Holland and its People/Chapter V
The vessel lay near a bridge, in a little basin formed by the canal that goes from Delft to the Hague, and shaded by trees like a garden lakelet.
The boats which carry passengers from one city to another are called trekschuyten. The treckshuyt is the traditional bark, emblematic of Holland, as the gondola is of Venice. Esquiroz calls it the genius of old Holland floating on the water. And, in fact, whoever has not travelled in a treckshuyt does not know the most original and most poetic side of Dutch life.
It is a large boat almost entirely occupied by a sort of house, in the form of a diligence, divided in two compartments: that at the prow for second-class passengers, and that at the poop for the first. Upon the prow is planted an iron bar with a ring through which is passed a long cord, which is fastened at one end near the helm, and at the other is attached to a horse ridden by one of the boatmen. The windows of this little house have their white curtains; the walls and doors are painted; in the first-class compartment there are cushioned seats, a table with a few books, a closet, a looking-glass; everything shining with polish. As I put down my valise I dropped some cigar-ash under the table; when I came in again a moment after, it was gone.
I was alone, and had not long to wait; the helmsman gave a sign, the horseman mounted, and the treckschuyt moved quietly through the water.
It was about one o'clock in the day and the sun was shining brilliantly, but the boat was in the shade. The canal was bordered by two rows of lindens, elms, and willows, and high hedges that hid the country. We seemed to be sailing through a wood. At every turn we saw a deep distance, green, and closed in, and a windmill on the bank. The water was covered with a carpet of marine plants, in some places studded with white star-flowers, lilies, and the marsh-lentil. The high verdant wall that bordered the canal was open here and there, and we could see as through a window the distant horizon, hidden again in an instant.
At intervals we came to a bridge. It was fine to see the rapidity with which the manoeuvre of passing the bridge was performed, and to watch two treckschuyten meet and pass, without a word or smile being exchanged between the two conductors, as if gravity and silence were obligatory. All along the water-way we heard no sound save the rustle of the sails of windmills.
We met large boats loaded with vegetables, with peat, with stones, with casks, towed by a man with a long rope, sometimes assisted by a large dog. Some were towed by a man, a woman, and a child, one behind the other, with the cord attached to a sort of leathern or linen bellyband - all three bending forward at such an angle that it seemed a miracle how they kept their feet at all. Other large boats were towed by one old woman alone. On some there was a woman with a child at her breast, at the elm; other children about her, a cat seated on a sack, a dog, a hen, flower-pots, and a bird-cage. On others the woman was rocking a cradle with her foot while her fingers were knitting a stocking, or cooking the dinner; and in others, the whole family was assembled eating and chattering, while one steered. No words can describe the air of peace and tranquillity that seemed to surround these people, in their aquatic homes, with their animals, become, as one may say amphibious; the placidity of that floating existence, the apparent security and freedom of those wandering families. Thousands of people in Holland have no other home than their boats. A man takes a wife, between them they buy a boat, and installing themselves on board, live by carrying goods to and from the markets. The children are born and grow up on the water; the boat carries all their small belongings, their domestic affections, their past, their present, and their future. They labor and save, and after many years they buy a larger boat, selling the old one to a family poorer than themselves, or handing it over to the eldest son who in his turn instals his wife taken from another boat, and seen for the first time in a chance meeting on the canal. And so, from boat to boat, from canal to canal, life flows on mild and tranquil as the wandering house that shelters it or the silent water that accompanies it.
For a time there was nothing to be seen on the banks but some small peasant-houses; then we began to see villas, summer-houses, and cottages half hidden among the trees; and in a shady nook some blonde lady, seated, dressed in white, and with a book in her hand; or some stout gentleman enveloped in a cloud of smoke, bearing the satisfied air of a wealthy merchant. All these villas are painted rose-color or blue, and have varnished roofs, terraces supported by columns, little gardens in front and around them, with tiny alleys and walks; miniature gardens, clean, smooth, and dainty. Some of the houses are on the edge of the canal with their feet in the water, which reflects the flowers and vases and shining toys in the windows. Almost all have an inscription over the door - a sort of aphorism of domestic felicity, the formula of its master's philosophy-such as: "Peace is money," "Repose and pleasure," "Friendship and society," "My desires are satisfied," "Without annoyance," "Tranquil and content," "Here are enjoyed the pleasures of horticulture," &c.
Here and there a handsome black and white cow lay couched on the grass, her muzzle projected over the water, turning her head placidly as the boat glided by. We met flocks of ducks that parted to let us go by. At intervals on our right and left opened small canals whose high green hedges sent out branches that met overhead, forming an arch of verdure under which we could see peasants' boats vanishing in the distance. Here and there, in the midst of the greenery, started forth a group of houses - a small many-colored village - with mirrors and tulips in the windows; without a living soul; but the profound silence at times broken by a lively air from the bells of some unseen steeple. It was a pastoral paradise, an idyllic landscape, full of freshness and mystery; a Chinese Arcadia, with small surprises, innocent artifices and prettinesses, affecting one like the low sound of voices of invisible people, murmuring "We are content."
At a certain point the canal branched off, one part lead. into Leyden, while the other continued on to the Hague. Beyond this point the treckschuyt began to make short halts, now at a house, now at a garden-gate, to receive packages, letters, and messages for the Hague.
An old gentleman came aboard from one of the villas. He seated himself by me, and we fell into conversation in French. He had been in Italy, knew a few words of Italian, had read the "Promessi Sposi"; he asked me for some particulars of the death of Allessandro Manzoni. In ten minutes I adored him. From him I had much information about the treckschuyten. To understand all the poesy of the national boat, one should make a long voyage in company with the native people. Then everyone instals himself as if in his own house, the women work, the men sit and smoke on the top; people become intimate and form one family. Night falls; and the treckschuyt glides like a shadow through the sleeping villages, skimming the canal in the silvery moonlight, hiding herself in the dark shadows, emerging into the open country, grazing solitary houses in which shines the peasant's lamp, and meeting fishermen's barks which fleet by like phantoms. In that profound peace, in that slow and equal motion, the voyagers fall asleep side by side, one after the other, and behind the boat follow the confused murmur of the water and the sound of deep-drawn breathings.
More and more numerous as we advanced grew the gardens and the villas. My companion pointed out a distant steeple and named the village of Ryswijk, where, in 1697, the famous treaty of peace was signed between England, France, Spain, Germany, and Holland. The castle of the Prince of Orange where the signers met is no longer in existence, and an obelisk has been erected on its site. Suddenly the treckschuyt came out from among the trees, and I saw a vast plain, a great wood, and a city crowned with towers and windmills. It was the Hague.
The boatmen asked and received my passage-money in a leathern bag. The horseman touched up his steed. In a few minutes we arrived, and I soon found myself established in a brightly-shining chamber in the Hotel Turenne. Who knows? perhaps the very room where the great marshal slept when he was a lad and in the service of Holland.
The Hague-in Dutch, s'Gravenhage, or s'Hage - the political capital, the Washington of Holland, Amsterdam being the New York - is a city half Dutch and half French, with broad streets and no canals; vast squares full of trees, elegant houses, splendid hotels, and a population mostly made up of the rich, nobles, officials, artists, and literati the populace being of a more refined order than that of the other Dutch cities.
In my first turn about the town what struck me most were the new quarters, where dwells the flower of the wealthy aristocracy. In no other city, not even in the Taubourg St. Germain at Paris, did I feel myself such a very poor devil as in those streets. They are wide and straight, flanked by palaces of elegant form and delicate color, with large shutterless windows, through which can be seen the rich carpets and sumptuous furniture of the first floors. Every door is closed; and there is not a shop, nor a placard, nor a stain, nor a straw to be seen if you were to look for it with a hundred eyes. The silence was profound when I passed by. Only now and then I en countered some aristocratic equipage rolling almost noiselessly over the brick pavement, or the stiffest of lackeys stood before a door, or the blonde head of a lady was visible behind a curtain. Passing close to the windows and beholding my shabby travelling dress ruthlessly reflected in the plate-glass, I experienced a certain humiliation at not having been born at least a cavaliere, and imagined I heard low voices whispering disdainfully: "Who is that low person?"
Of the older portion of the city, the most considerable part is the Binnenhof, a group of old buildings of different styles of architecture, which looks on two sides upon vast squares, and on the third over a great marsh. In the midst of this group of palaces, towers, and monumental doors, of a medieval and sinister aspect, there is a spacious court, which is entered by three bridges and three gates. In one of these buildings resided the Stadtholders, and it is now the scat of the Second Chamber of the States General; opposite is the First Chamber, with the ministries and various other offices of public administration. The Minister of the Interior has his office in a little low black tower of the most lugubrious aspect, that hangs directly over the waters of the marsh.
The Binnenhof, the square to the west, called the Bintenhof, - and another square beyond the marsh, called the Plaats, into which you enter by an old gate that once formed part of a prison, were the theatres of the most sanguinary events in the history of Holland.
In the Binnenhof was decapitated the venerated Van Olden Barneveldt, the second founder of the republic, the most illustrious victim of that ever-recurring struggle between the burgher aristocracy and the Statholderate, between the republican and the monarchical principle, which worked so miserably in Holland. The scaffold was erected in front of the edifice where the States General sat. Opposite is the tower from which it is said that Maurice of Orange, himself unseen, beheld the last moments of his enemy.
In the prison between the two squares Cornelis de Witt, unjustly accused of having plotted against the life of the Prince of Orange, was tortured. In the Plaats, Cornelis and the grand pensionary John de Witt were dragged by the furious populace, and there, all bloody and torn, were spat upon, beaten, and at last killed with pike and pistol; after which their corpses were insulted and mutilated. In the same Plaats, Adelaide de Poelgest, mistress of Albert, Count of Holland, was stabbed to death on the 22nd of September 1392; and they still show the stone where she fell and breathed her last.
These dismal memories, these low and massive doors, these disorderly groups of gloomy buildings, which at night, when the moon shines on the waters of the stagnant pool, present the aspect of an enormous and inaccessible citadel, standing in the midst of the gay and pleasant city, awake a sentiment of solemnity and sadness.
In the evening the court is lighted by only a few dim lamps; the few passengers hasten their steps as if in fear; there are no lighted windows, no sounds of life and movement; you enter with a vague feeling of anxiety, and come out with a sense of relief.
Excepting these, the Hague has no considerable monuments either modern or antique. There are a few mediocre statues of different Princes of Orange; a vast and bare cathedral, and a modest royal palace. On many of the public buildings is sculptured the image of a stork, which is the heraldic crest of the city. Several of these birds walk about at liberty in the fish-market, maintained at the expense of the municipality, like the bears of Berne and the eagles of Geneva.
The finest ornament of the Hague is its forest; a true wonder of Holland, and one of the most magnificent promenades in the world. It is a wood of alder-trees, oaks, and the largest beeches that are to be found in Europe, on the eastern side of the city, a few paces from the last fringe of houses, and measuring about one French league in circuit; a truly delightful oasis in the midst of the melancholy Dutch plains. As you enter it, little Swiss châlets and kiosks, scattered here and there among the first trees, seem to have strayed and lost themselves in an endless and solitary forest. The trees areas thickly set as a cane-brake, and the alleys vanish in dark perspective.
There are lakes and canals almost hidden under the verdure of their banks; rustic bridges, deserted paths, dim recesses, darkness cool and deep, in which one breathes the air of virgin nature, and feels oneself far from the noises of the world.
This wood, like that of Harlem, is said to be the remains of an immense forest that covered, in ancient times, almost all the coast, and is respected by the Dutch people as a monument of their national history. Indeed, in the history of Holland may be found numerous references to it, proving that there has always been a jealous care for its preservation. Even the Spanish generals respected the national feeling, and preserved the sacred wood from the soldiery. On more than one occasion of grave financial distress, when the government showed a disposition to decree its destruction in order to sell the timber, the citizens saved it by voluntary subsidies. A thousand memories are bound up in this delicious grove; recollections of frightful hurricanes, of princely loves; celebrated festivals, and romantic adventures. Some of the trees bear the names of kings or emperors, others of the German Electors; a beech has the fame of having been planted by the Grand Pensionary and poet, Jacob Katz; other three, by the Countess of Holland, Jacqueline of Bavaria; and the spot where she used to repose is still pointed Out. Even M. de Voltaire has left his record in the legend of some gallant adventure with the daughter of a barber.
