When Jaureguy had fired at the Prince two years earlier, the ball passing through his jaw, the Prince, at he faltered under the shock, cried, "Do not kill him—I forgive him my death!" But he had no time to express any such plea for his assailant after Gerard's cruel shots. "Three balls," says Motley, "entered his body, one of which, passing quite through him, struck with violence against the wall beyond. The Prince exclaimed in French, as he felt the wound, 'O my God, have mercy upon my soul! O my God, have mercy upon this poor people!'
"These were the last words he ever spoke, save that when his sister, Catherine of Schwartzburgh, immediately afterwards asked him if he commended his soul to Jesus Christ, he faintly answered, 'Yes'."
Never has the pistol done worse work. The Prince was only fifty-one; he was full of vigour; his character had never been stronger, his wisdom never more mature. Had he lived a few years longer the country would have been saved years of war and misery.
One may stand to-day exactly where the Prince stood when he was shot. The mark of a bullet in the wall is still shown. The dining-room, from which he had come, now contains a collection of relics of his great career.
Let us return to the New Church, past the statue of Grotius in the great square, in order to look again at that philosopher's memorial. Grotius, who was born at Delft, was extraordinarily precocious. He went to Leyden University and studied under Scaliger when he was eleven; at sixteen he was practising as a lawyer at The Hague. This is D. Goslings' translation of the inscription on his tomb:—
Sacred to Hugo Grotius
The Wonder of Europe, the sole astonishment of the learned world, the splendid work of nature surpassing itself, the summit of genius, the image of virtue, the ornament raised above mankind, to whom the defended honour of true religion gave cedars from the top of Lebanon, whom Mars adorned with laurels and Pallas with olive branches, when he had published the right of war and peace: whom the Thames and the Seine regarded as the wonder of the Dutch, and whom the court of Sweden took in its service: Here lies Grotius. Shun this tomb, ye who do not burn with love of the Muses and your country.
Grotius can hardly have burned with love of the sense of justice of his own country, for reasons with which we are familiar. His sentence of life-long imprisonment, passed by Prince Maurice of Orange, who lies hard by in the same church, was passed in 1618. His escape in the chest (like General Monk in Twenty Years After) was his last deed on Dutch soil. Thenceforward he lived in Paris and Sweden, England and Germany, writing his De Jure Belli et Pacis and other works. He died in 1645, when Holland claimed him again, as Oxford has claimed Shelley.
The principal tomb in the Old Church of Delft is that of Admiral Tromp, the Dutch Nelson. While quite a child he was at sea with his father off the coast of Guinea when an English cruiser captured the vessel and made him a cabin boy. Tromp, if he felt any resentment, certainly lived to pay it back, for he was our victor in thirty-three naval engagements, the last being the final struggle in the English-Dutch war, when he defeated Monk off Texel in the summer of 1653, and was killed by a bullet in his heart. The battle is depicted in bas-relief on the tomb, but the eye searches the marble in vain for any reminder of the broom which the admiral is said to have lashed to his masthead as a sign to the English that it was his habit to sweep their seas. The story may be a myth, but the Dutch sculptor who omitted to remember it and believe in it is no friend of mine.
This is D. Goslings' translation of Tromp's epitaph:—
For an Eternal Memorial
You, who love the Dutch, virtue and true labour, read and mourn.
The ornament of the Dutch people, the formidable in battle, lies low, he who never lay down in his life, and taught by his example that a commander should die standing, he, the love of his fellow-citizens, the terror of his enemies, the wonder of the ocean.
Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp, a name comprehending more praise than this stone can contain, a stone truly too narrow for him, for whom East and West were a school, the sea the occasion of triumph, the whole world the scene of his glory, he, a certain ruin to pirates, the successful protector of commerce; useful through his familiarity, not low; after having ruled the sailors and the soldiers, a rough sort of people, in a fatherly and efficaciously benignant manner; after fifty battles in which he was commander or in which he played a great part; after incredible victories, after the highest honours though below his merits, he at last in the war against the English, nearly victor but certainly not beaten, on the 10th of August, 1653, of the Christian era, at the age of fifty-six years, has ceased to live and to conquer.
The fathers of the United Netherlands have erected this memorial in honour of this highly meritorious hero.
There lie in Delft's Old Church also Pieter Pieterzoon Hein, Lieut.-Admiral of Holland; and Elizabeth van Marnix, wife of the governor of Bergen-op-Zoom, whose epitaph runs thus:—
Here am I lying, I Elizabeth, born of an illustrious and ancient family, wife to Morgan, I, daughter of Marnix, a name not unknown in the world, which, in spite of time, will always remain. There is virtue enough in having pleased one husband, which his so precious love testifies.
The tomb of Antony van Leeuwenhoek, the inventor of the microscope, is also to be seen in the church. "As everybody, O Wanderer," the epitaph concludes, "has respect for old age and wonderful parts, tread this spot with respect; here grey science lies buried with Leeuwenhoek."
Each of the little guide-books, which are given to every purchaser of a ticket to enter the churches, is prefaced by four "Remarks," of which I quote the third and fourth:—
3. Visitors are requested not to bestow gifts on the sexton or his assistants, as the former would lose his situation, if he accepted; he is responsible for his assistants.
4. The sexton or his assistants will treat the visitors with the greatest politeness.
I am not certain about the truth of either of these clauses, particularly the last. Let me explain.
The sexton of the Old Church hurried me past these tombs with some impatience. I should naturally have taken my time, but his attitude of haste made it imperative to do so. Sextons must not be in a hurry. After a while I found out why he chafed: he wanted to smoke. He fumbled his pipe and scraped his boots upon the stones. I studied the monuments with a scrutiny that grew more and more minute and elaborate; and soon his matches were in his hand. I wanted to tell him that if I were the only obstacle he might smoke to his heart's content, but it seemed to be more amusing to watch and wait. My return to the tomb of the ingenious constructor of the microscope settled the question. Probably no one had ever spent more than half a minute on poor Leeuwenhoek before; and when I turned round again the pipe was alight. The sexton also was a changed man: before, he had been taciturn, contemptuous; now he was communicative, gay. He told me that the organist was blind—but none the less a fine player; he led me briskly to the carved pulpit and pointed out, with some exaltation, the figure of Satan with his legs bound. The cincture seemed to give him a sense of security.
In several ways he made it impossible for me to avoid disregarding Clause 3 in the little guide-books; but I feel quite sure that he has not in consequence lost his situation.
Delft's greatest painter was Johannes Vermeer, known as Vermeer of Delft, of whom I shall have much to say both at the Hague and Amsterdam. He was born at Delft in 1632, he died there in 1675; and of him but little more is known. It has been said that he studied under Karel Fabritius (also of Delft), but if this is so the term of pupil-age must have been very brief, for Fabritius did not reach Delft (from Rembrandt's studio) until 1652, when Vermeer was twenty, and he was killed in an explosion in 1654. One sees the influence of Fabritius, if at all, most strongly in the beautiful early picture at The Hague, in the grave, grand manner, of Diana? but the influence of Italy is even more noticeable. Fabritius's "Siskin" is hung beneath the new Girl's Head by Vermeer (opposite page 2 of this book), but they have nothing in common. To see how Vermeer derived from Rembrandt via Fabritius one must look at the fine head by Fabritius in the Boymans Museum at Rotterdam, so long attributed to Rembrandt, but possessing a certain radiance foreign to him.
How many pictures Vermeer painted between 1653, when he was admitted to the Delft Guild as a master, and 1675, when he died, cannot now be said; but it is reasonable to allot to each of those twenty-three years at least five works. As the known pictures of Vermeer are very few—fewer than forty, I believe—some great discoveries may be in store for the diligent, or, more probably, the lucky.
I have read somewhere—but cannot find the reference again—of a ship that left Holland for Russia in the seventeenth century, carrying a number of paintings by the best artists of that day—particularly, if I remember, Gerard Dou. The vessel foundered and all were lost. It is possible that Vermeer may have been largely represented.
Only comparatively lately has fame come to him, his first prophet being the French critic Thore (who wrote as "W. Burger"), and his second Mr. Henri Havard, the author of very pleasant books on Holland from which I shall occasionally quote. Both these enthusiasts wrote before the picture opposite page 2 was exhibited, or their ecstasies might have been even more intense.
In the Senate House at Delft in 1641 John Evelyn the diarist saw "a mighty vessel of wood, not unlike a butter-churn, which the adventurous woman that hath two husbands at one time is to wear on her shoulders, her head peeping out at the top only, and so led about the town, as a penance". I did not see this; but the punishment was not peculiar to Delft. At Nymwegen these wooden petticoats were famous too.
Nor did I visit the porcelain factory, having very little interest in its modern products. But the old Delft ware no one can admire more than I do. A history of Delft written by Dirk van Bleyswijck and published in 1667, tells us that the rise of the porcelain industry followed the decline of brewing. The author gives with tears a list of scores of breweries that ceased to exist between 1600 and 1640. All had signs, among them being:—
The Popinjay. The Great Bell. The White Lily. The Three Herrings. The Double Battle-axe. The Three Acorns. The Black Unicorn. The Three Lilies. The Curry-Comb. The Three Hammers. The Double Halberd.
I would rather have explored any of those breweries than the modern Delft factory.
Ireland, by the way, mentions a whimsical sign-board which he saw somewhere in Holland, but which I regret to say I did not find. "It was a tree bearing fruit, and the branches filled with little, naked urchins, seemingly just ripened into life, and crying for succour: beneath, a woman holds up her apron, looking wistfully at the children, as if intreating them to jump into her lap. On inquiry, I found it to be the house of a sworn midwife, with this Dutch inscription prefixed to her name:—
'Vang my, ik zal zoet zyn,'
that is, 'Catch me, I'll be a sweet boy'. This new mode of procreation, so truly whimsical, pleased me," Ireland adds, "not a little."
