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fully and thriftily cultivated land is so contrasted with that of Ireland, that in this country of priests one feels unable to use that favourite master-key of Protestants, which is supposed to have been the only one capable of unlocking the box from which all evils poured forth on Ireland. Popery cannot, in itself, be the source of these evils. It is in the Irish themselves, high and low, rich and poor, priests, parsons, and people, that the source of evil should be sought.
There are, certainly, many paupers in Belgium, who are supported by those in better circumstances; the poor being quartered upon the numerous farmers who cultivate their own small farms, and both employ and maintain the paupers; and, in addition to many common beggars, Ghent is infested with a tribe of persecutors, almost as annoying to me as the mosquitoes of the North, and whom the British have been the cause of calling into a disagreeable state of activity. As soon as the season for "up the Rhine” draws on, these persecuting insects commence their attacks on everyone and everything that has the least look of a Britisher about it. These “guides,” from the keen-eyed commissionaire to the bare-legged boy, with red feet peeping out of loose wooden
shoes, ought now to be annihilated. It is high time for British tourists to have done with them. Think of having these clattering wooden shoes following you a whole morning, and a buzz of such English-speaking as this in your ear :—“Van Eyck by me, vingt sous; Van Eyck by commissionaire tre franc.” Then comes the commissionaire, assiduous, insinuating, disinterested, and most pertinacious; quite incapable of comprehending that you would rather be alone, and only desirous of giving you the pleasure of his company. I fancied myself hidden behind the high altar of St. Jacques, but a whisper in my ear told me that undoubtedly there was something English-looking in the crown of my bonnet. I determined not to understand either English, French, or German; I shook my head in despair at all three, and at last uttered some sounds in an unknown tongue, which completely puzzled my zealous guide. After a long, mystified stare, he shook his head in reply, and departed in search of a more satisfactory prey.
As I was walking out in the afternoon, a sudden shower led me to request shelter in a house, the door of which was half open. A woman within it asked me if I were going to the Beguinage.
“Our Beguinage,” she said, “has a high reputation in England; all the English who come here go to see that, if they do not see anything else ; for the English, as you know, Madame, without doubt, go everywhere, and see nothing; I suppose, therefore, they never see such a thing as a Beguinage in England, for even the English Queen went to see it, although I am told she would not be allowed to have a convent in her own kingdom. But it appears to me that the English like our religion everywhere but at home.”
I did not know how I ought to reply, and so I resolved to write down the speech, in hopes that some one else would answer the last part of it, at least.
I went on to the Beguinage, or sisterhood of Ghent, and entered the feudal-looking gateway which admitted me into the conventual settlement; the hour of service was nearly over; it was what is called Benediction. I hastily entered the church, and could scarcely restrain an expression of surprise. Almost the entire space of the aisle was filled by the kneeling sisters, in their large snowy veils. It looked like a high bed of snow. The thick linen veil worn by the Beguines is not certainly so light, so graceful, SO spiritual-looking, as the thin muslin drapery, forming both shawl and head dress, which is worn
generally by the women of Genoa, and has such a remarkable and picturesque effect when seen in the twilight hour, and within the gloom of an Italian church : the veil of the good ladies of Ghent resembles rather what is called a sun bonnet, something like those that cottage children wear in summer, covering the head, and falling in a cape round the shoulders. How it is put on I understand not, for they take it off, fold it up, and carry it flat on the head when they like. Sometimes, from these white kneeling figures, and from the cavity of a wide sleeve, appeared the whole of a fair hand, and even part of a plump arm; sometimes from beneath the white canopy looked up an open and cheerful countenance. I remarked that the hands and arms when seen looked young; the faces uniformly were old when they showed themselves. As soon as the office ended, the sisters rose, and extended their arms at full length in the posture of benediction, with the hands stretched out. It was a singular, yet pretty sight. Then there was a movement, not formal, studied, regulated, but free and natural, brisk and easy. It rained; the sisters, most of whom were old and motherly looking, carefully took off their snow-white veils, folded them up, and laid them in a square on the crown of their heads, carrying them as a Pyrenean woman does her capulêt on occasions.
They left the chapel, tucking up their long purple robes, for this was a high day, and purple is worn by the noble ladies, and is the state robe instead of the ordinary black one; and as they chatted to the poor people about the door, smiling good-naturedly, and speaking their old-fashioned Flemish tongue, I could not help contrasting their air and manner, and even their dress, with the rather singularly equipped Sisters of Charity one sees in Ireland, and even in England also. What can be the reason that those who devote themselves to that blessed work in the latter lands, make themselves appear in an aspect the reverse of all that would seem to speak of love, joy, and hope? Why assume downcast looks and repulsive aspect? Why should they be seen moving about with the dress and air of persons engaged in works of darkness, rather than of light? Clad in ugly cloth cloaks even in summer, with black bonnets, and crape veils never raised from their faces, their movements and appearance are calculated to raise suspicion and attract remarks; even to provoke the false and