Antwerp, June 23.

MY windows look full on the Place de Mer, and the sun, beaming through their white curtains, awoke me from a dream of Arabian happiness. Imagination had procured herself a tent on the mountains of Sanaa, covered with coffee-trees in bloom. She was presenting me the essence of their flowers, and was just telling me that you possessed a pavilion on a neighbouring hill, when the sunshine dispelled the vision; and, opening my eyes, I found myself pent in by Flemish spires and buildings: no hills, no verdure, no aromatic breezes, no hopes of being in your vicinity: all were vanished with the shadows of fancy, and I was left alone to deplore your absence. But I think it rather selfish to wish you here; for what pleasure could pacing from one dull church to another afford a person of your turn? I don't believe you would catch a taste for blubbering Magdalens and coarse Madonnas, by lolling in Rubens' chair; nor do I believe a view of the Ostades and Snyders, so liberally scattered in every collection, would greatly improve your pencil.
After breakfast this morning I began my pilgrimage to all those illustrious cabinets. First, I went to Monsieur Van Lencren's, who possesses a suite of apartments, lined, from the base to the cornice, with the rarest productions of the Flemish school.
Heavens forbid I should enter into a detail of their niceties! I might as well count the dew-drops upon any of Van Huysem's flower-pieces, or the pimples on their possessor's countenance; a very good sort of man, indeed; but from whom I was not at all sorry to be delivered. My joy was, however, of short duration, as a few minutes brought me into the courtyard of the Chanoin Knyfe's habitation; a snug abode, well furnished with easy chairs and orthodox couches. After viewing the rooms on the first floor, we mounted a gentle staircase, and entered an antechamber, which those who delight in the imitations of art rather than of nature in the likenesses of joint stools and the portraits of tankards would esteem most capitally adorned: but it must be confessed, that amongst these uninteresting performances are dispersed a few striking Berghems and agreeable Polemburgs. In the gallery adjoining, two or three Rosa de Tivolis merit observation; and a large Teniers, representing a St. Anthony surrounded by a malicious fry of imps and leering devilesses, is well calculated to display the whimsical buffoonery of a Dutch imagination. I was observing this strange medley, when the Canon made his appearance; and a most prepossessing figure he has, according to Flemish ideas. In my humble opinion, his Reverence looked a little muddled or so; and, to be sure the description I afterwards heard of his style of living favours not a little my surmises. This worthy dignitary, what with his private fortune and the good things of the church, enjoys a revenue of about five thousand pounds sterling, which he contrives to get rid of in the joys of the table and the encouragement of the pencil. His servants, perhaps, assist not a little in the expenditure of so comfortable an income; the Canon being upon a very social footing with them all. At four o'clock in the afternoon, a select party attend him in his coach to an ale-house about a league from the city; where a table, well spread with jugs of beer and handsome cheeses, waits their arrival. After enjoying this rural fare, the same equipage conductis them back again, by all accounts, much faster than they came; which may well be conceived, as the coachman is one of the brightest wits of the entertainment. My compliments, alas! were not much relished, you may suppose, by this jovial personage. I said a few favourable words of Polemburg, and offered up a small tribute of praise to the memory of Berghem; but, as I could not prevail upon Mynheer Knyfe to expand, I made one of my best bows, and left him to the enjoyment of his domestic felicity. In my way home, I looked into another cabinet, the greater ornament of which was a most sublime thistle by Snyders, of the heroic size, and so faithfully imitated that I dare say no ass could see it unmoved. At length, it was lawful to return home; and as I positively refused visiting any more cabinets in the afternoon, I sent for a harpsichord of Rucker, and played myself quite out of the Netherlands. It was late before I finished my musical excursion, and I took advantage of this dusky moment to revisit the cathedral. A flight of starlings was fluttering about the pinnacles of the tower; their faint chirpings were the only sounds that broke the stillness of the air. Not a human form appeared at any of the windows around; no footsteps were audible in the opening before the grand entrance; and during the half hour I spent in walking to and fro beneath the spire, one solitary Franciscan was the only creature that accosted me. From him I learned that a grand service was to be performed next day in honour of St. John the Baptist, and the best music in Flanders would be called forth upon the occasion. As I had seen cabinets enough to form some slight judgment of Flemish painting, I determined to stay one day longer at Antwerp, to hear a little how its inhabitants were disposed to harmony. Having taken this resolution, I formed an acquaintance with Mynheer Vander Bosch, the first organist of the place, who very obligingly permitted me to sit next him in his gallery during the celebration of high mass. The