David Storrar Meldrum.

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culture, and spreads the enlargement of an alert humour.
These also are leaders of their class. And I do not
think any of them would deny the conditions of " boer,"
in which I have placed them, and have included no less
the rudest folk in an Overyssel losse huis, who warm


their hands and scheme their little profits over a wood
fire at the end of the deel. Why should they? The
boers were the backbone of Holland in the past.
The signs are misleading if they are not the hope of its


IF the previous chapter left an impression of the Dutch
farmer living remote from the world, like the Boer
upon the veldt, it has performed its purpose. I wished
to fix the picture of his old estate, from which he is now
moving out. It still exists.

But it does not exist everywhere, and it never is so
antiquated as it sometimes is described. I have read
accounts of Dutch farming life that were wonderfully
entertaining, only their writers forgot to say that the
customs they depicted had all died out from twenty
to two hundred years ago. The advantages of that
omission must be sacrificed in a chapter on life on the
land as it is to-day. The greater part of the Dutch
country has become quite ordinary, or extraordinary
only for its modern energies. Innumerable traces of the
past are still visible in it, but pure and characteristic
survivals are difficult to find. The railway, the steam-
tram, the travelling teacher, the trade school, even the
Orthodox zeal against the kermis, have driven them
into their last fastnesses.

They group themselves around the cardinal events
in the passage through life. Even as they exist at this
moment they clearly show their descent from the custom

and ceremonial associated in classic Dutch times with



birth, marriage, death, and the holy day. The difficulty
is to follow their infinite local variety.

In writing of them now, it seems best to centre
oneself within a definite region ; and so I propose, with
friendly offices, to describe those of a South Holland
island. Through coming early under the French
influence of the Hague, the South Holland mainland
lost some individuality while yet North Holland and
other provinces were persistent in their ancient ways.
But the islands were still shut, and they have only
recently been opened. Until the other day there was no
steam-tram, but only a boat to them from Rotterdam,
and the islanders were deeply enclosed in an old manner
of living.

When a child is born in our island the father and
two witnesses appear within three days at the town hall
and register the birth. There is many a tavern at hand
should they wish next to call hansel in on the newcomer.
The nurse (the baker) has immediately published the
news among the neighbours, who duly, after the ninth
day, visit the kraam (convive de commeres\ and reward
her attentions with a tip. They are entertained with tea
and coffee (and doubtless gin), and always with the
traditional " biscuits with mice," buttered rusks spread
with sugared aniseed, smooth at the birth of a girl, rough
if of a boy. This confection the witnesses have already
carried round to the houses of good friends.

On a Sunday, six or seven weeks later, the family
assemble in the church for the christening. After the
first sermon they are ushered into the space between
the pulpit and the high seats of the elders, there being
no baptistery in Dutch kirks. In settling them, the
services are required of the pew-opener, who is known
also as the hondenslager, since his duties, like the
Highland beadle's, include keeping order among the


curs (not sheep-dogs here) who invade the sanctuary at
the heels of their masters. The babe, in hereditary
christening robe, is carried in by the baker, or possibly by
a youthful niece. It is the mother who holds him up at
the font for the minister to baptize him " in the name of
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." The con-
gregation standing to sing from the 13 4th Psalm

"From Zion' hill the Lord thee bless,
That heav'n and earth did frame"

(which in the Dutch version is prolonged into four verses
of lugubrious measure), the little Christian, less to his
profit than to hers, is carried off by the baker to be
exhibited in a round of visits.

That is all that survives in this island of the vast
ceremonial (mostly of eating and drinking) associated
with the kraam kamer in earlier centuries. The word
kraam (itself a survival) is variously derived. Etiquette
forbade the mother appearing out of doors for six weeks
after the birth of her child, and so careme is suggested,
which sounds a little far-fetched. Kraam is a booth, and
as the confinement-room went like a kermis-booth, that
may be all there is in the name. The presiding genius in
its bustle and stir, the baker, still remains, a comfort-
loving gossip, jealous of her vails. The old 3O-cents
piece, no longer minted, used to go by the name of the
" baker's shilling." In places, the baptism-cloth is still in
use, a long square of lace attached to the baker's
shoulder, and thrown over the child. One article of the
birth-feasts is constant throughout Holland, and in all
orders, the buttered " biscuits with mice." They were
not forgotten at the Holborn Restaurant last year when
the Dutch Colony in London celebrated the birth of an
heir to their Queen. Following custom, they were
smooth for a Princess. Should "Juliana a brother
have," they doubtless will be served roughened.


