Littell's Living Age/Volume 155/Issue 2008/Sketches from the Dutch Seaside
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Volume 155, Issue 2008 : Sketches from the Dutch Seaside
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|Originally published in Blackwood's Magazine.|
Sketches from the Dutch Seaside
Those who have cruised along the low, flat, and unpicturesque coast of Holland, may well dread lest sketches taken looking seaward should merely prove the natural components of the very plain picture seen from the outside. The prevalence of this idea very probably accounts for the fact that so few English venture to see whether the first impression presents a converse side. Dutch watering-places seem to have no attractions for foreign visitors, and as a rule are resorted to only by those natives who, from pressure of business or narrowness of means, cannot repair to the freer breezes of Heligoland, or to the gaieties of Trouville and other French bathing-towns. Dutch wateringplaces scarcely as yet have a place in our British pharmacopœia. Even the conscientious guide-books are very guarded in recommending them. An ounce of experience is worth a pound of advice; and we shall give a brief account of how we fared on the Dutch seacoasts, leaving the reader, perchance blasé of the usual resorts, to judge for himself whether our fresh fields and pastures new do not contain attractions which compensate for the temptations held out by better known beats.
We need not describe our passage over, and shall ask the reader to join us at the Hague, where we thankfully availed ourselves of the hospitalities of the Hotel Bellevue. We use the word hospitality advisedly, because the kind and excellent people there gave us much that money cannot obtain. They took the greatest interest in our plans, down to the youngest waiter. They got inforniation for us, and gave us advice; took a great deal of trouble for us, and showed us a great deal of real kindness.
Holland is dear — that is, it is dearer than Germany, and most parts of France — but we did not find it ruinous, or so dear as England; and you get certainly more for your money. We were some time at the hotel, and found nine shillings a day a head paid for everything and as it is in the best situation in the Hague, looking on to the Deer Park (the Count's Park, which gives its Dutch name to the Hague — 'S Graven hage), and is airy and pleasant, and very comfortable, we do not think it can be called very expensive. Dutch money in itself makes life seem expensive till you thoroughly understand it, because the cents are double the value of the French cents and the German pfennigs; therefore one has to remember that one always means two, and three six — that is, that 30 cents mean 6d. The money is therefore a little puzzling at first. When you see 50 marked, it is so natural to think it means 5d., or at least half a mark; whereas it really means half a form, or 10d.
The Deer Park is a very pretty little park, open to every one, with plenty of trees and water. It is natually a favorite promenade and there is often music there.
Most people know what a charm lies in the Hague — in the quiet dignity of its long lines of trees, its picturesque buildings, and its canals. The watery highways give a silence to the traffic, broken by a few carts, wagons, or carriages alongside, jolting on the rough pavement, and by the shrill voice of the people. There is a great absence of bustle, a deliberation in their movements, a well-to-do air which is essentially characteristic of the Dutch.
There is a great fascination in the way in which the ships and barges glide up close to the windows sometimes. Looking down the canals, there is an ever-changing, ever moving kaleidoscope of color, which is a perpetual delight. Endless barges come and go, and toil up and down, their rich brown hulls in fine contrast to the reddened sails. These flap idly in the wind, or are partially furled. Sometimes the barges are loaded with vegetables, — piles of purple cabbages, pale endives, and splendid carrots, mixed with great gourds and pumpkins obtrusively sunning themselves in the yellow and flickering light, as it shines through the leaves of the trees in fitful gleams.
Along the sides of the canal, their sabots clicking sharply against the brick (and most trying) pavement, move the tidy, upright, cleanly people, their dress much modified, though they still wear a superabundance of petticoats, but with head-dresses still distinctive of the different provinces. In the space of a few minutes you pass a dozen different styles, from the gold or silver casquets with fine lace or muslin laid over them, kept in place by gold-headed spiral pins, which stick quaintly forward, to the higher headdress, with its flowing veil of rich and costly lace, which heirloom is often now, alas! surmounted by a hideous modern bonnet with cheap and tawdry artificial flowers, looking singularly out of keeping with all its surroundings.
The Gallery at the Hague has too often been written about to need mention here but it is disappointing that so many copies and doubtful pictures are allowed to take up space and except the Young Bull, which gives Paul Potter his renown, and which has a favorable place, the pictures are seen to great disadvantage, being housed in a large building, formerly private property, with windows in no way adapted for setting them off. There are some private collections at the Hague really more interesting than the Gallery, and with far finer "examples" of the old Dutch painters.
But the Dutch seaside was our aim; to go there and to see therefrom as much of Holland as we could was our cherished plan, and a few days saw us established in some pleasant rooms in a little villa on the sands of Scheveningen (pronounced Skeveningen).
