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It has long been a matter of discussion and controversy among the pious and the learned, as to the situation of the terrestrial paradise from whence our first parents were exiled. This question has been put to rest by certain of the faithful in Holland, who have decided in favor of the village of BROEK, about six miles from Amsterdam. It may not, they observe, correspond in all respects to the description of the Garden of Eden, handed down from days of yore, but it comes nearer to their ideas of a perfect paradise than any other place on earth.
This eulogium induced me to make some inquiries as to this favored spot, in the course of a sojourn at the city of Amsterdam, and the information I procured fully justified the enthusiastic praises I had heard. The village of Broek is situated in Waterland, in the midst of the greenest and richest pastures of Holland, I may say, of Europe. These pastures are the source of its wealth, for it is famous for its dairies, and for those oval cheeses which regale and perfume the whole civilized world. The population consists of about six hundred persons, comprising several families which have inhabited the place since time immemorial, and have waxed rich on the products of their meadows. They keep all their wealth among themselves; intermarrying, and keeping all strangers at a wary distance. They are a hard money' people, and remarkable for turning the penny the right way. It is said to have been an old rule, established by one of the primitive financiers and legislators of Broek, that no one should leave the village with more than six guilders in his pocket, or return with less than ten; a shrewd regulation, well worthy the attention of modern political economists, who are so anxious to fix the balance of trade.
What, however, renders Broek so perfect an elysium, in the eyes of all true Hollanders, is the matchless height to which the spirit of cleanliness is carried there. It amounts almost to a religion among the inhabitants, who pass the greater part of their time rubbing and scrubbing, and painting and varnishing: each housewife vies with her neighbor in her devotion to the scrubbing-brush, as zealous Catholics do in their devotion to the cross; and it is said, a notable housewife of the place in days of yore, is held in pious remembrance, and almost canonized as a saint, for having died of pure exhaustion and chagrin, in an ineffectual attempt to scour a black man white.
These particulars awakened my ardent curiosity to see a place which I pictured to myself the very fountain-head of certain hereditary habits and customs prevalent among the descendants of the original Dutch settlers of my native state. I accordingly lost no time in performing a pilgrimage to Broek.
Before I reached the place, I beheld symptoms of the tranquil character of its inhabitants. A little clump-built boat was in full sail along the lazy bosom of a canal, but its sail consisted of the blades of two paddles stood on end, while the navigator sat steering with a third paddle in the stern, crouched down like a toad, with a slouched hat drawn over his eyes. I presumed him to be some nautical lover, on the way to his mistress. After proceeding a little farther, I came in sight of the harbor or port of destination of this drowsy navigator. This was the Broeken-Meer, an artificial basin, or sheet of olive-green water, tranquil as a mill-pond. On this the village of Broek is situated, and the borders are laboriously decorated with flower-beds, box-trees clipped into all kinds of ingenious shapes and fancies, and little 'lust' houses, or pavilions.
I alighted outside of the village, for no horse nor vehicle is permitted to enter its precincts, lest it should cause defilement of the wellscoured pavements. Shaking the dust off my feet, therefore, I prepared to enter, with due reverence and circumspection, this sanctum sanctorum of Dutch cleanliness. I entered by a narrow street, paved with yellow bricks, laid edgewise, and so clean that one might eat from them. Indeed, they were actually worn deep, not by the tread of feet, but by the friction of the scrubbing-brush.
The houses were built of wood, and all appeared to have been freshly painted, of green, yellow, and other bright colors. They were separated from each other by gardens and orchards, and stood at some little distance from the street, with wide areas or court-yards, paved in mosaic, with variegated stones, polished by frequent rubbing. The areas were divided from the street by curiously-wrought railings, or balustrades, of iron, surmounted with brass and copper balls, scoured into dazzling effulgence. The very trunks of the trees in front of the houses were by the same process made to look as if they had been varnished. The porches, doors, and window-frames of the houses were of exotic woods, curiously carved, and polished like costly furniture. The front doors are never opened, excepting on christenings, marriages, or funerals: on all ordinary occasions, visitors enter by the back door. In former times, persons when admitted had to put on slippers, but this oriental ceremony is no longer insisted upon.
A poor devil Frenchman, who attended upon me as ciceroné, boasted with some degree of exultation, of a triumph of his countrymen over the stern regulations of the place. During the time that Holland was overrun by the armies of the French republic, a French general, surrounded by his whole état major, who had come from Amsterdam to view the wonders of Broek, applied for admission at one of these taboo'd portals. The reply was, that the owner never received any one who did not come introduced by some friend. Very well,' said the general; take my compliments to your master, and tell him I will return here to-morrow with a company of soldiers, 'pour parler raison avec mon ami Hollandais,' Terrified at the idea of having a company of soldiers billetted upon him, the owner threw open his house, entertained the general and his retinue with unwonted hospitality; though it is said it cost the family a month's scrubbing and scouring, to restore all things to exact order, after this military invasion.