The American in Holland/In Holland With a Japanese

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The American in Holland by William Elliot Griffis
In Holland With a Japanese

June 12, 1891. We enter Holland this time through a western gate. We are on our way for a month's pleasuring in the land hospitable to the exiled Pilgrims, whose old homes we shall see in the cities of Rembrandt, Amsterdam and Leyden. At Delfshaven we shall stand on the quay from which they sailed into the new world and into history. Now, two hundred and seventy-one years later, the better England, the one that holds the future, is calling home her once outcast children.

We shall see Scrooby and Plymouth. From all nations the men who believe in democracy in church as well as in state will assemble for fellowship and cheer at the International Council in London. This will be held near the Old Fleet, in the prison of which martyrs for conscience rotted out their lives, and down the channel of which ships sailed for the new home of freedom beyond the sea.

The main party, mostly descendants, either in flesh or spirit, of the Pilgrims, will cross the Atlantic a month later, numbering on the steamer one hundred and one, exactly the same number of the original company of Separatists and nation-builders - English, Hollandish, Huguenot, Walloon, and other folk, reinforced with the ideas of Dutch republicanism - in the Mayflower.

We have crossed the ocean on the Dutch, the "N. A. S. M.," the Holland-America line. The Veendam having broken her shaft, we took passage on the Rotterdam. Our own party, that started from Boston and is now in Holland, consists of three. The bright particular star of the constellation is Lyra, - "maiden beloved, wife cherished, mother honored." A male traveler, without woman's eyes to help his own, is blind indeed. Well says Japan's poet: "In the world a friend; in traveling a companion." Number three is Tasuké Harada, a Japanese comrade and friend, as sunny as the name and isles of his own country. Having traveled as companions in Japanese history and literature, we shall now see Holland "isshoni" (together), as his countrymen would say. For over two centuries, when Dai Nippon was Thornrose Castle, the Hollanders held the privilege of friendly intercourse, and kept the keys of the Cliff-Fortress Country. Harada is a man of New Japan, a Christian Samurai who shares in the hopes of his rejuvenated nation.

I come again to the Netherlands after life in New York, in Japan, in the old Dutch town of Schenectady, and in the city of Shawmut on Massachusetts Bay, which has expanded over Tremont and into the South End and Back Bay. Boston "town" rested on rock and hard land; Boston city stands on stilts. The American municipality resembles Amsterdam at three points. It is built on piles. It has conquered from a river and the sea a place to rest upon. The South Bay and the Back Bay were made into terra firma with streets and parks just as this Dutch "Venice of the North" has encroached upon the Y and the Zuyder Zee.

Europe has changed since 1869. Germany and France have had their settlement. Napoleon III. and his Paris are no more. Strassburg is a Prussian city. The conglomerate of German feudalism has become a great federal empire under the spiked helmet. In Asia, and on the Pacific Ocean, Japan is leader of Asiatic progress and one of the Powers of the world. Netherland has lost her king. Those who formed the royal family of 1869 are no more. The House of Orange is extinct in the male line. Queen Emma is regent. Wilhelmina, a little girl of ten, whose sweet face, in photograph, we have looked upon daily during our sea voyage, is sovereign of all the Netherlands and empress of Insulinde. She will be crowned at Amsterdam in 1898, when she is eighteen years old. Oranje Boven!

With endless energy the men of this land of the spade, pump, and dredge have constructed the North Sea Canal, fifteen miles long, to Amsterdam, the crescent city of ninety islands. No longer need ships, as until 1825 they had to do, make a northern detour by way of the Texel and the Zuyder Zee. Nor to get from Amsterdam to the ocean need they now, as until 1876, pass by way of the North Holland Canal up to the Helder, a length of nearly fifty miles. With a channel twenty-two feet deep, sixty-six yards broad, our steamer loses no paint from her sides even when passing other craft as large as herself.

Yesterday past the chalk cliffs of England and through the straits of Dover, we had coasted along the low and nearly invisible sand dunes of Holland for half a day. At night, having finished another voyage "between the hooks," we saw from afar the great glaring orbs of a pair of Cyclops. I made my first continental landfall when the Emerald Isle rose gloriously at early morn. My second gave a view of Long Island's Shinnecock Hills. My third was the white crest of Fuji wearing the dayspring's glow while its mass was invisible in darkness. My fourth was the Golden Gate. To-morrow what shall I first behold?

It is all fog and no landmarks when eyes open at daylight. Peering through our state-room windows, we observe some wooden shoes moving along the top of brown mud banks. Looking further, we discern woolen socks, trousers and coats, and finally boys stowed away inside of them, between flat caps and klomps like gondolas.

On deck extra coats are comfortable, though it is mid-June. We glide high above the meadow. It seems like riding on the top of walls. Soon the mist is rent and torn by struggling sunshine. Down on the damp grass are blanketed cows and sheep, with their necks also well swathed. How droll they look! Somehow they remind us of the giraffe in Central Park with his "five feet of sore throat." Seeing overcoats on man and beast alike, we learn what we do not forget, at least for a fortnight, that Holland is cold until well into July.

