In the railway-carriage, although it was full of people, I had no opportunity of speaking or of hearing a word spoken. The passengers were all middle-aged men with serious faces, who looked at each other in silence, puffing out great clouds of smoke at regular intervals as if they were measuring time by their cigars. When we arrived at Delft I greeted them as I passed out, and some of them responded by a slight movement of the lips.
"Delft," says Lodovico Guicciardini, "is named after a ditch, or rather the canal of water which leads from the Meuse, since in the vulgar tongue a ditch is generally called delft. It is distant two leagues from Rotterdam, and is a town truly great and most beautiful in every part, having goodly and noble edifices and wide streets, which are lively withal. It was founded by Godfrey, surnamed the Hunchback, duke of Lorraine, he who for the space of four years occupied the country of Holland."
Delft is the city of disaster. Toward the middle of the sixteenth century it was almost entirely destroyed by fire; in 1654 the explosion of a powder-magazine shattered more than two hundred houses; and in 1742 another catastrophe of the same kind occurred. Besides these calamities, William the Silent was assassinated there in the year 1584. Moreover, there followed the decline and almost the extinction of that industry which once was the glory and riches of the city, the manufacture of Delft ware. In this art at first the Dutch artisans imitated the shapes and designs of Chinese and Japanese china, and finally succeeded in doing admirable work by uniting the Dutch and Asiatic styles. Dutch pottery became famous throughout Northern Europe, and it is nowadays as much sought after by lovers of this art as the best Italian products.
At present Delft is not an industrial or commercial city, and its twenty-two thousand inhabitants live in profound peace. But it is one of the prettiest and most characteristic towns of Holland. The wide streets are traversed by canals shaded by double rows of trees. On either side are red, purple, and pink cottages with white pointing, which seem content in their cleanliness. At every crossway two or three corresponding bridges of stone or of wood, with white railings, meet each other; the only thing to be seen is some barge lying motionless and apparently enjoying the delight of idleness; there are few people stirring, the doors are closed, and all is still.
I took my way toward the new church, looking around to see if I could discover any of the famous storks' nests, but there were none visible. The tradition of the storks of Delft is still alive, and no traveller writes about this city without mentioning it. Guicciardini calls it "a memorable fact of such a nature that peradventure there is no record of a like event in ancient or modern times." The circumstance took place during the great fire which destroyed nearly the whole city. There were in Delft a countless number of storks' nests. It must be remembered that the stork is the favorite bird of Holland, the bird of good augury, like the swallow. Storks are much in demand, as they make war on toads and rats, and the peasants plant perches surmounted by large wooden disks to attract them to build their nests there. In some towns they are to be seen walking through the streets. Well, at Delft there were innumerable nests. When the fire began, on the 3d of May, the young storks were well grown, but they could not yet fly. When they saw the fire approaching, the parent storks tried to carry their little ones into a place of safety, but they were too heavy, and after every sort of desperate effort the poor birds, worn and terrified, had to abandon the attempt. They might yet have saved themselves by leaving the young to their fate, as human beings generally do under similar circumstances. But, instead, they remained on their nests, pressing their little ones round them, and shielding them with their wings, as though to delay their destruction for at least a moment. Thus they awaited their death, and were found lifeless in this attitude of love and devotion. Who knows whether during the horrible terror and panic of the fire the example of that sacrifice, the voluntary martyrdom of those poor mothers, may not have given courage to some weaker soul about to abandon those who had need of him?
In the great square, where stands the new church, I again saw some shops like those I had seen in Rotterdam, in which all the articles which can be strung together are hung up either outside the door or in the room, so forming wreaths, festoons, and curtains—of shoes, for example, or of earthen pots, watering-cans, baskets, and buckets—which dangle from the ceiling to the ground, and sometimes almost hide the floor. The shop signs are like those at Rotterdam—a bottle of beer hanging from a nail, a paint-brush, a box, a broom, and the customary huge heads with wide-open mouths.
The new church, founded toward the end of the fourteenth century, is to Holland what Westminster Abbey is to England. It is a large edifice, sombre without and bare within—a prison rather than a house of God. The tombs are at the end, behind the enclosure of the benches.
I had scarcely entered before I saw the splendid mausoleum of William the Silent, but the sexton stopped me before the very simple tomb of Hugh Grotius, the prodigium Europae, as the epitaph calls him, the great jurisconsult of the seventeenth century—that Grotius who wrote Latin verses at the age of nine, who composed Greek odes at eleven, who at fourteen indited philosophical theses, who three years later accompanied the illustrious Barneveldt in his embassy to Paris, where Henry IV. presented him to his court, saying, "Behold the miracle of Holland!" that Grotius who at eighteen years of age was illustrious as a poet, as a theologian, as a commentator, as an astronomer, who had written a poem on the town of Ostend which Casaubon translated into Greek measures and Malesherbes into French verse; that Grotius who when hardly twenty-four years old occupied the post of advocate-general of Holland and Zealand, and composed a celebrated treatise on the Freedom of the Seas; who at thirty years of age was an honorary councillor of Rotterdam. Afterward, when, as a partisan of Barneveldt, he was persecuted, condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and shut up in the castle of Loewestein, he wrote his treatise on the Rights of Peace and War, which for a long time was the code of all the publicists of Europe. He was rescued in a marvellous way by his wife, who managed to be carried into the prison inside a chest supposed to be full of books, and sent back the chest with her husband inside, while she remained in prison in his place. He was then sheltered by Louis XIII., was appointed ambassador to France by Christina of Sweden, and finally returned in triumph to his native land, and died at Rostock crowned with glory and a venerable old age.
The mausoleum of William the Silent is in the middle of the church. It is a little temple of black and white marble, heavy with ornament and supported by slender columns, in the midst of which rise four statues representing Liberty, Prudence, Justice, and Religion. Above the sarcophagus is a recumbent statue of the prince in white marble, and at his feet the effigy of the little dog that saved his life at Mechlin by barking one night, when he was sleeping under a tent, just as two Spaniards were advancing stealthily to kill him. At the foot of this statue rises a beautiful bronze figure, a Victory, with outspread wings, resting lightly on her left foot. At the opposite side of the little temple is another bronze statue representing William seated. He is clad in armor, with his head uncovered and his helmet at his feet. An inscription in Latin tells that this monument was consecrated by the States of Holland "to the eternal memory of that William of Nassau whom Philip II., the terror of Europe, feared, yet whom he could neither subdue nor overthrow, but whom he killed by execrable fraud." William's children are laid by his side, and all the princes of his dynasty are buried in the crypt under his tomb.
Before this monument even the most frivolous and careless visitor remains silent and thoughtful.
It is well to recall the tremendous struggle of which the hero lies in that tomb.
On one side was Philip II., on the other William of Orange. Philip II., shut up in the dull solitude of the Escurial, lived in the midst of an empire which included Spain, North and South Italy, Belgium, and Holland, and, in Africa, Oran, Tunis, the archipelagoes of the Cape Verde and Canary Islands; in Asia the Philippine Islands; and the Antilles, Mexico, and Peru in America. He was the husband of the queen of England, the nephew of the emperor of Germany, who obeyed him as if he were a vassal; he was the lord, one may say, of all Europe, for the neighboring states were all weakened by political and religious disorders; he had at his command the best disciplined soldiers in Europe, the greatest generals of the age, American gold, Flemish industries, Italian science, an army of spies scattered through all the courts—men chosen from all countries fanatically devoted to him, conscious or unconscious tools of his will. He was the most sagacious, most mysterious prince of his age; he had everything that enchains, corrupts, alarms, and attracts the world—arms, riches, glory, genius, religion. While every one else was bowing low before this formidable man, William of Orange stood erect.
