The New Church, where the monarchs of Holland are crowned, has a very large new stained-glass window representing the coronation of Queen Wilhemina—one of the most satisfying new windows that I know, but quite lacking in any religious suggestion. That poet who considered a church the best retreat, because it is good to contemplate God through stained glass, would have fared badly in Holland.
The New Church is new only by comparison with the Old. It was built in 1410, rebuilt in 1452 and 1645. Amsterdam's Old Church, on the other side of Warmoes Straat, dates from 1300. The visitor to the New Church is handed a brief historical leaflet in exchange for his twenty-five cents, and is left to his own devices; but the Old Church has a koster who takes a pride in showing his lions and who deprecates gifts of money. An elderly, clean-shaved man with a humorous mouth, he might be taken for Holland's leading comedian. Instead, he displays ecclesiastical treasures, of which in 1904 there were fewer than usual, two of the three fine old windows representing the life of the Virgin being under repair behind a screen. The tombs and monuments are not interesting—admirals of the second rank and such small fry.
It is in the Old Church that most of the weddings of Amsterdam are celebrated. Thursday is the day, for then the fees are practically nothing; on other days to be married is an expense. The koster deplores the modern materialism which leads so many young men to be satisfied with the civil function; but the little enclosure, like a small arena, in which the church blesses unions, had to me a hardly less business-like appearance than a registry office. The comedian overflows with details. For the covering of the floor, he explains, there are five distinct carpets, ranging in price from five guelders to twenty-five for the hire, according to the means or ostentation of the party. Thursdays are no holiday for the church officials, one couple being hardly united before the horses of the next are pawing the paving stones at the door.
I saw on one Thursday three bridal parties in as many minutes. The happy bride sat on the back seat of the brougham, immediately before her being two mirrors in the shape of a heart supporting a bouquet of white flowers. Contemplating this simple imagery she rattles to the ecclesiastical arena and the sanctities of the five, ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five guelder carpet. After, a banquet and jokes.
This is the second banquet, for when the precise preliminaries of a Dutch engagement are settled a betrothal feast is held. Friends are bidden to the wedding by the receipt of a box of sweets and a bottle of wine known as "Bride's tears". For the wedding day itself there is a particular brand of wine which contains little grains of gold. The Dutch also have special cake and wine for the celebration of births.
The position of the Dutch wife is now very much that of the wife in England; but in Holland's great days she ruled. Something of her quality is to be seen in the stories of Barneveldt's widow and Grotius's wife, and the heroism and address of the widow Kenau Hasselaer during the siege of Haarlem. Davies has an interesting page or two on this subject: "To be master of his own house is an idea which seems never to have occurred to the mind of a genuine Dutchman; nor did he often commence any undertaking, whether public or private, without first consulting the partner of his cares; and it is even said, that some of the statesmen most distinguished for their influence in the affairs of their own country and Europe in general, were accustomed to receive instructions at home to which they ventured not to go counter. But the dominion of these lordly dames, all despotic though it were, was ever exerted for the benefit of those who obeyed. It was the earnest and undaunted spirit of their women, which encouraged the Dutch to dare, and their calm fortitude to endure, the toils, privations, and sufferings of the first years of the war of independence against Spain; it was their activity and thrift in the management of their private incomes, that supplied them with the means of defraying an amount of national expenditure wholly unexampled in history; and to their influence is to be ascribed above all, the decorum of manners, and the purity of morals, for which the society of Holland has at all times been remarkable. But though they preserved their virtue and modesty uncontaminated amid the general corruption, they were no longer able to maintain their sway. The habit which the Dutch youth had acquired, among other foreign customs, of seeking amusement abroad, rendered them less dependent for happiness on the comforts of a married life; while, accustomed to the more dazzling allurements of the women of France and Italy, they were apt to overlook or despise the quiet and unobtrusive beauties of those of their own country. Whether they did not better consult their own dignity in emancipating themselves from this subjection may be a question; but the fact, that the decline of the republic and of the female sex went hand in hand, is indubitable."
To return to Amsterdam's sights, the church which I remember with most pleasure is the English Reformed Church, which many visitors never succeed in finding at all, but to which I was taken by a Dutch lady who knew my tastes. You seek the Spui, where the electric trams start for Haarlem, and enter a very small doorway on the north side. It seems to lead to a private house, but instead you find yourself in a very beautiful little enclosure of old and quaint buildings, exquisitely kept, each with a screen of pollarded chestnuts before it; in the midst of which is a toy white church with a gay little spire that might have wandered out of a fairy tale. The enclosure is called The Begijnenhof, or Court of the Begijnen, a little sisterhood named after St. Begga, daughter of Pipinus, Duke of Brabant,—a saint who lived at the end of the seventh century and whose day in the Roman Catholic Calendar is December 17.
The church was originally the church of these nuns, but when the old religion was overthrown in Amsterdam, in 1578, it was taken from them, although they were allowed—as happily they still are—to retain possession of the court around it.
In 1607 the church passed into the possession of a settlement of Scotch weavers who had been invited to Amsterdam by the merchants, and who had made it a condition of acceptance that they should have a conventicle of their own. It is now a resort of English church-going visitors on Sunday.
Most of Holland's churches—as of England's—once belonged to Rome, and it is impossible to forget their ancient ownership; but I remember no other case where the new religion is practised, as in the Begijnenhof, in the heart of the enemy's camp. In the very midst of the homes of the quiet sweet Begijnen sisters are the voices of the usurping Reformers heard in prayer and praise.
One little concession, however, was made by the appropriators of the chapel. Until as recently as 1865 a special part of the building the original Roman consecration of which had not been nullified was retained by the sisterhood in which to bury their dead. The ceremony was very impressive. Twelve of the nuns carried their dead companion three times round the court before entering the church. But all that is over, and now they must seek burial elsewhere, without their borders.
One may leave the Begijnenhof by the other passage into Kalverstraat, and walking up that busy street towards the Dam, turn down the St. Lucien Steeg, on the left, to another of Amsterdam's homes of ancient peace—the municipal orphanage, which was once the Convent of St. Lucien. The Dutch are exceedingly kind to their poor, and the orphanages and almshouses (Oudemannen and Oudevrouwen houses as they are called) are very numerous. The Municipal Orphanage of Amsterdam is among the most interesting; and it is to this refuge that the girls and boys belong whom one sees so often in the streets of the city in curious parti-coloured costume—red and black vertically divided. The Amsterdamsche burgerweesmeisjes, as the girls are called, make in procession a very pretty and impressive sight—with their white tippets and caps above their dresses of black and red.
This reminds me that one of the most agreeable performances that I saw in any of the Dutch music halls (which are not good, and which are rendered very tedious to English people by reason of the interminable interval called the Pause in the middle of the evening), was a series of folk songs and dances by eight girls known as the Orange Blossoms, dressed in different traditional costumes of the north and south—Friesland, Marken, and Zeeland. They were quite charming. They sang and danced very prettily, as housewives, as fisher girls, but particularly as Amsterdamsche burgerweesmeisjes.
In the music halls both at Amsterdam and Rotterdam I listened to comic singers inexorably endowed with too many songs apiece; but I saw also some of those amazing feats of acrobatic skill and exhibitions of clean strength which alone should cause people to encourage these places of entertainment, where the standard of excellence in such displays is now so high. I did not go to the theatre in Holland. My Dutch was too elementary for that. My predecessor Ireland, however, did so, and saw an amusing piece of literalness introduced into Hamlet. In the impassioned scene, he tells us, between the prince and his mother, "when the hero starts at the imagined appearance of his father, his wig, by means of a concealed spring, jumped from 'the seat of his distracted brain,' and left poor Hamlet as bare as a Dutch willow in winter."
The Oude Kerk has very beautiful bells, but Amsterdam is no place in which to hear such sweet sounds. The little towns for bells. Near the church is the New Market, with the very charming old weigh-house with little extinguisher spires called the St. Anthonysveeg. Here the fish market is held; and the fish market of a city like Amsterdam should certainly be visited. The Old Market is on the western side of the Dam, under the western church. "It is said," remarks the author of Through Noord-Holland, "that Rembrandt has been buried in this church, though his grave has never been found."
Napoleon's sarcasm upon the English—that they were a nation of shopkeepers—never seemed to me very shrewd: but in Holland one realises that if any nation is to be thus signally stigmatised it is not the English. As a matter of fact we are very indifferent shopkeepers. We lack several of the needful qualities: we lack foresight, the sense of order and organised industry, and the strength of mind to resist the temptations following upon a great coup. A nation of shopkeepers would not go back on the shop so completely as we do. No nation that is essentially snobbish can be accurately summed up as a nation of shopkeepers. The French for all their distracting gifts of art and mockery are better shopkeepers than we, largely because they are more sensibly contented. They take short views and live each day more fully. But the Dutch are better still; the Dutch are truly a nation of shopkeepers. 