Lodgings, in the English sense of the word, are not to be had at Scheveningen. We have rooms. Those rooms are kept, and very well kept, for us. We have boiling water to make our tea or coffee with, our tea-things are washed for us, our boots are brushed, and here all service on the part of the landlady ends.
We very much enjoy the novelty of our position, and the coffee gets better every day. Our foraging expeditions for bread and butter, for fruit and other edibles, are very amusing. German enables one to understand a great deal of Dutch, and by adapting some words we make ourselves understood very easily. The bread all throughout Holland is most excellent, and the butter delicious; We have enlarged experiences on the subject of dinners, and we try the different restaurants in turn. Scheveningen may be said to consist of the fishing village lying behind the great sandhills or dunes, and the numberless hotels, built all along upon the top of the dunes themselves. There are very few villas or private houses near the sea, though some are being built farther inland.
It may be useful to some people to state the result of our manifold experiences. The Hotel d'Orange is much the most expensive and much the best arranged for residents — the cooking certainly beyond the average of Dutch hotels. The Zeerust, almost a new hotel, is very much less expensive, and the cooking is very nearly as good. We thought all the other hotels very much alike, except the Hotel Garni, where a very unfortunate arrangement obtains. The house is beautifully kept, the rooms are pleasant, and the proprietors are civil, reasonable, and obliging; but the whole commissariat of the hotel is let to a restaurant, and both the quantity and quality of the food are bad, and the cooking very indifferent. At this hotel the almost exploded fashion (in good hotels) of having but one knife and fork with every dish reigns in all its disagreeableness. We found our experiment of dining there did not answer; and though the situation of the Zeerust is less desirable, we soon dropped into the habit of always going there.
But if the great wish of the people at Scheveningen is ever to be realized, and the highest class of English people are to go there in numbers, the hotel-keepers have much to learn in matters of refinement. If English people pay all they are expected to pay on their side, they must get what they pay for. All this will one day come, for Scheveningen is a very queen of watering-places. It unites in itself, and in the facility with which from it you can see without long journeys the most interesting part of Holland, the charm of the most complete solitude, and the enjoyment of the most vivid pictures of the past. Nowhere in the world can you so completely live your own life, and, if you choose, ignore your fellow-creatures, because of the immense stretch of its sands, and the great space, which prevents the possibility of being jostled against your will by other people.
On the other hand, if you are tired of your own society, you can join the people who congregate along the promenade and be sociable. If the monotony of the sea becomes at all wearisome, you are within reach, and very easy reach, of all that is most interesting in the most wonderful country in the world. The sea is full of phosphorescence at Scheveningen. Sometimes on dark nights the crest of each curling wave on the great mass of water shone like liquid fire, and the effect was weird and beautiful.
The gently sloping beach makes it a paradise for children, and the fine sands are beautifully white and clean. On windy days we find (as do other people) that we get more than we bargained for: it flies all over us. But where could be got such air? so fine and elastic, with a softness in it which makes it delicious, It is said not to be bracing, but it is very healthy, and must be delightful to people who do not like sharp winds.
The sea view is superb. On every side there is a boundless sweep of water, which takes on numberless hues as the clouds move swiftly between it and the sun. On a grey day, on a bright day, even on a rainy day, Scheveningen has a great charm for us. There is solemnity in the sameness of color, a splendor in the sunshine, and a look of greatness in the desolate aspect the prospect wears when the skies are weeping and the wind lashes the sea into a white and whirling foam.
And Holland is a rainy country; and though this summer is a particularly dull and rainy one, and perhaps we have more rain here than is usual, even the Dutch, who are slow to see faults in a country so dear to them, talk of its climate as "damp." Every day we feel thankful for the foresight which armed us with waterproof cloaks, which were so light as to be no trouble to carry, and to turn a sharp shower of rain, which would probably have drenched us. They cover us from head to foot, and are the envy of every one. But it is not only the rain, but the sudden way it comes upon you, which makes constant anticipation necessary. There may be a promising sky and a light wind; you are justified in expecting fine weather. From some unexpected quarter the clouds mass together, the wind dies away, and you are under a steady, heavy, pattering rain.
All the usual seaside appliances of civilization reign at Scheveningen. The temperature of the water and of the air, the pressure of the wind, every variation, is carefully registered. There is a huge disc to show people how long they have been in the water; bathing-machines with the sunshades (so utterly unnecessary this year); and bathing-women, who add so much to the terrors of the little children who find themselves handed over to the tender mercies of females with voices like men, and plunged into the sea before their fears and astonishment have found vent in tears.