In the very heart of the wood, where the smaller vegetation seems seized with a sort of fury of conquest, climb the trees, weaving bowers overhead, and stretching its tendrils over the water, as if it would draw a verdant veil over the abode of some sylvan divinity, is hidden a royal palazzetto called the "Forest House," built in 1647 by the Princess Amelia de Solens, in honor of her husband the Stadtholder Frederick Henry.
When I went to visit this palace, whilst seeking for the entrance gate, I saw a lady of a noble and benevolent presence come out and get into her carriage, whom I took for an English traveller, sight-seeing like myself. I raised my hat as the carriage passed, and received a bow in return. A moment after I learned from the housekeeper who showed the place that my English traveller was no other than Her Majesty the Queen of Holland.
In the Forest House there is, among other notable things, an octagon hall, covered from floor to ceiling with pictures by the most celebrated artists of the Rubens school, among them an enormous allegorical work by Jordoens, representing the apotheosis of Frederick Henry. There is a room full of precious presents from the Emperor of Japan, the Viceroy of Egypt, and the East India Company; and an elegant little room decorated in chiaroscuro in admirable imitation of bas-reliefs, by Jacob de Witt, a painter who acquired renown in the beginning of the last century. The other rooms are small, pretty but without pretension, and full of treasures that do not make much show, as befits the great and modest house of Orange.
It seemed to me singular to allow the entrance of strangers into the palace so immediately upon the exit of the queen; but it astonished me no longer when I became acquainted with other customs and popular traits, the characters, in short, of the royal family of Holland.
The king is considered rather as stadtholder than king. There is in him, as was said of the Duke d'Aosta* by some Spanish republican, "the least quantity of king possible." The sentiment which the Dutch people nourish towards the royal family is not so much devotion towards the monarch as affection for that house of Orange which participated in all its triumphs, as in all its misfortunes, and lived, it may be said, in the life of the nation for the space of three centuries. The nation, at bottom, is republican, and its monarchy is a sort of crowned presidency, without royal state. The king makes speeches at banquets and public festivals as our ministers do; and he enjoys the fame of an orator, because he speaks extempore, with a powerful voice and a certain soldierly eloquence that excites immense enthusiasm among the people. The hereditary prince, William of Orange, studied at the University of Leyden, passed a public examination, and took the laureate of advocate. Prince Alexander, the second son, is now a student in the same university, and a member of a students' club, where he invites his professors and fellow-students to dinner. At the Hague, Prince William enters the cafés, talks with his neighbors, and goes about with his young men friends. In the forest the queen often sits down on the same bench with some poor woman. And it cannot be said that these things are done to gain popularity, for the family of Orange can neither gain nor lose it, there not being among the people, who are by nature and tradition republicans, a grain of the spirit of faction. On the contrary, this people, who love and venerate their king and on holidays insist that everybody shall wear an orange cockade in homage to his family name, in general never trouble themselves about him or his doings. At the Hague I had some difficulty in getting information as to the rank the Prince of Orange holds in the army; nobody seemed to know or care.
The seat of the court is at the Hague; but the king passes a great part of the summer at his castle in Gueldres, and goes once every year to Amsterdam. The people say that there is a statute which obliges the king to pass ten days in every year at Amsterdam, and for those ten days the municipality is obliged to pay his expenses; but when the clocks strike the hour of noon on the eleventh day, his majesty lights a match for his cigar, and this is at his own charge.
Returning from the royal villa to the city, the day being Sunday, I found the forest all animation; music, carriages., a crowd of ladies and children, and the cafés open everywhere. Then for the first time I had an opportunity for observing the fair sex in Holland.
Beauty is a rare flower here as everywhere; but in one turn about the wood of the Hague, I saw more pretty women than I had seen in all the picture galleries in Holland. There is not among these ladies either the sculpturesque beauty of the Roman, nor the brilliant complexion of the Englishwoman, nor the vivacity of expression of the Andalusian; but there is a fineness of feature, an innocent, tranquil grace and prettiness, which is very pleasing. They are rather tall than short, and plump; their features are irregular, their skin smooth and of a clear red and white; their cheek-bones rather prominent; clear blue eyes, sometimes so light in color as to appear glassy, and without expression. It is said that they have bad teeth, but of that I cannot speak, for they smile seldom. They walk less lightly than the French, and less stiffly than the English; wear dresses from Paris, better chosen than at Amsterdam; and display with pardonable vanity their wealth of blonde hair.
It looked odd to see great girls, who with us would have the dress and airs of women, still in short dresses and regarded as children. But here a young girl is seldom married before twenty years of age. In Holland the natives of more southern lands who marry at fifteen, are regarded as most surprising creatures. Here girls of that age are going to school, with their hair flowing or braided down their backs, and nobody dreams of looking at them.
Here I may remark that that equivocal society known, in Paris under the name of the demi-monde does not, to all appearance, have any existence here. "Take care," said certain Dutch free-thinkers to me, "this is a Protestant country, and there is a great deal of hypocrisy." It may be so, but that cannot be a very marked feature of society which can be so easily hidden. There is not a shadow of it in public, nor an idea of it in their literature; the language itself is rebellious against the translation of the infinite forms of expression which belong to that society in the countries where it exists. And again, parents do not shut their eyes to the conduct of their sons, even after they are come to man's estate; family discipline makes no exceptions even for the bearded ones; and this discipline is aided and abetted by a cold temperament, the habit of economy, and respect for public opinion.
To presume to speak authoritatively of the character and life of the women of Holland, after having passed a few months in their country, would be not only ridiculous, but impertinent; I shall therefore content myself with quoting from books and the opinions of friends.
Many writers have spoken discourteously of the Dutch women. One calls them childish puppets; another apathetic housewives; an anonymous writer of the last century pushes impertinence so far as to say that, as men in Holland generally prefer to choose their mistresses among the servant-maids, so the women (that is the ladies) do not look higher in their aspirations. But this is probably the judgment of some disappointed suitor. "Daniel Stern," who, as a woman, has peculiar authority in the matter, says that they are proud, loyal, active, and chaste. Someone emits a doubt as to the pretended placidity of their affections. "They are still waters," says Esquiroz, "and we know what is said of still waters.." "They are frozen volcanoes," says Heine, "and when they thaw - " But of all that has been written, the words, of Saint Evremont seem to me the most noticeable: "that the Dutch women are not sufficiently vivacious to trouble any man's repose; that there are some among them who are pleasing; yes, but either their wisdom or their coldness stands them instead of virtue."
One day in a company of young men, a certain rather ridiculous personage being under discussion, I asked in the sacramental phrase, "Does he disturb the repose of families?" "Che!" was the reply, "to disturb the repose of families in Holland would be to undertake one of the twelve labors of Hercules." "The Dutch woman," said another, "does not marry a husband, she espouses matrimony."
It may be thought that I wish to have it understood that I know the Dutch language. I hasten to say that I do not know it, and to excuse my ignorance. A people like the Dutch, grave and taciturn, richer in hidden qualities than in those that shine on the surface, who live more within than without, who act more than they speak, and are worth more than they spend, can be studied without knowing their language. Also, in Holland, French is almost universally known. In the great cities there is no person of culture who does not speak French fluently; there is not a shopkeeper who cannot express himself more or less easily in that tongue; there is scarcely a lad, even among the lower orders of the people, who does not know ten or twenty words of it, enough to help a stranger out of a difficulty. This diffusion of a language so different from their own, is the more to be admired when we know that it is not the only foreign tongue that is spoken in Holland. English and German are almost equally well known. The study of all three of these languages is obligatory in the middle-class schools. The Dutch have a peculiar facility for languages, and an extraordinary frankness in conversation.
We Italians, before attempting to speak a foreign language, must know enough of it not to make gross mistakes we blush when they escape us; we remain silent rather than converse unless we are sure of being complimented; and so we prolong for ever the period of our philological noviciate. In Holland there are quantities of people who speak French with a capital of a hundred words or so, and twenty phrases; but they talk and keep up a conversation without showing the least anxiety as to what you may think of their mistakes and their audacity. Porters, servants, lads, questioned as to their knowledge of French, answer with perfect security, "Oui," or "Un peu," and have a hundred ways of making themselves understood, the first to laugh at their own linguistic contortions, and rounding out every sentence with a "S'il vous plait," or a "Pardon, Monsieur," often so drolly out of place that it is impossible not to laugh.
As for the Dutch language, for those who do not know German it is impenetrable; and even knowing German, you may understand a little in reading., it, but to hear it spoken it is utterly dark. If I might describe its effect upon the ear of a foreigner, it sounds like German spoken by a man with a hair in his throat, which is due to the frequency of a guttural aspirate, something like the Spanish jota. The Dutch themselves do not think their language harmonious, and will often ask a foreigner what he thinks of it, with an air expecting an unfavorable reply. And yet a book was once written to demonstrate that Adam and Eve spoke Dutch in the terrestrial paradise. But although they are so accomplished in other, tongues, the Hollanders hold fast to their own, and are very indignant when a stranger, as not unfrequently happens, betrays his belief that it is a German dialect.
It is almost superfluous to recall the history of the language. The first settlers of the country spoke the Teutonic dialects. These were fused together and formed the ancient Netherlandish tongue, which, like the other languages of Europe in the middle ages, passed through the different German, Norman, French phases, and came out in its present form, the primitive idoms still remaining in the foundation, with some influences of Latin.
Certainly there is a great resemblance between the Dutch and German tongues, and particularly there are a number of radicals in common; but the syntax is different, being much more simple in Dutch. The pronunciation also differs. And because of this very resemblance, the Hollanders speak both French and English better than German.
But it is time to go to the picture gallery, the finest jewel of the Hague.
Immediately upon entering, the visitor finds himself in front of the most celebrated of painted beasts: Paul Potter's "Bull"; that immortal bull which, as we have said, at the time when there was a mania for classifying pictures in a sort of hierarchy of celebrity, hung in the gallery of the Louvre side by side with the "Transfiguration" of Raphael, the "St. Peter, Martyr" of Titian, and the "Communion of St. Jerome" of Domenichino; that bull for which England would give a million of francs, and Holland would not part with for double that sum; that bull, in short, about which there have certainly been more pages written than the painter gave strokes of the brush, and which is still discussed and written about, as if instead of an image it was a new creation of some animal not heretofore existent.
The subject of the picture is of the simplest: a bull life size, standing, with its muzzle turned towards the spectator, a cow lying down, a few sheep, a Shepard, and a distant landscape.
The supreme merit of this bull can be given in one word: he is alive. The grave, astonished eye, expressing such a vigorous vitality and such a savage fierceness, is rendered with a fidelity that at the first aspect makes one inclined to move out of his path, as in a country road meeting the real creature. The moist black nostril seems to smoke and absorb the air with a deep inspiration. The hide is painted with all its wrinkles and the traces of rubbings against trees and earth, so that it looks like reality. The other animals are not inferior: the head of the cow, the wool of the sheep, the flies, the grass, the leaves and fibres of the plants, all are rendered with prodigious truth to nature. And whilst you appreciate the infinite care and study of the artist, you see no marks of fatigue or patient labor; it seems a work of inspiration, in which the painter, influenced with a sort of fury, has not had an instant of hesitation or discouragement. Many censures were passed upon this "incredible piece of audacity in a youth of twenty-four." They blamed its great size, and the vulgar nature of the subject; the absence of luminous effects, the light being everywhere equal and without contrast of black shadows; the rigidity of the bull's legs; the dry coloring of the plants and more distant animals; the mediocrity of the figure of the shepherd. But in spite of it all, Paul Potter's bull remains crowned with the glory of an acknowledged chef d'œvre, and Europe considers it as the most majestic work of the prince of animal painters. "With his bull," says justly an illustrious critic, "Paul Potter has written the true idyl of Holland."
This is the great merit of the Dutch animal painters, and of Potter above all. He has not only represented the animals, but has made visible, and celebrated in the poetry of color, the delicate, almost maternal affection which is felt for them by the Dutch agriculturist. He has made use of the animals in order to reveal the poetic side of rustic life. With them he has expressed the peaceful silence of the fields, the pleasure of solitude, the sweetness of repose, and the satisfaction of tranquil labor. One would say that he had succeeded in being understood by them, and that they had taken certain attitudes on purpose for him to copy. He has known how to give them all the variety and attraction of personages. Gravity, the quiet contentment that follows the satisfaction of some need, the sentiments of health and strength, love and gratitude to man, all the flashes of intelligence and all the varieties of character - he has caught them all, and fixed them with loving fidelity on his canvas, causing the spectator to feel the sentiment that moved him. Paul Potter is the greatest of animal painters. Berghem is more refined, bat not so natural; Van de Velde has more grace, but less energy; Du Jardin is more amiable, but wanting in depth.