If one would see the Amsterdam merchant as the satirist sees him, the locus classicus is Multatuli's famous novel Max Havelaar, where he stands delightfully nude in the person of Mr. Drystubble, head of the firm of Last and Co., Coffee-brokers, No. 37 Laurier Canal. Max Havelaar was published in the early sixties to draw attention to certain scandals in Dutch colonial administration, and it has lived on, and will live, by reason of a curious blend of vivacity and intensity. Here is a little piece of Mr. Drystubble's mind:—
Business is slack on the Coffee Exchange. The Spring Auction will make it right again. Don't suppose, however, that we have nothing to do. At Busselinck and Waterman's trade is slacker still. It is a strange world this: one gets a deal of experience by frequenting the Exchange for twenty years. Only fancy that they have tried—I mean Busselinck and Waterman—to do me out of the custom of Ludwig Stern. As I do not know whether you are familiar with the Exchange, I will tell you that Stern is an eminent coffee-merchant in Hamburg, who always employed Last and Co. Quite accidentally I found that out—I mean that bungling business of Busselinck and Waterman. They had offered to reduce the brokerage by one-fourth per cent. They are low fellows—nothing else. And now look what I have done to stop them. Any one in my place would perhaps have written to Ludwig Stern, "that we too would diminish the brokerage, and that we hoped for consideration on account of the long services of Last and Co."
I have calculated that our firm, during the last fifty years, has gained four hundred thousand guilders by Stern. Our connexion dates from the beginning of the continental system, when we smuggled Colonial produce and such like things from Heligoland. No, I won't reduce the brokerage.
I went to the Polen coffee-house, ordered pen and paper, and wrote:—
"That because of the many honoured commissions received from North Germany, our business transactions had been extended"—(it is the simple truth)—"and that this necessitated an augmentation of our staff"—(it is the truth: no more than yesterday evening our bookkeeper was in the office after eleven o'clock to look for his spectacles);—"that, above all things, we were in want of respectable, educated young men to conduct the German correspondence. That, certainly, there were many young Germans in Amsterdam, who possessed the requisite qualifications, but that a respectable firm"—(it is the very truth),—"seeing the frivolity and immorality of young men, and the daily increasing number of adventurers, and with an eye to the necessity of making correctness of conduct go hand in hand with correctness in the execution of orders"—(it is the truth, I observe, and nothing but the truth),—"that such a firm—I mean Last and Co., coffee-brokers, 37 Laurier Canal—could not be anxious enough in engaging new hands."
All that is the simple truth, reader. Do you know that the young German who always stood at the Exchange, near the seventeenth pillar, has eloped with the daughter of Busselinck and Waterman? Our Mary, like her, will be thirteen years old in September.
"That I had the honour to hear from Mr. Saffeler"—(Saffeler travels for Stern)—"that the honoured head of the firm, Ludwig Stern, had a son, Mr. Ernest Stern, who wished for employment for some time in a Dutch house.
"That I, mindful of this"—(here I referred again to the immorality of employes, and also the history of that daughter of Busselinck and Waterman; it won't do any harm to tell it)—"that I, mindful of this, wished, with all my heart, to offer Mr. Ernest Stern the German correspondence of our firm."
From delicacy I avoided all allusion to honorarium or salary; yet I said:—
"That if Mr. Ernest Stern would like to stay with us, at 37 Laurier Canal, my wife would care for him as a mother, and have his linen mended in the house"—(that is the very truth, for Mary sews and knits very well),—and in conclusion I said, "that we were a religious family."
The last sentence may do good, for the Sterns are Lutherans. I posted that letter. You understand that old Mr. Stern could not very well give his custom to Busselinck and Waterman, if his son were in our office.
When Max Havelaar gets to Java the narrative is less satisfactory, so tangential does it become, but there are enough passages in the manner of that which I have quoted to keep one happy, and to show how entertaining a satirist of his own countrymen at home "Multatuli" (whose real name was Edward Douwes Dekker) might have been had he been possessed by no grievance.
The book, which is very well worth reading, belongs to the literature of humanity and protest. Its author had to suffer much acrimonious attack, and was probably called a Little Hollander, but the fragment from an unpublished play which he placed as a motto to his book shows him to have lacked no satirical power to meet the enemy:—
Officer.—My Lord, this is the man who murdered Betsy.
Judge.—He must hang for it. How did he do it?
Officer.—He cut up her body in little pieces, and salted them.
Judge.—He is a great criminal. He must hang for it.
Lothario.—My Lord, I did not murder Betsy: I fed and clothed and cherished her. I can call witnesses who will prove me to be a good man, and no murderer.
Judge.—You must hang. You blacken your crime by your self-sufficiency. It ill becomes one who ... is accused of anything to set up for a good man.
Lothario,—But, my Lord, ... there are witnesses to prove it; and as I am now accused of murder....
Judge.—You must hang for it. You cut up Betsy—you salted the pieces—and you are satisfied with your conduct—three capital counts—who are you, my good woman?
Woman.—I am Betsy.
Lothario.—Thank God! You see, my Lord, that I did not murder her.
Judge.—Humph!—ay—what!—What about the salting?
Betsy.—No, my Lord, he did not salt me:—on the contrary, he did many things for me ... he is a worthy man!
Lothario.—You hear, my Lord, she says I am an honest man!
Judge.—Humph!—the third count remains. Officer, remove the prisoner, he must hang for it; he is guilty of self-conceit.
Shopkeeping—to return to Amsterdam—is the Dutch people's life. An idle rich class they may have, but it does not assert itself. It is hidden away at The Hague or at Arnheim. In Amsterdam every one is busy in one trade or another. There is no Pall Mall, no Rotten Row. There is no Bond Street or Rue de la Paix, for this is a country where money tries to procure money's worth, a country of essentials. Nor has Holland a Lord's or an Oval, Epsom Downs or Hurlingham.
Perhaps the quickest way to visualise the differences of nations is to imagine them exchanging countries. If the English were to move to Holland the whole face of the land would immediately be changed. In summer the flat meadows near the towns, now given up to cows and plovers, would be dotted with cricketers; in winter with football-players. Outriggers and canoes, punts and house-boats, would break out on the canals. In the villages such strange phenomena as idle gentlemen in knickerbockers and idle ladies with parasols would suddenly appear.
To continue the list of changes (but not for too long) the trains would begin to be late; from the waiting-rooms all free newspapers would be stolen; churches would be made more comfortable; hundreds of newspapers would exist where now only a handful are sufficient; the hour of breakfast would be later; business would begin later; drunken men would be seen in the streets, dirt in the cottages.
If the Dutch came to England the converse would happen. The athletic grounds would become pasture land; the dirt of our slums and the gentry of our villages would alike vanish; Westminster Abbey would be whitewashed; and ... But I have said enough.
It must not be thought that the Dutch play no games. As a matter of fact they were playing golf, as old pictures tell, before it had found its way to England at all; and there are now many golf clubs in Holland. The Dutch are excellent also at lawn tennis; and I saw the youth of Franeker very busy in a curious variety of rounders. There are horse-racing meetings and trotting competitions too. But the nation is not naturally athletic or sporting. It does not even walk except on business.
In winter, however, the Dutch are completely transformed. No sooner does the ice bear than the whole people begin to glide, and swirl, and live their lives to the poetry of motion. The canals then become the real streets of Amsterdam. A Dutch lady—a mother and a grandmother—threw up her hands as she told me about the skating parties to the Zuyder Zee. The skate, it seems, is as much the enemy of the chaperon as the bicycle, although its reign is briefer. Upon this subject I am personally ignorant, but I take that gesture of alarm as final.
And yet M. Havard, who had a Frenchman's eye and therefore knew, says that if Etna in full eruption were taken to Holland, at the end of the week it would have ceased even to smoke, so destructive to enthusiasm is the well-disciplined nature of the Dutch woman.
M. Havard referred rather to the women of the open country than the dwellers in the town. I can understand the rural coolness, for Holland is a land without mystery. Everything is plain and bare: a man in a balloon would know the amours of the whole populace. What chance has Cupid when there are no groves? But let Holland be afforested and her daughters would keep Etna burning warmly enough; for I am persuaded that it is not that they are cold but that the physical development of the country is against them.
Dutch art in the palmy days—The Renaissance—A miracle—What Holland did for painting—The "Night Watch"—Rembrandt's isolation—Captain Franz Banning Cocq—Elizabeth Bas—The Staalmeesters—If one might choose one picture—Vermeer of Delft again—Whistler—"Paternal Advice"—Terburg—The romantic Frenchmen again—The Dutch painter's ideal—The two Maris—Old Dutch rooms—The Six Collection—"Six's Bridge" and the wager—The Fodor Museum.
