View Full Version : Hollandia: A Hungarian Account, 1620

Sunday, February 27th, 2005, 08:02 PM
VOLUME XLV * No. 175 * Autumn 2004 (http://www.hungarianquarterly.com/no175/)

Márton Szepsi Csombor (http://www.hungarianquarterly.com/no175/1.html#_aut)


A Hungarian Account, 1620

In respectful service
I dedicate
to my distinguished and learned masters,
István Almási, András Varannai
and György Zoltán,
my generous supporters and patrons,
this account of the greatest wonder of the world
in both fruitfulness and naval power,
Hollandia and Zélandia.

There is a great wealth of meadow-land on which are countless cattle, and the cows there are as big as any oxen in Hungary, and their cheese is exceeding good, white, red and green alike. The folk are kindly and cleaner than any nation under heaven; only for lack of wood they enjoy very scruffy food, because even those of high degree bake only twice in a whole week, on Sunday and Wednesday, and on other days they eat nothing but boiled meat and cold roast, and if they warm it up certainly the taste is worse, because it is warmed on a fire fuelled by turf and dung, which taints all their food. The people here have the nature of the waves of the sea, very seldom yielding to another but standing against all, hospitable in their manner, and in their dress following a style different to that of any other German nation. No land under heaven has better seamen than this, who are called Palinuruses4 on account of their peregrinations to south and north, in the course of which what they have suffered, seen and heard I could write here, and I know that it would arouse the astonishment of all readers of all times, but that I should not speak of it is brought about by the narrow and costly nature of book-printers in our country.
The girls are, just as in Danzig, grown up and so given in marriage in their thirty-second year. At this point I may recall something to the honour of the girls. Once a year, for three days in winter, in accordance with the law and custom of the entire country the girls summon the young men of similar age onto the water to race for a certain prize, which is put up by the magistrate, and the girls bind onto the feet of the youths (who do the same in return) skates made of bone or wood, but these are not such as I have seen in Hungary, where those that go on the ice hold in their hands a stick tipped with a great piece of iron, but by artfully kicking and pushing their feet they set off in the sight of all the people and move so fast that no horse on earth can catch them. Their ordinary gait too is sheer elegance, and there is no Cleopatra, no Camilla, no Amazon to compare with them, so very tall but exceeding slender are they, for many persons of quality bring up their daughters from early youth in body-squeezing garments made of strong, thick cloth that their waists may acquire a fine posture.

There are many hospices, many houses for the sick, and beggars are never to be seen in this town because they are not suffered to go in the marketplace, but if a man lacks the strength to work he goes to a certain place where he is taken up and carried to a hospice, but if he is not deserving of charity and is yet a beggar woe betide him, no doubt, for he is taken to the Zuchthaus, where it is seen whether he can eat or not. My God, what great charitableness there is among them, you would see some hundreds of persons lying sick and beside every four a woman who attends to their needs etc. There are a number of public places for deserted orphans too, where they live, are instructed in a variety of crafts, and are all alike made to go about in red clothing. On one of their houses I saw written in letters of gold:

Gott ist der Weysen Helffer. Ps 108.