Marriage in Holland, a civil ceremony, is preceded
by aanteekenen, or " signing on," the signal of betrothal.
The papers connected with this process being duly signed
and countersigned, the banns of marriage are proclaimed
at the town hall. Here in the island the custom is to
have cards printed, in a very elegant type, announcing
the betrothal, and these are handed round at the houses
of friends and neighbours by six, twelve, or even more,
bride's children, dressed in their best, and sometimes
carrying dainty baskets of bon-bons. These bride's
sweets are packed in white glazed-paper bags, edged
with paper lace, possibly inscribed in gold lettering,
" From bride and bridegroom," and baskets and bags are
decorated with ribbons, green to denote hope, and red
for love, or black and white if the family is in mourning.
Little gifts of money sometimes bestowed on the bride's
maids are expended by them on a gift for the bride.

The Dutch, I have already remarked, are not strong
believers in the wisdom of youth ; and bride and bride-
groom, unless they are ripe lovers of thirty, require the
consent of their parents to their marriage. An official
in one of the island villages once, having put the
question of consent to the father, was startled to get
the answer : " Sure, carle, else why should I be here ! "

Preliminaries being in order, and a fortnight having
passed since the aanteekening, three clear days after the
third proclamation of the banns the marriage is cele-
brated at the town hall. On the wedding morning bride
and bridegroom drive in from the farm in a high tilbury,
followed by relations and witnesses in vehicles of
wondrous variety. A village party comes on foot.
Only the Orthodox seek the Church's blessing upon the
burgomaster's union. In well-to-do families, the parents
give a dinner-party. The farmers again generally invite
their friends and neighbours to the house on several


evenings to felicitate the wedded pair. Tarts are eaten
and wine is drunk, and at the moment the performance
of a comedy by rustic mummers is quite the fashionable
entertainment. Dutch rustics have a passion for the
buskin, and, under the title of rederykers still, carry on
the traditions of the Chambers of Rhetoric. The sensa-
tional drama, played by them in the village inn, enlivens
winter evenings in many countrysides. Among the
bourgeoisie, amateur theatricals are the full-dress enter-
tainments of the season.

It is unusual for the islanders to marry outside their
own rank. Courtship is free. There is no interference
of outsiders in the preliminaries to marriage ; no schot or
dowry. The bride brings an " outset " of linen and some
furniture. Subject to the parents' or guardians' consent,
the young people arrange their own marriages.

The bride's sweets which we have observed at
betrothals in the island are as constant at all Dutch
receptions before the marriage as the wedding cake is
with us on the wedding-day. They are sent out to the
children of family friends, those of old servants, and the
seamstress and charwomen not being forgotten. In
North Holland I have seen wedding parties driving
about the countryside in high-wheeled chaises, decorated
with flowers and favours, bride and bridegroom leading,
and distributing bride-sweets in handfuls to the children
on the roads. " Pour-out, pour-out ! " Scots children
shout to wedding-guests, demanding coppers, which they
do not always get. " Strew your sugars about, bride ! "
call out the Dutch children, and she never fails them.

The freedom of courtship among the Dutch peasantry
was remarked by the moralists in the seventeenth century,
and particularly the custom, or variety of custom, known
as queesten, long surviving in the coast villages, which,
however, will not detain us. The failure to follow the


civil marriage with one in the church is often accounted
for by the fear of the dominee's frankness of reprimand
over the delay in celebrating either.