The superlative excellence of Dutch painting in the seventeenth century has never been explained, and probably never will be. The ordinary story is that on settling down to a period of independence and comparative peace and prosperity after the cessation of the Spanish war, the Dutch people called for good art, and good art came. But that is too simple. That a poet, a statesman or a novelist should be produced in response to a national desire is not inconceivable; for poets, statesmen and novelists find their material in the air, as we say, in the ideas of the moment. They are for the most part products of their time. But the great Dutch painters of the seventeenth century were expressing no real idea. Nor, even supposing they had done so, is it to be understood how the demand for them should yield such a supply of unsurpassed technical power: how a perfectly disciplined hand should be instantly at the public service.
That Holland in an expansive mood of satisfaction at her success should have wished to see groups of her gallant arquebusiers and portraits of her eminent burghers is not to be wondered at, and we can understand that respectable painters of such pictures should arise in some force to supply the need—just as wherever in this country at the present day there are cricketers and actresses, there also are photographers. That painters of ordinary merit should be forthcoming is, as I have said, no wonder: the mystery is that masters of technique whose equal has never been before or since should have arisen in such numbers; that in the space of a few years—between say 1590 and 1635—should have been born in a country never before given to the cultivation of the arts Rembrandt and Jan Steen, Vermeer and De Hooch, Van der Helst and Gerard Dou, Fabritius and Maes, Ostade and Van Goyen, Potter and Ruisdael, Terburg and Cuyp. That is the staggering thing.
Another curious circumstance is that by 1700 it was practically all over, and Dutch art had become a convention. The gods had gone. Not until very recently has Holland had any but half gods since.
It may of course be urged that Italy had witnessed a somewhat similar phenomenon. But the spiritual stimulus of the Renaissance among the naturally artistic southerners cannot, I think, be compared with the stimulus given by the establishment of prosperity to these cold and material northerners. The making of great Italian art was a gradual process: the Dutch masters sprang forth fully armed at the first word of command. In the preceding generation the Rembrandts had been millers; the Steens brewers; the Dous glaziers; and so forth. But the demand for pictures having sounded, their sons were prepared to be painters of the first magnitude. Why try to explain this amazing event? Let there rather be miracles.
I have said that the great Dutch painters expressed no idea; and yet this is not perfectly true. They expressed no constructive idea, in the way that a poet or statesman does; but all had this in common, that they were informed by the desire to represent things—intimate and local things—as they are. The great Italians had gone to religion and mythology for their subjects: nearer at hand, in Antwerp, Rubens was pursuing, according to his lights, the same tradition. The great Dutchmen were the first painters to bend their genius exclusively to the honour of their own country, its worthies, its excesses, its domestic virtues, its trivial dailiness. Hals and Rembrandt lavished their power on Dutch arquebusiers and governors of hospitals, Dutch burgomasters and physicians; Ostade and Brouwer saw no indignity in painting Dutch sots as well as Dutch sots could be painted; De Hooch introduced miracles of sunlight into Dutch cottages; Maes painted old Dutch housewives, and Metsu young Dutch housewives, to the life; Vermeer and Terburg immortalised Dutch ladies at their spinets; Albert Cuyp toiled to suffuse Dutch meadows and Dutch cows with a golden glow; Jan Steen glorified the humblest Dutch family scenes; Gerard Dou spent whole weeks upon the fingers of a common Dutch hand. In short, art that so long had been at the service only of the Church and the proud, became suddenly, without losing any of its divinity, a fireside friend. That is what Holland did for painting.
It would have been a great enjoyment to me to have made this chapter a companion to the Ryks Museum: to have said a few words about all the pictures which I like best. But had I done so the rest of the book would have had to go, for all my space would have been exhausted. And therefore, as I cannot say all I want to say, I propose to say very little, keeping only to the most importunate pictures. Here and there in this book, particularly in the chapters on Dordrecht, Haarlem, and Leyden's painters, I have already touched on many of them.
The particular shining glory of the Ryks Museum is Rembrandt's "Night Watch," and it is well, I think, to make for that picture at once. The direct approach is down the Gallery of Honour, where one has this wonderful canvas before one all the way, as near life as perhaps any picture ever painted. It is possible at first to be disappointed: expectation perhaps had been running too high; the figure of the lieutenant (in the yellow jerkin) may strike one as a little mean. But do not let this distress you. Settle down on one of the seats and take Rembrandt easily, "as the leaf upon the tree"; settle down on another, and from the new point of view take him easily, "as the grass upon the weir". Look at Van der Helst's fine company of arquebusiers on one of the side walls; look at Franz Hals' company of arquebusiers on the other; then look at Rembrandt again. Every minute his astounding power is winning upon you. Walk again up the Gallery of Honour and turning quickly at the end, see how much light there is in the "Night Watch". Advance upon it slowly.... This is certainly the finest technical triumph of pigment that you have seen. What a glow and greatness.
After a while it becomes evident that Rembrandt was the only man who ought to have painted arquebusiers at all. Van der Heist and Frans Hals are sinking to the level of gifted amateurs. Why did not Rembrandt paint all the pictures? you begin to wonder. And yet the Hals and the Van der Helsts were so good a little while ago.
Hals and Van der Helst are, however, to recover their own again; for the "Night Watch," I am told, is to be moved to a building especially erected for it, where the lighting will be more satisfactory than connoisseurs now consider it. Perhaps it is as well. It is hard to be so near the rose; and there are few pictures in the recesses of the Gallery of Honour which the "Night Watch" does not weaken; some indeed it makes quite foolish.
It is not of course really a night watch at all. Captain Franz Banning Cocq's arquebusiers are leaving their Doelen in broad day; the centralisation of sunlight from a high window led to the mistake, and nothing now will ever change the title.
How little these careless gallant arquebusiers, who paid the painter-man a hundred florins apiece to be included in the picture, can have thought of the destiny of the work! Of Captain Franz Banning Cocq as a soldier we know nothing, but as a sitter he is hardly second to any in the world.
But it is not the "Night Watch" that I recall with the greatest pleasure when I think of the Ryks Rembrandts. It is that wise and serene old lady in the Van der Poll room—Elizabeth Bas—who sits there for all time, unsurpassed among portraits. This picture alone is worth a visit to Holland. I recall also, not with more pleasure than the "Night Watch," but with little less, the superb group of syndics in the Staalmeester room. It is this picture—with the "School of Anatomy" at The Hague—that in particular makes one wish it had been possible for all the Corporation pieces to have been from Rembrandt's brush. It is this picture which deprives even Hals of some of his divinity, and makes Van der Helst a dull dog. If ever a picture of Dutch gentlemen was painted by a Dutch gentleman it is this.
Having seen the "Night Watch" again, it is a good plan to study the Gallery of Honour. To pick out one's favourite picture is here not difficult: it is No. 1501, "The Endless Prayer," by Nicolas Maes, of which I have said something in the chapter on Dordrecht, the painter's birthplace. Its place is very little below that of Elizabeth Bas, by Maes's master.
It is always interesting in a fine gallery to ask oneself which single picture one would choose before all others if such a privilege were offered. The answer if honest is a sure revelation of temperament, for one would select of a certainty a picture satisfying one's prevailing moods rather than a picture of any sensational character. In other words, the picture would have to be good to live with. To choose from thousands of masterpieces one only is a very delicate test.
If the Dutch Government, stimulated to gratitude for the encomiastic character of the present book, were to offer me my choice of the Ryks Museum pictures I should not hesitate a moment. I should take No. 2527—"Woman Reading a Letter" (damaged), by Vermeer of Delft. You will see a reproduction in black and white on the opposite page; but how wide a gulf between the picture and the process block. The jacket, for example, is the most lovely cool blue imaginable.
This picture, apart from its beauty, is interesting as an illustration of the innovating courage of Vermeer. Who else at that date would have placed the woman's head against a map almost its own colour? Many persons think that such daring began with Whistler. It is, however, Terburg who most often suggests Whistler. Vermeer had, I think, a rarer distinction than Terburg. Vermeer would never have painted such a crowded group (however masterly) as that of Terburg's "Peace of Munster" in our National Gallery; he could not have brought himself so to pack humanity. Among all the Dutch masters I find no such fastidious aristocrat.
He, Vermeer, has another picture at the Ryks—"De brief" (No. 2528)—which technically is wonderful; but the whole effect is artificial and sophisticated, very different from his best transparent mood.
Any mortification, by the way, which I might suffer from the knowledge that No. 2527 can never be mine is allayed by the knowledge, equally certain, that it can never be any one else's. Money is powerless here. To the offer of a Rothschild the Government would return as emphatic a negative as to a request from me.
The room in which is Vermeer's "Reader" contains also Maes's "Spinning Woman" (see page 230), two or three Peter de Hoochs and the best Jan Steen in the Ryks. It is indeed a room to linger in, and to return to, indefinitely. De Hooch's "Store Room" (No. 1248), of which I have already spoken, is in one of the little "Cabinet piece" rooms, which are not too well lighted. Here also one may spend many hours, and then many hours more.
