"Cologne" [essay]
And this is the birthplace of Rubens! 1 Sink these French bad roads.
A long dayʼs journey over them under a burning sun, together with a
perambulation on a damp evening at Aix‐la‐Chapelle so knocked me up
that I was forced to diet and quiet it, and could not stir out 2 to see
Rubensʼ last picture, the masterpiece of the master, the Crucifixion of

St. Peter
, bequeathed by him at his death to his native city, 3 and, yet more,
his birth‐chamber.
There is in many, in most, of the pictures of Rubens, and that even
in his most sacred subjects, magnificent as they are viewed as paintings
only, an unholiness, a cast of Bacchanalian revelry, to say the least, an
unpleasingness, that does him dishonour. 4 But there are a few, a chosen few,
of his pictures which the master hath poured his whole soul into, and the
production of one of which were enough to repay a lifetime of labour with
immortality. There is a picture, I neither know where it is, nor what it
is, but there is a picture curtained up in one of the royal palaces of
France, the St. Ambrosius, I think, kneeling before a crucifix. 5 There is
one single ray of yellow light falling faintly upon the grey hairs and holy
features of the venerable saint, the rest is in obscurity; there is nothing more,
nothing to disturb either the eye or the mind, and you feel calmed and
subdued when you look upon that one solitary figure, as if in the presence
of a superior being. It is impossible to see that picture, the reality is
too striking, and a reality so hallowed and so beautiful, that when the
curtain is again drawn over the picture, you feel as if awaking from a
dream of heaven. It is by such pictures as this that Rubens has gained
his immortality; and it was, I believe, such a picture as this that I did not
see at Cologne. Then the disappointment made me worse, and I could
not stir out to see the room in which he was born. But it donʼt signify
talking. Reader, beware of the Grosser Rheinberg hotel at Cologne. Art
thou a poet, a painter, or a romancer? Imagine the Rhine, the beautiful,
the mighty, the celebrated Rhine, fouler than the Thames at London
, compressed into almost as narrow a channel, washing dirty coal
wharfs on the one side; bogs, marshes, and coke manufactories on the
other, yellow with mud from beneath, black with tar and coal‐dust from
above, loaded with clumsy barges and dirty shipping; in short, a vile, sordid,
mercenary river, fit only for traffic, high Germans and low Dutchmen,
and you will have some idea of the Rhine, as seen from the bedroom
windows of the Grosser Rheinberg. 6 Oh, if thou wouldest see the Rhine as
it may be seen, as it ought to be seen, shut your eyes, sleep your time
away, do anything but look about you, till you get to Bonn, then walk

out upon the terrace which looks forth over the swell of the deep waters
to the dim outline of the seven mountains, 7 and there gaze and dream and
meditate. Secondly, Art thou an epicure? Imagine mutton‐chops which
ought to have been tough, but which age had made tender, accompanied
by circular cakes of congealed fat, denominated gravy, together with a
kind of brown ashes, apparently moistened with whale oil (which, I think,
they called fried potatoes), as an addition to your feast, and you have an
idea of a dinner of the Grosser Rheinberg. I have omitted one thing,
however, which was really capital—the vinegar. They called it Hock wine,
certainly, but that donʼt signify; you must not be led astray by names in
this part of the world. However, good vinegar would not make up for
the want, or worse than want, of everything else; and although the waiters
made a point of not appearing until the bell had been rung seven times,
we at last made them understand that we neither liked their mode of
waiting, nor the contents of their larder, and so, according to their
deserts, deserted them.
The cathedral is the richest in fretwork and carving, in the delicate
finish of every shaft, and buttress, and pinnacle, that I saw on the journey,
except Milan. They showed us, in a little Gothic chapel, three skulls,
which they told us were those of the Magi. They were set in framework
of gold, and covered with jewels, but the pomp became not the dry
bones. The soul‐less eye and fleshless cheek looked not the less horrible
though a diamond beamed through the one and a bar of gold bound the
other. 8 Returned home, and the next morning departed from Cologne
with regret, to trace the mighty Rhine to his source among the Rhetian
. 9