Touching consent, a curious case came under my
notice in one of the Eastern Provinces, where Amsterdam
orphans are frequently boarded out with the peasantry
for ten pounds a year, I believe. One of the orphan
girls was chosen by a boer for his wife. The date of the
marriage was fixed, and preliminary forms attended to in
good time, when a legal difficulty arose over the question
of guardianship. It took months to settle who was
the bride's guardian, and meanwhile, waiting the un-
known's consent, the marriage was postponed. The case
was the talk of the countryside, and I observed that the
aspect of it which appealed to all classes was the mis-
fortune of the man who was deprived of a woman to
assist him on his farm. This utilitarian element in
marriage, strongest, of course, where holdings run small,
accounts for some conditions of married life among the
peasantry which I have indicated earlier.

On many of these farms the boer's only hope of
profitable working lies in the assistance of wife and
children. A son is desirable as a knecht. A daughter
growing up takes the place of the maid for the milking,
and a daughter-in-law who does so is equally acceptable.
The son, when he marries, brings his wife to live with
his parents. Often it is from their house she is married,
she and her "outset" being transported thither the previous
night. A second son also will sometimes bring home
a daughter-in-law. Frequently several households live
together thus : where they bestow themselves it is better
not to ask.

Three unmarried brothers lived on a farm I know in
Overyssel. The old people were dead. The second son
announced his intention of marrying. " Oh no," said


the eldest, " I have chosen a wife, and your girl is she ! "
So he brought her home, and with the milkmaid to aid
she kept house for the three brothers. A year or two
passed, and the eldest died, and the second married his
old flame, the widow. She also died, by and bye, and
the third son now claimed to find a wife to keep house.
But " No," answered his elder, " I'm thinking of marry-
ing again." " Then," said the other, " I marry the meid \ "
This, however, was too much domesticity, even for
Overyssel, and the debate, when I heard last, was still

It is in association with death that customs linger
longest. Respect for the dead (probably old people)
demands a continuance of ceremonies that they them-
selves approved. And we are all conservative in the
presence of death. I have remarked illustrations of this
in Holland which caused me no surprise, so often had
I known the same conservative feeling manifested at
home in Scotland. There, at a time of death among
them, and never else, families would fall back upon
antique ways ; and so it is in Holland. I remember a
funeral from a house notable for its hospitality and
good cheer. When the body was laid in its grave, and
the dead man's friend had spoken his virtues over it,
and the bearers gathered their staves, we returned to
drink coffee at the well-known board, and found it
simply furnished with the customary funeral breads.
The dead was respected, I felt, in that custom of the
countryside. I thought of this when a few months later
I was at the funeral of another old friend in London.
We gathered at the house at the hour, the coffin was
carried out while we drank coffee in the study, some one
called us in our order to our carriage, we drove off
through Mayfair slowly, by and bye at a trot, to High-
gate, and our dead was buried with decorum and


dispatch, with a perfectly beautiful, smooth, inhuman
decorum and dispatch. I think he also would have
approved of the antique ways and the funeral breads of
his old Scottish home.

I have already described the aanspreker on his
round announcing a decease. Important families on the
island sometimes employ two of these officials, who also
invite to the funeral by word of mouth. For that is
chosen occasionally the early hour of ten, without tolling
of bells. More usually the small bell rings for five
minutes at half-past ten, and again at eleven, and an
hour later, perhaps, the big bell announces that the
cortege has started, and tolls until the coffin is in the
grave. The body is borne thither by twelve bearers,
who are generally tipped with a guilder or a ryksdaalder.
But should it be a young daughter of the house who has
died, the young men of her acquaintance seek to comfort
the parents by taking the bearers' places.

The women assisting in the house cover the coffin
and stretcher with the mortcloth before the bearers step
off, followed by the mourners all men, who sometimes
wear a long veil from their hats. In one village of the
island only do women join the procession, and they cover
their heads with a black apron so closely that they can
just see to pick their steps. So long as the body is
above ground, blinds are usually kept down as far as the
wire screen, and frequently windows are shut and curtains
drawn in the houses while the funeral passes. In very
old-fashioned families, while the dead lie in the house,
mirrors and pictures are turned to the wall, with a curiously
tragic effect.

If no clergyman or friend, orating at the grave-side,
thanks the company for attending, the family does so
by messenger. The bearers walk last in the returning


Not in this island, but in South Beveland, at Goes, and
in some Brabant villages also, small bundles of wheat are
laid on the threshold of a house of mourning one for a
child, two for a man, three for a woman.