Harada sees many points of resemblance between his native land and that which we now enter, though Netherland is but one twelfth the size of Dai Nippon. The low one-story houses with roofs of thatch or tile are wonderfully like those in Japan. Wooden shoes recall the clogs and foot-blocks in the land of bamboo. The landscape is devoid of fences. The rectangular polders suggest rice-fields. As in oriental fashion, footgear, when wooden, is left at the doorway. By the size and number of the clogs one may judge of the household or assembly within. Waterways and narrow field-paths are numberless. Like those in Japan, the rivers of Holland have their beds above the level of the surrounding country, and must be embanked or curbed. For ages the Mikado's empire has been a heavy sufferer from floods, and dikes and drainage have formed the chief engineering industry, while the government spends millions annually in maintaining the river banks. There are perhaps as many miles of dams and dikes in Japan as in Holland. The length and utility of hedges are probably about equal in each. In both countries the rivers take various terms, which differ throughout their length. Think of the many named Dutch Rhine and the Japanese Sumida.

The cranes of Japan, the storks of Holland, and the herons in both are numerous, welcomed of man, and prominent in art and heraldry. In both countries clipped trees and artificially stiffened and trained plants abound. Arboreal fashions have been borrowed one from the other. The clumsy, inartistic, weather-pitted and worn effigies in stone of the high country recall those in the low country. Japanese obey rigidly, almost to fanaticism, the laws of cleanliness. So do the Dutch. Houses, alleys, and back yards are kept in order; there is but little dirt, and there are but few such ash heaps and littered streets as are so often seen in the United States. The many-trousered rural Mynheer reminds one of the well-petticoated Samurai. The world is indebted to both people for their keramic wares, the Seto-mono or common blue "china" of Japan being the prototype of the Delft ware in Holland. Many are the "gedempte" in Dutch, "tsukiji" in Japanese; that is, filled-up places or "made" land.

The island archipelago and the submarine country are also alike in this, that they have impressed the world with their art rather than their literature. Each has an æsthetic people, but notably subject to manias and fads, the tulips in the one answering to the camellias and rabbits in the other. In Tokio and Amsterdam, New Year's is the chief day of the year. The girls, both from the houses resting on piles and on pebbles, are rosy-checked, pretty, and usually sweet mannered. They are sisters in that they go outdoors with no other headgear than hairpins, shining metal, or decorative bit of lawn or crepe. It would not be difficult to show that even in their political development there have been many parallels between these two nations.

Yet, alike as they are in many respects, these antipodeans differ at more points. Dutch speech is mighty in its consonants; the Japanese excels in its vowels. The Nippon-Jin, when ultra-polite, sucks in his breath, lest it defile you; the Netherlander explodes his hard consonants like a cannon, or condenses the whole Dutch phrase for "if you please" into one puff and three sibilants. Unlike the oriental landscape, this in the Occident is rich in animal life. The velvet green of the meadow is multitudinously decked with mild-eyed cows and fat sheep, while the air is bustling and merry with the sound and sight of bird life. Dai Nippon, poor in live-stock and plains, is all mountains and valleys, in the main high above the "blue plain of the sea." Netherland has, for the most part, no hills excepting such as the brown man would laugh at. Instead of wayside shrines, torii or temple portals, red pagodas, and the boom of the single and low-hung bell tongueless in Buddha's island stronghold, the church spire here dominates the landscape, and peals from great families of bells high up in the bulb-spires make ceaseless carillon. In place of old Tokio's "fire-blossoms" of conflagration, constant earthquakes compelling low building, and constant monotonous level of roofs, royal Amsterdam, solid and fireproof, shows imposing variety of edifices, and is rich in soaring towers, church steeples, and music that rains like a lark's from high in the azure. In an octavo Havard has contrasted Amsterdam and Venice. Harada and I compare the imperial cities on the Y and the Kamo.

What a change here since mediæval baron in the thirteenth century upreared his brick castle beside the Amstel stream, on a little dam raised above the alluvial ooze. Generations of fishermen have built this richest of Dutch cities "out of herring-bones."Kioto, the Kio, or chief seat of the emperor, city of peace and mountain-girdled, will in 1895 celebrate her eleven hundredth anniversary; but until 1200 A. D., Amsterdam had no history. Indeed, no Dutch town whose name ends in "dam" was known before the twelfth century. In the making of a single empire, in teaching an aesthetic nation, Kioto has been perennially potent. Amsterdam, though boasting fewer centuries, has been in the van of civilization, influencing the whole world. Not least to her credit has been her leadership in freedom of conscience, - the noblest of all freedoms. To the Classis of Amsterdam - that ever benevolent and great missionary federation of churches and Christians-hundreds of communities, civil and religious, all over the world, and most of all our four Middle States, owe endless gratitude. Any attempt to write American history, amid especially the history of New York, without having a knowledge of the records of the Classic of Amsterdam is useless.

It is time to step ashore and prove the difference between ship coffee and that furnished at the Bible Hotel. One's stomach behaves differently, according as it is undergirded by rocking deck or based on fast land. In de loods (in the sheds) is where we leave our chairs and wraps. Then, despising the hotel runners, vehicles, and horses, we enjoy the luxury of a walk on hard soil.

In the heart of the oldest part of the city we pass time old West India Company's house. With ancient churches and chimes, renowned structures all around us, the Bourse, the Palace, the Dam, - one of the oldest of all dams, -and the Kalver Straat just around the corner, we find quarters in the old Bible Hotel fronting the Damrak.

Stepping out on the bedroom's iron balcony, the first object that greets our eyes eastward is a bronze Atlas carrying a very green world. He stands far above the metal roof of the Palace, - now the occasional seat of visiting royalty, but in reality the old City Hall, built by the people in the days of the Republic. This copper man's copper globe, not being a rolling stone, has gathered mossy patina. He and his burden are green, not with envy, but with age. He welcomes us to see in Holland the world in epitome.