Let me close this chapter by quoting from an essay by my friend, Mr. Belloc, a lyrical description of the Old Church's wonderful wealth of bells: "Thirdly, the very structure of the thing is bells. Here the bells are more even than the soul of a Christian spire; they are its body, too, its whole self. An army of them fills up all the space between the delicate supports and framework of the upper parts. For I know not how many feet, in order, diminishing in actual size and in the perspective also of that triumphant elevation, stand ranks on ranks of bells from the solemn to the wild, from the large to the small, a hundred, or two hundred or a thousand. There is here the prodigality of Brabant and Hainaut and the Batavian blood, a generosity and a productivity in bells without stint, the man who designed it saying: 'Since we are to have bells, let us have bells; not measured out, calculated, expensive, and prudent bells, but careless bells, self-answering multitudinous bells; bells without fear, bells excessive and bells innumerable; bells worthy of the ecstacies that are best thrown out and published in the clashing of bells. For bells are single, like real pleasures, and we will combine such a great number that they may be like the happy and complex life of a man. In a word, let us be noble and scatter our bells and reap a harvest till our town is famous in its bells,' So now all the spire is more than clothed with them; they are more than stuff or ornament: they are an outer and yet sensitive armour, all of bells.
"Nor is the wealth of these bells in their number only, but also in their use—for they are not reserved in any way, out ring tunes and add harmonies at every half and a quarter and at all the hours both by night and by day. Nor must you imagine that there is any obsession of noise through this; they are far too high and melodious, and (what is more) too thoroughly a part of all the spirit of Delft to be more than a perpetual and half-forgotten impression of continual music; they render its air sacred and fill it with something so akin to an uplifted silence as to leave one—when one has passed from their influence—asking what balm that was which soothed all the harshness of sound about one."
Dutch precision—Shaping hands—Nature under control—Willow v. Neptune—The lost star—S'Gravenhage—The Mauritshuis—Rembrandt—The "School of Anatomy"—Jan Vermeer of Delft—The frontispiece—Other pictures—The Municipal Museum—Baron Steengracht's collection—The Mesdag treasures—French romantics at The Hague—The Binnenhof—John van Olden Barneveldt—Man's cruelty to man—The churches—The fish market and first taste of Scheveningen—A crowded street—Holland's reading—The Bosch—The club—The House in the Wood—Mr. "Secretary" Prior—Old marvels—Howell the receptive and Coryate the credulous.
Although often akin to the English, the Dutch character differs from it very noticeably in the matter of precision. The Englishman has little precision; the Dutchman has too much. He bends everything to it. He has at its dictates divided his whole country into parellelograms. Even the rushes in his swamps are governed by the same law. The carelessness of nature is offensive to him; he moulds and trains on every hand, as one may see on the railway journey to The Hague. Trees he endures only so long as they are obedient and equidistant: he likes them in avenues or straight lines; if they grow otherwise they must be pollarded. It is true that he has not touched the Bosch, at The Hague; but since his hands perforce have been kept off its trees, he has run scores of formal straight well-gravelled paths beneath their branches.
This passion for interference grew perhaps from exultation upon successful dealings with the sea. A man who by his own efforts can live in security below sea-level, and graze cattle luxuriantly where sand and pebbles and salt once made a desert, has perhaps the right to feel that everything in nature would be the better for a little manipulation. Eyes accustomed to the careless profusion that one may see even on a short railway journey in England are shocked to find nature so tractable both in land and water.
The Dutchman's pruning, however, is not done solely for the satisfaction of exerting control. These millions of pollarded willows which one sees from the line have a deeper significance than might ever be guessed at: it is they that are keeping out Holland's ancient enemy, the sea. In other words, a great part of the basis of the strength of the dykes is imparted by interwoven willow boughs, which are constantly being renewed under the vigilant eyes of the dyke inspectors. For the rest, the inveterate trimming of trees must be a comparatively modern custom, for many of the old landscapes depict careless foliage—Koninck's particularly. And look, for instance, at that wonderful picture—perhaps the finest landscape in Dutch art—Rembrandt's etching "The Three Trees". There is nothing in North Holland to-day as unstudied as that. I doubt if you could now find three trees of such individuality and courage.
When I was first at The Hague, seven years ago, I stayed not, as on my last visit, at the Oude Doelen, which is the most comfortable hotel in Holland, but at a more retired hostelry. It was spacious and antiquated, with large empty rooms, and cool passages, and an air of decay over all. Servants one never saw, nor any waiter proper; one's every need was carried out by a very small and very enthusiastic boy. "Is the hroom good, sare?" he asked, as he flung open the door of the bedroom with a superb flourish. "Is the sham good, sare?" he asked as he laid a pot of preserve on the table. He was the landlady's son or grandson, and a better boy never lived, but his part, for all his spirit and good humour, was a tragic one. For the greatest misfortune that can come upon an hotel-keeper had crushed this house: Baedeker had excised their star!
The landlady moved in the background, a disconsolate figure with a grievance. She waylaid us as we went out and as we came in. Was it not a good hotel? Was not the management excellent? Had we any complaints? And yet—see—once she had a star and now it was gone. Could we not help to regain it? Here was the secret of the grandson's splendid zeal. The little fellow was fighting to hitch the old hotel to a star once more, as Emerson had bidden.
Alas, it was in vain; for that was seven years ago, and I see that Baedeker still withholds the distinction. What a variety of misfortune this little world holds! While some of us are indulging our right to be unhappy over a thousand trivial matters, such as illness and disillusion, there are inn-keepers on the Continent who are staggering and struggling under real blows.
I wondered if it were better to have had a star and lost it, than never to have had a star at all. But I did not ask. The old lady's grief was too poignant, her mind too practical, for such questions.
S'Gravenhage or Den Haag, or The Hague as we call it, being the seat of the court, is at once the most civilised and most expensive of the Dutch cities. But it is not conspicuously Dutch, and is interesting rather for its pictures and for its score of historic buildings about the Vyver than for itself. Take away the Vyver and its surrounding treasures and a not very noteworthy European town would remain.
And yet to say so hardly does justice to this city, for it has a character of its own that renders it unique: cosmopolitan and elegant; catholic in its tastes; indulgent to strangers; aristocratic; well-spaced and well built; above all things, bland.
And the Vyver is a jewel set in its midst, beautiful by day and beautiful by night, with fascinating reflections in it at both times, and a special gift for the transmission of bells in a country where bells are really honoured. On its north side is the Vyverberg with pleasant trees and a row of spacious and perfectly self-composed white houses, one of which, at the corner, has in its windows the most exquisite long lace curtains in this country of exquisite long lace curtains.
On the south side are the Binnenhof and the Mauritshuis—in the Mauritshuis being the finest works of the two greatest Dutch painters, Rembrandt of the Rhine and Vermeer of Delft. It is largely by these possessions that The Hague holds her place as a city of distinction.
Rembrandt's "School of Anatomy" and Paul Potter's "Bull" are the two pictures by which every one knows the Mauritshuis collection; and it is the bull which maintains the steadier and larger crowd. But it is not a work that interests me. My pictures in the Mauritshuis are above all the "School of Anatomy," Vermeer's "View of Delft," his head of a young girl, and the Jan Steens. We have magnificent Rembrandts in London; but we have nothing quite on the same plane of interest or mastery as the "School of Anatomy ". Holland has not always retained her artists' best, but in the case of Rembrandt and Hals, Jan Steen and Vermeer, she has made no mistakes. Rembrandt's "School of Anatomy," his "Night Watch," and his portrait of Elizabeth Bas are all in Holland. I can remember no landscape in Holland in the manner of that in our National Gallery in which, in conformity with the taste of certain picture buyers, he dropped in an inessential Tobias and Angel; but for the finest examples of his distinction and power as a painter of men one must go to The Hague and Amsterdam. In the Mauritshuis are sixteen Rembrandts, including the portrait of himself in a steel casque, and (one of my favourites) the head of the demure nun-like and yet merry-hearted Dutch maiden reproduced opposite the next page, which it is impossible to forget and yet difficult, when not looking at it, to recall with any distinctness—as is so often the case with one's friends in real life.
If any large number of visitors to Holland taken at random were asked to name the best of Rembrandt's pictures they would probably say the "Night Watch". But I fancy that a finer quality went to the making of the "School of Anatomy". I fancy that the "School of Anatomy" is the greatest work of art produced by northern Europe.
To Jan Steen and his work we come later, in the chapter on Leyden, but of Vermeer, whom we saw at Delft, this is one place to speak. Of the "View of Delft" there is a reproduction opposite page 58, yet it can convey but little suggestion of its beauty. In the case of the picture opposite page 2 there is only a loss of colour: a great part of its beauty is retained; but the "View of Delft" must be seen in the original before one can speak of it at all. Its appeal is more intimate than any other old Dutch landscape that I know. I say old, because modern painters have a few scenes which soothe one hardly less—two or three of Matthew Maris's, and Mauve's again and again. But before Maris and Mauve came the Barbizon influence; whereas Vermeer had no predecessors, he had to find his delicate path for himself. To explain the charm of the "View of Delft" is beyond my power; but there it is. Before Rembrandt one stands awed, in the presence of an ancient giant; before Vermeer one rejoices, as in the presence of a friend and contemporary.
The head of a young girl, from the same brush, which was left to the nation as recently as 1903, is reproduced opposite page 2. To me it is one of the most beautiful things in Holland. It is, however, in no sense Dutch: the girl is not Dutch, the painting is Dutch only because it is the work of a Dutchman. No other Dutch painter could compass such liquid clarity, such cool surfaces. Indeed, none of the others seem to have tried: a different ideal was theirs. Apart, however, from the question of technique, upon which I am not entitled to speak, the picture has to me human interest beyond description. There is a winning charm in this simple Eastern face that no words of mine can express. All that is hard in the Dutch nature dissolves beneath her reluctant smile. She symbolises the fairest and sweetest things in the Eleven Provinces. She makes Holland sacred ground.
Vermeer, although always a superb craftsman, was not always inspired. In the next room to the "View of Delft" and the girl's head is his "New Testament Allegory," a picture which I think I dislike more than any other, so false seems to me its sentiment and so unattractive its character. Yet the sheer painting of it is little short of miraculous.