This man, without a kingdom and without an army, was nevertheless more powerful than the king. Like him, he had been a disciple of Charles V., and had learned the art of elevating thrones and hurling them down; like him, he was cunning and inscrutable, and yet he divined the future with keener intellectual vision than Philip. Like his enemy, he had the power of reading men's souls, but he also had the ability to win their hearts. He had a good cause to uphold, but he was acquainted with all the artifices that are used to maintain bad causes. Philip II., who spied into every one's affairs, was spied on in his turn and had his purposes divined by William. The designs of the great king were discovered and thwarted before they were put into execution; mysterious hands ransacked his drawers and pockets and investigated his secret papers. William in Holland read the mind of Philip in the Escurial; he anticipated, hindered, and embroiled all his plots; he dug the ground from beneath his feet, provoked him, and then escaped, only to return before his eyes like a phantom which he saw and could not seize, which he seized and could not destroy. At last William died, but even when dead the victory was his, and the enemy who survived was defeated. Holland remained for a short time without a head, but the Spanish monarchy had received such a blow that it was not able to rise again.
In this wonderful struggle the figure of the Great King gradually dwindles until it entirely disappears, while that of William of Orange becomes greater and greater by slow degrees until it grows to be the most glorious figure of his age. From the day when, as a hostage to the king of France, he discovered Philip's design of establishing the Inquisition in the Netherlands he devoted himself to defend the liberty of his country, and throughout his life he never wavered for a moment on the road he had entered. The advantages of his noble birth, a regal fortune, peace, and the splendid life which by habit and nature were dear to him, all these he sacrificed to the cause; he was reduced to poverty and exiled, yet in both poverty and exile he constantly refused the offers of pardon and of favor that were made from many sides and in many ways by the enemy who hated and feared him. Surrounded by assassins, made the target of the most atrocious calumnies, accused of cowardice before the enemy, and charged with the assassination of a wife whom he adored, sometimes regarded with distrust, slandered, and attacked by the very people he was defending,—he bore it all patiently and in silence. He did not swerve from the straight course to the goal, facing infinite perils with quiet courage. He did not bend before his people nor did he flatter them; he did not permit himself to be led away by the passions of his country; it was he who always guided; he was always at the head, always the first. All gathered around him; he was the mind, the conscience, and the strength of the revolution, the hearth that burned and kept the warmth of life in his fatherland. Great by reason alike of his audacity and prudence, he continued upright in a time full of perjury and treachery; he remained gentle in the midst of violent men; his hands were spotless when all the courts of Europe were stained with blood. With an army collected at random, with feeble or uncertain allies, checked by internal discords between Lutherans and Calvinists, nobles and commoners, magistrates and the people, with no great general to aid him, he was obliged to combat the municipal spirit of the provinces, which would none of his authority and escaped from his control; yet he triumphed in a conflict which seemed beyond human strength. He wore out the Duke of Alva, Requesens, Don John of Austria, and Alexander Farnese. He overthrew the conspiracies of those foreign princes who wished to help his country in order to subdue it. He gained friends and obtained aid from every part of Europe, and, after achieving one of the noblest revolutions in history, he founded a free state in spite of an empire which was the terror of the universe.
This man, who in the eyes of the world was so terrible and so great, was an affectionate husband and father, a pleasant friend and companion, who loved merry social gatherings and banquets, and was an elegant and polite host. He was a man of learning, and spoke, besides his native language, French, German, Spanish, Latin, and Italian, and conversed in a scholarly manner on all subjects. Although called the Silent (rather because he kept to himself the secret discovered at the French court than from a habit of silence), he was one of the most eloquent men of his time. His manners were simple and his dress plain; he loved his people and was beloved by them. He walked about the streets of the cities bareheaded and alone, and chatted with workmen and fishermen, who offered him drink out of their glasses; he listened to their discourses, settled their quarrels, entered their homes to restore domestic concord. Every one called him "Father William," and, in fact, he was the father rather than a son of his country. The feeling of admiration and gratitude which still lives for him in the hearts of the Hollanders has all the intimacy and tenderness of filial affection; his reverend name is still in every mouth; his greatness, stripped of every ornament and veil, remains entire, spotless, and steadfast like his work.
After seeing the tomb of the Prince of Orange I went to look upon the place where he was assassinated.
In 1580, Philip II. published an edict in which he promised a reward of twenty-five thousand golden pieces and a title of nobility to the man who would assassinate the Prince of Orange. This infamous edict, which stimulated covetousness and fanaticism, caused crowds of assassins to gather from every side, who surrounded William under false names and with concealed weapons, awaiting their opportunity. A young man from Biscay, Jaureguy by name, a fervent Catholic, who had been promised the glory of martyrdom by a Dominican friar, made the first attempt. He prepared himself by prayer and fasting, went to Mass, took the communion, covered himself with sacred relics, entered the palace, and, drawing near to the prince in the attitude of one presenting a petition, fired a pistol at his head. The ball passed through the jaw, but the wound was not mortal. The Prince of Orange recovered. The assassin was slain in the act by sword and halberd thrusts, then quartered on the public square, and the parts were hung up on one of the gates of Antwerp, where they remained until the Duke of Parma took possession of the town, when the Jesuits collected them and presented them as relics to the faithful.
Shortly after this another plot against the life of the Prince was discovered. A French nobleman, an Italian, and a Walloon, who had followed him for some time with the intention of murdering him, were suspected and arrested. One of them killed himself in prison with a knife, another was strangled in France, and the third escaped, after he had confessed that the movements of all three had been directed by the Duke of Parma.
Meanwhile Philip's agents were overrunning the country instigating rogues to perpetrate this deed with promises of treasures in reward, while priests and monks were instigating fanatics to the same end by the assurance of help and reward from Heaven. Other assassins made the attempt. A Spaniard was discovered, arrested, and quartered at Antwerp; a rich trader called Hans Jansen was put to death at Flushing. Many offered their services to Prince Alexander Farnese and were encouraged by gifts of money. The Prince of Orange, who knew all this, felt a vague presentiment of his approaching death, and spoke of it to his intimate friends, but he refused to take any precautions to protect his life, and replied to all who gave him such counsel, "It is useless: God has numbered my years. Let it be according to His will. If there is any wretch who does not fear death, my life is in his power, however I may guard it."
Eight attempts were made upon his life before an assassin fired the fatal shot.
When the deed was at last committed, in 1584, four scoundrels, an Englishman, a Scotchman, a Frenchman, and a man of Lorraine, unknown to each other, were all awaiting at Delft their opportunity to assassinate him.
Besides these, there was a young conspirator, twenty-seven years of age, from Franche-Comte, a Catholic, who passed himself off as a Protestant, Guyon by name, the son of a certain Peter Guyon who was executed at Besancon for embracing Calvinism. This Guyon, whose real name was Balthazar Gerard, was believed to be a fugitive from the persecutions of the Catholics. He led an austere life and took part in all the services of the Evangelical Church, and in a short time acquired a reputation for especial piety. Saying that he had come to Delft to beg for the honor of serving the Prince of Orange, he was recommended and introduced by a Protestant clergyman: he inspired the Prince with confidence, and was sent by him to accompany Herr Van Schonewalle, the envoy of the States of Holland to the court of France. In a short time he returned to Delft, bringing to William the tidings of the death of the Duke of Anjou, and presented himself at the convent of St. Agatha, where the Prince was staying with his court. It was the second Sunday in July. William received him in his chamber, being in bed. They were alone. Balthazar Gerard was probably tempted to assassinate him at that moment, but he was unarmed and restrained himself. Disguising his impatience, he quietly answered all the questions he was asked. William gave him some money, told him to prepare to return to Paris, and ordered him to come back the next day to get his letters and passport. With the money he received from the Prince, Gerard bought two pistols from a soldier, who killed himself when he knew to what end they had been used, and the next day, the 10th of July, he again presented himself at the convent of St. Agatha. William, accompanied by several ladies and gentlemen of his family, was descending the staircase to dine in a room on the ground floor. On his arm was the Princess of Orange, his fourth wife, that gentle and unfortunate Louisa de Coligny, who had seen her father, the admiral, and her husband, Seigneur de Teligny, killed at her feet on the eve of St. Bartholomew. Balthazar stepped forward, stopped the Prince, and asked him to sign his passport. The Prince told him to return later, and entered the dining-room. No shade of suspicion had passed through his mind. Louisa de Coligny, however, grown cautious and suspicious by her misfortunes, became anxious. That pale man, wrapped in a long mantle, had a sinister look; his voice sounded unnatural and his face was convulsed. During dinner she confided her suspicions to William, and asked him who that man was "who had the wickedest face she had ever seen." The Prince smiled, told her it was Guyon, reassured her, and was as gay as ever during the dinner. When he had finished he quietly left the room to go up stairs to his apartments. Gerard was waiting for him at a dark turning near the staircase, hidden in the shadow of a door. As soon as he saw the Prince approaching he advanced, and leaped upon him just as he was placing his foot on the second step. He fired his pistol, which was loaded with three bullets, straight at the Prince's breast, and fled. William staggered and fell into the arms of an equerry. All crowded round. "I am wounded," said William in a feeble voice.... "God have mercy on me and on my poor people!" He was all covered with blood. His sister, Catherine of Schwartzburg, asked, "Dost thou commend thy soul to Jesus Christ?" He answered, in a whisper, "I do." It was his last word. They placed him on one of the steps and spoke to him, but he was no longer conscious. They then bore him into a room near by, where he died.
