"Brussels" [essay]
Brussels is a lovely, a queen‐like city—from a distance, sweeping up
the flanks of its hill, battlement over battlement swelling up higher, and
higher, and (yet) higher, and the massive obscurity of the two huge square
cathedral towʼrs looming over the whole, and contrasted strangely with
the delicate sharp spiriness of the steeple of the Hôtel de ville. 1 Paris
would look like an assemblage of brick‐kilns beside it. 2 We saw Brussels
at eleven milesʼ distance, its towers rising dark and spear‐like out of the
horizon. It was waxing dark as we entered the city, and the lights began
to twinkle in the few, the very few shop windows. I love to pass through
a city at night, the hum of the voices rises so softly out of the obscurity,
and the figures flit about dark and bat‐like, and the cold starlight mingles
so strangely with the red swarthy gleam of the lamps; and when you look
up, the narrow strip of sky is of such a dark, dark blue, you may see it
appear to quiver with the starlight if you look long, and the white house‐
fronts rise so ghastly, so ghost‐like against it, and the windows seem
grinning maliciously askance at you. It makes one shiver to think of it. 3
Cities are exceedingly picturesque when built upon hills; but for exploring,
for circumnavigating, for perambulating—Oh, woe to the walker who is
compelled to drag himself up their steeps, those tiresome paved steeps,
those hard, unyielding, provokingly smooth flagstones, or to go thundering
down, his rapidity increasing every instant, when he is once in for it
lurching tremendously like a ship in a swell, jerk, jerk, jerking—Oh, facilis
descensus Averni
, 4 sed sed; 5 —Ay, thereʼs the rub. 6 The Hôtel de Bellevue
at Brussels 7 ought to have a belle vue, for you might as well scale the crags
of Gibraltar as storm the heights of the Hôtel de Bellevue; whence, for all
the boast of its title, I never could discover more belle vue than a dusty
square, some formal houses, and a few murky park trees.
We left Brussels on Wednesday morning 8 for Waterloo; the sun beamed
sweetly among the long trunks of the aged trees of the forest of Soigny; 9
and their damp bark glistened dewily,—as it rose up taller and taller,
branching off into the bending boughs, and slender spray, with the delicate
foliage scattered through: here every leaf defined separately and clearly
as you looked up to the broad sky; there in light, spready masses, par‐
tially concealing the long tapery trunks which retired back, farther and
still farther, yet distinctly grouped, and those groups separated by the
gleamy stream of yellow sunshine, which shone full on the sides of the
swelling green grassy banks, then broken by the intervening hollows,
then climbing again up the dewy moss and white trunks. It was exceed‐
ing beautiful; I could have fancied the glister 10 of the bright bayonets
changing, like starlight on a wavy ocean, among the retiring foliage of
those ancient trees—I forgot how many long years had past by since
that eventful day.
This is the field of Waterloo. 11 The round hills of green pasture lay
unbroken before me, without a single tree, except where, fax to the right,
the rich forest country commenced again, breaking away in rounded
masses, till lost in the blue of the faint horizon. All is peace now.
Englishmen may feel proud on the field of Waterloo—perhaps I did; but
there is something mingled with it—Poor Napoleon! The grass is very
green on the field of Waterloo—it has grown from the dust of our bravest.
Oh, tread on it softly! 12