Among other Dutch pictures in the Mauritshuis which I should like to mention for their particular charm are Gerard Dou's "Young Housekeeper," to which we come in the chapter on Leyden's painters; Ostade's "Proposal," one of the pleasantest pictures which he ever signed; Ruisdael's "View of Haarlem" and Terburg's portraits. I single these out. But when I think of the marvels of painting that remain, of which I have said not a word, I am only too conscious of the uselessness of such a list. Were this a guide-book I should say more, mentioning also the work of the other schools, not Dutch, notably a head of Jane Seymour by Holbein, a Velasquez, and so forth. But I must not.
After the Mauritshuis, the Municipal Museum, which also overlooks the Vyver's placid surface, is a dull place except for the antiquary. In its old views of the city, which are among its most interesting possessions, the evolution of the neighbouring Doelen hotel may be studied by the curious—from its earliest days, when it was a shooting gallery, to its present state of spaciousness and repute, basking in its prosperity and cherishing the proud knowledge that Peter the Great has slept under its hospitable roof, and that it was there that the Russian delegate resided when, in 1900, the Czar convoked at The Hague the Peace Conference which he was the first to break.
In one room of the Municipal Museum are the palette and easel of Johannes Bosboom, Holland's great painter of churches. His last unfinished sketch rests on the easel. No collection of modern Dutch art is complete without a sombre study of Gothic arches by this great artist. All his work is good, but I saw nothing better than the water-colour drawing in the Boymans Museum at Rotterdam, which is reproduced opposite page 132.
At The Hague one may also see, whenever the family is not in residence, the collection of Baron Steengracht in one of the ample white mansions on the Vyverberg. Most interesting of the pictures to me are Jan Steen's family group, which, however, for all its wonderful drawing, is not in his most interesting manner; a very deft Metsu, "The Sick Child"; a horse by Albert Cuyp; a characteristic group of convivial artists by Adrian Brouwer, including Hals, Ostade, Jan Steen and the painter himself; and—best of all—Terburg's wholly charming "Toilette," an old woman combing the head of a child.
Quite recently the Mesdag Museum has been added to the public exhibitions of The Hague. This is the house of Hendriks Willem Mesdag, the artist, which, with all its Barbizon treasures, with noble generosity he has made over to the nation in his lifetime. Mesdag, who is himself one of the first of living Dutch painters, has been acquiring pictures for many years, and his collection, by representing in every example the taste of a single connoisseur, has thus the additional interest of unity. Mesdag's own paintings are mostly of the sea—a grey sea with a few fishing boats, very true, very quiet and simple. How many times he and James Maris painted Scheveningen's shore probably no one could compute. His best-known work is probably the poster advertising the Harwich and Hook-of-Holland route, in which the two ports are joined by a chain crossing a grey sea—best known, because every one has seen this picture: it is at all the stations; although few, I imagine, have connected with it the name and fame of the Dutch artist and patron of the arts.
In the description of the Ryks collection at Amsterdam I shall say something about the pleasure of choosing one's own particular picture from a gallery. It was amusing to indulge the same humour in the Mesdag Museum: perhaps even more so than at the Ryks, for one is certain that by no means could Vermeer's little picture of "The Reader,"—the woman in the blue jacket—for example, be abstracted from those well-guarded walls, whereas it is just conceivable that one could select from these crowded little Mesdag rooms something that might not be missed. I hesitated long between a delicate Matthew Maris, the very essence of quietude, in which a girl stands by a stove, cooking; Delacroix's wonderful study of dead horses in the desert; a perfect Diaz (No. 114), an old woman in a red shawl by a pool in a wood, with its miracle of lighting; a tender little Daumier, that rare master; a Segantini drenched in sincerity and pity; and a bridge at evening (No. 127) by Jules Dupre. All these are small and could be slipped under the overcoat with the greatest ease!
Having made up my mind I returned to each and lost all my decision. I decided again, and again uncertainty conquered. And then I made a final examination, and chose No. 64—a totally new choice—a little lovely Corot, depicting a stream, two women, much essential greenness, and that liquid light of which Corot had the secret.
But I am not sure that the Diaz (who began by being an old master) is not the more exquisite picture.
For the rest, there are other Corots, among them one of his black night pieces; a little village scene by Troyon; some apples by Courbet, in the grandest manner surely in which apples ever were painted; a Monticelli; a scene of hills by Georges Michel which makes one wish he had painted the Sussex Downs; a beautiful chalk drawing by Millet; some vast silent Daubignys; a few Mauves; a very interesting early James Maris in the manner of Peter de Hooch, and a superb later James Maris—wet sand and a windy sky.
The flower of the French romantic school is represented here, brought together by a collector with a sure eye. No visitor to The Hague who cares anything for painting should miss it; and indeed no visitor who cares nothing for painting should miss it, for it may lure him to wiser ways.
The Binnenhof is a mass of medieval and later buildings extending along the south side of the Vyver, which was indeed once a part of its moat. The most attractive view of it is from the north side of the Vyver, with the long broken line of roof and gable and turret reflected in the water. The nucleus of the Binnenhof was the castle or palace of William II., Count of Holland in the thirteenth century—also Emperor of Germany and father of Florence V., who built the great hall of the knights (into which, however, one may penetrate only on Thursdays), and whose tomb we shall see in Alkmaar church. The Stadtholders made the Binnenhof their headquarters; but the present Royal Palace is half a mile north-west of it. Other buildings have been added from time to time, and the trams are now allowed to rush through with their bells jangling the while. The desecration is not so glaring as at Utrecht, but it seems thoroughly wrong—as though we were to permit a line to traverse Dean's Yard at Westminster. A more appropriate sanction is that extended to one or two dealers in old books and prints who have their stalls in the Binnenhof's cloisters.
It was in the Binnenhof that the scaffold stood on which John van Barneveldt was beheaded in 1619, the almost inevitable result of his long period of differences with the Stadtholder Maurice, son of William the Silent. His arrest, as we have seen, followed the Synod of Dort, Grotius being also removed by force. Barneveldt's imprisonment, trial and execution resemble Spanish methods of injustice more closely than one likes to think. I quote Davies' fine account of the old statesman's last moments: "Leaning on his staff, and with his servant on the other side to support his steps, grown feeble with age, Barneveldt walked composedly to the place of execution, prepared before the great saloon of the court-house. If, as it is not improbable, at the approach of death in the midst of life and health, when the intellect is in full vigour, and every nerve, sense and fibre is strung to the highest pitch of tension, a foretaste of that which is to come is sometimes given to man, and his over-wrought mind is enabled to grasp at one single effort the events of his whole past life—if, at this moment and on this spot, where Barneveldt was now to suffer a felon's death,—where he had first held out his fostering hand to the infant republic, and infused into it strength and vigour to conquer the giant of Europe,—where he had been humbly sued for peace by the oppressor of his country,—where the ambassadors of the most powerful sovereigns had vied with each other in soliciting his favour and support,—where the wise, the eloquent, and the learned, had bowed in deference to his master-spirit;—if, at this moment, the memory of all his long and glorious career on earth flashed upon his mind in fearful contrast to the present reality, with how deep feeling must he have uttered the exclamation as he ascended the scaffold, 'Oh God! what then is man?'
"Here he was compelled to suffer the last petty indignity that man could heap upon him. Aged and infirm as he was, neither stool nor cushion had been provided to mitigate the sense of bodily weakness as he performed the last duties of mortal life; and kneeling down on the bare boards, he was supported by his servant, while the minister, John Lamotius, delivered a prayer. When prepared for the block, he turned to the spectators and said, with a loud and firm voice, 'My friends, believe not that I am a traitor. I have lived a good patriot, and such I die.' He then, with his own hands, drew his cap over his eyes, and bidding the executioner 'be quick,' bowed his venerable head to the stroke.
"The populace, from various feelings, some inspired by hatred, some by affection, dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, or carried away morsels of the blood-stained wood and sand; a few were even found to sell these as relics. The body and head were laid in a coffin and buried decently, but with little ceremony, at the court church of the Hague.
"The States of Holland rendered to his memory that justice which he had been denied while living, by the words in which they recorded his death. After stating the time and manner of it, and his long period of service to his country, the resolution concludes, 'a man of great activity, diligence, memory, and conduct; yea, remarkable in every respect. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall; and may God be merciful to his soul.'"
A very beautiful story is told of Barneveldt's widow. Her son plotting to avenge his father and crush the Stadtholder was discovered and imprisoned. His mother visited Maurice to ask his pardon. "Why," said he, "how is this—you value your son more than your husband! You did not ask pardon for him." "No," said Barneveldt's widow; "I did not ask pardon for my husband, because he was innocent; I ask pardon for my son, because he is guilty."
Prince Maurice never recovered from the error—to put for the moment no worse epithet to it—of the death of Barneveldt. He had killed his best counsellor; thenceforward his power diminished; and with every rebuff he who had abandoned his first adviser complained that God had abandoned him. Davies sums up the case thus: "The escutcheon of Maurice is bright with the record of many a deed of glory; the fabric of his country's greatness raised by his father, strengthened and beautified by himself; her armies created the masters of military science to the civilized world; her States the centre and mainspring of its negotiations; her proud foe reduced to sue humbly at her feet. But there is one dark, deep stain on which the eye of posterity, unheeding the surrounding radiance, is constantly fixed: it is the blood of Barneveldt."
The Binnenhof leads to the Buitenhof, a large open space, the old gateway to which is the Gevangenpoort prison—scene of another shameful deed in the history of Holland, the death of John and Cornelius de Witt. The massacre occurred two hundred and thirty-three years ago—in 1672. Cornelius de Witt was wrongfully accused of an attempt to procure the assassination of the Stadtholder, William III. To him, in his cell in the Gevangenpoort, came, on 22nd August, John de Witt, late Grand Pensionary, brought hither by a bogus message.
I quote from Davies, who elsewhere makes it clear that (as Dumas says) William III was privy to the crime: "His friends, fearful of some treachery, besought him to pause and inquire into the truth of the summons before he obeyed it; and his only daughter threw herself at his feet, and implored him with floods of tears not to risk unnecessarily a life so precious. But his anxiety for his brother, with whom he had ever lived on terms of the tenderest affection, proved stronger than their remonstrances; and setting out on foot, attended by his servant and two secretaries, he hastened to the prison. On seeing him, Cornelius de Witt exclaimed in astonishment, 'My brother, what do you here?' 'Did you not then send for me?' he asked; and receiving an answer in the negative, 'Then,' rejoined he, 'we are lost'.