Gerard had crossed the stables, had fled from the convent, and reached the ramparts of the town, from which he hoped to leap into the moat and swim across to the opposite bank, where a horse ready saddled was awaiting him. But in his flight he let fall his hat and a pistol. A servant and a halberdier in the Prince's service, seeing these traces, rushed after him. Just as he was in the act of jumping he stumbled, and his two pursuers overtook and seized him. "Infernal traitor!" they cried. "I am no traitor," he answered calmly; "I am a faithful servant of my master."—"Of what master?" they asked. "Of my lord and master the King of Spain," answered Gerard. By this time other halberdiers and pages had come up. They dragged him into the town, beating him with their fists and with the hilts of their swords. The wretch, thinking from the words of the crowd that the Prince was not dead, exclaimed with an evil composure, "Cursed be the hand whose blow has failed!"
This deplorable peace of mind did not desert him for a moment. When brought before the judges, during the long examination in the cell where he was thrown laden with chains, he still maintained the same remarkable tranquillity. He bore the torments to which he was condemned without letting a cry escape him. Between the various tortures to which he was subjected, while the officers were resting, he conversed quietly and in a modest manner. While they were lacerating him every now and then he raised his bloody head from the rack and said, "Ecce homo." Several times he thanked the judges for the nourishment he had received, and wrote his confessions with his own hand.
He was born at Villefranche in the department of Burgundy, and studied law with a solicitor at Dole, and it was there that he for the first time manifested his wish to kill William. Planting a dagger in a door, he said, "Thus would I thrust a sword into the breast of the Prince of Orange!" Three years later, hearing of the proclamation of Philip II., he went to Luxembourg, intending to assassinate the Prince, but was stopped by the false report of his death which had been spread after Jaurequy's attempted assassination. Soon after, learning that William still lived, he renewed his design, and went to Mechlin to seek counsel from the Jesuits, who encouraged him, promising him a martyr's crown if he lost his life in the enterprise. He then went to Tournay, and presented himself to Alexander Farnese, who confirmed the promises of King Philip. He was approved and encouraged by the confidence of the Prince and by the priests; he fortified himself by reading the Bible, by fasting and prayer, and then, full of religious exaltation, dreaming of angels and of Paradise, he left for Delft, and completed his "duty as a good Catholic and faithful subject."
He repeated his confessions several times to the judges, without one word of remorse or penitence. On the contrary, he boasted of his crime, and said he was a new David, who had overthrown a new Goliath; he declared that if he had not already killed the Prince of Orange, he should still wish to do the deed. His courage, his calmness, his contempt of life, his profound belief that he had accomplished a holy mission and would die a glorious death, dismayed his judges; they thought he must be possessed by the devil. They made inquiries, they questioned him, but he always gave the same answer that his conversation was with God alone.
He was sentenced on the 14th of July. His punishment has been called a crime against the memory of the great man whose death it was intended to avenge—a sentence to turn faint any one who had not superhuman strength.
The assassin was condemned to have his hand enclosed and seared in a tube of red-hot iron, to have his arms, legs, and thighs torn to pieces with burning pincers, his bowels to be quartered, his heart to be torn out and thrown into his face, his head to be dissevered from his trunk and placed on a pike, his body to be cut in four pieces, and every piece to be hung on a gibbet over one of the principal gates of the city.
On hearing the enumeration of these horrible tortures the miserable wretch did not flinch; he showed no sign of terror, sorrow, or surprise. He opened his coat, bared his breast, and, fixing his dauntless eyes on his judges, he repeated with a steady voice his customary words, "Ecce homo!"
Was this man only a fanatic, as many believed, or a monster of wickedness, as others held, or was he both of these inspired by a boundless ambition?
On the next day the sentence was carried into effect. The preparations for the execution were made before his eyes; he regarded them with indifference. The executioner's assistant began by pounding into pieces the pistol with which he had perpetrated the crime. At the first blow the head of the hammer fell off and struck another assistant on the ear. The crowd laughed, and Gerard laughed too. When he mounted the gallows his body was already horrible to behold. He was silent while his hand crackled and smoked in the red-hot tube; during the time when the red-hot tongs were tearing his flesh he uttered no cry; when the knife penetrated into his entrails he bowed his head, murmured a few incomprehensible words, and expired.
The death of the Prince of Orange filled the country with consternation. His body lay in state for a month, and the people gathered round his last bed kneeling and weeping. The funeral was worthy of a king: there were present the States General of the United Provinces, the Council of State, and the Estates of Holland, the magistrates, the clergy, and the princes of the house of Nassau. Twelve noblemen bore the bier, four great nobles held the cords of the pall, and the Prince's horse followed splendidly caparisoned and led by his equerry. In the midst of the train of counts and barons there was seen a young man, eighteen years of age, who was destined to inherit the glorious legacy of the dead, to humble the Spanish arms, and to compel Spain to sue for a truce and to recognize the independence of the Netherlands. That young man was Maurice of Orange, the son of William, on whom the Estates of Holland a short time after the death of his father conferred the dignity of Stadtholder, and to whom they afterward entrusted the supreme command of the land and naval forces.
While Holland was mourning the death of the Prince of Orange, the Catholic priesthood in all the cities under Spanish rule were rejoicing over the assassination and extolling the assassin. The Jesuits exalted him as a martyr, the University of Louvain published his defence, the canons of Bois-le-Duc chanted a Te Deum. After a few years the King of Spain bestowed on Gerard's family a title and the confiscated property of the Prince of Orange in Burgundy.
The house where William was murdered is still standing: it is a dark-looking building with arched windows and a narrow door, and forms part of the cloister of an old cathedral consecrated to St. Agatha. It still bears the name of Prinsenhof, although it is now used for artillery barracks. I got permission to enter from the officer on guard. A corporal who understood a little French accompanied me. We crossed a courtyard full of soldiers, and arrived at the memorable place. I saw the staircase the Prince was mounting when he was attacked, the dark corner where Gerard hid himself, the door of the room where the unfortunate William dined for the last time, and the mark of the bullets on the wall in a little whitewashed space which bears a Dutch inscription reminding one that here died the father of his country. The corporal showed me where the assassin had fled. While I was looking round, with that pensive curiosity that one feels in places where great crimes have been committed, soldiers were ascending and descending; they stopped to look at me, and then went away singing and whistling; some near me were humming; others were laughing loudly in the courtyard. All this youthful gayety was in sharp and moving contrast to the sad gravity of those memories, and seemed like a festival of children in the room where died a grandparent whose memory we cherish.
Opposite the barracks is the oldest church in Delft. It contains the tomb of the famous Admiral Tromp, the veteran of the Dutch navy, who saw thirty-two naval battles, and in 1652, at the battle of the Downs, defeated the English fleet commanded by Blake. He re-entered his country with a broom tied to the masthead of the admiral's ship to indicate that he had swept the English off the seas. Here also is the tomb of Peter Heyn, who from a simple fisherman rose to be a great admiral, and took that memorable netful of Spanish ships that had under their hatches more than eleven million florins; also the tomb of Leeuwenhoek, the father of the science of the infinitely small—who, with the "divining-glass," as Parini says, "saw primitive man swimming in the genital wave." The church has a high steeple surmounted by four conical turrets. It is inclined like the Tower of Pisa, because the ground has sunk beneath it. Gerard was imprisoned in one of the cells of this tower on the night of the assassination.
