David Storrar Meldrum.

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Rink's departure is the signal that dinner is ended.
" Children, run into the garden," says Mevrouw, balking
her brother-in-law (he is old-fashioned even here) of his
desire to toast the stranger. The ladies slip out after
coffee : Mevrouw to the veranda, where I find her later
going through some French for to-morrow with one of
the higher-burgher-school girls ; Marie and her aunt to
join the children, whose voices in their game float in to
us among the smoke of cigars. " Beau chateau " they
are singing

" Beau Chdleau, Balaviere, Bataviere,
Beau Chctteau Bataviere, viere-vol
Qui prendrez vous . . . viere-vo!"

I am back in my room upstairs overlooking the
square ; setting down two last typical impressions of a
round of the clock in old Holland.

My hostess, when we all met again in the voorkamer


for tea, was seated at the table before a lacquered tray,
into which had been let a sheet of glass, to prevent
scratches. Rika had placed next to her a wooden tea-
stove, bound and lined with brass ; and in it, resting on
a triangle on the burning peat, was a kettle, burnished
with ruddle, to keep it deep in tone. Mevrouw infused
the tea herself in a silver teapot standing on a nickel
spirit lamp. Beside it was the tea-caddy, with a silver
top. The teaspoons lay to her hand in a box of
tortcise-shell. The cups were Chinese blue. A square
silvei cox on the table holds, in old-fashioned custom,
sweet biscuits or krakelingen. All over Holland, with
precisely the same immemorial array about them, Dutch
ladies entertain their families and good friends in homely
sessions at the tea-drinking hour.

A later hour in the voorkamer. The guests have
departed. The children are asleep. The maids on their
way upstairs come in to bid their good-nights. By the
last post has been delivered the Rotterdammer, and
Mynheer, lighting a fresh cigar, and pushing the box
towards me, settles himself to the evening sheets. The
housewife, her basket by her side, her bunch of keys at
rest in it at last, can enjoy a peaceful hour with Anatole
France, who has entered with the portfolio of the
reading club, Holland's circulating library. Marie has
chosen the Gattenlaube. Willem and I are turning over
its other contents : Fliegende Blatter, Revue des Deux
Mondes, Punch t De Gids, The London News, L' Illustration.
This is the hour of the Portefeuille, the vehicle that
brings all the world into thousands of voorkamers, and
leaves them look where you may still incorruptibly

The lights are going out downstairs. I can hear
them locking up at the Pastorie on the other side of
the plein. Eleven strikes on the cuckoo-clock : time to


go to bed. Through the open windows, with the night
scents from the trees, come the voices of dream children :
Qui prendrez-vous Bataviere-viere-vo ! The square is
silent. Then konkd-k says a bucket set down on the
klinkers, and the pump answers gulp-t-t-t !


THIS chapter has nothing to do with the society (so
far as it exists in Holland) which among our-
selves is known as the County. Nor has it to do with
the town-dwellers who pass a considerable part of the
year in their summer quarters ; nor with any others,
rentiers, urban in their sympathies, who for their pleasure
or their profit live the rural life. I am thinking of a
condition rather than of a society, yet not exactly of
a condition, but of all that is conveyed by what the
Dutch characteristically call het platteland, involving the
million or two souls directly interested or engaged in
agriculture in one or other of its forms.

Now the characteristic figures " on the land " are the
boers, and the boers are sealed books for the stranger,
and even for the Dutchman who is not one of them.

The stranger scarcely catches a glimpse of them.
The costumed figures that drift belated through
Amsterdam streets, self-possessed but a little forlorn
in their mediaeval bravery, are mostly fisherfolk, from
Urk, say, or Vlieland. Boers are not to be found at
Marken or Volendam, and less and less in the cheese-
markets of Gouda and Alkmaar. They might be seen
at Utrecht or Leeuwarden cattle-markets, or on a
Saturday at Deventer ; but the foreigner does not push

so far as a rule. And in any case it is not in market or



feast-day outings that one can know them, but on their
farms (boerderyen), and these stand isolated and remote
in tha meadows, where stranger foot scarce ever pene-
trates. If you do venture near them, the inmates seem
to be swallowed up in the vast gloom of the barn
(schuur], and a silence ever broods over all. Perhaps
you attempt to catch sight of them on the road, driving
home from market, in the close recesses of their Utrecht
wagons, but it is in vain ; and after they have passed, you
feel their eyes upon you through the peep-hole window
behind. And yet I would not say that they are curious,
or anything but indifferent to you. I have spoken of
the boer as an oyster shut up in his polder-shell. The
figure may stand.

