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THERE are many circumstances, which conduce to render the Netherlands, and especially Holland, an object of interest to the American. Foremost among these, I place the agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial industry of the people, and the effects of this upon the physical exterior of the country, and its political fortunes. Its inhabitants have, by their enterprise, their diligence, and courage, recovered from the sea the very land they occupy. They have converted into a garden that which was originally a barren waste, half submerged beneath the ocean. They have covered the country with durable monuments of their enlightened skill. For a time, they succeeded in gathering to their shores the commerce of the world; and although now stripped of most of their foreign colonies, and reduced in commerce by the successful rivalry of other nations, the signs and the results of their past prosperity, and the traits of character which created it, still remain, to interest and instruct the traveller.
Next to this, in attraction to an American, is the political history of the Dutch. The Swiss Cantons and the United Provinces furnish to us the proud and glorious examples of the first great European free governments, among the men of the Germanic race. Revolting from foreign masters, and relying for success upon the elements of strength and liberty which their local institutions afforded, they waged those illustrious wars of independence, which have rendered them a name of honor in Europe and America. The United Provinces, especially, by the great achievements which illuminate their history, the triumphs they gained by sea and land, in their struggle to shake off the Spanish yoke, their speedy rise to wealth and power, by the expansive energies of civil and religious freedom, and the splendid events which signalized their subsequent conflicts, first with England, and then with France, are entitled to engage the careful study of the people of the United States, between whose history and theirs so many points of analogy occur.
Finally, Holland is the father-land of the state of New-York, which is in itself a great empire, surpassing many, and rivalling most, of the free communities of ancient or modern times, and which, in every part of it, bears witness to the peculiar qualities, and particularly to the order, industry, enterprise, and love of liberty, which charac
terize the Old World Dutch. The names of William and Nassau, of De Witt, of Olden Barneveldt, of Grotius, of Van Tromp, of Deruyter, ought therefore to be as dear to an American, or at least to a New-Yorker, as those of the celebrated names of English history, which are so much more frequently on our lips. Though myself a New-Englander, and of unmixed English stock, I have yet surveyed the Netherlands, with emotions belonging to a father-land of my country; a father-land of the same primitive race and distinctive properties as that of the Anglo-Saxons; and a father-land upon which, alike with England, an American may look back, with just pride, as the home of an honored ancestry.
I visited the Netherlands in two successive years, first in the summer of 1829, and again in the summer of 1830. On the first occasion, I sailed up past Hellevoetsluys to Rotterdam, by way of Hollands Diep. From Rotterdam, I proceeded to Delft, the Hague, Leyden, and Haarlem; and thence returning to Rotterdam, through Voorburg and Delft, went by Bergen op Zoom to Antwerp, from Antwerp to Ghent and Bruges, and then back, through Ghent and Alost, to Brussels, and finally through Mons into France. On the second occasion, I proceeded from London by steam to Rotterdam, past the Brielle; from Rotterdam to the Hague and Leyden; from Leyden through Alphen to Amsterdam; from thence to Utrecht, and through Gorcum and Breda to Antwerp, Mechlin, and Brussels; and from Brussels through Alost, Ghent, and Bruges, to Ostende, and so back to England. Thus I was enabled to become acquainted with the principal cities of those countries, which are popularly known as Holland and Belgium. Of course it would be absurd for any man to pretend, by thus cursorily inspecting a country, to acquire, through his own unaided observation, exact or intimate knowledge of the character of the inhabitants, of their political and moral condition, of the statistics of the country, of its literature, of the basis and substance of its nationality.
One thing, however, he may do, without incurring the guilt of passing presumptuous judgment, founded on superficial inquiry. He may faithfully describe what he actually sees; and this I have endeavored to do, in the sketches which I shall present of the chief cities of the Netherlands. One thing farther, an educated American, who visits a foreign country in our times, might well attempt; and that is, to verify and utilize the multifarious facts and opinions touching the country, which other men have published to the world, and to present the combined result of personal observation and of book learning, rather than to restrict himself religiously to the duty of giving an account of what he sees with his own eyes, and hears with his own ears. In regard to countries which are little known, what we most need, and what we require, is the testimony of the traveller as to the facts which come under his observation. It is not so, however, in respect of a people with whom we are comparatively familiar; a people whose institutions, history, and character, have formed the subject of numerous original publications; a people continually before us in the business transactions of the merchant, as well as in the books of the scholar, the deliberations of the statesman, or the more superficial sources of information, accessible to the man of the world. A new work upon such a people, at the present day, might
safely depart from the common routine of travels, containing, as they strictly do, only the imperfect observations or conclusions of a single mind; and might venture to give the systematized results of study, as well as observation.
In the present papers, however, I limit myself to the easier and simpler task of extracting from my note-book an account of what I have seen or observed for myself, and of the reflections or explanations naturally appertaining thereto; omitting not only the reference to individuals, by name, but also passing by the graver matters of politics and government. And as the entrance into the heart of HolÎand from the sea is the best possible introduction to the peculiarities of the country, I begin with that.
