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Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:24 AM
Holland and its people

by Edmondo de Amicis

(Translated from the Italian by Caroline Tilton)



Whoever looks for the first time at a large map of Holland, wonders that a country so constituted can continue to exist. At the first glance, it is difficult to say whether land or water predominates, or whether Holland belongs most to the continent or to the sea. Those broken and compressed coasts, those deep bays, those great rivers that, losing the aspect of rivers, seem bringing new seas to the sea; and that sea, which, changing itself into rivers, penetrates the land and breaks it into archipelagoes; the lakes, the vast morasses, the canals crossing and recrossing each other, all combine to give the idea of a country that may at any moment disintegrate and disappear. Seals and beavers would seem to be its rightful inhabitants; but since there are men bold enough to live in it, they surely cannot ever sleep in peace.

These were my thoughts as I looked for the first time at a map of Holland, and experienced a desire to know something about the formation of so strange a country; and as that which I learned induced me to write this book, I put it down here, with the hope that it may induce others to read it.

What sort of a country Holland is, has been told by many in few words.

Napoleon said that it was an alluvion of French rivers, - the Rhine, the Scheldt, and the Meuse, - and with this pretext he added it to the empire. One writer has defined it as a sort of transition between land and sea. Another, as an immense crust of earth floating on the water. Others, an annex of the old continent, the China of Europe, the end of the earth and the beginning of the ocean, a measureless raft of mud and sand; and Phillip II. called it the country nearest to hell.

But they all agreed upon one point, and all expressed it in the same words: - Holland is a conquest made by man over the sea - it is an artificial country - the Hollanders made it - it exists because the Hollanders preserve it - it will vanish whenever the Hollanders shall abandon it.

To comprehend this truth, we must imagine Holland as it was when first inhabited by the first German tribes that wandered away in search of a country.

It was almost uninhabitable. There were vast tempestuous lakes, like seas, touching one another; morass beside morass; one tract covered with brushwood after another; immense forests of pines, oaks, and alders, traversed by herds of wild horses; and so thick were these forests that tradition says one could travel leagues passing from tree to tree without ever putting foot to the ground. The deep bays and gulfs carried into the heart of the country the fury of the northern tempests. Some provinces disappeared once every year under the waters of the sea, and were nothing but muddy tracts, neither land nor water, where it was impossible either to walk or to sail. The large rivers, without sufficient inclination to descend to the sea, wandered here and there uncertain of their way, and slept in monstrous pools and ponds among the sands of the coasts. It was a sinister place, swept by furious winds, beaten by obstinate rains, veiled in a perpetual fog, where nothing was heard but the roar of the sea, and the voices of wild beasts and birds of the ocean. The first people who had the courage to plant their tents there, had to raise with their own hands dykes of earth to keep out the rivers and the sea, and lived within them like shipwrecked men upon desolate islands, venturing forth at the subsidence of the waters in quest of food in the shape of fish and game, and gathering the eggs of marine birds upon the sand.

Cæsar, passing by, was the first to name this people. The other Latin historians speak with compassion and respect of those intrepid barbarians who lived upon a "floating land," exposed to the intemperance of a cruel sky, and the fury of the mysterious northern sea; and the imagination pictures the Roman soldiers, who, from the heights of the uttermost citadels of the empire, beaten by the waves, contemplated with wonder and pity those wandering tribes upon their desolate land, like a race accursed of heaven.

Now, if we remember that such a region has become one of the most fertile, wealthiest, and best regulated of the countries of the world, we shall understand the justice of the saying that Holland is a conquest made by man. But, it must be added, the conquest goes on for ever.

To explain this fact, to show how the existence of Holland, in spite of the great defensive works constructed by the inhabitants, demands an incessant and most perilous struggle, it will be enough to touch here and there upon a few of the principal vicissitudes of her physical history, from the time when her inhabitants had already reduced her to a habitable country.

Tradition speaks of a great inundation in Friesland in the sixth century. From that time every gulf, every island, and, it may be said, every city in Holland has its catastrophe to record. In thirteen centuries, it is recorded that one great inundation, besides smaller ones, has occurred every seven years; and the country being all plain, these inundations were veritable floods. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, the sea destroyed a part of a fertile peninsula near the mouth of the Ems, and swallowed up more than thirty villages. In the course of the same century, a series of inundations opened an immense chasm in northern Holland, and formed the Zuyder Zee, causing the death of more than eighty thousand persons. In 1421 a tempest swelled the Meuse, so that in one night the waters overwhelmed seventy-two villages and one hundred thousand inhabitants. In 1532 the sea burst the dykes of Zealand, destroying hundreds of villages, and covering for ever a large tract of country. In 1570 a storm caused another inundation in Zealand, in the province of Utrecht, Amsterdam was invaded by the waters, and in Friesland twenty thousand people were drowned. Other great inundations took place in the seventeenth century; two terrible ones at the beginning and the end of the eighteenth; one in 1825 that desolated North Holland, Friesland, Over-Yssel, and Gueldres; and another great one of the Rhine, in 1855, which invaded Gueldres and the province of Utrecht, and covered a great part of North Brabant. Besides these great catastrophes, there happened in different centuries innumerable smaller ones, which would have been famous in any other country, and which in Holland are scarcely remembered; like the rising of the lake of Harlem, itself the result of an inundation of the sea; flourishing cities of the gulf of Zuyder Zee vanished under the waters; the islands of Zealand covered again and again by the sea, and again emerging; villages of the coast, from Helder to the mouths of the Meuse, from time to time inundated and destroyed; and in all these inundations immense loss of life of men and animals. It is plain that miracles of courage, constancy and industry, must have been accomplished by the Hollanders, first in creating and afterwards in preserving such a country. The enemy from which they had to wrest it, was triple: the sea, the lakes, the rivers. They drained the lakes, drove back the sea, and imprisoned the rivers.

To drain the lakes the Hollanders pressed the air into their service. The lakes, the marshes, were surrounded by dykes, the dykes by canals; and an army of windmills, putting in motion force-pumps, turned the water into the canals, which carried it off to the rivers and the sea. Thus vast tracts of land buried under the water, saw the sun, and were transformed, as if by magic, into fertile fields, covered with villages, and intersected by canals and roads. In the seventeenth century, in less than forty years, twenty-six lakes were drained. At the beginning of the present century, in North Holland alone, more than six thousand hectares (or fifteen thousand acres), were thus redeemed from the waters; in South Holland, before 1844, twenty-nine thousand hectares; in the whole of Holland, from 1500 to 1858, three hundred and fifty-five thousand hectares. Substituting, steam-mills for windmills, in thirty-nine months was completed the great undertaking of the draining of the lake of Harlem, which measured forty-four kilometres in circumference, and for ever threatened with its tempests the cities of Harlem, Amsterdam, and Leyden. And they are now meditating the prodigious work of drying up the Zuyder Zee, which embraces an area of more than seven hundred square kilometres.

The rivers, another internal enemy, cost no less of labour and sacrifice. Some, like the Rhine, which lost itself in the sands before reaching the sea, had to be channelled and defended at their mouths, against the tides, by formidable cataracts; others, like the Meuse, bordered by dykes as powerful as those that were raised against the ocean; others, turned from their course; the wandering waters gathered together; the course of the affluents regulated; the waters divided with rigorous measure in order to maintain that enormous mass of liquid in equilibrium, where the slightest inequality might cost a province; and in this way all the rivers that formerly spread their devastating floods about the country, were disciplined into streams and constrained to do service.

But the most tremendous struggle was the battle with the ocean. Holland is in great part lower than the level of the sea; consequently, everywhere that the coast is not defended by sand-banks, it has to be protected by dykes. If these interminable bulwarks of earth, granite, and wood were not there to attest the indomitable courage and perseverance of the Hollanders, it would not be believed that the hand of man could, even in many centuries, have accomplished such a work. In Zealand alone the dykes extend to a distance of more than four hundred kilometres. The western coast of the island of Walcheren is defended by a dyke, in which it is computed that the expense of construction added to that of preservation, it were put out at interest, would amount to a sum equal in value to that which the dyke itself would be worth were it made of massive copper. Around the city of Helder, at the northern extremity of North Holland, extends a dyke ten kilometres long, constructed of masses of Norwegian granite, which descends more than sixty metres into the sea. The whole province of Friesland, for the length of eighty-eight kilometres, is defended by three rows of piles sustained by masses of Norwegian and German granite. Amsterdam, all the cities of the Zuyder Zee, and all the islands - fragments of vanished lands - which are strung like beads between Friesland and North Holland, are protected by dykes. From the mouths of the Ems to those of the Scheldt Holland is an impenetrable fortress, of whose immense bastions the mills are the towers, the cataracts are the gates, the islands the advanced forts; and like a true fortress, it shows to its enemy, the sea, only the tops of its bell-towers and the roofs of its houses, as if in defiance and derision.

Holland is a fortress, and her people live as in a fortress, on a war-footing with the sea. An army of engineers, directed by the Minister of the Interior, spread over the country, and ordered like an army, continually spy the enemy, watch over the internal waters, foresee the bursting of the dykes, order and direct the defensive works. The expenses of the war are divided; one part to the State, one part to the provinces; every proprietor pays, besides the general imposts, a special impost for the dykes, in proportion to the extent of his lands and their proximity to the water. An accidental rupture, an inadvertence, may cause a flood; the peril is unceasing; the sentinels are at their posts upon the bulwarks; at the first assault of the sea, they shout the war-cry, and Holland sends men, material, and money. And even when there is no great battle, a quiet, silent struggle is forever going on. The innumerable mills, even in the drained districts, continue to work unresting, to absorb and turn into the canals the water that falls in rain and that which filters in from the sea. Every day the cataracts of the bays and rivers close their gigantic gates against the high tide trying to rush into the heart of the land. The work of strengthening dykes, fortifying sand-banks with plantations, throwing out new dykes where the banks are low, straight as great lances, vibrating in the bosom of the sea, and breaking the first impetus of the wave, is for ever going on. And the sea externally knocks at the river-gates, beats upon the ramparts, growls on every side her ceaseless menace, lifting her curious waves as if to see the land she counts as hers, piling up banks of sand before the gates to kill the commerce of the cities, for ever gnawing, scratching, digging at the coast; and failing to overthrow the ramparts upon which she foams and fumes in angry effort, she casts at their feet ships full of the dead, that they may announce to the rebellious country her fury and her strength.

In the midst of this great and terrible struggle Holland is transformed: Holland is the land of transformations. A geographical map of that country as it existed eight centuries ago is not recognisable. Transforming the sea, men also are transformed. The sea, at some points, drives back the land: it takes portions from the continent, leaves them, and takes them again; joins islands to the mainland with ropes of sand, as in the case of Zealand; breaks of bits from the mainland and makes new islands, as in Wieringen; retires from certain coasts and makes land cities out of what were cities of the sea, as Leuvarde; converts vast tracts of plain into archipelagoes of a hundred islets, as Biisbosch; separates a city from the land, as Dordrecht; forms new gulfs two leagues broad, like the gulf of Dollart; divides two provinces with a new sea, like North Holland and Friesland. The effect of the inundations is to cause the level of the sea to rise in some places and to sink in others; sterile lands are fertilised by the slime of the rivers, fertile lands are changed into deserts of sand. With the transformations of the waters alternate the transformations of labour. Islands are united to continents, like the island of Ameland; entire provinces are reduced to island, as North Holland will be by the new canal of Amsterdam, which is to separate it from South Holland; lakes as large as provinces disappear altogether, like the lake of Beemster; by the extraction of peat, land is converted into lakes, and these lakes are again transformed into meadows. And thus the country changes its aspect according to the violence of nature or the needs of men. And while one goes over it with the latest map in hand, one may be sure that the map will be useless in a few years, because even now there are new gulfs in process of formation, tracts of land just ready to be detached from the mainland, and great canals being cut that will carry life to uninhabited districts.

But Holland has done more than defend herself against the waters; she has made herself mistress of them, and has used them for her own defence. Should a foreign army invade her territory, she has but to open her dykes and unchain the sea and the rivers, as she did against the Romans, against the Spaniards, against the army of Louis XIV., and defend the land cities with her fleet. Water was the source of her poverty, she has made it the source of wealth. Over the whole country extends an immense net-work of canals which serve both for the irrigation of the land and as a means of communication. The cities, by means of canals, communicate with the sea; canals run from town to town, and from them to villages, which are themselves bound together by these watery ways, and are connected even to the houses scattered over the country; smaller canals surround the fields and orchards, pastures and kitchen-gardens, serving at once as boundary-wall, hedge, and road-way; every house is a little port. Ships, boats, rafts move about in all directions, as in other places, carts and carriages. The canals are the arteries of Holland, and the water her lifeblood.

But even setting aside the canals, the draining of the lakes, and the defensive works, on every side are seen the traces of marvellous undertakings. The soil, which in other countries is a gift of nature, is in Holland a work of men's hands. Holland draws the greater part of her wealth from commerce - but before commerce comes the cultivation of the soil; and the soil had to be created. There were sand-banks, interspersed with layers of peat, broad downs swept by the winds, great tracts of barren land apparently condemned to an eternal sterility. The first elements of manufacture, iron and coal, were wanting; there was no wood, because the forests had already been destroyed by tempests when agriculture began; there was no stone, there were no metals. Nature, says a Dutch poet, had refused all her gifts to Holland; the Hollanders had to do everything in spite of nature. They began by fertilising the sand. In some places they formed a productive soil with earth brought from a distance, as a garden is made; they spread the siliceous dust of the downs over tile too watery meadows; they mixed with the sandy earth the remains of peat taken from the bottoms; they extracted clay to lend fertility to the surface of their lands; they laboured to break up the downs with the plough; and thus in a thousand ways, and continually fighting off the menacing waters, they succeeded in bringing Holland to a state of cultivation not inferior to that of more favoured regions. That Holland, the sandy, marshy country that the ancients considered all but uninhabitable, now sends out yearly from her confines agricultural products to the value of a hundred millions of francs, possesses about one million three hundred thousand head of cattle, and, in proportion to the extent of her territory, may be accounted one of the most populous of European states.

It may be easily understood how the physical peculiarities of their country must influence the Dutch people; and their genius is in perfect harmony with the character of Holland. It is sufficient to contemplate the monuments of their great struggle with the sea in order to understand that their distinctive characteristics must be firmness and patience, accompanied by a calm and constant courage. That glorious battle, and the consciousness of owing everything to their own strength, must have infused and fortified in them a high sense of dignity and an indomitable spirit of liberty and independence. The necessity of a constant struggle, of a continuous labour, and perpetual sacrifices in defence of their existence, for ever taking them back to a sense of reality, must have made them a highly practical and economical people; good sense should be their most salient quality, economy one of their chief virtues; they must be excellent in all useful arts, sparing of diversion, simple even in their greatness; succeeding in what they undertake, by dint of tenacity and a thoughtful and orderly activity; more wise than heroic; more conservative than creative; giving no great architects to the edifice of modern thought, but the ablest of workmen, a legion of patient and laborious artisans. And by virtue of these qualities of prudence, phlegmatic activity, and the spirit of conservatism, they are ever advancing, though by slow degrees; they acquire gradually, but never lose what they have gained; holding stubbornly to their ancient customs; preserving almost intact, and despite the neighbourhood of three great nations, their own originality; preserving it through every form of government, through foreign invasions, through political and religious wars, and in spite of the immense concourse of strangers from every country that are always coming among them; and remaining, in short, of all the northern races, that one which, though ever advancing in the path of civilisation, has kept its antique stamp most clearly.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:26 AM
But Holland has done more than defend herself against the waters; she has made herself mistress of them, and has used them for her own defence. Should a foreign army invade her territory, she has but to open her dykes and unchain the sea and the rivers, as she did against the Romans, against the Spaniards, against the army of Louis XIV., and defend the land cities with her fleet. Water was the source of her poverty, she has made it the source of wealth. Over the whole country extends an immense net-work of canals which serve both for the irrigation of the land and as a means of communication. The cities, by means of canals, communicate with the sea; canals run from town to town, and from them to villages, which are themselves bound together by these watery ways, and are connected even to the houses scattered over the country; smaller canals surround the fields and orchards, pastures and kitchen-gardens, serving at once as boundary-wall, hedge, and road-way; every house is a little port. Ships, boats, rafts move about in all directions, as in other places, carts and carriages. The canals are the arteries of Holland, and the water her lifeblood.

But even setting aside the canals, the draining of the lakes, and the defensive works, on every side are seen the traces of marvellous undertakings. The soil, which in other countries is a gift of nature, is in Holland a work of men's hands. Holland draws the greater part of her wealth from commerce - but before commerce comes the cultivation of the soil; and the soil had to be created. There were sand-banks, interspersed with layers of peat, broad downs swept by the winds, great tracts of barren land apparently condemned to an eternal sterility. The first elements of manufacture, iron and coal, were wanting; there was no wood, because the forests had already been destroyed by tempests when agriculture began; there was no stone, there were no metals. Nature, says a Dutch poet, had refused all her gifts to Holland; the Hollanders had to do everything in spite of nature. They began by fertilising the sand. In some places they formed a productive soil with earth brought from a distance, as a garden is made; they spread the siliceous dust of the downs over tile too watery meadows; they mixed with the sandy earth the remains of peat taken from the bottoms; they extracted clay to lend fertility to the surface of their lands; they laboured to break up the downs with the plough; and thus in a thousand ways, and continually fighting off the menacing waters, they succeeded in bringing Holland to a state of cultivation not inferior to that of more favoured regions. That Holland, the sandy, marshy country that the ancients considered all but uninhabitable, now sends out yearly from her confines agricultural products to the value of a hundred millions of francs, possesses about one million three hundred thousand head of cattle, and, in proportion to the extent of her territory, may be accounted one of the most populous of European states.

It may be easily understood how the physical peculiarities of their country must influence the Dutch people; and their genius is in perfect harmony with the character of Holland. It is sufficient to contemplate the monuments of their great struggle with the sea in order to understand that their distinctive characteristics must be firmness and patience, accompanied by a calm and constant courage. That glorious battle, and the consciousness of owing everything to their own strength, must have infused and fortified in them a high sense of dignity and an indomitable spirit of liberty and independence. The necessity of a constant struggle, of a continuous labour, and perpetual sacrifices in defence of their existence, for ever taking them back to a sense of reality, must have made them a highly practical and economical people; good sense should be their most salient quality, economy one of their chief virtues; they must be excellent in all useful arts, sparing of diversion, simple even in their greatness; succeeding in what they undertake, by dint of tenacity and a thoughtful and orderly activity; more wise than heroic; more conservative than creative; giving no great architects to the edifice of modern thought, but the ablest of workmen, a legion of patient and laborious artisans. And by virtue of these qualities of prudence, phlegmatic activity, and the spirit of conservatism, they are ever advancing, though by slow degrees; they acquire gradually, but never lose what they have gained; holding stubbornly to their ancient customs; preserving almost intact, and despite the neighbourhood of three great nations, their own originality; preserving it through every form of government, through foreign invasions, through political and religious wars, and in spite of the immense concourse of strangers from every country that are always coming among them; and remaining, in short, of all the northern races, that one which, though ever advancing in the path of civilisation, has kept its antique stamp most clearly.

It is enough also to remember its form in order to comprehend that this country of three millions and a half of inhabitants, although bound in so compact a political union, although recognisable among all the other northern peoples by certain traits peculiar to the population of all its provinces, must present a great variety. And so it is in fact. Between Zealand and Holland proper, between Holland and Friesland, between Friesland and Gueldres, between Groningen and Brabant, in spite of vicinity and so many common ties, there is no less difference than between the more distant provinces of Italy and France: difference of language, costume, and character; difference of race and of religion. The communal regimé has impressed an indelible mark upon this people, because in no other country does it so conform to the nature of things. The country is divided into various groups of interests organised in the same manner as the hydraulic system. Whence, association and mutual help against the common enemy, the sea; but liberty for local institutions and forces. Monarchy has not extinguished the ancient municipal spirit, and this it is that renders impossible a complete fusion of the State, in all the great States that have made the attempt. The great rivers and gulfs are at the same time commercial roads serving as national bonds between the different provinces, and barriers, which defend old traditions and old customs in each.