"During this time one of the judges sent for Tichelaar, and suggested to him that he should incite the people not to suffer a villain who had intended to murder the Prince to go unpunished. True to his instructions, the miscreant spread among the crowd collected before the prison doors the report, that the torture inflicted on Cornelius de Witt was a mere pretence, and that he had only escaped the death he deserved because the judges favoured his crime. Then, entering the gaol, he presented himself at the window, and exclaimed to the crowd below, 'The dog and his brother are going out of prison! Now is your time; revenge yourselves on these two knaves, and then on thirty more, their accomplices.'
"The populace received his address with shouts and cries of 'To arms, to arms! Treason, treason!' and pressed in a still denser crowd towards the prison door. The States of Holland, immediately on information of the tumult, sent three troops of cavalry, in garrison at the Hague, for the protection of the gaol, and called out to arms six companies of burgher guards. But in the latter they only added fresh hosts to the enemies of the unfortunate captives. One company in especial, called the 'Company of the Blue Flag,' was animated with a spirit of deadly vengeance against them; its leader, Verhoef, having that morning loaded his musket with a determination either to kill the De Witts or perish in the attempt. They pressed forward towards the prison, but were driven back by the determined appearance of the cavalry, commanded by the Count de Tilly.
"So long as these troops remained, it was evident that the fell purpose of the rioters was impracticable. Accordingly, a report was raised that a band of peasants and sailors was coming to plunder The Hague; and two captains of the burgher guards took occasion from thence to demand of the Council of State, that the soldiers should be drawn off from their station, in order to protect the houses from pillage. First a verbal order, and on Tilly's refusing obedience to such, a written one, was sent, commanding him to divide his troops into four detachments, and post them upon the bridges leading into the town. 'I shall obey,' said he, as he perused the mandate; 'but it is the death-warrant of the brothers.'
"His anticipations were too soon realized. No sooner had he departed than the rioters were supplied by some of those mysterious agents who were actively employed throughout the whole of these transactions, with wine, brandy, and other incitements to inflame their already maddening fury. Led on by Verhoef and one Van Bankhem, a sheriff of The Hague, they assailed the prison door with axes and sledge-hammers, threatening to kill all the inmates if it were not instantly opened. Terrified, or corrupted, the gaoler obeyed their behests. On gaining admittance they rushed to an upper room, where they found their victims, who had throughout the whole of the tumult maintained the greatest composure. The bailiff, reduced to a state of extreme debility by the torture, was reclining on his bed; his brother was seated near him, reading the Bible. They forced them to rise and follow them 'to the place,' as they said, 'where criminals were executed'.
"Having taken a tender leave of each other, they began to descend the stairs, Cornelius de Witt leaning on his brother for support. They had not advanced above two or three paces when a heavy blow on the head from behind precipitated the former to the bottom. He was then dragged a short distance towards the street, trampled under foot, and beaten to death. Meanwhile, John de Witt, after receiving a severe wound on the head with the butt-end of a musket, was brought by Verhoef, bleeding and bare-headed, before the furious multitude. One Van Soenen immediately thrust a pike into his face, while another of the miscreants shot him in the neck, exclaiming as he fell, 'There goes down the Perpetual Edict'. Raising himself on his knees, the sufferer lifted up his hands and eyes to heaven in deep and earnest prayer. At that moment, one Verhagen struck him with his musket. Hundreds followed his example, and the cruel massacre was completed.
"Barbarities too dreadful for utterance or contemplation, all that phrenzied passion or brutal ferocity could suggest, were perpetrated on the bodies of these noble and virtuous citizens; nor was it till night put an end to the butchery, that their friends were permitted to convey their mangled remains to a secret and obscure tomb."
In the Nieuwe Kerk at The Hague the tomb of the De Witts may be seen and honoured.
The Gevangenpoort is well worth a visit. One passes tortuously from cell to cell—most of them associated with some famous breaker of the laws of God or man, principally of man. Here you may see a stone hollowed by the drops of water that plashed from the prisoner's head, on which they were timed to fall at intervals of a few seconds—a form of torture imported, I believe, from China, and after some hours ending inevitably in madness and death. Beside such a refinement the rack is a mere trifle and the Gevangenpoort's branding irons and thumb screws become only toys. A block, retaining the cuts made by the axe after it had crashed through the offending neck, is also shown; and the names of prisoners written in their blood on the walls may be traced. The building is a monument in stone of what man can do to man in the name of justice.
I referred just now to the Nieuwe Kerk, the resting-place of the De Witts. There lies also their contemporary, Spinoza, whose home at Rynsburg we shall pass on our way to Katwyk from Leyden. His house at The Hague still stands—near his statue. The Groote Kerk is older; but neither church is particularly interesting. From the Groote Kerk's tower one may, however, see a vast deal of country around The Hague—a landscape containing much greenery—and in the west the architectural monsters of Scheveningen only too visible. We shall reach Scheveningen in the next chapter, but while at The Hague it is amusing to visit the fish market in order to have sight of the good women of that town clustered about the stalls in their peculiar costume. They are Scheveningen's best. The adjoining stadhuis is a very interesting example of Dutch architecture.
The Hague has excellent shops, and one street—the Lange Pooten—more crowded in the evening, particularly on Sunday evening, than any I know. Every Dutch town has certain crowded streets in the evening, because to walk up and down after dinner is the national form of recreation. There are in the large cities a few theatres and music halls, and in the smaller, concerts in the summer; but for the most part the streets and the cafes are the great attraction. Each town has one street above all others which is frequented in this way. At The Hague it is the Lange Pooten, running into Spui Straat; at Amsterdam it is Kalverstraat.
Dutch shops are not very interesting, and the book-shops in particular are a disappointment. This is because it is not a reading people. The newspapers are sound and practical before all things: business before pleasure is their motto; and native literature is not fostered. Publishers who bring out new Dutch books usually do so on the old subscription plan. But the book-shops testify to the popularity of translations from other nations and also of foreign books in the original. The latest French and German fiction is always obtainable. Among translations from the English in 1904 I noticed a considerable number of copies of the Sherlock Holmes tales and also of two or three of Miss Corelli's works. These for adults; for boys the reading par excellence was a serial romance, in weekly or monthly parts, entitled "De Wilsons en de Ring des Doods of het Spoor van pen Diamenten". The Wilsons, I gather, have been having a great run in Holland. A lurid scene in Maiden Lane was on the cover. Another story which seemed to be popular had the engaging title "Beleaguered by Jaguars".
The Hague is very proud of the Bosch—the great wood to the east of the city, with a few deer and many tall and unpollarded trees, where one may walk and ride or drive very pleasantly.
The Bosch has no restaurant within its boundaries. I mention this in order to save the reader the mortification of being conducted by a polite but firm waiter back to the gates of the pavilion in which he may reasonably have supposed he was as much entitled to order tea as any of the groups enjoying that beverage at the little tables within the enclosure, whose happiness had indeed led him to enter it. They are, however, members of a club, to which he has no more right of entry than any Dutch stranger would have to the Athenaeum.
The Huis ten Bosch, or House in the Wood, which all good travellers must explore, is at the extreme eastern end of the Bosch, with pleasure grounds of its own, including a lake where royal skating parties are held. This very charming royal residence, now only occasionally occupied, is well worth seeing for its Chinese and Japanese decorations alone—apart from historical associations and mural paintings. For mural paintings unless they are very quiet I must confess to caring nothing, nor does a bed on which a temporal prince breathed his last, or his first, move me to any degree of interest; but on the walls of one room of the House in the Wood is some of the most charming Chinese embroidery I ever saw, while another is decorated in blue and white of exquisite delicacy. With these gracious schemes of upholstery I shall always associate the Huis ten Bosch.
At Leyden we shall find traces of Oliver Goldsmith: here at The Hague one may think of Mat. Prior, who was secretary to our Ambassador for some years and even wrote a copy of spritely verses on the subject.
Written at The Hague, 1696.
With labour assiduous due pleasure I mix, And in one day atone for the bus'ness of six. In a little Dutch chaise, on a Saturday night, On my left hand my Horace, a nymph on my right: No memoirs to compose, and no post-boy to move, That on Sunday may hinder the softness of love; For her, neither visits, nor parties at tea, Nor the long-winded cant of a dull refugee: This night and the next shall be hers, shall be mine To good or ill-fortune the third we resign. Thus scorning the world, and superior to Fate, I drive in my car in professional state; So with Phia thro' Athens Pisistratus rode, Men thought her Minerva, and him a new god. But why should I stories of Athens rehearse, Where people knew love, and were partial to verse, Since none can with justice my pleasures oppose In Holland half-drowned in int'rest and prose? By Greece and past ages what need I be tried When The Hague and the present are both on my side? And is it enough for the joys of the day To think what Anacreon or Sappho would say, When good Vandergoes and his provident Vrow, As they gaze on my triumph, do freely allow, That, search all the province, you'll find no man dar is So blest as the Englishen Heer Secretar is?
Let me close this rambling account of The Hague with a passage from James Howell, in one of his conspicuously elaborate Familiar Letters, written in 1622, describing some of the odd things to be seen at that day in or about the Dutch city: "We went afterwards to the Hague, where there are hard by, though in several places, two wonderful things to be seen, the one of Art, the other of Nature; that of Art is a Waggon or Ship, or a monster mixt of both like the Hippocentaure who was half man and half horse; this Engin hath wheels and sails that will hold above twenty people, and goes with the wind, being drawn or mov'd by nothing else, and will run, the wind being good, and the sails hois'd up, above fifteen miles an hour upon the even hard sands: they say this Invention was found out to entertain Spinola when he came thither to treat of the last Truce." Upon this wonder, which I did not see, civilisation has now improved, the wind being but a captious and untrustworthy servant compared with petrol or steam. None the less there is still a very rapid wheeled ship at Zandvoort.