Fourteenpence is the price of a bathing-machine and attendant; and a child counts for nothing. The wind is sometimes very high, but we never feel it sharp; and a good walk in the face of a breeze is very pleasant, when that breeze has the taste and smell, the freshness, of the sea in its breath. We enjoy a good battle with it; there is something pleasant in the sense of not being daunted, and a glow of satisfaction and exhilaration afterwards, which puts one on good terms with one's self.
There are, of course, beehive chairs. Sometimes a carefully attended lady is deposited in one, and her feet quickly immersed in hot water; but the chairs are usually occupied by the elder members of a family, who watch with delight the gambols of the children. You pay a fixed sum up till twelve, and then about a penny an hour; but if you get up for a second you forfeit your chair, and nothing amused us more than the anxious and greedy look of the proprietors, who hovered round to take instant advantage of an unguarded move.
There are no English just now, and only a few Americans; no smart dress or attempt at "fashionable" life. The people here are here to bathe and to bathe their children, or to be near their married daughters and sons. They sit long hours on the beach revelling in the freedom of the life and in the ripple of the sea. It cannot be all imagination that something in the place fills one with contentment and good humor. Every one seems to be prepared to enjoy and not to cavil; faces have smiles and a pleasant expression, and we sit on the beach and make friends, especially with the Dutch babies and delightful Dutch children, who are confiding and not shy — frank, fair, and round-limbed — and who are invariably so gently and wisely managed, that they are obedient and docile, and, even at that early age, have the look of repose and quiet happiness which strikes one in their elders.
Holland is not cheap; and yet, after a little bargaining, we buy a good large melon for 10d. from one of the men who move about with enormous baskets of fruit and cakes in either hand; and with a hunch of good bread, we enjoy like other people a lunch al fresco — lunch which a light breakfast of rolls and coffee before eight and this bright air make us quite ready for at eleven o'clock.
The Dutch language, spoken rapidly all around us, and before we have made it out, sounds like a mixture of German and English; and further acquaintance with it proves it to be the case. Sometimes, however, a sentence sounds very amusing: "Crabe op de Beestie" is one of the military orders given to dismounted men; and though the officers say "Steig op," the order "Mount" is given in those words. Dutch grammar is not nearly so difficult as German grammar, and a Dutch newspaper is not at all troublesome to read to any one who knows German, so many words are like either that language or English to look at.
There is one amusement provided at Scheveningen, and only one — a band plays every night for two hours. Nothing is paid, but every one sits — as they do all over the Continent — at little tables, and drinks tea or coffee, or beer, or other beverages, for the good of the proprietor and for their own delectation. Coffee, for some unexplained reason, is never good in Holland — tea always is. We got excellent coffee — making it ourselves; and we achieved boiling water: but the system of tea-making presupposes that, once tea is made, no more boiling water will be required. A thing like a coal-scuttle encloses a smaller pan of live charcoal, and on this the kettle reposes. Now in a few minutes the charcoal begins to glow less and less, and in a few more is nearly out. We promised ourselves that on our next visit to Holland we would take, along with the waterproofs we had learned to value, a small pair of bellows, which we think would effectually help us.
It is a novel but very pleasant sight, to see all the little family parties making their tea, and nodding approbation as the band played something which appealed to their sympathies more particularly. Along the broad, bricked road below, the numberless carriages from the Hague drive up and down enjoying the sea air and the music — a habit which has a good deal of danger for those who prefer walking there, — and it is the only level ground, — as no coachmen in the world have less idea of what driving means than the Dutch coachmen. They drive through streets and along roads with one fixed idea, which is that every one is bound to get out of their way, and that they have nothing to do but to sit still. At Scheveningen the coachmen never even look before them — they sit slouching, with a rein in each hand, lying loose upon the horse's back, and are either gazing at the sea in a meditative mood, or are staring at the band. A sudden cry from an opposition carriage causes a halt, a good deal of scuffling takes place, and the danger over, they resume their broken dream, generally one leg crossed over the other. We could hardly believe that, as there was plenty of room (there is no footpath), they intended driving over us; but they never moved an inch out of their way, and we had to scramble on to the stone dike whilst they "pursued the even tenor of their way." In the narrowest streets, wherever you happen to meet a carriage or to be overtaken by one, their habit is to drive straight on and expect every one to make way for them. Luckily the pace is slow, and the horses fat and quiet, for it is sometimes difficult to reach a friendly doorstep; and in narrow streets, with no protecting pavement, it is a matter of some anxiety to secure a retreat.
There are a few shops in what is called the Galérie des Glaces, above which flourish a hotel and more restaurants. One of these shops is a curiosity-shop, and with a good deal that is evidently made up for sale. There are some very quaint things to be had and to be seen: Delft cows, with the quantities of wreaths of flowers which make them look like sacrificial oxen, but which is a reproduction of what is still done every Easter when the favorite cows are decked with flowers all over the land; old silver cups, two of which have one of those jests more in favor in the rude old times than now, as, when the wine poured in is drunk, up springs a baby in the centre.