But however wonderful may be the physical history of Holland, her political history is still more so. This small territory, invaded from the beginning by different tribes of the Germanic races, subjugated by the Romans and the Franks, devastated by the Normans and by the Danes, desolated by centuries of civil war with all its horrors, this small people of fishermen and traders, saves its civil liberty and its freedom of conscience by a war of eighty years against the formidable monarchy of Philip ll., and founds a republic which becomes the ark of salvation to the liberties of all the world, the adopted country of science, the Exchange of Europe, the station for the commerce of the world; a republic which extends its domination to Java, Sumatra, Hindostan, Ceylon, New Holland, Japan, Brazil, Guiana, the Cape of Good Hope, the West Indies, and New York; a republic which vanquishes England on the sea, which resists the united arms of Charles II. and Louis XIV., and which treats an equal terms with the greatest nations, and is, for a time, one of the three Powers that decide the fate of Europe.

She is not now the great Holland of the seventeenth century; but she is still, after England, the first colonizing State in the world; instead of her ancient greatness, she has tranquil prosperity; she restricts herself to commerce acquired by agriculture; she retains the substance of the republican regimé although she has lost the form; a family of patriot princes, dear to the people, governs tranquilly in the midst of her liberties, ancient and modern. There is wealth without ostentation, freedom without insolence, and there are taxes without poverty. She is, perhaps, of all European states the one where there is most popular education and least corruption of manners. Alone, at the extremity of the continent, occupied with her dykes and her colonies, she enjoys in peace the fruits of her labours, with the comforting conviction that no people in the world have conquered at the price of greater sacrifices liberty of conscience and the independence of the State.

All these things I revolved in my mind to the stimulation of my curiosity, as at Antwerp one fine summer morning I went on board the ship which was to take me by the way of the Scheldt to Zealand, the most mysterious of the provinces of the low countries.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:27 AM


If before I had made up my mind to go to Holland some professor of geography had stopped me in the street and demanded suddenly - Where is Zealand? I should have remained speechless; and I think I am not mistaken in supposing that numbers of my fellow-citizens to whom the question might be put would not easily find an answer. Zealand is a mystery even for the Hollanders themselves; very few of them have been there, and of these the greater part have only passed through it in a boat; consequently it is seldom spoken of, and always as a very distant country. The first words that reached my ears among the travellers who came on board the vessel with me, and who were almost all Belgians and Dutch, informed me that they also were about to visit that province for the first time; we were all, therefore, full of curiosity, and the ship had not left her moorings when we entered into conversation, and questions which no one could answer passed from one to another.

The ship sailed at sunrise, and for a time we enjoyed the spectacle of the steeple of Antwerp Cathedral, made out of Mechlin lace, as Napoleon, who was in love with it, used to say; and after having touched at the fortress of Lille and the village of Doel we came out of Belgium and entered Zealand.

At the moment of passing for the first time the frontier of a state, although it is evident that the prospect will not change all at once, everyone seems to imagine that it must do so. We all, therefore, stood at the side of the vessel to behold the apparition of Zealand.

But for a good while our expectations were deluded:, nothing was to be seen but the green flat shores of the Scheldt, wide as an arm of the sea, and sprinkled with sand-banks, upon which alighted flocks of screaming seagulls; and the pure, clear sky did not seem the sky of Holland. The ship sailed in between the island of Zuid-Beveland and that strip of land which forms the left bank ,of the Scheldt, called Flanders of the States, or Flemish Zealand.

The story of this strip of land is very curious. For the stranger entering Holland it is, as it were, the first page of that great epic which is entitled-the battle with the sea. In the middle ages there was nothing here but a vast gulf with a few scattered islets. In the beginning of the sixteenth century this gulf no longer existed; four hundred years of slow and patient labour had changed it into a fertile plain defended by dykes, intersected by canals, and populated with villages, under the name of Flemish Zealand. When the war of independence broke out, the inhabitants of Flemish Zealand, rather than give it up to the Spaniards, cut their dykes, let in the sea, and destroying in one day the labour of four centuries, it became once more the gulf of the middle ages. The war of independence over, the work of reformation was again, commenced, and in three hundred years Flemish Zealand again emerged from the waters, and was restored to the continent, like a daughter that had been dead and was alive again. Flemish Zealand, divided from Belgian Flanders by a double political and religious barrier, and separated from Holland by the Scheldt, preserves its customs and its faith as they were in the sixteenth century. The traditions of the war with Spain are as speaking and vivid as any event of the day. The soil is fertile, the inhabitants enjoy a more than ordinary prosperity, they have schools and printing-presses, their manners are severe and simple, and they live peaceably on, their fragment of country, risen from the sea but yesterday, until the day when the sea shall once more claim it for its third burial. A Belgian fellow-passenger, who gave me this information, called my attention to the fact that the inhabitants of Flemish Zealand, when they inundated their country and rose against the Spanish domination, were still Catholics; consequently the strange circumstance occurred that while they went down into the waters good Catholics, they rose to the surface Protestants.

To my great amazement, the ship, instead of continuing to descend the Scheldt and skirting the island of Zuid-Beveland, when it reached a certain point, entered a narrow canal which cuts that island into two parts and joins the two branches of the river which are made by the island itself.

It was the first Dutch canal that I had seen, and the impression was a new one. It is bordered by two lofty dykes which hide the country; the ship glided along as if it were in ambush and meant to rush out at the other end to somebody's confusion; and as there was not a boat on the canal nor a living being on the banks, the silence and solitude gave a still more piratical air to the proceeding.

Issuing out into the eastern branch of the Scheldt we were in the heart of Zealand. To our right lay the island of Tholen; to the left, that of North Beveland; behind, that of South Beveland; before, that of Schonwen. Except the island of Walcheren, all the principal islands of the mysterious archipelago were around us.

The mystery lay in the fact that the islands were only to be divined, not seen. To the right and left of the wide river, before and behind our vessel, the straight lines of the dykes lay like green strips upon the waters; and beyond these strips, here and there, the tops of trees and steeples and the red roofs of houses seemed rising up to peep at us.

Not a hill, not a bit of rising ground, not a house could be descried on any side; everything seemed hidden, immersed in the water; the islands might have been on the point of sinking into the depths of the waves; we appeared to be traversing a country on the day of a great flood, and were sensible of some consolation at the thought that we were in a ship. Now and then the vessel stopped to let out a passenger who got into a small boat and was rowed to shore. I was myself very curious to see Zealand, and yet I looked at these people with a feeling of compassion, as if those objects which seemed islands were really only monstrous whales that would vanish under the waters at the boat's approach.

The captain of our ship, a Hollander, stopping to look at a small map of Zealand which I was studying, I seized the occasion to bombard him with questions. Fortunately I had fallen upon one of those few Dutchmen who, in common with us Latins, have the weakness of loving the sound of their own voices.

"Here in Zealand," said he, with the gravity of a schoolmaster giving a lesson, "the dykes are, even more than in the other provinces, a question of life and death. At high tide all Zealand is under water. At every broken dyke an island would vanish. And the worst of it is that the dykes have to resist not only the direct attack of the waves, but still another even more dangerous force. The rivers throw themselves into the sea, the sea rushes against the rivers, and in this continual struggle undercurrents are formed which gnaw at the base of the dykes, so that they crumble in all at once like a wall that has been undermined. The Zealanders have to stand ever on the alert. When a dyke is in peril, they build another one within it, and await the assault of the waters behind that, and so gain time, until they can either rebuild the first dyke or continue to strengthen those within, and the current diverges and they are saved."

"And may it not be," said I, always hungry for poetic possibilities, - that some day Zealand may no longer exist?"

"Quite the contrary," he answered, to my great regret; "the day may come in which Zealand will be no longer an archipelago, but terra firma. The Scheldt and the Meuse constantly bring down deposits of mud which remain at the bottom of the arms of the sea, and which, gradually rising, enlarge the islands and enclose within the land cities and villages which were once upon the shore and had their ports. Azel, Goes, Veere, Arnemiuden, Middelburg, were once maritime towns, and are such no longer. A day will come when Zealand shall be divided by no waters but those of her rivers, and when a network of railways shall extend over the whole country, which will be joined to the mainland as Zuid-Beveland is joined. Zealand grows greater in her battle with the sea. The sea may succeed in doing something in other parts of Holland, but here it will get the worst of it. You know the arms of Zealand, do you not? A lion swimming, and the motto, Luctor et emergo."

Here he was silent for a moment, and a gleam of pride sparkled for a moment in his eye, and was quenched; then he began again with all his former gravity:

"Emergo; but not always immersed. Everyone of the islands of Zealand, one after the other, slept for more or less time under the waters. Three centuries ago Schonwen was inundated by the sea, drowning inhabitants and cattle from one end to the other, and leaving it a desert. North Beveland was entirely submerged a short time after, and for several years only the tops of her steeples could be seen above the water. South Beveland had the same fate in the middle of the fourteenth century. Tholen the same in 1825. Walcheren the same in 1808; and in Middelburg, her capital city, several miles distant from the coast, the water was up to the roofs of the houses."

What with hearing for ever of water and floods, of countries submerged and people drowned, I began to think it strange that I was not drowned myself. I asked the captain what sort of people these were who inhabited the invisible islands with water under their feet and over their heads.

"Agricultural people and shepherds." he answered. "In point of agriculture Zealand is the richest province in the low countries. The soil is one of wonderful fertility. Grain, flax, colza, madder, grow as in few other places. There are fine large cattle and colossal horses; bigger than the Flemish horses. The people are strong and well made, preserving their ancient customs and living contented in their prosperity and peace. Zealand is a hidden paradise."

Whilst the captain talked, the ship entered the canal of Keete, which divides the islands of Schonwen and Tholen, famous as having been forded by the Spaniards in 1575, as the eastern arm of the Scheldt is famous for the ford of 1572. All Zealand is full of memorials, of that war. This little sandy archipelago, half buried in the sea, was the very hotbed of war and heresy, both because of its connection with William of Orange, hereditary lord of many of the islands, and because of the impediments of every kind which it opposed to the invader, and the Duke of Alva burned to get possession of it. Consequently the most obstinate struggles went on upon its shores with all the mingled horrors of land fights and sea fights. The soldiers forded the canals at night, holding on to each other, with water up to their necks, in peril from the tides, beaten by the rain, fired at from the shores; horses and artillery sank into the mud; the wounded were caught by the currents and buried alive in the quagmires; the air resounded with the voices of Germans, Italians, Flemings, Walloons; torches illuminated here and there the great arquebuses, pompous plumes, strange visages, and the battle seemed a fantastic funeral; and it was indeed the funeral of the great Spanish monarchy, which was being slowly drowned in the waters of Holland and covered with mud and maledictions. He who is guilty of any overwhelming tenderness for Spain has only to go to Holland. There never, perhaps, existed two nations who had better cause to hate each other with all the strength of their souls, or who have proved it with more furious wrath.

The ship now passed between the island of Schonwen and the smaller one of San Philipsland, and in a few moments came out into the large arm of the Mouse called Krammer, which divides the island of Overflakkee from the mainland. We appeared to be sailing through a chain of large lakes. The shores were distant and presented the same aspect as those of the Scheldt: long perspectives of dykes, tops of trees, steeples and roofs behind them. Only upon some projection of the shore, forming a. sort of breach in the immense bastion of the islands, could he seen a sort of sketch of a Dutch landscape, a colored house, a windmill, a boat, looking like the revelation of a hidden thing, made to sharpen the curiosity of travellers, and to delude it.

Going towards the prow of the vessel I made a pleasant discovery. There was a group of peasants, men and women, wearing the costume of Zealand, I do not remember of which island, for the costume differs, as does the dialect, which is a mixture of Dutch and Flemish, if that may be said of two languages which differ but slightly from each other. The men wore round felt hats with an embroidered band; jackets of dark cloth, short and tight, and opening in front to display a sort of vest bordered with red, yellow and green, buttoned with a row of silver buttons, so blose together as to resemble a chain; short breeches of the same colour as the jacket, bound round the waist by a belt, furnished with a large stud or buckle of chased silver; a scarlet cravat, and fine woollen stockings coming to the knee. One of them had coins for buttons, a not uncommon custom. The women wore a straw hat in the shape of a truncated cone, very tall, something like a bucket turned upside down, with a quantity of blue ribbons fluttering about it; a dark-coloured gown open on the bosom over an embroidered chemise; their arms bare to the elbow; and enormous gold or gilded ear-rings that projected nearly over the cheeks.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:29 AM
Although I did my best to copy Victor Hugo, and "admire everything like a brute," I could not succeed in persuading myself that that fashion of dress was beautiful. But I was prepared for this sort of contrariety. I knew that in Holland one seeks the new rather than the beautiful, and the good rather than the new; and therefore I was more disposed for observation than enthusiasm. I comforted myself for the disappointment of my taste for the picturesque with the thought that all those peasants certainly knew how to read and write; that they had, perhaps, that very evening committed to memory some of the verses of their great poet, Jacob Catz; and that probably they were then going with their excellent programme in their pockets, to some rural meeting, where some of them were to confute with the arguments of their modest experience the propositions of a learned agronome of Goes or Middelburg.

Ludovico Guicciardini, a Florentine gentleman, and author of a fine work on the Low Countries, printed in Antwerp in the sixteenth century, says that in Zealand there is scarcely a person of either sex who speaks French or Spanish, but that many speak Italian. This, which was perhaps an exaggeration even in his time, is now an absolute fable; but it is certain, however, that there is an extraordinary amount of intellectual culture among them, superior to that of the French, Belgian, or German peasant, and superior also to that of the other parts of Holland.

The ship skirted the island of San Philipsland, and we were out of Zealand.

So this province, mysterious before we entered it, appeared still more mysterious when we got out of it. We had been through it, but we had not seen it. We went in and came out with our curiosity ungratified. The only thing we had seen was the fact that Zealand was invisible. But it would be a mistake to suppose that it is a country of mystery merely because it is hidden. Everything in Zealand is mysterious. In the first place, how was it formed? Was it a group of very small islands, separated by canals and, uninhabited, which, as some believe, joined themselves together and became large islands? or was it, as others believe, terra firma when the Scheldt emptied itself into the Meuse? But leaving the question of its origin, in what other country in the world do the things happen which happen in Zealand? In what other country do the fishermen catch a Siren in their nets, and the husband, having in vain entreated with tears that she should be restored to him, catches up a handful of sand and throws it at them, prophesying at the same time that that sand shall choke up the city ports, and the prophecy is accomplished? In what country, as on the shores of the island of Walcheren, do the souls of the dead, lost at sea, come and wake up the fishermen, and oblige them to carry them in their boats to the English coast? In what country do the tempests bring, as on the shores of the island of Schonwen, corpses from the Polar seas, of monsters, half man, half boat, mummies dressed in trunks of trees that float? and is there not one to be seen nosy in the Municipal Hall of Zeirikzee? In what country, except near Wemeldinge, does it happen to a man to fall head first into a canal and remain under one hour, during which time he sees his dead wife and children, who converse with him from Paradise, and he is then taken out alive, and relates the prodigy to Victor Hugo, who believes it true and writes a commentary upon it, concluding that the soul may leave the body for a time and return to it again? In what country, save Domburg do they fish up at low water antique temples and statues of unknown divinities? In what country, except at Wemeldinge, does the sword of a Spanish captain, Mondragone, serve as a lightning-rod to a tower? In what country but the island of Schonwen, do they make unfaithful wives walk naked through the streets, with two stones tied to their necks, and an iron cylinder upon their heads? But come, this last wonder is no more to be seen; but the stones exist still, and anyone may see them in the Town Hall of Brauwershaven.

The ship now entered that portion of the southern branch of the Meuse, which is called Vokerak; the scene was still the same: dykes, and again dykes, tops of steeples, roofs of houses, here and there a vessel. One thing only was changed - the sky.

I saw there for the first time the sky of Holland under its usual aspect, and looked on at one of those battles of light, proper to the Low Countries, which the great Dutch landscape painters rendered with such unrivalled excellence. Until then the sky had been serene, a lovely summer's day, the waters blue, the shores bright green, the air warm, and not a puff of wind. Suddenly a dense cloud hid the sun, and in less time than it takes to write it, everything changed its aspect, as if in one instant season, latitude, and time had changed. The water became dark, the green of the shores grew dull, the horizon hid itself behind a grey veil, every object appeared surrounded by a dim light that softened and confused the outlines, and a malignant breeze arose that froze one's very bones. It seemed December, and we felt the damp chill of winter, and that uneasiness which is brought by any sudden, unexpected change in nature. Then, from the whole circle of the horizon, leaden clouds began to rise, moving with great rapidity, seeming to seek with a sort of painful impatience a direction and a form, and the water became agitated, streaked with luminous reflections, broad, greenish, violet, whitish, clay-colored, and black strips; and at length the irritation of nature resolved itself into a thick, heavy rain, confusing sea and land and sky into one grey mass, hardly interrupted by a slightly darker shade where lay the distant shore, or where the sails of some vessel stood up here and there like a dim phantom on the waters of the rivers.

"We are now really in Holland," said the captain to a group of passengers who stood contemplating the scene. "These sudden changes are seen nowhere but here."

Then, in answer to a question from one of us, he added: "Holland has a meteorology of her own. The winter is long, the summer short, the spring nothing but the end of winter, and now and then, as we see, winter looks back at us even in summer. There is a saying among us that we may see the four seasons in one day. We have the most inconstant sky in the world, and we are for ever talking about the weather. The atmosphere is the most variable spectacle that we can boast. But it is a dreary climate. The sea sends rain from three quarters, and the winds sweep over us without resistance; even on the finest days the earth exhales vapors that obcure the horizon; for many months the air has no transparency. See the winter; there are days when it seems as if we should never see the sky again; the darkness comes from above, like the light; the north-west wind brings the icy air from the poles and lashes the sea into a fury that seems capable of destroying the coast." Here he turned to me with a smile and said: - "You are better off in Italy." Then he became grave again, and added: "But every country has its good and its evil."

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:30 AM
The ship now coming out of the Volkerak, passed before the fortress of Willemstadt, built in 1583 by the Prince of Orange, and entered the Hollandsdiep, a large branch of the Meuse with separates South Holland from North Brabant. A great stretch of water, two dark lines to right and left, and an ash-colored sky, were all that could be seen from the vessel. A French lady, amid the general silence, exclaimed with a yawn: "How lovely Holland is!" and everybody, but the Hollanders, laughed.

"Ah, Captain," said a little old gentleman, a Belgian, one of those pillars of the café who are for ever airing their political opinions, "every country has its good and its evil side, and we Belgians and Hollanders must at least be persuaded of this truth, and sympathise with each other in order to live in peace and harmony. When we think that we are a State of nine millions, we with our manufactures, and you with your commerce, with two capitals like Amsterdam and Brussels, and two commercial cities like Antwerp and Rotterdam I we should count for something in the world, eh, Captain?"

The captain made no reply. Another Dutchman said: "To be sure; with religious wars going on twelve months in the year."

The little old Belgian, rather disconcerted, continued in a low voice to me:

"It is a fact, Signor mio. It is a trifle, especially on our side. You will see in Holland: Amsterdam is not Brussels; no, indeed, and the country is as flat and as tiresome as it can be; but as for prosperity, you will see. They spend a florin, which is more than two francs, where we spend a franc. You will find that out in the hotel bills. They are twice as rich as we are. The blow was given by William I., who wanted to make a Dutch Belgium, and pushed us to extremities. You know how things went on," &c.

