Page images

as it were, by turning a windmill. These machines are so numerous, that they may be said to be never out of sight in a Dutch landscape. In the suburbs of great cities, they are congregated like armies of giants spreading out their broad arms, as if to protect the streets and houses which they overlook. With us they are rarely used except to grind corn : in Holland they are employed almost as variously as the steam-engine; they saw timber, crush rape-seeds for oil, grind snuff, &c.; but the principal service which they perform is in draining the land ; and here the Dutch have most ingeniously set the wind to counteract the water. At least one half of the windmills have water-wheels attached to them, which act as pumps, and, by constantly raising the water into the canals, alone keep the low land dry, and fit for cultivation and the habitation of man. As, however, a single windmill can raise water only 3 feet at once, 3 or 4 are often planted in a row: they are constructed of much larger dimensions than with us: a single sail is often 120 feet long, and the usual length is 80 feet.

To sum up all, to such an extent do paradoxes prevail in Holland, that even the cows' tails, in other countries proverbial for growing downwards, and descending in the world as they advance in age, here grow upwards : for, with the view of promoting the cleanliness of the animal while in the stall, the tail is tied up to a ring in the roof of the stable. This may be seen in Broek and elsewhere in Holland. (See Route III.)

Many authors have exercised their wit or spleen in describing this singular country. Thus, Voltaire took leave of the land and people in these sarcastic words : “ Adieu ! canaux, canards, canaille." The following verses are selected from the works of Andrew Marvel :

“ Holland, that scarce deserves the name of land,

As but the offscouring of the British sand,
And so much earth as was contributed
By English pilots when they heav'd the lead ;
Or what by th' ocean's slow alluvion fell.
Of shipwreck'd cockle and the muscle shell;
This indigested vomit of the sea

Fell to the Dutch by just propriety,
“ Glad, then, as miners who have found the ore,

They, with mad labour, fish'd the land to shore,
And dived as desperately for each piece
Of earth, as if 't been of ambergris;
Collecting anxiously small loads of clay,
Less than what building swallows bear away ;
Or than those pills which sordid beetles roll,

Transfusing into them their dunghill soul.
“ How did they rivet with gigantic piles,

Through the centre their new.catched miles!
And to the stake a struggling country bound,
Where barking waves still bait the forced ground;
Building their watery Babel far more high

To reach the sea, than those to scale the sky.
“ Yet still his claim the injur'd Ocean lay'd,

And oft at leapfrog o'er their steeples play'd;
As if on purpose it on land had come
To show them what 's their mare liberum.

A daily deluge over them does boil ;
The earth and water play at level coil.
The fish ofttimes the burgher dispossessid,
And sat, not as a meat, but as a guest ;
And oft the tritons and the sea-nymphs saw
Whole sboals of Dutch served up for Cabillau ;
Or, as they over the new level ranged
For pickled herring, pickled herring changed.
Nature, it seem'd, ashamed of her mistake,

Would throw their land away at duck and drake.”
The author of Hudibras describes Holland as

“ A country that draws fifty feet of water,

In which men live as in the hold of nature,
And when the sea does in upon them break,

And drowns a province, does but spring a leak.”
And its inhabitants

“ That always ply the pump, and never think

They can be safe, but at the rate they sink :
That live, as if they had been run aground,
And when they die, are cast away and drown'd:
That dwell in ships like swarms of rats, and prey
Upon the goods all nations' ships convey ;
And when their merchants are blown up and crack,
Whole towns are cast away in storm and wreck :
That 'feed like cannibals on other fishes,
And serve their cousin-germans up in dishes.
A land that rides at anchor, and is moored,
In which they do not live, but go aboard." Butler.

9. DYKES. Holland includes some of the lowest land on the continent of Europe. To keep out the ocean from the sea-bound provinces, and prevent her acquiring territory which seems to be her own, immense dykes or ramparts of earth and stone are raised along the coast, so broad and strong as to prevent the water passing through them, and sufficiently lofty to bid defiance to inundation at high tide. The rivers in many parts of the country are quite as dangerous as the sea, and their waters require to be restrained in their channels by dykes nearly as extensive as the sea-dykes.

The first thing necessary in the construction of these bulwarks is, to secure a firm solid foundation, sufficiently strong to support the immense weight to be laid upon it; by ramming down the soil, and by laying a substratum of clay, or by driving in piles, when it is incoherent. Were the foundation weak and porous, the water would dissolve and undermine it, and the dykes sink down into a hollow.