The "Peace of Munster" has been called Terburg's masterpiece: but the girl in his "Paternal Advice," No. 570 at the Ryks, seems to me a finer achievement. The grace and beauty and truth of her pose and the miraculous painting of her dress are unrivalled. Yet judged as a picture it is, I think, dull. The colouring is dingy, time has not dealt kindly with the background; but the figure of the girl is perfect. I give a reproduction opposite page 190. It was this picture, in one of its replicas, that Goethe describes in his Elective Affinities: a description which procured for it the probably inaccurate title "Parental Advice".
We have a fine Terburg in our National Gallery—"The Music Lesson"—and here too is his "Peace of Munster," which certainly was a great feat of painting, but which does not, I think, reproduce his peculiar characteristics and charm. These may be found somewhere between "The Music Lesson" and the portrait next the Vermeer in the smallest of the three Dutch rooms. Even more ingratiating than "The Music Lesson" is "The Toilet" at the Wallace Collection. Terburg might be called a pocket Velasquez—a description of him which will be appreciated at the Ryks Museum in the presence of his tiny and captivating "Helena van der Schalcke," No. 573, one of the gems of the Cabinet pieces (see opposite page 290), and his companion pictures of a man and his wife, each standing by a piece of red furniture—I think Nos. 574 and 575. The execution of the woman's muslin collar is among the most dexterous things in Dutch art.
From the Ryks Museum it is but a little way (past the model Dutch garden) to the Stedelijk Museum, where modern painting may be studied—Israels and Bosboom, Mesdag and James Maris, Breitner and Jan van Beers, Blommers and Weissenbruch.
There is also one room dedicated to paintings of the Barbizon school, and of this I would advise instant search. I rested my eyes here for an hour. A vast scene of cattle by Troyon (who, such is the poverty of the Dutch alphabet, comes out monstrously upon the frame as Troijon); a mysterious valley of trees by Corot; a wave by Courbet; a mere at evening by Daubigny—these are like cool firm hands upon one's forehead.
Nothing graceful, wise, or sainted,— That is how the Dutchman painted,
is so sweeping as to be untrue. Indeed it is wholly absurd. The truth simply is that one goes to Dutch art for the celebration of fact without mystery or magic. In other words, Dutch painting is painting without poetry; and it is this absence of poetry which makes the romantic Frenchmen appear to be such exotics when one finds them in Holland, and why it is so pleasant in Holland now and then to taste their quality, as one may at the Stedelijk Museum and in the Mesdag Collection at The Hague.
We must not forget, however, that under the French influence certain modern Dutch painters have been quickened to celebrate the fact with poetry. In a little room adjoining the great French room at the Stedelijk Museum will be found some perfect things by living or very recent artists for whom Corot did not work in vain: a mere by James Maris, with a man in a blue coat sitting in a boat; a marsh under a white sky by Matthew Maris; a village scene by the same exquisite craftsman. These three pictures, but especially the last two, are in their way as notable and beautiful as anything by the great names in Dutch art.
On the ground floor of the Stedelijk Museum is the series of rooms named after the Suasso family which should on no account be missed, but of which no notice is given by the Museum authorities. These rooms are furnished exactly as they would have been by the best Dutch families, their furniture and hangings having been brought from old houses in the Keizersgracht and the Heerengracht. The kitchen is one of the prettiest things in Holland—with its shining brass and copper, its delicate and dainty tiles and its air of cheerful brightness. Some of the carving in the other rooms is superb; the silver, the china, the clocks are all of the choicest. The custodian has a childlike interest in secret drawers and unexpected recesses, which he exhibits with a gusto not habitual in the Dutch cicerone. For the run of these old rooms a guelder is asked; one sees the three rooms on the other side of the entrance hall for twenty-five cents, the church and museum unit of Holland. But they are uninteresting beside the larger suite. They consist of an old Dutch apothecary's shop and laboratory; a madhouse cell; and the bedroom of a Dutch lady who has just presented her lord with an infant. We see the mother in bed, a doctor at her side, and in the foreground a nurse holding the baby. Except that the costumes and accessories are authentic the tableau is in no way superior to an ordinary waxwork.
At the beginning of the last chapter I said that the Keizersgracht and Heerengracht do not divulge their secrets; they present an impassive and inscrutable front, grave and sombre, often black as night, beyond which the foreigner may not penetrate. But by the courtesy of the descendants of Rembrandt's friend Jan Six, in order that pleasure in their collection of the old masters may be shared, No. 511 Heerengracht is shown on the presentation of a visiting card at suitable hours. Here may be seen two more of the rare pictures of Vermeer of Delft—his famous "Milk Woman" and a Dutch facade in the manner of Peter de Hooch, with an added touch of grave delicacy and distinction. Peter de Hooch is himself represented in this little gallery, but the picture is in bad condition. There is also an interesting and uncharacteristically dramatic Nicolas Maes called "The Listener". But the pride of the house is the little group of portraits by Rembrandt.
It was, by the way, at Burgomaster Six's house at Elsbroek that Rembrandt's little etching called "Six's Bridge" was executed. Rembrandt and his friend had just sat down to dinner when it was discovered that there was no mustard. On a servant being sent to buy or borrow some, Rembrandt made a bet that he would complete an etching of the bridge before the man's return. The artist won.
Another little private collection, which has now become a regular resort, with fixed hours, is that known as the Fodor Museum, at No. 609 Keizersgracht; but I do not recommend a visit unless one is absolutely a glutton for paint.
Around Amsterdam: South and South-East
Dutch railways—Amsterdam as a centre—Town and country—Milking time—Scotch scenery in Holland—Hilversum—Laren—Anton Mauve—Buckwheat Sunday—Dress in Holland—Naarden's hour of agony—The indomitable Dutch—Through Noord-Holland again—Muiderberg—Muiden's Castle.
The Dutch have several things to learn from the English; and there are certain lessons which we might acquire from them. To them we might impart the uses of the salt-spoon, and ask in return the secret of punctuality on the railways.
The Dutch railways are admirable. The trains come in to the minute and go out to the minute. The officials are intelligent and polite. The carriages are good. Every station has its waiting-room, where you may sit and read, and drink a cup of coffee that is not only hot and fresh but is recognisably the product of the berry. It is impossible to travel in the wrong train. It is very difficult not to get out at the right station. The fares are very reasonable. The stationmasters are the only visible and tangible members of the Dutch aristocracy. The disposition of one's luggage is very simple when once it has been mastered. The time tables are models of clarity.
The only blot on the system is the detestable double fastening to the carriage doors, and the curious fancy, prevalent on the Continent, that a platform is a vanity. It is a perpetual wonder to me that some of the wider Dutch ever succeed in climbing into their trains at all; and yet after accomplishing one's own ascent one discovers them seated there comfortably and numerously enough, showing no signs of the struggle.
Travellers who find the Dutch tendency to closed windows a trial beyond endurance may be interested to know that it is law in Holland that if any passenger wish it the window on the lee side may be open. With the knowledge of this enactment all difficulty should be over—provided that one has sufficient strength of purpose (and acquaintance with the Dutch language) to enforce it.
All this preamble concerning railways is by way of introduction to the statement (hinted at in the first chapter) that if the traveller in Holland likes, he can see a great part of the country by staying at Amsterdam—making the city his headquarters, and every day journeying here and there and back again by train or canal.
A few little neighbouring towns it is practically necessary to visit from Amsterdam; and for the most part, I take it, Leyden and Haarlem are made the object of excursions either from Amsterdam or The Hague, rather than places of sojourn, although both have excellent quiet inns much more to my taste than anything in the largest city. Indeed I found Amsterdam's hotels exceedingly unsatisfactory; so much so that the next time I go, when the electric railway to Haarlem is open, I am proposing to invert completely the usual process, and, staying at Haarlem, study Amsterdam from there.
For the time being, however, we must consider ourselves at Amsterdam, branching out north or south, east or west, every morning.
A very interesting excursion may be made to Hilversum, returning by the steam-tram through Laren, Naarden and Muiden. The rail runs at first through flat and very verdant meadows, where thousands of cows that supply Amsterdam with milk are grazing; and one notices again the suddenness with which the Dutch city ends and the Dutch country begins. Our English towns have straggling outposts: new houses, scaffold poles, cottages, allotments, all break the transition from city to country; the urban gives place to suburban, and suburban to rural, gradually, every inch being contested. But the Dutch towns—even the great cities—end suddenly; the country begins suddenly.
In England for the most part the cow comes to the milker; but in Holland the milker goes to the cow. His first duty is to bind the animal's hind legs together, and then he sets his stool at his side and begins. Anton Mauve has often painted the scene—so often that at milking time one looks from the carriage windows at a very gallery of Mauves. I noticed this particularly on an afternoon journey from Amsterdam to Hilversum, between the city and Weesp, where the meadows (cricket grounds manques) are flat as billiard tables.
The train later runs between great meres, some day perhaps to be reclaimed, and then dashes into country that resembles very closely our Government land about Woking and Bisley—the first sand and firs that we have seen in Holland. It has an odd and unexpected appearance; but as a matter of fact hundreds of square miles of Holland in the south and east have this character; while there are stretches of Dutch heather in which one can feel in Scotland.