In the Hollandsdiep we began to see large boats, fishing vessels, and some large ships from Hellevoetsluis, a great maritime port on the right bank of the Meuse, near the mouth, where all the vessels that make the voyage to India stop. The rain ceased, the sky gradually, almost unwillingly, cleared in part, the water and the shores again took on their fresh and vivid colors, and we were in summer once more.

In a short time the ship was oft the village of Moerdigk. There is to be seen one of the largest bridges in the world. It is an iron bridge, one mile and a half in length, over which passes the railway to Dordrecht and Rotterdam. From a distance it presents the aspect as of fourteen enormous buildings of equal size placed across the river, these edifices being the piers of the arches which sustain the rails. Passing over it, as I did some months afterwards, one sees nothing but sky and water. It is not a pleasant sensation. The ship turned to the left in front of the bridge and entered a narrow arm of the Meuse, called Dordshe kil, bordered by dykes, and having more the look of a canal than a river. It was the seventh turn she had made since we crossed the frontier. We now began to see around us something like the appearance of a great city. Long piles of trees upon the banks, bushes, small houses, canals on either side, and a coming and going of boats large and small. The name of Dordrecht was in everybody's mouth, and all seemed making ready for some spectacle. The ship turned for the eighth time and entered the Oude-Maas, or old Meuse, and in a few minutes we saw the first houses of the environs of Dordrecht.

It was like the sudden apparition of Holland, the instantaneous satisfaction of all our curiosity, the revelation of all the mysteries that tormented our imaginations; we awakened in a new world.

On every side we saw very high windmills with their long arms; houses were sprinkled along the river, of a thousand strange forms, villas, pavilions, kiosks, with red roofs, black walls, and walls of rose, blue, and ash color, the windows and doors surrounded by broad snow-white bands. Canals great and small divided these houses, and were bordered by rows of trees; ships lay all along; boats before every door; sails gleamed at the bottoms of the streets; pennons, ships' flags, and arms of windmills rose confusedly above the trees and roofs; bridges, small stairways, gardens hanging over the water, and a coming and going of men, women, and children on the banks of the canals and over the bridges, making a lively and varied spectacle. There was something of theatrical and childish, a little Chinese, a little European, a little of no country, mingled with an air of blessed peace and innocence.

So appeared to me Dordrecht for the first time, one of the oldest as well as one of the freshest and gayest of Dutch cities; queen of commerce in the middle ages; fertile mother of painters and learned men; honoured by first assembly of deputies from the United Provinces in 1572; the seat at different times of memorable synods; and especially famous for that assembly of Protestant theologians in 1618, which was a sort of Œcumenical Council of Reform, which fixed the form of the national religion, and caused the beginning of that series of aviations and persecutions which ended with the fatal execution of Barnevelt and the bloody triumph of Maurice of Orange.

Dordrecht is still one of the most flourishing of the cities of the United Provinces, thanks to its easy communication with the sea, with Belgium, and the interior of Holland. At Dordrecht arrive the immense provisions of wood which come down the Rhine from the Black Forest and Switzerland, the wines of the Rhine, lime, cement, and stone; in her small port there is a continual coming and going of sails, clouds of smoke, and flags, bringing greetings from Arnhem, from Bois-le-Duc, from Nimegnen, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and all her mysterious sisters of Zealand.

Our ship stopped a few minutes at Dordrecht, and I was strongly tempted to land and look about me, but reflecting that I should have better opportunities and more to see at Rotterdam, I refrained; and we presently turned (our ninth turning) into a narrow branch of the Mense called De Noord, one of the thousand threads of the inextricable watery network that covers South Holland.

The position of Dordrecht is most singular. It is placed upon the extremity of a tract of land, separated from the continent, forming an island in the midst of land, surrounded by rivers, partly natural, partly artificial, of which one, the large stream called the New Merwede, was entirely formed by the hand of man. The imprisonment of this piece of land upon which Dordrecht stands is an episode of one of Holland's great battles with the sea. The archipelago of Biesbosch did not exist before the fifteenth century, and in its place extended a beautiful plain, dotted with populous villages. On the night of the 18th of November 1421, the waters of the Waal and the Meuse burst the dykes, destroyed more than seventy villages, drowned a hundred thousand people, and broke up the plain into a hundred or so of small islands, leaving only one tower erect amid the ruin, some remains of which, called Casa Merwede, are still to be seen.

Thus was Dordrecht separated from the mainland, and the archipelago of Biesbosch made its appearance upon the earth, which, as if to show that it has some reason to exist, offers hay, canes, and reeds to a small village that is stuck like a swallow's nest upon one of the surrounding dykes. But this is not all the singularity of Dordrecht. Tradition relates that the entire city, with its houses, its mills, its canals, was, in the time of that memorable inundation, transported all in one piece from one place to another; and that when the inhabitants of the neighbouring towns came to it after the catastrophe they could not find it. And this prodigy is explained by the fact that Dordrecht is founded upon a stratum of clay, and that this stratum of clay slid bodily down with the city upon it. I write it as I heard it, or read it.

Before the ship left the canal of Noord my hope of seeing my first sunset in Holland was deluded by another sudden change of weather. The sky grew dark, the water became livid, and the horizon vanished behind a dense vapory veil.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:32 AM
At that point where the Meuse takes prisoner and carries with her the waters of the main branch of the Rhine, the Vaal, and receives those of the Leck and the Yssel, the width is very great, and the banks are crowned by long rows of trees, interspersed with houses, manufactories, workshops, and arsenals, that extend all the way to Rotterdam. The first time that one sees the Meuse, and thinks of the disasters, the transformations, the thousand calamities, and innumerable victims of that capricious and terrible river, one examines it with a sort of anxious curiosity, as if it were some famous brigand, and one's eyes run along the dykes with a sentiment of grateful satisfaction, as when one beholds the famous bandit manacled and in the hands of the carabinieri. Whilst we stood expecting the first view of Rotterdam, a passenger told us that, when the Meuse is frozen, the current which comes from warmer regions bursts from beneath the ice that covers the stream, and with a terrible noise, piles it against the dykes in immense masses, thus arrestting the course of the water and making it overflow. Then begins a strange battle. To the threats of the Meuse the Hollanders reply with cannon, and charges of grapeshot break the towers and barricades of ice which choke the current into a tempest of briny and icy rain. "I think," concluded the passenger, "that we Hollanders are the only people who are forced to fight their rivers with cannon."

When we arrived in sight of Rotterdam it rained and was foggy; we could see, as through a veil, only an immense confusion of ships, houses, windmills, towers, trees, and people in motion on the dykes and bridges; there were lights everywhere; a great city with such an aspect as I had never seen before, and which fog and darkness soon hid from me altogether. When I had taken leave of my travelling companions, and had put my luggage in order, it was night. "So much the better," I thought, as I entered a carriage; "I shall see the first Dutch city by night, which must be a strange spectacle." And, indeed, when M. Bismarck was at Rotterdam, he wrote to his wife that at night he saw spectres on the roofs.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:33 AM


It is difficult to make much of the city of Rotterdam, entering it at night. The carriage passed almost immediately over a bridge that resounded hollowly beneath it, and whilst I thought myself, and was in fact, within the city, I saw with amazement, on my right and left, two rows of ships vanishing in the gloom.

Leaving the bridge, we passed through a street, lighted, and full of people, and found ourselves upon another bridge, and between two rows of vessels, as before. And so on from bridge to street, from street to bridge, and to increase the confusion, an illumination of lamps at the corners of houses, lanterns on masts of ships, lighthouses on the bridges, small lights under the houses, and all these lights reflected in the water. All at once the carriage stopped, people crowded about; I looked out, and saw a bridge in the air. In answer to my question, some one said that a vessel was passing. We went on again, seeing a perspective of canals and bridges, crossing and recrossing each other, until we came to a great square, sparkling with lights, and bristling with masts of ships, and finally we reached our inn in an adjacent street.

My first care on entering my room, was to see whether Dutch cleanliness deserved its fame. It did, indeed, and may be called the religion of cleanliness. The linen was snow-white, the window-panes transparent as the air, the furniture shining like crystal, the floors so clean that a microscope could not discover a black speck. There was a basket for waste-paper, a tablet for scratching matches, a dish for cigar ashes, a box for cigar stumps, a spittoon, and a bootjack; in short, there was no possible pretext for soiling anything.

My room examined, I spread a map of Rotterdam upon the table, and made some preparatory studies for the morrow.

It is a, singular thing that the great cities of Holland, although built upon a shifting soil, and amid difficulties of every kind, have all great regularity of form. Amsterdam is a semicircle, the Hague square, Rotterdam an equilateral triangle. The base of the triangle is an immense dyke, which defends the city from the Meuse, and is called the Boompjes, signifying, in Dutch, small trees, from a row of little elms, now very tall, that were planted when it was first constructed.

Another great dyke forms a second bulwark against the river, which divides the city into two almost equal parts, from the middle of the left side to the opposite angle. That part of Rotterdam which is comprised between the two dykes is all canals, islands, and bridges, and is the new city that which extends beyond the second dyke is the old city. Two great canals extend along the other two sides of the town to the apex, where they meet, and receive the waters of the river Rotte, which with the affix of dam, or dyke, gives its name to the city.

Having thus fulfilled my conscientious duty as a traveller, and with many precautions not to soil, even by a breath, the purity of that jewel of a chamber, I abandoned myself with humility to my first Dutch bed.

Dutch beds, I speak of those in the hotels, are generally short and wide, and occupied, in a great part, by an immense feather pillow in which a giant's head would be overwhelmed; I may add that the ordinary light is a copper candlestick, of the size of a dinner-plate, which might sustain a torch, but holds, instead, a tiny candle about the size of a Spanish lady's finger.

In the morning I made haste to rise and issue forth into the strange streets, unlike any thing in Europe. The first I saw was the Hoog Straat, a long straight thoroughfare running along the interior dyke.

The unplastered houses, of every shade of brick, from the darkest red to light rose color, chiefly two windows wide and two stories high, have the front wall rising above and concealing the roof, and in the shape of a blunt triangle surmounted by a parapet. Some of these pointed façades rise into two curves, like a long neck without a head; some are cut into steps like the houses that children build with blocks; some present the aspect of a conical pavilion, some of a village church, some of theatrical cabins. The parapets are, in general, bordered by white stripes, coarse arabesques in plaster, and other ornaments in very bad taste; the doors and windows are bordered by broad white stripes; other white lines divide the different stories; the spaces between the doors in front are marked by white wooden panels; so that two colors, white and red, prevail everywhere, and as in the distance the darker red looks black, the prospect is half festive, half funereal, all the houses looking as if they were hung with white linen. At first I had an inclination to laugh, for it seemed impossible that it could have been done seriously, and that quiet, sober people lived in those houses. They looked as if they had been run up for a festival, and would presently disappear, like the paper framework of a grand display of fireworks.

Whilst I stood vaguely looking at the street, I noticed one house that puzzled me somewhat; and thinking that my eyes had been deceived, I looked more carefully at it, and compared it with its neighbors. Turning into the next street, the same thing met my astonished gaze. There is no doubt about it. The whole city of Rotterdam presents the appearance of a town that has been shaken smartly by an earthquake, and is on the point of falling into ruin.

All the houses - in any street one may count the exceptions on his fingers - lean more or less, but the greater part of them so much that at the roof they lean forward at least a foot beyond their neighbors, which may be straight or not so visibly inclined; one leans forward as if it would fall into the street, another backward, another to the left, another to the right; at some points six or seven contiguous houses all lean forward together, those in the middle most, those at the ends less, looking like a paling with the crowd pressing against it. At another point two houses lean together as if supporting one another. In certain streets the houses for a long distance lean all one way, like trees beaten by a prevailing wind; and then another long row will lean in the opposite direction, as if the wind had changed. Sometimes there is a certain regularity of inclination that is scarcely noticeable; and again, at crossings and in the smaller streets, there is an indescribable confusion of lines, a real architectural frolic, a dance of houses, a disorder that seems animated. There are houses that nod forward as if asleep, others that start backward as if frightened; some bending toward each other, their roofs almost touching, as if in secret conference; solve falling upon one another as if they were drunk, some leaning backward between others that lean forward like malefactors dragged onward by their guards; rows of houses that curtsey to a steeple, groups of small houses all inclined toward one in the middle, like conspirators in conclave.

Observe them attentively one by one, from top to bottom, and they are as interesting as pictures.

In some, upon the summit of the façade, there projects from the middle of the parapet a beam, with cord and pulley to pull up baskets and buckets. In others, jutting from a round window, is the carved head of a deer, a sheep, or a goat. Under the head, a line of whitewashed stone or wood cuts the whole façade in half. Under this line there are two broad windows with projecting awnings of striped linen; under these again, over the upper panes, a little green curtain; below this green curtain, two white ones, divided in the middle to show a suspended birdcage or a basket of flowers. And below the basket or the cage, the lower panes are covered by a network of fine wire that prevents the passer-by from seeing into the room. Within, behind the netting there stands a table covered with objects in porcelain, crystal flowers, and toys of various kinds. Outside, on the stone sill, is a row of small flowerpots. From the stone sill, or from one side, projects an iron stem curving upwards, which sustains two small mirrors joined in the form of a book, movable, and surmounted by another, also movable, so that those inside the house can see, without being seen, every thing that passes in the street. On some of the houses there is a lamp projecting between the two windows, and below is the door of the house, or a shop-door. If it is a shop, over the door there is the carved head of a Moor with his mouth wide open, or that of a Turk with a hideous grimace; sometimes there is an elephant, or a goose; sometimes a horse's or a bull's head, a serpent, a half-moon, a windmill, or an arm extended, the hand holding some object of the kind sold in the shop. If it is the house-door - always kept closed - there is a brass plate with the name of the occupant, another with a slit for letters, another with the handle of a bell, the whole, including locks and bolts, shining like gold. Before the door there is a small bridge of wood, because in many of the houses the ground-floor or basement is much lower than the street, and before the bridge two little stone columns surmounted by two balls; two more columns in front of these are united by iron chains, the large links of which are in the form of crosses, stars, and polygons; in the space between the street and the house are pots of flowers and at the windows of the ground-floor more, flower-pots and curtains. In the more retired streets there are birdcages on both sides of the windows, boxes full of green growing things, clothes hung out to air or dry, a thousand objects and colors, like a universal fair.

But without going out of the older town one need only go away from the centre to see something new at every step.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:34 AM
In some narrow straight streets one may see the end suddenly closed as if by a curtain concealing the view; but it disappears as it came, and is recognized as the sail of a vessel moving in a canal. In other streets a network of cordage seems to stop the way; the rigging of vessels lying in some basin. In one direction there is a drawbridge raised, and looking like a gigantic swing provided for the diversion of the people who live in those preposterous houses; and in another there is a windmill, tall as a steeple and black as an antique tower, moving its arms like a monstrous firework. On every side, finally, among the houses, above the roofs, between the distant trees, are seen masts of vessels, flags, and sails and rigging, reminding us that we are surrounded by water and that the city is a seaport.

Meantime the shops were opened and the streets became full of people. There was great animation, but no hurry, the absence of which distinguishes the streets of Rotterdam from those of London, between which some travellers find great resemblance, especially in the color of the houses and the grave aspect of the inhabitants. White faces, pallid faces, faces the color of Parmesan cheese; light hair, very light hair, reddish, yellowish; broad beardless visages, beards under the chin and around the neck; blue eyes, so light as to seem almost without a pupil; women stumpy, fat, rosy, slow, with white caps and ear-rings in the form of corkscrews; these are the first things one observes in the crowd.

But for the moment it was not the people that most stimulated my curiosity. I crossed the Hoog Straat, and found myself in the new city. Here it is impossible to say if it be port or city, if land or water predominate, if there are more ships than houses, or vice versá.

Broad and long canals divide the city into so many islands, united by draw-bridges, turning bridges, and bridges of stone. On either side of every canal extends a street, flanked by trees on one side and houses on the other. All these canals are deep enough to float large vessels, and all are full of them from one end to the other, except a space in the middle left for passage in and out. An immense fleet imprisoned in a city.

When I arrived it was the busiest hour, so I planted myself upon the highest bridge over the principal crossing. From thence were visible four canals, four forests of ships, bordered by eight files of trees; the streets were crammed with people and merchandise; droves of cattle were crossing the bridges; bridges were rising in the air, or opening in the middle, to allow vessels to pass through, and were scarcely replaced or closed before they were inundated by a throng of people, carts, and carriages; ships came and went in the canals, shining like models in a museum, and with the wives and children of the sailors on the decks; boats darted from vessel to vessel; the shops drove a busy trade; servant-women washed the walls and windows and all this moving life was rendered more gay and cheerful by the reflections in the water, the green of the trees, the red of the houses, the tall windmills, showing their dark tops and white sails against the azure of the sky, and still more by an air of quiet simplicity not seen in any other northern city.

I took observations of a Dutch vessel. Almost all the ships crowded in the canals of Rotterdam are built for the Rhine and Holland; they have one mast only, and are broad, stout, and variously colored like toy ships. The hull is generally of a bright grass green, ornamented with a red or a white stripe, or sometimes several stripes, looking like a band of different colored ribbons. The poop is usually gilded. The deck and mast are varnished and shining like the cleanest of house-floors. The outside of the hatches, the buckets, the barrels, the yards, the planks, are all painted red, with white or blue stripes. The cabin where the sailors' families are is colored like a Chinese kiosk, and has its windows of clear glass, its white muslin curtains tied up with knots of rose-colored ribbon. In every moment of spare time, sailors, women, and children are busy washing, sweeping, polishing every part with infinite care and pains; and when their little vessel makes its exit from the port, all fresh and shining like a holiday-coach, they all stand on the poop and accept with dignity the mute compliments which they gather from the glances of the spectators along the canals.

From canal to canal, and from bridge to bridge, I finally reached the dyke of the Boompjes upon the Meuse, where boils and bubbles all the life of the great commercial city. On the left extends a long row of small, many-colored steamboats, which start every hour in the day for Dordrecht, Arnhem, Gouda, Schiedam, Briel, Zealand, and continually send forth clouds of white smoke and the sound of their cheerful bells. To the right lie the large ships which make the voyage to various European ports, mingled with fine three-masted vessels bound for the East Indies with names written in golden letters - Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Samarang, - carrying the fancy to those distant and savage countries like the echoes of distant voices. In front of the Meuse, covered with boats and barks, and the distant shore with a forest of beech trees, windmills, and towers; and over all the unquiet sky, full of gleams of light, and gloomy clouds, fleeting and changing in their constant movement, as if repeating the restless labour on the earth below.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:35 AM
Rotterdam, it must be said here, is, in commercial importance, the first city in Holland after Amsterdam. It was already a flourishing town in the thirteenth century. Ludovico Guicciardini, in his work on the Low Countries, already cited, adduces a proof of the wealth of the city in the sixteenth century, saying that in one year nine hundred houses that had been destroyed by fire were rebuilt. Bentivoglio, in his history of the war in Flanders, calls it "the largest and most mercantile of the lands of Holland." But its greatest prosperity did not begin until 1830, or after the separation of Holland and Belgium, when Rotterdam seemed to draw to herself every thing that was lost by her rival, Antwerp. Her situation is extremely advantageous. She communicates with the sea by the Meuse, which brings to her ports in a few hours the largest merchantmen; and by the same river she communicates with the Rhine, which brings to her from the Swiss mountains and Bavaria immense quantities of timber - entire forests that come to Holland to be transformed into ships, dykes, and villages. More than eighty splendid vessels come and go, in the space of nine months, between Rotterdam and India. Merchandise flows in from all sides in such great abundance that a large part of it has to be distributed through the neighboring towns. Meantime, Rotterdam is growing; vast store-houses are now in process of construction, and the works are commenced for an enormous bridge which will cross the Meuse and the entire city, thus extending the railway which now stops on the left bank of the river, if not to the port of Delft, at least to its junction with the road to the Hague.