The rampart itself is composed of earth, sand, and clay, which will bind most firmly. The face of the dyke is protected by willow twigs interwoven so as to from a sort of wicker-work, and the interstices are filled up with clay puddled to render it compact. This wicker-work is renewed every three or four years, and occasions a considerable consumption of willow boughs, which are cultivated to a great extent for this purpose. The dykes are frequently planted with trees, as their spreading and interlacing roots assist greatly in binding the earth together. The base is often faced with masonry, and protected by

[ocr errors]

vast heaps of stones brought from a distance, and by rows of piles driven into the ground to form breakwaters to the fury of the waves; the upper part is overed with turf, and rises sometimes to the height of 40 feet.

The most stupendous of these embankments are the Dykes of the Helder (see Route IV.), and of West Cappel, at the western extremity of the island of Walcheren. The annual expense of keeping in repair each of them, alone amounts to 75,000 guilders (about 6,4001.); while the sum total annually expended throughout Holland in the repair of dykes and regulation of water-levels varies from 5,000,000 to 7,000,000 guilders (nearly 600,0001.). A special corps of engineers, called waterstaat, including among them many men of science, well skilled in the principles of hydrostatics, are employed entirely in watching the state of the waters and guarding against all accidents from irruptions, - a most important duty, upon which the national welfare, and, indeed, existence, of Holland may be said to depend. They are stationed in different parts of the country, especially near those spots where danger is most to be apprehended, and magazines are erected, provided with the necessary stores and implements, so as to be ready at a moment's notice.

The winter is the season most liable to accidents, when it not unfrequently happens that long prevailing S. W. winds, acting on the surface of the Atlantic, drive an accumulation of waters round the north of Scotland into the German Ocean. If these are succeeded by very violent tempests blowing from the N. W., the effect is, to propel the sea with great violence southward through the British Channel : but the straits of Dover are too narrow to admit the augmented body of water readily to pass, and in consequence it falls back upon the coast of Holland. At such moments the “ tall ocean” may truly be said “to lean against the land," and the strength of the dykes alone preserves it from submersion. To guard against such an assault, the utmost energy, activity, and skill are required. Watchmen are posted day and night along the line of threatened attack, to give momentary warning if symptoms of weakness are anywhere observed in the ramparts; and workmen are appointed by the authorities to be in readiness in the neighbouring villages.

It may easily be imagined with what intense anxiety the rising tide is, at such times, observed. The accumulation of waters in the ocean causes them to ascend far above the ordinary high-water mark; and if they only surmount the top of the dyke so as to flow over it, its ruin is inevitable. When such a calamity is anticipated, the alarm bell is rung, and every man hastens to his post. With the utmost rapidity, a fresh rampart is constructed upon the top of the dyke to keep out the waters. It is incredible in how short a time a bulwark of this kind is elevated; it is a race between the tide and the embankment. If the strength and solidity of the dyke be doubtful, and a breach be apprehended, large sheets of sailcloth or mats of woven straw and rushes are laid' on the outside, in the same manner as a leak is sometimes stopped in a ship. This prevents the earth's being washed away by the action of the waves. If all this be ineffectual, a course is pursued exactly similar to that employed in defending a breach made by artillery in the wall of a besieged fortress. A semicircular rampart is thrown up behind the part of the sea-wall which has shown symptoms of weakness, so that if the outer work be forced, an inner barrier, nearly as strong, stands ready prepared to resist the attack. It must be remembered that the works, raised at such an emergency, vast as they are, are only temporary, and are removed whenever the danger is past. Instances are not rare in which these precautions have proved quite ineffectual ; and whole districts have been overwhelmed and lost for ever in the sea, or in the Rhine and its branches. The greater part of the space now occupied by the Zuider Zee was dry land down to the XIIIth century. The Gulf of Dollart, in the province of Groningen, was the result of, the inundation of 1277, which swallowed up 44 villages. Similar calamities have several times produced the same effects in that province. Even so late as 1717, 1560 habitations disappeared beneath the waters of the ocean, which had broken its bounds. The Biesbosch, near Dordt, and the sandbanks near South Beveland, called Verdrunken Land (drowned land), are two other examples of submerged districts.

The annals of one province (Friesland), however, present the most extraordinary series of disasters from the ocean, and these, better than any thing else, will serve to show by what an unstable tenure the Dutch hold the land.

“ Friesland was inundated in 533, 792, 806,839, 1164, 1170, 1210, 1221, 1230, 1237 (this year the island called Vlieland was formed), 1248, 1249, 1250 (the consequence of this inundation was a pestilence, which destroyed. several thousand persons), 1277 (this year the Dollart was formed). In 1287 the Zuider Zee assumed its present extent and shape, and 80,000 persons lost their lives in the inundation. 1336, 1400, 1421, 1429, 1516, 1524 (three inundations in this year), 1530, 1532, 1559, 1570. On Nov. 1. an inundation occurred which covered even the heights called Wieren, and cut off, in dif. ferent parts of Holland, 100,000 persons, 30,000 of whom were Fries. landers. From this year the inundations are less frequent; as an improved method of constructing the dykes was then introduced by the Spanish go. vernor Robles, who, at the same time, passed a law that they should in future bę kept up by the owners of the land. Those recorded since 1570, were in 1610, 1675, 1717, 1776, and Feb. 5. 1825.” — Gauthier, Voyageur dans les Pays-Bas.