But the record of Howell's other wonder is visible still. He continues: "That wonder of Nature is a Church-monument, where an Earl and a Lady are engraven with 365 children about them, which were all delivered at one birth; they were half male, half female; the two Basons in which they were Christened hang still in the Church, and the Bishop's Name who did it; and the story of this Miracle, with the year and the day of the month mentioned, which is not yet 200 years ago; and the story is this: That the Countess walking about her door after dinner, there came a Begger-woman with two Children upon her back to beg alms, the Countess asking whether those children were her own, she answer'd, she had them both at one birth, and by one Father, who was her husband. The Countess would not only not give her any alms, but reviled her bitterly, saying, it was impossible for one man to get two children at once. The Begger-woman being thus provok'd with ill words, and without alms, fell to imprecations, that it should please God to show His judgment upon her, and that she might bear at one birth as many children as there be days in the year, which she did before the same year's end, having never born child before."
The legend was naturally popular in a land of large families, and it was certainly credited without any reservation for many years. In England the rabbit-breeding woman of Dorking had her adherents too. What the beggar really wished for the Dutch lady was as many children at one birth as there were days in the year in which the conversation occurred—namely three, for the encounter was on January 3rd. Or so I have somewhere read. But it is more amusing to believe in the greater number, especially as a Dutch author has put it on record that he saw the children with his own eyes. They were of the size of shrimps, and were baptised either singly or collectively by Guy, Bishop of Utrecht. All the boys were named John and all the girls Elizabeth, They died the same day.
Thomas Coryate of the Crudities, who also tells the tale, believed it implicitly. "This strange history," he says, "will seem incredible (I suppose) to all readers. But it is so absolutely and undoubtedly true as nothing in the world more."
And here, hand in hand with Veritas, we leave The Hague.
Scheveningen and Katwyk
The Dutch heaven—Huyghens' road—Sorgh Vliet's builder—Jacob Cats—Homely wisdom—President Kruger—A monstrous resort—Giant snails—The black-headed mannikins—The etiquette of petticoats—Katwyk—The old Rhine—Noordwyk—Noordwyk-Binnen.
Good Dutchmen when they die go to Scheveningen; but my heaven is elsewhere. To go thither is, however, no calamity, so long as one chooses the old road. It is being there that so lowers the spirits. The Oude Scheveningen Weg is perhaps the pleasantest, and certainly the shadiest, road in Holland: not one avenue but many, straight as a line in Euclid. On either side is a spreading wood, among the trees of which, on the left hand, as one leaves The Hague, is Sorgh Vliet, once the retreat of old Jacob Cats, lately one of the residences of a royal Duke, and now sold to a building company. The road dates from 1666, its projector being Constantin Huyghens, poet and statesman, whose statue may be seen at the half-way halting-place. By the time this is reached the charm of the road is nearly over: thenceforward it is all villas and Scheveningen.
But we must pause for a little while at Sorgh Vliet (which has the same meaning as Sans Souci), where two hundred years ago lived in genial retirement the writer who best represents the shrewd sagacity of the Dutch character—Jacob Cats, or Vader Cats as he was affectionately called, the author of the Dutch "Household Bible," a huge miscellaneous collection of wise saws and modern instances, humour and satire, upon all the businesses of life.
Mr. Austin Dobson, who leaves grains of gold on all he touches, has described in his Side-Walk Studies the huge, illustrated edition of Cats' Works (Amsterdam, 1655) which is held sacred in all rightly constituted old-fashioned Dutch households. I have seen it at the British Museum, and it seems to me to be one of the best picture-books in the world.
As Mr. Dobson says, the life of old Holland is reproduced in it. "What would one not give for such an illustrated copy of Shakespeare! In these pages of Jacob Cats we have the authentic Holland of the seventeenth century:—its vanes and spires and steep-roofed houses; its gardens with their geometric tulip-beds, their formally-clipped alleys and arches, their shining parallelograms of water. Here are its old-fashioned interiors, with the deep fire-places and queer andirons, the huge four-posters, the prim portraits on the wall, the great brass-clamped coffers and carved armories for the ruffs and starched collars and stiff farthingales of the women. In one picture you may see the careful housewife mournfully inspecting a moth-eaten garment which she has just taken from a chest that Wardour Street might envy; in another she is energetically cuffing the 'foolish fat scullion,' who has let the spotted Dalmatian coach-dog overturn the cauldron at the fire. Here an old crone, with her spectacles on, is cautiously probing the contents of the said cauldron with a fork; here the mistress of the house is peeling pears; here the plump and soft-hearted cheese-wife is entertaining an admirer—outside there are pictures as vivid. Here are the clumsy leather-topped coach with its masked occupant and stumbling horses; the towed trekschuit, with its merry freight, sliding swiftly through the low-lying landscape; the windy mole, stretching seaward, with its blown and flaring beacon-fire. Here again in the street is the toy-shop with its open front and store of mimic drums and halberds for the martial little burghers; here are the fruiteress with her stall of grapes and melons, the rat-catcher with his string of trophies, the fowler and his clap-net, the furrier with his stock of skins."
In 1860 a number of Van der Venne's best pictures were redrawn by John Leighton to accompany translations of the fables by Richard Pigot. As a taste of Cats' quality I quote two of the pieces. Why the pictures should have been redrawn when they might have been reproduced exactly is beyond my understanding. This is one poem:—
LIKE MELONS, FRIENDS ARE TO BE FOUND IN PLENTY OF WHICH NOT EVEN ONE IS GOOD IN TWENTY.
In choosing Friends, it's requisite to use The self-same care as when we Melons choose: No one in haste a Melon ever buys, Nor makes his choice till three or four he tries; And oft indeed when purchasing this fruit, Before the buyer can find one to suit, He's e'en obliged t' examine half a score, And p'rhaps not find one when his search is o'er. Be cautious how you choose a friend; For Friendships that are lightly made, Have seldom any other end Than grief to see one's trust betray'd!
And here is another:—
SMOKE IS THE FOOD OF LOVERS.
When Cupid open'd Shop, the Trade he chose Was just the very one you might suppose. Love keep a shop?—his trade, Oh! quickly name! A Dealer in tobacco—Fie for shame! No less than true, and set aside all joke, From oldest time he ever dealt in Smoke; Than Smoke, no other thing he sold, or made; Smoke all the substance of his stock in trade; His Capital all Smoke, Smoke all his store, 'Twas nothing else; but Lovers ask no more— And thousands enter daily at his door! Hence it was ever, and it e'er will be The trade most suited to his faculty:— Fed by the vapours of their heart's desire, No other food his Votaries require; For, that they seek—The Favour of the Fair, Is unsubstantial as the Smoke and air.
From these rhymes, with their home-spun philosophy, one might assume Cats to have been merely a witty peasant. But he was a man of the highest culture, a great jurist, twice ambassador to England, where Charles I. laid his sword on his shoulder and bade him rise Sir Jacob, a traveller and the friend of the best intellects. From an interesting article on Dutch poetry in an old Foreign Quarterly Review I take an account of the aphorist: "Vondel had for his contemporary a man, of whose popularity we can hardly give an idea, unless we say that to speak Dutch and to have learnt Cats by heart, are almost the same thing. Old Father Jacob Cats—(we beg to apologize for his unhappy name—and know not why, like the rest of his countrymen, he did not euphonize it into some well-sounding epithet, taken from Greece or Rome—Elouros, for example, or Felisius; Catsius was ventured upon by his contemporaries, but the honest grey-beard stuck to his paternities)—was a man of practical wisdom—great experience—much travel—considerable learning—and wonderful fluency. He had occupied high offices of state, and retired a patriarch amidst children and children's children, to that agreeable retreat which we mentioned as not far from The Hague, where we have often dreamed his sober and serious—but withal cheerful and happy, spirit, might still preside. His moralities are sometimes prolix, and sometimes rather dull. He often sweeps the bloom away from the imaginative anticipations of youth—and in that does little service. He will have everything substantial, useful, permanent. He has no other notion of love than that it is meant to make good husbands and wives, and to produce painstaking and obedient children.
"His poetry is rhymed counsel—kind, wise, and good. He calculates all results, and has no mercy for thoughts, or feelings, or actions, which leave behind them weariness, regret or misery. His volumes are a storehouse of prudence and worldly wisdom. For every state of life he has fit lessons, so nicely dovetailed into rhyme, that the morality seems made expressly for the language, or the language for the morality. His thoughts—all running about among the duties of life—voluntarily move in harmonious numbers, as if to think and to rhyme were one solitary attribute. For the nurse who wants a song for her babe—the boy who is tormented by the dread of the birch—the youth whose beard begins to grow—the lover who desires a posey for his lady's ring—for the husband—father—grandsire—for all there is a store—to encourage—to console—and to be grateful for. The titles of his works are indices to their contents. Among them are De Ouderdom, Old Age; Buyten Leven, Out-of-Doors Life; Hofgedachten, Garden Thoughts; Gedachten op Slapelooze Nachten, Thoughts of Sleepless Nights; Trouwring, Marriage Ring; Zelfstrijt, Self-struggle, etc. Never was a poet so essentially the poet of the people. He is always intelligible—always sensible—and, as was well said of him by Kruijff,
Smiling he teaches truth, and sporting wins to virtue."
When President Kruger died last year the memoirs of him agreed in fixing upon the Bible as his only reading. But I am certain he knew Vader Cats by heart too. If ever a master had a faithful pupil, Vader Cats had one in Oom Paul. The vivid yet homely metaphors and allegories in which Oom Paul conveyed so many of his thoughts were drawn from the same source as the emblems of Vader Cats. Both had the AEsopian gift.
We have no one English writer with whom to compare Cats; but a syndicate formed of Fuller and Burton, Cobbett and Quarles might produce something akin.