Rotterdam, in short, has a future more splendid than that of Amsterdam, and has long been regarded as a rival by her elder sister. She does not possess the wealth of the capital, but is more industrious in increasing what she has; she dares, risks, undertakes, like a young and adventurous city. Amsterdam, like a merchant grown cautious after having made his fortune by hazardous undertakings, begins to doze over her treasures. At Rotterdam, fortunes are made; at Amsterdam, they are consolidated; at The Hague, they are spent.

It may be understood from this that Rotterdam is regarded somewhat in the light of a by parvenu the other two cities; and also for another reason: that she is simply a trader; occupied only in trade, and has but little aristocracy, and that little modest and not rich. Amsterdam, on the contrary, contains the flower of the mercantile patriciate; Amsterdam has picture galleries, protects art and literature; but not withstanding her superiority each is jealous of the other; what one does the other tries to do; what the government accords to one the other wants also. At this very moment (1874) both are cutting canals to the sea. It is not yet quite certain what use can be made of these two canals; but that does not matter. So children act: Peter has a horse, I want a horse too, and Grandpapa Government must content both big and little.

Having visited the port, I traversed the dykes of the Boompjes, along which extends an uninterrupted line of big, new houses, in the style of Paris and London, houses which, as is usual, the inhabitants admire, and the stranger never looks at, or looks at them with dislike; then returning, I re-entered the city, and came to the corner formed by the Hoog Straat and one of the two long canals that bound the city on the east. It is the poorest quarter of the town; the streets are narrow, and the houses smaller and more crooked than in other parts; in some you can touch the roof with your hand. The windows are about afoot from the ground, and the doors so low that you must stoop to enter them. Nevertheless, there is no appearance of misery. Even here the windows have their small looking-glasses - spies, as they are called in Holland - their flower-pots, and their white curtains; and the doors, painted green or blue, stand wide open, giving a view of the bed-room, the kitchen, all the internal arrangements; tiny rooms like boxes, but every thing in them ranged in older, and clean and bright as in gentlemen's houses. There is no dirt in the streets, no bad smells, not a rag to be seen, or a hand held out to beg; there is an atmosphere of cleanliness and well-being which makes one blush for the miserable quarters where the poor are crowded in our cities, not excepting Paris, which has its Rue Mouffetard.

On my way back to my hotel I passed through the great market-place in the middle of the city, not less peculiar than all its surroundings.

It is both a public square and a bridge, and connects the Hoog Straat, or principal dyke, with another quarter of the city surrounded by canals. This airy place is bordered on three sides by old buildings and a long, dark, narrow canal, like a street in Venice; the fourth side is open upon a kind of basin formed by the largest canal, which communicates with the river Meuse. In the middle of the market-place, surrounded by heaps of vegetable, fruit, and earthenware pots and pans, stands the statue of Desiderius Erasmus, the first literary light of Holland; That Gerrit Gerritz - for he assumed the Latin name himself, according to the custom of writers in his day - that Gerrit Gerritz belonged, by his education, his style, and his ideas, to the family of the humanists and erudite of Italy; a fine writer, profound and indefatigable in letters and science, he filled all Europe with his name between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; he was loaded with favors by the popes, and sought after and entertained by princes; and his "Praise of Folly," written in Latin like the rest of his innumerable works, and dedicated to Sir Thomas More, is still read. The bronze statue, erected in 1622, represents Erasmus dressed in a furred gown, with a cap of the same, a little bent forward as if walking, and in the act of reading a large book, held open in the hand; the pedestal bears a double inscription, in Dutch and Latin, calling him, "Vir sæculi sui primaries" and "Civis omnium præstantissimus." In spite of this pompous eulogium, however, poor Erasmus, planted there like a municipal guard in the market-place, makes but a pitiful figure. I do not believe that there is in the world another statue of a man of letters that is, like this, neglected by the passer-by, despised by those about it, commiserated by those who look at it. But who knows whether Erasmus, acute philosopher as he was, and must he still, be not contented with his corner, the more that it is not far from his own house, if the tradition is correct? In a small street near the market-place, in the wall of a little house now occupied as a tavern, there is a niche with a bronze statuette representing the great writer, and under it the inscription, "Hæc est parva domus magnus qua natus Erasmus."

In one corner of this square there is a little house known as the "House of Fear," upon the wall of the House which may be seen an ancient painting whose subject I have forgotten. The name of the "House of Fear" was given to it, says the tradition, because when the Spaniards sacked the city the most conspicuous personages took refuge in this house and remained shut up in it three days without food. And this is not the only memorial of the Spaniards at Rotterdam. Many edifices, built during their domination, show the style of architecture which was then in use in Spain; and some still bear Spanish inscriptions. In Holland inscriptions upon houses are very common. They glory in their old age like bottles of wine, and bear the date of the year of their construction inscribed in large characters on the façade.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:37 AM
In the market-place I had a good opportunity for observing the ear-rings of the women, which are well worthy of remark.

At Rotterdam I saw only the ear-rings in use in South Holland; but even so, their variety is very great. They are all alike, however, in one particular, that instead of being in the ears, they are attached to the two extremities of an ornament in gold, silver, or gilt copper, which encircles the head like a diadem and ends on the temples. The commonest form of ear-ring is a spiral of five or six rows, often very large, and setting out on either side of the face in a very conspicuous fashion. Many of the women wear ordinary ear-rings attached to these spiral ornaments, which dangle over the cheeks and fall down upon the bosom. Some have a second circlet of gold, much chased and ornamented with flowers and buttons in relief, that passes over the forehead. Almost all wear the hair smooth and tight, and covered with a night-cap like heed-dress of lace and muslin, falling in a sort of veil over the neck and shoulders. This Arab-like veil and their extravagant and preposterous ear-rings give them a mixed regal and barbaric aspect, which, if they were not as fair as they are, might cause them to be mistaken for the women of some savage country who hail preserved the head-dress of their ancient costume. I do not wonder that some travellers, seeing them for the first time, should have believed that their ear-rings were a combination of ornament and implement, and asked their purpose. But we may also suppose that they serve as defensive arms, since any impertinent person, who should put his face too near that of the wearer, would find his approach warded off by these impediments. Worn chiefly by the peasants, these ear-rings and their accessories are generally in gold, and cost a large sum; but I saw still greater riches among the Dutch peasantry.

Near the market-place is the cathedral, founded towards the end, of the fifteenth century, at the time of the decline of Gothic architecture, then a Catholic church dedicated to St Lawrence, and now the first Protestant church in the city. Protestantism, that vandal of religion, entered the ancient churches with a pick and a white-wash brush, and with pedantic fanaticism eradicated every thing that was beautiful and splendid, reducing it to a, naked whiteness and coldness, such as in the times of the false and lying gods might have suited a temple sacred to the goddess of Ennui. An immense organ, with about fifty thousand pipes, giving among other sounds the effect of an echo; some tombs of admirals, adorned with long inscriptions in Dutch and Latin; numerous benches; a few boys with their caps on their heads, a group of women, chattering together in loud voices; an old man in a corner, with a cigar in his mouth; this was all I saw. That was the first Protestant church in which I set my foot, and I confess that it made a disagreeable impression upon me. I was half saddened, half scandalized. I compared its desolate and bare interior with the magnificent cathedrals of Spain and Italy, where, amid the soft mysterious light and through clouds of incense, the eye encounters the loving looks of saints and angels on the walls, pointing us to heaven; where we see so many images of innocence that calm our souls, and of pain that help us to suffer, while they inspire resignation, peace, the sweetness of forgiveness, where the homeless and the hungry, driven from the rich man's door, may pray amid marble and gold, as in a kingdom where he is not disdained, amid a pomp and splendor that does not humiliate him, that even honors and comforts his misery; those cathedrals where we knelt as children at our mother's side, and felt for the first time a sweet security of living again one day with her in those azure depths depicted upon the domes above our heads. Comparing the church with those cathedrals, I discovered that I was a better Catholic than I had thought, and I felt the truth of those words of Emilio Castelar: "Well, yes, I am a rationalist; but if one day I should wish to return in into the bosom of a religion, I would go back to that splendid one of my fathers, and not to this squalid and naked religion that saddens my eyes and my heart!"

From the top of the tower the whole of Rotterdam can be seen at a glance, with all its little sharp red roofs, its broad canals, its ships scattered among houses, and all about the city a vast green plain, intersected by canals bordered by trees, sprinkled with windmills, and villages hidden in masses of verdure, showing only the tops of their steeples. When I was there the sky was clear, and I could see the waters of the Meuse shilling from the neighborhood of Bois-le-Duc, nearly to its mouth; the steeples of Dordrecht, Leyden, Delft, The Hague, and Gouda were visible, but neither far nor near was there a hill, a rising ground, a swell to interrupt the straight and rigid line of the horizon. It was like a green and motionless sea, where the steeples represented masts of ships at anchor. The eye roamed over that immense space with a sense of repose, and I felt, for the first time, that indefinable sentiment inspired by the Dutch landscape, which is neither pleasure, nor sadness, nor ennui, but a mixture of all three, and which holds you for a long: time silent and motionless.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:38 AM
Suddenly I was startled by the sound of strange music, coming from I knew not where. It was a chime of bells ringing a lively air, the silvery notes now falling slowly one by one, and now coming in groups, in strange flourishes, in trills, in sonorous chords, a quaint dancing strain, somewhat primitive, like the many-colored city, over which its notes hovered like a flock of wild birds, or like the city's natural voice, an echo of the antique life of her people, recalling the sea, the solitudes, the huts, and making one smile and sigh at the same moment. All at once the music ceased, and the clock struck the hour. At the same moment other steeples took up the airy strains, playing airs of which only the higher notes reached my ears, and then they also struck the hour. This aerial concert is repeated every hour of the day and night in all the steeples of Holland, the tunes beings national airs, or from German or Italian operas. Thus in Holland the passing hour sings, as if to distract the mind from sad thoughts of flying time, and its song is of country, faith, and love, floating in harmony above the sordid noises of the earth.

The Hollanders eat a great deal. Their greatest pleasures, as Cardinal Bentivoglio says, are those of the table. Their appetites are voracious, and they care more for quantity than quality. In the old time they were laughed at by their neighbors not only for the rudeness of their manners, but for the simplicity of their nutriment, and were called milk and cheese eaters. They eat, in general, five times a day: at breakfast, tea, coffee, milk, bread, cheese, and butter; a little before noon, a good luncheon; before dinner, what might be called a bite - a biscuit and a glass of wine; then a large dinner; and late in the evening, supper, just so as not to go to bed with an empty stomach. They eat together on every occasion. I do not speak of birth and marriage feasts, which are customary in all countries; but, for example, they have funeral feasts. It is the custom for the friends and acquaintances who have accompanied the funeral procession, to return with the family of the defunct to their house, and there to eat and drink, doing in general great honor to their entertainer. If there were no other witnesses, the Dutch painters all bear testimony to the large part which the table holds in the life of the people. Besides the infinite number of pictures of domestic subjects, in which it might be said that the plate and the bottle are the protagonists, almost all the great pictures that represent historical subjects, burgomasters, civic guards, show them seated at table in the act of biting, cutting, pouring out. Even their great hero, William the Taciturn, the incarnation of new Holland, was an example of this national fondness for eating, and his cook was the first artist of his time; so great a one that the German princes sent beginners to perfect themselves in his school and Philip II, in one of his periods of apparent reconciliation with his mortal enemy, asked for the cook as a present.

But, as has been said, the character of Dutch cookery was rather abundance than refinement. The French, who understand the art, found much to criticise. I remember a writer of certain "Memoires sur la Hollande," who inveighs with lyric force against the Dutch kitchen, saying: "What is this beer soup? this mingling of meats and sweets? this devouring of meat in such quantity without bread? " Other writers have spoken of dining in this country as of a domestic calamity. It is superfluous to say that all this is exaggeration. An ultra-delicate palate can in a short time become accustomed to Dutch cookery. The foundation of the dinner is always a dish of meat with which are served four or five dishes of vegetables or salted meats, of which each one: takes and combines as he likes with the principal dish. The meat is very good, and the vegetables are exquisite, and cooked in a great variety of ways; the potatoes and cabbages are worthy of special mention, and the art of making an omelet is perfectly understood.

I say nothing of game, fish, milk, and butter, because all these are already known to fame; and I am silent, not to be carried away by enthusiasm, on the subject of that celebrated cheese, wherein when once you have thrust your knife you can never leave off until you have excavated the whole, while desire still hovers over the shell.

A stranger dining for the first time in a Dutch tavern sees a few novelties. First of all he is struck by the great size and thickness of the plates, proportionate to the national appetite; and in many places he will find a napkin of fine white paper, folded in a three-cornered shape, and stamped with a border of flowers, a little landscape in the corner, and the name of the hotel or café, with a Bon appetit in large blue letters. The stranger, to be sure of his facts, will order roast beef, and they will bring him half-a-dozen slices, as large as cabbage leaves; or a beefsteak, and he is presented with a sort of cushion of bleeding meat, enough to satisfy a family; or fish, and there appears a marine animal as long as the table; and with each of these come a mountain of boiled potatoes and a pot of vigorous mustard. Of bread, a little thin slice about as big as a dollar, most displeasing to us Latins, whose habit it is to devour bread in quantities; so that in a Dutch tavern one must be constantly asking for more, to the great amazement of the waiters. With any one of these three dishes, and a glass of Bavarian or Amsterdam beer, an honest man may be said to have dined. As for wine, whoever has the cramp in his purse will not talk of wine in Holland, since it is extremely dear; but as purses here are pretty generally robust, almost all middle-class Dutchmen and their betters drink it; and there are certainly few countries where so great a variety and abundance of foreign wines are found as in Holland, French and Rhine wines especially.

It is unnecessary to say that Holland is famous for its liquors, and that the most famous of all is that called, from the little town where it is manufactured Schiedam. There are two hundred manufactories of it at Schiedam, which is distant but a few miles from Rotterdam; and to give an idea of the quantity made, I need only mention that thirty thousand swine are fed yearly with the refuse of the distilleries. This famous liquor, when tasted for the first time, is usually accompanied by a triple oath that the taster will never drink another drop of it, if he live a hundred years; but as the French proverb says, "Who drinks, will drink again," and one begins the second time with a morsel of sugar, and then with less, and finally with none at all, until at last, horribile dictu, on pretence of damp and fog, one swallows two small glasses with the ease of a sailor. Next, in order of excellence, comes Curaçoa, a fine, feminine liquor, less powerful than the Schiedam, but very much more so than the sickly sweet stuff that is sold under its name in other countries. After Curaçoa, come many more, of all grades of strength and flavor, with which an expert drinker can give himself, according to his fancy, all the shades of inebriety; the mild, the strong, the talkative, the silent, and thus dispose his brains in such a way that he may see the world according as best suits his humor, as one arranges an optical instrument, changing the colors of the lenses.

The first time one dines in Holland there is a surprise at the moment of paying the bill. I had made a repast that would have been scanty for a Batavian but was quite sufficient for an Italian, and, from what I knew of the dearness of every thing in Holland, I expected one of those shocks to which, according to Theophile Gautier, the only possible answer is a pistol-shot. I was, then, pleasantly surprised when I was told that my account was forty cents, quarante sous; and as in the great cities of Holland every kind of coin is current, I put down two silver francs, and waited for my friend to discover that he had made a mistake. But he looked at the money without any sign of reconsideration, and remarked with gravity: "Forty sous more, if you please."

The explanation was simple enough. The monetary unit in Holland is the florin, which is worth two Italian lire (francs) and four centimes; consequently the Dutch sou and centime are worth just double the Italian soldo and centime; hence my delusion and its cure.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:40 AM
Rotterdam in the evening presents an unusual aspect to the stranger's eye. Whilst in other northern cities at a certain hour of the night all the life is concentrated in the houses, at Rotterdam at that hour it expands into the street. The Hoog-Straat is filled until far into the night with a dense throng, the shops are open, because the servants make their purchases in the evening, and the cafes crowded. Dutch cafes are peculiar. In general there is one long room, divided in the middle by a green curtain, which is drawn down at evening and conceals the back part, which is the only part lighted; the front part, closed from the street by large glass doors, is in darkness, so that from without only dark shadowy forms can be seen, and the burning points of cigars, like so many fireflies. Among these dark forms, the vague profile of a woman who prefers darkness to light may be detected here and there.

Next in interest after the cafe come the tobacco shops. There is one at almost every step, and they are without exception the finest in Europe, even surpassing the great tobacco shops of Madrid, where Havana tobacco is sold. In these shops, resplendent with lights like the Parisian cafes, may be found cigars of every form and flavor; and the courteous merchant hands you your purchase neatly done up in fine thin paper, after having cut off the end of one cigar with a little machine.

Dutch shops are illuminated in the most splendid manner; and although in themselves they differ but little from those of other European cities, they still have a peculiar aspect at night because of the contrast between the ground-floor and the rest of the house. Below all is light, color, splendor, and crystal; above, the dark house-front, with its strange angles, steps, and curves. The upper part is old Holland - simple, dark, and silent; the lower part is the new - life, fashion, luxury, elegance. Besides this, as all the houses are very narrow, and the shops occupy the entire ground-floor, and are set closely one beside the other, at night, in streets like the Hoog-Straat, there is not a bit of wall to be seen, the houses seem to have their ground-floors built of glass, and the street is bordered on either side by two long lines of brilliant illumination, inundating it with light, so that any one can see to pick up a pin.

Walking through Rotterdam in the evening, it is evident that the city is teeming with life and in process of expansion; a youthful city, still growing, and feeling herself every year more and more pressed for room in her streets and houses. In a not far distant future, her hundred and fourteen thousand inhabitants will have increased to two hundred thousand. The smaller streets swarm with children; there is an overflow of life and movement that cheers the eye and heart; a kind of holiday air. The white and rosy faces of the servant-maids, whose white caps gleam on every side; the serene, visages of shopkeepers slowly imbibing great glassfuls of beer; the peasants with their monstrous ear-rings; the cleanliness; the flowers in the windows; the tranquil and laborious throng; - all give to Rotterdam an aspect of healthful and peaceful content, which brings to the lips the chant of Te Beata, not with the cry of enthusiasm, but with the smile of sympathy.

When I came back to my hotel, I found a French family occupied in the hall admiring the nails in a door, which looked like so many silver buttons.

The next morning, looking out of my window on the second floor, and observing the roofs of the opposite houses, I recognized, with astonishment, that Bismarck was excusable when he imagined that he saw spectres on the roofs of the Rotterdam houses. From every chimney of all the older buildings rise tubes, curved or straight, crossing and recrossing each other like open arms, like enormous horns, forked, and in every kind of fantastic attitude, and looking very much as if they had a mutual understanding and might fly about at night with brooms.

Upon descending into the Hoog-Straat, I found it was a holiday and very few shops were open; even those few, I was told, would have been closed not many years ago, but now the observance of religious forms, which had once been very rigorous, is beginning to relax. I saw signs of holiday in the dress of the people, especially the men, who - above all, those of the inferior classes - have a manifest sympathy for black clothes, and generally wear them on a Sunday: black cravat, black trousers, and a long black surtout reaching to the knee - a costume which, combined with their slow motions and grave faces, gives them rather the look of a village mayor on his way to assist at an official Te Deum.