If the extraordinary elevation of the sea fall out simultaneously with a sud. den thaw, or occur after long-continued heavy rains, inundations even more serious arise, in the interior of the country, from the rivers bursting their embankments. “ In the winter of 1808-9, a violent tempest from the north-west had raised the waters of the Zuider Zee some feet above the highest mark of the spring-tides, and the waves beat with unusual violence against the dykes con, structed to break their fury. The thaw on the Upper Rhine had increased the quantity and the force of its waters, which brought down masses of ice fourteen feet in height, and more than half a mile in length; to which the embankments, softened by the thaw, and somewhat injured, presented an insufficient barrier. A breach made in one part soon extended itself, and the torrent quickly covered the country, bearing before it by its force the villages, the inhabitants, and the cattle. The height of the Zuider Zee prevented the water from finding an outlet; and it consequently remained on the ground for a long period, in spite of the exertions of the surviving inhabitants. By this event more than seventy houses were totally destroyed, a far greater number irretrievably damaged; and of 900 families, more than 500 were rendered utterly destitute. More than 400 dead bodies were left on the borders of the current; and at the city of Arnheim, 500 persons, mostly women and children, with many hundred head of cattle, were rescued from a watery grave by the hazardous heroism of the inhabitants, who ventured in boats to their rescue.”- Jacob's Travels.

More recently, the winter of 1824-5 was one of the most calamitous to the country known for many years. Amsterdam itself was threatened from the great height of the tides, which rose far above the usual level. The 1st of February, 1825, was a day of great anxiety: had the sea continued to rise a quarter of an hour longer, the dyke must have been overflowed, and,

perhaps, have given way, and Amsterdam would have suffered a calamitous inundation. Fortunately, in a moment when the danger was greatest, the tide stopped, and the great pressure was immediately diminished and removed from the sea-wall: but the lower part of the town had already been laid under water. The injuries done at that time in the province of Holland were immense; but by Dutch industry all the damage was repaired within two years. The arms of one of the united provinces is a lion swimming, with the motto, Luctor, et emergo, “ I strive, and keep my head above water. It might be generally applied to the whole country, which has to maintain a perpetual struggle for existence against difficulties never to be entirely removed. The inhabitant of the provinces bordering on the sea, or the Rhine, constantly threatened with the danger of submersion, is not a bit more secure than he who dwells on the side of Etna, or at the foot of Vesuvius, with a volcano heaving beneath him. A stranger can only have a full impression of this when he walks at the foot of one of those vast dykes, and hears the roar of the waves on the outside, 16 or 20 ft. higher than his head.

The expense of maintaining the dykes is supported by taxes levied by commissioners appointed for the purpose.

10. CANALS. Holland is so intersected with canals, that if one might suppose a person looking down upon it from a balloon, they would have the appearance of a network extending from one end of the country to the other. They serve, Ist, as the means of communication ; every little town and village having its own system of canals, which connect it with all the places around. 2dly, as drains to carry off the superfluous water of the country. 3dly, in the place of walls and hedges : fields, gardens, and houses are surrounded by canals or moats, as, in other countries, by fences; and they afford an equally good protection.

The canals differ considerably from those of England, which are mea sured out so as barely to admit two narrow barges to pass, and interrupted at short distances by locks. In Holland, as the canal is the drain as well as the highway of the country, and rids the land of its superabundant moisture, there is no restriction to its breadth; and as there is little variation of level, few locks are required: but those canals which empty themselves into the sea are provided with sluice-gates to prevent the influx of the tides, which are often higher than the waters of the canal itself.

The principal canals are 60 ft. broad and 6 ft. deep. Not only the surface, but the bottom, is frequently higher than the adjoining land. The North Holland ship canal is truly one of the marvels of the country, and should be viewed by every traveller who visits Amster: dam. In its dimensions, it is not only the largest in Holland, but in Europe. (Route III.)

11. POLDERS. Polder is the name given to a piece of ground below the level of the sea or. river, which, having been once a morass or lake, has been surrounded by embankments, and then cleared of the water by pumps. So large à part of Holland and Belgium was originally in the condition of morass, that. whole districts are composed entirely of polders partitioned off by dykes or ramparts; and the ground thus drained is usually remarkable for its richness. and fertility, A To drain one of these morasses, or inland seas, and render it fit for cul


« PreviousContinue »