And to think that the architect, his father-in-law, would not at first grant him his daughter's hand, because he was a "painter of beasts"! and that, if we are to believe the tradition, his famous bull was painted for a butcher's sign, and sold for twelve hundred francs!
Another chef d'œvre of the gallery of the Hague is a small picture by Gerard Dow, the painter of the celebrated "Dropsical Woman" in the Louvre, and which hangs between the Raphaels and the Murillos. The picture represents merely a woman seated near a window, with a cradle beside her; but in this simplest of all scenes there is such a sweet and holy atmosphere of domestic peace, a repose so deep, a harmony so perfect, that the most obstinate of earthly bachelors could not fix his eyes upon it long without an irresistible desire to be that one who is evidently expected in the quiet room, or at least to enter it a moment, even with the condition of remaining hidden in a dark corner, in order to breathe a breath of that perfume of innocent and secret felicity. This, like all Dow's works, is painted with that extraordinary minuteness which almost reaches an excess, which does reach it in Slingelandt, who took three years of constant labor to paint the Meerman family; a manner which, still later, degenerated into that smooth and labored style, where the figures were ivory, the skies enamel, and the fields velvet, and of which the painter Van der Werff was the most renowned master. Among other objects in this picture of Dow's, there is a broom-handle, about as large as a pen, upon which it is said the artist worked assiduously for three days; a thing that does not astonish you when you see that all the minutest veins, knots, stains, and filaments are minutely represented. Almost incredible things are related of his superhuman patience. It is said that he occupied five days in copying the hand of a certain Madame Spirings whose portrait he was painting: who knows how much time he spent upon the head! Those sitters who were so ill-judging as to come to him, were reduced to desperation. It is related of him that he ground his own colors, made his own brushes, and kept everything hermetically closed that no grain of dust might reach it. When he entered his studio he opened the door very carefully, sat down quietly, and waited until every bit of agitation produced by motion was calmed down. In painting he made use of concave glasses to diminish objects; which ended by weakening his sight so that he was obliged to paint with a lens. Notwithstanding all this, however, his coloring never grew weak or cold, and his pictures are as vigorous seen from a distance as near by. They are, with justice, likened to natural scenes diminished in a camera obscura. Dow was one of the many disciples of Rembrandt who divided among them the inheritance of his genius. He had from him his finish, and the art of imitating light, especially that of candles and lamps, in which he rose to the height of his master. Among the painters of his time he was peculiar in having no pleasure in ugly or trivial subjects.
Van Ostade - called the Rembrandt of familiar subjects, because he imitated the great master's chiaroscura, his spumature, or delicate blending of colors, the transparency of his shadows, and the richness of his coloring - has two small pictures here, representing the interior and the exterior of a rustic house, with figures; both full of poetry, in spite of the vulgarity of the subjects, which he shares in common with the other painters of his school. But he has this peculiarity: that the remarkably ugly young women in his pictures are portraits of his own family, who, it is said, formed a group of little monstrosities whom he has thus pilloried before the world. So have almost all the Dutch painters chosen to paint the least handsome of the women who fell under their notice, as if they had all agreed to discredit the feminine type of their own country. The "Susanna" of Rembrandt, to instance a subject that absolutely demands beauty, is always an ugly Dutch servant-wench; and it is not necessary to allude to the women of Steen, Brouwer, and others. And yet their country was not wanting in models of noble and graceful beauty.
Francis van Mieris the elder, the first of Gerard Dow's disciples, and, like him, minute and faithful, has three fine pictures, one of which represents the artist and his wife. Of Steen there is, among others, one of his favorite subject-a physician feeling the pulse of a young girl sick for love, with an older woman standing by; an admirable play of mischievous and cunning looks and smiles which, in the physician, say, "I think I understand," in the girl, "I want another medicine than yours," and in the governess, "know well enough what she wants."
In the way of landscapes and marine views there are the finest gems of Ruysdael, Berghem, Van de Velde, Van du Neer, Backhuysen, Everdingen, beside a good number of pictures by Philip Wonvermaan, the horse and battle painter. There are two by Van Huysum, the great flower painter; he who, born in a time when Holland was seized by a sort of mad love for flowers, and possessed the finest in Europe, celebrated the madness with his pencil, and made it live for ever. No one has so marvellously rendered the infinite secrets of the loveliness of flowers, those pearls of vegetation and chromes of loving nature. The Hollanders carried the wonders of their gardens to him that he might copy them; all the kings of Europe wanted his pictures, and the sums he received were, for that time, very large. He was jealous of his wife, and of his art, and worked alone, invisible even to his own brothers, that they might not discover the secrets of his coloring; and so he lived and died, glorious and melancholy in the midst of petals and perfumes.
But the greatest picture in the gallery is the celebrated "Lesson in Anatomy," by Rembrandt.
This picture was inspired by a sentiment of gratitude towards the physician Tulp, professor of anatomy at Amsterdam, who had protected Rembrandt in his youth. Dr. Tulp is represented, with his disciples, grouped about a table on which is stretched a naked corpse, with one arm opened by the anatomic knife. The professor, with his hat on his head, and standing, points out to the students with his forceps the muscles of the body. Of the other figures, some are seated, some standing some bending over the corpse. The light, striking from left to right, illuminates the faces and one side of the dead body, leaving in obscurity the dresses, the table, and the walls of the room. The figures are life size.
It is difficult to express the effect produced by this picture. The first feeling is that of horror and repulsion from the corpse. The forehead is in shadow, the eyes open with the, pupils turned upwards, the mouth half-open as if in astonishment, the chest sunken, the legs and feet stiff, the flesh livid, and looking as if, should you touch it with your hand, it would feel cold. With this rigid body a powerful contrast is produced by the vivacious attitudes, the youthful faces, the bright, attentive eyes, full of thought, of the disciples, revealing in different degrees the avidity for knowledge, the joy of learning, curiosity, wonder, the strength of intelligence, the suspense of the mind. The master has the tranquil face, the serene eye, and the almost smiling lip of one who feels the complacency of knowledge. There is in the complexion of the group an air of mystery, gravity, and scientific solemnity which inspires reverence and silence. The contrast between the light and shadow is as marvellous as that between life and death. It is all done with extraordinary finish; one can count the folds of the ruffs, the lines of the faces, the hair of the beards. It is said that the foreshortening of the corpse is wrong, and that in some points the finish runs into dryness; but universal judgment places the "Lesson in Anatomy" among the greatest triumphs of human genius.
Rembrandt was only twenty-six years old when he painted this picture, which, therefore, belongs to his first manner, in which there are not yet apparent that fire and audacity, that sovereign security in his own genius, which shine in the works of his maturer years; but there is already that luminous potency, that marvellous chiaroscuro, that magic of contrasts, which form the most original trait of his genius.
However one may be profane in art, and have made a vow never more to offend in too much enthusiasm, ,when one is in the presence of Rembrandt van Rhijn, one can but raise a little, as the Spaniards say, the key of one's style. Rembrandt exercised a particular prestige. Fra Angelico is a saint, Michael Angelo a giant, Raphael an angel, Titian a prince; Rembrandt is a supernatural being. How otherwise shall we name that son of a miller? Born in a windmill, rising unheralded, without master, without examples, without any derivation from schools, he became a universal painter, embraced all the aspects of life painted figures, landscapes, marine views, animals, saints in paradise, patriarchs, heroes, monks, wealth and misery, deformity and decrepitude, the ghetto, the tavern, the hospital, death; made, in short, a review of heaven and earth, and rendered all things visible by a light from the arcane of his own imagination. He is, at the same time, grand and minute, idealist and realist, painter and engraver; transfiguring everything and dissimulating nothing; changing men into phantoms, the most vulgar natural scenes into mysterious apparitions; this world, I may say, into another world, which seems no more this world and yet is so still. Where did he find that indefinable light, those shafts of electric rays, those reflections of unknown stars, making one muse as over an enigma? What did he see in the darkness, dreamer, visionary that he was? What was the arcanum that his genius yearned for? What was he saying with his eternal conflict of light and shadow, this painter of the air?
It was said that the contrast of light and shadow corresponded in him to diverse movements of thought. Schiller before beginning a work, heard within himself a harmony of indistinct sounds, which were like a prelude to inspiration; in like manner Rembrandt, when in the act of conceiving a picture, had a vision of rays and shadows, which spoke to his soul before he animated them with his personages. There is in his pictures a life, and what may almost be called a dramatic action, quite apart from the human figures. Vivid rays of light break into the darkness like cries of joy; the darkness flies in terror, leaving here and there fragments of shadow full of melancholy, tremulous reflections that seem like lamentations; profound obscurity full of dim threatenings; spurts of light, sparkles, ambiguous shadows, doubtful transparencies, questionings, sighs, words of a supernatural language, heard like music and not understood, and remaining in the memory like the vague relics of a dream. And in this atmosphere he plants his figures, of which some are clothed in the dazzling light of a theatrical apotheosis, others veiled like phantoms, others revealed by one stroke of light upon the face; dressed in habits of luxury or misery, but all with something strange and fantastic; without distinctness of outline, but loaded with powerful colors, sculptural reliefs, and bold touches of the brush; and everywhere a warmth of expression, a fury of violent inspiration, the superb, capricious, and profound imprint of a free and fearless genius.
For the rest, everyone is free to form his own opinion; but who knows if Rembrandt, reading the endless pages that have been written to explain the inner meaning of his worlds would not burst into a shout of laughter!
Such is the fate of a man of genius; everybody, to show that he understands better than the rest, explains him in his own way; he is a theme given by God, which men turn and twist in a thousand ways; a canvas upon which human imagination paints and embroiders according to its bent or fancy.
I left the museum of the Hague with one desire unsatisfied; I had found there no picture by Jerome Bosch, born at Bois-le-Duc in the fifteenth century. That diabolical brain, that terror of bigots, that great sorcerer of art, had made my flesh shrink in the gallery at Madrid, with a picture representing an army of living skeletons, sprinkled over an immense space, and engaged in a struggle with a various, confused, and desperate crowd of men and women, whom they were dragging into an abyss where death awaited them. Only from the diseased imagination of a man agitated by the terrors of damnation could such a monstrous extravagance have issued. Such were the subjects of all his pictures: tortures of the damned, spectres, abysms of fire, dragons, supernatural birds, filthy monsters, devilish furnaces, sinister landscapes. One of these terrible pictures was found in the cell where Philip II. breathed his last; others are scattered about Spain and Italy. Who was this chimerical painter? How did he live? What strange mania tormented him? No one knows. He passed over the earth wrapped in a cloud, and vanished like a vision of hell.
On the ground-floor of the museum there is a "Royal Cabinet of Curiosities," which contains, among a great variety of objects from China, Japan, and the colonies of Holland, some precious historical relies. There is the sword of that Ruyter who began life as a rope-maker at Flessingnen, and became Grand Admiral of Holland; there is the cuirass of Admiral Tromp, perforated by a ball; a chair from the prison of the venerable Barnevelt; a box containing some of the hair of that Van Spoyk, who in 1831, on the Scheldt, blew up his own ship to save the honor of the Dutch flag. There is besides the complete dress worn by William of Orange on the day of his murder at Delft: the shirt stained with blood, the waistcoat of buffalo-skin pierced by the balls, the wide trousers, the broad felt hat; and in the same glass case, the bullets, with the pistol of the assassin, and the original sentence of death.
That more than modest costume, worn in the height of his power and glory by the chief of the Republic of the Netherlands, is a fine testimony to the patriarchal simplicity of Dutch customs. There is not, perhaps, another modern nation that has shown, at an equal height of prosperity, less vanity and luxury. It is related that when the Earl of Leicester came to Holland as ambassador from Elizabeth, and when Spinosa was there treating for peace in the name of the King of Spain, their magnificence almost created a scandal. It is said that the Spanish ambassadors sent to the Hague in 1608 to stipulate for the famous truce, saw the deputies from the States of Holland, meanly dressed, seated in a field, and making their breakfast off some bread and cheese which they had brought with them in a bag. The Grand Pensionary John de Witt, the adversary of Louis XIV., had butone servant. Admiral Ruyter lived at Amsterdam like a poor man, and swept out his own bedroom.