At Rotterdam I had been given a letter to a citizen of Delft asking him to show me his house. The letter read: "He desires to penetrate into the mysteries of an old Dutch house; lift for a moment the curtain of the sanctuary." The house was not hard to find, and as soon as I saw it I said to myself, "That is the house for me!"
It was a red cottage, one story in height, with a long peaked gable, situated at the end of a street which stretched out into the country. It stood almost on the edge of a canal, leaning a little forward, as if it wished to see its reflection in the water. A pretty linden tree grew in front which spread over the window like a great fan, and a drawbridge lay before the door. Then there were the white curtains, the green doors, the flowers, the looking-glasses—in fact, it was a perfect little model of a Dutch house.
The road was deserted. Before I knocked at the door I waited a little while, looking at it and thinking. That house made me understand Holland better than all the books I had read. It was at the same time the expression and the reason of the domestic love, of the modest desires, and the independent nature of the Dutch people. In our country there is no such thing as the true house: there are only divisions in barracks, abstract habitations, which are not ours, but in which we live hidden, but not alone, hearing a thousand noises made by people who are strangers to us, who disturb our sorrows with the echo of their joys and interrupt our joys with the echo of their sorrows. The real home is in Holland—a house of one's own, quite separate from others, modest, circumspect, and, by reason of its retirement, unknown to mysteries and intrigues. When the inhabitants of the house are merry, everything is bright; when they are sad, all is serious. In these houses, with their canals and drawbridges, every modest citizen feels something of the solitary dignity of a feudal lord, and might imagine himself the commander of a fortress or the captain of a ship; and indeed, as he looks from his windows, as from those of an anchored vessel, he sees a boundless level plain, which inspires him with just such sentiments of freedom and solemnity as are awakened by the sea. The trees that surround his house like a green girdle allow only a delicate broken light to enter it; boats freighted with merchandise glide noiselessly past his door; he does not hear the trampling of horses or the cracking of whips, or songs or street-cries; all the activities of the life that surrounds him are silent and gentle: all breathes of peace and sweetness, and the steeple of the church hard by tells the hour with a flood of harmony as full of repose and constancy as are his affections and his work.
I knocked at the door, and the master of the house opened it. He read the letter which I gave him, regarded me critically, and bade me enter. It is almost always thus. At the first meeting the Dutch are apt to be suspicious. We open our arms to any one who brings us a letter of introduction as if he were our most intimate friend, and very often do nothing for him afterward. The Dutch, on the contrary, receive you coldly—so coldly, indeed, that sometimes you feel mortified—but afterward they do a thousand things for you with the best will in the world, and without the least appearance of doing you a kindness.
Within, the house was in perfect harmony with its outside appearance; it seemed to be the inside of a ship. A circular wooden staircase, shining like polished ebony, led to the upper rooms. There were mats and carpets on the stairs, in front of the doors, and on the floors. The rooms were as small as cells, the furniture was as clean as possible, the door-plates, the knobs, the nails, the brass and the other metal ornaments were as bright as if they had just left the hands of the burnisher. Everywhere there was a profusion of porcelain vases, of cups, lamps, mirrors, small pictures, bureaus, cupboards, knicknacks, and small objects of every shape and for every use. All were marvellously clean, and bespoke the thousand little wants that the love of a sedentary life creates—the careful foresight, the continual care, the taste for little things, the love of order, the economy of space; in short, it was the abode of a quiet, domestic woman.
The goddess of this temple, who could not or did not dare speak French, was hidden in some inmost recess which I did not succeed in discovering.
We went down stairs to see the kitchen; it was one gleam of brightness. When I returned home I described it, in my mother's presence, to the servant who prided herself on her cleanliness, and she was annihilated. The walls were as white as snow; the saucepans reflected everything like so many looking-glasses; the top of the chimney-piece was ornamented by a sort of muslin curtain like the curtains of a bed, bearing no trace of smoke; the wall below the chimney was covered with square majolica tiles which were as clean as though the fire had never been lighted; the andirons, shovel, and tongs, the chain of the spit, all seemed to be of burnished steel. A lady dressed for a ball could have gone round the room and into all the corners and touched everything without getting a speck of dirt on her spotless attire.
At this moment the maid was cleaning the room, and my host spoke of this as follows: "To have an idea of what cleanliness means with us," he said, "one ought to watch the work of these women for an hour. Here they scrub, wash, and brush a house as if it were a person. A house is not cleaned; it has its toilette made. The girls blow between the bricks, they rummage in the corners with their nails and with pins, and clean so minutely that they tire their eyes no less than their arms. Really it is a national passion. These girls, who are generally so phlegmatic, change their character on cleaning day and become frantic. That day we are no longer masters of our houses. They invade our rooms, turn us out, sprinkle us, turn everything topsy-turvy; for them it is a gala day; they are like bacchantes of cleanliness; the madness grows as they wash." I asked him to what he attributed this species of mania for which Holland is famous. He gave me the same reasons that many others had given; the atmosphere of their country, which greatly injures wood and metals, the damp, the small size of the houses and the number of things they contain, which naturally makes it difficult to keep them clean, the superabundance of water, which helps the work, a something that the eye seems to require, until cleanliness ends by appearing beautiful, and, lastly, the emulation that everywhere leads to excess. "But," he added, "this is not the cleanest part of Holland; the excess, the delirium of cleanliness, is to be seen in the northern provinces."
We went out for a walk about the town. It was not yet noon; servants were to be seen everywhere dressed just like those in Rotterdam. It is a singular thing, all the servant-maids in Holland, from Rotterdam to Groningen, from Haarlem to Nimeguen, are dressed in the same color—light mauve, flowered or dotted with stars or crosses—and while engaged in cleaning they all wear a sort of invalid's cap and a pair of enormous white wooden shoes. At first I thought that they formed a national association requiring uniformity in dress. They are generally very young, because older women cannot bear the fatigue they have to endure; they are fair and round, with prodigious posterior curves (an observation of Diderot); in the strict sense of the word they are not at all pretty, but their pink and white complexions are marvellous, and they look the picture of health, and one feels that it would be delightful to press one's cheek to theirs. Their rounded forms and fine coloring are enhanced by their plain style of dress, especially in the morning, when they have their sleeves turned up and necks bare, revealing flesh as fair as a cherub's.
Suddenly I remembered a note I had made in my book before starting for Holland, and I stopped and asked my companion this question: "Are the Dutch servants the eternal torment of their mistresses?"
Here I must make a short digression. It is well known that ladies of a certain age, good mothers and good housekeepers, whose social position does not allow them to leave their servants to themselves—who, for instance, have only one servant, who has to be both cook and lady's maid,—it is well known that such ladies often talk for hours on this subject. The conversations are always the same—of insupportable defects, insolence that they have had to endure, impertinent answers, dishonesty in buying the things needed for the kitchen, of waste, untruthfulness, immense pretensions, of discharges, of the annoyance of searching for new servants, and other such calamities; the refrain always being that the honest and faithful servants, who became attached to the family and grew old in the same service, have ceased to exist; now one is obliged to change them continually, and there is no way of getting back to the old order. Is this true or false? Is it a result of the liberty and equality of classes, making service harder to bear and the servants more independent? Is it an effect of the relaxation of manners and of public discipline, which has made itself felt even in the kitchen? However it may be, the fact remains that at home I heard this subject so much discussed that one day, before I left for Spain, I said to my mother, "If anything in Madrid can console me in being so far from my family, it will be that I shall hear no more of this odious subject." On my arrival at Madrid I went into a hostelry, and the first thing the landlady said was that she had changed her maids three times in a month, and was driven to desperation: she did not know which saint to pray to: and so long as I remained there the same lamentation continued. On my return home I told my family about it; they all laughed, and my mother concluded that there must be the same trouble in every country. "No," said I, "in the northern countries it must be different."—"You will see that I am right," my mother answered. I went to Paris, and of the first housekeeper with whom I became acquainted I asked the question, "Are the servants here the everlasting torment of their mistresses, as they are in Italy and Spain?"—"Ah! mon cher monsieur," she answered, clasping her hands and looking above her, "ne me parlez pas de ca!" Then followed a long story of quarrels, and discharging of servants, and of trials which mistresses have to endure. I wrote the news to my mother, and she answered, "We shall see in London."