Scheveningen is half squalid town, half monstrous pleasure resort. Upon its sea ramparts are a series of gigantic buildings, greatest of which is the Curhaus, where the best music in Holland is to be heard. Its pier and its promenade are not at the first glimpse unlike Brighton's; but the vast buildings have no counterpart with us, except perhaps at Blackpool. What is, however, peculiar to Scheveningen is its expanse of sand covered with sentry-box wicker chairs. To stand on the pier on a fine day in the season and look down on these thousands of chairs and people is to receive an impression of insect-like activity that I think cannot be equalled. Immovable as they are, the chairs seem to add to the restlessness of the seething mass. What a visitor from Mars would make of it is a mystery; but he could hardly fail to connect chair and occupant. Here, he would say, is surely the abode of giant snails!
On a windy day the chairs must be of great use; but in heat they seem to me too vertical and too hard. One must, however, either sit in them or lie upon sand. There is not a pebble on the whole coast: indeed there is not a pebble in Holland. Life after lying upon sand can become to some of us a burden almost too difficult to bear; but the Dutch holiday-maker does not seem to find it so. As for the children, they are truly in Paradise. There can be no sand better to dig in than that of Scheveningen; and they dig in it all day. A favourite game seems to be to surround the parental sentry-boxes with a fosse. Every family has its castle, and every castle its moat.
I have been twice to Scheveningen, and on each occasion I acquired beneath its glittering magnitude a sense of depression. That leaven of tenderness which every collection of human beings must have was harder to find at Scheveningen than anywhere in Holland—everything was so ordered, so organised, for pleasure, pleasure at any price, pleasure almost at the point of the bayonet.
But on the second occasion one little incident saved the day—an encounter with a strolling bird-fancier who dealt in Black-Headed Mannikins. Two of these tiny brisk birds, in their Quaker black and brown, sat upon his cane to attract purchasers. They fluttered to his finger, perched on his hat, simulated death in the palm of his hand, and went through other evolutions with the speed of thought and the bright spontaneous alacrity possible only to a small loyal bird. These, however, were not for sale: these were decoys; the saleable birds lay, packed far too close, in little wooden boxes in the man's bag. And Scheveningen to me means no longer a mile of palaces, no longer a "hot huddle of humanity" on the sand among myriad sentry-boxes: its symbol is just two Black-Headed Mannikins.
From the Curhaus it is better to return to the Hague by electric tram along the new road. Save for passing a field where the fishwives of Scheveningen in their blue shawls spread and mend their nets, this road is dull and suburban; but from it, when the light is failing, a view of Scheveningen's domes and spires may be gained which, softened and made mysterious by the gloaming, translates the chief watering-place of Holland into an Eastern city of romance.
The fishwives of Scheveningen, I am told, carry the art of petticoat wearing to a higher point than any of their sisters. The appearance of the homing fleet in the offing is a signal for as many as thirty of these garments to be put on as a mark of welcome to a returning husband.
Probably no shore anywhere in the world has been so often painted as that of Scheveningen—ever since the painting of landscape seemed a worthy pursuit. James Maris' pictures of Scheveningen's wet sand, grey sea, and huge flat-bottomed ships must run into scores; Mesdag's too. Perhaps it was the artists that prevailed on the fishermen to wear crimson knickerbockers—the note of warm colour that the scene demands.
Here, although it is separated from Scheveningen by some miles of sand, I should like to say something of Katwyk—which is Leyden's marine resort. A steam-tram carries people thither many times a day. The rail, when first I travelled upon it, in April, ran through tulips; in August, when I was there again, the patches of scarlet and orange had given way to acres of massive purple-green cabbages which, in the evening light, were vastly more beautiful.
At Rynsburg, one of the villages on the way, dwelt in 1650-51 Benedict Spinoza, the philosopher, and there he wrote his abridgement of the Meditations of Descartes, his master in philosophy, who had for a while lived close by at Endegeest. Spinoza, who was born at Amsterdam in 1632, died in 1677. His house at Rynsburg, which he shared with a Colleginat (one of a sect of Remonstrants who had their headquarters there) is now a Spinoza museum; his statue is at The Hague.
Katwyk-aan-Zee is a compact little pleasure resort with the usual fantastic childish villas. Its most interesting possession is the mouth of the Old Rhine, now restricted by a canal and controlled by locks. There is perhaps no better example of the Dutch power over water than the contrast between the present narrow canal through which the river must disembogue and the unprofitable marsh which once spread here. The locks, which are nearly a hundred years old, were among the works of the engineer Conrad, whose monument is in Haarlem church.
From the Old Rhine's mouth to Noordwyk is a lonely but very bracing walk of three miles along the sand, with the dunes on one's right hand and the sea on one's left. One may meet perhaps a few shell gatherers, but no one else. We drove before us all the way a white company consisting of a score of gulls, twice as many tern, two oyster catchers and one curlew. They rose and settled, rose and settled, always some thirty yards away, until Noordwyk was reached, when we left them behind. Never was a Japanese screen so realised as by these birds against the pearl grey sea and yellow sand.
Katwyk is more cheery than Noordwyk; but Noordwyk has a prettier street—indeed, in its old part there is no prettier street in Holland in the light of sunset. As Hastings is to Eastbourne, so is Katwyk to Noordwyk; Scheveningen is Brighton, Yarmouth, and Blackpool in one. A very pretty lace cap is worn at Noordwyk by villagers and visitors alike, to hold the hair against the west wind.
From Noordwyk we walked to Noordwyk-Binnen, the real town, parent of the seaside resort; and there, at a table at the side of the main street, by an avenue so leafy as to exclude even glints of the sky, we sipped something Dutch whose name I could not assimilate, and waited for the tram for Leyden. It was the greenest tunnel I ever saw.
Steam-trams—Holland for the people—Quiet Leyden—The Meermansburg—Leyden's museums—The call of the open—Oliver Goldsmith—A view of the Dutch—"Polite Learning"—"The Traveller"—James Howell—John Evelyn and the Burgundian Jew—Colloquia Peripatetica—St. Peter's and St. Pancras's—The Kermis—Drinking in Holland—Poffertjes and Wafelen—America's master.
We travelled to Leyden from The Hague by the steam-tram, through cheerful domestic surroundings, past little Englishy cottages and gardens. It was Sunday morning, and the villagers of Voorburg and Voorschoten and the other little places en route were idle and gay.
In England light railways are a rarity; Holland is covered with a net-work of them. The little trains rush along the roads all over the country, while the roadside willows rock in their eddying wake. To stand on the steam-tram footboard is one very good way to see Holland. In England of course we can never have such conveniences, England being a free country in which individual rights come first. But Holland exists for the State, and such an idea as the depreciation or ruin of property by running a tram line over it has never suggested itself. It is true that when the new electric tramway between Amsterdam and Haarlem was projected, the comic papers came to the defence of outraged Nature; but they did not really mean it, as the aesthetic minority in England would have meant it.
The steam-tram journeys are always interesting; and my advice to a traveller in Holland is to make as much use of them as he can. This is quite simple as their time-tables are included in the official Reisgids. I like them at all times; but best perhaps when one has to wait in the heart of some quiet village for the other tram to come up. There is something very soothing and attractive in these sudden cessations of noise and movement in the midst of a totally strange community.
Leyden is a paradise of clean, quiet streets—a city of professors, students and soldiers. It has, I think, the prettiest red roofs in any considerable Dutch town: not prettier than Veere's, but Veere is now only a village. Philosophers surely live here: book-worms to whom yesterday, to-day and to-morrow are one. The sense of commercial enterprise dies away: whatever they are at Amsterdam, the Dutch at Leyden cease to be a nation of shopkeepers.
It was holiday time when I was there last, and the town was comparatively empty. No songs floated through the windows of the clubs. In talk with a stranger at one of the cafes, I learned that the Dutch student works harder in the holidays than in term. In term he is a social and imbibing creature; but when the vacation comes and he returns to a home to which most of the allurements which an English boy would value are wanting, he applies himself to his books. I give the statement as I heard it.
One of the pleasantest buildings in Leyden is the Meermansburg—a spreading almshouse in the Oude Vest, surrounding a square garden with a massive pump in the midst. A few pictures are shown in the Governors' room over the entrance, but greater interest attaches to the little domiciles for the pensioners of the Meerman trust. A friendly concierge with a wooden leg showed us one of these compact houses—a sitting-room with a bed-cupboard in one wall, and below it a little larder, like the cabin of a ship. At the back a tiny range, and above, a garret. One could be very comfortable in such quarters.
Leyden has other hofjes, as these homes of rest are called, into one of which, gay with geraniums, I peeped—a little court of clean cottages seen through the doorway like a Peter de Hooch.
I did not, I fear, do my duty by Leyden's many museums. The sun shone; the boats swam continually down the Old Rhine and the New; and the sea at Katwyk and Noordwyk sent a call across the intervening meadows. Some day perhaps I shall find myself at Leyden again, when the sky is grey and the thirst for information is more strongly upon me. Ethnography, comparative anatomy, physiology—there is nothing that may not be learned in the Leyden museums; but such learning is not peculiarly Dutch, nor are the treasures of these museums peculiarly Dutch, and I felt that I might with a clear conscience leave them to others. Have we not Bloomsbury?
I did, however, climb the Burg, which is a circular fortress on a mound between the two rivers, so cleverly hidden away among houses that it was long ere I could find it. It is gained through an ancient courtyard full of horses and carriages—like a scene in Dumas. From the Burg one ought to have a fine view, but Leyden's roofs are too near. And in the Natural History Museum I walked through miles of birds stuffed, and birds articulated, until I felt that I could give a year's income to be on terms again with a living blackbird—even one of those that eat our Kentish strawberries at sunrise.
I did not penetrate to the interior of the University, having none to guide me, but I was pleased to remember that Oliver Goldsmith had been a student there not so very long ago. Indeed, as I walked about the town, I thought much of Goldsmith as he was in 1755, aged twenty-seven, with all his books to write, wandering through the same streets, looking upon the same houses and canals, in the interval of acquiring his mysterious medical degree (ultimately conferred at Louwain). His ingenious project, it will be remembered—by those whose memories (like my own) cling to that order of information, to the exclusion of everything useful and improving—Goldsmith's delightful plan for subsistence in Holland was to teach the English language to the Dutch, and in return receive enough money to keep him at the University of Leyden and enable him to hear the great Professor Albinus. It was not until he reached Holland that those adorable Irish brains of his realised that he who teaches English to a Dutchman must first know Dutch.
