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steam is doing the work of all those valiant Flemish weavers of olden time, who were as fond of fighting as of weaving, and, like the factory folk of our days, were ready for a turn-out on any occasion. But in modern Ghent one can hardly dream over romance history; Bruges is the place for that.
It was not yet ten o'clock, when I found myself rather suddenly in the midst of a goat-market, on this bright Sunday morn. Every second person had a goat by the head or horns, buying or selling. The streets are lined with stalls, crowded with purchasers. But hark! amid the varied din comes on a distinct, unmingled sound,—a sound unlike all others; bringing different thoughts, telling of different things. It is the solemn chant of priests. I know it well, though it is long since I have heard it thus mingling with the common hum of men, passing through the murmur of everyday public life; like the stream of fresh water unmingling with the ocean it enters.
Solemn and slow, with clouds of incense, tinkling bells, and mellow voices, on comes a grand procession; beneath the canopy the Bishop bears the host; bare-headed priests precede him singing; on they come, through lines of armed men, through ranks of spectators, through throngs of buyers and sellers; the most pious kneel, the comparatively pious uncover their heads, all stand for a moment quiet and silent. The procession passes; and the incense goes up on the summer air, and the bells ring, and the priests chant,—and behind it, as it moves on, the people buy and sell and get gain.
Most persons who wish to cut the Gordian knot by which the miseries of a part of the otherwise flourishing British dominions are inexplicably tied, ascribe to Popery the concatenation of evils that afflict poor Ireland. But how is it, then, that two countries wherein Popery, i.e. the Eoman faith, is dominant and uncontrolled,—I mean Belgium and Tyrol, are in conditions so very different from that of our poor little step-sister?
It would be hard to find two Protestant countries where industry, perseverance and activity are more plainly seen, or better rewarded, than in these; and such qualities are precisely those in which our unfortunate step-sister of the West is so lamentably deficient. Yet their religion is the same; piety characterises the Tyrolese at least as much as activity, independence, and loyalty. And here, the very aspect of the beautifully 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 Eyek by me, vingt sous; Yan 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 every where 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