But what astonished me was to see, at that early hour, almost every one, rich and poor, men and boys, with a cigar in their mouths. This ill-omened habit of "dreaming with the eyes open," to quote Emile de Girardin in his attack upon smokers, occupies so large a part in the lives of the Dutch people, that I must devote a few words to it.

The Hollanders are, perhaps, of all the northern peoples, those who smoke the most. The humidity of their climate makes it almost a necessity, and the very moderate cost of tobacco renders it accessible to all. To show how deeply rooted is the habit, it is enough to say that the boatmen of the treschknit, the aquatic diligence of Holland, measure distances by smoke. From here, they say, to such and such a place, it is, not so many miles, but so many pipes. When you enter a house, after the first salutations, your host offers you a cigar; when you take leave, he hands you another, and often insists upon filling your cigar-case. In the streets you see persons lighting a fresh cigar with the burning stump, of the last one, without pausing in their walk, and with the busy air of people who do not wish to lose a moment of time or a mouthful of smoke. Many go to sleep with pipe in mouth, relight it if they wake in the night, and again in the morning before they step out of bed. "A Dutchman," says Diderot, "is a living alembic." It really does appear that smoking is for him a necessary vital function. Many people think that so much smoke dulls the intelligence. Nevertheless, if there be a people, as Esquiroz justly observes, whose intellect is of the clearest and highest precision, it is the Dutch people. Again, in Holland the cigar is not an excuse for idleness, nor do they smoke in order to dream with their eyes open; every one goes about his business puffing out white clouds of smoke, with the regularity of a factory chimney, and the cigar; instead of being a mere distraction, is a stimulant and an aid to labour. "Smoke," said a Hollander to me, " is our second breath." Another defined the cigar as the sixth finger of the hand.

Here, apropos of tobacco, I am tempted to record the life and death of a famous Dutch smoker; but I am a little afraid of the shrugs of my Dutch friends, who, relating to me the story, lamented much that when foreigners wrote about Holland they were so apt to neglect things important and honorable to the country, while they occupied themselves with trifles of that nature. It appears to me, however, to be a trifle of so new and original a type, that I cannot restrain my pen.

There was, then, once upon a time, a rich gentleman of Rotterdam, of the name of Van Klaes, who was surnamed Father Great-pipe because he was old, fat, and a great smoker. Tradition relates that he had honestly amassed a fortune as a merchant in India, and that he was a kind-hearted and good-tempered man. On his return from India, he built a beautiful palace near Rotterdam, and in this palace he collected and arranged, as in a museum, all the models of pipes that had ever seen the sun, in all countries and in every time, from those used by the antique barbarian to smoke his hemp, up to the splendid pipes of meerschaum and amber, carved in relief and bound with gold, such as are seen in the richest Parisian shops. The museum was open to strangers, and to every one who visited it, Van Klaes, after having displayed his vast erudition in the matter of smoking, presented a catalogue of the museum bound in velvet, and filled his pockets with cigars and tobacco.

Mynheer van Klaes smoked a hundred and fifty grammes of tobacco per day, and died at the age of ninety-eight years; so that, if we suppose that he began to smoke at eighteen years of age, in the course of his life he had, smoked four thousand three hundred and eighty-three kilogrammes; with which quantity of tobacco an uninterrupted black line of twenty French leagues in length might be formed. With all this, Mynheer van Klaes showed himself a much greater smoker in death than he had been in life. Tradition has preserved all the particulars of his end. There wanted but a few days to the completion of his ninety-eighth year, when he suddenly felt that his end was approaching. He sent for his notary, who was also a smoker of great merit, and without further preamble, "My good notary," said he, "fill my pipe and your own; I am about to die." The notary obeyed; and when both pipes were lighted, Van Klaes dictated his will, which became celebrated all over Holland.

After having disposed of a large part of his property in favor of relations, friends, and hospitals, he dictated the following article: -

"I desire that all the smokers in the country shall be invited to my funeral, by all possible means, newspapers, private letters, circulars, and advertisements. Every smoker who shall accept the invitation shall receive a gift of ten pounds of tobacco and two pipes, upon which shall be engraved my name, my arms, and the date of my death. The poor of the district who shall follow my body to the grave shall receive each man, every year, on the anniversary of my death, a large parcel of tobacco. To all those who shall be present at the funeral ceremonies, I make the condition, if they wish to benefit by my will, that they shall smoke uninterruptedly throughout the duration of the ceremony. My body shall be enclosed in a case lined inside with the wood of my old Havana cigar-boxes. At the bottom of the case shall be deposited a box of French tobacco called caporal, and a parcel of our old Dutch tobacco. At my side shall be laid my favorite pipe and a box of matches, because no one knows what may happen. When the coffin is deposited in the vault, every person present shall pass by and cast upon it the ashes of his pipe."

The last will and testament of Mynheer van Klaes was rigorously carried out; the funeral was splendid, and veiled in a thick cloud of smoke. The cook of the defunct, who was called Gertrude, to whom her master had left a comfortable income, on condition that she should conquer her aversion to tobacco, accompanied the procession with a paper cigarette in her mouth; the poor blessed the memory of the beneficent deceased, and the whole country rang with his praises, as it still rings with his fame.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:41 AM
Passing along the canal, I saw, with new effects, one of those rapid changes of weather that I have mentioned. All at once the sun vanished, the infinite variety of colors were dimmed, and an autumn wind began to blow. Then to the cheerful, tranquil gayety of a moment before succeeded a kind of timid agitation. The branches of the trees rustled, the flags of the ships streamed out, the boats tied to the piles danced about, the water trembled, the thousand small objects about the houses swung to and fro, the arms of the windmills whirled more rapidly; a wintry chill seemed to run through the whole city, and moved it as if with a mysterious menace. After a moment, the sun burst out again, and with it came color, peace, and cheer. The spectacle made me think that, after all, Holland is not, as many call it, a dreary country; but rather very dreary at times, and at times very gay, according to the weather. It is in every thing the land of contrasts. Under the most capricious of skies dwell the least capricious of peoples; and this solid, resolute, and orderly race has the most helter-skelter and disorderly architecture that can be seen in the world.

Before entering the Rotterdam Museum, a few observations upon Dutch painting seem opportune, not for "those who know," be it understood, but for those who have forgotten.

The Dutch school of painting has one quality which renders it particularly attractive to us Italians: it is of all others the most different from our own, the very antithesis, or the opposite pole, of art. The Dutch and Italian schools are the two most original, or, as has been said, the only two to which the title rigorously belongs; the others being only daughters, or younger sisters, more or less resembling them.

Thus even in painting Holland offers that which is most sought after in travel and in books of travel: the new.

Dutch painting was born with the liberty and independence of Holland. As long as the northern and southern provinces of the Low Countries remained under the Spanish rule and in the Catholic faith, Dutch painters painted like Belgian painters; they studied in Belgium, Germany, and Italy; Hemskerk imitated Michael Angelo; Bloemart followed Correggio, and "Il Moor" copied Titian, not to indicate others; and they were one and all pedantic imitators, who added to the exaggerations of the Italian style a certain German coarseness, the result of which was a bastard style of painting, stilt inferior to the first, childish, stiff in design, crude in color, and completely wanting in chiaroscuro, but not, at least, a servile imitation, and becoming, as it were, a faint prelude of the true Dutch art that was to be.

With the war of independence, liberty, reform, and painting also were renewed. With religious traditions fell artistic traditions; the nude nymphs, Madonnas, saints, allegory, mythology, the ideal - all the old edifice fell to pieces. Holland, animated by a new life, felt the need of manifesting and expanding it in a new way; the small country, become all at once glorious and formidable, felt the desire for illustration; the faculties, which had been excited and strengthened in the grand undertaking of creating a nation, now that the work was completed, overflowed and ran into new channels; the conditions of the country were favorable to the revival of art; the supreme dangers were conjured away; there was security, prosperity, a splendid future; the heroes had done their duty, and the artists were permitted to come to the front; Holland, after many sacrifices and much suffering, issued victoriously from the struggle, lifted her face among her people and smiled. And that smile is Art.

What that art would necessarily be, might have been guessed, even had no monument of it remained. A pacific, laborious, practical people, continually beaten down, to quote a great German poet, to prosaic realities by the occupations of a vulgar, burgher life; cultivating its reason at the expense of its imagination; living, consequently, more in clear ideas than in beautiful images; taking refuge from abstractions; never darting its thoughts beyond that nature with which it is in perpetual battle; seeing only that which is, enjoying only that which it can possess, making its happiness consist in the tranquil ease and hottest sensuality of a life without violent passions or exorbitant desires; such a people must have tranquillity also in their art, they must love an art that pleases without startling the mind, which addresses the senses rather than the spirit, an art full of repose, precision, and delicacy, though material like their lives; in one word, a realistic art in which they can see themselves as they are, and as they are content to be.

The artists began by tracing that which they saw before their eyes - the house. The long winters, the persistent rains, the dampness, the variableness of the climate, obliged the Hollander to stay within doors the greater part of the year. He loved his little house, his shell, much better than we love our abodes, for the reason that he had more need of it, and stayed more within it; he provided it with all sorts of conveniences, caressed it, made much of it; he liked to look out from his well-stopped windows at the falling snow, and the drenching rain, and to hug himself with the thought: "Rage, tempest, I am warm and safe!" Snug in his shell, his faithful housewife beside him, his children about him, he passed the long autumn and winter evenings in eating much, drinking much, smoking much, and taking his well-earned ease after the cares of the day were over. The Dutch painters represented these houses and this life in little pictures, proportionate to the size of the walls on which they were to hang; the bed-chambers that make one feel a desire to sleep, the kitchens, the tables set out, the fresh and smiling faces of the house-mothers, the men at their ease around the fire; and with that conscientious realism which never forsakes them, they depict the dozing cat, the yawning dog, the clucking hen, the broom, the vegetables, the scattered pots and pans, the chicken ready for the spit. Thus they represent life in all its scenes, and in every grade of the social scale - the dance, the conversazione, the orgy, the feast, the game; and thus did Terburg, Metzu, Netscher, Dow, Mieris, Steen, Brouwer, and Van Ostade become famous.

After depicting the house, they turned their attention to the country. The stern climate allowed but a brief time for the admiration of nature, but for this very reason Dutch artists admired her all the more; they saluted the spring with a livelier joy, and permitted that fugitive smile of heaven to stamp itself more deeply on their fancy. The country was not beautiful, but it was twice dear because it had been torn from the sea and from the foreign oppressor. The Dutch artist painted it lovingly; he represented it simply, ingenuously, with a sense of intimacy which at that time was not to be found in Italian or Belgian landscape. The flat, monotonous country had, to the Dutch painter's eyes, a marvellous variety. He caught all the mutations of the sky, and knew the value of the water, with its reflections, its grace and freshness, and its power of illuminating every thing. Having no mountains, he took the dykes for background; and with no forests, he imparted to a simple group of trees all the mystery of a forest; and he animated the whole with beautiful animals and white sails.

The subjects of their pictures are poor enough - a windmill, a canal, a gray sky; - but how they make one think! A few Dutch painters, not content with nature in their own country, came to Italy in search of hills, luminous skies, aid famous ruins; and another band of select artists is the result, Both, Swanevelt, Pynacker, Breenberg, Van Laer, Asselyn. But the palm remains with the landscapists of Holland, with Wynants the painter of morning, with Van der Neer the painter of night, with Ruysdael the painter of melancholy, with Hoffema the illustrator of windmills, cabins, and kitchen-gardens, and with others who have restricted themselves to the expression of the enchantment of nature as she is in Holland.

Simultaneously with landscape art was born another kind of painting, especially peculiar to Holland - animal painting. Animals are the riches of the country; and that magnificent race of cattle which has no rival in Europe for fecundity and beauty. The Hollanders, who owe so much to them, treat them, one may say, as part of the population; they wash them, comb, them, dress them, and love them dearly. They are to be seen everywhere; they are reflected in all the canals, and dot with points of black and white the immense fields that stretch on every side, giving an air of peace and comfort to every place, and exciting in the spectator's heart a sentiment of arcadian gentleness and patriarchal serenity. The Dutch artists studied these animals in all their varieties, in all their habits, and divined, as one may say, their inner life and sentiments, animating the tranquil beauty of the landscape with their forms. Rubens, Luyders, Paul de Vos, and other Belgian painters, had drawn animals with admirable mastery, but all these are surpassed by the Dutch artists Van der Velde, Berghun, Karel der Jardyn, and by the prince of animal painters, Paul Potter, whose famous "Bull," in the gallery of The Hague, deserves to be placed in the Vatican beside the "Transfiguration" by Raphael.

In yet another field are the Dutch painters great -the sea. The sea, their enemy, their power, and their glory, forever threatening their country, and entering in a hundred ways into their lives and fortunes; that turbulent North Sea, full of sinister colors, with a light of infinite melancholy upon it, beating forever upon a desolate coast, must subjugate the imagination of the artist. He, indeed, passes long hours on the shore, contemplating its tremendous beauty, ventures upon its waves to study the effects of tempests, buys a vessel and sails with his wife and family, observing and making notes, follows the fleet into battle, and takes part in the fight; and in this way are made marine painters like Willem Vander Velde the elder, and Willem the younger, like Backhuysen, Dubbels, and Stork.

Another kind of painting was to arise in Holland, as the expression of the character of the people and of republican manners. A people which without greatness had done so many great things, as Michelet says, must have its heroic painters, if we may call them so, destined to illustrate men and events. But this school of painting - precisely because the people were without greatness, or, to express it better, without the form of greatness, modest, inclined to consider all equal before the country, because all had done their duty, abhorring adulation, and the glorification in one alone of the virtues and the triumphs of many - this school has to illustrate not a few men who have excelled, and, a few extraordinary facts, but all classes of citizenship gathered among the most ordinary and pacific of burgher life. From this come the great pictures which represent five, ten, thirty persons together, arquebusiers, mayors, officers, professors, magistrates, administrators, seated or standing around a table, feasting and conversing, of life size, most faithful likenesses, grave, open faces, expressing that secure serenity of conscience by which may be divined rather than seen the nobleness of a life consecrated to one's country, the character of that strong, laborious epoch, the masculine virtues of that excellent generation; all this set off by the fine costume of the time, so admirably combining grace and dignity: those gorgets, those doublets, those black mantles, those silken scarves and ribbons, those arms and banners. In this field stand pre-eminent Van der Helst, Hals, Govaert, Flink, and Bol.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:42 AM
Descending from the consideration of the various kinds of painting, to the special manner by means of which the artist excelled in treatment, one leads all the rest as the distinctive feature of Dutch painting -the light.

The light in Holland, by reason of the particular conditions of its manifestations, could not fail to give rise to a special manner of painting. A pale light, waving with marvellous mobility through an atmosphere impregnated with vapor; a nebulous veil continually and abruptly torn, a perpetual struggle between light and shadow, such was the spectacle which attracted the eye of the artist. He began to observe and to reproduce all this agitation of the heavens, this struggle which animates with varied and fantastic life the solitude of nature in Holland; and in representing it the struggle passed into his soul, and instead of representing, he created. Then he caused the two elements to contend under his hand; he accumulated darkness that he might split and seam it with all manner of luminous effects and sudden gleams of light; sunbeams darted through the rifts, sunset reflections and the yellow rays of lamp-light were blended with delicate manipulation into mysterious shadows, and their dim depths were peopled with half-seen forms; and thus he created all sorts of contrasts, enigmas, play and effect of strange and unexpected chiaroscuro. In this field, among many, stand conspicuous Gerard Don, the author of the famous four-candle picture, and the great magician and sovereign illuminator, Rembrandt.

Another marked feature of Dutch painting was to be color. Besides the generally accepted reasons that in a country where there are no mountainous horizons, no varied prospects, no great coup d'œil, no forms, in short, that lend themselves to design, the artist's eye must inevitably be attracted by color, and that this must be peculiarly the case in Holland, where the uncertain light, the fog-veiled atmosphere, confuse and blend the outlines of all objects, so that the eye, unable to fix itself upon the form, flies to color as the principal attribute that nature presents to it; besides these reasons, there is the fact that in a country so flat, so uniform, and so gray as Holland, there is the same need of color as in southern lands there is need of shade. The Dutch artists did but follow the imperious taste of their countrymen, who painted their houses in vivid colors, as well as their ships, and in some places the trunks of their trees and the palings and fences of their fields and gardens; whose dress was of the gayest, richest hues; who loved tulips and hyacinths even to madness. And thus the Dutch painters were potent colorists, and Rembrandt was their chief.

Realism, natural to the calmness and slowness of the Dutch character, was to give to their art yet another distinctive feature, finish, which was carried to the very extreme of possibility. It is truly said that the leading quality of the people may be found in their pictures, viz. patience. Every thing is represented with the minuteness of a daguerreotype; every vein in the wood of a piece of furniture, every fibre in a leaf, the threads of cloth, the stitches in a patch, every hair upon an animal's coat, every wrinkle in a man's face; every thing finished with microscopic precision, as if done with a fairy pencil, or at the expense of the painter's eyes and reason. In reality a defect rather than an excellence, since the office of painting is to represent not what is, but what the eye sees, and the eye does not see every thing; but a defect carried to such a pitch of perfection that one admires, and does not find fault. In this respect the most famous prodigies of patience were Don, Mieris, Potter, Van der Heist, and, more or less, all the Dutch painters.

But realism, which gives to Dutch art so original a stamp, and such admirable qualities, is yet the root of its most serious defects. The artists, desirous only of representing material truths, gave to their figures no expression save that of their physical sentiments. Grief, love, enthusiasm, and the thousand delicate shades of feeling that have no name, or take a different one with the different causes that give rise to them, they express rarely, or not at all. For them the heart does not beat, the eye does not weep, the lips do not quiver. One whole side of the human soul, the noblest and highest, is wanting in their pictures. More, in their faithful reproduction of every thing, even the ugly, and especially the ugly, they end by exaggerating even that, making defects into deformities, and portraits into caricatures; they calumniate the national type; they give a burlesque and graceless aspect to the human countenance. In order to have the proper background for such figures, they are constrained to choose trivial subjects; hence the great number of pictures representing: beer-shops, and drinkers with grotesque, stupid faces, in absurd attitudes, ugly women, and ridiculous old men; scenes in which one can almost hear the brutal laughter and the obscene words. Looking at these pictures, one would naturally conclude that Holland was inhabited by the ugliest and most ill-mannered people on the earth. We will not speak of greater and worse license. Steen, Potter, and Brouwer, the great Rembrandt himself, have all painted incidents that are scarcely to be mentioned to civilized ears, and certainly should not be looked at. But even setting aside these excesses, in the picture-galleries of Holland there is to be found nothing that elevates the mind, or moves it to high and gentle thoughts. You admire, you enjoy, you laugh, you stand pensive for a moment before some canvas; but, coming out, you feel that something is lacking to your pleasure, you experience a desire to look upon a handsome countenance, to read inspired verses, and sometimes you catch yourself murmuring, half unconsciously: - "Oh, Raphael!"

Finally, there are still two important excellences to be recorded of this school of painting-its variety, and its importance as the expression, the mirror, so to speak, of the country. If we except Rembrandt, with his group of followers and imitators almost all the other artists differ very much from one another; no other school presents so great a number of original masters. The realism of the Dutch painters is born of their common love of nature; but each one has shown in his work a kind of love peculiarly his own; each one has rendered a different, impression which he has received from nature; and all, starting from the same point, which was the worship of material truth, have arrived at separate and distinct goals. Their realism, then, inciting them to disdain nothing as food for the pencil, has so acted that Dutch art succeeds in representing Holland more completely than has ever been accomplished by any other school in any other country. It has been truly said that should every other visible witness of the existence of Holland in the seventeenth century - her period of greatness - vanish from the earth, and the pictures remain, in them would be found preserved entire the city, the country, the ports, the ships, the markets, the shops, the costumes, the arms, the linen, the stuffs, the merchandise, the kitchen utensils, the food, the pleasures, the habits, the religious belief and superstitions, the qualities and defects of the people; and all this, which is great praise for literature, is no less praise for her sister art.