Goldsmith, who spent his life in doing characteristic things—few men have done more—when once he had determined to go to Holland, took a passage in a vessel bound for Bordeaux. At Newcastle-on-Tyne, however, on going ashore to be merry, he was arrested as a Jacobite and thrown into prison for a fortnight. The result was that the ship sailed without him. It was just as well for him and for us, for it sank at the mouth of the Garonne. In 1755, however, he was in Leyden, although by what route, circuitous or direct, he reached that city we do not know.
He lost little time in giving his Uncle Contarine an account of his impressions of Holland and its people. Here is a portion of a long letter: "The modern Dutchman is quite a different creature from him of former times: he in everything imitates a Frenchman, but in his easy disengaged air, which is the result of keeping polite company. The Dutchman is vastly ceremonious, and is perhaps exactly what a Frenchman might have been in the reign of Louis XIV. Such are the better bred. But the downright Hollander is one of the oddest figures in nature: upon a head of lank hair he wears a half-cocked narrow hat laced with black ribbon; no coat, but seven waistcoats, and nine pairs of breeches; so that his hips reach almost up to his arm-pits. This well-clothed vegetable is now fit to see company, or make love. But what a pleasing creature is the object of his appetite! Why she wears a large fur cap with a deal of Flanders lace: and for every pair of breeches he carries, she puts on two petticoats.
"A Dutch lady burns nothing about her phlegmatic admirer but his tobacco. You must know, sir, every women carries in her hand a stove with coals in it, which, when she sits, she snugs under her petticoats; and at this chimney dozing Strephon lights his pipe. I take it that this continual smoking is what gives the man the ruddy healthful complexion he generally wears, by draining his superfluous moisture, while the woman, deprived of this amusement, overflows with such viscidities as tint the complexion, and give that paleness of visage which low fenny grounds and moist air conspire to cause. A Dutch woman and Scotch will bear an opposition. The one is pale and fat, the other lean and ruddy: the one walks as if she were straddling after a go-cart, and the other takes too masculine a stride. I shall not endeavour to deprive either country of its share of beauty; but must say, that of all objects on this earth, an English farmer's daughter is most charming. Every woman there is a complete beauty, while the higher class of women want many of the requisites to make them even tolerable.
"Their pleasures here are very dull though very various. You may smoke, you may doze, you may go to the Italian comedy, as good an amusement as either of the former. This entertainment always brings in Harlequin, who is generally a magician, and in consequence of his diabolical art performs a thousand tricks on the rest of the persons of the drama, who are all fools. I have seen the pit in a roar of laughter at this humour, when with his sword he touches the glass from which another was drinking. 'Twas not his face they laughed at, for that was masked. They must have seen something vastly queer in the wooden sword, that neither I, nor you, sir, were you there, could see.
"In winter, when their canals are frozen, every house is forsaken, and all people are on the ice; sleds drawn by horses, and skating, are at that time the reigning amusements. They have boats here that slide on the ice, and are driven by the winds. When they spread all their sails they go more than a mile and a half a minute, and their motion is so rapid the eye can scarcely accompany them. Their ordinary manner of travelling is very cheap and very convenient: they sail in covered boats drawn by horses; and in these you are sure to meet people of all nations. Here the Dutch slumber, the French chatter, and the English play at cards. Any man who likes company may have them to his taste. For my part I generally detached myself from all society, and was wholly taken up in observing the face of the country. Nothing can equal its beauty; wherever I turn my eye, fine houses, elegant gardens, statues, grottos, vistas, presented themselves; but when you enter their towns you are charmed beyond description. No misery is to be seen here; every one is usefully employed.
"Scotland and this country bear the highest contrast. There hills and rocks intercept every prospect: here 'tis all a continued plain. There you might see a well-dressed duchess issuing from a dirty close; and here a dirty Dutchman inhabiting a palace. The Scotch may be compared to a tulip planted in dung; but I never see a Dutchman in his own house but I think of a magnificent Egyptian temple dedicated to an ox. Physic is by no means here taught so well as in Edinburgh: and in all Leyden there are but four British students, owing to all necessaries being so extremely dear and the professors so very lazy (the chemical professor excepted) that we don't much care to come hither."
When the time came to make the "Inquiry into the State of Polite Learning" Leyden had to suffer. Goldsmith laid about him with no gentle hand. "Holland, at first view, appears to have some pretensions to polite learning. It may be regarded as the great emporium, not less of literature than of every other commodity. Here, though destitute of what may be properly called a language of their own, all the languages are understood, cultivated and spoken. All useful inventions in arts, and new discoveries in science, are published here almost as soon as at the places which first produced them. Its individuals have the same faults, however, with the Germans, of making more use of their memory than their judgment. The chief employment of their literati is to criticise, or answer, the new performances which appear elsewhere.
"A dearth of wit in France or England naturally produces a scarcity in Holland. What Ovid says of Echo may be applied here,
——'nec reticere loquenti, Nec prior ipsa loqui didicit'——
they wait till something new comes out from others; examine its merits and reject it, or make it reverberate through the rest of Europe.
"After all, I know not whether they should be allowed any national character for polite learning. All their taste is derived to them from neighbouring nations, and that in a language not their own. They somewhat resemble their brokers, who trade for immense sums without having any capital."
Goldsmith did not finish there. His observations on the Continent served him, with a frugality that he did not otherwise practise, at least thrice. He used them in the "Inquiry into Polite Learning," he used them in the story of the Philosophic Vagabond in the Vicar of Wakefield, and still again in "The Traveller". This is the summary of Holland in that poem:—
To men of other minds my fancy flies, Embosom'd in the deep where Holland lies. Methinks her patient sons before me stand, Where the broad ocean leans against the land, And, sedulous to stop the coming tide, Lift the tall rampire's artificial pride. Onward, methinks, and diligently slow, The firm connected bulwark seems to grow; Spreads its long arms amidst the watery roar, Scoops out an empire, and usurps the shore. While the pent ocean, rising o'er the pile, Sees an amphibious world beneath him smile; The slow canal, the yellow-blossom'd vale, The willow-tufted bank, the gliding sail, The crowded mart, the cultivated plain, A new creation rescued from his reign.
Thus, while around the wave-subjected soil Impels the native to repeated toil, Industrious habits in each bosom reign, And industry begets a love of gain. Hence all the good from opulence that springs, With all those ills superfluous treasure brings, Are here display'd. Their much-lov'd wealth imparts Convenience, plenty, elegance, and arts: But view them closer, craft and fraud appear, Even liberty itself is barter'd here. At gold's superior charms all freedom flies, The needy sell it, and the rich man buys; A land of tyrants, and a den of slaves, Here wretches seek dishonourable graves, And calmly bent, to servitude conform, Dull as their lakes that slumber in the storm.
It was with his good Uncle Contarine's money that Goldsmith travelled to Leyden. The time came to leave, and Oliver was again without resources. He borrowed a sufficient sum from Dr. Ellis, a fellow-countryman living there, and prepared for his departure. But on his way from the doctor's he had to pass a florist's, in whose window there chanced to be exhibited the very variety of flower which Uncle Contarine had so often praised and expressed a desire to possess. Given the man and the moment, what can you expect? Goldsmith, chief among those blessed natures who never interrupt a generous impulse, plunged into the florist's house and despatched a costly bundle of bulbs to Ireland. The next day he left Leyden with a guinea in his pocket, no clothes but those he stood in, and a flute in his hand. For the rest you must see the story of the Philosophic Vagabond.
Evelyn records an amusing experience at Leyden in August, 1641: "I was brought acquainted with a Burgundian Jew, who had married an apostate Kentish woman. I asked him divers questions; he told me, amongst other things, that the World should never end, that our souls transmigrated, and that even those of the most holy persons did penance in the bodies of brutes after death, and so he interpreted the banishment and savage life of Nebuchadnezzar; that all the Jews should rise again, and be led to Jerusalem; that the Romans only were the occasion of our Saviour's death, whom he affirmed (as the Turks do) to be a great prophet, but not the Messiah. He showed me several books of their devotion, which he had translated into English for the instruction of his wife; he told me that when the Messiah came, all the ships, barks, and vessels of Holland should, by the power of certain strange whirlwinds, be loosed from their anchors, and transported in a moment to all the desolate ports and havens throughout the world, wherever the dispersion was, to convey their brethren and tribes to the Holy City; with other such-like stuff. He was a merry drunken fellow, but would by no means handle any money (for something I purchased of him), it being Saturday; but desired me to leave it in the window, meaning to receive it on Sunday morning."
In an old book-shop at Leyden I bought from an odd lot of English books, chiefly minor fiction for travellers, the Colloquia Peripatetica of John Duncan, LL.D., Professor of Hebrew in the New College, Edinburgh. "I'm first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedo-baptist, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse the order," is one of his emphatic utterances. Here are others, not unconnected with the country we are travelling in: "Poor Erasmus truckled all his life for a hat. If he could only have been made a cardinal! You see the longing for it in his very features, and can't help regarding him with mingled respect and pity." Of Thomas a Kempis, the recluse of Deventer: "A fine fellow, but hazy, and weak betimes. He and his school tend (as some one has well said) to make humility and humiliation change places." Finally, of the Bible: "The three best translations of the Bible, in my opinion, are, in order of merit, the English, the Dutch, and Diodati's Italian version. As to Luther, he is admirable in rendering the prophets. He says either just what the prophets did say, or that which you see at once they might have said."
Leyden has two vast churches, St. Peter's and St. Pancras's. Both are immense and unadorned, I think that St. Pancras's is the lightest church I was ever in. St. Peter's ought to be filled with memorials of the town's illustrious sons, but it has few. As I have said elsewhere, I asked in vain for the grave of Jan Steen, who was buried here.