Children deserted by lewd persons too have fine houses and are well cared for.
What is meant by the Zuchthaus (called by clerks domus disciplinaris) is as follows. As in all places, but principally among them, there are to be found such like as depraved boys who, paying no heed to their fathers and mothers, run to all manner of evildoing, prodigals, blasphemers, fighters, lecherous and the rest: with that in mind the wise and worthy Council has caused a common house to be built in which their evil ways may in time be curbed, and therein all manner of craftsmen that one can conceive of, and therefore not only local persons but others too from many countries send wicked boys thither, and they are put to that which the attendants there consider fitting for them, one to be a clerk, another a smith, a tailor, a carpenter, a goldsmith, and other crafts, but both in the craft and before entering upon it they are surely so brought to heel that even had they been roaring lions they change into gentle lambs. First their obedience is tested in various labours: they carry stone from one place to another from dawn to dusk, draw water from wells into tubs and then pour it back into the well, some are made to do pargetting, some to sing, there are irons on the feet of some and the necks of others, they are made to saw, sometimes to jump, sometimes they are made to lie prone in the sun, and as for those that will not do it, or who appear idle, there is a room almost like in the Prince's stables at Heidelberg or in the King's court at Prague, in which there is a great brass figure in the likeness of a man, in which there are thousands of small holes, and there is only one window in the room, and that as high as a man can reach; the idler is shut in this room with a vessel suited to his hands, water is allowed to enter the brass man and emerges from it at such speed that there is never any corner of the room where one can remain dry; the water rises continually and there is nowhere to climb, and so let him see, either he throws the water from the window above his head or he will surely drown in it. Some bale until the skin is completely removed from both hands, but some abandon themselves to desperate measures, and if one is the son of a man of quality and brought up from early youth to be pampered he will be a very long time drowning in the water, swimming, weeping, shouting, beseeching, and such a one is often taken out half dead. In short, one is in Purgatory in that room. They have enough to do but little bread. The town profits immensely from the workhouse, because although it pays the craftsmen a yearly wage countless faithful servants bring in for the town of a Monday around noon all kinds of things, such as cloth, wood, leather, lime, earth, iron, tallow etc. to be worked on for little more than bread and water, and by the morning they take out everything finished. Some of these poor ones are in there for a year, some for two years, some for longer. On one occasion they all very secretly plotted that each would kill his master or instructor, but one, I know not whether out of pity or rather moved by the greater torment that would come upon him in future, wrote in red chalk the following words of Vergil on one of the houses:

Quondam etiam victis redit in praecordia virtus
Victoresque cadunt Danai.

That is to say: At times courage returns even to the hearts of the defeated, and the victorious Greeks fall. On seeing that (as animadversio is kept for the least thing), the attendants that lived there began by means of beating to enquire who had written it and to what end, in the course of which the whole affair and treacherous resolve were revealed, and the wretched attention that had been paid them was redoubled. Beggars undeserving of charity too are brought here.
I was certainly horrified at the mere sight of this house, because above the big gate was an effigy of a man sitting in a wagon, and beside and before him many saws, hoes, shears, stakes, sickles etc. Above the man is written in letters of gold:

Virtutis est domare ea, quae cuncti pavent.

The wagon is drawn by tigers, lions, wolves and bears.

