But in Holland activity destroys, in Germany indolence nourishes, romance

“Our travellers arrived at Rotterdam on a bright and sunny day. There is a cheerfulness about the operations of Commerce, – a life, a bustle, an action which always exhilarate the spirits at the first glance. Afterwards they fatigue us; we get too soon behind the scenes, and find the base and troublous passions which move the puppets and conduct the drama.

But Gertrude, in whom ill health had not destroyed the vividness of impression that belongs to the inexperienced, was delighted at the cheeriness of all around her. As she leaned lightly on Trevylyan’s arm, he listened with a forgetful joy to her questions and exclamations at the stir and liveliness of a city from which was to commence their pilgrimage along the Rhine. And indeed the scene was rife with the spirit of that people at once so active and so patient, so daring on the sea, so cautious on the land. Industry was visible everywhere; the vessels in the harbour, the crowded boat putting off to land, the throng on the quay, – all looked bustling and spoke of commerce. The city itself, on which the skies shone fairly through light and fleecy clouds, wore a cheerful aspect. The church of St. Lawrence rising above the clean, neat houses, and on one side trees thickly grouped, gayly contrasted at once the waters and the city.

“I like this place,” said Gertrude’s father, quietly; “it has an air of comfort.”

“And an absence of grandeur,” said Trevylyan.

“A commercial people are one great middle-class in their habits and train of mind,” replied Vane; “and grandeur belongs to the extremes, an impoverished population and a wealthy despot.”

They went to see the statue of Erasmus, and the house in which he was born. Vane had a certain admiration for Erasmus which his companions did not share; he liked the quiet irony of the sage, and his knowledge of the world; and, besides, Vane was at that time of life when philosophers become objects of interest. At first they are teachers; secondly, friends; and it is only a few who arrive at the third stage, and find them deceivers. The Dutch are a singular people. Their literature is neglected, but it has some of the German vein in its strata, – the patience, the learning, the homely delineation, and even some traces of the mixture of the humorous and the terrible which form that genius for the grotesque so especially German – you find this in their legends and ghost-stories. But in Holland activity destroys, in Germany indolence nourishes, romance.”

(Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Pilgrims Of The Rhine, Kapitel V: Rotterdam, London 1834)


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