It was at Leyden that I saw my first Kermis, or fair, seven years ago, and ate my first poffertjes and wafelen. Writing as a foreigner, in no way concerned with the matter, I may express regret that the Kermis is not what it was in Holland. Possibly were one living in Holland, one would at once join the anti-Kermis party; but I hope not. In Amsterdam the anti-Kermis party has succeeded, and though one may still in that city at certain seasons eat wafelen and poffertjes, the old glories have departed, just as they have departed from so many English towns which once broke loose for a few nights every year. Even Barnet Fair is not what it was.
Noise seems to be the principal objection. Personally, I never saw any drunkenness; and there is so little real revelry that one turns one's back on the naphtha lamps in this town and that, in Leyden and the Hoorn, Apeldoorn and Middelburg, with the sad conviction that the times are out of joint, and that Teniers and Ostade and Brouwer, were they reborn to-day, would probably either have to take to painting Christmas supplements or earn their living at a reputable trade. It is not that the Dutch no longer drink, but that they now do it with more privacy.
The travelling temples reserved for the honour of poffertjes and wafelen are the most noticeable features of any Kermis. They are divided, quite like restaurants, into little cubicles for separate parties. Flowers and ferns make them gay; the waiters may even wear evening dress, but this is a refinement which would have annoyed Jan Steen; on the tables is white American cloth; and curtains of coloured material and muslin, with bright ribbons, add to the vivacity of the occasion. To eat poffertjes and wafelen is no light matter: one must regard it as a ritual.
Poffertjes come first—these are little round pancakey blobs, twisted and covered with butter and sugar. Then the wafelen, which are oblong wafers stamped in a mould and also buttered and sugared. You eat twenty-four poffertjes and two wafelen: that is, at the first onset. Afterwards, as many more as you wish. Lager beer is drunk with them. Some prefer Frambozen lemonade.
To eat them is a duty; to see them cooked is a joy. I have watched the cooks almost for hours. The poffertjes are made by hundreds at once, in a tray indented with little hollows over a fire. The cook is continually busy in twisting the little dabs of paste into the hollows and removing those that are ready. The wafelen are baked in iron moulds (there is one in Jan Steen's "Oyster Feast") laid on a rack in the fire. The cook has eight moulds in working order at once. When the eighth is filled from the pail of batter at his side, the first is done; and so on, ceaselessly, all day and half the night, like a natural law.
A woman stands by to spread butter and sugar, and the plate is whisked away in a moment. The Americans boast of their quick lunches; but I am convinced that they borrowed celerity in cooking and serving from some Knickerbocker deviser of poffertjes and wafelen in the early days of New York. I wonder that Washington Irving omitted to say so.
Leyden's Painters, a Fanatic and a Hero
Rembrandt of the Rhine—His early life at Leyden—Jan Steen—Jan van Goyen—Brewer and painter—Pictures for beer—Jan Steen's grave—His delicacy and charm—His native refinement—A painter of hands—Jan Steen and Morland—Jan Steen and Hogarth—The Red Sea—The Flood—Jan of Leyden—The siege of Muenster—Gigantic madness—Gerard Dou—Godfrey Schalcken—Frans van Mieris—William van Mieris—Gabriel Metsu—Beckford's satire—Leyden's poor pictures—The siege of Leyden—Adrian van der Werf.
Leyden was the mother of some precious human clay. Among her sons was the greatest of Dutch painters, Rembrandt van Rijn; the most lovable of them, Jan Steen; and the most patient of them, Gerard Dou.
Of Rembrandt's genius it is late in the day to write, nor have I the power. We have seen certain of his pictures at The Hague; we shall see others at Amsterdam. I can add nothing to what is said in those places, but here, in Leyden (which has ten thousand stuffed birds, and not a single picture by her greatest son), one may dwell upon his early days and think of him wandering as a boy in the surrounding country unconsciously absorbing effects of light and shade.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606, probably in a house at the corner of the Weddesteg, near the Wittepoort, on the bank of the Rhine. It was the same year that gave England Macbeth and King Lear. His father was a miller, his mother the daughter of a Leyden baker: it was destined that the son of these simple folk should be the greatest painter that the north of Europe has produced.
They did not foresee such a fate, but they seem sufficiently to have realised that their son had unusual aptitude for him to be sent to study law at the University. But he meant from the first to paint, and when he should have been studying text-books he was studying nature. The old miller, having a wise head, gave way, and Rembrandt was allowed to enter the studio of Jacob van Swanenburgh. That was probably in 1622, when he was sixteen; in 1624 he knew so much more than Swanenburgh had ever dreamed of that he passed on to Amsterdam, to see what could be learned from Peter Lastman. But Lastman was of little use, and Rembrandt soon returned to Leyden.
There he set up his own studio, painting, however, at his father's house—possibly even in the mill itself—as much as he could; and for seven years he taught younger men at Leyden his secrets. He remained at Leyden until 1631, moving then again to Amsterdam and beginning the greatest period of his life. At Leyden he had painted much and etched much; perhaps the portrait of himself in a steel gorget, at The Hague, is his finest Leyden picture. It was not until 1632, the year in which he married his Saskia, that the first of his most famous works, "The School of Anatomy," was painted. Yet Leyden may consider that it was she that showed the way; she may well be proud.
Rembrandt's later life belongs to Amsterdam; but Leyden had other illustrious sons who were faithful to her to the end. Chief of these was Jan Steen.
Harmens the miller, as we have seen, became the father of a boy named Rembrandt in 1606; it was twenty years later that Steen the brewer rejoiced over the birth of a son called Jan.
Of Jan's childhood we know nothing, but as a young man he was sent by his father to Utrecht to study under Nicholas Knupfer. Then he passed on to Adrian van Ostade and probably to Adrian Brouwer, with both of whom and Frans Hals we saw him carousing, after his wont, in a picture by Brouwer in Baron Steengracht's house at The Hague. Finally he became the pupil of Jan van Goyen, painter of the beautiful "Valkhof at Nymwegen," No. 991 in the Ryks Museum, a picture which always makes me think of Andrew Marvell's poem on the Bermudas. Like many another art pupil, Jan Steen married his master's daughter.
Jan van Goyen, I might add, was another of Leyden's sons. He was born in 1596 and he died at The Hague in 1666, while London was suffering under the Plague.
Jan Steen seems to have intended to make brewing his staff and painting merely his cane; but good nature and a terrible thirst were too much for him. From brewing he descended to keeping a tavern, "in which occupation," to quote Ireland, "he was himself his best customer". After a while, having exhausted his cellar, he took seriously to painting in order to renew it, paying for his liquor with his brush. Thus "for a long time his works were to be found only in the hands of dealers in wine". Who, after this, shall have the hardihood to speak evil of the grape?
Jan is not supposed to have lived at Leyden after his marriage to Margaretta van Goyen, in 1649, until 1669, when his father died. In 1672 he is known to have taken a tavern at Leyden at the Lange Brug.
Of the intervening years little is known. He was probably at Haarlem part of the time and at The Hague part of the time, In 1667 he paid his rent—only twenty-nine florins—with three pictures "painted well as he was able". Margaretta died in 1669—a merry large woman we must suppose her from her appearance in Jan's pictures, and the mother of four or five children who may often be seen in the same scenes. Jan married again in 1673 and died in 1697.
He was buried in St. Peter's Church, Leyden, leaving more than five hundred pictures to his name. The youth who, in the absence of the koster, accompanied me through St. Peter's Church, so far from knowing where Jan Steen was buried, had never even heard his name. (And at the Western Church in Amsterdam, where Rembrandt is said to have been buried, his resting-place cannot be pointed out. But never a Dutch admiral's grave is in doubt.)
For all his roystering and recklessness, for all his drinking and excess, Jan Steen's work is essentially delicate. He painted the sublimated essence of comedy. Teniers, Ostade, Brouwer are coarse and boorish beside him; Metsu and Mieris genteel. Even when he is painting low life Jan Steen is distinguished, a gentleman. And now and then he touches the springs of tears, so exquisite in his sympathetic understanding. He remains the most lovable painter in Holland, and the tenderest—in a country where tenderness is not easily found.
Look, for example, at the two pictures at The Hague which are reproduced opposite pages 74 and 80. The first represents the Steen family. The jolly Jan himself is smoking at the table; the old brewer and the elder Mrs. Steen are in the foreground. I doubt if any picture exists in which the sense of innocent festivity is better expressed. It is all perhaps rather a muddle: Mrs. Steen has some hard work before her if the house is to be restored to a Dutch pitch of cleanliness and order; but how jolly every one is! Jan himself looks just as we should expect.
The triumph of the "Oyster Feast," on the opposite page, seems to me to be the girl kneeling in the corner. Here is drawing indeed. The charge brought by the mysterious painter in Balzac's story against Pourbus, that one was unable to walk behind the figure in his picture, could never hold with Jan Steen. His every figure stands out surrounded by atmosphere, and never more so than in the "Oyster Feast". Again, in the "Cat's Dancing Lesson" (opposite page 158), what drawing there is in the girl playing the pipe, and what life in the whole scene!
It is odd that Jan Steen in Holland, and George Morland in England, both topers, should have had this secret of simple charm so highly developed: one of nature's curious ironies, very confusing to the moralist. In the second Hague picture (opposite page 80) Leyden's genial tosspot has achieved a farther triumph—he has painted one of the most radiantly delicate figures in all art. One must go to Italy and seek among the early Madonnas to find anything to set beside the sweet Wordsworthian character of this little Dutch girl who feeds the animals.
It was Jan Steen's way to scamp much of every picture; but in every picture you will find one figure that could not be excelled. Nothing probably could be more slovenly, more hideously unpainted, than, for example, the bed and the guitar-case in the "Sick Woman"—No. 2246 at the Ryks Museum—opposite page 22. But I doubt if human skill has ever transcended the painting of the woman's face, or the sheer drawing of her. Look at her arm and hand—Jan Steen never went wrong with arms and hands. Look at the hands of the boy playing the pipe in the picture opposite page 74; look at the woman filling a pipe at the table. To-day we are accustomed to pictures containing children: they are as necessary as sunsets to picture buyers: all our figure-painters lavish their talents upon them; but who had ever troubled to paint a real peasant child before Jan Steen? It was this rough toper that showed the way, and no one since has ever excelled him.