The following spelling/typographical errors have been changed.
p19—changed "defense" to "defence" for consistency with rest of book.
p74—changed "treschkuit" to "trekschuit".
p180—changed "cites" to "cities".
p194—changed "tactiturn" to "taciturn".
p210—changed "were" to "where" in 'the cell were (changed to where) Philip II. died;'.
Other spelling, grammatical, punctuation and typographic errors have been left as in the original book.
BY EDMONDO DE AMICIS,
AUTHOR OF "SPAIN," "MOROCCO," ETC.
TRANSLATED FROM THE THIRTEENTH EDITION OF THE ITALIAN BY HELEN ZIMMERN.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
PHILADELPHIA HENRY T. COATES & CO.
COPYRIGHT, 1894, BY PORTER & COATES.
TO PIETRO GROLIER.
PAGE HOLLAND 9
THE HAGUE 171
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Photographs taken expressly for this edition of "Holland" by Dr. CHARLES L. MITCHELL, Philadelphia.
Photogravures by A.W. ELSON & CO., Boston.
A DUTCH WINDMILL Frontispiece.
DUTCH FISHING-BOATS 26
DORDRECHT—CANAL WITH CATHEDRAL IN THE DISTANCE 48
IN ROTTERDAM 64
INTERIOR OF THE CHURCH OF ST. LAWRENCE 80
ON THE MEUSE, NEAR ROTTERDAM 94
THE STEIGER, ROTTERDAM 110
THE STATUE OF TOLLENS 126
NEAR THE ARSENAL, DELFT 134
MONUMENT OF ADMIRAL VAN TROMP 140
STAIRWAY WHERE WILLIAM THE SILENT WAS ASSASSINATED IN THE PRINSENHOF, DELFT 150
REFECTORY OF THE CONVENT OF ST. AGATHA, DELFT 156
OLD DELFT 166
ON THE CANAL NEAR DELFT 174
THE BINNENHOF, THE HAGUE 184
PAUL POTTER'S BULL 198
ON THE ROAD TO SCHEVENINGEN 214
FISHERMAN'S CHILDREN, SCHEVENINGEN 228
THE MAIN DRIVE IN THE BOSCH, THE HAGUE 246
THE VYVER, THE HAGUE 262
One who looks for the first time at a large map of Holland must be amazed to think that a country so made can exist. At first sight, it is impossible to say whether land or water predominates, and whether Holland belongs to the continent or to the sea. Its jagged and narrow coast-line, its deep bays and wide rivers, which seem to have lost the outer semblance of rivers and to be carrying fresh seas to the sea; and that sea itself, as if transformed to a river, penetrating far into the land, and breaking it up into archipelagoes; the lakes and vast marshes, the canals crossing each other everywhere,—all leave an impression that a country so broken up must disintegrate and disappear. It would be pronounced a fit home for only beavers and seals, and surely its inhabitants, although of a race so bold as to dwell there, ought never to lie down in peace.
When I first looked at a large map of Holland these thoughts crowded into my mind, and I felt a great desire to know something about the formation of this singular country; and as what I learned impelled me to make a book, I write it now in the hope that I may lead others to read it.
Those who do not know a country usually ask travellers, "What sort of place is it?"
Many have told briefly what kind of country Holland is.
Napoleon said: "It is an alluvium of French rivers, the Rhine, the Scheldt, and the Meuse," and under this pretext he annexed it to the Empire. One writer defined it as a sort of transition between the earth and the sea. Another calls it "an immense surface of earth floating on the water." Others speak of it as an annex of the old continent, the China of Europe, the end of the earth and the beginning of the ocean—a huge raft of mud and sand; and Philip II. called it "the country nearest hell."
But on one point they were all agreed, and expressed themselves in the same words: Holland is a conquest of man over the sea; it is an artificial country; the Dutch made it; it exists because the Dutch preserve it, and would disappear if they were to abandon it.
To understand these words we must picture to ourselves Holland as it was when the first German tribes, wandering in search of a country, came to inhabit it.
Holland was then almost uninhabitable. It was composed of lakes, vast and stormy as seas, flowing into each other; marshes and morasses, thickets and brushwood; of huge forests, overrun by herds of wild horses; vast stretches of pines, oaks, and alder trees, in which, tradition tells us, you could traverse leagues passing from trunk to trunk without ever putting your foot to the ground. The deep bays carried the northern storms into the very heart of the country. Once a year certain provinces disappeared under the sea, becoming muddy plains which were neither earth nor water, on which one could neither walk nor sail. The large rivers, for lack of sufficient incline to drain them into the sea, strayed here and there, as if uncertain which road to take, and then fell asleep in vast pools amongst the coast-sands. It was a dreary country, swept by strong winds, scourged by continual rain, and enveloped in a perpetual fog, through which nothing was heard save the moaning of the waves, the roaring of wild beasts and the screeching of sea-fowl. The first people who had the courage to pitch their tents in it were obliged to erect with their own hands, hillocks of earth as a protection from the inundations of the rivers and the invasions of the ocean, and they were obliged to live on these heights like shipwrecked-men on lonely islands, descending, when the waters withdrew, to seek nourishment by fishing, hunting, and collecting the eggs which the sea-fowl had laid on the sands. Caesar, when he passed by, gave the first name to this people. The other Latin historians spoke with mingled pity and respect of these intrepid barbarians who lived on "a floating country," exposed to the inclemency of an unfeeling sky and to the fury of the mysterious North Sea. Imagination can picture the Roman soldiers from the heights of the utmost wave-washed citadels of the empire, contemplating with sadness and wonder the wandering tribes of that desolate country, and regarding them as a race accursed of Heaven.
Now, when we reflect that such a region has become one of the richest, most fertile, and best-governed countries in the world, we understand how justly Holland is called the conquest of man.
But it should be added that it is a continuous conquest.
To explain this fact,—to show how the existence of Holland, notwithstanding the great works of defence built by its inhabitants, still requires an incessant struggle fraught with perils,—it is sufficient to glance rapidly at the greatest changes of its physical history, beginning at the time when its people had reduced it to a habitable country.
Tradition tells of a great inundation of Friesland in the sixth century. From that period catastrophes are recorded in every gulf, in every island, one may say, in almost every town, of Holland. It is reckoned that through thirteen centuries one great inundation, besides smaller ones, has taken place every seven years, and, since the country is an extended plain, these inundations were very deluges. Toward the end of the thirteenth century the sea destroyed part of a very fertile peninsula near the mouth of the Ems and laid waste more than thirty villages. In the same century a series of marine inundations opened an immense gap in Northern Holland and formed the Gulf of the Zuyder Zee, killing about eighty thousand people. In 1421 a storm caused the Meuse to overflow, and in one night buried in its waters seventy-two villages and one hundred thousand inhabitants. In 1532 the sea broke the embankments of Zealand, destroyed a hundred villages, and buried for ever a vast tract of the country. In 1570 a tempest produced another inundation in Zealand and in the province of Utrecht; Amsterdam was inundated, and in Friesland twenty thousand people were drowned. Other great floods occurred in the seventeenth century; two terrible ones at the beginning and at the end of the eighteenth; one in 1825, which laid waste Northern Holland, Friesland, Over-Yssel, and Gelderland; another in 1855, when the Rhine, overflowing, flooded Gelderland and the province of Utrecht and submerged a large part of North Brabant. Besides these great catastrophes, there occurred in the different centuries innumerable others which would have been famous in other countries, but were scarcely noticed in Holland—such as the inundation of the large Lake of Haarlem caused by an invasion of the sea. Flourishing towns of the Zuyder Zee Gulf disappeared under water; the islands of Zealand were repeatedly covered by the sea and then again left dry; the villages on the coast from Helder to the mouths of the Meuse were frequently submerged and ruined; and in each of these inundations there was an immense loss of life of both man and beast. It is clear that miracles of courage, constancy, and industry must have been wrought by the Dutch people, first in creating, and then in preserving, such a country.
The enemy against which the Dutch had to defend their country was threefold—the sea, the rivers, and the lakes. The Dutch drained the lakes, drove back the sea, and imprisoned the rivers.
