[Brussels—Sunday, 14 August 1859]
Sunday 14th Bruxelles. Glorious city. In the Place opposite our windows stands the spirited statue of Godfrey de Bouillon and magnificent edifices abound on every side. Jamie and I walked in the Park into the fine old Cathedral of Saint Gudula into the market place &c. Went to a noble old hall to see some pictures. I was touched by a remark from George. He was standing pensively before a sad picture which he could not understand. I don’t know what it means he said to me but perhaps the father has returned from his travels to find his wife and child ill. I was sure that the picture did not say that and it showed us which way George’s thoughts ran while he was all unconscious of the self-betrayal. Afterward we took an early lunch and started for Waterloo. It was a delicious afternoon and although the dew was not on the trees of Ardennes that is to say Soignies the afternoon light made them look equally refreshing and lovely. All nature here seems in such direct contrast to the terrible scenes which have been enacted here and the terrible visions with which your mental action peoples the undulating meadows.
Everything favored our visit to Waterloo. De Ligne, the old man who showed Lord Byron the field and who was at the “Ferme” during the engagement met us at the village. He jumped on the box with an agility worthy of a younger man (he is 61 now) and drove with us to Hougoumont. We all dismounted here and walked about the ground. To my surprise Hougoumont has never been rebuilt and stands for the most part as it was left after that bloody day. The old man explained with great simplicity and vigor his feeling as a young man. He was then a servant at the Farm and but 17 years old. The day before the battle Wellington visited the field and the Chateau of Hougoumont kindly warning the aged proprietors that if they wished to save their lives or property they should at once remove to Bruxelles. He then ordered loop-holes to be broken through the old garden-wall. These are still to be seen as well as many bullet-holes about the place. The chateau itself is pulled down. The famous grove behind the chateau so often taken and re-taken by the contending nations and which proved in a manner fatal to France is cut down also. De Ligne told us that when King George and the Duke visited the fields some years after the Duke slipped, in a miry place when the King laughed and said, “Take care, we do not wish to say that Wellington fell at Waterloo.”
The family with whom De Ligne then lived had left the day before for Bruxelles. Three young servants, of whom he was one, stayed behind to make lint to dress the wounded soldiers. The two nights succeeding the battle they were occupied caring for these miserable men. Every house in the village was filled with the wounded and dying. The fresh breezes were blowing over this fertile lovely ground as the old man told us of these dreadful scenes with all the simplicity of an eye-witness. War never seemed to us more dreadful nor the precipitous fall of a great man more unlooked for or more providential than then. In the distance we could see the little inn “La belle Alliance” behind which Napoleon sat watching the conflict. We saw the spot where the table stood upon which he would sometimes leap in his anxiety to watch the issue of the conflict. We asked De Ligne about Lord Byron. “He spoke very few words” said he “but he write write all the time, yet he did make one mistake of calling our Forest Soignies, Ardennes.” The night was approaching. Brussels is nearly 12 miles distant, so we bade our guide hastily good night and came back to our comfortable lodgings peopling the scene anew with its ancient interest and brilliant but sad catastrophe. The moon gleamed out here and there to light us on our way making the whole scene still more strange and desolate.