I went to London, and on the ship which was bearing me to Antwerp I entered into conversation with an English lady. After we had exchanged a few words, and I had explained the reason of my curiosity, I asked the usual question. She turned away her head, put her hand to her forehead, and then replied, emphasizing each word, "They are the flagellum Dei!"
I wrote home in despair, suggesting however, that I still trusted in Holland, which was a peaceful country, where the houses were so tidy and clean and the home-life so sweet. My mother answered that she thought we might possibly make an exception of Holland. But we were both rather doubtful. My curiosity was aroused, and she was expecting the news from me; for this reason, therefore, I put the question to my courteous guide at Delft. It may be imagined with what impatience I awaited his reply.
"Sir," answered the Dutchman after a moment's reflection, "I can only give you this reply: in Holland we have a proverb which says that the maids are the cross of our lives."
I was completely discouraged.
"First of all," he continued, "the annoyance of living in a large house is, that we are obliged to keep two servants, one for the kitchen and one for cleaning, since it is almost impossible, with the mania they have of washing the very air, that one servant can do both things. Then they have an unquenchable thirst for liberty: they insist on staying out till ten in the evening and on having an entire holiday every now and then. Moreover, their sweethearts must be allowed in the house, or they come to fetch them; we must let them dance in the streets, and they are up to all sorts of mischief during the Kirmess festival. Moreover, when they are discharged we are obliged to wait until they choose to go, and sometimes they delay for months. Add to this account, wages amounting to ninety or a hundred florins a year, as well as the payment of a certain percentage on all the bills the master pays, tips from all invited guests, and all sorts of especial presents of dress-goods and money from the master, and, above all and always, patience, patience, patience!"
I had heard enough to speak with authority to my mother, and I turned the conversation to a less distressing subject.
On passing a side street I observed a lady approach a door, read a piece of paper attached to it, make a gesture of distress, and pass on. A moment later another woman who was passing, also paused, read it, and went on. I asked my companion for an explanation, and he told me of a very curious Dutch custom. On that piece of paper was written the notice that a certain sick person was worse. In many towns of Holland, when any one is ill, the family posts such a bulletin on the door every day, so that friends and acquaintances are not obliged to enter the house to learn the news. This form of announcement is adopted on other occasions also. In some towns they announce the birth of a child by tying to the door a ball covered with red silk and lace, for which the Dutch word signifies a proof of birth. If the child is a girl, a piece of white paper is attached; if twins are born, the lace is double, and for some days after the appearance of the symbol a notice is posted to the effect that the mother and child are well and have passed a good night, or the contrary if it is otherwise. At one time, when there was the announcement of a birth on a door the creditors of the family were not allowed to knock for nine days; but I believe this custom has died out, although it must have had the beneficent virtue of promoting an increase in the population.
In that short walk through the streets of Delft I met some gloomy figures like those I had noticed at Rotterdam, without being able to determine whether they were priests, magistrates, or gravediggers, for in their dress and appearance they bore a certain resemblance to all three. They wore three-cornered hats, with long black veils which reached to the waist, swallow-tailed black coats, short black breeches, black stockings, black cloaks, buckled shoes, and white cravats and gloves, and they held in their hands sheets of paper bordered with black. My companion explained to me that they were called aanspreckers, an untranslatable Dutch word, and that their duty was to bear the information of deaths to the relatives and friends of the defunct and to make the announcement through the streets. Their dress differs in some particulars in the various provinces and also according to the religious faith of the deceased. In some towns they wear immense hats a la Don Basilio. They are generally very neat, and are sometimes dressed with a care that contrasts strangely with their business as messengers of death, or, as a traveller defines them, living funeral letters.
We noticed one of these men who had stopped in front of a house, and my companion drew my attention to the fact that the shutters were partly closed, and observed that there must be some one dead there. I asked who it was. "I do not know," he replied, "but, to judge from the shutters, it cannot be any near relative to the master of the house." As this method of arguing seemed rather strange to me, he explained that in Holland when any one dies in a family they shut the windows and one, two, or three of the divisions of the folding shutters accordingly as the relationship is near or distant. Each section of shutter denotes a degree of relationship. For a father or mother they close all but one, for a cousin they close one only, for a brother two, and so on. It appears that the custom is very old, and it still continues, because in that country no custom is discontinued for caprice; nothing is changed unless the alteration becomes a matter of serious importance, and unless the Hollanders have been more than persuaded that such a change is for the better.
I should like to have seen at Delft the house where was the tavern of the artist Steen, where he probably passed those famous debauches which have given rise to so many questions among his biographers. But my host told me that nothing was known about it. However, apropos of painters, he gave me the pleasing information that I was in the part of Holland, bounded by Delft, the Hague, the sea, the town of Alkmaar, the Gulf of Amsterdam, and the ancient Lake of Haarlem, which might be called the fatherland of Dutch painting, both because the greatest painters were born there, and because it presented such singularly picturesque effects that the artists loved and studied it devotedly. I was therefore in the bosom of Holland, and when I left Delft, I was going into its very heart.
Before leaving I again glanced hastily over the military arsenal, which occupies a large building, and which originally served as a warehouse to the East India Company. It is in communication with an artillery workshop and a great powder-magazine outside of the town. At Delft there still remains the great polytechnic school for engineers, the real military academy of Holland, for from it come forth the officers of the army that defends the country from the sea, and these young warriors of the dykes and locks, about three hundred in number, are they who give life to the peaceful town of Grotius.
As I was stepping into the vessel which was to bear me to the Hague, my Dutch friend described the last of those students' festivals at Delft which are celebrated once in five years. It was one of those pageants peculiar to Holland, a sort of historical masquerade like a reflection of the magnificence of the past, serving to remind the people of the traditions, the personages, and illustrious events of earlier times. A great cavalcade represented the entrance into Arnheim, in 1492, of Charles of Egmont, Duke of Gelderland, Count of Zutphen. He belonged to that family of Egmont which in the person of the noble and unfortunate Count Lamoral gave the first great martyr of Dutch liberty to the axe of the Duke of Alva. Two hundred students on richly caparisoned horses, clothed in armor, decorated with mantles embroidered with coats of arms, with waving plumes and large swords proudly brandished, formed the retinue of the Duke of Gelderland. Then came halberdiers, archers, and foot-soldiers dressed in the pompous fashion of the fifteenth century; bands played, the city blazed with lights, and through its streets flowed an immense crowd, which had come from every part of Holland to enjoy this splendid vision of a distant age.
The boat that was to carry me to the Hague was moored near a bridge, in a little basin formed by the canal which leads from Delft to the Hague, and shaded by trees on the bank like a garden lake.
The boats that carry passengers from town to town are called in Dutch trekschuiten. The trekschuit is the traditional boat, as emblematic of Holland as is the gondola of Venice. Esquiros defined it as "the genius of ancient Holland floating on the waters;" and, in fact, any one who has not travelled in a trekschuit is not acquainted with Dutch life under its most original and poetic aspect.
It is a large boat, almost entirely covered with a cabin shaped like a stage-coach and divided into two compartments—the division near the prow being for second-class passengers, and that near the poop for first-class. An iron pole with a ring at the end is fastened to the prow, through which a long rope is passed; this is tied at one end near the rudder and at the other end is fastened a tow-horse, which is ridden by a boatman. The windows of the cabin have white curtains; the walls and doors are painted. In the compartment for first-class passengers there are cushioned seats, a little table with books, a cupboard, a mirror; everything is neat and bright. In putting down my valise I allowed some ashes from my cigar to fall under the table; a minute later, when I returned, these had disappeared.
I was the only passenger, and did not have to wait long; the boatman made a sign, the tow-boy mounted his horse, and the trekschuit began to glide gently down the canal.
It was about an hour past noon and the sun was shining brightly, but the boat passed along in the shade. The canal is bordered by two rows of linden trees, elms, willows, and high hedges on either side, which hide the country. It seemed as though we were sailing across a forest. At every curve we saw green enclosed views in the distance, with windmills here and there on the bank. The water was covered with a carpet of aquatic plants, and in some parts strewn with white flowers, with iris, water-lilies, and the water-lentil. The high green hedge bordering the canal was broken here and there, allowing a glimpse, as if through a window, of the far-off horizon of the champaign; then the walls would close again in an instant.
