summat."
"Agreed on. But, by th' mon, th' first 'at I catch
playin' ony pranks wi' my proven I'll let him taste o' mi' shoon,—if
I dee by't!"
"I'll tell tho what, Joe."
"Let's reckon to be Frenchmen. We's get better
The glass-shaded court leading into the hotel was adorned
with fine plants in pots, and was altogether a picture of airy
sweetness in every nook and crevice not the least pleasant feature
of which was the healthy-looking Flemish servant-girls, in
snow-white caps of quaint device, and clean light-coloured dresses,
busy cleaning here and there. Our landlord was an Englishman;
but, after a few hearty words of reception, he was suddenly called
away, and we were left floundering aground upon the shore of a
strange language; for, with the exception of our friend the
Professor, there was not as much French or German amongst us as
would have served for the direction of an ordinary parcel. The
Professor, therefore, had now to work double tides on our behalf,
whilst we stood helpless by, listening with wondering ears to these
strange tinklings from the "Pierian spring;" and, when he happened
to turn his back upon us for a few minutes, we were sometimes
reduced to extraordinary straits in the way of pantomimic
explanation, or to strange utterances in the shape of speech,—made
up, like Scotch broth, of different bits,—the composition and
meaning of which would have puzzled the most learned moonshee on the
face of the earth. . . .
Our apartments had been allotted to us; the luggage had gone
aloft; and we followed slowly, each man with the key of his bedroom
in his hand. As we climbed the fine old wide and winding
staircase, I overheard "Sam" whispering to his friend "Camomile," as
he pointed quietly around,—"It'll cost us a bonny penny, owd lad,
afore we getten out o' this hole!" There was no soap in any of
the bedrooms, and we found that any traveller who wished for soap or
candles had to give a special order for them, and they were then
charged separately in his bill; and it was not uncommon for
travellers to carry away the unused remains of their soap and
candles to their next quarters. After a refreshing wash we
hurried forth into the square; for our first glance at Antwerp had
made every man of us curious to see the old city.
It was a little past noon, and the full heat of the sun
poured down upon the market-place; which was a scene of quiet
gaiety, delightful to the eye. In the middle stood the fine
statue of Rubens, with a host of little children playing gleefully
about the basement. Here and there,—scattered about,—the
ruddy-faced market-women sat, with their baskets of fruits and
flowers; and their little carts, and hand-barrows, stood off at the
edge of the pavement, with the dogs, that drew them, lying asleep in
their harness. Upon the seats, under the trees, serene looking
old folks sat sunning themselves in the pure air, and dreamily
gazing at the play of life around.
The two sides of the square were chiefly occupied by
clean-looking restaurants or refreshment rooms, in front of which,
under great white awnings, clean chairs and tables were set, in the
open air. These seats were mostly occupied by well-dress and
orderly people, amongst whom there was a large sprinkling of
military men, in various uniforms; and, here and there,—not much
apart from the rest,—sat a comfortable-looking family party,—father
and mother, and children, taking their little refection at a table,
by themselves. It was a pleasant scene; and we sat down, like
the rest, to watch the interweaving features of the scene; and the
stream of life that trickled along the streets that line the
square,—and to drink Bavarian beer,—which, by the way, is a light,
pure kind of ale, not disagreeable in hot weather. And now it
was that our two Lancashire friends came into characteristic play
again. Hearing the Professor summon the waiter, by the name of
"Garçon!" "Sam" raised his glass, and cried, "Garstang! Here!
Bring me one o'th same sort!" Whereupon "Camomile" said to the
astonished waiter, "Here, owd mon; whol thou'rt agate, thou may as
weel bring me a saup too!"
The scene before us was singularly interesting. Now and
then, across the picturesque scene in the middle of the square, a
Jesuit priest, in shovel hat, came gliding by, with a book under his
arm, and his eyes bent upon his buckled shoes, and his black robes
fluttering behind him; next came a workman in blue blouse, and
wooden sabots, and with close-cropped hair; then came soldiers,
soldiers, soldiers,—of all sorts and sizes. Priests and
soldiers,—they prevail in this land,—in spite of the fine nature of
the people. Whilst sitting in front of the restaurant, I
spied, on the opposite side of the square, a sign,—"Estaminet
Rubens;" another little tribute to the memory of the great painter
whose name is associated with the city.
