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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/696

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PICTURES IN HOLLAND, ON AND OFF CANVAS.

of flat green pastures, rich and fertile, tenanted with herds of fat cattle, and the furnishing of butter and cheese, salt herrings and other fish, to the nations — a useful, but not so heroic a vocation as of old.

This is not the age of small states; war has been revolutionized to the exclusive profit of great populations and areas. The gigantic power of such armaments as Napoleon was the first to bring into fashion would now crush small centres of light such as the Greek and Italian republics, and the seventeen United Provinces, before they would have time to collect men and money enough to resist. Whether this advance of brute force can be called civilization may be a question. "God" certainly seems now to be "du côte des gros bataillons" in Napoleon’s sense, but a better mode of adjusting our differences must surely some time be found than for one nation to hammer another into subjection at the greatest possible cost to itself of blood and treasure, as in the Franco-German war. The horror expressed at the Bulgarian atrocities (both real and feigned) shows an advance in public opinion. Every important place in the Low Countries suffered as great horrors again and again in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while Europe looked calmly on. Let any one read again the sieges of Antwerp, Haarlem, and Leyden, and say whether even the fiendish cruelties exercised on the poor Bulgarian peasants were worse than the wholesale barbarities inflicted on the unoffending inhabitants of great civilized cities, and continued for years by Christian soldiers, led by "officers and gentlemen," representatives of the "Most Catholic King," and belonging to a State such as Spain then was, standing at the head of the European nations of the period. It proves at least that the ideal of what may be permitted, even in war, has greatly changed for the better.

It is sometimes said that individual influence is at an end in the world, that we now work only by committees, parliaments, associations, and unions — vestries, in short, big and little. In the days when Bismarck and Moltke are still alive, and Cavour for good, and "Napoleon the Little" for evil, are scarcely cold in their graves, this can only be considered partially true. Yet standing among the trees of the Plein (Place) at the Hague, and looking at the statue of "the Taciturn" (as he is often written and spoken of "for shortness" in a sort of affectionate familiarity) as he stands bare-headed, in his long robe, trunk hose, and great ruff — sagacious, long-suffering, wary, indomptable, one cannot but feel that the whole of Holland might now slip into the sea with less effect upon the fate of Europe than had the death of that one great man under the hands of an obscure assassin. The whole country seems full of him — with his memory are connected all the most stirring incidents in that most stirring epoch of her history; he is the incarnation of the best spirit of Holland in her best days.

The period of development, the flowering times in art and literature of a nation, are even curiously incalculable. The most unheroic age of Louis Quatorze brought out the full bloom of the talent of France. Here, amid war, misery, famine, bloodshed, and torture, grew up the great days of Holland, producing these unlikely results. Among these sleepy canals, brooded over by the heavy still damp of the encroaching sea, the black, stagnant waters, the raw greens of the grass and trees, arose the brilliant Dutch and Flemish art, one of the only two schools of color that have ever existed in the world, as far as we know it, Greek pictures having utterly perished.

The gorgeous acres of canvas covered by Rubens, the magnificent Rembrandts, the little jewels of color by Terburg, Wouvermans, Gerard Dow, Ostade, Mieris, and Both; the wondrous portraits where Van der Helst, Frank Hals, Mireveldt, and Vandyke represented their men and women, the landscapes at which Ruysdael and Hobbima, Cuyp, P. Potter, Berghem, labored so industriously (though with such apparently unpicturesque surroundings as straight canals, stiff trees, and square fields), all fill one with wonder at the quantity, as well as the quality, of their beautiful work. There is not a gallery in Europe, public or private, of any renown, which does not contain many specimens of each good Dutch master. England is peculiarly rich in such treasures, and here many of the best pictures of the school out of Holland are to be found. We may claim the merit, at least, of having discovered their value at a time when it was lowest among their own countrymen, and perfect gems of art were bought for mere trifles, which would now be recovered, if possible, at almost any price. The city of Antwerp has just given £4,000 for a picture by Hobbima, not two feet square. Why has all this power passed away? why cannot the city