LUGDUNUM, which is called Batavorum, is, after Amsterdamum, the most famous town in Holland, and I do not believe that there could be a more beautiful town under Heaven to delight Nature. Because first there is in it the true worship of God. Secondly, its position is in very fine meadowland, although it too has its foundations laid constantly in water, its folk are remarkably handsome, its waters exceeding good, its defence a very great dyke, as in Amsterdam, the sea has no ebb that would make the town stink, all its buildings are exceeding beautiful and one can scarce tell one street from another because every street of this town too has a big waterway that bears cargo vessels, and the waterside has been planted everywhere in the town with fine lindens, vine-stocks have been allowed to grow on the houses and only the windows are to be seen, there are fine amusement gardens and skittle alleys in addition to bathhouses, good windmills and countless stone bridges (I do not know if I recalled in the description of Amsterdam above, there are in that town more than two hundred bridges). I may write of the public places thus: Forty-two great stone columns support the church of St Peter, and it has two very big organs and many fine epitaphs. In this church I saw for the first time women regularly sitting side by side with men, so much so that it frequently happens that each may sit beside one whom they do not dislike, and I opine that in Hungary this law, or at least custom, would be
little in favour with married persons, because our people magna laborant zelotipia. The other big church is called the Old Church; it is very big, circular in shape, has thirty-eight stone columns, there is not one idol in it, the organs are fine, and on that occasion a young minister was preaching ex 6. capite Joannis: Nisi manducaveritis carnem. Outside the church of the Virgin Mary is the famous book-printer officina Plantiniana, and to pass the time I often went in. The Praetorium is built of dressed stone from foundation to roof, and men in the service of Prince Mauritius are constantly most vigilant before it. On it is the principal clock, the many bells of which ring out so finely every twenty-five minutes so that those going to and fro in the town (that they be not hungry) believe themselves to be at a wedding-feast at all times. The other clocks too are all similar. In a word, the town is a Paradisus terrestris. One of its main gates is built in almost the same form as the High Gate in Danzig. Their device, like that of the Pope, is two keys. In the middle of the town is a great jail, and beside it a gallows on which those deserving it are first garrotted and then the body is removed to a gibbet outside the town; I enquired the reason for this custom of theirs, and was told that it is done because if they were taken there straight away the people would run out to watch, and in the town there might be a great fire or rioting the while. The university was a building in a great street and surpassed in height all buildings of the whole town, even the churches, and building has now begun because it was completely burnt down, and it has been moved to another street. There I heard a lecture by the then Grand Rector, John Poliander, de bonis operibus. He entered the school in very dignified fashion, two silver rods being borne before him. I stayed for the lecture of a lawyer too, who taught de excusatione tutorum the following: four categories of person may not undertake guardianship: 1. The very old, who are by nature unwell at all times; 2. Young men of less than twenty-five years, whose minds are frivolous; 3. Military persons, because they are rarely present; 4. The insane. Such was the teaching of the pious doctor of law. My lodging was in the Lily of France, and I paid 28 stiver a day. This is the town from which the Arminian heresy recently sprang.
HAGA, the present abode of Prince Mauritius, is only three miles from Lugdunum. The whole town no doubt accepted the said heresy, and the wise Prince, in order to determine how many there might be that had deserted their religion, had a new church built, installed his own minister, caused him to preach and realised that few remained in it. He convened an assembly at a village called Sluy (as he did last year at Dordrechtum, to which he also summoned doctors from Germany) at which the Bishop of Delphus opposed them with great and godly arguments, but nevertheless three ministers, also from Delphus, persisted in that falsehood, and the Prince sent them into exile and those he chose in their places he made swear thrice over that they would at all times remain in that religion in which His Highness Prince Mauritius is.

We continued on our way towards Zélandia by ship, where I was amazed at how very much the people enjoyed tobacco, by which I mean: Tobacco is a Spanish word, and in Latin it is called herba Nicotiana, from the name of the man who first discovered the usefulness of this grass. It comes from the New World, and its uses are: 1. If someone is going on a journey by sea or in the desert where no bread is to be found he takes a piece, lights it, breathes in the smoke, and will not be hungry or thirsty for very many days without food and drink, but will be able to do all his work as when he has come from a pleasing dinner. 2. If one would take malozsa, wine or some other drink only for the sake of drunkenness, let him not go to such expense but take six pénz worth of tobacco, enjoy it for a quarter of an hour and-I will guarantee-certainly he could be no more drunk if he had spent four or five forints on malozsa. I have read in Monardus and Clusius of other uses for it, but these I have actually tried. A barber's lad from Brema, who was setting out for Libya, kept me well supplied with rolls of tobacco every day while I was aboard.

