We begin here to enter the portals of Dutch painting. Here died Jan van Eyck, the father of oil painting; and here, in the hospital of St. John, are the most celebrated pictures of Hans Memling. The most exquisite in color and finish is the series painted on the casket made to contain the arm of St. Ursula, and representing the story of her martyrdom. You know she went on a pilgrimage to Rome, with her lover, Conan, and eleven thousand virgins; and, on their return to Cologne, they were all massacred by the Huns. One would scarcely believe the story, if he did not see all their bones at Cologne.
What can one do in this Belgium but write down names, and let memory recall the past? We came to Ghent, still a hand some city, though one thinks of the days when it was the capital of Flanders, and its merchants were princes. On the shabby old belfry-tower is the gilt dragon which Philip van Artevelde captured, and brought in triumph from Bruges. It was originally fetched from a Greek church in Constantinople by some Bruges Crusader; and it is a link to recall to us how, at that time, the merchants of Venice and the far East traded up the Scheldt, and brought to its wharves the rich stuffs of India and Persia. The old bell Roland, that was used to call the burghers together on the approach of an enemy, hung in this tower. What fierce broils and bloody fights did these streets witness centuries ago! There in the Marche au Vendredi, a large square of old-fashioned houses, with a statue of Jacques van Artevelde, fifteen hundred corpses were strewn in a quarrel between the hostile guilds of fullers and brewers; and here, later, Alva set blazing the fires of the Inquisition. Near the square is the old cannon, Mad Margery, used in 1382 at the siege of Oudenarde,—a hammered-iron hooped affair, eighteen feet long. But why mention this, or the magnificent town hall, or St. Bavon, rich in pictures and statuary; or try to put you back three hundred years to the wild days when the iconoclasts sacked this and every other church in the Low Countries?