Open main menu

Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/697

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
691
PICTURES IN HOLLAND, ON AND OFF CANVAS.

cause a new picture to be painted equal to the old?

In literature they stood nearly as high. Erasmus was certainly the leading philosophical thinker of the Reformation. Grotius, the “miracle of Holland," the “rising light of the world," as he was termed; Descartes, though not born among them yet who certainly must be ranked among their great men; Spinoza, “great among the greatest as a thinker," the “God-intoxicated man," as he was called by the Catholic Novalis, — who was anathematized by orthodox Jew and Christian alike, but whose reputation has survived the reprobation; and Boerhaave, “the physician of Europe" were a few typical names among them; while printing, whose delicate clearness and beauty has never been excelled, amounting indeed to an art, was carried on by the family of the Elzevirs, at Leyden and elsewhere. In etching, Rembrandt himself has no rival, in power and delicacy alike, and in the effects of color produced, though in mere black and white, by the magic of his light and shade. The etchings, however, which bear his signature are of very various merit, and the backgrounds, foregrounds, and draperies are now believed to have been often worked in by his many pupils. Ferdinand Bol, himself an excellent painter, is also supposed to have filled in sketches made by Rembrandt himself. As far as mere mechanical power goes, Hollar’s touch seems to be hardly inferior to that of the great master; but the genius of invention behind it is lacking in his case, and the satins and furs, the ruffs and lace, so marvellously rendered, continue mere “furniture," without the wondrous application by which Rembrandt imparts to them such surpassing interest.

Presently we passed the low earthworks of Breda, which look so weak and insignificant that they would seem impossible to defend; but their “surrender" was deemed such an important triumph that it was immortalized by Velasquez, in the great picture of the Madrid Gallery, so bristling with uplifted lances that it is technically called “Las Lanzas." To us a far more interesting incident is the surprise of the town in 1590, while in the possession of the Spaniards, by a devoted band of soldiers, headed by a captain of Prince Maurice’s army. Seventy men hid themselves in the bold of a barge, under a load of turf, which was going into the town for the supply of the troops. The voyage was only of a few leagues, but the winter wind blew a gale down the river, bringing with it huge blocks of ice, and scooping the water out of the dangerous shallows, so that the vessel could not get on. From Monday till Saturday these brave men lay packed like herrings in their little vessel, suffering from hunger, thirst, and deadly cold. Only once did they venture on shore to refresh themselves. At length, on Saturday evening, they reached Breda, the last sluice was passed, the last boom shut behind them.

An officer of the guard came on board, talked to the two boatmen, and lounged into the little cabin, where he was only separated by a sliding door from the men; a single cough or sneeze would have betrayed them, when every one of these obscure heroes would have been butchered immediately. As they went up the canal the boat struck on some hidden obstacle and sprung a leak; they were soon sitting up to their knees in water, while pumping hardly kept the barge afloat. A party of Italian soldiers came to their help, and dragged the vessel close up to the guardhouse of the castle. The winter had been long and cold, and there was a great dearth of fuel. An eager crowd came on board, and began carrying off the cargo much faster than was safe for the hidden men. The hardships they had endured and the thorough wetting had set the whole party coughing and sneezing; in particular the lieutenant, Held, unable to control his cough, drew his dagger, and implored his neighbor to stab him to the heart, lest the noise should betray them. The skipper and his brother, however, went on working the pumps with as much clatter as possible, shouting directions to each other so as to cover the sounds within. At last, declaring that it was now dark, they with difficulty got rid of the customers. The servant of the captain of the guard lingered still, complaining of the turf, and saying his master would never be satisfied with it. “Oh," said the cool skipper, “the best part of the cargo is underneath, kept expressly for the captain; he will be sure to get enough of it to-morrow."

The governor, deceived by false rumors, had suddenly gone to Gertruydenberg, leaving his nephew in charge — a raw, incompetent lad. Just before midnight the men stole out; one half marched to the arsenal, the other to the guard-house. The captain of the watch sprang out, and was struck dead at one blow, while the guard were shot through the doors and windows. The other band were equally