Open main menu

Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/704

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

down the Rhine from the Black Forest or the Jura, with a little hut at each end, and piloted by a couple of families, who must have been months on their slow way. The opening of the great canal to the North Sea, which saves the long and dangerous passage round by the sandbanks of the Zuyder Zee, has greatly increased the commerce of the town, and it is said now to be rivalling or even cutting out that of Rotterdam. The harbor at the end of the canal just completed by English engineers, at the opening to the stormy ocean, is well worth studying. It cost millions of money, and both canal, sluices, and harbor are miracles of skill.

There was much talk of the scheme for drying up part of the Zuyder Zee; a dyke twenty-five miles long is to be thrown across its narrowest part, when a county about the size of Surrey would be added to the kingdom. The preparations for this embankment under water are such as would only be dreamt of in Holland. A raft of brushwood is made, on which, as no natural stone is to be had, square masses made of sand and shingle, bound together by cement, are piled. These are towed out to their proper situation, when they are sunk, and another layer then brought and laid on the top of the first, the workmen in a diving-bell directing the operations.

A statue of Rembrandt adorns one of the numerous "places," but of Spinoza, as is not perhaps unnatural, no notice was taken in his native country till this year, when, two hundred years after his death, a statue of him was raised at the Hague. The account of an excommunication by the synagogue, when he left the communion, is so singular that it may well be given as a "picture" of the Jews of Amsterdam about 1656. A large and agitated congregation collected when it was known that the heretic refused to return into the fold, black wax candles were lighted, while the chanter chanted the dreadful words of the interdict. He was declared "accursed by the same curse wherewith Elisha cursed those wanton and insolent children," etc., etc., "by all the curses, anathemas, interdictions, and excommunications fulminated from the time of Moses, our master, to the present day." "In the name of the Lord of Hosts, Jah, and in the name of the globes, wheels, mysterious beasts," etc., "let him be cursed in heaven and earth, by the very mouth of the Almighty God," "by the mouth of the Seraphim and Opanim, and ministering angels," etc. He was cursed "by the seven angels who preside over the seven days of the week, and by the mouth of the seven principalities." "If he was born in March, the direction of which is assigned to Uriel, let him be cursed by the mouth of Uriel," and so on through all the months. "Let him be cursed wherever he turn; may he perish by a burning fever, by a consumption and leprosy; may oppression and anguish seize him; … may he drink the cup of indignation, and curses cover him as with a garment; … let his sins never be forgiven and let God blot him from under the heavens;" thus it runs on through four octavo pages of fierce and passionate denunciation, which do not, however, appear to have all been used on this occasion.

These terrific objurgations were accompanied from time to time by the thrilling sounds of a trumpet; at length the black candles were melted drop by drop into a huge tub of blood, and as the lights were suddenly extinguished, the shuddering spectators, with a cry of execration, shouted "Amen." The end of the candles in the blood is also said to have been omitted in Spinoza's case.

The pleasures of persecution must indeed be great, when it is remembered how many of the Jews present had themselves sought refuge from the terrors of the Inquisition in free Holland, or were descended from those who had escaped from Spain, Portugal, and other Catholic countries, and who used the liberty they had thus gained to denounce their brethren.

The Jews of Amsterdam are now a large and important body, with much of the trade of the town in their hands; particularly the special one of the cutting of diamonds, which is chiefly confined to this place.

"Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink," one cannot help saying like the Ancient Mariner. There is great difficulty in getting any good enough for the purpose, and strangers are warned against the ordinary supply as against poison; but some has been found of late, purified by the natural filter of the sands of the dunes. To a Dutchman it would seem impossible to have enough of it about his house, whether in town or country. With a canal in front and another on each side, he will add an artificial pond in his small garden, as a finish quite necessary for his comfort and pleasure; and the smoking-houses and gazebos hang by preference over a canal.

The pictures are everywhere a continual feast, especially the portraits, which adorn the walls of buildings in what