Every now and then we encountered a bridge. It was pleasant to see the rapidity with which the man on horseback and another man, who was always on guard, handled the cords to let the trekschuit pass, and how the two conductors made room for each other when two trekschuiten met, the one passing his rope under that of the other without speaking a word, without greeting each other even with a smile, as if gravity and silence were obligatory. All along the way the only sound to be heard was the whirring of the arms of the windmills.
We met barges laden with vegetables, peat, stones, and barrels, and drawn with a long tow-rope by men, who were sometimes aided by large dogs with cords round their necks. Some were towed by a man, a woman, and a boy, one behind the other, with the rope tied to a sort of girth made of leather or linen. All three would be leaning forward so far that it was hard to understand how they managed to keep their feet, even with the help of the rope. Other boats were towed by old women alone. On many, a woman with a child at her breast would be seen at the rudder; other children were grouped around, and one might see a cat sitting on a sack, a dog, a hen, pots of flowers, and bird-cages. On some women sat knitting stockings and rocking the cradle at the same time; on others they were cooking; sometimes all the members of the family, excepting the one who was towing, were eating in a group. The look of peace that beams from the faces of those people and the tranquil appearance of those aquatic houses, of those animals which in a certain measure have become amphibious, the serenity of that floating life, the air of security and freedom of those wandering and solitary families,—these are not to be described. Thus in Holland live thousands of families who have no other houses but their boats. A man marries, and the wedded couple buy a boat, make it their home, and carry merchandise from one market to another. Their children are born on the canals; they are bred and grow up on the water; the barge holds their house-hold goods, their small savings, their domestic memories, their affections, their past, and all their present happiness and hopes for the future. They work, save, and after many years buy a larger boat, and sell their old house to a poorer family or give it to their eldest son, who from some other boat takes a wife, at whom he has glanced for the first time in an encounter on the canal. Thus from barge to barge, from canal to canal, life passes silently and peacefully, like the wandering boat which shelters it and the slow water that accompanies it.
For some time I saw only small peasants' houses on the banks; then I began to see villas, pavilions, and cottages half hidden among the trees, and in the shadiest corners fair-haired ladies dressed in white, seated book in hand, or some fat gentleman enveloped in a cloud of smoke with the contented air of a wealthy merchant. All of these little villas are painted rose-color or azure; they have varnished tile roofs, terraces supported by columns, little yards in front or around them, with tidy flower-beds and neatly-kept paths; miniature gardens, clean, closely trimmed, and well tended. Some houses stand on the brink of the canal with their foundations in the water, allowing one to see the flowers, the vases, and the thousand shining trifles in the rooms. Nearly all have an inscription on the door which is the aphorism of domestic happiness, the formula of the philosophy of the master, as—"Contentment is Riches;" "Pleasure and Repose;" "Friendship and Society;" "My Desires are Satisfied;" "Without Weariness;" "Tranquil and Content;" "Here we Enjoy the Pleasures of Horticulture." Now and then a fine black-and-white cow, lying on the bank on a level with the water, would raise her head quietly and look toward the boat. We met flocks of ducks, which paddled off to let us pass. Here and there, to the right and left, there were little canals almost covered by two high hedges, with branches intertwining overhead which formed a green archway, under which the little boats of the peasants darted and disappeared in the shadows. From time to time, in the midst of all this verdure, a group of houses would suddenly come into view, a neat many-colored little village, with its looking-glasses and its tulips at the windows, and without a sign of life. This profound silence would be broken by a merry chime from an unseen steeple. It was a pastoral paradise, a landscape of idyllic beauty breathing freshness and mystery—a Chinese Arcadia, with quaint corners, little surprises, and innocent artifices of prettiness, all which seemed like so many low voices of invisible beings murmuring, "We are content."
At a certain point the canal divides into two branches, of which one hides itself amongst the trees and leads to Leyden, and the other turns to the left and leads to the Hague. After we passed this point the trekschuit began to stop, first at a house, then at a garden-gate, to receive parcels, letters, and verbal messages to be carried to the Hague.
An old gentleman came on board from a villa and took a seat near me. He spoke French, and we entered into conversation. He had been in Italy, knew some words of Italian, and had read "I Promessi Sposi." He asked me for particulars in regard to the death of Alessandro Manzoni. After ten minutes I adored him. He gave me an account of the trekschuit. To appreciate the poetry of this national boat it is necessary to take long journeys in company with some Dutch people. Then they all live just as if they were at home; the women work, the men smoke on the roof; they dine all together, and after dinner they loiter about on the deck to see the sun set; the conversation grows very intimate, and the company becomes a family. Night comes on. The trekschuit passes like a shadow through villages steeped in silence, glides along the canals bathed in the silver light of the moon, hides itself in the thickets, reappears in the open country, grazes the lonely houses from which beams the light of the peasant's lamp, and meets the boats of fishermen, which dart past like phantoms. In that profound peace, lulled by the slow and equal motion of the boat, men and women fall asleep side by side, and the boat leaves nothing in its wake save the confused murmur of the water and the sound of the sleepers' breathing.
As we went on our way gardens and villas became more frequent. My travelling companion showed me a distant steeple, and pointed out the village of Ryswick, where in 1697 was signed the celebrated treaty of peace between France, England, Spain, Germany, and Holland. The castle of the Prince of Orange, where the treaty was signed, is no longer standing. An obelisk has been erected on its site.
Suddenly the trekschuit emerged from the trees, and I saw before me an extended plain, a large woodland, and a city crowned with towers and windmills.
It was the Hague.
The boatman asked me to pay my fare, and received the money in a leather bag. The driver urged on the horse, and in a few minutes we were in town. After a quarter of an hour I found myself in a spotless room in the Hotel du Marechal de Turenne. Who knows? It may have been the very room in which the celebrated Marshal slept as a young man when he was in the service of the house of Orange.
The Hague—in Dutch 'SGravenhage or 'SHage—the political capital, the Washington of Holland, whose New York is Amsterdam—is a city that is partly Dutch and partly French. It has wide streets without canals, vast wooded squares, grand houses, splendid hotels, and a population composed in great part of wealthy citizens, nobles, public officers, men of letters, and artists; in a word, a much more refined populace than that of any of the other cities of Holland.
What most impressed me in my first walk round the city were the new quarters where dwells the flower of the moneyed aristocracy. In no other city, not even in the Faubourg St. Germain in Paris, had I ever felt myself such a poor devil as in those streets. They are wide and straight, with small palaces on either side: these are artistic in design and harmonious in coloring, with large windows without blinds, through which one can see the carpets, vases of flowers, and the sumptuous furniture of the rooms on the ground floor. All the doors were closed, and not a shop was to be seen, not an advertisement on the walls, not a stain nor a straw could be found, if one had a hundred eyes. When I passed through the streets there was a profound silence. Now and then an aristocratic carriage rolled past me almost noiselessly over the brick pavement, or I saw some stiff lackey standing at a door, or the fair head of some lady behind a curtain. As I walked close to the windows, I could see out of the corner of my eye my shabby travelling-clothes reflected clearly in the large panes of glass, and I repented not having brought my gloves, and felt a certain sense of humiliation because I was not at least a knight by birth. It seemed to me that now and then I could hear soft voices saying, "Who is that beggar?"
The most noteworthy part of the old town is the Binnenhof, a group of old buildings in different styles of architecture, which overlook two wide squares on two sides and a large pool on the third side. In the midst of this group of palaces, towers, and monumental doors, of a gloomy mediaeval appearance, is a spacious courtyard which may be entered by three bridges and three doors. In one of those buildings the Stadtholders lived. It is now the Second Chamber of the States General; opposite to it are located the First Chamber, the rooms of the Ministry, and the other offices of public administration. The Minister of the Interior has his office in a little, low, black, gloomy tower which leans slightly toward the water of the pool.
The Binnenhof, the Buitenhof (a square extending to the west), and the Plaats (another square on the other side of the pool, which is reached by passing under an old door that once formed part of a prison) were the scenes of the most bloody events in the history of Holland.
