It is the antique Athens of the north, the Saragossa of the Low Countries, the oldest and most illustrious of the daughters of Holland, is one of those cities which make you thoughtful upon first entering them, and are remembered for a long time afterward with a certain impression of sadness.
I had hardly arrived when the chill of a dead city seemed to fall upon me. The old Rhine, which crosses Leyden, dividing it into many islets joined together by one hundred and fifty stone bridges, forms wide canals and basins which contain no ship or boat, and the city seems rather invaded by the waters than merely crossed by them. The principal streets are very broad and flanked by rows of old blockhouses with the usual pointed gables, and the few people seen in the streets and squares are like the survivors of a city depopulated by the plague.
In the smaller streets you walk upon long tracts of grass, between houses with closed doors and windows, in a silence as profound as that of those fabled cities where all the inhabitants are sunk in a supernatural sleep. You pass over bridges overgrown with weeds, and long canals covered with a green carpet, through small squares that seem like convent courtyards; and then, suddenly, you reach a broad thorough-fare, like the streets of Paris; from which you again penetrate into a labyrinth of narrow alleys. From bridge to bridge, from canal to canal, from island to island, you wander for hours seeking for the life and movement of the ancient Leyden, and finding only solitude, silence, and the waters which reflect the melancholy majesty of the fallen city.
In 1573 the Spaniards, led by Valdez, laid siege to Leyden. In the city there were only some volunteer soldiers. The military command was given to Van der Voes, a valiant man, and a Latin poet of some renown. Van der Werf was burgomaster. In brief time the besiegers had constructed more than sixty forts in all the places where it was possible to penetrate into the city by sea or land, and Leyden was completely isolated. But the people of Leyden did not lose heart. William of Orange had sent them word to hold out for three months, within which time he would succor them, for on the fate of Leyden depended that of Holland; and the men of Leyden had promised to resist to the last extremity… .
The Prince of Orange received the news of the safety of the city at Delft, in church, where he was present at divine service. He sent the message at once to the preacher, and the latter announced it to the congregation, who received it with shouts of joy. Altho only just recovered from his illness, and the epidemic still raging at Leyden, William would see at once his dear and valorous city. He went there; his entry was a triumph; his majestic and serene aspect put new heart into the people; his words made them forget all they had suffered, To re-ward Leyden for her heroic defense, he left her her choice between exemption from certain imposts or the foundation of a university. Leyden chose the university.
How this university answered to the hopes of Leyden, it is superfluous to say. Everybody knows how the States of Holland with their liberal offers drew learned men from every country; how philosophy, driven out of France, took refuge there; how Leyden was for a long time the securest citadel for all men who were struggling for the triumph of human reason; how it became at length the most famous school in Europe. The actual university is in an ancient convent. One can not enter without a sentiment of profound respect the great hall of the Academic Senate, where are seen the portraits of all the professors who have succeeded each other from the foundation of the university up to the present day.