But there is one great hiatus in Dutch art, the reason for which can scarcely be found in the pacific and modest disposition of the people. This art, so profoundly national in all other respects, has, with the exception of a few naval battles, completely neglected all the great events of the war of independence, among which the sieges of Leyden and of Harlem alone would have been enough to have inspired a whole legion of painters. A war of almost a century in duration, full of strange and terrible vicissitudes, has not been recorded in one single memorable painting. Art, so varied and so conscientious in its records of the country and its people, has represented no scene of that great tragedy, as William the Silent prophetically named it, which cost the Dutch people, for so long a time, so many different emotions of terror, of pain, of rage, of joy, and of pride!

The splendor of art in Holland is dimmed by that of political greatness. Almost all the great painters were born in the first thirty years of the seventeenth century, or in the last part of the sixteenth; all were dead after the first ten years of the eighteenth, and after them there were no more; Holland had exhausted her fecundity. Already towards the end of the seventeenth century the national sentiment had grown weaker, taste had corrupted, the inspiration of the painters had declined with the moral energies of the nation. In the eighteenth century, the artists, as if they were tired of nature, went back to mythology, to classicism, to conventionalities; the imagination grew cold, style was impoverished, every spark of the antique genius was extinct. Dutch art still showed to the world the wonderful flowers of Van Huysum, the last great lover of nature, and then folded her tired hands, and let the flowers fall upon his tomb.

The actual gallery of pictures of Rotterdam contains but a small number, among which there are very few by the first artists, and none of the great chef d'œuvre of Dutch painting. Three hundred pictures and thirteen hundred drawings were destroyed in a fire in 1864; and of what remained the greater part come from one Jacob Otto Boymans, who left them in his will to the city. In this gallery, therefore, one may enter to make acquaintance with some particular artist, rather than to admire the Dutch school.

In one of the first rooms may be seen a few sketches of naval battles, signed with the name of Willem van de Velde, considered as the greatest marine painter of his time, son of Willem, called the elder, also a marine painter. Father and son had the good fortune to live in the time of the great maritime wars between Holland, England, and France, and saw the battles with their own eyes. The States of Holland placed a small frigate at the disposition of the elder Van de Velde; the son accompanied his father, and both made their sketches in the midst of the cannon-smoke, sometimes pushing their vessel so near as to cause the admiral to order their withdrawal. Van de Velde the younger greatly surpassed his father, and painted, in general, small pictures - a gray sky, a calm sea, and a sail; but so done that, when fixing your eyes upon them, you seem to smell the briny breezes of the ocean, and the frame appears changed into an open window. This Van de Velde belonged to that group of Dutch painters who loved the water with a kind of fury, and painted, it may be said, upon it. Of these also was Backhuysen, a marine painter of great repute in his own time, and whom Peter the Great, when in Amsterdam, chose for his master. Backhuysen relates of himself, that he went out in a small boat in the midst of a tempest to observe the movement of the waves, and he and his boatmen ran such fearful risks that the latter, more solicitous for their own lives than for his picture, took him back to land, in spite of his orders to the contrary. John Griffier did more. He bought a small vessel at London, which he furnished like a house, and installing his wife and family on board, sailed about in search of views. A tempest having wrecked his vessel on a sand-bank and destroyed every thing he possessed, he, saved by a miracle with his family, went to live at Rotterdam; but soon tiring of life on land, Griffier bought another wretched old boat, recommenced his voyages, and a second time risked his life near Dordrecht; but he still persisted in sailing about as before.

In marine painting, the gallery of Rotterdam has little to show; but landscape is worthily represented by two pictures by Ruysdael, the greatest of the Dutch painters of rural scenes. These two pictures represent his favorite subjects - namely, woody and solitary places, which inspire, like all his pictures, a vague sentiment of melancholy. The great power of this artist, who stands alone among his brother painters for delicacy of mind and a singular superiority of education, lies in his sentiment. It has been justly said that he makes use of landscape to express his own bitterness and weariness, his own dreams, and that he contemplates his country with a sort of sadness, and creates groves of trees in which to hide it. The veiled light of Holland is the image of his soul; no one feels more exquisitely its melancholy sweetness; no one represents like him, with a ray of languid light, the sad smile of some afflicted creature. It follows as a matter of course that so exceptional a nature was not appreciated by his countrymen till long after his death.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:43 AM
Near one of Ruysdael's pictures is a group of flowers by a woman painter, Rachel Ruysch, the wife of a portrait-painter of note, born in the second half of the sixteenth century, and dying, pencil in hand, at eighty years of age, after having proved to her husband and the world that a woman may passionately cultivate the fine arts and still find time to bear and bring up ten children.

And since I have mentioned the wife of one artist, it may be here noted, en passant, that a pleasant book might be written upon the wives of the Dutch painters, as well for the variety of their adventures as for the important part which they take in the history of art. Many of them we know by sight from their portraits, made in company with their husbands, their children, their cats, and their hens; and biographers speak of them, denying or confirming reports concerning their conduct. Some even venture to hint that the greater part of these ladies did great wrongs to painting. To me it appears that there were faults on both sides. As for Rembrandt, we know that the happiest period of his life was that between his first marriage and the death of his wife, the daughter of a burgomaster of Leuwarde; posterity, therefore, owes this lady a debt of gratitude. We know, also, that Van der Helst married, when already advanced in life, a lovely young girl against whom there is nothing to be said; and posterity has to thank her as well, for having cheered the declining years of that great artist. It is true that all the wives of the Dutch painters cannot be spoken of in the same terms. The first of the two wives of Steen, for example, was a frivolous woman who left the beershop which she had inherited from her father to fall into ruin; and the second, if all is true that is said of her, was unfaithful to him. The second wife of Heemskerk was a swindler, and her husband was obliged to go about milking excuses for her misdeeds. The wife of Hondekocter was an odd, ill-tempered woman, who obliged him to pass his evenings at a tavern in order to be rid of her. The wife of Berghem was an insatiable miser; who would wake him abruptly when he fell asleep over his brushes, and make him work to gain money, while the poor man was constrained to resort to subterfuge in order to retain a little of his own earnings, to buy himself an engraving or two. On the other hand, we should never have done were we to attempt to exhaust the misdeeds of the gentlemen. The painter Griffier forced his wife to go about the world in a boat; the painter Veenir got leave of his spouse to go and spend four months in Rome, and stayed four years; Karel du Jardin married a rich old woman to pay his debts, and, when they were all paid, left her; Molyn had his wife murdered that he might marry a Genoese. We leave in doubt whether poor Paul Potter was betrayed or no by the wife he loved so madly; and whether the great flower-painter, Huysum, who was devoured by jealousy in the midst of riches and honors, for a wife no longer young or handsome, had any real cause for jealousy, or was merely driven wild with suspicion by the manœuvres of his envious rivals. As an appropriate finish, let us honorably record the three wives of Eglon van der Neer, who crowned him with twenty-five children, which did not, however, prevent him from painting a great number of pictures of every kind, from making numerous journeys, and from cultivating many tulips.

There are in the gallery of Rotterdam a few small pictures by Albert Cuyp, who "gave a part of himself" to Dutch art, and who, in the course of a very long life, painted portraits, landscapes, animals, flowers, winter scenes, moonlight, marine subjects, figures, and left on them all the stamp of original genius; nevertheless, like all the Dutch painters of his day, he was so unfortunate that, up to 1750, or more than fifty years after his death, his best pictures sold for one hundred francs, pictures which are now valued, in England, not in Holland, at one hundred thousand. Almost all his works are now in England.

I should not say a word about Heemskerk's "Christ at the Sepulchre," if it were not that it gives occasion to make known the artist, who was one of the most singular beings that ever walked the earth. Van Veen, for that was his name, was born in the village of Heemskerk, at the end of the fifteenth century, and flourished during the period of Italian imitation. He was the son of a peasant, and although he showed some disposition towards painting, seemed destined to remain a peasant. He became an artist, like many others, by an accident. His father was a man of violent temper, and the son was terribly in fear of him. One day poor Van Veen threw down the jug of milk, his father rushed at him, and he took to flight and paused the night in hiding out of doors. In the morning his mother found him, agreed with him that it would not he prudent to brave the paternal wrath, gave him a small store of linen and, a little money, and sent him off to seek his fortune. The boy went to Harlem, obtained entrance into the school of a painter of note, studied, succeeded, and went to Rome to perfect himself. He did not become a great artist, for imitation of Italian art was injurious to him. He treated the nude stiffly, and had a mannered style; but he was a productive painter and was well paid, and never had reason to regret his peasant life.

But here comes in his peculiarity; he was, according to his biographers, incredibly, morbidly, madly timid; insomuch, that when he knew that the arqubusiers were going to pass by, he fled to the roofs and steeples, and shook with terror even there at the distant gleam of arms. And if any one doubt this, there is a fact recorded of him which cannot be questioned: that finding himself in the city of Harlem when the Spaniards laid siege to it, the magistrates, knowing his weakness, gave him leave to quit the city before the fight began, perhaps because they foresaw that if he did not do that he would die of fright; and he fled to Amsterdam, leaving his fellow-citizens at their greatest need.

Other Dutch artists-since I am speaking of the men and not of their works-like Heemskerk, owed to an accident their success as painters. Everdingen, a landscape painter of the first rank, owed it to a tempest which threw his ship on the coast of Norway, where he remained, and, under the inspiration of title grand natural features there, created an original type of landscape.

Cornelius Vroom also owed his fortune to a shipwreck. He had sailed for Spain with some religious pictures; his ship was wrecked off the Portuguese coast; the poor artist was saved with others on an uninhabited island. They remained two days without food, and gave themselves up for lost, when they were succoured by some monks of a convent on the coast, to whom the sea had carried, with the carcass of the ship, the pictures that were in it, and the monks had found them admirable; and so Cornelius was saved, sheltered, and encouraged to paint; and the profound emotions experienced in his shipwreck gave a new and powerful impulse to his genius, and made hint a true artist.

And another, Hans Fredeman, the famous painter of deceptions-he who painted in so masterly a manner the doors of a hall in imitation of columns, that Charles V. turned back after entering, thinking that the wall had closed behind him by enchantment; the same Hans Fredeman who painted palings that turned aside the passenger, and doors which people tried to open - owed his fortune to a treatise on architecture by Vitruvius, which he received by chance from a carpenter.

There is a fine little picture by Steen, representing a doctor pretending to perform the operation for the stone upon a man who imagines himself ill. An old woman receives the stone in a basin, the patient yells at the top of his lungs, and some laughing spectators look in at a window.

When we say that this picture makes you burst into a shout of laughter, we have said all that need be said. This Steen is, after Rembrandt, the most original of the Dutch figure-painters; - he is one of the few artists who, once known, whether we class him as great, or place him only in the second rank, remains a fixture in our minds for ever. After having seen his pictures, you cannot meet a drunken man, a buffoon, a cripple, a dwarf, a deformed visage, a ridiculous grimace, a grotesque attitude, without instantly remembering one of his figures. All the gradations, all the stupidity of drunkenness, all the coarse license of an orgy, all the frenzy of the basest pleasures, the cynicism of the lowest vice, the buffoonery of the maddest ruffianism, all the most bestial emotions, all the most ignoble aspects of tavern life, he has portrayed with the insolence and brutality of a man without scruples, and with a comic force and fire, a very madness of inspiration, which cannot be expressed in words.

Many volumes have been written upon him, and many diverse judgments pronounced. His warmest admirers have attributed to him a moral intention - the purpose of making low vices hateful, by painting them in all their naked hideousness, as the Spartans showed the drunken Helots to their sons. Others see nothing in his pictures but the spontaneous and instinctive expression of the tastes and disposition of the artist, represented with coarse vulgarity. However that may be, it is beyond a doubt that Steen's pictures are to be considered as satires upon vice; and in this he is superior to almost all the other Dutch painters, who restricted themselves to a simple naturalism. Hence he is called the Dutch Hogarth, the jovial philosopher, the profoundest student of the manners of his countrymen; and among his admirers there is one who said that if Steen had been born in Rome instead of Leyden, and had had Michael Angelo instead of Van Goyen for a master, he would have been one of the greatest artists in the world; and there is another who has discovered I know not what analogy between him and Raphael. Less general is the admiration for the technical qualities of his pictures, in which the delicacy and vigor of other artists, such as Ostade, Mieris, and Dow, are not to be found. But considering even the satirical character of his work, it may be said that Steen often overshot his mark, if mark he had. His burlesque fury often overpowered his sentiment of reality; his figures, instead of being only ridiculous, became monstrous, hardly human, resembling rather beasts than men; and he multiplied such figures in a way to excite nausea rather than laughter, and a feeling of anger that human nature should be so outraged.

There has always been much question as to his manner of life. Volumes have been written to prove that he was a drunkard, and other volumes to prove the contrary; and, as usual, there are exaggerations on both sides. He kept a beer-shop at Delft, and did badly; he then set up a tavern, and came to grief. It is said that he was himself the most assiduous customer of the latter, that he drank up all the wine, and, when the cellar was empty, took down the sign, closed the doors, set himself to painting in hot haste, then sold the pictures, bought more wine, and began again as before. It is also said that he paid directly with the pictures, and that consequently most of his work was in the possession of the wine merchants. It is difficult, truly, to explain how, being always in difficulties, he could have painted so large a number of admirable pictures; but if is not less difficult to understand why he loved such subjects if he were leading a sober and orderly life. Certain it is that, especially in the last years of his life, he committed all sorts of extravagances. He studied at first in the school of Van Goyen, a landscape-painter of note; but genius worked in him far more than study; he divined the rules of his art; and if he sometimes painted too black, as one of his critics declares, the fault probably lay in some bottle too much at dinner.

Steen is not the only Dutch artist who is accused of drunkenness. There was a time when almost all of them passed a good part of the day at the tavern, drinking, and coming to blows, and issuing forth all bruised and bloody. In a poem upon the works of Karel van Mander, the first who wrote the history of painting in the Low Countries, there is a passage against the vice of drunkenness and the habit of fighting, which says, among other things: "Be sober; and act so that the ill-omened proverb of 'debauched as a painter' shall be changed into 'temperate as an artist.'" Mieris, to cite only the most famous, was a great drinker; Van Goyen a sot; Francis Halz, Brouwer's master, a wine sponge; Brouwer an incorrigible haunter of taverns; William Cornelis and Hondekoeter both devoted to the bottle. Of the minor lights, some died of drink; and in their deaths the Dutch painters saw strange vicissitudes. The great Rembrandt died in straitened circumstances, almost unknown to all; Hobbema died at Amsterdam in the poor quarter; Steen died in misery; Brouwer in the hospital; Andrea Both and Henry Verschuring were drowned; Bloemaert was killed in a duel; Karel Fabritius was blown up in a powder-mill; John Schotel died, brush in hand, of apoplexy; Paul Potter died of consumption; Luke of Leyden was poisoned. So what between sudden death, debauchery, and jealousy, many of the Dutch painters cannot be said to have had a very happy lot.

There is in the gallery at Rotterdam a fine head by Rembrandt; a brigand scene by Wonvermaus, the great horse and battle painter; a landscape by Van Goyen, the painter of dead sands and leaden skies; a sea-piece by Backhuysen, the painter of storms; a Berghem, the painter of smiling landscapes; an Everdingen, the painter of cascades and forests; and other works, Flemish and Italian.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:44 AM
Coming out of the museum I met a company of soldiers, the first Dutch soldiers I had seen, dressed in dark uniforms, without visible ornament, blonde from first to last, with long fair hair, and an air of good-humor that made their arms seem incongruous. At Rotterdam, a city of more than one hundred thousand inhabitants, there are three hundred soldiers in garrison! And Rotterdam has, among the cities of Holland, the reputation of being the most turbulent and dangerous! Not long ago, indeed, there was a popular demonstration against the city government, in the course of which a few windows were broken; but in a country that goes by clockwork, as this does, it seemed a great affair, the State was much excited, and cavalry came from The Hague. It is not to be concluded, however, that the people are all sugar; on the contrast, the inhabitants of Rotterdam themselves acknowledge that the lower orders (what Carducci calls the Santa Canaglia) are, as in other places, of the worst possible reputation; and the scarcity of the garrison is rather a provocation to license than a proof of public morals.

Rotterdam is not, as I have said, a literary or artistic city; indeed, it is one of the few Dutch cities that have never produced any greet painter; a sterility which it shares with the interior of Zealand. But Erasmus is not its sole literary glory. In a small park which lies to the right of the city, on the shore of the Meuse, stands a marble statue of the poet Tollens, born toward the end of the last century, and who died not long since. This Tollens, rather audaciously called by some the Dutch Béranger, was a popular poet of the country; one of those poets, simple, moral, full of good-sense, with rather more good-sense than inspiration, treating poetry very much as a matter of business, never writing a word that could give umbrage to their wise relations and friends, singing their good God and their good king, expressing the character of their tranquil, practical, fellow-citizens, and aiming to gay just things rather than great things; and, above all, cultivating poetry at an advanced age, like prudent fathers of families, without abstracting a moment from the duties of their profession. Like many other Dutch poets (but of another nature and another genius than his), as, for example, Vandel, who was a hatter; Hooft, governor of Muyden; Van Lennep, procurator-fiscal; Gravenswaert, Councillor of State; and others, Tollens was an apothecary at Rotterdam, and passed his days in his drug-shop. He was a loving father to his children, as he has demonstrated in numerous verses celebrating the cutting of their first, second, and third teeth. He wrote "Canzoni" and odes upon familiar and patriotic subjects, among them the national hymn of Holland - a very mediocre affair, which is, however, sung about the streets and in the schools, - and a little poem, which is, perhaps, his best, upon the expedition attempted by the Dutch, toward the end of the sixteenth century, to the polar seas. The people have all his verses by heart, and consider him their most faithful friend and interpreter. But for all that, Tollens is not considered, even in Holland, a poet of the first order; and some even refuse him the sacred laurel altogether.

For the rest, if Rotterdam is not a literary or artistic city, she has instead an extraordinary number of philanthropic institutions, splendid reading-rooms where all the journals of Europe can be found, and all the conveniences and amusements of a rich and prosperous city.

On the morning that I left Rotterdam, I saw a new and very Dutch spectacle in the street through which I passed to go to the Delft railway-station. The house-cleaning that goes on twice a week in the early morning was in progress. All the maid-servants in the city, in lilac-cotton gowns, white caps, white aprons, stockings, and sabots, were busy, with their sleeves turned up, washing doors, walls, and windows. Some courageously seated upon the window-sills, half in, half out, were cleaning the panes with sponges; others, kneeling on the step, rubbed the pavement with a cloth; others, with syringes, and long flexible tubes such as we use to water gardens, directed vigorous jets of water against the second-floor windows, that fell again in heavy showers; some, with sponges and rags tied on the ends of long canes, mopped the upper windows; solve polished the knobs and metal plates upon the doors, some cleaned the stairs, some the furniture, brought out into the street for the purpose; the door-steps were encumbered with buckets, pans, brushes, brooms, and benches; water dripped from the walls, ran into the gutters, and splashed and sparkled everywhere. And, what is singular, whilst labour in Holland is slow and deliberate in all other forms, ill this one it is quite different. All these women have flushed faces, they go in and come out, spring and push about with a sort of fury, taking acrobatic attitudes, with startling results sometimes, unheeding the passer-by, except in so far as it may be necessary to drive him off, with jealous looks, from the pavement. In short, there was a rage and fury of cleanliness, a sort of general ablution of the city, that had a sort of festive puerility about it, and might have been some strange religious rite, prescribed to purge the place from the infection of unclean spirits.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:45 AM


In going from Rotterdam to Delft I saw for the first time the open country of Holland. It is all one plain, a succession of green and flowery meadows, crossed by long files of willows, and sprinkled with groups of poplars and elders. Here and there are seen tops of steeples, whirling wings of windmills, scattered herds of large black and white cows, with their herdsmen, and immense tracts that are completely solitary. There is nothing to strike the eye, nothing salient, nothing sloping. Every now and then, in the distance, the sail of a ship glides by and being in a canal invisible from that distance, it seems to be gliding over the grass of the meadows, appearing and disappearing behind the trees. The pale light gives to the country a certain soft and melancholy aspect. A slight mist makes every object appear afar off. There is a kind of visible silence, a peace of line and color, a repose of all things, looking on which the eye grows dreamy and the imagination is lulled.