It cannot be said that he comes very far out of his
shell for the benefit of such of his countrymen as belong
to another class from his own. I have always been
much struck, and am as much to-day as ever, by two
things : the great respect which they show to him when
they meet, and the rather slighting way they speak of
him behind his back. How the boer, on the other hand,
speaks of them, I am unable to say, never having been
taken into his confidence, which I am labouring to
explain he is slow to give. But if I can judge from the
cool, reserved demeanour I have frequently observed in
him at their meeting, I should expect his opinion not to
be lacking in criticism. He is, after all, a Dutchman.

In saying this, I am leaving unexplained whom
I mean by " them," that must appear from the context
in what follows, and the varying conditions and status
and fortunes of "him," which subsequent pages are to
exhibit. My point at the moment is that there is
a rinsred-off state of " boer " which dwells within its own


borders, and is treated with respect in its retreat, but is
not very greatly in sympathy with its neighbours. And


I make the point here, because it appears likely that
when Dutch agriculture passes through its present
transitory phase, that ringed-off state will have largely

The number of cultivators on the six and a half
million acres in Holland is a little over 180,000, ex-
clusive of those with less than 2^ acres. Some of them
own their land, others rent it, and some rent land and
work it with their own. We will be right in saying
that fully half the Dutch farmers are peasant proprietors ;
and it will be well to keep in view that we are including
with them the market-gardeners, of whom over a half
rent their gardens. But the tendency is slowly down-
wards, at least off the sand.

These peasant proprietors are found in greatest
numbers in the east and south ; that is to say, where the
farms run smallest. It is true that they are most
numerous of all in Groningen, where lie the largest
arable farms. But Groningen, with two- thirds of its
farmers owners, including those under the system 01
beklemrecht, is an exception.

North Holland may be considered as holding the
balance fairly even, though it also inclines against pro-
prietorship ; in South Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland
the percentage of owners probably never exceeds forty
per cent., and in most it is only a little above thirty,
and in these four Provinces (with Groningen) are found
three-fourths of the farms over 125 acres. So that it is
in North Brabant, Overyssel, Limburg, and Gelderland
that we are to look chiefly for the peasant proprietor,
and we find him there most numerously on the sandy

Of the land thus parcelled out among the cultivators
with over 2\ acres, 23-5 per cent, lies in farms of from
2\ to 25 acres, 20' 5 per cent, from 25 to 50; 32 per




cent, from 50 to 125; and IO'5 per cent, above 125
acres. Thus nearly sixty per cent, of the entire cultivated
surface is held in lots of under 50 acres, and the size of
the holdings steadily decreases. The exact statistics are
not available ; but it is within the mark to put the
increase of farms at or below 25 acres in the last
twenty years at twenty per cent., with a decrease in those
above 2 5 acres of over two per cent. I have no informa-
tion as to how far this decrease of large holdings occurs
among peasant proprietors, but at least it cannot have
occurred in Groningen, where the beklemrecht prevents
the breaking up of properties.

The size of the farms does not vary more than their
constitution and culture. From my account of the
physical conditions of Holland the reader will have
pictured broadly the distribution of its soils ; and the
uses to which they are put we shall see immediately
when we visit the boer in his boerdery. The barest
outline of both, therefore, is all that is necessary now.

There is fertile sea-clay in all Zeeland, in parts
of N. Holland and S. Holland, and in the northern
parts of Friesland and Groningen, and there is marshy
fen in the Hollands and the south-west of Friesland.
In addition there is the stretch of alluvial sand-soil
(geest grond, as it is called) within the dunes. Such,
broadly, is the constitution of the lowlands. Sand,
gravel, low and high fen, and river-clay compose the
remainder of the country.