One evening during our stay the sunset was something lovely and wonderful, even where very beautiful sunsets are the rule. Joseph Israels was at Scheveningen, and declared that it exceeded everything he had ever seen there or elsewhere. To us the scene was strange and enchanting. It was Sunday evening; the terrace or promenade near the band was densely thronged by an ever-moving crowd, the greater part of whom were the fishermen, their wives and children, and the country-folks. The whole sky was in vivid flame-color, tinging the wide mass of water, flecked here and there with ever-varying tints of pearly grey. The strong glare of light touched the gold and silver head-dresses of the people, and gave the crowd a most brilliant aspect. Nothing can surely equal the prettiness of their quaint Dutch holiday dress, with the spotless white aprons, sometimes a kerchief, the curious fulness of the petticoats, and the fair and pretty faces set off by the close, rich head-dress. The weights these women carry are something beyond belief. I saw a young woman shoulder a box and march off with it as though it were empty and not full; and the Dutch housemaid, a girl of seventeen, lifts up and empties a large travelling-bath full of water with perfect ease, and as often as not brings it into the room full instead of filling it where it stands.
The Dutch, mostly Calvinists, observe Sunday more strictly than any country after our own — though they enjoy music and make a very innocent holiday of the evening, sauntering about often arm in arm; and when two girls, dressed, as they always are, in the immensely full and stiffened petticoats, walk close together, it naturally follows that these same petticoats stick out very oddly upon the opposite sides. They are most regular in their attendance in church, both morning and afternoon; and no prettier sight exists than that afforded on Sunday at Scheveningen, especially on a christening Sunday, when the handsome young mothers, surrounded with sympathetic friends, march to church carrying the infants. Nothing strikes us more than the care taken of young children in Holland, and the extreme cleanliness and tidiness of even the poorest children; and on the occasion of a christening, the robes are beautiful, so well and richly embroidered, and so exquisitely "got up." But going through the streets, you see but little of the robes or the babies, because the mother wears a christening-cloth — a long square of finely embroidered muslin trimmed with lace, which is pinned to her shoulders and falls to her feet, and under which the baby in her arms is completely concealed. These cloths are, like most of the head-dresses, heirlooms — and are often rare and costly.
The Dutch women strike us as being very handsome; even the older women, who are weather-beaten, and have early lost their bloom and their youth, have fine features, and the reserved and intellectual expression peculiar to them. They toil unceasingly, but with a method and a definite aim free from hopelessness; and it is quite delightful to see so little poverty. Only once have we been directly asked for help. An old fisherman told us his history: his wife had died seventeen years before, and his sons were all dead but one (two having been drowned), and he pathetically showed us his empty tobacco-pouch, which his son would fill when he returned, and which in the mean time we gladly filled for him. The Dutch are said to love money; but a thrifty, hard-working people naturally have a tinge of the vice belonging to the corresponding virtue. They often do us a service without waiting to be paid for it, and we do not find that any one exacts more than is just. We find them particular and very methodical. We get all we stipulate for; and on their side they are perfectly contented with the original arrangement, whatever it may be. But it is better to have a distinct understanding, as to what is expected and what is to pay, as, if anything has been left vague and undefined, it is very difficult to come to a definite understanding afterwards. We find the people, as the days go on, civil, willing, and obliging, and learn to respect their self-restraint and self-reliance. At all seaside places we have always had a compassionate feeling for mankind. When he has plunged into the sea in the early morning, has shown himself in the light of a good father, and taken his progeny for walks, and conceived it his duty to show them the sea anemones and shellfish, perhaps even the different seaweeds, he finds his time hangs rather heavily upon his hands. He is bereft of his club, his occupations, and his amusements; he probably does not know a soul to talk to: he ends by seeing all the discomforts of his position, and is not recompensed as fully as he might be by the cheerful sight of the brown faces of his offspring. Abroad, his sufferings are more severe. He goes to a French watering-place with the intention of killing the proverbial birds and giving his children sea air, and that foreign residence which more readily than anything else unlocks the English tongue of childhood. He hates the food, which is to him mysterious, and he detests his bed. He is surprised to see Tompkins, his nearest neighbor, and Tompkins is surprised to see him. The children are strictly enjoined not to associate "because of French." He makes it an act of virtue also to avoid Tompkins, which act lasts twenty-four hours. Mutual discomfort draws them together; the children soon break the rule, and the English tongue reigns once more upon a "foreign strand."