FLISSINGA is indeed a handsome town, and there is in Zélandia none stronger, fortified with water by nature, and with strong bastions and a great dyke by men against the Spaniards in nearby Flanders. There are many cannon on every bastion, it has fine towers and is adorned with the house of the Prince of Zélandia. Its fine Council House, none more handsome than which have
I seen in the countries that I have yet visited, stands on twelve arches, every last part of dressed stone, there are great stone statues on it and the device of the town, which is three curving rivers, from which the town takes its name, as 'river' is in German Fluss and in Belgian Flis, from whence comes Flissinga. The good sized marketplace of the town is square, wide and ample. The big church is adorned with many fine epitaphs, but there is no writing on them, but they are so piled high with helmets, firearms and broadswords that if one were to enter the church unawares one might take it for an armoury. It has a fine tower and three aisles. The Prince's house is of costly dressed stone to the very ground. In this church the priests have a queer custom: before the sermon one reads a chapter from the Bible, and after that says aloud the Ten Commandments, to which another priest responds, thus: The first says 'Thou shalt have no other gods but me', and the second responds 'God save us from that', and so on, one after the other. When he reaches 'Honour thy father and thy mother', the response is 'God so help us all'. So strong is this town in its true religion that if, apart from merchants, any Papist or Arminian entered it they would be killed anywhere in the streets, and not only here but in any town in Zélandia. While I was there I went up around noon to a small church hard by the large harbour, and this was very greatly to my regret, because the preacher who was expounding at the time was in all respects, in face, speech, gesture, age and gaze, so like my dear kind master, patron and kinsman Mihály Szepsi Láni, now pastor of the parish in Szatmár, that if I had known that he was at the time in Germany I would have sworn a thousand times that it was he. It saddened me, however, that he whom I had long desired to see had suddenly appeared before me simulated by the shadow of time. In this place the sea has a great tide, the smell from which almost made me ill, and for six whole hours, that is, from nine o'clock until three in the afternoon, the waters in the town run from the streets to the sea, and the streets are waterless, ships are grounded, by three o'clock the water turns back and raises up the ships, as it does in Amsterdam and Lugdunum, but there one can scarce notice it whereas in this town no water remains. I saw no cheaper fish in the country than here, because one as big as an eighteen-month-old child could be bought for eight garas. I took lodging at the Three Saracen Girls on the sea shore, which, as ships do not tarry, I was obliged to leave at seven in the evening and all the same was made to pay twelve stiver for bed and dinner, as if I had slept and dined there, and when I sought to reproach them, saying that I would not spend the night there and therefore was not in their debt for a bed, their only reply was: Whether you spend the night or not, you shall certainly not leave until you pay, for it was your intention to sleep here. On hearing that, at once there came to my mind the action of the thieving servants of a nobleman (whom I could name) by the Szamos, here in Hungary, who, if a poor serf's oxen, even if from over the Szamos, so much as looked into their master's meadow, drove them in because it was their intention to enter and released them only on payment of a fine. Thinking therefore that if even in one's native land one can be so scurvily used, why should I save myself in a foreign country? I opened the mouth of my purse and gave it to them. As I did so I was aware of the truth of the veriverbium: Peregrinans duos saccos debet habere, alterum patientiae, alterum pecuniae.
And so we left Zélandia, and having sailed with the help of God a day and a night on the Zelandicus oceanus we arrived at the coast of England in the mouth of the Tamesis, where, going up a whole fifteen miles, we arrived in the metropolis of England, Londinum.

Translated by Bernard Adams

Márton Szepsi Csombor (http://www.hungarianquarterly.com/no175/1.html#aut)
is the author of Europica Varietas, the first travel book written in Hungarian. He was born in Northern Hungary (now Slovakia) into a poor artisan family, studied locally and in Transylvania, later in the city of Kassa (KosŠice). He became a schoolmaster, then in 1616 travelled to Danzig, where he studied philosophy and theology at the university, and subsequently qualified as a Calvinist minister. He set out from there on his long-planned journey to see foreign lands and meet people. Most of the time he travelled on foot and his sojourns were brief, as he tried to see as much as his modest means allowed. He visited Poland, Denmark, Holland, Frisia, France, England, Germany, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia before returning home in 1618. While writing his book he taught in Kassa, later as a minister and teacher he became a member of an aristocratic household. His book appeared in Kassa in 1620 and was a success. He fell victim to the plague in 1622. His chapter on England appeared in HQ 171, Autumn 2003.