In the Binnenhof the venerable Van Olden Barneveldt was beheaded. He was the second founder of the republic, the most illustrious victim of the long struggle between the patrician burghers and the Stadtholders, between the republican and monarchical principles, which so terribly afflicted Holland. The scaffold was erected in front of the building where sat the States General. Opposite was the tower from which, they say, Maurice of Orange, unseen, assisted at the execution of his enemy. In the prison between the two squares was tortured Cornelius de Witt, who was unjustly accused of plotting against the life of the Prince of Orange. The furious populace dragged Cornelius and John de Witt, the Grand Pensionary, into the Plaats all wounded and bleeding, and there they were spit upon, kicked, and slaughtered with pike and pistol, and afterward their corpses were mutilated and defiled. In the same square Adelaide de Poelgeest, the mistress of Albert, Count of Holland, was stabbed on the 22d of September in the year 1392, and the stone on which she expired is still shown.
These sad memories and those heavy low doors, that irregular group of dark buildings, which at night, when the moon lights up the stagnant pool, have the appearance of an enormous inaccessible castle standing in the midst of the joyous and cultured city,—arouse a feeling of awful sadness. At night the courtyard is lighted only by an occasional lamp; the few people who pass through it quicken their pace as if they are afraid. There is no sound of steps to be heard, no lighted windows to be seen; one enters it with a vague restlessness, and leaves it almost with pleasure.
With the exception of the Binnenhof, the Hague has no important monuments ancient or modern. There are several mediocre statues of the Princes of Orange, a vast, naked cathedral, and a royal palace of modest proportions. On many of the public buildings storks are carved, the stork being the heraldic animal of the city. Many of these birds walk about freely in the fish-market—they are kept at the expense of the municipality, like the bears of Berne and the eagles of Geneva.
The greatest ornament of the Hague is its forest, which is one of the wonders of Holland and one of the most magnificent parks in the world.
It is composed of alders, oaks, and the largest beech trees to be found in Europe. It is more than a French league in circumference, and is situated to the east of the city, only a few steps from the last houses. It is a really delightful oasis in the midst of the depressing Dutch plains. When one has entered the wood and passed beyond the fringe of pavilions, little Swiss cottages, and summer houses dotted about among the first trees, one seems to have lost one's self in a lonely interminable forest. The trees are as thick as a canebrake, the avenues are lost in the dusk; there are lakes and canals almost hidden by the verdure of the banks; rustic bridges, the crossways of unfrequented bridle-paths, shady recesses; and over all a cool, refreshing shade in which one seems to breathe the air of virginal nature and to be far removed from the turmoil of the world.
They say that this wood, like that of the town of Haarlem, is the remnant of an immense forest which in olden times covered almost the whole of the coast of Holland, and the Dutch respect it as a monument of their national history. Indeed, in the history of Holland there are many references to it, proving that at all times it was preserved with a most jealous care. Even the Spanish generals respected this national worship and shielded the sacred wood from the hands of the soldiers. On more than one occasion of serious financial distress, when the government was disposed to decree the destruction of the forest for the purpose of selling the wood, the citizens exorcised the danger by a voluntary offering. This beloved forest is connected with a thousand memories—records of terrible hurricanes, of the amours of princes, of celebrated fetes, of romantic adventures. Some of the trees bear the names of kings and emperors, others of German electors; one beech tree is said to have been planted by the grand pensionary and poet Jacob Catz, three others by the Countess of Holland, Jacqueline of Bavaria, and they still point out the place where she used to rest after her walks. Voltaire also left a record of some sort of gallant adventure which he had with the daughter of a hair-dresser.
In the centre of the forest, where the underbrush seems determined to conquer everything and springs up, piling itself into heaps, climbing the trees, creeping across the paths, extending over the water, restraining one's steps and hiding the view on every side, as if it wished to conceal the shrine of some forgotten sylvan divinity,—at this spot is hidden a small royal palace, called the House-in-the-Wood, a sort of Casa del Labrador of the Villa Aranjuez. It was erected in 1647 by Princess Amalia of Solms, in honor of her husband, Frederick Henry, the Stadtholder.
When I went to visit this palace, while my eyes were busy searching for the visitors' door, I saw a lady with a noble and benevolent face come out and get into her carriage. I took her for some English traveller who had brought her visit to a close. As the carriage passed near me, I raised my hat; the lady bowed her head and disappeared.
A moment later one of the ladies in waiting at the palace told me that this "traveller" was no one less than Her Majesty the Queen of Holland.
I felt my blood flow faster. The word queen, independently of the person to whom it referred, has always had this effect on me, although I cannot explain the reason of it. Perhaps because it reminds me of certain bright, confused visions of my youth. The romantic imagination of a boy of fifteen is sometimes content to tread the ground, and sometimes it climbs with eager audacity to a giddy height. It dreams of supernatural beauty, of intoxicating perfumes, of consuming love, and imagines that all these are comprised in the mysterious and inaccessible creatures that fortune has placed at the summit of the social scale. And among the thousand strange, foolish, and impossible fancies that enter his mind he dreams of scaling towering walls in the dark with youthful agility, of passing formidable gates and deep ditches, of opening mysterious doors, threading interminable corridors amidst people overcome with sleep, of stepping silently through immense saloons, of ascending aerial staircases, mounting the stones of a tower at the risk of his life, reaching an immense height over the tall trees of moonlit gardens, and at last of arriving, fainting and bleeding, beneath a balcony, and hearing a superhuman voice speak in accents of deep pity, of answering with equal tenderness, of bursting into tears and invoking God, of leaning his forehead on the marble and covering with desperate kisses a foot flashing with gems, of abandoning his face in the perfumed silks, and of feeling his reason flee and life desert him in an embrace more than human.
In this palace, called the House-in-the-Wood, besides other remarkable things, is an octagonal room, the walls of which from floor to ceiling are covered with paintings by the most celebrated artists of the school of Rubens, among which is a huge allegorical painting by Jordaens which represents the apotheosis of Frederick Henry. There is a room filled with valuable presents from the Emperor of Japan, the Viceroy of Egypt, and the East India Company; and an elegant little room decorated with designs in chiaroscuro, which even when closely examined are taken for bas-reliefs. These are the work of Jacob de Wit, a painter who at the beginning of the last century won great fame in this art of delusion. The other rooms are small, and handsome without display; they are full of the treasures of a refined taste, as becomes the great and modest house of Orange.
The custom of allowing strangers to enter the palace the moment after the queen came out seemed strange to me, but it did not surprise me when I learned of other customs and other popular traits, and in a word the character of the royal family of Holland.
In Holland the sovereign is considered as a stadtholder rather than as a king. He has in him, as a certain Spanish republican said of the Duke of Aosta, the least quantity possible in a king. The sentiment of the Dutch nation toward their royal family is not so much a feeling of devotion to the family of the monarch as affection for the house of Orange, which has shared its triumphs and taken part in its misfortunes—which has lived its life for three centuries. At bottom, the country is republican, and its monarchy is a sort of crowned presidency void of regal pomp. The king makes speeches at the banquets and at the public festivals as the ministers do with us, and he enjoys the fame of an orator because his speeches are extemporary: his voice is very powerful, and his eloquence has a martial ring, which arouses great enthusiasm among the people. The crown prince, William of Orange, studied at the University of Leyden, passed the public examinations, and took his degree as a lawyer; Prince Alexander, the second son, is now studying at the same university. He is a member of the Students' Club, and invites his professors and fellow-students to dinner. At the Hague, Prince William enters the cafes, converses with his neighbors, and walks about the streets with his young gentlemen friends. In the wood the queen will seat herself on a bench beside any poor old woman, nor can one say she does this, like other princes, to acquire popularity; for that the house of Orange can neither gain nor lose, since there is not in the nation (although it is republican by nature and tradition) the least sign of a faction that desires a republic or even pronounces its name. On the other hand, the people, who love and venerate their king, who at the festivals celebrated in his honor will remove the horses and themselves draw his carriage, who insist on every one wearing an orange-colored cockade in homage to the name of Orange,—in ordinary times do not occupy themselves at all about his affairs and family. At the Hague I had some trouble to learn what grade the crown prince holds in the army. One of the first librarians in the town, to whom I put my question, was astonished at my curiosity, which to him seemed childish, and he told me that probably I could not have found a hundred people in the Hague who would have been able to answer my question.