Still something has been gained, if France is in question. The very fact of having bargained and bought things in French gives the children the confidence necessary to break the ice. But nothing can be more absurd or more futile than the idea possessed by some people, that in Belgium, as French is the language of society, it must also be the dialect of the Flemish fishermen. And yet only because of this can it be that Ostend, Blankenberg, and other places are so largely patronized by English people, while Scheveningen is left out in the cold. Dutch — rich as it is, interesting as it is — is not a passport anywhere: it is of no outside value. But if the mistaken idea about Belgium be laid aside, and a complete change of sensations and the most delightful sea-bathing be sought for only, Scheveningen would be, and will be, one of the most desirable places within a few hours of London.
It takes us some time to realize how short a distance lies between us and places we have longed to see. To stand on the great Polder (drained lake) near Haarlem; to try and realize the facts connected with that immense enterprise, and that, where those rich lands now give their mass of luxuriant crops, ships once sailed and were often tempest-tossed as though on the ocean; to see the traces of the great siege; to touch with reverence the flag held by Kenau Hasselaar as she led her three hundred Amazons; to see Franz Hals's masterpieces, — in short, to see Haarlem, was our cherished wish, and here we were within one short hour of it!
There are three ways of spanning the two miles between Scheveningen and the Hague: a steam-tramway, with its first and second class; a gondola, which bears you romantically through the windings of a canal, taking an hour and a half to do what you can accomplish the other way in twenty minutes; and an unfashionable horse-tram, which we prefer often, because the way lies under an avenue of trees, and is very pretty, and also because in its more homely manners it conveys many a bourgeoise, who with a little encouragement tells us much that is interesting. The horse-tramway deposits us in the centre of the Hague, and we change trains, and are taken on to the Hollandsche Spoorweg (railway). Every one shows us very great kindness, and an anxiety lest we should go wrong — the driver of our first train getting down to tell the other he was to show us the ticket-office (which he did) on our arrival.
The train, though a "quick train," goes very slowly through the flat and open country. The wide canals are studded with water-lilies, both white and yellow, and are fringed with sedges. Windmills follow each other in very constant succession. Here and there is a wood and a country-house, and the rich fields contain quantities of the black and white cows which prevail in Holland. There is a good deal of wood, and one place, where a small station invites the train to stop, is called by a Dutch name signifying "the place of the singing of birds." The environs of Haarlem are very pretty: the look of luxuriance which the crops have on these "drained lakes" always points them out. Here the lake was eleven leagues in circumference, and took twelve years to drain — about one thousand million tons of water having to be pumped out of it; but the million of money this grand scheme cost was very soon repaid by the cultivation.
The centre of interest for us, of course, lies in the great church and the town hall. We timed our visit so as to hear the magnificent organ, and the richness of its tone is unsurpassed; but the church, in itself a grand building, is cruelly despoiled and bare. This is partly because at the time of the great siege some of its statues and ornaments were used to assist the people to defend themselves, and partly because the extreme Calvinism of the Protestants led them to strip the churches of all that reminded them of the Roman Catholic religion. The place is disfigured beyond belief: the huge pillars are whitewashed; black and white cover everything that can be painted; the centre aisle is choked with hideous pews and seats, and the people assembled to hear the organ neither take off their hats nor show the smallest reverence — at intervals talking, laughing, and nodding to their acquaintances. The same absence of reverence prevails externally (but, as far as this goes, we have often felt this keenly as regards some of our most beautiful cathedrals at home): the grand old walls are used as backgrounds to shabby little shops and sheds (even a small stable clinging to it), all of which surroundings go far to neutralize the effects of the grandeur of the building.
With a feeling of disappointment we went to the old Stadt Huis (Town Hall), and here all exceeded our expectations. It is a most wonderful old building, and in perfect preservation. As we trod the boards of the Council Chamber, it was easy to imagine the commotion there in 1572, when in December the siege began, and the burgomeister, getting anxious and cowardly, fled, leaving the people to prove their heroism for seven long months. The most prominent figure of the defence, Kenau, was a widow, and she got those three hundred women together who did such good service under her leadership.
The old house has a great many relics of that grand if ineffectual struggle — stone balls, some of the pikes and guns used, and the torn flags, with much besides. Certainly never was it our good fortune to see more really interesting things. They are all kept in an old room, which goes by the name of the Spanish room. A picture of Kenau is there — a plain, determined-looking woman, with an upright figure and a composed and self-reliant air.