To drain the lakes they called the air to their aid. The lakes and marshes were surrounded with dykes, the dykes with canals and an army of windmills; these, putting the suction-pumps in motion, poured the waters into the canals, which conducted them into the rivers and to the sea. Thus vast areas of ground which were buried under water saw the light, and were transformed, as if by enchantment, into fertile plains covered with villages and traversed by roads and canals. In the seventeenth century, in less than forty years, twenty-six lakes were emptied. In Northern Holland alone at the beginning of this century more than six thousand hectares of land were delivered from the waters, in Southern Holland, before 1844, twenty-nine thousand hectares, and in the whole of Holland, from 1500 to 1858, three hundred and fifty-five thousand hectares. By the use of steam pumps instead of windmills, the great undertaking of draining the Lake of Haarlem was completed in thirty-nine months. This lake, which threatened the towns of Haarlem, Amsterdam, and Leyden with raging storms, was forty-four kilometers in circumference. At present the Hollanders are contemplating the prodigious enterprise of draining the Gulf of the Zuyder Zee, which covers a space of more than seven hundred square kilometers.
The rivers, another internal enemy of Holland, did not cost less fatigue or fewer sacrifices. Some, like the Rhine, which loses itself in the sand before reaching the ocean, had to be channelled and protected from the tide at their mouths by immense locks; others, like the Meuse, were flanked by large dykes, like those raised to force back the sea; others were turned from their channels. The wandering waters were gathered together, the course of the rivers was regulated, the streams were divided with rigorous precision, and sent in different directions to maintain the equilibrium of the enormous liquid mass,—for the smallest deviation might cause the submersion of whole provinces. In this manner all of the rivers, which originally wandered unrestrained, swamping and devastating the whole country, have been reduced to streams and have become the servants of man.
But the fiercest struggle of all was the battle with the ocean. Holland, as a whole, lies lower than the sea-level; consequently, wherever the coast is not defended by downs it had to be protected by embankments. If these huge bulwarks of earth, wood, and granite were not standing like monuments to witness to the courage and perseverance of the Dutch, it would be impossible to believe that the hand of man, even in the course of many centuries, could have completed such an immense work. In Zealand alone the dykes extend over an area of four hundred kilometers. The western coast of the island of Walcheren is protected by a dyke, the cost of whose construction and preservation put out at interest would, it is calculated, have amounted to a sum great enough to have paid for the building of the dyke of solid copper. Round the town of Helder, at the northern extremity of Northern Holland, there is a dyke made of blocks of Norwegian granite which is ten kilometers long and stretches sixty meters into the sea. The province of Friesland, which is eighty-eight kilometers long, is protected by three rows of enormous palisades sustained by blocks of Norwegian and German granite. Amsterdam, all the towns on the coast of the Zuyder Zee, and all the islands which have been formed by fragments of the land that has disappeared, forming a sort of circle between Friesland and Northern Holland, are protected by dykes. From the mouths of the Ems to the mouths of the Scheldt, Holland is an impenetrable fort, in whose immense bastions the mills are the towers, the locks the gates, the islands the advanced forts; of which, like a real fortress, it shows to its enemy, the sea, only the tips of its steeples and the roofs of its buildings, as though in derision or in challenge.
In truth, Holland is a fortress, and the Dutch live as though they were in a fort—always in arms against the sea. A host of engineers, dependent on the minister of the interior, is scattered throughout the land, disciplined like an army. These men are continually on the alert, watching over the waters of the interior, anticipating the rupture of the dykes, ordering and directing the works of defence. The expenses of this warfare are distributed: one part is paid by the state, the other by the provinces; every proprietor pays, besides the general imposts, a special tax on the dykes in proportion to the extent of his property and to its proximity to the waters. Any accidental breach, any carelessness, may cause a flood: the danger is ever present. The sentinels are at their posts on the ramparts, and at the first attack of the sea, give the war-cry, whereupon Holland sends out arms, materials, and money. And even when great battles are not in progress, a slow, noiseless struggle is ever going on. Innumerable windmills, even in the drained lakes, are continually working to exhaust the rain-water and the water that oozes from the earth, and to pump it into the canals. Every day the locks of the gulfs and rivers shut their gigantic doors in face of the high tide, which attempts to launch its billows into the heart of the country. Work is continually going on to reinforce any weakened dykes, to fortify the downs by cultivation, to throw up fresh embankments where the downs are low—works towering like immense spears brandished in the midst of the sea, ready to break the first onset of the waves. The sea thunders eternally at the doors of the rivers, ceaselessly lashes their banks, roars forth its eternal menace, raises the crests of its billows curious to behold the contested ground, heaps banks of sand before the doors to destroy the commerce of the cities it wishes to possess; wastes, rasps, and undermines the coasts, and, unable to overthrow the ramparts, against which its impotent waves break in angry foam, it casts ships laden with corpses at the feet of the rebellious country to testify to its fury and its strength.
Whilst this great struggle continues Holland is becoming transformed. A map of the country as it was eight centuries ago would not at first sight be recognized. The land is changed, the men are changed. The sea in some parts has driven back the coast; it has taken portions of the land from the continent, has abandoned and again retaken it; has reunited some of the islands to the continent by chains of sand, as in Zealand; has detached the borders of the continent and formed of them new islands, such as Wieringen; has withdrawn from some provinces, and has converted maritime cities into inland towns, as at Leeuwarden; it has changed vast plains into archipelagoes of a hundred isles, such as the Bies-Bosch; it has separated the city from the land, as at Dordrecht. New gulfs two leagues wide have been formed, such as the Gulf of Dollart; two provinces have been separated by a new sea—namely, North Holland and Friesland. Inundations have caused the level of the ground to be raised in some places, lowered in others; unfruitful soil has been fertilized by the sediment of the overflown rivers; fertile ground has been changed into deserts of sand. The transformations of the waters have given rise to a transformation of labor. Islands have been joined to the continent, as was the island of Ameland; whole provinces are being reduced to islands, as is the case with North Holland, which will be separated from South Holland by the new canal of Amsterdam; lakes as large as provinces have been made to disappear, like the Lake of Beemster. By the removal of the thick mud, land has been converted into lakes, and these lakes are again transformed into meadows. So the country changes, ordering and altering its aspect in accordance with the violence of the waters and the needs of man. As one glances over the latest map, he may be sure that in a few years, it will be useless, because at the moment he is studying it, there exist bays which will disappear little by little, tracts of land which are on the point of detaching themselves from the continent, and large canals which will open and carry life into uninhabited regions.
But Hollanders did more than defend themselves from the water; they became its masters. The water was their scourge; it became their defence. If a foreign army invades their territory, they open the dykes and loose the sea and the rivers, as they loosed them on the Romans, the Spanish, and the army of Louis XIV., and then defend the inland towns with their fleets. Water was their poverty; they have made it riches. The whole country is covered with a network of canals, which irrigate the land and are at the same time the highways of the people. The towns communicate with the sea by means of the canals; canals lead from town to town, binding the towns to the villages, and uniting the villages themselves, as they lie with their homesteads scattered over the plain. Smaller canals surround the farms, the meadows, and the kitchen-gardens, taking the place of walls and hedges; every house is a little port. Ships, barges, boats, and rafts sail through the villages, wind round the houses, and thread the country in all directions, just as carts and carriages do in other places.
And here, too, Holland has accomplished many gigantic works, such as the William Canal in North Brabant, which, more than eighty kilometers long and thirty meters wide, crosses the whole of Northern Holland and unites Amsterdam to the North Sea: the new canal, the largest in Europe, which will join Amsterdam to the ocean, across the downs, and another, equally large, which will unite the town of Rotterdam to the sea. The canals are the veins of Holland, and the water is its blood.