Blue blouses; market women; water-carts, of clumsy build;
dogcarts milk-carts, drawn by dogs; flapping lace caps; queer hats
soldiers and priests; priests and soldiers; one after another,
interweaving, they wandered by, in the pure, sunny air, as we sat
there under the white awning in the marketplace. And there,
right in front of us, at the end of the square, uprose the grand old
Cathedral, with its wonderful tower, nearly four hundred feet
high,—that marvellous piece of stone-work,—like a delicate
pencilling against the sky! Well might Napoleon liken it to a
piece of Mechlin lace; and say that it ought to be kept under a
I would entreat your company
To see the wonders of the world abroad.
trip was too hurried,—too much like a trail-hunt, sniffing and
scudding along, without halting in the chase. If a man has
only a little holiday, let him not spend it in rushing from place to
place,—especially in hot weather; let him settle quietly in one
spot, and see it well, so that it may leave a clean picture in the
gallery of his memory for the benefit of after days. Our stay
in Antwerp was too short. It is the most enchanting city in
Belgium rich in its old-fashioned Flemish life; rich in its history,
and in its ancient buildings and still more singularly rich in
ancient master-pieces of painting; amongst which the finest works of
Rubens are preserved.
Early in the afternoon we left our seats under the awning in
front of the statue of Rubens, and went towards the grand old
Cathedral, at the end of the market-place; and, by-the-bye, this
same market-place, now swarming with the quaint life of the city,
was, anciently, the graveyard of the Cathedral. The dimensions
of the building will give our readers some idea of its imposing
appearance. It is 128 yards long the width of the nave is 57
yards; the transept is 71 yards the body of the building is 130 feet
high; and the height of the tower is 402 feet. This church has
seen much turbulence, in one shape and another, in its time.
In 1566 it was seriously damaged by Puritanical zealots; and in 1794
the French Republicans overran the place with destructive rage.
The lower part of the Cathedral is almost entirely concealed by
old-fashioned shops and houses, which cluster thickly around its
basement, like shell-fish clinging to a sea-washed rock. Many
of these are now being cleared away, especially near the principal
Leaving the hot glare of the sun, we entered the Cathedral by
the south portal,—which has been so oft assailed in old times by
stormy crowds of turbulent Flemings. On one side of the portal
was the word "Uitgang;" on the other was the word "Ingang."
The interior was cool, and still, and grandly, solemnly impressive;
and here and there, about the wide nave, kneeling devotees were
scattered, with eyes bent earnestly upon the altar. Now and
then a black-robed priest hurried along the aisles, or a curious
lounger, like ourselves, sauntered timidly about, staring to and
fro. There was no visible service going on; but there was a
strong smell of incense; and from unseen corners, a low buzz of
muttered prayers seemed to fill the solemn air. The south
transept, by which we entered, contains Rubens' famous master-piece,
"The Descent from the Cross." In the north transept hangs
Rubens' "Elevation of the Cross;" and the high altar-piece is an
"Assumption," also painted by Rubens. We found all these
pictures curtained from view; but we learnt from the sacristan that
on the morrow (Whit Sunday) they would be unveiled, and grand high
mass would be performed with all the pomp of the Roman Catholic
ritual. We, therefore, quitted the church, resolving to attend
the service on the following day.
We left the Cathedral by the great western portal, and found
ourselves in a triangular-shaped opening, or marketplace, surrounded
by quaint shops and houses, amongst which we noticed the "Quentin
Matsys' Pomp Estaminet," which takes its name from one of the most
famous curiosities of Antwerp, hard by. On one side of this
market-place, and a few yards from the western entrance to the
Cathedral there is an ancient well, protected by a curious canopy of
hand-wrought iron, of floral device, and surmounted by a statue of
Brabo, a mythical hero, who defeated the giant Antigonus. This
curious piece of ironwork was done by the celebrated Quentin Matsys,
early in the sixteenth century. The inscription on his
tombstone, close by the entrance to the tower of the Cathedral, says
that he was "in synen tyd grofsmidt, en daernaer famous schilder"
(at one time a blacksmith, afterwards a famous painter).