Entirely different customs hold in Saxon Overyssel,
where arrangements for all festive and mourning cere-
monials are left to the " neighbours." These are just the
inhabitants of the nearest dwelling, on whom custom
imposes the offer of their services, which it would be the
last insult to refuse or ignore. They invite to the wed-
ding feast; and to the funeral feast as well, for feast it is
in Overyssel, and in some other provinces also. It is
considered in Overyssel a mark of respect to the dead
to keep the body in the house to the last hour permitted
by the law. Until the fifth day it lies in the coffin under
the window in the kitchen where the whole household
lives and sometimes half of it sleeps. The countryside
is bidden to the burial, and most of it comes. The
coffin is lifted upon the table in a kitchen crammed
with the mourners' nearest of kin, and often is opened
that they may have a last look upon the face of the dead.
Some kiss it, I have been told, before the coffin is closed,
and carried to the threshing-floor, whose greater space
holds the further crowd that has gathered. All are
entertained with meats and drinks, soft rolls and cheese,
much coffee and more gin. Late in the day the cortege
is formed, and the body carried on an open wagon along
the country roads to the graveyard. In Utrecht Province
I have seen four horses dragging the cart, a farmer astride
the leader, and the women relations, deeply shrouded,
seated on the coffin.

Ours (to return to it once more) is an island where
Orthodox sentiment has done away with the kermis ;
diminishing the communal treasury by the rental of
kermis-stances without (my responsible informant told


me) putting an end to such few evils of the fair as ever
there were. The taverns suffer.

A young man invited the maid of his fancy to keep
the kermis with him. Attaching themselves to a com-
pany of a dozen or twenty, they went fairing together.
The time was spent between the booths and the tavern,
and at a late hour the girl was escorted home with pre-
sents of Groningen and Deventer cake. The villagers
walked. The young farmers drove their lasses home
in their tilburys. When they rode over a heul, a con-
duit for the polder off-waterings, astonishingly numerous
on the road they chose, the lad had the right to take toll
of a kiss. In the calm of the following Sunday (if he
observed old custom), he called at the house of the girl
to drink coffee. His presents of cake were already cut
in slices, and if the crust only was offered him he knew
that his company was no longer desired by his kermis
maid. In an earlier day the polite fashion of declining
a lover's attentions was to get hold of the tongs the
instant he appeared.

Overyssel, to which we turn again for contrast, supplies
more primitive and wilder pictures, but its recesses too
are being opened up. A new cross railway line, from
Delden to Lochem, for example, taps an isolated district
where the mills of Twente did not tempt the peasants'
daughters from service or their sons off the land. Here
lies Stockum, noted for an unlicked population, which
loves a fight with its neighbours of Markeloo, who are
nowise loath to oblige. A maid-servant in a country house
I have visited in these parts trysted with a knecJit to be
his kermis girl. She was not his sweetheart, but just his
girl for the day a losse-meid, as they say. However,
she changed her mind, and when he met her at the fair,
lo ! she was with another swain. My story does not say
whether this other was a town lover : if so, anywhere in

Q 2


Holland the sequel would be explained. The polder
man wishes no poachers on his preserves, least of all
townsmen. The knecht followed the couple on their way
home, or lay in wait for them on the road, I forget which,
and stabbed his rival in the back. There we have a
glimpse of the kermis passions let loose, as Mr. Querido
paints them.

Race partly determines customs in the country, no
doubt, as the next chapter will tell it determines the
costumes. Religion also we look to for explanation ;
but here there are pitfalls. One might conclude that
Palmpaschen is Roman Catholic in origin, and conse-
quently most general in the Southern Provinces. I find
from a very careful study of Palm-Sunday customs, by
Dr. C. Catharina van de Graft, that this is not so. There
are few occurrences of it in Brabant and Limburg. A
map of its distribution proves it to be confined to the east
of the country, with a few appearances in North Holland
and Utrecht.