But, aside from the canals, the draining of the lakes, and the works of defence, as one passes rapidly through Holland he sees on every side indications of marvellous labor. The ground,—in other countries the gift of nature,—is here the result of industry. Holland acquired the greater part of its riches through commerce, but the earth had to yield its fruits before commerce could exist; and there was no earth—it had to be created. There were banks of sand, broken here and there by layers of peat, and downs which the wind blew about and scattered over the country; large expanses of muddy land, destined, as it seemed, to eternal barrenness. Iron and coal, the first elements of industry, were lacking; there was no wood, for the forests had already been destroyed by storms before agriculture began; there was neither stone nor metal. Nature, as a Dutch poet has said, had denied all its gifts to Holland, and the Dutch were obliged to do everything in spite of her. They began by fertilizing the sand. In some places they made the ground fruitful by placing on it layers of soil brought from a distance, just as a garden is formed; they spread the rubble from the downs over the sodden meadows; they mixed bits of the peat taken from the water with the earth that was too sandy; they dug up clay to give a fresh fertility to the surface of the ground; they strove to till the downs; and thus, by a thousand varied efforts, as they continually warded off the threatening waters, they succeeded in cultivating Holland as highly as other countries more favored by Nature. The Holland of sands and marshes, which the ancients considered barely habitable, now sends abroad, year by year, agricultural products to the value of a hundred million francs, possesses about a million three hundred thousand head of cattle, and may be rated in proportion to its size among the most populous countries in Europe.
Now, it is obvious that in a country so extraordinary the inhabitants must be very different from those of other lands. Indeed, few peoples have been more influenced by the nature of the country they inhabit, than the Dutch. Their genius is in perfect harmony with the physical character of Holland. When one contemplates the memorials of the great warfare which this nation has waged with the sea, one understands that its characteristics must be steadfastness and patience, conjoined with calm and determined courage. The glorious struggle, and the knowledge that they owe everything to themselves, must have infused and strengthened in them a lofty sense of their own dignity and an indomitable spirit of liberty and independence. The necessity for a continual struggle, for incessant work, and for continual sacrifices to protect their very existence, confronts them perpetually with realities, and must have helped to make them an extremely practical and economical nation. Good sense necessarily became their most prominent quality; economy was perforce one of their principal virtues. This nation was obliged to excel in useful works, to be sober in its enjoyments, simple even in its greatness, and successful in all things that are to be attained by tenacity of purpose and by activity springing from reflection and precision. It had to be wise rather than heroic, conservative rather than creative; to give no great architects to the edifice of modern thought, but many able workmen, a legion of patient and useful laborers. By virtue of these qualities of prudence, phlegmatic activity, and conservatism the Dutch are ever advancing, although step by step. They acquire slowly, but lose none of their acquisitions;—they are loth to quit ancient usages, and, although three great nations are in close proximity to them, they retain their originality as if isolated. They have retained it through different forms of government, through foreign invasions, through the political and religious wars of which Holland was the theatre—in spite of the immense crowd of foreigners from every country who have taken refuge in their land, and have lived there at all times. They are, in short, of all the northern nations, that one which has retained its ancient typical character as it advanced on the road toward civilization. One recalling the conformation of this country, with its three and a half millions of inhabitants, can easily understand that although fused into a solid political union, and although recognizable amongst the other northern nations by certain traits peculiar to the inhabitants of all its provinces, it must nevertheless present a great variety. Such, indeed, is the case. Between Zealand and Holland proper, between Holland and Friesland, between Friesland and Gelderland, between Groningen and Brabant, although they are closely bound together by local and historical ties, there is a difference as great as that existing between the most distant provinces of Italy and France. They differ in language, in costume and in character, in race and in religion. The communal regime has impressed on this nation an indelible stamp, because nowhere else has it so conformed to the nature of things. The interests of the country are divided into various groups, of whose organization the hydraulic system is an example. Hence association and mutual help against the common enemy, the sea, but freedom of action in local institutions. The monarchical regime has not extinguished the ancient municipal spirit, which frustrated the efforts of all those great states that tried to absorb Holland. The great rivers and deep gulfs serve both as commercial roads which constitute a national bond between the various provinces, and as barriers which defend their ancient traditions and provincial customs. In this land, which is apparently so uniform, one may say that everything save the aspect of nature changes at every step—changes suddenly, too, as does nature itself, to the eye of one who crosses the frontier of this state for the first time.
But, however wonderful the physical history of Holland may be, its political history is even more marvellous. This little country, invaded first by different tribes of the Germanic race, subdued by the Romans and by the Franks, devastated by the Danes and by the Normans, and wasted for centuries by terrible civil wars,—this little nation of fishermen and merchants preserved its civil freedom and liberty of conscience by a war of eighty years' duration against the formidable monarchy of Philip II., and founded a republic which became the ark of salvation for the freedom of all peoples, the adopted home of the sciences, the exchange of Europe, the station of the world's commerce; a republic which extends its dominion to Java, Sumatra, Hindostan, Ceylon, New Holland, Japan, Brazil, Guiana, the Cape of Good Hope, the West Indies, and New York; a republic that conquered England on the sea, that resisted the united armies of Charles II. and of Louis XIV., that treated on terms of equality with the greatest nations, and for a time was one of the three powers that ruled the destinies of Europe.
It is no longer the grand Holland of the eighteenth century, but it is still, next to England, the greatest colonizing state of the world. It has exchanged its former grandeur for a quiet prosperity; commerce has been limited, agriculture has increased; the republican government has lost its form rather than its substance, for a family of patriotic princes, dear to the people, govern peaceably in the midst of the ancient and the newer liberties. In Holland are to be found riches without ostentation, freedom without insolence, taxes without poverty. The country goes on its way without panics, without insurrections,—preserving, with its fundamental good sense, in its traditions, customs, and freedom, the imprint of its noble origin. It is perhaps amongst all European countries that nation in which there is the best public instruction and the least corruption. Alone, at the extremity of the continent, occupied with its waters and its colonies, it enjoys the fruits of its labors in peace without comment, and can proudly say that no nation in the world has purchased freedom of faith and liberty of government with greater sacrifices.
Such were the thoughts that stimulated my curiosity one fine summer morning at Antwerp, as I was stepping into a ship that was to take me from the Scheldt to Zealand, the most mysterious province of the Netherlands.
If a teacher of geography had stopped me at some street-corner, before I had decided to visit Holland, and abruptly asked me, "Where is Zealand?" I should have had nothing to say; and I believe I am not mistaken in the supposition that a great number of my fellow-citizens, if asked the same question, would find it difficult to answer. Zealand is somewhat mysterious even to the Dutch themselves; very few of them have seen it, and of those few the greater part have only passed through it by boat; hence it is mentioned only on rare occasions, and then as if it were a far-off country. From the few words I heard spoken by my fellow-voyagers, I learned that they had never been to the province; so we were all equally curious, and the ship had not weighed anchor ere we entered into conversation, and were exciting each other's curiosity by questions which none of us could answer.
The ship started at sunrise, and for a time we enjoyed the view of the spire of Antwerp Cathedral, wrought of Mechlin lace, as the enamoured Napoleon said of it.
After a short stop at the fort of Lillo and the village of Doel, we left Belgium and entered Zealand.
In passing the frontier of a country for the first time, although we know that the scene will not change suddenly, we always look round curiously as if we expect it to do so. In fact, all the passengers leaned over the rail of the boat, that they might be present when the apparition of Zealand should suddenly be revealed.
For some time our curiosity was not gratified: nothing was to be seen but the smooth green shores of the Scheldt, wide as an arm of the sea, dotted with banks of sand, over which flew flocks of screaming sea-gulls, while the pure sky did not seem to be that of Holland.
We were sailing between the island of South Beveland and the strip of land forming the left bank of the Scheldt, which is called Flanders of the States, or Flemish Zealand.
The history of this piece of land is very curious. To a foreigner the entrance of Holland is like the first page of a great epic entitled, The Struggle with the Sea. In the Middle Ages it was nothing but a wide gulf with a few small islands. At the beginning of the sixteenth century this gulf was no longer in existence; four hundred years of patient labor had changed it into a fertile plain, defended by embankments, traversed by canals, populated by villages, and known as Flemish Zealand. When the war of independence broke out the inhabitants of Flemish Zealand, opened their dykes rather than yield their land to the Spanish armies: the sea rushed in, again forming the gulf of the Middle Ages, and destroying in one day the work of four centuries. When the war of independence was ended they began to drain it, and after three hundred years Flemish Zealand once more saw the light, and was restored to the continent like a child raised from the dead. Thus in Holland lands rise, sink, and reappear, like the realms of the Arabian Nights at the touch of a magic wand. Flemish Zealand, which is divided from Belgian Flanders by the double barrier of politics and religion, and from Holland by the Scheldt, preserves the customs, the beliefs, and the exact impress of the sixteenth century. The traditions of the war with Spain are still as real and living as the events of our own times. The soil is fertile, the inhabitants enjoy great prosperity, their manners are severe; they have schools and printing-presses, and live peacefully on their fragment of the earth which appeared but yesterday, to disappear again on that day when the sea shall demand it for a third burial. One of my fellow-travellers, a Belgian lady, who gave me this information, drew my attention to the fact that the inhabitants of Flemish Zealand were still Catholics when they inundated their land, although they had already rebelled against the Spanish dominion, and consequently it occurred, strangely enough, that the province went down Catholic and came up Protestant.