Another very curious object in this museum is a case opening in front like a cupboard, and representing in the minutest particulars the interior of a rich man's house at Amsterdam in the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Czar Peter the Great during his sojourn at Amsterdam had given to a rich burgher of the place the commission for this toy-house, intending to carry it to Russia as a memorial of Holland. The rich burgher, who was named Brandt, did the thing like a brave Dutchman, slowly and well. The cleverest workmen in Holland made the furniture, the most expert goldsmiths made the plate, the most accurate typographers printed the little books, the most delicate miniature-painters executed the pictures, the linen was made in Flanders, the carpets and hangings at Utrecht. After twenty-five years of labor all the rooms were completed. The nuptial-chamber had everything necessary for the approaching confinement of the little mistress; in the dining-room there was a microscopic tea-service upon a table as big as a silver dollar; the gallery of pictures was complete; the kitchen contained the utensils necessary for a dinner for a lilliputian company; there was the library, a cabinet of Chinese curiosities, cages with birds, tiny prayer-books, carpets, linen for all the family, with finest lace and embroidery; nothing was wanting but a conjugal couple, with maids and a cook a little smaller than an ordinary puppet. But there was one great fault: the house cost one hundred and twenty thousand francs. The Czar, who, as all the world knows, was an economical man, refused to take it; and Brandt, to shame the imperial avarice, made a present of it to the museum of the Hague.
From the first day of my arrival at the Hague, I had remarked in the streets certain women dressed in so extraordinary a manner that I had followed one of them in order to observe the particulars of her costume. At first I imagined that they belonged to some religious order, or that they were hermits, or pilgrims, or perhaps the women of some nomadic people passing through Holland. They wore a preposterous hat of straw lined with printed muslin, a monkish mantle of chocolate-colored serge, lined with red; a short white petticoat also of serge, and set out as if by crinoline; black stockings, and white wooden shoes. In the morning I saw them going to market, with a basketful of fish on their heads, or with a cart drawn by two great dogs. In general, they were alone, or two women together, but never with a man. They walked in a peculiar manner, with long strides, and a certain heaviness, like people accustomed to walk in sand; and in their faces and bearing there was something of sadness, which agreed with the cenobitic austerity of their garb.
A citizen to whom I applied for information concerning these odd figures, answered simply: "Go to Scheveningen."
Scheveningen is a village about two miles from the Hague, and approached by a straight road bordered by a double row of beautiful elms that allow no ray of sun to penetrate them. This road, which is gay on either side with villas and gardens, is the favorite promenade of the people of the city, but on other days is almost solitary. You meet no one but one of the figures described above, or a carriage, or the diligence that plies between the city and the village. With its deep shade, rich vegetation, and solitude, it reminds one of the grove of the Alhambra at Grenada, and one forgets that he is in Holland, and thinks no more of Scheveningen.
But arrived at the end, an instant change of scene dissipates the image of Grenada, and nothing remains but a desert of sand; the salt breeze blows in your face with a low continuous murmur; and if you mount a little hillock, you see spread out before you the North sea.
For anyone who has never seen any sea but the Mediterranean the spectacle is a very striking one. The beach is composed of sand as fine and light as ashes, and upon it the spreading waves for ever fold and unfold themselves like a carpet. This sandy beach extends to the feet of the downs, which are composed of little hillocks of sand - steep, broken, and corroded, deformed by the eternal flagellation of the sea. Such is the entire Dutch coast, from the mouths of the Meuse to Helder. There are no mollusks, nor star-fish, nor living shells, nor crabs, nor a shrub, nor a blade of grass. Nothing but water and sand, sterility and solitude.
The sea is no less melancholy than the coast, And answers truly to the image we have formed of the North sea, in reading of the superstitious terrors of the ancients who fancied it lashed by eternal winds and peopled by gigantic monsters. Near the shore it is of a yellowish color, beyond, a pallid green, and still further off, a dull blue. The horizon is in general veiled in mists which often descend to the shores and hide the sea, like an immense curtain, leaving visible only the wave that dies upon the beach, or some specimen of a fisherman s bark not far distant. The sky is almost always grey, traversed by great clouds which cast dense and moving shadows on the water; at some points it is black with a darkness like night, raising in the mind images of tempest and horrid shipwreck; at others, illuminated by streaks of vivid light, serpentine, and like motionless lightning, or rays from some mysterious planet. The wave, always agitated, rushes to bite the shore with impetuous rage, and gives forth a prolonged cry of grief and menace, as from a crowd of lamenting creatures. The sea, the sky, and the earth turn sinister looks upon each other, like three implacable enemies, and the spectator shudders under the dread of come great convulsion of nature.
The village of Scheveningen is posted on the downs, which defend it from the sea, and hide it, so that looking from the beach you can see nothing but the sugar-loaf church-steeple standing like an obelisk in the midst of the sand. The village is divided into two parts. One part is composed of elegant little houses of all the forms and colors usual in Holland, built for the use of strangers, and having "To Let" upon them in several languages; the other portion, in which the native population lives, consists of small black cottages and narrow lanes, where strangers never set their feet.
The population of Scheveningen, which counts a few thousand souls, is almost all made up of fishermen, for the most part very poor. The village is also one of the stations for the herring fishery, that celebrated fish to which Holland owes so much of her wealth and power; but the fruits of this industry go to the owners of the fishing vessels, and the men of Scheveningen, enrolled as mariners, earn hardly enough to live. On the beach in front of the village lie many of these vessels, broad and robust, with one mast and a great square sail; they lie one beside the other in a row upon the sand, like the Greek galleys on the shores of Troy, safe from the winds and waves. The herring flotilla leaves in the early days of June, accompanied by a steam corvette, and takes its course towards the coast of Scotland. The first herrings taken are sent at once to Holland, where they are conveyed in a car all decorated with flags to the King, who gives in return five hundred florins. These boats also pursue other kinds of fish, which are in part sold at auction on the shores of the sea, and in part left to the fishermen of Scheveningen, who send them by their women to the market at the Hague.
Scheveningen, like all the other villages of the coast - Ratwijk, Wlardingen, Maasluis - is a place fallen from its once flourishing condition, in consequence of the decline of the herring fishery, caused, as everybody knows, by the rivalry of England and by disastrous wars. But poverty, instead of weakening, invigorates the character of this people - without doubt the most original and the most poetic of the inhabitants of Holland. The people of Scheveningen seem by their aspect, character, and costume, like a foreign tribe in their own country. They are at only two miles distance from a great city, and yet preserve intact their primitive manners and customs, and their love of solitude. Such as they were centuries ago, such are they now. Not one abandons his native village, and no one who is not born there penetrates it; they marry among themselves; they speak a peculiar dialect; and they dress in the same fashion and colors as their fathers and grandfathers before them. In the fishing season only the women and children remain in the village: the men are all at sea. When they leave they carry their Bibles with them, and on board there is no drunkenness or profanity, and no laughter. When the tempestuous seas toss their little boats, they close every aperture and await death with resignation; while their women, shut up in their storm-beaten cottages, sing hymns and psalms. Those small habitations, that have witnessed such mortal anxieties, heard the sobs of so many widows, seen the holy joy of return, and the inconsolable grief of parting represent the freedom and dignified poverty of their inhabitants. From those houses come no vagabonds or abandoned women; no native of Scheveningen has ever deserted the sea, and no young girl has ever disdained the hand of a fisherman. Men and women have in the carriage of the head and the expression of the eye a something of gravity and dignity that imposes respect. They salute without bending the head, looking you straight in the eye, with an expression which implies: "We have need of no one."
Even in this small village there are two schools, and at certain hours the narrow lanes are alive with children with slate and book in hand.
Scheveningen is not only a village famous for the originality of its inhabitants, which strangers visit and artists paint; there are two great bathing establishments there, where, in the summer, come English, Russians, Germans, and Danes; the flower of the northern aristocracy; princes and ministers; half the Almanach de Gotha; and there are balls, fantastic illuminations, and fireworks on the water. The two establishments are on the downs. At every hour in the day, certain carriages in the form of caravans at a fair, each drawn by one strong horse, advance from the beach into the sea, turn round, and ladies with golden locks floating on the breeze issue from thence and plunge into the sea. At night there is music, the bathers promenade the beach, in festive array, and all the languages as well as all the beauties of Europe are to be heard and seen. The melancholy stranger wanders in the obscure solitudes of the downs, where the music reaches his car like a distant echo, and the lights in the fishermen's houses make him think of home and peace.
The first time I went to Scheveningen, I walked over these downs, illustrated by so many painters, the only heights that intercept the view over the immense flats of Holland, rebellious daughters of the sea disputing its advance, and at once prisoners and guardians of the country. There are three ranges of downs which form a triple bulwark against the sea; the exterior ones are the most arid, those in the midst the highest, and the interior ones the most cultivated. The average height of these hills of sand is not more than fifteen metres; and altogether they do not enter more than. a French league into the land. But having no greater heights near them or about them, they deceive the eye with the aspect of a mountainous region. Seen from above they present the image of a yellow, angry, and motionless sea. The dreariness and sadness of this desert is increased by a savage vegetation, which seems in mourning for nature dead and abandoned; a little thin scattered grass, flowers whose petals are almost diaphanous, broom, rosemary, and the like, through which, here and there, one may see the flight of a terrified rabbit. For long distances there is no house, nor tree, nor human being to be seen. From time to time flocks of crows, curlews, and gulls sweep by, and their cries, with the rustle of the, shrubs tossed by the wind, are the only sounds that disturb the silence of those solitudes. When the sky is black, the dull color of the earth takes on a sort of sinister light, like those fantastic gleams in which objects seen through a colored glass appear. At such times, alone in the midst of the downs, the stranger feels a sense of awe, as one in an unknown land, immeasurably far away from any inhabited country, and looks anxiously round for the shadow of a steeple wherewith to comfort his soul.
In all my walk I met only one or two peasants. It is a notable thing in a northern country, that the Dutch peasant almost always salutes the stranger whom he meets by the way. Some touch the hat with an odd gesture, hastily, and as if by mistake; generally they say "Good evening," or "Good morning," without looking in your face. If they meet two persons they say, "Good evening to both of you"; if more than two, "Good evening to altogether." I encountered in a path on the downs several of those poor fishermen who pass nearly the whole day in water up to their waists, gathering shells which are used to make a certain kind of cement, or are sprinkled in the garden-paths instead of sand. The operation which they are obliged to go through to remove the enormous leather boots which they wear in the water, takes at least half an hour of trouble and fatigue, which would give an Italian a pretext for calling all the saints out of heaven. These, on the contrary, go about it with phlegmatic patience, allowing no sign of annoyance to escape them, and never lifting their heads until the operation is completed, not even if a cannon were to explode near them.
Standing on the downs, near a stone obelisk which records the return of William of Orange from England after the fall of the French domination, I saw, for the first time, one of those sunsets which are peculiar to this country. The sun, in consequence of the refraction of the vapory mists with which the air of Holland is filled, appears of an extraordinary size, and diffuses through the clouds and over the sea a veiled and tremulous splendor like the reflection of a great conflagration. It seemed another sun, unexpectedly appearing on the horizon and sinking, never to rise again upon this world. In Holland, says the poet, the sun does not set; he dies.
Since I have spoken of my visit to Scheveningen, I will record two other excursions that I made from the Hague during the winter.
The first was to the village of Naaldwijk and to the point of the shore where the new canal of Rotterdam is being opened. At Naaldwijk, thanks to the courtesy of a school-inspector who accompanied me, I satisfied my desire to see an elementary school; and I may say at once that my expectations were more than fulfilled. The school-house, built purposely for that use, stands alone, and has only the ground-floor. We entered a small vestibule, where there was a small mountain of wooden shoes belonging to the scholars, and which they resumed when they went out. In schools they sit with stockings only, but the stockings are very thick, and the schoolroom is warmed thoroughly.
When we came in, the scholars rose and the master came forward to meet the inspector. Even this poor village schoolmaster spoke French, so that we could enter into conversation. There were about forty scholars present, half male, half female, and the sexes divided; all were blonde and plump, with broad, good-tempered faces, and a certain precocious air of fathers and mothers of families that made one smile. The building is divided into five rooms, separated one from the other by a glazed partition; so that if the master of one class is absent, the master of the nearest one can oversee it without leaving his place. All the rooms are spacious and have very large windows extending from floor to ceiling, so that it is as light as in the street. The benches, walls, floors, stores, and glass partitions were all as clean and bright as in a ballroom. Having a lively recollection of the pestiferous condition of certain retired spots in the schools that I had frequented when a boy, I inspected these places here, and found them in excellent condition. On the walls of the rooms there were small pictures, landscapes, and figures, and groups of animals, to which the master referred in his teaching; maps in vivid colors with the names printed large; sentences, grammatical rules, and moral precepts in large characters. One thing only seemed to be open to criticism: personal cleanliness.