The juicy meadows, which give Holland its especial
character, lie for the greater part on the low fen, floating,
one might say, on the surface of the water ; it is from
this low fen that are taken the great hay crop, and the
butter and cheese that fill the markets of Bolsward,
Gouda, and Alkmaar, and the harbours of Sneek and
Harlingen. Fully a third of Holland is permanent


meadow on fen and the lighter clays, mostly, of course,
in the west of the country. About a quarter of Holland
again is arable, for the greater part in Groningen and
Zeeland. In them are the rich sea-clay polders, which,
with the new polders on the fen are as gracious land for
the husbandman as any in the world. And in Groningen
and in Drente, on the so-called dal-grond recovered from
the heaths, is the remarkable special industry of the
" fen-colonies," not to be written of in detail here. It is
also to be noted that of the garden ground (which is
2*25 per cent, of the whole), the Hollands provide the
largest surface, and that where the culture is most
intensive. Between them they possess ninety per cent, of
the glass for vegetable and fruit.

Coming off the lowlands, we have on the diluvial
sand (alongside high fen) and on the river-clay of the
other provinces an admixture of cultures such as are
to be found in the north and west, but without their
particularity. In Utrecht is a little of everything.
Tillage and cattle-rearing and gardening, and especially
the orchards on the Betuwe river-clay, the cropping of
the Idss-grond of Limburg, and the culture of the " green-
grounds " along the little rivers of North Brabant, with
the wastes of Drente and the sand of the Veluwe, give
variety if not fatness of life to the population of the
higher lands. And here appears most of the wood (half
of it fir) that in the last twenty years has increased by
over twenty per cent., and now occupies some eight per
cent, of Holland's surface.

These figures, which have an interest for such as
would understand Holland's contribution to the land
question, are set down here as the quickest means of
indicating the wide range of material condition among
the Dutch boers. They differ as well in race as in
religion, in costume, in the construction of their farm-


buildings, and in their methods of farming. The Frisian
is not to be judged by the Frank. The marketers of
Leeuwarden and Groningen bear little resemblance to
those of Deventer and of Utrecht, and those of North
Holland are distinct from all the rest.

Some marks of their difference will appear as we
proceed. In view of them it may seem absurd to speak
of a ringed-off class of boer, and so it would be were no
notice taken of the variety that exists within its marches.
That variety indeed is one of the perennial delights of
the Dutch country, and it is to be found not merely
between the different provinces and countrysides, but
equally in the same polder or commune. The contrast
between the Groningen " fen-colonist " and him of, say,
the Brabant Peil, is not greater than that between the
" fen-colonist " and his neighbour on the Groningen peat.

How far within the smaller ring these smaller circles
are recognised, with a consequent influence upon social
life and intercourse, must be left for those to say who
know the boer better than I know him, or than probably
any stranger can. Polder or communal jealousy, as it
shows itself, for example, in the young males for their
womankind, does not necessarily indicate a complete
harmony among those banded together against a common
rival. One is rash to attack any of a family of brothers
because they are for ever squabbling among themselves.
I have been told that the boer on the river dike looks
down upon the inland boer ; and I can quite believe, as
I have also been told, that acquaintance with the larger
effects of nature, and the sense the river gives of a greater
world beyond, has the effect of making superior men of
those who see them daily from the dikes. And if he is
superior I have no doubt the boer knows it, and knowing
it acts, by human-nature standards, " accordin'."