All about Naarden and Hilversum are sanatoria, country-seats and pleasure grounds, the softening effect of the pines upon the strong air of the Zuyder Zee being very beneficial. Many of the heights have towers or pavilions, some of which move the author of Through Noord-Holland to ecstasies. As thus, of the Larenberg: "The most charming is the tower, where one can enjoy a perspective that only rarely presents itself. We can see here the towers of Nijkerk, Harderwijk, Utrecht, Amersfoort, Bunschoten, Amsterdam and many others." And again, of a wood at Heideheuvel: "The perspective beauty here formed cannot be said in words".
Hilversum is the Chislehurst of Holland—a discreet and wealthy suburb, where business men have their villas amid the trees. It is a pleasant spot, excellent from which to explore.
The author of Through Noord-Holland thus describes Laren, which lies a few miles from Hilversum and is reached by tram: "Surrounded by arable land and hilly heathery it is richly provided with picturesque spots; country-seats, villas, ordinary houses and farms are following one another. For those who are searching for rest and calmness is this village very recommendable." But to say only that is to omit Laren's principal claim to distinction—its fame as the home of Anton Mauve.
No great painter of nature probably ever adapted less than Mauve. His pictures, oils and water-colours alike, are the real thing, very true, very beautiful, low-toned, always with a touch of wistfulness and melancholy. He found his subjects everywhere, and justified them by the sympathy and truth of his exquisite modest art.
Chiefly he painted peasants and cows. What a spot of red was to Corot, the blue linen jacket of the Dutch peasant was to his disciple. I never hear the name of Mauve without instantly seeing a black and white cow and a boy in a blue jacket amid Holland's evening green.
At Laren Mauve's fame is kept sweet by a little colony of artists, who like to draw their inspiration where the great painter drew his.
North of Laren, on the sea coast, is the fishing village of Huizen, where the women have a neat but very sedate costume. They wear white caps with curved sides that add grace to a pretty cheek. Having, however, the odd fancy that a flat chest is more desirable than a rounded one, they compress their busts into narrow compass, striving as far as possible to preserve vertical lines. At the waist a plethora of petticoats begins, spreading the skirts to inordinate width and emphasising the meagreness above.
The sombre attire of the Huizen women is a contrast to most of the traditional costumes of Holland, which are charming, full of gay colour and happy design. The art of dress seems otherwise to be dead in Holland to-day; In the towns the ordinary conventional dress is dull; and in the country it is without any charm. Holland as a whole, omitting the costumes, cannot be said to have any more knowledge of clothes than we have. It is only by the blue linen jackets of the men in the fields that the situation is saved and the Dutch are proved our superiors. How cool and grateful to the eyes this blue jacket can be all admirers of Mauve's pictures know.
Naarden and Muiden are curiously mediaeval. The steam-tram has been rushing along for some miles, past beer gardens and villas, when suddenly it slows to walking pace as we twist in and out over the bridges of a moat, and creeping through the tunnel of a rampart are in the narrow streets of a fortified town. Both Naarden and Muiden are surrounded by moats and fortifications.
Naarden's crowning hour of agony was in 1572, since it had the misfortune to stand in the path of Don Frederic on his way from Zutphen, where not a citizen had been left alive, to Amsterdam. The story of the surrender of the city to Don Romero under the pledge that life and property should be respected, and of the dastardly and fiendish disregard of this pledge by the Spaniards, is the most ghastly in the whole war. From Motley I take the account of the tragedy:—
"On the 22nd of November a company of one hundred troopers was sent to the city gates to demand its surrender. The small garrison which had been left by the Prince was not disposed to resist, but the spirit of the burghers was stouter than their walls. They answered the summons by a declaration that they had thus far held the city for the King and the Prince of Orange, and, with God's help, would continue so to do. As the horsemen departed with this reply, a lunatic, called Adrian Krankhoeft, mounted the ramparts, and discharged a culverine among them. No man was injured, but the words of defiance, and the shot fired by a madman's hand, were destined to be fearfully answered.
"Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the place, which was at best far from strong, and ill provided with arms, ammunition, or soldiers, despatched importunate messages to Sonoy, and to other patriot generals nearest to them, soliciting reinforcements. Their messengers came back almost empty-handed. They brought a little powder and a great many promises, but not a single man-at-arms, not a ducat, not a piece of artillery. The most influential commanders, moreover, advised an honourable capitulation, if it were still possible.
"Thus baffled, the burghers of the little city found their proud position quite untenable. They accordingly, on the 1st of December, despatched the burgomaster and a senator to Amersfoort, to make terms, if possible, with Don Frederic. When these envoys reached the place, they were refused admission to the general's presence. The army had already been ordered to move forward to Naarden, and they were directed to accompany the advance guard, and to expect their reply at the gates of their own city. This command was sufficently ominous. The impression which it made upon them was confirmed by the warning voices of their friends in Amersfoort, who entreated them not to return to Naarden. The advice was not lost upon one of the two envoys. After they had advanced a little distance on their journey, the burgomaster, Laurentszoon, slid privately out of the sledge in which they were travelling, leaving his cloak behind him. 'Adieu; I think I will not venture back to Naarden at present,' said he calmly, as he abandoned his companion to his fate. The other, who could not so easily desert his children, his wife, and his fellow-citizens in the hour of danger, went forward as calmly to share in their impending doom.
"The army reached Bussum, half a league distant from Naarden, in the evening. Here Don Frederic established his headquarters, and proceeded to invest the city. Senator Gerrit was then directed to return to Naarden, and to bring out a more numerous deputation on the following morning, duly empowered to surrender the place. The envoy accordingly returned next day, accompanied by Lambert Hortensius, rector of a Latin academy, together with four other citizens. Before this deputation had reached Bussum, they were met by Julian Romero, who informed them that he was commissioned to treat with them on the part of Don Frederic. He demanded the keys of the city, and gave the deputation a solemn pledge that the lives and property of all the inhabitants should be sacredly respected. To attest this assurance, Don Julian gave his hand three several times to Lambert Hortensius. A soldier's word thus plighted, the commissioners, without exchanging any written documents, surrendered the keys, and immediately afterwards accompanied Romero into the city, who was soon followed by five or six hundred musketeers.
"To give these guests an hospitable reception, all the housewives of the city at once set about preparations for a sumptuous feast, to which the Spaniards did ample justice, while the colonel and his officers were entertained by Senator Gerrit at his own house. As soon as this conviviality had come to an end, Romero, accompanied by his host, walked into the square. The great bell had been meantime ringing, and the citizens had been summoned to assemble in the Gast Huis Church, then used as a town hall. In the course of a few minutes 500 had entered the building, and stood quietly awaiting whatever measures might be offered for their deliberation. Suddenly a priest, who had been pacing to and fro before the church door, entered the building and bade them all prepare for death; but the announcement, the preparation, and the death, were simultaneous. The door was flung open, and a band of armed Spaniards rushed across the sacred threshold. They fired a single volley upon the defenceless herd, and then sprang in upon them with sword and dagger. A yell of despair arose as the miserable victims saw how hopelessly they were engaged, and beheld the ferocious faces of their butchers. The carnage within that narrow space was compact and rapid. Within a few minutes all were despatched, and among them Senator Gerrit, from whose table the Spanish commander had but just risen. The church was then set on fire, and the dead and dying were consumed to ashes together.
"Inflamed but not satiated, the Spaniards then rushed into the streets, thirsty for fresh horrors. The houses were all rifled of their contents, and men were forced to carry the booty to the camp, who were then struck dead as their reward. The town was then fired in every direction, that the skulking citizens might be forced from their hiding-places. As fast as they came forth they were put to death by their impatient foes. Some were pierced with rapiers, some were chopped to pieces with axes, some were surrounded in the blazing streets by troops of laughing soldiers, intoxicated, not with wine but with blood, who tossed them to and fro with their lances, and derived a wild amusement from their dying agonies. Those who attempted resistance were crimped alive like fishes, and left to gasp themselves to death in lingering torture. The soldiers becoming more and more insane, as the foul work went on, opened the veins of some of their victims, and drank their blood as if it were wine. Some of the burghers were for a time spared, that they might witness the violation of their wives and, daughters, and were then butchered in company with these still more unfortunate victims. Miracles of brutality were accomplished. Neither church nor hearth was sacred. Men were slain, women outraged at the altars, in the streets, in their blazing homes. The life of Lambert Hortensius was spared out of regard to his learning and genius, but he hardly could thank his foes for the boon, for they struck his only son dead, and tore his heart out before his father's eyes. Hardly any man or woman survived, except by accident. A body of some hundred burghers made their escape across the snow into the open country. They were, however, overtaken, stripped stark naked, and hung upon the trees by the feet, to freeze, or to perish by a more lingering death. Most of them soon died, but twenty, who happened to be wealthy, succeeded, after enduring much torture, in purchasing their lives of their inhuman persecutors. The principal burgomaster, Heinrich Lambertszoon, was less fortunate. Known to be affluent, he was tortured by exposing the soles of his feet to a fire until they were almost consumed. On promise that his life should be spared he then agreed to pay a heavy ransom; but hardly had he furnished the stipulated sum when, by express order of Don Frederic himself, he was hanged in his own doorway, and his dissevered limbs afterwards nailed to the gates of the city.
