Page images
PDF
EPUB

confess the humiliating fact of the tone of exaggerated personality too frequently indulged by our daily press. They reply, of course, that such a condition of the public press is evidence in itself of a bad state of things; that possessing, as our journals do, great influence, such a spirit of personality must prove injurious to the good taste and morals of the community; that the practice of each party in denouncing the public men of the other in such unmeasured terms, must tend to confound all distinctions of right and wrong, and thus produce the very profligacy it imputes, by rendering all public men callous to the censure of their adversaries, or drive the more sensi. tive and delicate-minded from public life; and that ruin to our free constitution may be the final result. It is easy to reply to this, by general praises of the elastic quality of republican institutions, and the redeeming spirit of public opinion ; but this reply, even when it is sincerely urged, seldom carries with it full conviction. No American, who travels either in England or on the continent, fails to see how much his country suffers in Europe from this cause.

From Leyden to Amsterdam, by the trekschuyt, I passed through Alphen, the Albiniana Castra of the Romans, with its charming environs, and through the pretty villages of Vithoorn and Oadenkerk, and so by the river Amstel, io Amsterdam. As the wealth, population, and commerce of this city render it the most important in Holland, it requires and deserves an examination suited to its rank. Its origin is equally humble with that of Rotterdam. History carries us back to the time when a few fishermen built a dam near the mouth of the small river Amstel, in the twelfth century, to direct the course of its waters into the Y, a small inlet or bay extending in from the Zuyder-Zee. It is prosperity, in the earlier periods of its growth, arose out of those well known changes in the course of trade, which belong to the general history of Holland, but received its great impulse during the war of independence, when the Northern Provinces, which had long been flourishing at the expense of those of the South, shot up with wonderful rapidity into wealth and greatness, in proportion as Brabant and Flanders declined. Commerce, driven from Antwerp by the disasters of war, took refuge in the marshes of Amsterdam, and thus enabled the city to assume the form and extension which we now see. In accomplishing this, art has done all, and nature pothing; for it is difficult to conceive of a more unpromising site for a great and populous city; and most of its advantages as a port are the result of the untiring exertions of its inhabitants.

Amsterdam is in the shape of a crescent resting upon the Y. Of the fortifications which formerly surrounded it on the land side, nothing remains but the broad and deep fossé, and twenty-six bastions, each containing a grist-mill. As the Amstel passes through the city, a multitude of canals branch off from it in various directions, so as to form ninety islands, of a soft marshy soil, on which the buildings are constructed by means of piles. The stagnant and shallow water of so many canals produces exhalations, which in the summer cannot fail to be prejudicial to health, notwithstanding the efforts made to give the water some circulation by artificial means. Numerous bridges unite the streets each side of the canals, and rows of trees adorn them, as elsewhere in Holland. Along the Y the city is pro

tected by sluices, and the works of the harbor. Hence it will be seen that the mode in which it is built, its canals, and the dykes next the Y, are among the great peculiarities of Amsterdam, and present interesting topics of remark. In fact, the whole city stands on large masts or piles driven into

In commencing any building, the first thing done is to dig into the earth six or eight feet, when water is found, which is pumped out, as far as may be practicable, after which the piles are driven in, to the depth of from forty to sixty feet, according to the intended size of the building. Their number varies also according to the magnitude of the building, about one hundred being required for an ordinary dwelling-house. For large public edifices, of course, a much greater number is needed. Thus under the Oudemannenhuis are fourteen hundred and thirty-two piles; and thirteen thousand six hundred and ninety-five were necessary to support the vast weight of the Stadhuis. When the piles are properly driven, they are levelled off at the top and plumbed over, to form the foundation upon which to place the masonry of the new edifice. When Erasmus first visited Amsterdam, he observed, in allusion to this circumstance, that he had now reached a place whose inhabitants lived like crows on the tops of trees. And for the same reason it is, that carriages are very sparingly used in this city, an apprehension being entertained that the jarring may prove injurious to the buildings erected upon such a precarious foundation. To obviate this difficulty, merchandise and even persons are drawn upon a kind of sledge, which easily glides along the pavement, by the aid of a barrel of water placed upon it to wet the stones.