It is quite certain, at any rate, that these distinctions


of material and other conditions among the boers do
affect the attitude towards them of their neighbours in
other classes. This brings me back to a matter with
which the chapter started. Neither the respect nor the
disconsideration to which I referred earlier is uniform ;
and as a matter of fact it is not desirable to lay stress
on either, so soon as the point they were intended to
enforce is made. I am thinking merely of my own
experiences when seeking the boer in his boerdery. I
was always dependent for the introduction upon out-
siders, and it was their evident anxiety as to the resulting
visit which enlightened me about the spirit of watchful
reserve between the farming and the other classes in
Holland. Probably it is only the boer who is inspired
with it, and if I am right he does not trouble to exhibit
it towards the bourgeoisie. They are beneath his slightly
unamiable attentions. It is on the " gentleman " (to
define his civilisation no more narrowly at present) that
he bestows them ; and the gentleman, being aware of
his animus, treats him with the varying degrees of
respectfulness which I discovered.

I was always on these visits accompanied by my
host, and a certain punctiliousness of demeanour was
observed on both sides. In the countrysides with larger
farms a request to be allowed to bring the stranger was
sometimes, I know, sent in advance, and permission
received, before our call was made. We went without
any such formality when the farm was small and in
parts of the country, such as Gelderland, where the status
of the farmer is lower. But everywhere there was a
certain deference, and on our return some curiosity
generally was manifest in the household as to how the
visit " went off."

I may have remarked more than there really was,
being accustomed to the large farms at home, and falling,


in spite of much evidence to correct me, into the error of
regarding boers so closely packed together as cottagers.
At home, among the cottagers, there would have been
with hosts like mine the same care not to presume. But
I fancy that this deference, though I may have been
mistaken about its extent, had more in it than that.

How shall I convey the exact shade I discover in
the relationship ? I put it to my friend the notary, after
one of these visits, that there was something just a little
discreet underlying its hospitality and obvious friendli-
ness. Divining my difficulty, " Well, you know," he said,
" they are well, you may say, our equals." With no
more than that slight hesitancy in finding words for it,
he evidently felt the equality. True, " they " were big
farmers on the Zeeland clay. But the polite squire or
even the polite stockbroker at home would not include
any one whom he thought to approach within a mile of
equality with himself in a general description of " farm-
ing folk." Whereas in Holland, it seems to me, the
largest farmers and their wives are often rounded up
with the owner of a hectare and his, in the phrase boeren
en boerinnen.

Perhaps for our English ears there are associations
with the word boer which prejudice it. And then the
farmers' wives are sometimes alluded to as boerinnetjes.
There is nothing affectionate in the use of the diminutive
here, except just that affection for their own and their
institutions which leads the Dutch to extend the endear-
ing " tje " to everything from a child to a carrot. As a
diminutive proper it is singularly inappropriate to those
tall, stately, yet slightly awkward women, like Bornean
heiresses carrying their wealth on their heads, whom I
seem to remember best as sitting impassively in Sunday
tramcars anywhere within twenty miles of Hoorn. And
their " man," the North Holland boer, is not a gentleman


to be addressed familiarly on any score. Down in
Guelders, on the other hand, and in North Brabant, and
in Utrecht often, and in places, in fact, that are mostly
Prankish, people run small, and despite a Prankish
gaiety, affect black in their dress, which always has a
further dwarfing effect.

If the first type goes with the impression of self-
centred and remote farms, the second accords precisely
with the alternative impression one seems to carry away
from Holland of market-places and trains and third-
class waiting-rooms, filled with little peasant women like
ants caught at a moment of semi-suspended animation,
absorbed in themselves, indifferent to all the world
besides. Confined to them which it is not " boer-
innetjes" is appropriate enough.

That is a small matter at most. The chief discon-
sideration I refer to is an allegation which I have heard
in no particular part of the country, but over it all,
from lawyers, students, doctors, officials persons of the
" civilised " classes that the boers are suspicious and
keen, and that " they will do you if they can."

I told the squire one day that the boer was
going to take me round his farm, and perhaps I indi-
cated a hope of learning much from him about his

" All right," was the answer. " You tell me what
he says, and I'll tell you whether it is true."

There was a glimpse of their relations ; and I think
I was right in seeing at that glimpse not more a distrust
of the boer than a suspicion that perhaps perhaps
the boer would be a little more candid in speaking with
me than he was as a rule with himself.