In some schools in Switzerland there are washing-rooms where the pupils are obliged to wash themselves before entering the school, and also when they go away. I should have liked to see the same thing in Holland, and then there would have been nothing more to be desired.
I said "poor schoolmaster," merely as a common mode of expression, for I learned that he had a stipend of more than two thousand two hundred francs, and a home in a good house in the village. In Holland the minimum for the head master of an elementary school is eight hundred francs. But there are masters who have the salary of one of our university professors.
The question of instruction in Holland, as in almost all other countries, is a religious question, which, in its turn, is the most serious, if not the only, question which agitates the nation.
Of the three millions and a half of inhabitants that Holland counts one third are Catholics; about one hundred thousand Jews, the rest Protestants. The Catholics, who for the most part inhabit the southern provinces of Limbourg and Brabant, are not, as in other countries, politically divided, but constitute one solid legion, clerical, papistical, and ultramontane, the most faithful of the Roman legions, as the Hollanders themselves say; among whom they sell the straw on which the Pontiff has slept in his dungeon, and fulminate Italy from the pulpit and through the journals. This Catholic party, not very powerful in itself, is made so by the division of the Protestants into seven sects: Orthodox Calvinists; Protestants who believe in revelation but reject certain dogmas of the Church; others who deny the divinity of Christ, without separating from the Protestant Church; others believing in God, but belonging to no church; and others, among whom are many men of great ability, who make open profession of atheism. In this state of things the Catholic party has for its natural allies the Calvinists, who, as fervent believers and inflexible conservatives of the faith of their fathers, are much less divided from the Catholics than from a large part of their co-religionists, and form, as it were, the clerical party of Protestantism. Now, in the States General there are on one side the Catholics and Calvinists, on the other side the Liberal party, and between them a wavering party that consents to the absolute supremacy of neither. The principal field of battle between the extreme parties is the question of primary instruction, reduced, on the part of the Catholics and Calvinists, to the determination that for the so-called mixed schools (where no special religious instruction is given, in order to facilitate the coming together of pupils of all religious sects) should be substituted others where dogmatic instruction should be given, and maintained by the commune under the direction of the State.
It is easy to understand the gravity of the consequences that would ensue from such a schism in popular education, the germs of discord and religious hatred, the perturbations that would in time result from the dividing the youth of the country into two groups of different faiths. At present the principle of mixed schools still prevails, but the Liberals maintain with difficulty their ascendancy; the Catholics and Calvinists obtain concessions, and will obtain more; in a word, the Catholic party, more powerful than the Calvinist, solid, resolute, and united, are gaining ground every day; and it is not improbable that they will succeed in obtaining a victory, which, although it may be only temporary, will produce a violent reaction in the country. To such a condition is Holland now reduced, which for eighty years carried on a desperate struggle against Catholic despotism, and which now has grave reasons to fear a not distant religious war.
Notwithstanding, however, this state of things, which prevents the institution, desired so ardently by the Liberals, of obligatory instruction, and which keeps a large number of Catholic children out of the schools, the state of popular instruction in Holland is so flourishing that many European states might envy it. Proportions considered, there are fewer persons ignorant of the alphabet than in Prussia. "In all Europe," says a Dutch writer (who, in other respects, judges his own country rather severely), "it is the country where the knowledge indispensable to a civilised man is most universally diffused." I once asked a Hollander whether, among the class of women-servants, there were any who could not read. "Oh, yes," he said; "I remember about twenty years ago my mother had a maid who did not know her letters; but it was considered a very unusual thing." And it is pleasant for a stranger in a Dutch city, and who does not know the language, to find that any street-boy can read a name and tell him where a street is by gestures.
Discoursing of Catholics and Calvinists, my friend and I reached the downs, and although we were not a stones-throw from the beach, we could not see the sea. "Holland is an odd country," said I, "everything in it seems to be playing at hide and seek. The façades of the houses hide the roofs, the trees hide the houses, the city hides the ships, the dykes hide the canals, the fog hides the fields, the downs hide the sea." "And one day or another," responded my friend, "the sea will hide everything else, and the game will be over."
Crossing the downs we reached the point where the preparatory works for the opening of the Rotterdam canal are in progress.
Two dykes, one more than twelve hundred metres in length, the other about two thousand, with the distance of one kilometre between them, advance into the sea in a direction perpendicular to the shore. These two dykes, constructed to protect the entrance of vessels into the canal, are formed of several rows of enormous piles, great blocks of granite, fascines, stones, and earth, and have the width of ten men standing shoulder to shoulder. The sea, which continually beats upon them, and covers them almost entirely at high tide, has clothed the surface with a thick coating of shells, black as ebony, looking at a distance like a velvet carpet, and giving to these gigantic bulwarks a severe and magnificent aspect, as if Holland had hung out a warlike drapery to celebrate her victory over the ocean. At the moment, the tide was rising and the battle raged about the distant extremities of the dykes. The livid waves raged around two granite horns that stretch, as if in mockery, into the bosom of their superb enemy. The piles and masses of masonry were beaten and gnawed and buffeted on every side, overwhelmed by angry billows, spit upon by a vaporous rain which fell about them in powdery clouds; enveloped as in the folds of furious serpents; struck, even those farthest from the struggle, by unexpected and lengthened spurts of water like impatient advance guards of that infinite army; and the waters, steadily advancing, drove back the workmen step by step.
On the longest of the two dykes, not very far from the beach, they were driving in piles. Some, with tremendous efforts, raised the great blocks of granite by means of pulleys; others, ten or fifteen together, removed the old beams to make room for new. It was fine to see the contrast between the fury of the waves and the calm impassibility of those men, which seemed almost like disdain. A bitter wind waved about their brave Dutch faces the long locks of their light hair, and covered them with flecks of foam; foolish provocations which obtained not even a glance.
I saw them plant a pile in the middle of the dyke, a monstrous trunk of a tree sharpened at the extremity, and raised between two parallel beams under an enormous steam hammer. The pile had to make its way through several strata of stones and fascines; but at every blow of that formidable hammer it sank into the dyke as if penetrating the soft earth. Nevertheless the operation for that one pile alone lasted one hour. I thought of the thousands that had been driven, and of the thousands that were yet to be driven, of the interminable dykes that defend Holland, of the infinite numbers of them that have been destroyed and reconstructed, and embracing for the first time in my thought the grandeur of the work, I stood dumb with amazement.
A dear friend of mine at the Hague had invited me to dine with him at the house of a relation, who had manifested a courteous desire to make my acquaintance. In answer to my question as to where the gentlemen lived, I was told " Far from the Hague," and was directed to be next morning at the railway station, where my friend would meet me. Having obeyed this direction, we took our tickets for Leyden, and arriving there in due time, did not enter the city, but struck off by a road across country. I asked my companion then to reveal the secret, but he declined to do so. Knowing that when a Dutchman has once said a thing, no power on earth can make him change it, I resigned myself to the inevitable. It was in February. There was a cloudy sky, but no snow; and a cold, impetuous wind, that in about five minutes made my nose of a fine purple. It was Sunday, and the country was deserted. We went on and on, passing windmills, canals, meadows, houses half hidden in trees, with tall thatched roofs tapestried with moss. We reached a village; Dutch villages are all closed by a sort of barrier. We entered. Nobody there. The doors all shut, windows with blinds drawn down, not a voice, not a step, not a breath stirring. Going through the village, we passed a church, covered with ivy like a garden-house, in which, through an opening in the door, we could see the Protestant minister, in a white cravat, preaching to a congregation of peasants whose faces were all streaked with gold and green and crimson from the windows of stained glass. Proceeding by a fine brick-paved street, we saw frames for the storks nests, posts planted by the peasants for the cows to rub themselves against, palings painted of a celestial blue, small houses with tiles of various colors, forming letters and words, basins with little boats, tiny bridges, kiosks of unknown purpose, little chapels with great gilded cocks upon the tops of their steeples; and no living soul far or near.
We go on and on. The sky clears a little and relapses into clouds again; the sun illumines for an instant a canal, glistens on the roof of a house, gilds a distant steeple, flies, returns, promises, and coquets in a hundred ways; and long oblique streaks of rain are seen on the horizon. We begin to meet a few country women with gold bands round their heads, a veil over the band, a hat on that, a bunch of flowers on the hat, and broad floating ribbons; also some carriages of the antique form of the time of Louis XV., with gilded bodies, adorned with sculpture and small mirrors; peasants in large black coats and white wooden shoes; boys with stockings of every color of the rainbow. We arrive at another village, like the first, and getting into a carriage, go on in that way. A fine cold rain wets and chills us to the bone. Wrapped in our dripping blankets, we reach the border of a broad canal; a man comes out of a hut, runs our vehicle upon a raft, and ferries us over to the other side. The carriage goes down a wide road, and we are at the bottom of the old lake of Harlem, the horse trotting where fish once glided, and our coachman smoking where shipwrecked men breathed their last and naval battles were fought. We catch glimpses of canals, villages, cultivated fields - a new world, where thirty years ago there was a waste of waters. The rain ceased, and it began to snow with a fury such as I had never seen - a real tempest of snow, hard and thick, which an impetuous wind blew straight in our faces. We pulled over us the oil-cloth cover, opened our umbrellas, and screwed ourselves into the smallest compass, all in vain. The wind blew away all our defences, froze us from head to foot, and whitened us with snow. After a long time we came out of the basin of the lake, reached a village, when we left the carriage and proceeded again on foot. On and on we went, past bridges, mills, closed houses, solitary roads, immense fields, and not a creature moving. We passed an arm of the Rhine, arrived at another barren and silent village, with here and there a dim face looking at us through the window-panes, and passing this, came out upon the downs. The sky began to grow dark, and I began to get anxious. I asked my companion where we were going. and he responded, "Wherever chance may lead us." "But who is this relative of yours?" I said. "Where does he live? What does he do? What is there under all this devilry? He cannot be a man like others. Tell me where you are taking me."
My companion made no reply, but stopped and looked before him. I looked also, and saw far off something that resembled a house, alone in the midst of a desert, and half hidden by a rise in the ground. We hastened our steps, the house appearing and disappearing before us like a shadow. Around it were visible tall objects that looked like gallows, but my companion insisted that they were frames for the storks' nests. When within about a hundred paces we came upon a long wooden water-conduit, which seemed to me to be stained with blood, but my friend assured me that it was only painted red. The house is small, surrounded by paling; the doors and windows closed. "Do not go in!" I cried; "we can yet turn back. There is some witchcraft in that house; take care what you do. Look up; I never saw so black a sky." My friend paid no heed to me, but advanced courageously, and I followed. Instead of making for the entrance-door, he took a short cut. A ferocious barking of dogs was heard. We ran, breaking our way through a forest of shrubs, and jumping over a low wall, knocked at a door. The door opened; there was no creature visible. We mounted a small crooked staircase, and entered a room. Oh, pleasant wonder! The solitary, the sorcerer, was a gay and gentle youth, and the diabolical house a little villa, full of conveniences, warm, light, and luxurious - a real enchanted palace in miniature, in which our host retired for a few months of every year to make studies for the fertilisation of the downs.
We soon found ourselves seated at a table sparkling with crystal and silver, on which smoked a princely dinner, guarded by a small army of gilded and emblazoned bottles. The snow beat against the windows; the moaning voices of the sea were heard; the winds raged about the house, which seemed like a ship in the midst of a tempest. We drank to the fertilisation of the downs, to the conquerors of Atchin, to the prosperity of the colonies. But I still had some anxieties. Our host, to call his servant, touched a concealed knob; to order his coachman to get ready the carriage, he spoke some words into a hole in the wall; and these proceedings did not please me.
"Reassure me," said I; "tell me that this house does really exist; promise me that it shall not vanish, leaving nothing but a hole in the ground, and a smell of sulphur in the air! Will you swear that you say your prayers every night?"