It is plain that in such a soil there can be ny wells for the supply of pure water, And as the waters of the Zuyder-Zee enter the canals, which are also the common reservoir of all the filth of the city, and are nearly stagnant, it is impossible to drink from their corrupt and brackish channels. Aqueducts, of course, are out of the question, where there are no inequalities of ground, and of course no reservoirs of pure water from which to conduct a supply to the city in the ordinary mode. As a substitute for wells and fountains, the inhabitants are compelled to collect in cisterns all the rain water which falls on their houses. In addition to this resource, water is procured by means of water-boats from the small town of Weesp, situated on the river Vecht, about two leagues distant from Amsterdam. It is inevitable, however, that in a flat marshy country like Holland, there should be a deficiency of good water; and the circumstance is too often alleged in justification of the common use of spirituous liquors by the people. Indeed, excuses of this kind are not wanting in Holland, because the extreme dampness of the air tends greatly to encourage the same indulgence.

Amsterdam is not remarkable for its public squares, but it contains many fine streets, which, with its quays, on the Amstel and the Y, and its bridges, impart a sightly and city-like air to its principal quarters.

Of the bridges, that on the Amstel called Amstelbrug, and sometimes the Lover's Bridge, is the most remarkable, because its length is considerable, and its height enables one to take an extensive view of the Amstel, including the quays and buildings of the city on the one hand, and on the other the windings of the river beyond the

ramparts. The handsomest streets are the Heerengracht and the Keizersgracht, each of which consists of a spacious avenue, running between lofty houses, with a broad canal in the centre of the street, and rows of trees on each side. Indeed, the ornament of trees along the canals in the city is not less cherished in Amsterdam than in Rotterdam ; and here also we find a Plantaadje, consisting of a large space covered with trees planted in rows, intersecting one another at right angles, and affording at all times a shady and verdant promenade.

Of the buildings of Amsterdam, the most important and celebrated is situated on the only great square in the city, called to this day the Dam, and having originally served as a kind of nucleus for the infant city. The Dam is not regular, nor particularly beautiful as a square; but the palace, which stands insulated in the midst of it, is perhaps the most celebrated edifice in Holland. It was constructed in 1648, and served as the Stadhuis of the city until 1808, when it was converted into a royal residence by Louis Bonaparte, and has retained the same destination under the new dynasty. It is a building magni. ficent in itself, and imposing from its position and structure, in the form of a parallelogram, two hundred and eighty-two feet in length, by two bundred and twenty-two in depth. Along the front are seven porticos, or arched gates, in honor of the seven United Provinces ; and around the whole edifice run two rows of columns, ninety in each row, the lower being of the composite, and the upper of the Corinthian, order. The pediments are adorned with bas reliefs, as the roof is with statues. On the main front are seen the city of Amsterdam, represented under the figure of a female, wearing the imperial crown, holding in her right hand an olive branch, seated in a car drawn by lions, accompanied by Neptune and his tritons. Above are Peace, Prudence, and Justice, with their respective emblems. In the other pediment is Commerce, with her feet resting on a globe, while the gods of the Y and the Amstel do her homage, and the nations bring to her their tribute from the four quarters of the world. Atlas, supported on the right hand and the left by Temperance and Vigilance, surmounts the whole. From the centre of the roof rises a cupola, with a steeple, which commands, of course, a fine view of the city and its environs. Gilt eagles at the angles of the roof, bas reliefs, and various minor decorations, add to the splendid tout ensemble of the exterior of this noble Stadhuis.

How changed is the interior, from what it was in the days of the republican glory of Holland! Liveried menials have taken the place of the ancient burgomasters, wethouders, and counsellors, the free magistrates of a free people, who are now banished to the old Admiralty-House; the insignia of civic splendor have yielded to the presence of the gaudy furniture and idle luxuries of a king; and while the vast treasures of the Bank of Amsterdam, which formerly rested in the subterranean vaults of the Stadhuis, and served to invigorate the commerce of all Europe, have disappeared, William of Nassau occupies its noble halls : the creature of foreign powers, holding with unsteady hand the sceptre of intruded authority over a discontented people, who cannot but mourn the departed splendors of liberty, the place of which is so meanly supplied by the poor

pageants of monarchy.* I confess that the influence of these reflections on my mind greatly diminished the pleasure which many objects of interest in the various apartments are calculated to impart, especially several paintings, the productions of eminent Dutch artists. The celebrated master-pieces of Rembrandt, Vander Helst, and others, formerly preserved here, have been transferred to the Royal Museum In the course of successive changes which the apartments have undergone, the Salle des Pas Perdus, or great hall of the Stadhuis, which corresponded in its uses to Westminster Hall, has been converted into the Salle du Trone, or royal drawing-room, and is justly admired for its prodigious height and general magnificence. It still speaks, however, of better days; for at the entrance are colossal statues of Peace and of Atlas, adorned with captured standards, and other trophies of the military prowess of Holland.