In proceeding up the British Channel, the voyager is warned of his approach to the Netherlands, by indications not to be mistaken. Between Dungeness and Dover, you pass the meeting of the tides, so well known to mariners. It is a remarkable and well-defined line in the sea, separating the deep blue waters of the Western Ocean, which enter the Channel below, from the whitish, clay-colored water of the North Sea. The causes of this peculiar phenomenon it is easy to understand. The flood-tide sets to the southward, along the western coast of Norway, from the North Cape to the Nare, and thence onward along the eastern coast of Great Britain. Scotland takes it first, and at length it reaches Dover. Meanwhile, the tide has also been setting up the Channel, between the Lizard and Ushant, and thus brings the waters of the Atlantic up to Dover, where, in the narrow strait between England and France, the two opposing currents come in contact, and thus present a line of demarcation, in which the color and quality of the two seas are singularly contrasted. Off against Dover, you leave the coast of England, and steering a northeasterly course, you pass the cliff of Calais, and stretch forward toward the islands of Zeeland. And here the voyager will not fail to observe the dark and squally aspect of the sky, for which the North Sea is noted. But long ere he gaius a view of the low flat shore to which he is bound, he will discern the fishing-boats on the Flemish banks, or encounter the small vessels of the Dutch and Flemish pilots, and perhaps merchantmen of a larger size. All these are highly characteristic of the people to whom they belong, and seem the more striking to an American, from being the very opposite of our own style of naval construction. This remark is particularly true of the fishing and pilot-boats, with their round stem and stern, their short, thick, ungainly hulls, so different in appearance from the sharp, slender, and bright-looking craft, which meets the eye along the shores of the United States.
Obtaining a view of the low, sunken coast of the island of Walcheren, you feel that you have reached the Netherlands, indeed. This island belongs to a group situated at the mouth of the river Scheldt, which together compose the province of Zeeland. Its name, which is simply sea-land, is most significant of its situation. In the time of the Romans, its territory formed a portion of the main-land, but was broken up into fragments by the ramifications of the Scheldt and the assaults of the sea, from which its inhabitants are now protected only by immense dykes, which surround every island like a wall. The soil is in
every part below the level of the water, and of course the mariner, in sailing along the coast, sees nothing but tall spires rising above the dykes, to show that within are flourishing cities, and a numerous population. Walcheren, so famous in our own times for the disastrous expedition of the English, whose troops perished through the noxious dampness of the climate, is the most important, although not the largest, of the islands of Zeeland. It is enriched by the cultivation of flax, grain, and madder; and contains the large and ancient town of Middelburg, beside many villages and smaller towns, among which are Vlissingen, or Flushing, and Ter Vere, or Kampneer, which formerly served as the great markets for the Scottish merchants, and for contraband trade with England. Middelburg itself is distinguished for its public edifices, and for the prominent part which its inhabitants have acted, in all the political events of the Netherlands. But the prosperity of Walcheren, and of all the other islands of Zeeland, has been continually checked by inundations, and by the vast expense necessary to prevent their recurrence.
When off Schouwen, the northernmost of the islands, we received a pilot, and immediately steered in for the port of Hellevoetsluys. Passing close to the small island of Goeree, with its beacon and lighthouse, we entered an arm of the sea called Quaks Diep, in shallow, clay-colored water, surrounded by flat low-land, almost level with the sea, with houses, clumps of trees, and wind-mills, visible on all sides. Long lines of stakes stretched along the shores, serving to collect and retain the shifting sands, and to aid in furnishing protection against the sea. At length we arrived in the roadstead, and dropped anchor near several large ships of war, and amid a large number of vessels, whose high poops and bows, and round stem and stern, painted all of one uniform dingy color, sufficiently betokened a foreign sea-port, had the stranger-looking buildings on shore been wanting to complete the conviction. And landing at Hellevoetsluys, it was there I received my first impressions as to the peculiarities in appearance of the people and the towns of Holland.
At the mouth of the river Maes, as at that of the Scheldt, stands a group of large but low and flat islands, separated from each other and from the continent, by branches of the river or of the sea. Of these, Over Flakkee lies to the south of an arm of the sea called Hollands Diep, while Voorn, Beierland, and Ysselmonde, are situated to the north of it, and contiguous to the proper waters of the Maes, which, having arisen in France, and then crossed the provinces of Namur and Liege, in the Netherlands, at length changes its course, and proceeds in a westerly direction to the North Sea. But in fact, the body of water which flows around these islands, consists of the united currents of the Maes and the Rhine. Taking its rise in Switzerland, and holding its course northwardly between France and Germany, where its picturesque banks are the admiration of the traveller, the Rhine loses its beauty on entering the flat country of the Netherlands. Here it branches off into two streams, one of which, assuming the name of the Waal, goes to join the Maes, while the Rhine itself continues to Arnheim, and there throws off another stream, called the Yssel, which flows into the Zuyderzee. Proceeding now toward the western coast of Holland, the Rhine is once more