I cannot relate the extravagant talk and the laughter that went on to a late hour of the night, accompanied by the clicking of glasses, and the howling of the winds without. But the moment of departure came at last, and we descended, to hide ourselves in a large vehicle and begin our crossing of the desert. The land was covered with snow, the white outlines of the downs were drawn upon a black and stormy sky; the carriage rolled silently forward amid strange and indistinct forms, which succeeded each other rapidly in the gleam of the lanterns, and appeared to melt one into the other; and in those enormous solitudes reigned a mortal silence that prevented speech with us.
At last I have seen winter in Holland, not as I had imagined it on leaving Italy, because it was very mild; but still very characteristic of the Holland of my dreams.
In the morning early, what first meets the eye in the white and silent streets are the innumerable prints of the wooden shoes of the children going to school - footsteps as of elephants, so large are the shoes - and succeeding each other in a straight line, plainly demonstrating that the scholars take the shortest way to school, like sedate and zealous Dutch children. Files of them may be seen, all wrapped up warm, with nothing but the point of a nose or the corner of a book visible in the shapeless bundle, two and two, or three and three, or in close groups like bunches of asparagus. The children all housed, the streets remain deserted for a time, for the Hollanders are not early risers, especially in winter. You may wander about without meeting a soul or hearing the least noise. The snow, among all those red houses, seems of a more brilliant whiteness; and the houses, with all their raised points and ornaments relieved by a pure white line, and the carved wooden heads and images over the shops all decked seemingly in wigs of cotton, and the pendant chains and cords like garlands of white flowers, present a strange aspect. On days when it freezes, and the sun shines bright, everything sparkles as if sewn with silver spangles; the ice accumulated on the edges of the canals glows with the colors of the rainbow; and the trees glimmer with pearls, like the plants in the gardens of the "Arabian Nights." Then it is pleasant to walk in the forest, about sunset, on the hardened snow which creaks under the foot like marble dust, in the midst of white and leafless branches, presenting the image of a gigantic crystallization; while the alleys are illuminated by the red rays of the setting sun, and the shadows are azure and violet, sparkling with diamond dust. But nothing equals the spectacle of the open country seen in the morning after a great snowstorm from the heights of some tall steeple. Under a low grey sky there lies an immense white plain, where there is no trace of road or path, or house or canal, but only depressions and elevations, leaving one to divine vaguely the hidden forms, as under the swathing folds of a great sheet; and the infinite whiteness is unstained unless by some spirals of smoke issuing timidly here and there from distant houses, as if to announce to anyone who is looking on that even in that snowy desert human life still palpitates.
But any mention of winter in Holland would be incomplete without allusion to that which constitutes the originality and principal character of winter-life in that country. Skating in Holland is not only a delightful exercise but an ordinary way of getting about. To cite an illustrious example, everybody knows how the Hollanders made use of it in the memorable siege of Harlem. In times of hard frost the canals are changed into roads, and skates do the office of boats. The peasant skates to market, the laborer to his work, the shopkeeper to his shop; whole families go from the country to the city with bag and basket on their backs, or upon sleds. Skating is as easy and natural to them as walking, and they do it with a rapidity that makes them all but invisible. In former years bets were made among the best Dutch skaters as to which of them could keep up with the railway train that ran along the edge of the canal; and in general the skater not only kept even with the train but even outstripped it. There are people who skate from the Hague to Amsterdam and back in the same day; university students, who leave Utrecht in the morning, dine at Amsterdam, and get back to college before night. The bet of going from Amsterdam to Leyden in a little more than an hour has often been won. And it is not only the speed which is remarkable, but the admirable security with which they traverse immense distances on skates. Many peasants skate from one city to another at night. Sometimes walking along the canal you see a human figure pass and disappear like an arrow; it is a peasant girl carrying milk to some house in the town.
There are also sleds or sledges of every size and form; some pushed from behind by a skater, some drawn by horses, some moved by two iron-shod sticks held in the hands of the person seated in the sledge; and quantities of carriages and vehicles of different sorts, deprived of their wheels and placed on runners, flying along with all the rapidity of the others. On holiday occasions even the boats of Scheveningen may be seen sliding along the streets of the Hague. Sometimes vessels, with all sails set, move on the frozen rivers with such rapidity that persons on board are obliged to cover their eyes, unable to bear the dizzy velocity of their flight.
The finest of the festivals of Holland are held upon the ice. At Rotterdam, the Meuse becomes a place of meeting for all sorts of diversions. The snow is swept off, so that the ice is as clean as a pavement of crystal; cafés, eating-houses, pavilions, and small theatres rise on every side; all are illuminated at night; by day there is a throng of skaters of all ages, sexes, and conditions. In other cities, above all in Friesland, which is the classic land of the art, there are societies of skaters who institute public trials of skill for prizes. Masts and banners are planted along the canals, stands and railings are put up; an immense multitude assembles from all the villages round about, and the flower of the citizens are on the ground; music sounds; the skaters are dressed in peculiar costumes, the women wearing pantaloons; there are men's races and women's races, and then men and women together; and the names of the winners are inscribed upon the rolls of the society, and are famous for years after.
There are in Holland two schools of skating which differ completely from each other: the Dutch school and the school of Friesland, each having its peculiar skate. The Frieslanders, older in the art, aim at speed only, while the Dutch are the more graceful. The former dart forward in a straight line, with the body erect and, rigid, and the eyes fixed on the goal to be attained; the Hollander goes in a zig-zag moving from right to left and from left to right, with an undulatory motion of the hips. The one is an arrow, the other a rocket. The Dutch school suits the women best. The ladies of Rotterdam, Amsterdam. and the Hague are the most fascinating skaters in all the United Provinces. They begin as babies, and go on as girls and wives; adding the height of loveliness to the apogee of art, and striking out with the irons of their skates sparks from the ice that light up many a conflagration. There are ladies among them who attain to a high grade of mastery in the art. Those who have seen them say that it is impossible to imagine the grace of the undulations, bendings, dartings, the thousand soft and charming ways in which they turn, and fly, and return, emulating the birds and butterflies, and how their tranquil beauty is animated by it. But all do not succeed, and many do not presume to show their skill in public, and some who, among us, would obtain the prize, here scarcely attract attention; to such a pitch has the art of skating attained. It is the same with the men, who go through every sort of play and prowess; some describing on the ice fantastic figures or amorous words, others making rapid pirouettes, and then darting backwards for a long distance on one leg; others twisting and twining in infinite dizzy whirls within one small space, bent, or crouching, or straight upright, like puppets moved by springs.
The first day on which the canals and basins present ice sufficiently solid for skating is a holiday for a Dutch city. Early skaters who have been experimenting at sunrise, spread the news; the journals announce it; groups of boys run about the streets with cries of joy; servants, of both sexes, ask leave to go out, with the air of people, resolved to rebel in case of refusal; old ladies forget their years and pains, and go to the canals to gossip with friends and children. At the Hague, the basin in the middle of the city, near the Binnenhof, is invaded by a crowd of people who elbow each other and press and mingle as if they were all seized with dizziness; the flower of the aristocracy skates on a basin in the midst of the wood; and there, altogether in the snow, glide officers, ladies, deputies, students, old men, boys, and sometimes among them the hereditary prince, and around gathers a throng of spectators; music accompanies the festival; and the enormous disc of the sun of Holland, sinking towards the horizon, sends them, through the branches of gigantic beeches, its dazzling salutation.
When the snow is hard comes the turn of the sledges. Every family has one, and at the usual hour they come out by hundreds. They fly by in a long file, two and three together; some shaped like shells, some like swans, dragons, boats, coaches, gilded and painted in different colors, drawn by horses in magnificent trappings of rich furs, their heads ornamented by feathers and tassels, and their harness studded with glittering points; and carrying ladies wrapped in sables, marten, and the skin of the Siberian fox. The horses toss their heads in a cloud of vapor from their bodies, their manes sparkling with frost; the sleighs leap forward; the dry snow flies like a silvery foam; and the splendid pageant passes and disappears like a silent whirlwind over a field of lilies and jasmine. At night, when they are provided with torches, these thousands of little flames chasing and crossing each other through the silent city, and throwing livid reflections upon the snow, present the image of an infernal battle, presided over from the tower of the Binnenhof by the spectre of Philip II.
But alas! everything changes, even the winter, and with it the arts of skating and sledging. For many years past severe winters in Holland have alternated with winters so mild, that not only do the rivers not freeze over, but even the smaller canals in the towns. It follows that the skaters, remaining too long without practice, no longer risk appearing in public when the opportunity presents itself; and so little by little their numbers become smaller, and the fair sex especially are growing unaccustomed to the ice. In the winter of last year (1873) there was very little skating; and this year there has not been a single competition, and not one sledge has been seen. May heaven grant that this deplorable state of things may not continue, that winter may return to caress Holland with his frozen Polar bear's paw, and that the beautiful art of skating may arise once wore with her snowy mantle and her crown of icicles.
In the meantime let me announce the publication of a work called "The Art of Skating" (I1 Patinamento), upon which a deputy of the States of Holland has been at work for several years, a work which will be the history, the epic, and the codex of the art, and from which all the skaters of Europe and America, male and female, can draw instruction and inspiration.
During all the time that I remained at the Hague I frequented the principal club of the city, composed of more than two thousand members, and occupying a palace near the Binnenhof; and there I made my observations upon Dutch character.
Besides the library, the dining-hall, and the card-room, there is a conversation and reading room, which is quite full of people from 4 o'clock in the afternoon until midnight. There are artists, professors, merchants, deputies, clerks, and officers. The greater part of them go there to drink a small glass of gin before dinner, and return afterwards for their coffee and another comforting glass of their favorite liquor. They almost all talk, and yet one hears only a slight murmur, so that with one's eyes shut one would fancy only about a third of the number present. You can make a dozen turns about the room without seeing an emphatic gesture or hearing one word a little louder than another; and at ten paces distance from the groups of talkers you would not notice that conversation was going on, but for the motion of the lips. There are many corpulent men to be seen, with large faces, whiskerless, and with beards under the chin, who converse without lifting their eyes from the table, or removing their hand from their glass. It is extremely rare to see among all their broad faces a fine, acute countenance like that of Erasmus, whom many, but not I, consider as the true Dutch type.
The friend who opened the doors of the club to me, presented me to several of its members. The diversity between the Dutch and Italian character is shown particularly in introductions. More than once, seeing the person to whom I had been presented make a slight movement of the head, and then remain quite silent, I have thought that my respected visage did not suit his taste, and have felt in my heart an echo of cordial antipathy. After a little the introducer would go away, leaving me face to face with my enemy. "Now," thought I, "I will burst before I speak a word to him!" But my neighbor, after a moment's silence, said with great gravity I hope that, if you have no other engagement, you will do me the honor to dine with me today." I was struck dumb with amazement. We dined together, and my Amphytrion coldly populated the table with bottles of Bordeaux, Champagne, and Hock, and we did not separate without my being constrained to accept a second invitation. Others, of whom I had asked information about various things, scarcely answered me, as if to make me understand that my questions were importunate, whilst I said to myself, "Did ever anyone see such an ill-natured person!" The next day came the answers written out, clear, minute, and satisfactory in a higher degree than I had ever hoped for. One evening I asked a person to look out for me something in that sea of figures which is called a railway guide. For a moment he made no reply, and I was humiliated. Then he took the book, put on his glasses, read, examined, made notes, summed up, and subtracted, with the patience of a saint for the space of half an hour; and when he had finished, gave me the written reply, and put 'his spectacles into their case without a word.
Many of those with whom I passed the evening were in the habit of going home at 10 o'clock to work, and coming back to the club at half-past 11 to remain until 1; and when they had said "I must go," there was no possibility of changing their resolution. When the last stroke of ten was sounding, they were already outside the door; when half-past 11 struck they were on the threshold. It is not surprising that, with this chronometrical regularity, they should find time to do so many things and to do them without haste; or that those who had not given themselves to study as a means of life, had still read whole libraries. French literature in particular they had at the ends of their fingers. And what is said of literature can be said with more reason of politics. Holland is one of the countries of Europe where there is the greatest affluence of foreign journals, and perhaps the one in which the affairs of other nations are most discussed. The country is small and tranquil; the news in the papers is soon discussed; after ten minutes the conversation jumps over the Rhine and roams over Europe. I remember that I was much struck by hearing the recent fall of the ministry in Italy discussed as if it had been a family affair.