The pictures by Franz Hals must be seen, because, unless they are seen, we shall be accused of exaggeration. Every one in the least interested in art in Holland speaks of these pictures; outside comparatively few people know them. To us he is far beyond any painter, as a portrait-painter, we have ever seen, and none of the pictures bearing his name in galleries, except in Amsterdam, are equal to these. The first impression was, that we had never seen real portrait-painting before. His people live in the most extraordinary way; their eyes look through you, and seem to read your very thoughts. A German gentleman complained of their being very much alike; but I cannot say we, any of us, thought so. There is an individuality, a subtle expression of its own, in each powerful face. You feel that the painter had that insight into character without which portrait-painting stops short of being at all interesting.
Studying those marvellous pictures was a sort of revelation. There are but two portraits I have seen lately that in my mind have something of the same indefinable power. Millais's portrait of Gladstone, and Bisschof's of Motley the historian, which latter hangs in the Japanese room in the palace near the Hague. The coloring in Hals's pictures is splendid, and they are all painted with a freedom and ease which gives the idea that he knew his power, and revelled in it. He lived before Rembrandt. His pictures are so absolutely real, that they would repay a long and wearisome journey, and Haarlem is twelve hours from London.
Once we had left the market-place and the surrounding old buildings, it was much more difficult to realize the story of the siege; there is such an air of repose and tranquillity about the place. Was it really here that the Spaniards, when by treachery they had got into the town, kept five executioners and their assistants at work for days? All looks so fair and calm; flowers bloom as they should do at Haarlem. The quiet waters flow on, all is bright and peaceful, but we think that the past struggle has left its impress on the faces of the inhabitants as on their bearing and character. They have more the reflective expression of a people with a past history to be proud of, than the eager and expectant look of a new people with a future and no past. Every visit to Haarlem increased our admiration for it.
Some of the names of the streets sound so familiar, that the difference, in fact, was almost startling. Park Laan is, however, a pretty mixture of water, greensward, and flower-beds, stretching before a single row of houses: one dog-carriage, two women, and ourselves represented the traffic one day when we rested a few moments there — rather a contrast to the Park Lane we know so well.
It is perhaps hardly fair, when dwelling with so much pleasure on the many delights of Holland, to pass over in silence those things which were by no means a delight. The pavements are detestable in all the towns, consisting of hard bricks set up on end. They punish the feet most terribly, and make walking a penance. One other thing truth forces us to confess. As in all Continental places, and even worse than in many, at the least expected moments odors anything but savory assail you, — only at Scheveningen we were entirely free from this trial, where there are no fields to cultivate, and nothing as yet to task the energies of "drainage commissioners." No! there nothing comes to spoil the perfect air. The sands are thickly planted with bent-grass, which represents at present all its vegetation, and no manuring is required.
Within a very pretty walk of the Hague is the palace, where the late Queen Sophia passed much of her time, and where, in old days, Mary of Orange lived. It is a pretty and cheerful place. The ball-room is painted throughout by Rubens and his pupils. All the paintings are scenes commemorating the triumphs of Frederick William; and at the very top of the dome by which this salon is surmounted, and set into the ceiling, is a portrait of his wife, who is supposed to be looking down approvingly upon the pictures.
Not very far from the palace we were shown over what we particularly wished to see — a model Dutch farm. Anything so pretty and so exquisitely neat we never saw: red and blue, here and there white and yellow, were the prevailing colors. On entering we were directly in the kitchen. One large corner was raised and made a platform: on this platform the family had their meals and spent their leisure hours, which, judging from the activity we saw, must be few and far between — for it was a farm where all the sons and daughters worked, and few hired hands were employed. The stove was a perfect picture — bright as steel; and the china plaques facing it (blue and white) looked so tempting and pretty. All the pails, etc., were painted blue, and the iron hoops were polished till they looked like silver. The dairy was beautifully kept, but so totally different from our ideas of a dairy! The farm is famous for the skim-milk cheeses — not those round red cheeses we call Dutch cheese, or the Gouda cheeses, which are considered in Holland as inferior to others, but large, rather flat cheeses. The milk-pans are extremely deep, and narrow at the base, and the milk stands one day and night. It is then skimmed, the cream makes butter, and the whole of the milking of the day before makes one cheese. They make about two hundred and fifty cheeses in the year, all of which go direct to England. The pans are all set on the ground, which, like all the rest of the building, is tiled and painted red.