The seat of the court is at the Hague, but the king passes a large part of the summer in one of his castles in Gelderland, and every year spends some days in Amsterdam. The people say there is a law which obliges the king to spend ten days during the year at Amsterdam, and the municipality of that town are obliged to pay his expenses during those ten days. After midnight of the tenth day even a match that he may strike to light his cigar is at his own expense.
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On returning from the royal villa at the Hague I found the wood enlivened by the Sunday promenade—music, carriages, a crowd of ladies, restaurants full of people, and swarms of children everywhere.
Then for the first time I saw the fair sex of Holland. Beauty is a rare flower in Holland, as in all other countries; notwithstanding, in a walk of a hundred steps in the wood at the Hague I saw many more beautiful women than I had seen in all the pictures in the Dutch galleries. These ladies do not possess the statuesque beauty of the Romans, the splendid color of the English, nor the vivacity of the Andalusians; but there is about them a refinement, a delightful innocence and grace, a tranquil beauty, a pleasing countenance; they have, as a French writer has rightly said, the attraction of the valerian flower which ornaments their gardens. They are plump, and tall rather than short, they have regular features, and smooth brilliant complexions of a beautiful white and delicate pink—colors which seem to have been suffused by the breath of an angel; they have high cheek-bones; their eyes are light blue, sometimes very light, and sometimes of a glassy appearance, which gives them a vague, wandering look. It is said that their teeth are not good, but this I could not confirm, as they seldom laugh. They walk more heavily than the French and not so stiffly as the English; they dress in the Parisian mode, and the ladies at the Hague display better taste than those at Amsterdam, although they do not dress so richly: they all display their masses of fair hair with considerable pride.
I was astonished to see girls who appeared to be fully grown, who in our country would have had the airs and attire of women, still dressed like children, with short skirts and white pantalettes. In Holland, where life is easy and impatience an unknown experience, the girls are in no hurry to leave off the ways and appearance of childhood, and, on the other hand, they seem naturally to enter at a comparatively late age that period of life when, as Alessandro Manzoni says in his ever-admirable way, it seems as though a mysterious power enters the soul, which soothes, adorns, and invigorates all its inclinations and thoughts. Here a girl very rarely marries before her twentieth year. I need not speak of the children of the Deccan, who, it is said, are married at eight years of age, but in Holland the Italian and Spanish girls, who marry at fourteen or fifteen, are regarded as unaccountable persons. There, girls of fifteen years are going to school with their hair down their backs, and nobody thinks of looking at them. I heard a young man of the Hague spoken of with horror by his friends because he was enamoured of a maiden of this age, for to their minds she was considered as an infant.
Another thing one notices instantly in every Dutch city, excepting Amsterdam, is the absence of that lower stratum of society known as the demi-monde. There is nothing in dress or manner to indicate the existence of such a class. "Beware," said some freethinking Dutchmen to me; "you are in a Protestant country, and there is a great deal of hypocrisy." This may be true, but the sore that can be hidden cannot be very large. Equivocal society does not exist among the Hollanders; there is no shadow of it in their life nor any hint of it in their literature; the very language rebels against translating any of those numberless expressions which constitute the dubious, flashy, easy speech of that class of society in the countries where it is found. On the other hand, neither fathers nor mothers close their eyes to the conduct of their unmarried sons, even if they be grown men; family discipline makes no exception of long beards; and this strict discipline is aided by their phlegmatic nature, their habits of economy, and their respect for public opinion.
It would be a presumption more ridiculous than impertinent to speak of the character and life of Dutch women with an air of experience, when I have been only a few months in Holland; so I must content myself with letting my Dutch friends speak for themselves.
Many writers have treated Dutch women discourteously. One calls them apathetic housekeepers; another, who shall be nameless, carried impertinence so far as to say that, like the men, they are in the habit of choosing their lovers from among the servant class, and that their aspirations are necessarily low. But these are judgments dictated by the rage of some rejected suitors. Daniel Stern (Comtesse d'Agoult), who as a woman speaks with particular authority on this subject, says the women of Holland are noble, loyal, active, and chaste. A few authors venture to doubt their much-talked-of calmness in affection. "They are still waters," wrote Esquiros, and all know what is said of still waters. Heine said they were frozen volcanoes, and that when they thaw—But, of all the opinions I have read, the most remarkable seems to me that of Saint Evremont—namely, that Dutch women are not lively enough to disturb the repose of the men, that some of them are certainly amiable, and that prudence or the coldness of their nature stands them in stead of virtue.
One day, in a group of young men at the Hague, I quoted this opinion of Saint Evremont, and bluntly demanded: "Is it true?" They smiled, looked at each other, and one answered, "It is:" another, "I think so;" and a third, "It may be." In short, they all admitted its truth. On another occasion I collected evidence proving that matters stand just as they were at the time of the French writer. A group of people were discussing an odd character. "Yet," said one, "that little man who seems so quiet in his manner is a great ladies' man." "Does he disturb the repose of families?" I asked. They all began to laugh, and one answered: "What! Disturb the repose of families in Holland? It would be one of the twelve labors of Hercules."—"We Hollanders," a friend once said to me, "do not take the ladies by storm; we cannot do so, because we have no school of this art. Nothing is so false in Holland as the famous definition, matrimony is like a besieged fortress; those who are outside wish to enter, while those who are inside wish they were out. Here those who are inside are very happy, and those who are outside do not think of entering." Another said to me, "The Dutch woman does not marry the man; she espouses matrimony." This, which is true of the Hague, an elegant city to which there comes a great influx of French civilization, is even truer of the other towns, where the ancient customs have been more strictly adhered to. Yet gallant travellers write that the Hollanders are a sleepy people, and that their domestic happiness is "un bonheur un peu gros." The woman who seldom goes out, who dances little and laughs less, who occupies herself only with her children, her husband, and her flowers, who reads her books on theology, and surveys the street with the looking-glass, so that she need not show herself at the window, how much more poetical is she than—But pardon me, Andalusia! I was about to say something rather hard on you.
Hitherto, some readers may think that I have been pretending to know the Dutch language. I hasten to say that I do not know it, and to excuse my ignorance. A people like the Dutch, serious and taciturn, richer in hidden qualities than in brilliant showy ones—a people who are, if I may so express myself, self-contained rather than superficial, who do much and talk little, who do not pass for more than they are worth—may be studied without a knowledge of their language. On the other hand, the French language is generally known in Holland. In the large cities there is scarcely an educated person who does not speak French correctly, scarcely a shopman who cannot make himself understood in good or bad French, and there is scarcely a boy who is not acquainted with ten or twenty words which suffice to help a stranger out of a dilemma. This diffusion of a language so different from that of the country is the more to be admired when one reflects that it is not the only foreign language generally spoken in Holland. English and German are almost as widely known as French. The study of these three languages is obligatory in the secondary schools. Cultured people, like those who in Italy think it a necessity to know French, in Holland generally read English, German, and French with equal facility. The Dutch have an especial talent for learning languages, and an incredible courage in speaking them. We Italians before we attempt to speak a foreign language require to know enough about it to avoid making great mistakes; we blush when we do make them; we avoid the opportunities of speaking until we are sure of speaking well enough to be complimented, and in this way we continue to lengthen the period of our philological novitiate. In Holland one often meets people who speak French with great effort, with a vocabulary of perhaps a hundred words and twenty sentences; but notwithstanding they talk, hold long conversations, and do not seem to be at all worried about what one may think of their blunders and their audacity. Waiters, porters, and boys, when asked if they know French, answer with the greatest assurance, "Oui" or "Un peu," and they try in a thousand ways to make themselves understood, laughing themselves sometimes at the eccentric contortion of their speech, and ending every answer with "S'il vous plait" or a "Pardon, monsieur;" which are often said so prettily and yet are so out of place that they make one laugh even against one's will. It is considered such a common thing to know French that when any one is obliged to answer that he doesn't speak French, he hesitates, ashamed, and if he is interrogated in the street he will pretend to be busy and hurry on.