Greatly to my surprise, the boat, instead of continuing down the Scheldt, and so making the circuit of the island of South Beveland, entered the island, when it reached a certain point, passing through a narrow canal that crosses or rather cuts the island apart, and so joins the two branches of the river that encircles it. This was the first Dutch canal through which I had passed: it was a new experience. The canal is bordered on either side by a dyke which hides the country. The ship glided on stealthily, as if it had taken some hidden road in order to spring out on some one unawares. There was not a single boat in the canal nor a living soul on the dykes, and the silence and solitude strengthened the impression that our course had the hidden air of a piratical incursion. On leaving the canal we entered the eastern branch of the Scheldt.
We were now in the heart of Zealand. On the right was the island of Tholen; on the left, the island of North Beveland; behind, South Beveland; in front, Schouven. Excepting the island of Walcheren, we could now see all the principal islands of the mysterious archipelago.
But the mystery consists in this—the islands are not seen, they must be imagined. To the right and left of the wide river, before and behind the ship, nothing was to be seen but the straight line of the embankments, like a green band on a level with the water, and beyond this streak, here and there, were tips of trees and of steeples, and the red ridges of roofs that seemed to be peeping over to see us pass. Not one hill, not one rise in the ground, not one house, could be discovered anywhere: all was hidden, all seemed immersed in water; it seemed that the islands were on the point of sinking into the river, and we glanced stealthily at each other to make sure we were still there. It seemed like going through a country during a flood, and it was an agreeable thought that we were in a ship. Every now and then the vessel stopped and some passengers for Zealand got into a boat and went ashore. Although I was eager to visit the province, I nevertheless regarded them with a feeling of compassion, imagining that those unreal islands were only monster whales about to dive into the water at the approach of the boats.
The captain of our ship, a Hollander, stopped near me to examine a small map of Zealand which he held in his hand. I immediately seized the opportunity and overwhelmed him with questions. Fortunately, I had hit upon one of the few Dutchmen who, like us Italians, love the sound of their own voices.
"Here in Zealand, even more than in other provinces," said he, as seriously as if he were a master giving a lesson, "the dykes are a question of life and death. At high tide all Zealand is below sea-level. For every dyke that were broken, an island would disappear. The worst of it is, that here the dykes have to resist not only the direct shock of the waves, but another power which is even more dangerous. The rivers fling themselves toward the sea,—the sea casts itself against the rivers, and in this continual struggle undercurrents are formed which wash the foundations of the embankments, until they suddenly give way like a wall that is undermined. The Zealanders must be continually on their guard. When a dyke is in danger, they make another one farther inland, and await the assault of the water behind it. Thus they gain time, and either rebuild the first embankment or continue to recede from fortress to fortress until the current changes and they are saved."
"Is it not possible," I asked, introducing the element of poetry, "that some day Zealand may no longer exist?"
"On the contrary," he replied, to my sorrow: "the day may come in which Zealand will no longer be an archipelago, but terra firma. The Scheldt and the Meuse continually bring down mud, which is deposited in the arms of the sea, and, rising little by little, enlarges the islands, thus enclosing the towns and villages that were ports on the coast. Axel, Goes, Veer, Arnemuyden, and Middelburg were maritime towns, and are now inland cities. Hence the day will surely come in which the waters of the rivers will no longer pass between the islands of Zealand, and a network of railways will extend over the whole country, which will be joined to the continent, as has already happened in the island of South Beveland. Zealand grows in its struggle with the sea. The sea may gain the victory in other parts of Holland, but here it will be worsted. Are you familiar with the arms of Zealand: a lion in the act of swimming, above which is written, 'Luctor et emergo'?"
After these words he remained silent for some moments, while a passing glance of pride enlivened his face: then he continued with his former gravity:
"Emergo; but he did not always emerge. All the islands of Zealand, one after the other, have slept under the waters for longer or shorter periods of time. Three centuries ago the island of Schouwen was inundated by the sea, when all the inhabitants and cattle were drowned and it was reduced to a desert. The island of North Beveland was completely submerged shortly after, and for several years nothing was to be seen but the tips of the church-steeples peeping out of the water. The island of South Beveland shared the same fate toward the middle of the fourteenth century,—the island of Tholen suffered in the year 1825 of our century,—the island of Walcheren in 1808, and in the capital of Middelburg, although it is several miles distant from the coast, the water was up to the roofs."
As I listened to these stories of the water, of inundations and submerged districts, it seemed strange to me that I myself was not drowned, I asked the captain what sort of people lived in those invisible countries, with water underfoot and overhead.
"Farmers and shepherds," he answered. "We call Zealand a group of forts defended by a garrison of farmers and shepherds. Zealand is the richest agricultural province in the Netherlands. The alluvial soil of these islands is a marvel of fertility. Few countries can boast such wheat, colza, flax, and madder as it produces. Its people raise prodigious cattle and colossal horses, which are even larger than those of the Flemish breed. The people are strong and handsome; they preserve their ancient customs, and live contentedly in prosperity and peace. Zealand is a hidden paradise."
While the captain was speaking the ship entered the Keeten Canal, which divides the island of Tholen from the island of Schouwen, and is famous for the ford across which the Spanish made their way in 1575, just as the eastern side of the Scheldt is famous for the passage they forced in 1572. All Zealand is full of memories of that war. Because of its intimate connection with William of Orange, the hereditary lord of a great part of the land in the islands, and by reason of the impediments of every kind that it could oppose to invaders, this little archipelago of sand, half buried in the sea, became the theatre of war and heresy, and the duke of Alva longed to possess it. Consequently terrible struggles raged on its shores, signalised by all the horrors of battles by land and sea. The soldiers forded the canals by night in a dense throng, the water up to their throats, menaced by the tide, beaten by the rain, with volleys of musketry pouring down the banks, their horses and artillery swallowed in the mud, the wounded swept away by the current or buried alive in the quagmires. The air resounded with German, Spanish, Italian, and Flemish voices. Torches illuminated the great arquebuses, the pompous plumes, the strange, blanched faces. The battles seemed to be fantastic funerals. They were, in fact, the funerals of the great Spanish monarchy, which was slowly drowned in Dutch waters, smothered with mud and curses. One who is weak enough to feel an excessive tenderness for Spain need only go to Holland if he wishes to do penance for this sin. Never, perchance, have there been two nations which have had better reasons than these to hate each other with all their strength, or which tried with greater fury to establish those reasons. I remember, to mention one alone of a thousand contrasts, how it impressed me to hear Philip II. spoken of in terms so different from those used in the Pyrenees a few months before. In Spain his lowest title was the great king: in Holland they called him a cowardly tyrant.
The ship passed between the island of Schouwen and the little island of St. Philipsland, and a few moments later entered the wide branch of the Meuse called Krammer, which divides the island of Overflakkee from the continent. We seemed to be sailing through a chain of large lakes. The distant banks presented the same appearance as those of the Scheldt. Dykes stretched as far as the eye could see, and behind the dykes appeared the tops of trees, the tips of steeples, and the roofs of houses, which were hidden from view, all lending the landscape an air of mystery and solitude. Only on some projection of the banks which formed a gap in the immense bulwarks of the island peeped forth, as it were, a sketch of a Dutch landscape—a painted cottage, a windmill, a boat—which seemed to reveal a secret created to arouse the curiosity of travellers, and to delude it directly it was aroused.