The cow-byres were also all painted red, walls and floors, except the stone coping which divided the mangers from the cows, and this was painted in red, blue, and white stripes. There was no division between the cows, who are fastened by a clumsy-looking but simple contrivance when they inhabit this beautiful home. Just now they are out all day and night, and are milked in the fields. One thing all through Holland gives a well-finished and pleasant look to all country life, and was particularly noticeable in the out-buildings of this farm — the woodwork, it is so beautifully finished. The railings of the outdoor staircase to the hay-loft might adorn many a gentleman's house in England; the bars are round and polished; the commonest ladders are not rough; the gates are ornamental and almost always painted; and the palings are beautifully neat. The good vrouw was pleased by our keen appreciation, and led the way to a very small sitting-room (which is never used), to show us a glass bookcase. Each shelf was full of silver ornaments which had been presented to her and her husband the year before on their silver wedding-day. All round the place the greatest tidiness prevailed. The cows are almost all black and white: you so seldom see any other color; when you do, it is generally dun color. They are sometimes a great size, but the most prevailing kind are not very large. Here the cows were very fine: we counted twenty in one field near the farm, and there may have been more. I wanted to know how many they kept, and was told the number varied; when they had a good cow they kept her, when they saw a good cow they bought her, and when they had a bad cow they sold her.
There is, of course, a certain air of resemblance in the Dutch towns — the canals and trees prevailing everywhere. The bricks in common use, and the style of the picturesque buildings, give a likeness; but it is not given to every town to have ancient buildings in such excellent preservation as at Haarlem or Delft; and of the many towns we saw, Delft will always live in our memory as second to Haarlem in its old-world look, and as first in point of beauty. It is a small town; but at every turn we took it presented a new picture. The pointed towers of the old gateway and some of the other buildings are like some of the towers at Lübeck.
We went to Delft on one of those lovely days of capricious sunshine which I always think more enchanting than a cloud less sky. It takes a very short twenty minutes from the Hague, and we arrived feeling a little strange, knowing not one soul in the place. Walking up the side of a canal which led straight away from the station, we saw the name of a Swiss watchmaker, and the happy thought occurred to us to ask him concerning the porcelain manufactory, about which, even so near as the Hague, we could learn nothing. No more successful idea could have come to us; he was the most sympathetic, the most friendly of men. His French was very Swiss and very rusty, but his overflowing good-will, gave him eloquence. After explaining the turns we were to take, and those we were to avoid, he came to the conclusion that we were quite incapable of finding the place — so he called his servant, a pleasant, clean-looking girl, and sent her with us to show us the way.
It certainly would have been very difficult to recognize the place — because it is level with the street, and nothing about the entrance marks it from any other house. A very small and modest plaque alone gives the proprietor's name, and the words porzelan fabrik have to be looked for. The mission of his servant did not end here: she interviewed the foreman, explained what we wanted, and only left us when quite certain all was thoroughly arranged.
As we could see nothing during the men's dinner hour, we bade her good-bye and walked about quite charmed by the still beauty of everything. Every one was having his midday meal; the horses stood with the one loosened trace to prevent their running off — a precaution which looks so unnecessary when you see the absolute contentment with which they stand stock-still, apparently too sleepy to do more than idly reach a mouthful of hay or grass, and whisk a tail the worse for wear in remonstrance when a peculiarly aggressive fly annoys them. The barges went slowly on. We found it was time to go back to the fabrik, and sauntered down the street, pausing at the bridges to take note of the different long vistas made by the lopped trees. At the fabrik we were received by the son of the proprietor, a very pleasant and well-bred man, speaking the most excellent English, and he showed us over every corner of it.
The first intelligence he gave us was rather a shock to our feelings. The clay all comes from England, and is the same as that used by Minton. This is why Delft is very dear — dearer than the Dresden china at Meissen. It is also very much less durable, but I do not think the two can be compared. The modern Meissen china is excellent for wear and tear, and is as nearly unbreakable as china can be; but though modern Delft is not prized, there is a particular attraction in it to all of us, — the creamy tone and the extreme softness of the color make it quite unlike any other china. The building in which the whole manufacture is carried on is the same as that used in old days. For many years nothing was done, and the whole place was shut up. Five years ago, the enterprise of the present manufacturer started it fresh on the old premises. The intelligent gentleman who showed us everything is ambitious, and hopes at no distant day to add to what is done at present the revival of the old coarse grey pottery, of such value in the eyes of connoisseurs, as works of art and for ornament. Every one acquainted with Delft knows that it is the most fragile china in the world, whether as regards its finer kind or the earthenware. Indeed, on this account so little of the real old Delft is left to tell its story, that it is, when genuine, priceless from its extreme rarity.
All china manufactories are alike. Here the extraordinary tumble-down buildings were more interesting to us, from the associations they carried, than the bravest new buildings could have been. The oldest man who was working there had begun his work in the old factory sixty years ago, and had been of great use to the new enterprise. One difference lies in the blue china-painting here and at Meissen. There the zwiebel (onion pattern) is printed, and then touched by hand: here all is hand-painted, and there is no printing. Another thing here struck us which we do not remember to have seen at Meissen — an arrangement of magnets to attract the iron in the clay as it passes them in its liquid state. There is a small but very choice collection of china kept in the showroom — china from real old Delft to Worcester, Dresden, etc.; and a good many of the antique shapes are most admirably reproduced both in form and color; and putting them side by side, it was difficult to tell which was which.. It was altogether a very interesting and enjoyable visit, which we were delighted to have accomplished. No china is sold at the factory itself; but there is a depot of it in the town, where anything can be ordered or purchased.
