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BRUSSELS AND ITS BATTLE-FIELD.
OING north from Paris I took the best railway, the Che
min de Fer du Nord, and saw the best country that came under my observation in France. After passing St. Denis there seem to be no traces of the great war. The country lies open to the eye, the fields are larger, the cultivation better, and the villages more prosperous-looking than in either eastern or western France.
I had very few traveling companions. It seems to me that the French are not great travelers. I never saw in France what would be considered a full railroad train in England or America. For some time before Mons was reached there was but one person in the carriage with me-a portly old gentleman with a bald head. He did not get out at the dining stations, but solaced himself with some bread, pears, and a bottle of wine which he had with him. During his repast he remained as he had done before, silent; but as we passed the frontier, he pointed out the window, uttered the solitary word "Belge,” and commenced to talk politics.
I am an indifferent talker about politics in English, and in America, and it was certainly up-hill business to discuss French politics in an "unknown tongue,” in Belgium; but whether I succeeded in “defining my position" or not, my companion blew his
French horn with no uncertain sound. He was from Tours, he said — a town overrun with priests and monarchists. He thought MacMahon was a numbskull, and as much of a tyrant as he knew how to be; Thiers (since dead) had been of some service, but was no longer useful; Gambetta was a firebrand; but it was when he spoke of the late L. Napoleon that the bald head of my venerable friend grew red as fire, and he denounced him as the greatest criminal of the age. He said Charles X and Louis Phillippe were good-enough men personally, but, like all other kings, were “pretenders.” Any man who set himself up as a king was an impostor. When pressed for an answer as to his own favorite statesman, he replied that men were nothing to him, that he went for principle-a rather vague way of talking pending an election. I mention this case because it was the only instance in which I heard a Frenchman approach anything like a political conversation; and this was not in France, but Belgium. I fancy, however, that the discontented tone of this old gentleman's talk reflects the general feeling in France. The poor French — they have struggled for liberty lo these many years; have shed their blood for it; but they are as far from it as ever. It needs something besides taking down the word “Imperial” and substituting for it the word “National;" it takes something besides the words "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité," carved in cold, dead stone, to make a people free.
The country in northern France, which, in real-estate agents' parlance, would be called “gently rolling," becomes flat in Belgium. The roads are lined with trees, fairer and larger than the trim poplars that divide the landscape in France, and clouds of smoke rising at different points along the horizon betoken the presence of manufacturing towns, for Belgium is one of the greatest producers of manufactured iron.
Brussels at first struck me as a dreary town. Paris having set the fashion, the rage in all European cities is now for boulevards: these, in their newness and vastness, produce a Sahara-like impression on the traveler. They will look better a century hence, when their immensity is reduced by the now small trees. Brussels, however, improves on acquaintance. The Hotel de Ville is a fine old building, and the little square is of historical interest, for in it Egmont and Horn were executed. The square is a market-place now, and the day I saw it was flower day, and the whole space was radiant, mostly with fuchsias, which appear to be a favorite flower in the old country. Not far from the Hotel de Ville is the house where was heard the “sound of revelry by night.” It is now a club house. My indignation was stirred, not far from here, in visiting a famous lace manufactory. Here the marvelously - beautiful lace shawls, which sell almost for their weight in gold, are made. The work is all done by hand, and so slowly and painfully that it makes one's eyes ache to see the women at their toil. The woman in charge told me that four or five years is required to learn, during which the women receive no wages, and that after they have acquired the art they receive the munificent sum of two francs or about forty cents a day. They wanted to sell me a pocket handkerchief, about the size of a sheet of letter-paper, for thirty-five francs, but I declined. I was unwilling to support such a system of extortion, and shall never wear any Brussels lace as long as I live.
The cathedral of St. Gudule, in Brussels, is a very beautiful building, and has an advantage, rare in these old edifices, of standing on high ground. Notre Dame is on an island, and Westminster Abbey in the Thames “bottom;" but St. Gudule is on the slope of a hill, and surrounded by a high platform, so wide that carriages drive around it. The interior is filled with "the dim religious light” so often spoken of-so seldom seen. The carved wood-work of the pulpit is wonderfully fine; the figures, life-size, representing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. There is a monument in this church, which is surmounted by a figure of Charity giving a little child a piece of bread, that is full of poetry and sweetness.
The public grounds of Brussels are not extensive, but very handsome, and much resorted to. The city, of course, is full of statues, the finest being that of Godfrey of Bouillon, king of Jerusalem, who was born in the neighborhood. These old Crusaders look well in bronze, but they were an uncomfortable lot when alive. Few more bloody beasts have ever lived than the adored Richard of the Lion Heart. I am glad he and his outfit are all comfortably dead and buried.
Prior to going to Brussels, I had forgotten all about the battle of Waterloo, but being so near the scene of that once-celebrated action, my recollections being aroused by seeing the house where "soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,” and hearing also the “car rattling o'er the stony street," I resolved to go out to the locality from whence the order for the "first four” to “forward and back" was interrupted by the “cannon's opening roar.”
You go out to the field by an English coach, driven by an English coachman, who assured me, however, that the horses were not British, but a "bloody lot of old screws" of Belgian extraction. All my fellow - voyagers were English, going out to admire the field where some thousands of their countrymen got killed for nothing.
The road winds for some distance through the Bois de Cambre, a very handsome pleasure-ground constructed from the natural forest- just such as might be formed near almost every American city. You then come out on a macadamized road, constructed during the reign of Napoleon to connect Brussels with Paris, and passing through a succession of villages and fields, you finally reach the ugly little village of Waterloo, which gave its name to the battle. In the little Catholic church of the village are monuments to many of the officers killed in the fight, and one slab actually commemorates the fact that some private soldiers were killed there also. On seeing this, the ladies of the party broke into exclamations of delight at the noble spirit which prompted this recognition of the bravery of mere common soldiers; whereupon I quoted to them, with a feeling of calm and sweet satisfaction, the well-known passage from their own historian, Napier, how the “British soldier conquered in the cool shade of the aristocracy."
A few more fields passed, and you are on the ground where, we are told, was decided the "destiny of Europe,” which destiny has, nevertheless, been “decided” several times since. A guide — a sharp-looking young fellow in a blouse, who spoke English with a strong French accent, and who had evidently learned his English from cockneys— started at the head of the party. There were but two skeptics in the party, one of them being a young Englishman, a conservative in politics at that, but who, for some