Suddenly, on approaching the prow of the ship, where were the third-class passengers, I made a most agreeable discovery. Here was a group of peasants, men and women, dressed in the costume of Zealand—I do not remember of which island, for the costume differs in each, like the dialect, which is a mixture of Dutch and Flemish, if one may so speak of two languages that are almost identical. The men were all dressed alike. They wore round felt hats trimmed with wide embroidered ribbons; their jackets were of dark cloth, close fitting, and so short as hardly to cover their hips, and left open to show a sort of waistcoat striped with red, yellow, and green, which was closed over the chest by a row of silver buttons attached to one another like the links of a chain. Their costume was completed by a pair of short breeches of the same color as the jacket, tied round the waist by a band ornamented by a large stud of chiselled silver,—a red cravat, and woollen stockings reaching to the knee. In short, below the waist their dress was that of a priest, and above it, that of a harlequin. One of them had coins for buttons, and this is not an unusual practice. The women wore very high straw hats in the form of a broken cone, which looked like overturned buckets, bound round with long blue ribbons fluttering in the wind; their dresses were dark-colored, open at the throat, revealing white embroidered chemisettes; their arms were bare to the elbow; and two enormous gold earrings of the most eccentric shape projected almost over their cheeks. Although in my voyage I tried to imitate Victor Hugo in admiring everything as a savage, I could not possibly persuade myself that this was a beautiful style of dress. But I was prepared for incongruities of this sort. I knew that we go to Holland to see novelty rather than beauty, and good things rather than new ones, so I was predisposed to observe rather than to be enthusiastic. If that first impression was not very pleasant to my artistic taste, I consoled myself by the thought that doubtless all those peasants could read and write, and that possibly on the previous evening they had learned by heart a poem of their great poet, Jacob Catz, and that they were probably on their way to some agricultural convention of which the programme was in their pockets, where with arguments drawn from their modest experience they would confute the propositions of some scientific farmer from Goes or Middelburg. Ludovico Guicciardini, a Florentine nobleman, the author of an excellent work on the Netherlands printed in Antwerp in the sixteenth century, says that there was hardly a man or woman in Zealand who did not speak French or Spanish, and that a great many spoke Italian. This statement, which was perhaps an exaggeration in his day, would now be a fable, but it is certain that amongst the rural inhabitants of Zealand there exists an extraordinary intellectual culture, far superior to that of the peasants of France, Belgium, Germany, and many other provinces of Holland.
The ship rounded the island of Philipsland, and we found ourselves outside of Zealand.
Thus this province, mysterious before we entered it, seemed doubly so when we had quitted it. We had traversed it and had not seen it, and we left it with our curiosity ungratified. The only thing we had perceived was that Zealand is a country hidden from view. But one is deceived who thinks it is mysterious for the sole reason that it is invisible—everything in Zealand is a mystery. First of all,—How was it formed? Was it a group of tiny alluvial islands, uninhabited and separated only by canals, which, as some believe, met and formed larger islands? Or was it, as others think, terra firma when the Scheldt emptied itself into the Meuse? But, even leaving its origin out of the question, in what other country in the world do things happen as they happen in Zealand? In what other country do the fishermen catch in their nets a siren whose husband, after vain prayers to have her restored, in vengeance throws up a handful of sand, prophesying that it will bury the gates of the town—and lo his prophecy is fulfilled? In what other country do the souls of those lost at sea come as they come to Walcheren, and awaken the fishermen with the demand that they be conducted to the coasts of England? In what other country do the sea-storms fling, as they do on the banks of the island of Schouwen, carcasses borne from the farthest north—monsters half men, half boats; mummies bound in the floating trunks of trees, of which an example is still to be seen at the guildhall of Zierikzee? In what country, as at Wemeldingen, does a man fall head foremost into a canal, where, remaining under water an hour, he sees his dead wife and children, who call to him from Paradise, and is then drawn out of the water alive, whereupon he relates this miracle to Victor Hugo, who believes it and comments on it, concluding that the soul may leave the body for some time and then return to it? Where, as near Domburg, at low water is it possible to draw up ancient temples and statues of unknown deities? In what other place does the sword of a Spanish captain, Mondragone, serve as a lightning-conductor, as at Wemeldingen? In what other country are unfaithful women made to walk naked through the streets of the town with two stones hung round the neck and a cylinder of iron on the head, as in the island of Schouwen? Now, really, this last marvel is no longer seen, but the stones still exist, and any one can see them in the guildhall at Brauwershaven.
Our ship now entered that part of the southern branch of the Meuse called Volkerak. The scene was just the same—dykes upon dykes, the tips of houses and church-steeples, a few boats here and there. One thing only was changed, the sky. I then saw for the first time the Dutch sky as it usually appears, and witnessed one of those battles of light peculiar to the Netherlands—battles which the great Dutch landscape-artists have painted with insuperable power. Previously the sky had been serene. It was a beautiful summer day: the waters were blue, the banks emerald green, the air warm, with not a breath of wind stirring. Suddenly a thick cloud hid the sun, and in less time than it takes to tell it everything was as different as if the season, the hour, and the latitude had all been changed in a moment. The waters became dark, the green of the banks grew dull, the horizon was hidden under a gray veil; everything seemed shrouded in a twilight which made all things lose their outline. An evil wind arose, chilling us to the bone. It seemed to be December; we felt the chill of winter and that restlessness which accompanies every sudden menace on the part of nature. All round the horizon small leaden-colored clouds began to collect, scudding rapidly along, as though searching impatiently for a direction and a shape. Then the waters began to ripple, and became streaked with rapid luminous reflections, with long stripes of green, violet, white, ochre, black. Finally this irritation of nature ended in a violent downpour, which confused sky, water, and earth in one gray mass, broken only by a lighter tone caused by the far-off banks, and by some sailing ships, which came into view here and there like upright shadows on the waters of the river.
"Now we are really in Holland," said the captain of the ship, approaching a group of passengers who were contemplating the spectacle. "Such sudden changes of scene," he continued, "are never seen anywhere else."
Then, in answer to a question from one of us, he ran on:
"Holland has a meteorology quite her own. The winter is long, the summer short, the spring is only the end of the winter, but nevertheless, you see, every now and then, even during the summer, we have a touch of winter. We always say that in Holland the four seasons may be seen in one day. Our sky is the most changeable in the world. This is the reason why we are always talking of the weather, for the atmosphere is the most variable spectacle we have. If we wish to see something that will entertain us, we must look upward. But it is a dull climate. The sea sends us rain on three sides: the winds break loose over the country even on the finest days; the ground exhales vapors that darken the horizon; for several months the air has no transparency. You should see the winter. There are days when you would say it would never be fine again: the darkness seems to come from above like the light; the north-east wind brings us the icy air from the North Pole, and lashes the sea with such fury and roaring that it seems as though it would destroy the coasts." Here he turned to me and said, smiling, "You are better off in Italy." Then he grew serious and added, "However, every country has its good and bad side."
The boat left the Volkerak, passed in front of the fortress of Willemstadt, built in 1583 by the Prince of Orange, and entered Hollandsdiep, a wide branch of the Meuse which separates South Holland from North Brabant. All that we saw from the ship was a wide expanse of water, two dark stripes to the right and left, and a gray sky. A French lady, breaking the general silence, exclaimed with a yawn,
"How beautiful is Holland!"
All of us laughed excepting the Dutch passengers.
"Ah, captain," began a little old Belgian, one of those pillars of the coffee-house who are always thrusting their politics in the faces of their fellows, "there is a good and a bad side to every country, and we Belgians and Dutchmen ought to have been persuaded of this truth, and then we should have been indulgent toward each other and have lived in harmony. When one thinks that we are now a nation of nine millions of inhabitants,—we with our industries and you with your commerce, with two such capitals as Amsterdam and Brussels, and two commercial towns like Antwerp and Rotterdam, we should count for something in this world, eh, captain?"
The captain did not answer. Another Dutchman said:
"Yes, with a religious war twelve months in the year."
The little old Belgian, somewhat put out, now addressed his remarks to me in a low tone: "It is a fact, sir. It was stupid, especially on our part. You will see Holland. Amsterdam is certainly not Brussels; it is as flat and wearisome a country as can well be; but as to prosperity it is far beyond us. Assure yourself that they spend a florin, which is two and a half francs, where we spend a franc. You will see it in your hotel bills. They are twice as rich as we are. It was all the fault of William the First, who wished to make a Dutch Belgium and has pushed us to extremes. You know how it happened"—and so on.