We wanted to see the "new" church, which was built in 1331, with the monument to the memory of our William the First, Prince of Orange; and, in searching for an open door, had another of the many proofs we received of the extreme kindness of the Dutch to strangers. A lady who had noticed us going round and finding every door shut, ran all round by one of the bridges, and arrived breathless to tell us where the sacristan lived. "I saw you were strangers," she said, with a pretty smile, "and came to assist you." Before we could thank her in adequate terms, she had gone. The monument is splendid; it is in black and white marble; and the little dog that saved his life is lying at the feet of the prince. The figures at the corners are very spirited and well modelled. It is here that all the royal family are interred; "thirty-six kings and queens," the sacristan said proudly, "lie underneath."
Except this monument, there is nothing to admire in the church. The proportions of these old churches are always fine, but the universal black and white color gives a cold and formal look. The old church has a very leaning tower, but is said to have been in the same state for many generations: it is caused by a sinking in the foundations. It is always difficult to remember how much of this extraordinary country has been reclaimed from the sea, and what a hand-to-hand fight it has been. Besides the craving appetite of the sea (and it must be remembered that great part of Holland is below the sea-level), it has the Rhine, the Scheldt, the Meuse, the Ysel, the Waal, and the Leck to take precautions against. It is much too large a subject to touch upon in a sketch like the present; but to appreciate the nature of the engineering works required, to understand how the laws have to be made to meet the emergencies always possible, and to be able to do proper honor to the indomitable energy of the Dutch people, there are many available books; and a concise and very clear account by Lord Thurlow should be studied. The water-staat is a most important branch of the government. Only one part of the laws affects travellers, and that is one which summons, if need be, every man, woman, or child residing in the country, "to assist in repelling an invasion of the sea," and in repairing the weak spot of any dike in the neighborhood. We can safely say that had such an emergency arisen, we all would have done our very best!
Katwyk am See is at present a small sea-bathing place in its extreme infancy, and not worth a visit. The fishing village, unlike fair Scheveningen, is dingy and dirty. There are a few small and very second-rate hotels, and a limited beach unpleasantly near the village, the odors of which are most unsavory. People sometimes talked of a future for Katwyk, but it wants space, as the whole extent is too much hemmed in.
No: the place for which probably a great future looms is Zandvoort, or Zandpoort as it is often spelt. It is the natural outlet for the residents of Haarlem and Amsterdam (which is only twenty minutes from Haarlem). Here is much that reminds one of Scheveningen — the immense stretch of sandy dunes, the shelving beach, and the grand sweep of the rippling sea. But at present it lacks much that its fairer neighbor has; and though the neighborhood of Haarlem is well wooded and beautiful, the woods and shade do not extend above half-way to Zandvoort, and the delight of shady walks, and the song of birds, accessible in a few moments from the Scheveningen beach, is beyond a walk for most people at Zandvoort. There are some huge hotels; and life is as dear, if not dearer than with its more fashionable neighbor. We should think it will be a long time before it can in any way be considered its rival. What makes Scheveningen so delightful a residence is, that you have within a few moments everything the heart of man can wish for. Society, antiquities, art-treasures, and a thousand subjects of interest, besides natural beauty. "Society" requires one or two introductions. The Dutch, like the Belgians and ourselves, do not rush into acquaintance; but if society is wished for, one or two introductions will bring many more. We shall always remember the daily gatherings at one lovely spot, where we were made welcome, and where, in the gardens, near courts devoted to lawn-tennis, begonias on a gigantic scale filled the beds, set off by the thick woods behind them.
No doubt the Dutch may have many faults; but looking at them, no one can deny that some of the finest types of humanity are to be seen among them. Watching their faces you can see and better understand the natures which braved so much. From this small spot on the earth's surface, how many naval heroes have sprung! and what a history of endurance, of patient struggling against adverse circumstances! Inch by inch they fought and still fight with the sea for the land they live in. The Spanish invasion — the endless points in their history — have surely something to do with the steadfast, resolute look in their eyes. The poorer classes have one misfortune — they have painfully shrill, harsh voices. Luckily they are not often raised in anger. They look to us, as they move to and fro, busied about their own concerns, in their peculiarly quiet manner, types of the strength which lies in patience. Fortitude and patience have gained them a glorious name in the past; and it doubtless will continue to do so: and if a time should ever come when the future calls forth the same great qualities, once more the world will look on, marvel, and admire.