service ended, I strayed about the aisles, and examined the innumerable chapels which decorate them, whilst Mynheer Vander Bosch thundered and lightened away upon a huge organ with fifty stops. When the first flashes of execution were a little subsided, I took an opportunity of surveying the celebrated Descent from the Cross, which has ever been esteemed one of Rubens's chefs-d'œuvre and for which, they say here old Lewis Baboon offered no less a sum than forty thousand florins. The principal figure has, doubtless, a very meritorious paleness, and looks as dead, as an artist could desire; the rest of the group have been so liberally praised, that there is no occasion to add another tittle of commendation. A swinging St. Chriftopher, fording a brook with a child on his shoulders, cannot fail of attracting your attention. This colossal personage is painted on the folding-doors which defend the capital performance just mentioned from vulgar eyes; and here Rubens has selectted a very proper subject to display the gigantic coarseness of his pencil. Had this powerful artist confined his strength to the representation of agonizing thieves, and sturdy Barabbasses, nobody would have been readier than your humble servant, to offer incense at his shrine; but, when I find him lost in the flounces of the Virgin's drapery, or bewildered in the graces of St. Catherine's smile, pardon me, if I withhold my adoration. After I had most dutifully surveyed all the Rubenses in the church, I walked half over Antwerp in search of St. John's relics, which were moving about
in procession; but an heretical wind having extinguished all their tapers, and discomposed the canopy over the Bon Dieu, I cannot say much for the grandeur of the spectacle. If my eyes were not greatly regaled by the saint's magnificence, my ears were greatly affected in the evening by the music which sang forth his praises. The cathedral was crowded with devotees, and perfumed with incense. Several of its marble altars gleamed with the reflection of lamps, and, altogether, the spectacle was new and imposing. I knelt in one of the aisles, whilst a symphony, in the best style of Corelli, performed with taste and feeling, transported me to Italian climates; and I was quite vexed when a cessation dissolved the charm, to think that I had still so many tramontane regions to pass before I could in effect reach that classic country, where my spirit had so long taken up its abode. Finding it was in vain to wish, or expect any preternatural interposition, and perceiving no conscious angel or Loretto-vehicle, waiting in some dark consecrated corner to bear me away, I humbly returned to my hotel in the Place de Mer, and soothed myself with some terrestrial harmony; till, my eyes growing heavy, I fell fast asleep, and entered the empire of dreams, according to custom, by its ivory portal. What past in those shadowy realms is too thin and unsubstantial to be committed to paper. The very breath of waking mortals would dissipate all the train, and drive them eternally away; give me leave, therefore, to omit the relation of my visionary travels, and have the patience to pursue a sketch of my real ones, from Antwerp to the Hague.
Monday, June 26th, we were again upon the pavé, rattling and jumbling along between clipped hedges and blighted avenues. The plagues of Egypt have been renewed, one might almost imagine, in this country, by the appearance of the oak trees: not a leaf have the insects spared. After having had the displeasure of seeing no other objects for several hours but these blasted rows, the scene changed to vast tracts of level country, buried in sand and smothered with heath; the particular character of which I had but too good an opportunity of intimately knowing, as a tortoise might have kept pace with us without being once out of breath. Towards evening, we entered the dominions of the United Provinces, and had all their glory of canals, trackschuyts, and windmills, before us. The minute neatness of the villages, their red roofs, and the lively green of the willows which shade them, corresponded with the ideas I had formed of Chinese prospects; a resemblance which was not diminished upon viewing on every side the level scenery of enamelled meadows, with stripes of clear water across them, and innumerable barges gliding busily along. Nothing could be finer than the weather; it improved each moment, as if propitious to my exotic fancies; and, at sun-set, not one single cloud obscured the horizon. Several storks were parading by the water-side, amongst flags and osiers; and, as far as the eye could reach, large herds of beautifully spotted cattle were enjoying the plenty of their pastures. I was perfectly in the environs of Canton, or Ning Po, till we reached Meerdyke. You know fumigations are always the current recipe in romance to break an enchantment; as soon, therefore, as I left my carriage and entered my inn, the clouds of tobacco which filled every one of its apartments dispersed my Chinese imaginations, and reduced me in an instant to Holland. Why should I enlarge upon my adventures at Meerdyke? 'tis but a very scurvy topic. To tell you that its inhabitants are the most uncouth bipeds in the universe would be nothing very new or entertaining; so let me at once pass over the village, leave Rotterdam, and even Delft, that great parent of pottery, and transport you with a wave of my pen to the Hague.