In Hollandsdiep we began to see big barges, small-fishing-boats, and some large ships that had come from Hellevoetsluis, an important maritime port on the right bank of the Haringvliet, a branch of the Meuse, near its mouth, where nearly every vessel from India stops. The rain ceased. The sky, gradually, unwillingly, became serene, and on a sudden the waters and the banks were clothed once more in fresh glowing colors: it was summer again.
In a little while the vessel reached the village of Moerdyk, where one of the largest bridges in the world is to be seen.
It is an iron structure a mile and a half long, over which passes the railway to Dordrecht and Rotterdam. From a distance it looks like fourteen enormous edifices put in line across the river: each one of the fourteen high arches supporting the tracks is in truth a huge edifice. In passing over it, as I did a few months later on my return to Holland, I saw nothing but sky and water, so wide is the river at this point, and I felt almost afraid the bridge might suddenly come to an end, and plunge the train into the water.
The boat turned to the left, passing in front of the bridge, and entered a very narrow branch of the Meuse called Dordsche Kil, which had dykes on either side, and hence looked more like a canal than a river. It was already the seventh turn we had made since we crossed the frontier.
Passing down the Dordsche Kil, we began to see signs of the proximity of a large town. There were long rows of trees on the banks, bushes, cottages, canals to the right and left, and much moving of boats and barges. The passengers became more animated, and here and there were heard exclamations of "Dordrecht! we shall see Dordrecht." All seemed preparing themselves for some extraordinary scene.
The spectacle was not long delayed, and was extraordinary indeed.
The boat turned for the eighth time, to the right, and entered the Oude Maas or Old Meuse.
In a few moments the first houses of the suburbs around Dordrecht came into view. It was a sudden apparition of Holland, a gratification of our curiosity immediate and complete, a revelation of all the mysteries which were tormenting our brains: we seemed to be in a new world.
Immense windmills with revolving arms were to be seen on every side; houses of a thousand extraordinary shapes were dotted along the banks: some were like villas, others like pavilions, kiosks, cottages, chapels, theatres,—their roofs red, their walls black, blue, pink, and gray, their doors and windows encircled with white borders like drifts of snow. Canals little and big were leading in every direction; in front of the houses and along the canals were groups and rows of trees; ships glided among the cottages and boats were moored before the doors; sails shone in the streets—masts, pennons, and the arms of windmills projected in confusion above the trees and roofs. Bridges, stairways, gardens on the water, a thousand corners, little docks, creeks, openings, crossways on the canals, hiding-places for the boats, men, women, and children passing each other on the ways from the river to the bank, from the canals to their houses, from the bridges to the barges,—all these made the scene one of motion and variety. Everywhere was water,—color, new forms, childish figures, little details, all glossy and fresh,—an ingenuous display of prettiness—a mixture of the primitive and the theatrical, of grace and absurdity, which was partly European, partly Chinese, partly belonging to no land,—and over all a delightful air of peace and innocence.
So Dordrecht flashed upon me for the first time, the oldest and at the same time the freshest and brightest town of Holland, the queen of Dutch commerce in the Middle Ages—the mother of painters and scholars. Honored in 1572 by the first meeting within its walls of the deputies of the United Provinces, it was also at different times the seat of memorable synods, and was particularly famous for that meeting of the protestant theologians in 1618, the Ecumenical Council of the Reformation, which decided the terrible religious dispute between Arminians and Gomarists, established the form of national worship, and gave rise to that series of disturbances and persecutions which ended with the unfortunate murder of Barneveldt and the sanguinary triumph of Maurice of Orange. Dordrecht, because of its easy communication with the sea, with Belgium, and with the interior of Holland, is still one of the most flourishing commercial towns of the United Provinces. To Dordrecht come the immense supplies of wood which are brought down the Rhine from the Black Forest and Switzerland—the Rhine wines, the lime, the cement and the stone; in its little port there is a continual movement of snowy sails and of smoking steamers, while little flags bring greetings from Arnhem, Bois-le-Duc, Nimeguen, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and from all their mysterious sisters in Zealand.
The boat stopped for a few minutes at Dordrecht, and I unexpectedly observed near by a number of fresh little cottages which were purely Dutch, and which aroused in me the greatest desire to land and make their acquaintance. But I conquered my curiosity by the thought that at Rotterdam I should see many such sights. The boat started, turned to the left (it was the ninth turning), and entered a narrow branch of the Meuse called De Noord, one of the numerous threads of that inextricable network of the waters which covers Southern Holland.
The captain approached me as I was looking for him to explain the position of Dordrecht on the map, for it seemed to me very singular. In fact, it is singular. Dordrecht is situated at the extremity of a piece of ground separated from the continent, and forming in the midst of the land an island crossed and recrossed by numerous streams, some of which are natural, some the work of man, rivers made half by man, half by nature—a bit of Holland encircled and imprisoned by the waters, like a battalion overcome by an army. It is bounded on the four sides by the river Merwede, the ancient Mosa, the Dordsche Kil, and the archipelago of Bies-Bosch, and is crossed by the New Merwede, a large artificial water-course. The imprisonment of this piece of land on which Dordrecht lies is an episode in one of the great battles fought by Holland with the waters. The archipelago of Bies-Bosch did not exist before the fifteenth century. In its place there was a beautiful plain covered with populous villages. During the night of the 18th of November, 1431, the waters of the Waal and the Meuse broke the dykes, destroyed more than seventy villages, drowned almost a hundred thousand souls, and broke up the plain into a thousand islands, leaving in the midst of this ruin one upright tower called Merwede House, the ruins of which are still visible. Thus was Dordrecht separated from the continent, and the archipelago of Bies-Bosch made its appearance, which, as though to show its right of existence, provides hay, reeds, and rushes to a little village which hangs like a swallow's nest on one of the neighboring dykes. But this is not all that is remarkable in the history of Dordrecht. Tradition relates, many believe, and some uphold, that at the time of this remarkable inundation Dordrecht—yes, the whole town of Dordrecht, with its houses, mills, and canals—made a short journey, like an army moving camp; that is to say, it was transported from one place to another with its foundations intact: in consequence whereof the inhabitants of the neighboring villages, coming to the town after the catastrophe, found nothing where it had been. One can imagine their consternation. This prodigy is explained by the fact that Dordrecht is founded on a stratum of clay, which had slipped on to the mass of turf which forms the basis of the soil. Such is the story as I heard it.
Before the vessel left the Noord Canal the hope of seeing my first Dutch sunset was disappointed by another sudden change in the weather. The sky was obscured, the waters became livid, and the horizon disappeared behind a thick veil of mist.
The ship entered the Meuse, and turned for the tenth time, to the left. At this point the Meuse is very wide, as it carries away and imprisons the waters of the Waal, the largest branch of the Rhine, and the waters of the Leck and Yssel also empty themselves into it. Its banks are flanked on either side by long rows of trees, and are dotted with houses, workshops, manufactories, and arsenals, which grow thicker as Rotterdam is approached.
However little acquainted one may be with the physical history of Holland, the first time one sees the Meuse and thinks of its memorable overflowings, of the thousand calamities and innumerable victims of that capricious and terrible river, one regards it with a sort of uneasy curiosity, much as one looks at a famous brigand. The eye rests on the dykes with a feeling almost of satisfaction and gratitude, as on the brigand when he is safely handcuffed and in the hands of the police.
While my eyes were roving in search of Rotterdam, a Dutch passenger told how, when the Meuse is frozen, the currents, coming unexpectedly from warmer regions, strike the ice that covers the river, break it, upheave enormous blocks with a terrific crash, and hurl them against the dykes, piling them in immense heaps which choke the course of the river and make it overflow. Then begins a strange battle. The Dutch answer the threats of the Meuse with cannonade. The artillery is called out, volleys of grape-shot break the towers and barricades of ice which oppose the current, into a storm of splinters and briny hail. "We Hollanders," concluded the passenger, "are the only people who have to take up arms against the rivers."
When we came in sight of Rotterdam it was growing dark and drizzling. Through the thick mist I could barely see a great confusion of ships, houses, windmills, towers, trees, and moving figures on dykes and bridges. There were lights everywhere. It was a great city different in appearance from any I had seen before, but fog and darkness soon hid it from my view. By the time I had taken leave of my fellow-travellers and had gathered my luggage together, it was night. "So much the better," I said getting into a cab. "I shall see for the first time a Dutch city by night; this must indeed be a novel spectacle." In fact, Bismarck, when at Rotterdam, wrote to his wife that at night he saw "phantoms on the roofs."