The squire, I ought to say, was an excellent landlord,
on the best of terms with his tenants and neighbours,
and, moreover, their profound admirer. When he spoke


as he did to me about their " doing " you, he had no
intention to convey the opinion that the boers, as a class,
are untrustworthy. In fact, when I challenged him for
his precise meaning, he said to me : " You must not
forget that in his business the boer is brought in contact
constantly with cow-cowpers and horse-cowpers as smart
as you can make 'em. And you must not forget, too,
that often he works on a very small margin of profit.
He is indeed suspicious ; he is keen, sharp he has
to be."

That explains much. But another day, being on
the same subject, which was mainly their great qualities,
he added with a laugh, " And the boer loves to do a

I think that that is the form in which, after all these
modifications and refinements and withdrawals and
additions, I should like to leave with the reader the
somewhat crude impression of the relations between
the boer and his neighbours with which this chapter

The strain in them, so far as there is a strain, and
I think it is very considerable, is that between theory
and practice. The boer was, and is still, extraordinarily
conservative. Nature made him so, and keeps him so.
His is not a country for the steam-plough, but it is one
wonderfully suited for all the older forms of hand-work
and its accompaniments, the sickle, the flail, the country
wagon, the market-cart drawn by dogs. The circum-
stances of his neighbours react to preserve him in the
place he has made for himself. The professional classes
for their living depend largely upon serving him. The
commercial classes in the past have turned their attention
to import and transit, not so much to production. There
was, until recently, little of the pressure and the tempta-
tion of industrial towns to draw away the population


on which he depended. In the absence of employment
there was no great inducement for him to colonise.
Even when he fell behind the times, it could not be said
that he did not know his business, but at most that
he failed to recognise the change in other people's.
He preserved all over Holland a great farming tradi-

Among the townsmen, on the other hand, you had,
as you have still, one exceedingly highly educated class
possibly the most so in the world. It is this class that
supplies the administration of the country. It fills the
professions. The notaries come from it, the lawyers,
the clergymen, the burgomasters, the canton-judges,
often the dike counts, all, in fact, who are brought
most directly in contact with a self-supporting farming
class, which is little dependent on the shopkeeper and
the bourgeoisie.

There were the lists set. The boer sat in his boerdery.
He " did a power of fatigue, sitting." He did a power
of fatigueful thinking, sitting. It is true that his history
and training conduced to a certain want of alertness of
wits, as well as to the more superficial disadvantage of
ancient fashions. His wits were not, indeed, kept blunt.
They were very much alive within their own province ;
they only did not work widely, not more widely than
his own market-place. But you could not measure
either the height or the depth of the thoughts of the
boer ; they were not to be judged by their coming back
to match the wits of the horse-cowper, and to concentrate
upon his work. His work, at any rate, was successful.
He flourished. The element of proprietorship leavened
the whole boerestand, giving the boer a sense of his
position. He knew his own skill, his safe could often
reveal the coupon-tokens of his success. Why should
their education make him envy the doctor and the


lawyer and the burgomaster, when he had so poor an
opinion of them for all their education ?

He had not much reason to think very highly of
them when they took to farming, at any rate, as the
fate of many gentlemen-farmers and their model farms
proved. He did not envy them their education. But
it gave them something that he had not, something
which he knew was there, though he could not define
its quality.

On the other side there were these townsmen, by
training and tradition a little too much inclined to lay
stress on book-learning which is not the whole of
education ; equally conscious of a superiority, and
conscious also of something in the boer that commanded
respect, as it commanded success, and which they had
not got.

The situation was not one of landlord and tenant,
or the class that supplies tenants. No such relation-
ship established a traditional superiority the one over the
other. The facts were that, as equality is ultimately
accounted in this world, the boer was the equal of the
other, who was supported largely, not by rents from his
own acres, but by payments for services rendered to
this farmer class and all its dependents.

The boer estate has its leaders. Some of them, I
believe, sit in the First Chamber, which betokens material
fortune as well as gifts of mind and energy. I would
not be mistaken. It has fallen to me to enjoy the
hospitality, and now the friendship, of farming households
around whose solid and simple life play the graces of

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 11 of 31)