As the evening was rather warm, I immediately walked out to enjoy the shade of the long avenue which leads to Scheveling. It was fresh and pleasant enough, but I breathed none of those genuine, woody perfumes, which exhale from the depths of forests, and which allure my imagination at once to the haunts of Pan and the good old Sylvanus. However, I was far from displeased with my ramble; and, consoling myself with the hopes of shortly reposing in the sylvan labyrinths of Nemi, I proceeded to the village on the sea coast, which terminates the perspective. Almost every cottage door being open to catch the air, I had an opportunity of looking into their neat apartments. Tables, shelves, earthenware, all glisten with cleanliness; the country people were drinking tea, after the fatigues of the day, and talking over its bargains and contrivances. I left them to walk on the beach, and was so charmed with the vast azure expanse of ocean, which opened suddenly upon me, that I remained there a full half hour. More than two hundred vessels of different sizes were in sight, -– the last sunbeams purpling their sails, and casting a path of innumerable brilliants athwart the waves. What would I not have given to follow this shining track! It might have conducted me straight to those fortunate western climates, those happy isles which you are so fond of painting, and I of dreaming about. But, unluckily, this passage was the only one my neighbours the Dutch were ignorant of. To be sure, they have islands rich in spices, and blessed with the sun's particular attention, but which their government, I am apt to imagine, renders by no means fortunate. Abandoning therefore all hopes, at present, of this adventurous voyage, I returned towards the Hague; and, in my way home, looked into a country-house of the late Count Bentinck, with parterres and bosquets by no means resembling (one should conjecture) the gardens of the Hesperides. But, considering that the whole group of trees, terraces, and verdure were in a manner created out of hills of sand, the place may claim some portion of merit. The walks and alleys have all that stiffness and formality our ancestors admired; but the intermediate spaces, being dotted with clumps, and sprinkled with flowers, are imagined in Holland to be in the English stile. An Englishman ought certainly to behold it with partial eyes, since every possible attempt has been made to twist it into the taste of his country. I need not say how liberally I bestowed my encomiums on Count B.'s tasteful intentions; nor how happy I was, when I had duly serpentized over his garden, to find myself once more in the grand avenue. All the way home, I reflected upon the œconomical disposition of the Dutch, who raise gardens from heaps of sand, and cities out of the bosom of the waters. I had still a further proof of this thrifty turn; since the first object I met, was an unwieldy fellow, (not able, or unwilling, perhaps, to afford horses) airing his carcase in a one-dog chair. The poor animal puffed and panted, Mynheer smoked, and gaped around him with the most blessed indifference.


Letter I ::: Letter II ::: Letter III ::: Letter IV ::: Letter V ::: Letter VI ::: Letter VII ::: Letter VIII ::: Letter IX ::: Letter X ::: Letter XI ::: Letter XII ::: Letter XIII ::: Letter XIV ::: Letter XV ::: Letter XVI ::: Letter XVII ::: Letter XVIII ::: Letter XIX ::: Letter XX ::: Letter XXI ::: Letter XXII ::: Letter XXIII ::: Letter XXIV ::: Letter XXV ::: Letter XXVI ::: Letter XXVII
Additional letters, I-VII
An Excursion to the Grande Chartreuse in the year 1778