Quentin Matsys was originally a blacksmith from Louvain, who came to
Antwerp in search of work, or, "on tramp," as the workmen of England
would say; and this wrought-iron canopy above the old well by the
Cathedral is one of many specimens of his skill, which are still
preserved in the city. One tribute to the genius of the man is
that the spirit of his invention runs through a great deal of the
ornamental ironwork of Belgium to this day. A good deal of
kindly romance has woven itself around the memory of this remarkable
man; but, as the story goes, during his blacksmith days he fell in
love with the daughter of a painter; and in order that he might the
better propitiate the father, and win the daughter, he gave up the
anvil and took to the pallette, with a will. Inspired by love
and genius, he wooed and painted, and painted and wooed, with
remarkable success. Happily married to art, and to his
artist's daughter, he rose to rank among the foremost painters of a
country and a time which was famous for painters; and he is said to
have been "chiefly instrumental in raising the school of Antwerp to
a celebrity equal to those of Bruges and Ghent." His great
master-piece, "The Dead Saviour,"—which was formerly an altar-piece
in the Cathedral,—is still shown in the museum of the city.
His tombstone bears the inscription, "Connubialis amor de
Mulcibre fait Apellem."
Leaning against "Quentin Matsys' Pomp," in the little
triangular market-place, we are right in front of the great western
façade of the Cathedral,—the only side on which the building shows
itself from the basement to the topmost pinnacle of its wonderful
tower, which rises 402 feet into the air,—a marvellously-beautiful
and elaborate piece of open stonework,—which has been the admiration
of all Europe for centuries. It looks so fine,—so
delicately-wrought,—so like a petrified cobweb,—up there 134 yards
from the ground, that it seems as if a strong wind might blow it
away into the distant fields.
Not the least remarkable thing connected with this tower is
its famous set of chimes, which consists of ninety-nine bells, the
smallest of which is only fifteen inches in circumference; the
largest, cast in 1507, had the Emperor Charles V. for its godfather,
and weighs eight tons. These chimes seem to start up about
every ten minutes, and,—like a chorus of silver-throated
sky-larks,—fill all the upper air of Antwerp with melody. And
if a solitary bell sounds anywhere, it seems to waken up a score of
sets of chimes in different quarters, till the city is fairly
bedewed with tinkling bell-music. . . .
Quitting the little market-place, we wandered about the
narrow, old-fashioned streets near the Cathedral; among
trinket-shops, lace-shops, tobacco-shops, and restaurants. In
the window of one of these there was a large card,—"Tripes à la mode
de la Caen." The word "Tripes" caught "Camomile's" eye, and he
darted right in; but before five minutes were over, he came forth
again, growling like a wounded bear, at everything,—the foreign
speech; the tripe, which he characterised as "dutch,"—and the bread,
which he called "baked moonshine." In one of these narrow
streets, a strong, stone-built, gloomy-looking old house, with great
iron bars across the windows, was pointed out to us as a "Spanish
house," or Spanish residence during the domination of Philip and the
Duke of Alva,—when the houses of the Spaniards were often assailed
by the oppressed Flemish population.
When mild evening came down upon the old city, we spent
another hour or two, in the open square, beneath a cloudless
moonlight sky; and then retired to bed at the hotel, well pleased
with our first day on the Continent.
In the quaint old Flemish city,
As the evening shades descended,
Low and loud and sweetly blended,
Low at times and loud at times;
And changing like a poet's rhymes,
Rang the beautiful wild chimes
From the belfry in the market.
of life on the Continent struck me in contrast with our life in
England,—the purity of the air,—the breezy, cheery out-door
life,—the pleasant, picturesque squares, and open spaces, in the
great towns,—and the general sobriety of the people. Of
course, the purity of the air was singularly remarkable and
exhilarating to me, coming from the smoke of a manufacturing town.
Antwerp is a sea-port; and, I dare say there is a
considerable amount of drunkenness down about the docks, among
English sailors, "swag-bellied Hollanders," and other adventurous
spirits, "who go down to the sea in ships;" but, during my stay in
the city,—indeed, during the whole length of my journey, out and
home, I did not see one instance of downright drunkenness; and, only
one, in any way approaching to it,—which was a blue-bloused-workman,
who halted for a few minutes on his way home, at the close of the
day, with his working tools in a "bass," or wicker-bag, and sat down
to rest upon one of the seats in the square, evidently jovial, but
not at all helpless, "market-fresh," as we say in England.