One of my first cares was to scan the religious sentiments of the people; and I found, to my astonishment, a great disorder. As a learned Hollander has lately written, ideas subversive of every religious dogma have acquired a great field in that country. It would be an error, however, to believe that while faith grows less, indifference increases. Those creatures who appeared so monstrous to Pascal, - men, that is, who lived without giving a thought to religion, who are so numerous among us in Italy, - there do not exist. The religions question, which is with us only a question, is there a battle, in which everyone brandishes his weapon. Every class of society, men and women, old and young, occupy themselves with theology, and follow the controversies of the doctors, devouring a prodigious number of writings on religious polemics. This tendency of the country is manifested even in Parliament, where it sometimes happens that the members attack each other with Biblical citations, read in Hebrew, translated and commentated, and the discussion degenerates into a theological disquisition.
All this goes on, however, in the mind rather than in the heart; passion has no part in it; and the proof of it is that Holland, which, of all European countries, has the greatest number of religious sects, is also the country in which the sects agree best, and where the greatest tolerance reigns. If this were not so, the Catholic party would not have made so much way as it has made, protected in the beginning by the Liberal party against the only intolerant sect in the country - the orthodox Calvinists.
I did not know any orthodox Calvinists, to my great regret. I never believed what I have heard as to their extravagant ideas; that there are ladies, for instance, who hide the legs of their tables lest they should remind visitors of the legs of their hostess. But it is undeniable that they do live with extreme austerity. Many never put foot in a theatre, a ball-room, or even a concert-room. There are families who eat cold meat on Sundays rather than allow the cook to transgress the law of rest. In many houses the master reads the Bible every morning in the presence of his household, and all pray together. For the rest, this sect of orthodox Calvinists, which has almost all its proselytes among the aristocracy and the peasantry, exercises no great influence on the country, as is proved by the fact that in the Parliament it is inferior in number to the Catholics and can do nothing without them.
I have spoken of the theatre. At the Hague, as in the other cities of Holland, there are no great theatres, and no great spectacles. For the most part they represent operas of German music, sung by foreign singers, and French comedies and operettes. Concerts are much in fashion. In this, Holland is faithful to her traditions, since it has been noted, and Guicciardini also mentions it, that in the sixteenth century her musicians were sought for by all the courts of Christendom. It was also said that the Hollanders were very clever at singing in chorus. And great, indeed, must be the pleasure which they take in singing together, if it is proportionate to the aversion they seem to have to singing alone, for I do not remember to have heard in any Dutch town, at any hour of the night or day, a voice humming a tune in the streets.
I have spoken of French comedy and opera. At the Hague, not only the public entertainments, but all public life, is almost entirely French. Rotterdam has the English stamp, Amsterdam the German, and the Hague has the Parisian stamp; so that it is just to say that the people of the great Dutch cities unite and temper the qualities and defects of the three neighboring nations. At the Hague, in many families of the higher society, French is always spoken; in others they affect Frenchified ways, as in some cities of northern Italy; the addresses of letters are generally written in French; there is, in short, a portion of society, not a rare thing in small countries, who display rather ostentatiously a certain contempt for the language, literature, and art of their native country, and pay court to an adopted country beyond the Rhine and the Meuse. Sympathies, however, are divided. The elegant and fashionable set lean towards France, the learned ones towards Germany, and the mercantile class towards England. The sympathy for France decreased after the Commune. Against Germany a secret animosity was born and is still fermenting, generated by the fear that her conquering gaze might soon be turned on Holland; but it is tempered by the common interest against Catholic clericalism.
When it is said that the Hague is a half French city, it is understood that appearance only is meant. At bottom the Dutch character predominates. Although it is rich, elegant, and gay, it is not a city of scandals, or evil speaking or dissipation, or duelling. The life in it, however, is more varied and animated than that in the other Dutch cities, and somewhat less tranquil. The duels which occur at the Hague can be counted on the five fingers of the hand from ten years to ten years, and in those few an officer is generally the cause. Nevertheless, to show how potent is still in Holland the ferocious prejudice, as Rousseau says, "that honor dwells on the point of the sword," I recall a discussion among some Dutch gentlemen, brought about by a question of mine. When I asked whether public opinion in Holland was hostile to duelling they answered with one voice "Very hostile"; but when I wished to know if a young man in good society, who should refuse a challenge, would be universally praised, treated by all with the same respect and attention as before, sustained, in short, in public opinion, so as never to repent of his conduct, then the discussion began. One weakly answered Yes, another resolutely No, but the majority said No. From which, I think, I may conclude that if duelling is not frequent in Holland, it is not, as I had thought, because of the universal and absolute contempt for the ferocious prejudice, but rather from the rarity of cases in which two citizens allow themselves to be driven by passion to the arbitrament of arms, which depends rather upon nature than education. In public discussion, or in very violent private argument, personalities are rare; and in the Parliamentary battles, which are sometimes very hot, the members are dryly impertinent, but calmly, and without noise; impertinence, I may say, more in facts, which wounds silently, than in words.
In the conversations at the club, I remarked that no one talked for the sake of talking. When anyone opened his mouth it was to ask a question, or to give a piece of news, or to make an observation. That art of making a period of every idea, a story of every fact, a question of every trifle, in which Italians, French, and Spanish are masters, is completely unknown to them. Conversation is not an exchange of sounds, but a commerce in things, and no one makes the slightest effort to appear learned, or eloquent, or acute. In all the time of my stay at the Hague, I remember to have heard only one witticism, and that was from a deputy, who, speaking of the alliance between the ancient Batavians and the Romans, said: "We have always been friends with the constituted authorities." And yet the Dutch language lends itself to puns; in proof of which I have heard cited the case of a lovely foreign lady, who, wishing to ask the boatman of the tresekuit for a pillow, pronounced the word badly and asked for a kiss, the two words being nearly the same in Dutch, and had scarcely time to explain the equivogue, the boatman wiping his lips with the back of his hand.
In my study of the Dutch character, it did not appear to me true, what I had read in several books, that the Hollanders are fond of talking about their maladies, and that they are avaricious and egotistical. As to the first accusation, they deride the Germans for this very defect. In support of the second, the rather incredible fact has been adduced that during a naval battle with the English the officers of the Dutch fleet went on board the enemy's ships, which were out of ammunition, and sold them powder and projectiles at exorbitant prices; after which the battle recommenced. Against this accusation of avarice stand the facts of the wealth and ease of the citizens, and the large sums spent in books and pictures; and still more in large beneficence, in which Dutch society is incontestably the first in Europe. And it is not official beneficence which in any way receives its impulse from the Government, but spontaneous, and very liberal, exercised by a large and powerful community which founds innumerable institutes, schools, prizes, libraries, popular meetings; which aids and precedes the Government in the work of public instruction; which extends its wings from the great city to the humblest village, covering all religious sects, all ages, all professions, and all needs; a beneficence, in short, by virtue of which there is not left in Holland one poor person without shelter, or an arm without work. All writers who have studied Holland agree in saying that there is perhaps no other state in Europe in which such copious alms descend from the wealthy to the needy classes, in proportion to the population.
It is not to be said, however, that the people of Holland are faultless, for they are not so, if we are to count as faults the want of those qualities which should be like the splendor and softness of their virtues. Their firmness is sometimes obstinacy; their probity has a touch of niggardliness; in their coldness is felt the absence of that spontaneity of feeling without which it seems as if there could be no affection, no generosity, no true greatness of soul. But the better we know them, the more we hesitate to pronounce such judgments, and the more we feel the growth of sympathy and respect for them. Voltaire could say, on leaving Holland, his famous words: "Adieu, canaux, canards canaille"; but when he judged Holland seriously, he remembered that in her capital cities he found "neither an idle man, nor a poor man, nor a dissipated man, nor an insolent man," and that he had seen everywhere "labor and modesty." Louis Napoleon proclaimed that in no people of Europe were good sense and the sentiments of reason and justice innate as in the Dutch; Descartes gave them the highest praise that a philosopher can give to a people, saying that in no country did one enjoy greater liberty than in Holland; Charles V. said that they were "the best of subjects, but the worst of slaves." An Englishman wrote that the Hollanders inspire an esteem that never reaches to affection. Perhaps he did not esteem them enough.
I do not conceal that among the causes of my sympathy is that of having found that Italy is much better known in Holland than I had dared to hope. Not only did the revolution in Italy find there a favorable echo, as is natural among an independent people, free, and hostile to the Papacy; but Italian men and events of late years are not less well known there than those of France and Germany. The principal journals, which have correspondents among us, keep the country minutely informed as to affairs in Italy. Portraits of her chief citizens are seen in various places. Nor is literary intelligence less regarded than political matters. Leaving aside the facts that Italian music was sung at the courts of the ancient counts of Holland, that in the best century of Dutch literature the Italian tongue was held in great honor among lettered people, and that some of the most illustrious poets of the time wrote letters and verses in Italian, or imitated our pastoral poetry, the Italian language is to this day much studied; it is not rare to find those who speak it, and still less rare is it to find our books upon the tables of the ladies. The "Divina Commedia," which came much into vogue after the year 1830, has two translations, both in terza rima, one of which is the work of Hacke van Mijnden, who consecrated all his life to Dante. The "Jerusalem Delivered" has a translation by a Protestant pastor, Ten Kate, and had another, unpublished, and now lost, by Maria Tesseeschave, the poetess of the seventeenth century and intimate friend of the great Dutch poet Vondel, who advised and aided her in the translation. Of the "Pastor Fido" there are at least five translations by different authors; several of the "Aminta"; and, to make a leap, at least four of Silvio Pellico's "Mie Prigaoni," and one very fine one of the "Promessi Sposi," a romance which few Hollanders have not read either in their own tongue or another. And to cite yet one more thing that regards us, there is a poem entitled "Florence," written for the last centenary of Dante by one of the most distinguished of the Dutch poets of our own day.
Here it becomes appropriate to say something of Dutch literature.
Holland presents a singular disproportion between the expansive force of her political, scientific, and commercial life, and that of her literary life. While under all other forms the works of the Hollanders find their way over the borders of their country, their literary work remains circumscribed within its confines. With a remarkable fertility of literary production, which renders the fact more strange, Holland has not produced, as other small countries have done, a single book which has become European, that is, if we except the works of Spinoza, the one great philosopher of his country, or consider as Dutch literature the forgotten Latin treatises of Erasmus of Rotterdam. And yet if there is a country where nature and events have offered subjects apt to inspire some of those poetic works which strike the imagination of every people, that country is Holland. The marvellous transformations of the soil, the immense inundations, the wonderful maritime expeditions, ought to generate an original poem, powerful even when deprived of its native form. Why has it never been done? Various reasons may be adduced. The peculiar character of the Dutch mind, which sees everything on the utility side, and often wishes to bend even literature to some practical purpose; a tendency the direct opposite of this, and perhaps derived from it, to soar too much above human nature in order not to graze the earth; a certain natural circumspection in their genius, which gives to reason a sovereign superiority over fancy; the innate love of the exact and the finished, producing a prolixity in which great ideas are diluted; the spirit of religious sectarianism, which binds within a narrow circle minds that were born to spread themselves over a vast horizon. But neither these nor other reasons can do away with the wonder that there should not be in all Dutch literature a writer who worthily represents before the world the greatness of his country; a name to place between those of Rembrandt and Spinoza.
It would be wrong, however, to say nothing of the three principal figures in that literature, two of the seventeenth century and one of the nineteenth, three poets of originality, and differing much from each other, who represent a compendium of Dutch poetry: Vondel, Catz, and Bilderdijk.