The day before Palm Sunday, in all the towns and
villages of Drente, Gelderland, and Overyssel, cocks,
swans, and some other figures made in bread are fetched
home from the baker, and with them the elders decorate
for the children a Palmpaasch, its construction varying
with each place. The stick, half a yard to a yard and a
half long, is attached to a bunch of boxwood or periwinkle
(not always easy to find) ; the Palmpaasch is thus not a
palm at all, except that in Dutch periwinkle is called the
Maagden-palm. On it are impaled oranges, currant-buns,
figs, cakes, and other delicacies (symbols of fertility), on
which paper flags are placed symmetrically, and the wreath
thus formed, really a Maytree in miniature, is generally
crowned with a cock, the figure of protection, as its
presence on our church steeples shows.

The small boys and girls, dressed in their best, and


each with a Palmpaasch, join in procession, and visit the
houses round, where they get sweets or money. In
common with the songs and rhymes associated with
these old customs, that sung on Palm Sunday has now
taken many versions, not all of them with any meaning
left. One of these, however, runs thus

" Palm, Palmpaschen
Eikoerei !

Over eenen Zondag
Dan Krygen wy een ei
Een ei is geen ei
Twee ei is een half ei
Drie ei is een Paaschei ;"

and Eikoerei! it is surmised, stands for Kyrie eleison
" Lord, have mercy upon us," the only sign of a connec-
tion between the Church and the Palmpaasch.

In earlier times, yet not so long ago, the girls were
always dressed in white and the boys in new suits for
Palmpaschen. Many of the bourgeoisie in these eastern
towns put their children into new clothes at Easter still,
as at my first school fires were put on at the autumn fair,
and never before, whatever the weather. In the ancient
town of Oldenzaal Palm Sunday is the day for breeching
boys. These careful Dutch parents often make pap of
the bread which the children bring home, and the Olden-
zaal women (thrifty souls) use the periwinkle staff as a

In Roman Catholic districts the palm branches used in
processions are consecrated, and kept by their owners for
a year, and then burned. With the ashes the priest
makes a cross on the forehead of believers on Ash
Wednesday, as a symbol of mortality and penitence.
The consecrated palm branch is hung above the font of
holy water, and is used for sprinkling the dead, or placed in
rooms as a protection against lightning. Or it is hung


above the doors of stables and barns and the mangers of
the cattle, to frighten away the spirits of illness and
failing crops. For this purpose an unconsecrated branch
is kept in stable and manger by Protestant boers, but
secretly, hidden behind the beams, for they are rather
ashamed of their superstition. Palm branches are planted
for increase at the four corners of field and garden, the
Gospel of St. John being read the while. Both conse-
crated and unconsecrated, the palm is used as a cure for
sore throats, this in Alkmaar, it seems, as well as in
Overyssel and Drente.



I SET out to hunt the houppelande with perplexed
notions of what a houppelande was. Their obfusca-
tion was not removed by my finding the rara avis, or
even hitting its trail. I do not now believe that there
was ever a houppelande. I don't know (I may as well
confess) that ever I did really believe it

It came about in this way. I was speaking one day
some years ago with Professor Gallic of Utrecht, whose
death since then ended his ingenious researches towards
the illumination of local ethnographic questions by the
evidence of rural architecture and costume. He was
explaining to me the racial significances of the construc-
tion of farmhouses and the fashion of head - dresses,
some of which duly appear in this book, and he dropped
the remark that " the houppelande is still to be seen here
and there in Overyssel." I suppose there was something
attractive or suggestive in the words which kept them
quick though dormant in my memory. At any rate, the
other day in Holland, when I started out to add to my
bag of Dutch costume, they came suddenly to my mind,
and I said to myself that I must go to Overyssel and
hunt that houppelande.

Well, I went ; and there, and coming and going, saw
many strange and wonderful garbs, but not the houppe-



lande that is said to lurk in that delectable Province. If
it really does so, I was always here when it was there.
At my approach it folded its skirts and silently fled
away. I never got into its fur. As far as my bag goes,
it might have been the dodo.

If that had been all that escaped me, it would
have mattered little. Unfortunately for myself and this

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 12 of 31)