At a short distance from Rotterdam is the town of Schiedam, surrounded by very lofty windmills that give it the look of a fortified place crowned with towers; and in the distance appears the village of Vlaardingen, which is one of the principal stations for the great herring-fishery.

From Schiedam to Delft I gave myself up to the study of windmills. The Dutch mills do not at all resemble those decrepit objects which I had seen the year before in La Mancha, that stretched their meagre arms as if imploring succour from earth and heaven. The Dutch mills are large, strong, and full of life; and Don Quixote would have thought twice before attacking them. Some are made of stone, round and octagonal, like mediaeval towers; others are of wood, and present the form of a box stuck upon the apex of a pyramid. The greater part have thatched roofs, a wooden gallery running round the middle, windows with white curtains, green doors, and the use they serve inscribed upon the door. Besides the absorption of water, they do a little of everything: they grind flour, wash rags, crush lime, break stone, saw wood, crush olives, pulverise tobacco. A mill is equivalent to a farm; and to build it, provide it with grain, colza, flour, oil, to keep it going and send its product to market, requires a considerable fortune. Consequently, in many places, the wealth of proprietors is measured by the number of their mills; hereditary property is calculated by mills. They say of a girl that she has one or two windmills for a dowry, or two steam-mills, which is better; and speculators, who are everywhere, marry the girl in order to get her mills. This myriad of winged towers scattered over the country give it a peculiar aspect and animate its solitude. At night, among the trees, they have a fantastic appearance, like fabulous birds watching the heavens; by day, in the distance they look like enormous frames for fire-works; they whirl round, stop, go fast, go slowly, breaking the silence with their low, monotonous tic-tac; and when they catch fire, which they do sometimes, especially the grain-mills, they make a wheel of flame, a tempest of burning meal, a whirl of fiery clouds, which is quite infernal in its tumultuous splendor.

In the carriage, although there were many passengers, no one spoke. All were men of mature years, with grave faces, who looked at one another in silence, and emitted clouds of smoke at regular intervals, as if they were measuring time by their cigars. When we reached Delft I bowed as I got out, and one or two responded by a slight motion of the lips.

"Delft," says Messer Ludovico Guicciardini, "is so called from the ditch, or water-canal, which leads to it from the Meuse - a ditch being vulgarly called delft. It is two leagues distant from Rotterdam, and is truly great and beautiful in every part, with large and handsome edifices, and streets wide and cheerful. It was founded by Godfrey, surnamed the Gobbo (hunchback), Duke of Lotharingia, who for nearly four years occupied the country of Holland."

Delft is the city of misfortune. Towards the middle of the sixteenth century it was almost entirely destroyed by fire; in 1654 the blowing-up of a powder-magazine ruined more than two hundred houses; and in 1742 another catastrophe of the same kind occurred. William the Silent was assassinated at Delft in 1584. And here decayed and almost disappeared an industry that was its riches and its glory - the manufacture of majolica, in which the Dutch artisans had begun by imitating the forms and designs of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, and had succeeded in producing admirable work, uniting the Asiatic with the Dutch character, and extending it all over northern Europe; and even now these objects are sought for eagerly by amateurs of the art, and almost as highly prized as the finest Italian work.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:47 AM
Delft now is no longer a manufacturing or commercial city; its twenty-two thousand inhabitants live in profound peace. But it is one of the prettiest and most Dutch of the cities of Holland. The streets are broad, crossed by canals shaded by two rows of trees, flanked by houses, red, crimson, and rose color, picked out with white, which look glad to be so clean; and at every crossing meet and join two or three bridges of stone or wood, with white railings; here and there a large boat lying motionless as if enjoying its idleness; very few people, closed doors, and no noise of any kind.

I directed my steps towards the new church, looking about me for the famous storks' nests; but I could not see any. The tradition of the storks of Delft is, however, still alive, and no traveller writes about the city without remembering them. Guicciardini calls it "a memorable thing, and such as there is no similar record of, antique or modern." The fact occurred at the time of the great fire which ruined almost all the city. There were in Delft innumerable storks' nests. It must be understood that the stork is the favorite bird of Holland; the bird of good fortune, like the swallow; welcome to all, because it makes war upon toads and frogs; that the peasants plant poles with round pieces of wood on top to attract them to make their nests; and that in some towns they may be seen walking in the streets. At Delft then they were in great numbers. When the fire broke out, which was on the 3rd of May, the young storks were fledged, but could not yet fly. Seeing the fire approach, the parent storks attempted to carry their young ones out of danger, but they were too heavy; and after having tried all sorts of desperate efforts, the poor birds were forced to give it up. They might have saved themselves and have abandoned the little ones to their fate, as human creatures often do under similar circumstances. But they stayed instead upon their nests, gathered their little ones about them, covered them with their wings as if to retard as long as possible the fatal moment, and so awaited death, and so remained in that loving and noble attitude. And who shall say if, in the horrible dismay and flight from the flames, that example of self-sacrifice, that voluntary maternal martyrdom, may not have given strength and courage to some weak soul who was about to abandon those who had need of him!

In the great square where the new church stands I saw again those shops which had attracted my attention at Rotterdam, where every object that can possibly be attached one to the other is suspended in long garlands within and without, sometimes completely hiding the back of the shop. The signs are the same as in Rotterdam - a bottle of beer hung on a nail, a paint-brush, a box, a broom, and the usual carved head with wide-open month.

The new church, founded in the latter part of the fourteenth century, is for Holland what Westminster Abbey is for England. It is a large edifice, dark without and naked within; a prison rather than the House of God.

My eyes were at once attracted by the splendid mausoleum of William the Silent; but the custodian stopped me at the simple tomb of Ugo Grotius, Prodigium Europæ, as he is called in his epitaph, the great jurisconsult of the seventeenth century; that Grotius who at nine years of age wrote Latin verses, at eleven composed Greek odes, at fourteen philosophic theses, and three years later accompanied the illustrious Barneveldt in his embassy to Paris, where Henry IV., presenting him to the Court, said "Behold the miracle of Holland!" that Grotius who at eighteen was distinguished as poet, theologian, commentator, and astronomer, and had written a prose epic on the city of Ostend, which Casaubon translated into Greek, and Malesherbe into French verse; that Grotius who, in his twenty-fourth year, exercised the office of Advocate-General of Holland and Zealand, and wrote a celebrated treatise on the "Liberty of the Seas"; who at thirty was Councillor of the city of Rotterdam; then partisan of Barneveldt, persecuted, condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and shut up in the Castle of Loevesteen, where he wrote the treatise of the "Right of Peace and of War," which was for a long time the codex of all the publicists of Europe; then saved miraculously by his wife, who caused herself to be introduced into his prison in a box believed to contain books, which box went out again with the prisoner in it, while the wife remained a prisoner in his stead; then the guest of Louis XIII, and sent ambassador from France to Christina of Sweden; and finally returning triumphantly to his own country, where he died, at Rostock, full of years and honors.

The mausoleum of William the Silent is in the middle of the church. It is a sort of small temple in black and white marble, loaded with ornament, and sustained by columns, between which are four statues representing Liberty, Prudence, Justice, and Religion. Upon the sarcophagus lies the figure of the prince, in white marble, and at his feet the effigy of the little dog that saved his life at the siege of Malines, waking him by its barkings one night in his tent, when two Spaniards were creeping upon him to assassinate him. At the feet of this figure rises a line bronze statue of Victory, with outspread wings, and supported only upon the toes of the left foot; and opposite, on the other side of the little temple, another bronze statue, representing William, seated, dressed in his armour, with uncovered head, the helmet lying at his feet. A Latin inscription sets forth that the monument was raised by the States of Holland, "to the eternal memory of that William of Nassau, whom Philip II., scourge of Europe, feared, and never overcame or conquered, but killed by atrocious guile." His sons are sepulchred beside him, and in the crypt below lie all the princes of his dynasty.

In the presence of this monument the lightest and most frivolous mind feels itself constrained to stop and ponder, recalling the tremendous struggle whose hero and conqueror lies below.

On one side is Philip II., on the other William of Orange. Philip, shut up in the gloomy solitudes of the Escorial, lord of an empire that embraced all Spain, the north and south of Italy, Belgium, and Holland; in Africa, Oran, Tunis, the Cape de Verde and Canary islands; in Asia, the Phillipine islands; in America, the Antilles, Mexico, Peru; married to the Queen of England; nephew of the Emperor of Germany, who obeyed him almost as a vassal; sovereign, it may be said, of Europe, since his nearer neighbors are all weakened by political and religious dissensions; having under his hand the best soldiers in Europe, the greatest captains of the time, the gold of America, the industry of Flanders, the science of Italy, an army of informers chosen from all nations, fanatically devoted to himself, the blind instruments of his will; the most astute, the most mysterious of the princes of his time; having on his side everything that enchains, corrupts, terrifies, and moves the world: arms, riches, glory, genius, religion. Before this formidable being, around whom all creatures prostrate themselves, rises William of Orange.

This man, without a kingdom and without an army, is more powerful than he. Like Philip, he has been a disciple of Charles V. and has learned the art of founding thrones, and the art of overturning them as well. Like Philip, he is astute and impenetrable; but he sees more clearly with the eyes of his intellect, into the future. He possesses, as does his enemy, the faculty of reading the souls of men; but he has also what his enemy has not, the power of gaining their hearts. He has a good cause to sustain; but he knows how to make use of all the arts by which bad ones are supported. Philip, who spies out and reads all men, is himself spied out and read by him. The designs of the great king are discovered and circumvented before they are put in action; mysterious hands search his caskets and his pockets, and mysterious eyes read his secret papers; William in Holland reads the thoughts of Philip in the Escorial; foresees, unravels, overturns all his plots; mines the earth under his feet, provokes, and flies before him, but returns again perpetually, like a phantom that he sees but cannot clutch, or clutching cannot destroy. And when at last he dies, victory remains with him dead, and defeat with his living enemy. Holland is without her head, but the Spanish monarchy is shaken to its fall, and never will recover.

In this prodigious struggle, in which the figure of the king becomes smaller and smaller until it filially disappears, that of the Prince of Orange grows and grows, until it becomes the most glorious figure of the century. On that day when, hostage with the King of France, he discovered the design of Philip to establish the Inquisition in the Low Countries, he consecrated himself to the defence of the liberties of his country, and never in his life did he hesitate for one moment in the path he had chosen. The advantages of noble birth, a royal fortune, the peaceful and splendid existence that he loved by nature and habit, he sacrificed all for his country; proscribed and reduced to poverty, he constantly rejected the offers of pardon and favor that were made to him, under a thousand forms and a thousand ways, by the enemy who hated him and feared him. Surrounded by assassins, the mark for the most atrocious calumnies, accused even of cowardice before the enemy, and of the murder of the wife whom he adored; looked upon sometimes with suspicion by the very people whom he was defending: he bore all with calmness, and in silence. He went about his chosen work, confronting infinite peril with tranquil courage. Never did he flatter or bend before the people, never was he blinded by their passion; he was their guide, their chief, their leader always; he was the mind, the conscience, and the arm of the revolution: the beacon-fire whence irradiated the heat by which his country lived. Great in audacity as in prudence, he preserved his integrity in the time of perjury and perfidy; calm in the midst of violence, he kept his hands immaculate when all the courts in Europe were stained with blood. With an army gathered up here and there, with allies weak and doubtful, harassed by the internal discords of Lutheran and Calvinist, noble and burgher, magistrates and people, with no great captains under him, he had to struggle against the municipal spirit of the provinces that scoffed at his authority and slipped from under his hand, and he triumphed in a cause that seemed above human control; he tired out the Duke of Alva, he tired out Requescens, he tired out Don John of Austria, he tired out Alexander Farnese; he brought to nought the plots of foreign princes who wished to succour his country in order to subjugate it; he conquered sympathy and aid from every part of Europe; and completing one of the most splendid revolutions in history, founded a free state in spite of an empire that was the terror of the universe.

This man, so tremendous and grand a figure before the world, was also a loving husband and father, a kind friend and affable companion, fond of gaiety and festivals, a magnificent and polished host. He was accomplished; knowing, besides the Flemish tongue, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin; and could discourse learnedly of most things. Although surnamed William the Silent (more for having kept so long the secret discovered at the French Court than because he was habitually taciturn) he was one of the most eloquent men of his day. He was simple in his manners, plain in his dress; loved, and was beloved by, the people.

He frequently walked in the streets of the city alone, and with his head uncovered; conversing with the workmen and the fishermen, who offered him drink in their own cups; he listened to their grievances, settled their differences, and entered their houses to re-establish peace in families, and they called him Father William. He was, indeed, the father, rather than the son of his country. The sentiments of admiration and gratitude that still live for him in the hearts of the Hollanders, have all the intimate and tender character of filial affection; his venerated name may still be heard in their mouths; his greatness, despoiled of every veil or ornament, remains entire, clear, firm, and solid, like his work.

After visiting the tomb, I went to see the place where the Prince of Orange was assassinated. But after having related how he lived, it is necessary to tell how he died.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:48 AM
In the year 1580, Philip II. had published an edict by which he promised a reward of twenty-five thousand gold crowns, and a title of nobility, to anyone who should kill the Prince of Orange. This infamous edict, which stimulated at once both cupidity and fanaticism, had caused assassins to swarm on every side about the prince, concealing themselves under false names, and hiding their arms and their purpose, while they waited their opportunity.

A young Biscavan, named Jauregny, a fervent Catholic, to whom a Dominican monk had promised the glory of martyrdom, was the first to make the attempt. He prepared himself with fasting and prayer, heard mass, took the Communion, covered himself with sacred relies, penetrated into the palace of William of Orange, and, approaching the prince under pretext of presenting a petition, fired a pistol-shot at his head. The ball passed through the jaw, but the wound was not mortal, and the prince recovered.

The assassin was struck down in the act, with blows of swords and halberds; and afterwards quartered in the public square, and his limbs were put up over one of the gates of Antwerp, where they remained until the Duke of Parma took that city, when the Jesuits gathered them together and presented them as relics to the veneration of the faithful.

A little while afterwards another conspiracy was discovered against the life of the prince. A French gentleman, an Italian and a Walloon, who had been following him for some time with the intention of killing him, were discovered and arrested. One of them stabbed himself and died in prison, the second was strangled in France, and the third succeeded in escaping, after having confessed that all three were acting under the orders of the Duke of Parma.

In the meantime Philip's agents were going about the country instigating persons to become assassins with promises of large reward, and priests and monks were encouraging fanatics with the promise of aid and recompense in heaven. Other attempts were made. A Spaniard, discovered and arrested, was quartered at Antwerp; a rich merchant, by name Hans Jansen, wits executed at Flushing. Several persons had offered their arms to Alexander Farnese, and had received money and encouragement from him. The Prince of Orange, who knew everything, nourished a vague presentiment of his approaching end, spoke of it to those in his intimacy, and refused to take any measures to preserve his own life, saying to those who advised him to do so: "It is useless. God knows the number of my years. He will dispose of me according to His will. If there be a wretch who fears not death, my life is in his hands, however I may seek to guard it."

Eight attempts to murder him were made before the successful one.

At the time when the last was consummated, in 1584, four villains, each unknown to the other - an Englishman, a Scotchman, a Frenchman, and a native of Lorraine - were at Delft, where the Prince of Orange then was, all awaiting their opportunity to assassinate him. Besides these, there had been there for some time a young man of twenty-seven years, from Franche Comté, a Catholic, but passing for a Protestant, Guyon by name, son of Peter Guyon, who had been executed at Besançon for having embraced Calvinism. This so-called Guyon, whose real name was Balthazar Gerard, gave out that he had fled from the persecution of the Catholics; he led an austere life, and assisted at all the exercises of the Protestant faith; in a short time he was regarded as a saint. Saying that he had come to Delft to obtain the honor of being admitted into the service of the Prince of Orange, he was presented to him through the recommendation of a Protestant minister; the prince had faith in him, and appointed him to accompany M. de Schonewalle, envoy from the States of Holland to France. A little while after he returned to Delft to bring to William of Orange the news of the death of the Duke of Anjou, and presented himself at the convent of Saint Agatha where the prince and his court were then sojourning. It was the second Sunday in. July. William received him in his chamber, being then in bed. They were alone. Balthazar Gerard was then tempted to kill him; but he had no arms, and concealing his impatience, quietly answered the questions put to him. William gave him a small sum of money, told him to prepare to return to Paris, and ordered him to come back the following day for letters and passports. With the money given him by the prince, Gerard bought two pistols from a soldier (who afterwards killed himself when he knew the use to which they had been put), and the next day he again presented himself at the convent of Saint Agatha. The prince, accompanied by several ladies and gentlemen of his family, was coming downstairs to dinner on the ground-floor, and the Princess of Orange, his fourth wife, was leaning on his arm; she was that gentle and unfortunate Louisa de Coligny, who on the night of St. Bartholomew had seen the Admiral her father and the Sieur de Teligny her husband murdered before her eyes. Gerard advanced to meet the prince, stopped him, and asked him to sign his passport. William told him to come back later, and passed on into the hall. Not a shadow of suspicion had crossed his mind; but Louisa de Coligny, made cautious and suspicious by experience, was disturbed. That pale-faced man, wrapped in a long mantle, had made an unpleasant impression upon her; it seemed to her that his voice was agitated and his visage convulsed. During the dinner she spoke to William of her suspicions, and asked him who was this man, "who had the worst countenance that she had ever seen." The prince smiled, told her that it was Guyon, reassured her, was cheerful as usual throughout the meal, and when it was over passed quietly out to go upstairs again. Gerard was lurking under a dark archway beside the staircase, hidden by the shadow of a door. The moment the prince appeared, he came out, sprang upon him as he placed his foot upon the second step, discharged a pistol loaded with three balls into his chest, and took to flight. The prince staggered and fell into the arms of an attendant; everybody rushed. He said in a faint voice, "I am wounded. My God, have mercy on me, and on my poor people!" He was covered with blood. His sister, Catherine of Schwartzburg, said to him, "Do you recommend your soul to Jesus Cbrist?" He answered faintly, "Yes." It was his last word. They placed him sitting on a step of the stairs, and asked him some questions; but his senses were gone. He was carried into a room near by, and there expired.

Gerard, meanwhile, had passed through the stables, left the convent, and reached the city bastion, where he intended to jump down into the moat and swim over to the opposite shore, where a saddled horse was waiting for him.