Vondel is the greatest of the poets of Holland. He was born in 1587 at Cologne, where his father, a hatter, had fled from Antwerp to avoid the persecutions of the Spaniards. While still a child the future poet returned to his native country in a cart, with his father and mother following on foot, praying and reciting verses from the Bible. He made his first studies in Amsterdam. At fifteen years of age he already enjoyed fame as a poet; but his most celebrated works date only from 1620. Up to the age of thirty he knew no language but his own; later he learned French and Latin, and gave himself up with ardour to classical studies; at fifty he dedicated himself to Greek. His first tragedy (he was a tragic poet principally), entitled "The Destruction of Jerusalem," had not much success. The second, called "Palamede," in which was shadowed forth the pitiful and terrible story of Olden-Barneveldt, the victim of Maurice of Orange, drew upon him a criminal prosecution, in consequence of which he fled and remained in hiding until the unexpectedly mild sentence condemning him to a fine of three hundred florins was pronounced. In 1627 he made a voyage to Denmark and Sweden, where he was received with honor by Gustavus Adolphus. Eleven years afterwards he inaugurated the Amsterdam theatre with a national drama called "Gilbert d'Amstel," which is still represented once a year in homage to his memory. The last years of his life were very unhappy. The dissipation of his son having reduced him to penury, the poor old man, weary of study and worn with pain, was obliged to ask for a small employment in the Monté di Pietà, or government pawn-broking establishment. A few years before his death he embraced the Catholic faith, and fired by a new inspiration, he wrote his tragedy of "The Virgins," and a poem which is one of the best of his works, entitled "The Mysteries of the Altar." He died very old, and was buried in a church at Amsterdam, where, a century later, a monument was erected to his memory. Besides his tragedies, be wrote patriotic war-songs, and others addressed to illustrious Dutch sailors, and to Prince Frederic Henry. But his principal glory is the theatre. An admirer of Greek tragedy, he preserves in his own the unities, the chorus, the supernatural, substituting Providence for destiny, demons and angels for the avenging gods, and introducing the good and bad genii of Christianity. Almost all his subjects are taken from the Bible. His chef d'œvre is the tragedy of "Lucifer," represented twice in spite of the almost insuperable difficulties of representation, in the theatre of Amsterdam, and there interdicted by the influence of the Protestant clergy. This tragedy has for its subject the rebellion of Lucifer, and for personages the good and bad angels. As in it, so in others, there are fanciful descriptions, full of splendid imagery, flashes of powerful eloquence, fine choruses, vigorous thoughts, solemn phrases, rich and sounding verses, and here and there flashes and sparkles of genius. On the other side there is a mysticism sometimes obscure and cold; the want of harmony between the Christian idea and the Pagan form; the lyric overpowering the dramatic; good taste often offended; and, more than all, an exaltation of thought and sentiment, which, aiming at the sublime and rising too far above the earth, leaves the human heart and intellect below. Nevertheless, historic precedence, originality, ardent patriotism, his noble, suffering life, made Vondel great and venerated in his country, where he is considered as the most eminent personification of the national genius, and placed with affectionate audacity by the side of the first poets of other literatures.
Vondel is the greatest, Jacob Catz the purest, personification of Dutch genius; and not only is he the most popular of the poets of his nation, but such is his popularity, that it may be affirmed that in no other country, not exclusive of Cervantes in Spain and Manzoni in Italy, is there a writer more generally known or more constantly read than he; and I may add that there is not, perhaps, another poet in the world whose popularity is more necessarily restricted within the confines of his own country. Jacob Catz was born in 1577, of a patrician family in Brouwershaven, a town in Zealand. He studied law, became Pensionary of Middlebourg, went as ambassador to England, was made Grand Pensionary of Holland, and executing with exemplary zeal and rectitude these high offices, cultivated poetry with a loving spirit. In the evening, after having treated of State affairs with deputies from the provinces, he withdrew into his house, and made verses. At seventy-five years of age, he asked to be relieved of his offices, and when the Stadtholder announced to him in honorable words that his demand was granted, he fell on his knees in presence of the assembly of the States, and thanked God for having always protected him in the course of his long and laborious political life. A few days afterwards he retired to one of his villas, where he continued to enjoy a tranquil and honoured old age, studying and writing verses, until 1660, when he died, more than eighty years old, wept by all Holland.
His poetry forms several large volumes. There are fables, madrigals, stories, and mythological tales, sprinkled with descriptions, citations, sentences, and precepts; full of kindness, honesty, and sweetness, and written with ingenuous simplicity and delicate wit. His volume is the book of national wisdom, the second Bible of the Dutch people, a manual for the teaching of an honest and peaceful life. He gives counsel to all; to the youth and to the old man, to the merchant as to the prince, to the mistress as to the servant, to the rich man as to the mendicant. He teaches how to spend, how to spare, how to keep a house, how to govern a family, how to educate children. He is at the same time friend, father, spiritual director, master, steward, physician, advocate. He loves modest nature, the gardens, the fields, adores his wife; he works, is content with himself and others, and desires that all should be as happy as he. His poetry is found in every house beside the Bible. There is not a peasant's hut where the head of the family does not read some of his verses aloud every evening. In days of doubt and sadness all seek and find comfort in their old poet. He is the fire-side friend, the assiduous companion of the infirm or sick; over his book the faces of betrothed lovers first approach each other; his verses are the first to be learned by the child, and the last to be pronounced by the grandfather. No poet was ever more beloved. Every Hollander smiles at the sound of his name, and no foreigner has been in Holland without learning to pronounce it with sympathy and respect.
The-third, Bilderdijk, born in 1756, died in 1831, was one of the most wonderful intellects that has ever appeared in the world. Poet, historian, philologist, critic, astronomer, chemist, theologian, antiquarian, jurisconsult, draughtsman, engraver; a restless man and a wanderer, capricious, violent, his life was but an investigation, a transformation, a perpetual battle of his vast genius. Young, and already a famous poet, he left poetry, threw himself into politics, emigrated to England with the Stadtholder, and taught in London for a living. Tired of England, he went to Germany; weary of German romanticism, he returned to Holland, where Louis Napoleon loaded him with favours. But Louis descended from the throne, and Napoleon the Great took away Bilderdijk's pension, and reduced him to poverty. He asked for a chair in the University of Leyden, and was refused. Finally, he obtained a small subsidy from the Government, and continued to write and, study and combat up to the last day of his life. His works are composed of more than thirty volumes of science, art, and literature. He treated every kind of subject, and succeeded in all except the drama. He enlarged the field of historical criticism, writing one of the finest national histories that his country possesses. He wrote a poem, "The Primitive World," a grandiose and obscure work, much admired in Holland. He treated every kind of question, mingling strange paradoxes and luminous truths. Finally, he raised the national literature, which had fallen before his time, and left a phalanx of elect disciples who followed his steps in politics, art, and philosophy. He excited more than enthusiasm in Holland, he excited fanaticism; and it cannot be doubted that, after Vondel, he is the greatest poet of his country. But he was injured by religious passion, a blind hatred against the new ideas, poetry made the instrument of a sect, theology intermingled with everything so that he never rose into that region of serenity and freedom, outside of which genius gains no enduring victories or universal acknowledgment.
About these three poets, who have in them the three principal vices of Dutch literature - to lose itself in the clouds, or to graze the earth too near, or to be caught in the net of mysticism - are grouped numbers of others, epic, comic, satiric, lyric, most of them of the seventeenth century, very few of the eighteenth; many of whom enjoy great fame in Holland, but none of whom stands out in relief from the rest sufficient to draw the attention of a foreigner.
A rapid glance is due to the present day. That criticism, despoiling Dutch history of the poetic veil in which patriotic writers have dressed her, has conducted her along the wider and more fertile paths of justice; that philological studies are held in the highest honor, and that almost all the sciences have in Holland professors of European fame - are things that no studious man in Italy is ignorant of, and need only to be hinted at.
Of literature properly so called, the most flourishing kind is Romance. Holland has had her national romance-writer, her Walter Scott, in Van Leunep, who died only a few years ago, and whose historical novels were received with enthusiasm by all classes of society; a most excellent painter of costume, learned, witty, a master of description and admirable in dialogue; but who is often prolix, and makes use of old artifices, and does not always hide himself sufficiently, while he frequently forces the dénouement of his plot. His last novel, entitled "The Adventures of Nicoletta Zevenster" in which, representing, in a masterly manner, Dutch society at the beginning of this century, he had the audacity to describe an unnameable house at the Hague - was commented upon, discussed, abused, and lauded to the skies; and the battle still goes on. Other historical romances were written by Schimmel, an emulator of Van Leunep; and one Madame Rosboon Toussaint, a cultivated writer, rich in study and deep genius. Nevertheless, historical romance, even in Holland, may be considered as dead. Better fortune attends romances of manners and novels, in which one Beets is first, a poet and Protestant minister, author of a celebrated book called the "Dark Chamber." There is also Koetsveld, and some young men of talent, who contend with each other in raising up that persecuting demon of the literature of the day - haste.
Holland has also a kind of romance quite her own, which may be called Indian romance, and which paints the manners and the life of the people of the colonies; and several of this kind have appeared of late years, which have been received with much applause in the country, and have been translated into various languages; among others, "The Beau monde of Batavia," by Professor Ten Briuck, a learned and brilliant writer, whom I wish I could speak of at greater length, in order to attest in some way my gratitude and admiration. But apropos of Indian romances, it is interesting to note how, in Holland, you hear and see at every step something to remind you of her colonies; how a ray of the sun of India seems to penetrate through her fogs and color her life. Besides the ships which bring a breath of that country into her ports-besides the birds, the flowers, the thousand objects, that, like scattered strains of distant music, bring to the mind fancies of another nature and another race - it is not rare to meet in the streets of the Dutch cities, in the midst of the white faces visages bronzed by the sun, of people born in the colonies, or who have lived there for many years; merchants who talk with unusual vivacity about brunettes, bananas, groves of palms, and lakes embowered in vines; bold young men who risk their lives in the midst of the savages of Borneo and Sumatra; men of science, men of letters, and officers, who tell about the worshippers of fishes, or ambassadors who carry the heads of the vanquished suspended from their girdles, combats between bulls and tigers, the furies of opium-eaters or multitudes baptised with pomp; or a thousand other strange and wonderful things, which occasion a singular effect when uttered by the cold natives of this most tranquil land.
Poetry, after having lost Da Costa, a disciple of Bilderdijk, and a religious and enthusiastic poet, and Genestel, a satirical poet, who died very young has but few specimens left of the past generation, who are mostly silent, or sing with faint voices. The theatre is in a worse condition. Dutch actors, declamatory and untrained, act in general only French or German dramas and comedies, which are badly translated, and which high society will not go to see. Dutch writers of talent, like Hofdijk, Schimmel, and the before-mentioned Van Leunep, wrote comedies which, in some respects, were admirable, but did not please enough to keep the stage. Tragedy is in no better condition than comedy or drama.
From what I have said it would appear that there is no great literary movement in Holland; but there is, in fact, a great deal. The quantity of books published is incredible; and so is the avidity with which they are read. Every city, every religious sect, every society has its review or its journal. There is, besides, a flood of foreign books; English novels in every hand; French works in eight, ten, twenty volumes, translated into the national tongue, an admirable thing in a country where every educated person can read them in the original, and which proves that it is usual not only to read them but to buy them, notwithstanding the fact that books in Holland are very dear. But it is precisely this superabundance of publications, and this rage for reading, which injures literature. Authors, in order to satisfy the impatient curiosity of the public, write too fast, and the mania, for foreign reading suffocates and corrupts the national genius. Nevertheless, Dutch literature has still a title to the gratitude of the country; it is fallen but not perverted; it has preserved its innocence and freshness; what it lacks in fancy, in originality, in splendor, is made up in good sense, in severe respect for good taste and good manners, in benevolent solicitude for the poorer classes, in efficacious works for the promotion of beneficence and civil education. Other literatures are great plants covered with odorous flowers; Dutch literature is a little tree loaded with fruit.
On the morning that I left the Hague, the second time that I was there, some of my dearest friends accompanied me to the railway station. The weather was rainy. In the waiting-room I thanked my kind hosts for the pleasant welcome they had given me; and as I knew I should not probably ever see them again, I expressed my gratitude in affectionate and melancholy words, which they listened to in silence. One only interrupted me to beg me to be careful against the dampness. "Should anyone belonging to you come to Italy," I continued, "it would give me the opportunity to show my gratitude. Promise me that someone will come, and I shall depart with a feeling of consolation. I will not go until someone tells me that he will come to Italy." They looked at each other, and one of them answered faintly, "Perhaps." Another gave me the advice never to change French gold in the shops.
At that moment the bell for departure rang out.
"Farewell, then," I said, in a slightly agitated voice, pressing their hands; "until we meet again. I shall never forget the pleasant days I have passed at the Hague. I shall always remember you all among the most agreeable memories of my journey; think of me sometimes." "Good-bye," they answered, in the same tone as if they expected to meet me again next day. I entered the carriage with a heavy heart, and looked out of the window until the train moved on; and they stood there mute, impassible, with their eyes fixed on mine. Waving my hand for the last time, they responded with a slight nod, and disappeared for ever from my eyes. Every time I think of them, I see them as they stood there, with grave faces and fixed eyes, and the affection I feel for them has something of the austere and sad, like their own skies, under which I saw them for the last time.