"Nearly all the inhabitants of Naarden, soldiers and citizens, were thus destroyed; and now Don Frederic issued peremptory orders that no one, on pain of death, should give lodging or food to any fugitive. He likewise forbade to the dead all that could now be forbidden them—a grave. Three weeks long did these unburied bodies pollute the streets, nor could the few wretched women who still cowered within such houses as had escaped the flames ever move from their lurking-places without treading upon the festering remains of what had been their husbands, their fathers, or their brethren. Such was the express command of him whom the flatterers called the 'most divine genius ever known'. Shortly afterwards came an order to dismantle the fortifications, which had certainly proved sufficiently feeble in the hour of need, and to raze what was left of the city from the surface of the earth. The work was faithfully accomplished, and for a long time Naarden ceased to exist."
The Naarden of to-day sprang from the ruins. Mendoza's comment upon the siege ran thus: "The sack of Naarden was a chastisement which must be believed to have taken place by express permission of a Divine Providence; a punishment for having been the first of the Holland towns in which heresy built its nest, whence it has taken flight to all the neighbouring cities". None the less, "the hearts of the Hollanders," says Motley, "were rather steeled to resistance than awed into submission by the fate of Naarden"; as Don Frederic found when he passed on to besiege Haarlem and later Alkmaar.
To Muiderburg, between Naarden and Muiden, I have not been, and therefore with the more readiness quote my indispensable author:—
In summer is Muiderberg by its situation at the Zuiderzee a favourite little spot and very recommendable for nervous people. The number of those who sought cure and found it here is enormous. It is the vacation-place by excellence. There is a church with square tower and organ. About the tower, the spire of which is failing, various opinions go round how this occured, by war, by shooting or storm.
The beautiful beech-grove in the center of the village, where a lot of forest-giants are rising in the sky in severe rows, is a favorite place, in the middle of which is a hill with fine pond.
A couple of years ago Geertruida Carelsen wrote in her Berlin letters that Muiderberg perhaps is the only bathing-place where sea and wood are united. There are three well-known graveyards.
Of Muiden's very picturesque moated castle—the ideal castle of a romance—Peter Cornellissen Hooft, the poet and historian, was once custodian. It was built in the thirteenth century and restored by Florence V., who was subsequently incarcerated there. As the Noord-Holland guide-book sardonically remarks, "He will never have thought that he built his own prison by it".
Around Amsterdam: North
To Marken—An opera-bouffe island—Cultivated and profitable simplicity—Broek-in-Waterland—Cow-damp—The two doors—Gingerbread and love—Dead cities—Monnickendam—The overturned camera—Dutch phlegm—Brabant the quarrelsome—Edam—Holland's great churches—Edam's roll of honour—A beard of note—A Dutch Daniel Lambert—A virgin colossus—A ship-owner indeed—The mermaid—Volendam—Taciturnity and tobacco—Purmerend—The land of windmills—Zaandam—Green paint at its highest power—A riverside inn—Peter the Great.
An excursion which every one will say is indispensable takes one to Marken (pronounced Marriker); but I have my doubts. The island may be reached from Amsterdam either by boat, going by way of canal and returning by sea, or one may take the steam-tram to Monnickendam or Edam, and then fall into the hands of a Marken mariner. To escape his invitations to sail thither is a piece of good fortune that few visitors succeed in achieving.
Marken in winter wears perhaps a genuine air; in the season of tourists it has too much the suggestion of opera bouffe. The men's costume is comic beyond reason; the inhabitants are picturesque of set design; the old women at their doorways are too consciously the owners of quaint habitations, glimpses of which catch the eye by well-studied accident. I must confess to being glad to leave: for either one was intruding upon a simple folk entirely surrounded by water; or the simple folk, knowing human nature, had made itself up and sent out its importunate young from strictly mercenary motives. In either case Marken is no place for a sensitive traveller. The theory that the Marken people are savages is certainly a wrong one; they have carried certain of the privileges of civilisation very far and can take care of themselves with unusual cleverness. Moreover, no savage would cover his legs with such garments as the men adhere to.
What is wrong with Marken is that for the most part it subsists on sight-seers, which is bad; and it too generally suggests that a stage-manager, employed by a huge Trust, is somewhere in the background. It cannot be well with a community that encourages its children to beg of visitors.
The women, however, look sensible: fine upstanding creatures with a long curl of yellow hair on each side of their faces. One meets them now and then in Amsterdam streets, by no means dismayed by the traffic and bustle. Their head-dresses are striking and gay, and the front of their bodices is elaborately embroidered, the prevailing colours being red and pink. Bright hues are also very popular within doors on this island, perhaps by way of counteracting the external monotony, the Marken walls being washed with yellow and hung with Delft plates, while the furniture and hangings all have a cheerful gaiety.
The island is flat save for the mounds on which its villages are built, each house standing on poles to allow the frequent inundations of the winter free way. If one has the time and money it is certainly better to visit Marken in a fishing-boat than in the steamer—provided that one can trust oneself to navigators masquerading in such bloomers.
The steamers from Amsterdam pause for a while at Broek and Monnickendam. Broek-in-Waterland, to give it its full title, is one of the quaintest of Dutch villages. But unfortunately Broek also has become to some extent a professional "sight". Its cleanliness, however, for which it is famous, is not an artificial effect attained to impress visitors, but a genuine enough characteristic. The houses are gained by little bridges which, with various other idiosyncrasies, help to make Broek a delight to children. If a company of children were to be allowed to manage a small republic entirely alone, the whimsical millionaire who fathered the project might do worse than buy up this village for the experiment.
In the model dairy farm of Broek, through which visitors file during the time allowed by the steam-boat's captain, things happen as they should: the cows' tails are tied to the roof, and all is spick and span. The author of Through Noord-Holland tells us that among the dairy's illustrious visitors was an Italian duchess from Livorno who ordered cheese for herself, for the Princess Borghese and for the Duke of Ceri. Everything in the farm, he adds, "is glimmering and glittering".
One of the phenomena of Broek is thus explained by the same ingenious author: "By beholding the dark-tinted columns attentively one sees something dull here and there. In the year 1825, when the great flood inundated whole Broek, men as well as cattle flied into the church, which lies so much higher and remained quite free of water. By the exhalations of the cows, the cow-damp, has the wood been blemished and made dull at many places, chamois nor polish could help, the dullness remained." The church has beauties to set against the phenomenon of cow-damp, and among them a very elaborate carved pulpit in various preclious woods, and some fine lamps.
Ireland tells us that the front doors of many of Broek's houses are opened only twice in their owners' lives—when they marry and when they die. For the rest the back door must serve. The custom is not confined to Broek, but is found all over North Holland. These ceremonial front doors are often very ornate. It was also at Broek that Ireland picked up his information as to the best means of winning the Dutch heart. "Laughable as it may seem, a safe expedient to insure the affections of the lower class of these lasses, is to arm yourself well with gingerbread. The first question the lover is asked after knocking at the door, when the parents are supposed to be in bed, is, 'Have you any gingerbread?' If he replies in the affirmative, he finds little difficulty in gaining admission. A second visit ensures his success, and the lady yields."
I can add a little to this. When a young man thinks of courting he first speaks to the parents, and if they are willing to encourage him he is asked to spend the evening with their daughter. They then discreetly retire to bed and leave the world to him. Under his arm is a large cake, not necessarily of gingerbread, and this he deposits on the table, with or without words. If he is acceptable in the girl's eyes she at once puts some more peat on the fire. He then knows that all is well with him: the cake is cut, and Romance is king. But if the fire is not replenished he must gather up his cake and return to his home. A very favourite Dutch picture represents "The Cutting of the Cake". I have heard that the Dutch wife takes her husband's left arm; the Dutch fiancee her lover's right.
Monnickendam, on the shores of the Zuyder Zee, is now a desolate sleepy spot; once it was one of the great towns of Holland, at the time when The Hague was a village. I say Zuyder Zee, but strictly speaking it is on the Gouwzee, the name of the straits between Monnickendam and Marken. It is here, in winter, when the ice holds, that a fair is held, to which come all Amsterdam on skates, to eat poffertjes and wafelen,
Monnickendam affords our first sight of what are called very misleadingly the "Dead Cities of the Zuyder Zee," meaning merely towns which once were larger and busier. Monnickendam was sufficiently important to fit out a fleet against the Spanish in 1573, under Cornelius Dirckszoon (whose tomb we saw at Delft) and capture Bossu in the battle of Hoorn.