One cannot learn much about Rotterdam by entering it at night. The cab passed directly over a bridge that gave out a hollow sound, and while I believed myself to be—and, in fact, was—in the city, to my surprise I saw on either side a row of ships which were soon lost in the darkness. When we had crossed the bridge we drove along streets brightly lighted and full of people, and reached another bridge, to find ourselves between other rows of ships. So we went on for some time, from bridge to street, from street to bridge. To increase the confusion, there was everywhere an illumination such as I had never seen before. There were lamps at the corners of the streets, lanterns on the ships, beacons on the bridges, lights in the windows, and smaller lights under the houses,—all of which were reflected by the water. Suddenly the cab stopped in the midst of a crowd of people. I put my head out of the window, and saw a bridge suspended in mid-air. I asked what was the matter, and some one answered that a ship was passing. In a moment we were again on our way, and I had a peep at a tangle of canals crossing and recrossing each other, and of bridges that seemed to form a large square full of masts and studded with lights. Then, at last, we turned a corner and arrived at the hotel.
The first thing I did on entering my room was to examine it to see if it sustained the great fame of Dutch cleanliness. It did indeed; and this was the more to be admired in a hotel, almost always occupied by a profane race, which has no reverence for what might be called in Holland the worship of cleanliness. The linen was white as snow, the windows were transparent as air, the furniture shone like crystal, the walls were so clean that one could not have found a spot with a microscope. Besides this, there was a basket for waste paper, a little tablet on which to strike matches, a slab for cigar-ashes, a box for cigar-stumps, a spittoon, a boot-jack, in short, there was absolutely no excuse for soiling anything.
When I had surveyed my room, I spread the map of Rotterdam on the table, and began to make my plans for the morrow.
It is a singular fact that the large towns of Holland have remarkably regular forms, although they were built on unstable land and with great difficulty. Amsterdam is a semicircle, the Hague is a square, Rotterdam an equilateral triangle. The base of the triangle is an immense dyke, protecting the town from the Meuse, and known as the Boompjes, which in Dutch means little trees,—the name being derived from a row of elms that were planted when the embankment was built, and are now grown to a great size. Another large dyke, dividing the city into two almost equal parts, forms a second bulwark against the inundations of the river, extending from the middle of the left side of the triangle to the opposite angle. The part of Rotterdam which lies between the two dykes consists of large canals, islands, and bridges: this is the modern town; the other part, lying beyond the second dyke, is the old town. Two large canals extend along the other two sides of the city up to the vertex, where they join and meet a river called the Rotte, which name, prefixed to the word dam, meaning dyke, gives Rotterdam.
When I had thus performed my duty as a conscientious traveller, and had observed a thousand precautions against defiling, even with a breath, the spotless purity of that jewel of a room, I entered my first Dutch bed with the timidity of a country bumpkin.
Dutch beds—I am speaking of those to be found in the hotels—are usually short and wide, with an enormous eider-down pillow which would bury the head of a cyclops. In order to omit nothing, I must add that the light is generally a copper candlestick as large as a plate, which might hold a torch, but contains instead a short candle as thin as the little finger of a Spanish lady.
In the morning I dressed in haste, and ran rapidly down stairs.
What streets, what houses, what a town, what a mixture of novelties for a foreigner,—a scene how different from any to be witnessed elsewhere in Europe!
First of all, I saw Hoog-Straat, a long straight roadway running along the inner dyke of the city.
Most of the houses are built of unplastered brick, ranging in color through all the shades of red from black to pink. They are only wide enough to give room for two windows, and are but two stories in height. The front walls overtop and conceal the roofs, running up and terminating in blunted triangles surmounted by gables. Some of them have pointed facades, some are elevated in two curves, and resemble a long neck without a head; others are indented step-fashion, like the houses children build with blocks; others look like conical pavilions; others like country churches; others, again, like puppet-shows. These gables are generally outlined with white lines and ornamented in execrable taste; many have coarse arabesques painted in relief on plaster. The windows, and the doors too, are bordered with broad white lines; there are other white lines between the different stories of the houses; the spaces between the house-and shop-doors are filled in with white woodwork; so all along the street white and dark red are the only colors to be seen. From a distance all the houses produce an effect of black trimmed with strips of linen, and present an appearance partly festal, partly funereal, leaving one in doubt whether they enliven or depress. At first sight I felt inclined to laugh: it seemed impossible that these houses were not playthings and that serious people could live inside them. I should have said that after the fete for which they had been constructed they must disappear like paper frames built for a display of fireworks.
While I was vaguely regarding the street I saw a house which amazed me. I thought I must be mistaken: I looked at it more closely,—looked at the houses near it, compared them with the first house and then with each other, and even then I believed that it was an optical illusion. I turned hastily down a side street, and still I seemed to see the same thing. At last I was persuaded that the fault was not with my eyes, but with the entire city.
All Rotterdam is like a city that has reeled and rocked in an earthquake, and has still remained standing, though apparently on the verge of ruin.
All the houses—the exceptions in each street are so few they can be counted on one's fingers—are inclined more or less, and the greater number lean so much that the roof of one projects half a meter beyond that of the next house if it happens to be straight or but slightly inclined. The strangest part of it all is, that adjoining houses lean in different directions; one will lean forward as if it were going to topple over, another backward, some to the right, others to the left. In some places, where six or seven neighboring houses all lean forward, those in the middle being most inclined, they form a curve, like a railing that is bent by the pressure of a crowd. In some places two houses which stand close together bend toward each other, as if for mutual support. In certain streets for some distance all the houses lean sideways, like trees which the wind has blown one against the other; then again, they all lean in the opposite direction, like another row of trees bent by a contrary wind. In some places there is a regularity in the inclination, which makes the effect less noticeable. On certain crossways and in some of the smaller streets there is an indescribable confusion, a real architectural riot, a dance of houses, a disorder that seems animated. There are houses that appear to fall forward, overcome by sleep; others that throw themselves backward as if in fright; some lean toward each other till their roofs almost touch, as if they were confiding secrets; some reel against each other as though tipsy; a few lean backward between others that lean forward, like malefactors being dragged away by policemen. Rows of houses seem to be bowing to church-steeples; other groups are paying attention to one house in their centre, and seem to be plotting against some palace. I will soon let you into the secret of all this.
But it is neither the shape of the houses nor their inclination that seemed to me the most curious thing about them.
One must observe them carefully, one by one, from top to bottom, and in their diversity they are as interesting as a picture.
In some of the houses, in the middle of the gable, at the top of the facade, a crooked beam projects, fitted with a pulley and a piece of cord to raise and lower buckets or baskets. In others, a stag's, sheep's, or goat's head looks down from a little round window. Under this head there is a line of whitewashed stones or a wooden beam which cuts the facade in two. Below the beam there are two large windows, shaded by awnings like canopies, under which hang little green curtains, over the upper panes of the window. Under the green curtain are two white curtains, draped back to reveal a swinging bird-cage or a hanging basket full of flowers. Below this flower-basket screening the lower window-panes there is a frame with a very fine wire netting, which prevents pedestrians from looking into the rooms. Behind the wire netting, in the divisions between the netting and the framework of the window, there are tables ornamented with china, glass, flowers, statuettes and other trifles. On the stone sills of windows which open into the street there is a row of little flower-pots. In the middle or at one side of the window-sill there is a curved iron hook which supports two movable mirrors joined like the backs of a book, surmounted by a third movable glass, so arranged that from within the house one can see everything that happens in the street without one's self being seen. In some houses a lantern projects between the windows. Below the windows is the house-door or shop-door. If it be a shop-door, there will be carved above it either a negro's head with the mouth wide open or the smirking face of a Turk. Sometimes the sign is an elephant, a goose, a horse's head, a bull, a serpent, a half-moon, a windmill, and sometimes an outstretched arm holding some article that is for sale in the shop. If it be a house-door—in which case it is always kept closed—it bears a brass plate on which is written the name of the tenant, another plate with an opening for letters, and a third plate on the wall holding the bell-handle. The plates, nails, and locks are all kept shining like gold. Before the door there is frequently a little wooden bridge—for in many houses the ground floor is made lower than the street—and in front of the bridge are two small stone pillars surmounted by two balls; below these stand other pillars united by iron chains made of large links in the shape of crosses, stars, and polygons. In the space between the street and the house are pots of flowers. On the window-seats of the basement, hidden in the hollow, are more flowers and curtains. In the less frequented streets there are bird-cages on either side of the windows, boxes full of growing plants, clothes and linen hung out to dry. Indeed, innumerable articles of varied colors dangle and swing about, so that it all seems like a great fair.