Very near to the Stadhuis, built on five arcades over the end of that part of the Amstel which is called the Rokin, is the Exchange of Amsterdam. As an edifice it is nowise remarkable, consisting of an oblong square, surrounded by a gallery supported on forty-six columns, which are numbered so as to afford separate stations to the different nations and trades. There is a singular usage in regard to this great place of resort for the commercial classes. At half past two the opening of the Exchange is announced by the ringing of a bell, which ceases at three, when the gates are shut, and no person is afterward admitted without paying a piece of silver to the porter, for the benefit of the poor. The halls above the Exchange are occupied by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where gratuitous instruction is given in painting, engraving, sculpture, and architecture, and where public exhibitions are made, at stated periods, of the works of contemporary native artists.

Amsterdam possesses a considerable number of buildings devoted to the purposes of religion, several of which deserve particular notico, especially the old and new churches so called, the Westerkerk, and the synagogue of Portuguese Jews. Of these, the Westerkerk is famous for the extraordinary height of its steeple, which towers above the other buildings of the city; and the synagogue for the four massive stone pillars, two on each side, which sustain its galleries. The Old Church and the New are thus designated only in reference to each other; for the latter dates back to the year 1408 for its foundation, and they are both ungainly masses of brick, in the fashion of the old Dutch churches of Rotterdam, Delft, and Harlem. Each of them, however, contains objects interesting to the traveller.

In the Old Church, formerly dedicated to Saint Nicholas, are the monuments of the admirals Van Heemskerk, Sweers, Van der Zaan, Cornelius Jansz, and Vau der Hulst. Here also the guide shows you where a secret closet was constructed in the solid masonry of the wall, for the preservation of the ancient privileges and archives of the city, and covered over with mortar, so as to conceal the spot from observation, in those times when nothing was safe from

* This was written before the dismemberment of the then kingdom of the Netherlands by the revolt of Belgium.

the hand of violence or fraud. But the most curious object here, is the beautiful painted glass of some of the windows. Most of them are of various scripture subjects, and were the donation of a rich merchant named Van Hoppen, of whom the following legend is related. Van Hoppen had fallen under the censure of the church for a supposed leaning to the doctrines of the reformation, and was subjected to the necessity of a pilgrimage to Romne to purify bimself from the taint of heresy. He obtained absolution on condition of decorating the great windows of the church of Saint Nicholas, and of drinking only pure water for the space of a year. His wealth rendered the first part of the sentence easy of execution, but nothing could reconcile him to the use of water as his only beverage. Accordingly he returned to the pope, and besought permission to temper the unwholesome water of his native country with an infusion of corn, which bis Holiness, ignorant of the manufacture and properties of gin, inadvertently granted. Such is the tradition, which accounts for the origin of the large pictures of the Annunciation, and of the Visitation. The history of a still finer painting, the Death of the Virgin, is unknown.

The New Church, situated on the Dam, contains a curious pulpit of carved mahogany, the master-piece of the sculptor Vinkenbrinck, adorned with figures of the Evangelists, and a variety of allegorical sculptures. Its organ is also celebrated for the strength and melody of its notes, and particularly for the perfection of the vox humana stop. And in the choir of this church stands the sumptuous sepulchre of Admiral De Ruyter. His body is seen reposing upon a sarcophagus, his head being supported by a cannon, with bas-reliefs representing a naval combat, while genii and other allegorical figures, among which Prudence and Constancy are conspicuous, enter into the composition of the monument. In the same church are interred the Admirals Van Kinsbergen and Bentinck, with other captains of less note; for it is remarkable how sedulously the Dutch do honor to their naval heroes, whose mausoleums are the most distinguished ornaments of the great churches of Holland. Near the entrance of the building is the neat and unassuming monument of the poet Vondel, consisting of a simple urn of white marble, inscribed with his name in letters of gold.

From the foregoing account, it will be seen that the number of public edifices in Amsterdam, which are particularly interesting as such, is rather small; but some others are visited by the stranger for other considerations. Such is the Trippenhuis, partly devoted to the purpose of exhibiting the pictures of a large public collection called ihe Royal Museum. This gallery owes its origin to a collection begun by the Batavian government in 1998, and placed in the House in the Wood near the Hague. In 1808 these pictures were transferred to Amsterdam at the solicitation of the magistrates, who engaged to contribute all the pictures belonging to the city for the formation of a Museum. In that and the following year the government purchased two valuable private collections with the same view ; from all which sources the existing Museum is derived. The pictures which it contains are chiefly of the Dutch school, but are among the most highly esteemed specimens of that school. Of this class are the capital

« PreviousContinue »