To-day Monnickendam suggests nothing so little as a naval engagement. People live there, it is true, but one sees very few of them. Only in an old English market town on a hot day—such a town as Petworth, for example, in Sussex—do you get such desertion and quiet and imperturbability. Monnickendam has, however, a treasure that few English towns can boast—its charming little stadhuis tower, one of the prettiest in Holland, with a happy peal of bells, and mechanical horses in action once an hour; while the tram line running right down the main street periodically awakens the populace.
When last I visited Monnickendam it was by steam-tram; and at a little half-way station, where it is necessary to wait for another tram, our engine driver, stoker and guard were elaborately photographed by an artist who seemed to be there for no other purpose. He placed his tripod on the platform; grouped the officials; gave them—and incidentally a score of heads protruding from the carriages—a sufficient exposure, and was preparing another plate when an incoming tram dashed up so unexpectedly as to cause him to jump, and, in jumping, to overturn his tripod and precipitate the camera under the carriage wheels. Now here was a tragedy worthy of serious treatment. A Frenchman would have danced with rage; an Englishman would have wanted to know whose fault it was and have threatened reprisals. But the Dutchman merely looked a little pained, a little surprised, and in a minute or two was preparing a friendly group of the officials of the tram which had caused the accident. I do not put the incident forward as typical; but certainly one may travel far in Holland without seeing exhibitions of temper. I mentioned the nation's equability to the young Dutchman in the canal boat between Rotterdam and Delft. "Ah!" he said, "you should go to Brabant. They fight enough there!" I did go to Brabant, but I saw no anger or quarrelsomeness; yet I suppose he had his reasons.
The steam-tram to Monnickendam runs on to Edam, whence one may command both Volegdam and Purmerend. Edam is famous for its cheese, but the traveller in Holland as a rule reserves for Alkmaar cheese market his interest in this industry; and we will do the same. Broadly speaking Edam sends forth the red cheeses, Alkmaar the yellow; but no hard and fast line can be drawn. Were it not for its cheese market Edam would be as "dead" as Monnickendam, but cheese saves it. It was once a power and the water-gate of Amsterdam, at a time when the only way to the Dutch capital was by the Zuyder Zee and the Y. Edam is at the mouth of the Y, its name really being Ydam. The size of its Groote Kerk indicates something of this past importance, for it is immense: a Gothic building of the fourteenth century, cold and drear enough, but a little humanised by some coloured glass from Gouda, often in very bad condition. In the days when this church was built Edam had twenty-five thousand inhabitants: now there are only five thousand.
It is difficult to lose the feeling of disproportion between the size of the Dutch churches and that of the villages and congregations. The villages are so small, the churches so vast. It is as though the churches were built to compensate for the absence of hills. From any one spire in Holland one must be able to see almost all the others.
The stained glass in Edam's great church has reference rather to Holland's temporal prosperity than to religion. More interesting is the room over the southern door, which was used first for a prison, and later for a school, the library of which still may be seen. Edam possesses in addition to the immense church of St. Nicholas a little church of the Virgin, with a spire full of bells, badly out of the perpendicular. The town has also some interesting old houses, one or two of great beauty, and many enriched by quaint bas-reliefs.
The stadhuis is comparatively modern and not externally attractive. Within, however, Edam does honour to three fantastic figures who once were to be seen in her streets—Peter Dircksz, Jan Cornellissen and Trijntje Kever, portraits of whom grace the town hall. Their claims to fame are certainly genuine, although unexpected. Peter's idiosyncrasy was a beard which had to be looped up to prevent it trailing in the mud; Jan, at the age of forty-two, when the artist set to work upon him, weighed thirty-two stones and six pounds; while Trijntje was a maiden nine feet tall and otherwise ample. Peter and Trijntje were, I believe, true children of Edam, but Jan was a mere import, having conveyed his bulk thither from Friesland. Like our own Daniel Lambert, he kept an inn. One of Trijntje's shoes is also preserved—liker to a boat than anything else.
I have by no means exhausted Edam's roll of honour. Shipowner Osterlen must be added—a burgher, who, in 1682, when his portrait was painted, could point (and in the canvas does point, with no uncertain finger,) to ninety-two ships of which he was the possessor. And a legend of Edam tells how once in 1403, when the country was inundated by the sea, some girls taking fresh water to the cows saw and captured a mermaid. Her (like the lady in Mr. Wells's story) they dressed and civilised, and taught to sow and spin, but could never make talk. Possibly it is this mermaid who, caught in a fisherman's net, is represented in bas-relief (as the fish that pleases all tastes) on one of the facades of Edam, with accompanying verses which must not be translated, embodying comments upon the nature of the haul by various typical and very plain-spoken members of society—a soldier and a schoolmaster, a monk and a fowler, for example.
Edam has yet another hero. On the Dam bridge are iron-backed benches which never grow rusty. "One owes this particularity," says Through Noord-Holland, "to the invention of an Edamer about 1569, who also took his secret with him into the grave."
To the little fishing village of Volendain, paradise of quaint costumes and gay prettinesses, artists invariably resort. Like much of Monnickendam, and indeed almost all Dutch seaside settlements, the village is, if not below sea-level, almost invisible from the water, on account of an obliterating dyke. At the Helder one can consider the rampart reasonable, but here, where there is no foe but the Zuyder Zee, it may seem fantastic. If we lived there in winter, however, the precaution would soon be justified, for the Zuyder Zee can on occasion roar like a lion. It is odd to reflect that Volendam, Monnickendam and Marken may become ordinary inland hamlets in the midst of green fields if the great scheme for draining the Zuyder Zee is carried through.
If the people and village of Volendam are to be described in a phrase, they may be called better Markeners in a better Marken. The decoration of the pointed red-roofed houses is similar; there is the same prevailing and very ingratiating passion for blue Delft—and a very beautiful blue too; the clothes of the men and women have a family resemblance. But Volendam is in every way better—although its open drain is a sore trial: it is more human, more natural. The men hold the record for Dutch taciturnity. They also smoke more persistently and wear larger sabots than I saw anywhere else, leaving them outside their doors with a religious exactitude that suggests that the good-wives of Volendam know how to be obeyed. The women discard the Marken ringlets and richness of embroidery, but in the matter of petticoats they approach the Scheveningen and Huizen standards. Their jewellery resolves itself into a coral necklace, while the men wear silver buttons—both coming down from mother to daughter, and father to son.
The fishing fleet of Volendam sails as far as the North Sea, but it is always in Volendam by Saturday morning. Hence if you would see the Volendam fishermen in their greatest strength the time to visit the little town is at the end of the week or on Sunday.
The day for Purmerend is Tuesday, because then the market is held, in the castle plein, among mediaeval surroundings. To this market the neighbourhood seems to send its whole population, by road and water, in gay cart and comfortable wherry. According to my unfailing informant in these regions, the Purmerend stadhuis, in order "to aggrandise the cheese market," was in 1633 "set back a few meters by screwing-force".
The excursion to Marken and the excursion to Edam and its neighbourhood take each a day; but between Amsterdam and Zaandam, just off the great North Canal, steamers ply continually, and one may be there in half an hour. The journey must be made, because Zaandam is superficially the gayest town in Holland and the capital of windmill land. In an hour's drive (obviously no excursion for Don Quixote) one may pass hundreds. These mills do everything except grind corn. For the most part the Dutch mills pump: but they also saw wood, and cut tobacco, and make paper, and indeed perform all the tasks for which in countries less windy and less leisurely steam or water power is employed. The one windmill in Holland which always springs to my mind when the subject is mentioned is, however, not among Zaandam's legions: it is that solitary and imposing erection which rises from the water in the Coolsingel in Rotterdam. That is my standard Dutch mill. Another which I always recall stands outside Bergen-op-Zoom, on the way to Tholen—all white.
The Dutch mill differs from the English mill in three important respects: it is painted more gaily (although for England white paint is certainly best); it has canvas on its sails; and it is often thatched. Dutch thatching is very smooth and pretty, like an antelope's skin; and never more so than on the windmills.
Zaandam lies on either side of the river Zaan, here broad and placid and north of the dam more like the Thames at Teddington, say, than any stretch of water in Holland. A single street runs beside the river for about a mile on both banks, the houses being models of smiling neatness, picked out with cheerful green paint. At Zaandam green paint is at its greenest. It is the national pigment; but nowhere else in Holland have they quite so sure a hand with it. To the critics who lament that there is no good Dutch painting to-day, I would say "Go to Zaandam". Not only is Zaandam's green the greenest, but its red roofs are the reddest, in Holland. A single row of trees runs down each of its long streets, and on the other side of each are illimitable fields intersected by ditches which on a cloudless afternoon might be strips of the bluest ribbon.
We sat for an hour in the garden of "De Zon," a little inn on the west bank half-way between the dam and the bridge. The landlady brought us coffee, and with it letters from other travellers who had liked her garden and had written to tell her so. These she read and purred over, as a good landlady is entitled to do, while we watched the barges float past and disappear as the distant lock opened and swallowed them.