This was the only sign of inebriety which I met with in all the
course of our journey. If we had lingered a little longer on
the way, perhaps we should have met with a great deal more; but, I
am sure that, during the same time, in England, we should have seen
a hundred cases of drunken prostration,—especially in sea-port
towns, like Liverpool, or Newcastle-on-Tyne.
There is a great deal of English-looking activity on the
streets of Antwerp, from morning to night; indeed,—apart from little
peculiarities of dress,—the Belgians are not unlike the English in
appearance; they are very fairly clad, and I scarcely saw any
beggars amongst them. They seem active, and happy, and,
generally, well-employed; and they seem to live a good deal more in
the open air than we do in England. This gives them a hardier
hue than is common in our manufacturing towns; though I doubt
whether they are as well fed, and as well housed as the same class
of people are with us. I should have been glad to have seen
how the poor folk of Belgium live, in their own houses; but the
helter-skelter rate at which we went from place to place left no
chance of that.
The towns of England are not made attractive to the eye,—they
lack breezy spaces, and relieving greenery, especially in the
manufacturing districts, where the air is poisoned with sulphuric
acid, and a general dinginess, a leaden gloom, and monotony of
feature unconsciously depress the spirits,—especially in wet
weather,—of which we get a large share. I don't think the
streets of Antwerp are as well paved and sewered as those of
Manchester; but in Antwerp, the air, at least, is cheerfully bright;
and the rain that falls is clean rain; and there is a great deal of
sunny out-door life, which is very charming to the eye , although
even this pleasant out-door life may be a little delusive in
appearance, for it may represent poverty as well as pleasure; and it
may indicate neglected homesteads amongst the working population.
So, also, the smoky gloom of an English manufacturing town is
somewhat delusive to the eyes of those who dwell in brighter parts
of the land; for, though we have low "slums," and foul air, and
poverty, and vice, in their worst forms, I do not believe there is
any working-class in the world so well fed and clad and housed as
the working-classes of our manufacturing districts are.
Our bedrooms at the hotel were on the top floor; and they had
folding windows, which opened to the roof, in full view of the
cathedral tower, which was not more than five hundred yards off.
That ancient playmate of the storms of centuries looked doubly
beautiful by the chequered moonlight; for the full moon was up, and
the fleecy sky was "dashed with wandering isles of light." I
threw open my window, for the night was hot and still, and there was
not a breath of air stirring, as I lay listening to those beautiful
old chimes, tinkling away the summer night in low mellow chants and
carillons. All else was still; and I sank into a dreamy sleep.
But amid my broken slumbers
Still I heard those magic numbers,
As they loud proclaimed the flight
And stolen marches of the night;
Till their chimes in sweet collision
Mingled with each wandering vision,
Mingled with the fortune-telling
Gipsy bands of dreams and fancies,
Which amid the waste expanses
Of the silent land of trances
Have their solitary dwelling.
I had not slept many minutes before a startling knock came to
my chamber door.
It was "Camomile."
"What's to do?"
"There's no swop i'th hole."
I rose and lent him my soap; telling him to keep it till
morning; and then tried to sleep again but just as I was beginning
to doze, I was roused by another rap.
"What's o' this ringin' about?"
It was Sam this time. He had been disturbed by the
chimes. I answered him rather strongly, telling him to get to
bed and let me rest. Sauntering back along the lobby, he
grumbled as he went.
"I never were so pelted wi' bell-music sin I're born!
Neet-time, too,――! It's no use tryin' to sleep i' this hole!"
I lay awake for some time after this; and hearing a low buzz
outside, I opened the door quietly and peeped out. There, upon
the floor of the lobby, with their backs against the wall, sat
"Camomile" and Sam, counting their money, and reckoning up they
expenses, in low whispers. Creeping back to bed, I sank at
last into a sound sleep, which lasted till the dawn of day; when I
was, once more, startled by a loud rap at the door.
"Hallo! what's that?"
"It's me! Are yo o' reet?"
"Ay; o' reet."
"That'll do! Co' o' me, if aught stirs! I'm i'th
next reawm but one, here; an' Joe's i'th next hoose to me.
After that I lay awake for an hour, watching the grey summer
Listening with a wild delight,
To the chimes that, through the night,
Rang their changes from the belfry
Of that quaint old Flemish city.