But in his flight he dropped his hat and his second pistol. One of the prince's servants and a halberdier, seeing these traces, started in pursuit. At the very moment when he was about to take the leap from the bastion they seized him. "Infernal traitor!" they cried. He answered calmly, "I am not a traitor; I am the faithful servant of my lord." "Of what lord?" they demanded. "Of my lord and master the King of Spain," answered Gerard. Other halberdiers and pages now came up, and they dragged him into the city, striking him as they went with fists and sword-hilts. Believing from what he heard that the prince was not dead, the wretch exclaimed with gloomy tranquillity, "Accursed be the hand that missed its stroke!"

This deplorable security of soul never abandoned him for a moment. Before the tribunal, under long interrogations, in his dungeon, loaded with irons, he maintained the same unalterable calm. He bore the torture without a groan. Between the torments, while the jailors were resting, he spoke quietly and without ostentation. Whilst on the rack, lifting now and then his bloody head, he said, "Ecce Homo." He thanked his judges for the food that they permitted to be brought him, and wrote his confession with his own hand.

He was born at Vuillafaus, in Burgundy, had studied law under an advocate of Dole, and had there for the first time manifested a desire to kill William of Orange, striking a dagger into a door, and saying, "Thus would I like to plant a poignard into the breast of the Prince of Orange!" Three years later, hearing of Philip's edict, he went to Luxembourg with the intention of committing the murder, but was stopped by a false report of the death of William after the attempt of Jauregny. A little while after, learning that the prince was still alive, he resumed his purpose, and went to Malines to ask counsel of the Jesuits, who encouraged him in his design and promised him that, if his attempt succeeded, and he lost his life, he should have the glory and the honors of a martyr. Then he went to Tournai, was presented to Alexander Farnese, received a confirmation of Philip's promise, was approved and encouraged by the confidants of the Prince of Parma, and the ministers of God; fortified himself with readings of the Bible, and with fasting and prayer, and so, seized with a divine exaltation, dreaming of Paradise and the angels, he departed for Delft, and there fulfilled "his duty as a good Catholic and a faithful subject."

He repeated his confession more than once before his judges; pronounced not one word of regret or repentance, boasted of his deed; called himself a new David who had slain a new Goliath; and declared that if he had not already killed the Prince of Orange, he should be ready to do it; his courage, his calmness, his profound conviction of having accomplished a holy mission and a glorious death, amazed his judges, who believed him to be possessed of an evil spirit; an examination was made; he himself was interrogated, but he always insisted that he had never had any relations other than with God.

The sentence was read to him on the 14th of July. "It was a crime," says an illustrious historian, "against the memory of the great man whom it purposed to avenge; a sentence to strike into insensibility anyone without the superhuman fortitude of the prisoner."

He was condemned to have his right hand encased in a case of red-hot iron; his arms, legs, and thighs torn with hot pincers; his chest cut open, his heart torn out and thrown in his face; the head severed from the body and stuck on a pike; the body quartered, and each part placed over a gate of the city.

Listening to the reading of this horrid sentence, the wretched man never changed color, or gave any sign of terror, or grief, or astonishment. He only opened his doublet, laid bare his chest, and in a firm voice, fixing his eyes steadily on the face of his judges, repeated the words: "Ecce Homo!"

What was this man? Only a fanatic, as many believed, or a monster of wickedness, or both together, with the addition of insatiable ambition?

The sentence, was executed on the following day. The preparations were made under the eyes of the prisoner, who looked on with indifference. The executioner's assistant began by crushing the pistol, instrument of the crime, with blows of a hammer. At the first blow, the head of the hammer flew off and wounded another assistant in the ear; the people laughed, and Gerard laughed also. When he appeared on the scaffold, his body was horrible to see. Whilst his hand crackled and smoked in the burning tube, he stood mute; nor did he utter a cry while the red-hot pincers tore his flesh; when the last act came, he dropped his head, murmured some incomprehensible words, and expired.

The news of the death of the Prince of Orange had spread consternation throughout the country. His body was exposed for one month on a bier, around which the people flocked, kneeling and in tears. His funeral was worthy of a king; there came the States General of the United Provinces, the Council of State, the States of Holland, the magistrates, the ministers of religion, the princes of the house of Nassau. Twelve gentlemen carried the body; four great nobles held the cords of the pall; the prince's horse followed, splendidly caparisoned, and led by a groom; and there was seen, in the middle of the cortége of nobles, a youth of eighteen years, whose hands were to receive the glorious heritage of the dead, who was destined to humiliate the Spanish armies, to constrain Spain to plead for truce and recognise the independence of the United Provinces. That youth was Maurice of Orange, the son of William, under whom a short time after his father's death, the States of Holland conferred the dignity of Statholder, and confided to him the supreme command of the forces by land and sea.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:53 AM
The news of the death of the Prince of Orange had spread consternation throughout the country. His body was exposed for one month on a bier, around which the people flocked, kneeling and in tears. His funeral was worthy of a king; there came the States General of the United Provinces, the Council of State, the States of Holland, the magistrates, the ministers of religion, the princes of the house of Nassau. Twelve gentlemen carried the body; four great nobles held the cords of the pall; the prince's horse followed, splendidly caparisoned, and led by a groom; and there was seen, in the middle of the cortége of nobles, a youth of eighteen years, whose hands were to receive the glorious heritage of the dead, who was destined to humiliate the Spanish armies, to constrain Spain to plead for truce and recognise the independence of the United Provinces. That youth was Maurice of Orange, the son of William, under whom a short time after his father's death, the States of Holland conferred the dignity of Statholder, and confided to him the supreme command of the forces by land and sea.

Whilst Holland wept her loss, in all the cities subject to the King of Spain the Catholic clergy glorified the murderer and his deed; the Jesuits exalted him as a martyr; the university of Louvain published his apology; the canons of Bois-le-Duc chanted a Te Deum. Some years afterwards, the family of Gerard received from the King of Spain a title of nobility, and the confiscated lands of the Prince of Orange in Burgundy.

The house where the Prince of Orange was assassinated still exists it is a gloomy-looking edifice, with arched windows and a narrow door, forming part of the cloister of the ancient church of St. Agatha, and it still bears the name of Prinsenshof, although it now serves as a cavalry barrack. I asked leave of entrance from the soldier on guard; a corporal, who knew a little French, accompanied me; we crossed a court full of soldiers, and reached the memorable spot. I saw the staircase, the dark corner where Gerard crouched, the door of the room where William dined for the last time, and the traces of the balls on the wall, isolated in a white space, with an inscription in Dutch setting forth that here the father of his country died.

The corporal pointed out the way by which the murderer had fled. Whilst I looked about with that thoughtful curiosity that one feels under such circumstances, soldiers went up and down; they stopped to look at me, and went off whistling and singing; loud laughter rang from the courtyard; and all that youthful life and gaiety contrasted touchingly with the sad and solemn memories or the place, like the frolic of children in a room where some dear parent died.

Opposite the Prinsenshof is the oldest church in Delft, which contains the tomb of that famous Admiral Tromp, the veteran of the Dutch navy, who saw thirty-two sea-fights, scattered the English fleet under Blake at the battle of the Dunes, in 1652, and returned into port with a broom fastened to his mainmast, to indicate that he had swept the English from the seas. There is the tomb of Peter Hein, who, from a simple fisherman, rose to be Grand Admiral, and made that memorable haul of Spanish ships that carried in their sides more than eleven millions of florins. There is the tomb of Leuwenhoek, the father of the science of the "infinitely little," he who, as Parini says, "saw with his investigating glass the embryo man floating in the genital sea."

The church has a tall steeple, surmounted by four small conical towers, which leans like the tower of Pisa, in consequence of the sinking of the ground. In a cell in this tower Gerard was confined on the night following the assassination.

At Rotterdam they had given me a letter for a citizen of Delft, requesting him to show me his house. "He desires," said the letter "to penetrate the mysteries of an old Dutch house: lift for a moment, for his benefit, the curtain of the sanctuary." I had no difficulty in finding the house, and when I saw it, I exclaimed: "This is what I want."

It was a small house at the end of a street opening on the fields, of one storey only, red, with a pointed façade, planted on the edge of the canal as if looking at itself in the water, with a fine spreading linden-tree before it, and a drawbridge directly in front. There were the white curtains, the green door, the flowers, the little mirrors, it was a small model of a Dutch house.

The street was deserted; before knocking at the door I stood a moment to look and muse. That house gave me a better idea of Holland than I could get from any book. It was at once the cause and the effect of the family affection, the modest desires, the independent character of the Dutch people. In my own country the real home does not exist; there is nothing but an apartment, a portion of a great barrack, in which one lives concealed, but not alone, hearing a thousand noises of strange people, who disturb our grief with echoes of their joy, or our joy with rumours of their grief. The true house and home is in Holland, the personal house, distinct from others, modest, discreet, and, precisely because it is distinct from others, inimical to mystery and intrigue; cheerful when the family that inhabits it is cheerful, and sad when they are sad. In these houses, with the canals and drawbridges before them, every modest citizen feels a little of the solitary dignity of the castellan, or the commander of a fortress, or a ship; and sees, indeed, from his windows, as from the deck of a vessel at anchor, a uniform and boundless plain, which inspires him with the same sentiments and thoughts, grave and free, as are inspired by the sea. The trees surrounding his habitation, almost like a garment of verdure, allow only a broken and discreet light to penetrate it; the bark laden with merchandise floats before his door; he hears no sound of horses' feet, nor crack of whip, nor songs, nor shouts; around him all the movements of life are slow and silent; everything breathes peace and gentleness; and the neighbouring steeple announces the hour with a flood of harmony sweet and constant as his affections and his labor.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:54 AM
I knocked; the door was opened by the master of the house in person, who, having read my letter, gave me a scrutinising glance, and invited me to enter. Dutchmen, as a rule are diffident. With us, the first comer who brings a letter of introduction is received with open arms, as if he were our most intimate friend; and very often we do nothing for him. The Hollanders, on the contrary, receive you coldly, so much so as to be sometimes rather mortifying; but then they offer you all sorts of service, with the best will in the world, and without the least appearance of laying you under an obligation.

The inside of the house corresponded perfectly with the outside; it seemed like the interior of a ship. A winding staircase of wood that shone like ebony led to the upper rooms. Mats and carpets covered the stairs and landing-places, and lay before all the doors. The rooms were as small as cells; the furniture exquisitely clean; all the knobs and bolts and ornaments of metal shone as if they had just been made; and on every side there were quantities of china jars, vases, and cups; lamps, mirrors, little pictures, brackets, toys, and objects of every use and form, attesting the thousand small needs created by a sedentary life, the provident activity, the constant care, the love of small things, the taste for order and the economy of space; the residence, in short, of a quiet, home-loving woman.

The goddess of this temple, who did not or would not speak French, was hidden somewhere, in some penetralia which I could not guess at.

We vent down to see the kitchen; it was splendid. When I returned to Italy and gave a description of it to my mother and the servant, who piqued herself on her neatness, they were annihilated. The walls were as white as untouched snow; the saucepans reflected objects like mirrors; the mantelpiece was ornamented by a species of muslin curtain, like the canopy of a bed, without a trace of smoke; the fire-place beneath was covered with china tiles that looked as bright as if no fire had ever been lighted there; the shovel, tongs, and poker, and the chains and hooks, seemed made of polished steel. A lady in a ball-dress might have gone into every hole and corner of that kitchen and come forth without a smirch upon her whiteness.

The maid-servant, meanwhile, was cleaning up, and her master commented thus: "To have an idea of what cleanliness is with us, you should watch one of these women for an hour. Here a house is soaped, and sponged, and rubbed, like a person. It is not cleaning, it is making a toilette. She blows in the cracks between the bricks, pokes in the corners with finger and pin, makes a minute supervision enough to fatigue the eye as well as the arm. It is truly a national passion. These girls, who are in general phlegmatic enough, become quite frantic on cleaning days. We are not masters in our own houses then. They invade the chambers, and turn everything upside down; they are real cleaning Bacchantes; they excite themselves in washing and sweeping."

I asked him whence this mania for which Holland is remarkable was supposed to come. He gave me the same reasons that are given by others: the atmosphere of the country, which injures wood and metal; the dampness, the smallness of the houses, and the multiplicity of small objects favoring dust; the superabundance of water; a certain need of the eye, that eventually finds beauty in simple cleanliness; and finally, that emulation which pushes things to extremes. "But this is not," he added, "the cleanest part of Holland: the excess, the delirium of cleanliness is to be found in the northern provinces."

We went out for a turn through the city. It was not yet noon; and the servant-maids were out on all sides as at Rotterdam. It is a singular thing that all over the country from Rotterdam to Gröningen, and from Harlem to Nimegnen, they are all dressed exactly alike - in a lilac print gown, with a white cap and white wooden shoes. I thought at first that they formed a sort of national corporation and wore a uniform. They are generally very young, middle-aged women not being able to endure the fatigues that they go through, blonde and plump, with the posterior curves (to quote Diderot) enormous, and an appearance of perfect health shown in their clear white and red complexions.

All at once I remembered a certain entry made in my note-book before leaving Italy, and I asked my companion: "Are servants in Holland the eternal torments of their mistresses?"

Here comes in a parenthesis. It is acknowledged that ladies not too highly placed to have to do directly with their female servants generally talk, in their visits to each other, of nothing but these servants. It is always the same complaint of insupportable defects, of insolence endured, of profiting on their purchases, of shameless pretensions, and of other similar calamities, which all end with the same refrain: that honest and faithful servants, such as once gained the affection of the family and grew old in their service, are no more to be found; that one must change continually, and that there is no way of remedying the evil.

Is this true, or is it not true? Is it a consequence of the liberty and equality of classes, rendering service harder and servants more exacting? Is it an effect of the relaxation of manners and public discipline, felt also in the kitchen? However it may be, it is a fact that in my own house I heard the same ever-recurring complaint, until one day, when I was about to leave for Madrid, I said to my mother: "If anything in Madrid can console me in my absence from my family, it will be that I never shall hear this question discussed."

On my arrival at Madrid, the very first thing my landlady said to me was that she had been obliged to change her servants three times in one month, that it was really a desperate state of things, and that she did not know which way to turn, and every day there was the same lamentation.

At home again I related this anecdote, and my mother, laughing, said that it was probably an annoyance which existed in all countries. "No," I answered, "in the north it cannot be so." I went to Paris, and asked the first acquaintance that I met, whether there, as in Italy and Spain, ladies' lives were made miserable by their servants. "Ah! mon cher Monsieur!" she replied, with clasped hands and upturned eyes; "do not speak of it!" and then followed a long and lamentable story. Let us see in London, I thought. Entering into conversation with an English lady, and asking the same question, she covers her eyes with her hands, and responds with emphasis: "They are flagellum Dei!"

Some hope still remained to me in Holland, and I questioned my cicerone at Delft; and awaited with anxiety his reply. "Sir," he answered, after a moment's reflection, "we have in Holland a proverb which pronounces that servants are a cross sent from God." My last hope was annihilated. "First of all," he continued, "there is the trouble that if your house is of any size you must keep two women-servants, one to cook and one to clean, it being impossible, with the mania which possesses them for washing the very air, that one can serve for both. Then they are all mad for liberty; they choose to stay out until ten o'clock in the evening; to have one day in the seven completely free. Then their betrothed lover must be tolerated as a visitor; and they must be allowed to dance in the streets, and to go and raise the very devil at the Kermesse. More, when you dismiss them, you must wait until they find it convenient to go, and often that is not for months. Their wages amount to ninety or one hundred florins a year; and besides this, so much percentage on all the house expenditure; presents, rigorously exacted, from all invited guests; extra presents of money and clothes; and always and above all, patience, patience, and again patience."

Passing through a quiet side-street, I saw two ladies, one after the other, stop and read a placard appended to a door, make a gesture of sorrow, and pass on. My companion explained, in answer to my question, a singular custom of the country. Upon that bit of paper was written that such or such a sick person was worse. When any one of a family is ill, a bulletin is affixed every morning to the door, so that inquiring friends may not have to knock and enter. The same sort of announcement is made on other occasions. In some towns the birth of a boy baby is made known by hanging to the door a pink silk ball covered with lace, which is called in Dutch "a proof of birth." If the baby is a girl, there is a small bit of paper attached above it; if twins, the lace is double; and for several days after the birth there is a written paper setting forth that the child and mother are doing well, that they have passed a good night, or the contrary, as the case may be. At one time the announcement of birth over a door kept off the family creditors for nine days; but I think this custom is fallen into disuse, although it must have been conducive to an increase of population.

In that short walk about Delft, I met again certain funereal figures which I had seen in Rotterdam, without being able to tell whether they were priests, or magistrates, or undertakers, for they had a look of all three. They wore three-cornered hats, with a long black weeper, a black swallow-tailed coat, black small-clothes, and stockings, black cloaks, pumps with ribbons, white cravats and gloves, and a black-edged paper always in their hands. My companion informed me that they were called aanspreckers, and that their office was to carry the announcement of death to parents and friends, and to proclaim it in the streets. Their dress is modified in different cities, or according to whether they be Protestant or Catholic. In some places they wear an enormous hat à la Don Basilio. They are in general very carefully dressed and are got up with a certain elegance which contrasts irreverently with their character of announcers of death, or, as some traveller calls them, living mortuary letters.

We saw one standing in front of a house, and my companion called my attention to the fact that the shutters were half closed, which was a sign that someone was dead in the family. I asked who. "I do not know," he answered, "but judging by the shutters it cannot be a very near relative."

This argument puzzling me somewhat, he explained that in Holland when anyone died in a family, they closed one, or two, or three of the folding shutters, according to the degree of relationship of the deceased. Each fold of the shutter denoted a degree. For a father or mother, they closed all save one; for a cousin, one only; for a brother, two; and so on. This custom is apparently an ancient one, still enduring because in this country changes are slow and difficult, only occurring when they are unavoidable.*

I should have liked to see at Delft the house where the beer-shop of the painter Steen once existed, but my host assured me that there was no remembrance of it remaining Apropos of painters, however, he gave me the agreeable intelligence that I was then in that part of Holland which is comprised between Delft, the Hague, the sea, the town of Alkmar, the gulf of Amsterdam, and the ancient lake of Harlem, which may be called properly the country of Dutch painting, both because the great artists were born there, and because, being singularly picturesque, they loved it and studied it much. I was therefore in the bosom of Holland, and leaving Delft should enter her very heart.

Before my departure I took a hasty glance at the military arsenal, occupying a large building which served first as a storehouse to the East India Company, and communicates with an artillery-barrack and a large powder-magazine placed outside the city. There is also at Delft the great Polytechnic School of Engineering, the true military school of Holland, whence issue the officers for the army of defence against the sea, and it is these youthful warriors of the dykes and cataracts, about three hundred, who give life to the quiet city of Grotius. Whilst I was going on board the vessel that was to take me to the Hague, my Dutchman was describing to me the last festival celebrated by the students of Delft; one of those festivals peculiar to Holland, a kind of historical masquerade, like a reflection of past grandeur, which serves to maintain alive in the minds of people the traditions of illustrious personages and events of others times. One great cavalcade represented the entrance into Arnhem in 1492 of Charles d'Egmont, Duke of Gueldres and Count of Zuften; of that family of Egmont which gave in the noble and unfortunate Count Lamoral the first great victim for the liberty of Holland to the Duke of Alva's axe. Two hundred students on horseback, in armour, with gilded and emblazoned coats of arms, with tall plumes and long swords, formed the cortége of the Duke of Gueldres. Then came halberdiers, archers, and lansquenechts, dressed in all the showy splendor of the fifteenth century; the bands played, the city glowed with lights, and an immense crowd from all parts of Holland thronged the streets and looked on at that splendid vision of a past age.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 08:59 AM
The entire book by de Amicis (with the subsequent chapters on The Hague, Leyden, Haarlem, Amsterdam...From Groningen to Arnhem) was published for the internet for De Roepstem by Marcel Bas and scanned by Arjan Dedden in 2002.