South of the dam the interest is centred in the hut where for a while in 1697 Peter the Great lived to see how the Dutchmen built their ships. The belief that no other motive than the inspection of this very uninteresting cottage could bring a stranger hither is a tenet of faith to which the Zaandamer is bound with shackles of iron. The moment one disembarks the way to Peter's residence begins to be pointed out. Little boys run before; sturdy men walk beside; old men (one with a wooden leg) struggle behind. It was later that the Czar crossed to England and worked in the same way at Deptford; but no visitor to Deptford to-day is required to see his lodging there.
The real interest of Zaandam is not its connection with Peter the Great but the circumstance that it was the birthplace of Anton Mauve, in 1838. He died at Arnheim in 1888, Neither Zaandam nor Arnheim honours him.
Alkmaar and Hoorn, The Helder and Enkhuisen
To Alkmaar by canal—The Cheese Market—The Weigh House clock—Buyers and sellers—The siege of Alkmaar—To Hoorn by sea—A Peaceful harbour—Hoorn's explorer sons—John Haring's bravery—The defeat of De Bossu—Negro heroes—Hoorn's streets—and museum—Market day—and Kermis—Nieuwediep—The Helder—The Lighthouse—Hotel characters—The praise of the porter—Texel—Medemblik—King Radbod's hesitancy—Enkhuisen—Paul Potter—Sir William Temple and the old philosopher—The Dromedary.
If the weather is fine one should certainly go to Alkmaar by canal. The journey by water, on a steamer, is always interesting and intensely invigorating. It is only one remove from the open sea, so flat is the country, so free the air.
Alkmaar's magnet is its cheese market, which draws little companies of travellers thither every Friday in the season. To see it rightly one must reach Alkmaar on the preceding afternoon, to watch the arrival of the boats from the neighbouring farms, and see them unload their yellow freight on the market quay. The men who catch the cheeses are exceedingly adroit—it is the nearest thing to an English game that is played in Holland. Before they are finally placed in position the cheeses are liberally greased, until they glow and glitter like orange fires. All the afternoon the boats come in, with their collections from the various dairies on the water. By road also come cheeses in wagons of light polished wood painted blue within; and all the while the carillon of the beautiful grave Weigh House is ringing out its little tunes—the wedding march from "Lohengrin" among them—and the little mechanical horsemen are charging in the tourney to the blast of the little mechanical trumpeter. At one o'clock they run only a single course; but at noon the glories of Ashby-de-la-Zouche are enacted.
By nine o'clock on the Friday morning the market square is covered with rectangular yellow heaps arranged with Dutch systematic order and symmetry, many of them protected by tarpaulins, and the square is filled also with phlegmatic sellers and buyers, smoking, smoking, unceasingly smoking, and discussing the weather and the cheese, the cheese and the Government.
Not till ten may business begin. Instantly the first stroke of ten sounds the aspect of the place is changed. The Government and the weather recede; cheese emerges triumphant. Tarpaulins are stripped off; a new expression settles upon the features both of buyers and sellers; the dealers begin to move swiftly from one heap to another. They feel the cheeses, pat them, listen to them, plunge in their scoops and remove a long pink stick which they roll in their fingers, smell or taste and then neatly replace. Meanwhile, the seller stands by with an air part self-satisfaction, part contempt, part pity, part detachment, as who should say "It matters nothing to me whether this fussy fellow thinks the cheese good or not, buys it or not; but whether he thinks it good or bad, or whether he buys, or leaves it, it is still the best cheese in Alkmaar market, and some one will give me my price".
The seller gnaws his cigar, the buyer asks him what he asks. The buyer makes an offer. The seller refuses. The buyer increases it. The seller either refuses or accepts. In accepting, or drawing near acceptance, he extends his hand, which the buyer strikes once, and then pausing, strikes again. Apparently two such movements clench the bargain; but I must confess to being a bad guide here, for I could find no absolute rule to follow. The whole process of Alkmaar chaffering is exceedingly perplexing and elusive. Otherwise the buyer walks away to other cheeses, the seller by no means unconscious of his movements. A little later he returns, and then as likely as not his terms are accepted, unless another has been beforehand with him and bought the lot.
Not until half-past ten strikes may the weighing begin. At that hour the many porters suddenly spring into activity and hasten to the Weigh House with their loads, which are ticketed off by the master of the scales.
The scene is altogether very Dutch and very interesting; and one should make a point of crossing the canal to get a general view of the market, with the river craft in the foreground, the bustling dealers behind, and above all the elaborate tower and facade of the Weigh House.
Alkmaar otherwise is not of great interest. It has a large light church, bare and bleak according to custom, with very attractive green curtains against its whitewash, in which, according to the author of Through Noord-Holland, is a tomb containing "the entrails of Count Florence the Fifth". Here also is a model of one of De Ruyter's ships. Alkmaar also possesses a charming Oude Mannen en Oude Vrouwen Huis (or alms house, as we say) with white walls and a very pretty tower; quiet, pleasant streets; and on its outskirts a fine wood called the Alkmaarder Hout.
In the Museum, which is not too interesting, is a picture of the siege of Alkmaar, an episode of which the town has every right to be proud. It was the point of attack by the Duke of Alva and his son after the conquest of Haarlem—that hollow victory for Spain which was more costly than many defeats. Philip had issued a decree threatening the total depopulation of Holland unless its cities submitted to the charms of his attractive religion. The citizens of Alkmaar were the first to defy this proclamation. Once again Motley comes to our aid with his vivid narrative: "The Spaniards advanced, burned the village of Egmont to the ground as soon as the patriots had left it, and on the 21st of August Don Frederic, appearing before the walls, proceeded formally to invest Alkmaar. In a few days this had been so thoroughly accomplished, that, in Alva's language, 'it was impossible for a sparrow to enter or go out of the city'. The odds were somewhat unequal. Sixteen thousand veteran troops constituted the besieging force. Within the city were a garrison of eight hundred soldiers, together with thirteen hundred burghers, capable of bearing arms. The rest of the population consisted of a very few refugees, besides the women and children. Two thousand one hundred able-bodied men, of whom only about one-third were soldiers, to resist sixteen thousand regulars!
"Nor was there any doubt as to the fate which was reserved for them, should they succumb. The Duke was vociferous at the ingratitude with which his clemency had hitherto been requited. He complained bitterly of the ill success which had attended his monitory circulars; reproached himself with incredible vehemence, for his previous mildness, and protested that, after having executed only twenty-three hundred persons at the surrender of Haarlem, besides a few additional burghers since, he had met with no correspondent demonstrations of affection. He promised himself, however, an ample compensation for all this ingratitude in the wholesale vengeance which he purposed to wreck upon Alkmaar. Already he gloated in anticipation over the havoc which would soon be let loose within those walls. Such ravings, if invented by the pen of fiction, would seem a puerile caricature; proceeding, authentically, from his own, they still appear almost too exaggerated for belief. 'If I take Alkmaar,' he wrote to Philip, 'I am resolved not to leave a single creature alive; the knife shall be put to every throat. Since the example of Harlem has proved of no use, perhaps an example of cruelty will bring the other cities to their senses,' He took occasion also to read a lecture to the party of conciliation in Madrid, whose counsels, as he believed, his sovereign was beginning to heed. Nothing, he maintained, could be more senseless than the idea of pardon and clemency. This had been sufficiently proved by recent events. It was easy for people at a distance to talk about gentleness; but those upon the spot knew better. Gentleness had produced nothing, so far; violence alone could succeed in future. 'Let your Majesty,' he said, 'be disabused of the impression, that with kindness anything can be done with these people. Already have matters reached such a point that many of those born in the country, who have hitherto advocated clemency, are now undeceived, and acknowledge their mistake. They are of opinion that not a living soul should be left in Alkmaar, but that every individual should be put to the sword.'...
"Affairs soon approached a crisis within the beleaguered city. Daily skirmishes, without decisive result, had taken place outside the walls. At last, on the 18th of September, after a steady cannonade of nearly twelve hours, Don Frederic at three in the afternoon, ordered an assault. Notwithstanding his seven months' experience at Haarlem, he still believed it certain that he should carry Alkmaar by storm. The attack took place at once upon the Frisian gate, and upon the red tower on the opposite side. Two choice regiments, recently arrived from Lombardy, led the onset, rending the air with their shouts, and confident of an easy victory. They were sustained by what seemed an overwhelming force of disciplined troops. Yet never, even in the recent history of Haarlem, had an attack been received by more dauntless breasts. Every living man was on the walls, The storming parties were assailed with cannon, with musketry, with pistols. Boiling water, pitch and oil, molten lead, and unslaked lime, were poured upon them every moment. Hundreds of tarred and burning hoops were skilfully quoited around the necks of the soldiers, who struggled in vain to extricate themselves from these fiery ruffs, while as fast as any of the invaders planted foot upon the breach, they were confronted face to face with sword and dagger by the burghers, who hurled them headlong into the moat below.