But without quitting the old town one need only walk toward its outskirts in order to see novel sights at every step.
In passing through certain of the straight, narrow streets one suddenly sees before him, as it were, a curtain that has fallen and cut off the view. It is immediately withdrawn, and one perceives that it is the sail of a ship passing down one of the canals. At the foot of other streets a network of ropes seems to be stretched between the two end houses to stop the passage. This is the rigging of a ship that is anchored at one of the docks. On other streets there are drawbridges surmounted by long parallel boards, presenting a fantastic appearance, as though they were gigantic swings for the amusement of the light-hearted people living in these peculiar houses. Other streets have at the foot windmills as high as a steeple and black as an ancient tower, turning and twisting their arms like large wheels revolving over the roofs of the neighboring houses. Everywhere, in short, among the houses, over the roofs, in the midst of the distant trees, we see the masts of ships, pennons, sails, and what not, to remind us that we are surrounded by water, and that the city is built in the very middle of the port.
In the mean time, the shops have opened and the streets have become animated.
There is a great stir of people, who are busy, but not hurried: this absence of hurry distinguishes the streets of Rotterdam from those of certain parts of London, which, from the color of the houses and the serious faces of the citizens, remind many travellers of the Dutch city. Faces white and pale—faces the color of Parmesan cheese—faces encircled by hair flaxen, golden, red, and yellowish—large shaven faces with beards below the chin—eyes so light that one has to look closely to see the pupil—sturdy women, plump, pink-cheeked, and placid, wearing white caps and earrings shaped like corkscrews,—such are the first things one observes in the crowd.
But my curiosity for the present was not aroused by the people. I crossed Hoog-Straat and found myself in new Rotterdam.
One cannot decide whether it is a city or a harbor, whether there is more land than water, or whether the ships are more numerous than the houses.
The town is divided by long, wide canals into many islands, which are united by drawbridges, turning bridges, and stone bridges. From both sides of each canal extend two streets, with rows of trees on the side next to the water and lines of houses on the opposite side. Each of these canals forms a port where the water is deep enough to float the largest vessels, and every one of them is full of shipping throughout its length, a narrow space being kept clear in the middle which serves as a thoroughfare for the vessels. It seems like a great fleet imprisoned in a town.
I arrived at the hour of greatest activity, and took my stand on the highest bridge of the principal crossway.
Thence I could see four canals, four forests of ships, flanked on either side by eight rows of trees.
The streets were encumbered with people and merchandise. Droves of cattle passed over the bridges, which were being raised and swung to let the ships pass. The moment they closed or lowered again fresh crowds of people, carriages, and carts passed over them. Ships as fresh and shining as the models in a museum passed in and out of the canals, carrying on their decks the wives and children of the sailors, while smaller boats glided rapidly from ship to ship. Customers thronged the shops. Servants were washing the walls and windows. This busy scene with all its movement was made yet more cheerful by its reflection in the water,—by the green of the trees, the red of the houses, by the high windmills, whose black tops and white wings were outlined against the blue sky, and still more by an air of repose and simplicity never seen in any other northern town.
I examined a Dutch ship attentively.
Almost all of the vessels which are crowded in the canals of Rotterdam sail only on the Rhine and in Holland. They have only one mast, and are broad and strongly built. They are painted in various colors like toy boats. The planks of the hull are generally of a bright grass green, ornamented at the edge by a white or bright-red stripe, or by several stripes which look like broad bands of different colored ribbons. The poop is usually gilded. The decks and the masts are varnished and polished like the daintiest drawing-room floor. The hatches, the buckets, the barrels, the sailyards and the small planks are all painted red, and striped with white or blue. The cabin in which the families of the sailors live is also colored like a Chinese joss-house; its windows are scrupulously clean, and are hung with white embroidered curtains tied with pink ribbons. In all their spare moments the sailors, the women, and the children are washing, brushing, and scrubbing everything with the greatest care; and when their vessel makes its exit from the port, all bright and pompous like a triumphal car, they stand proudly erect on the poop and search for a mute compliment in the eyes of the people who are gathered along the canal.
Passing from canal to canal, from bridge to bridge, I arrived at the dyke of the Boompjes, in front of the Meuse, where is centred the whole life of this great commercial town. To the left extends a long line of gay little steamers, which leave every hour of the day for Dordrecht, Arnhem, Gouda, Schiedam, Briel, and Zealand. They are continually filling the air with the lively sound of their bells and with clouds of white smoke. To the right are the larger vessels that run between the different European ports, and among them are to be seen the beautiful three-masted ships that sail to and from the East Indies, with their names, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Samarang, written on them in letters of gold, bringing to the imagination those far-off ports and savage nations like the echo of far-off voices. In front, the Meuse is crowded by numbers of boats and barges, while its opposite bank is covered with a forest of beech trees, windmills, and workshop chimneys. Above this scene is a restless sky, with flashes of light mingling with ominous darkness, with scudding clouds and changing forms, which seemed to be trying to reproduce the busy activity of the earth.
Rotterdam, with the exception of Amsterdam, is the most important commercial city in Holland. It was a flourishing commercial town as early as the thirteenth century. Ludovico Guicciardini, in his work on the Netherlands which I have already mentioned, tells, in proof of the riches of the town, that in the sixteenth century within a year it rebuilt nine hundred houses which had been destroyed by fire. Bentivoglio, in his history of the war of Flanders, calls it "the greatest and the most important commercial town that Holland possesses." But its greatest prosperity dates only from 1830; that is to say, after the separation of Holland from Belgium, which brought to Rotterdam all that prosperity of which it deprived her rival, Antwerp. Her situation is most advantageous. By means of the Meuse she communicates with the sea, and this river can carry the largest merchantmen into her ports in a few hours; through the same river she communicates with the Rhine, which brings her whole forests from the mountains of Switzerland and Bavaria—an immense quantity of timber, which in Holland is changed into ships, dykes, and villages. More than eighty splendid ships come and go between Rotterdam and India in the space of nine months. From every port merchandise pours in with such abundance that it has to be divided among the neighboring towns. Meanwhile, Rotterdam increases in size: the citizens are now constructing vast new store-houses, and are now working on a huge bridge which will span the Meuse and cross the entire town, thus extending the railway, which now stops on the left bank of the river, as far as the gate of Delft, where it will join the railway of the Hague.
In short, Rotterdam has a more brilliant future than Amsterdam, and for a long time has been feared as a rival by her elder sister. She does not possess the great riches of the capital, but she is more industrious in using what wealth she has; she risks, dares, and undertakes, after the manner of a young and adventurous city. Amsterdam, like a wealthy merchant who has grown cautious after a life of daring speculations, has begun to doze and to rest on her laurels. To briefly characterize the three Dutch cities, it may be said that one makes a fortune at Rotterdam, one consolidates it in Amsterdam, and one spends it at the Hague.
One understands from this why Rotterdam is rather looked down upon by the other two cities, and is regarded as a parvenu. But there is yet another reason for this: Rotterdam is a merchant city pure and simple, and is exclusively occupied with her own affairs. She has but a small aristocracy, which is neither wealthy nor proud. Amsterdam, on the contrary, holds the flower of the old merchant princes. Amsterdam has great picture-galleries,—she fosters the arts and literature; she unites, in short, distinction and wealth. Notwithstanding their peculiar advantages, these sister cities are mutually jealous; they antagonize and fret each other: what one does the other must do; what the government grants to one, the other insists upon having. At the present moment (in 1874), they are opening to the sea two canals which may not prove serviceable; but that is of no consequence: the government, like an indulgent father, must satisfy both his elder and his younger daughter.