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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/703

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PICTURES IN HOLLAND, ON AND OFF CANVAS.

landers, whose constancy nothing could subdue.

What then was the lake of Haarlem is now green with fields and young trees, and spotted with new red farmhouses, lying twelve feet below the level of the surrounding low country. Another large space is being reclaimed, laid bare by the line of the new great ship-canal from Amsterdam to the sea, on the other side of the railroad.

The struggle between man and water in this marvellous country, only protected from being swallowed up in the high tides of every autumn by the line of low dunes and the artificial dykes, which are little more than wattles and sand bound together by the roots of the grass, almost haunts one. It is as if the voice of the sea was ever sounding in their ears, "Watch, work, strengthen your dykes, or you will all be drowned!" The details of the draining of the Haarlem Lake are extremely curious; a circular canal was first made round the district to be operated on, built up like the levées of the Po. Into this the water was (and is) pumped by four great steam-engines; it thence flows into a wider straight canal, ending with great sluices on the sea. These at low tide are opened, and the water runs away; but if the wind be strong on shore, and the tide high, whole days may elapse before the gates can he opened, and the water must wait with what patience it may, while the overgorged canals become full almost to overflowing.

Whole regiments of windmills are continually at work, keeping the balance, even between the inland and outward waters, pumping up that of the low levels sufficiently high to enable it to find an exit into the sea. Beside this, they saw wood, grind flour, crush linseed, etc., etc., so that it is no wonder that they hold so honorable a place in Dutch art. It is found that they only raise the water profitably to a height of three or four feet, so that when ten or twelve feet have to be accomplished, three mills, in steps one above another, are employed, each to do its own share of the work. There are said to be nine thousand of these industrious slaves in Holland. And Amsterdam would seem to be the very centre of the battalion. There is one in each angle of the now useless fortifications, and they are sprinkled up and down all along the outer canal. The town is the crown of wonder of engineering skill, patient labor, and untiring struggles with water, weather, and wind,

fur the whole place is below the level of the sea. It has struck its roots deep below, like a great, patient oak, and there is almost as much material sunk beneath the feet as is to be seen above the heads of the inhabitants. The ugly palace alone is built upon more than seventy thousand piles.

H—— went to look at the building of an ordinary house in an ordinary street; he found that they came to water, or rather mud, as soon as they began to dig; in a space about thirty feet by twenty-five feet, eighteen piles, six inches square and thirty or forty feet long, were being driven by steam-hammers, about two to the yard. Over the crossing beams and the flooring, Portland cement is generally laid, and the houses do not appear to be damp. But in the smaller streets, where the water is stirred by the long poles used to punt the barges, or by dredging, the smell was frightful, as there can be no outfall, and the drainage must all be laboriously pumped up out of the canals before it can run into the sea. Yet there is little fever; perhaps the liberal allowance of clean rain, perpetually pouring down from heaven, keeps them going. Still it was highly immoral thus to sin against every law of hygiene and not to suffer, and H—— held his nose in virtuous indignation as he passed along.

Nothing can be more picturesque than the infinite variety of queer gables and pediments, the ogees, scrolls, and dormer windows of the houses in the canal streets, each with a projection to which a crane can be attached, jutting out from the topmost twist of the mouldings, like a unicorn's horn out of his forehead. The lines of the windows, varying in each house from those of its neighbor, give them the charm of individuality, even in a street, which we so sorely miss in London. There is a trottoir and generally a row of trees by each canal, which introduces another element unlike Venice.

We could see from our windows the large ships that enter through a drawbridge into the wider canals, with strange quaint varieties of stem and stern, the rigging and sails of different cuts and colors, many of their masts being unshipped to pass under the low side bridges. Here is a mass of hay, as large as a house, floating past on an almost invisible flat boat, and projecting far on each side of it; there comes an immense vegetable cargo; barrels of herrings, coals, cheese, butter, every kind of produce, were passing up and down, and a vast flotilla of wood, many hundred feet in length, which had come