David Storrar Meldrum.

Home life in Holland online

. (page 14 of 31)
Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 14 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

round the head, and fastened with pins. A band holds
the hair under the cap, but not a metal band, and so the
ornaments appertaining to the ooryzer, which we have seen
often surviving that head-dress, here put in no appearance.
We find the kornet where, being Saxon, we expect to find
it, in Drente, Overyssel, the Veluwe, and the Betuwe ;
as well as in places down in North Brabant, for example,
and at Cadsand, where we do not

This cap, as is always told of it, was at one time a


head-dress peculiar to the women in the households of
Dutch clergymen ; in the earlier period his wife wore it,
in a later, the nurse-maid. Maskamp's " Burger-lady
going to Church " has it on, which fixes it for the very
first years of last century : Son bonnet rond de mousseline,
borde" dune dentelle montee sur de la carcasse et plissee bien
delicatement et bien syme'triquement, et par dessus ce bonnet
qu'on appelle cornette, une coeffe de gaze noir qui s'attadie
sous le menton. The lady's daughter, who is attending
her, has discarded the corps de baleine, and is really very
smartly dressed, and on her head is a kornet of a modified
construction. Ultimately, and until a few years ago, this
cap was worn by many maid-servants, chiefly nurses, who
presumably were preferred when they came from Guelder-
land or the highlands.

Quite as typically Saxon is the black, close-fitting
" bonnet " with ostrich feathers, worn by young girls in
certain places ; in Staphorst, a few miles beyond Meppel,
on the way to Zwolle, for example, and in Bunschoten.
Staphorst is quite interesting. The ooryzer affected there
comes so low as to make an impression on the cheek ;
but more noticeable is the wearing of an ooryzer at all.
For in Staphorst we are in Overyssel, which certainly is
not Frisian, and, as we have just seen, the Saxon bonnet
is worn in it. But a Frisian settlement on one of the
fen-colonies there explains the anomaly,

A little farther north, and in the centre of the Zuider
Zee, is Urk, the island of " immoderate great breeches."
Urk, as it appears on the map to-day, seems well within
the Frisian zone, but in all likelihood it formed a part of
the present Overyssel territory before the Zuider Zee
came into existence. Bearing that in mind, we can
explain the mixture of characteristics in costume.

I will note two peculiar customs of women's dressing
in this island. The first is that her initials and those of


her sweetheart (she having one) are inscribed or sewn
upon her kraplap, which is just the Zeeland plastron,
characteristically embroidered. The other is, that in Urk
" once a widow, aye a widow," so far as widow's weeds go.
These are worn even after her remarriage, and part of
them (and of them only) is a hat, which is also worn
indoors. The eye of the stranger, lighting upon the
karrepoes, the lambskin cap on the Urker's head, discovers
the oldest form of male headgear in Holland. It appears
to be one of the general principles of national costumes
that the head-dress, the longest to survive in the case of the
women, is the first part to disappear in the case of the men.
This cap, in one or other form, was worn, it seems, by
almost all Dutch fisher-folk. It is now found only in
Urk, Volendam, Harderwyk, Schokland, and one or two
islands of Zeeland. I was told I may have been wrongly
informed that when youths from any of these places
enter the Netherland navy, they are given the " head-
covering of the Scottish Highlanders," which I took
to mean the busby.

What has been noted of the geographical position
of Urk is necessarily more assured of Schokland, which
is now inhabited only by the officials of the Waterstaat
in charge of its sea-defences. Fifty years ago, or so,
the islanders were deported, and settling in Kampen,
Vollenhoven, and other villages on the mainland, have
become absorbed by their new neighbours. Their
children dressed as the children about them dressed ;
they themselves wore out their inheritance of ancient
costume, and died in it, and it and they disappeared

Our observations from this point onwards become,
like the objects of them, a " mingle-mangle." Racial
purity has been lost, Saxon, Frank, and Frisian being
inextricably mixed until we come to Utrecht, and go


south to North Brabant, where the Frank may still
be found without alloy. As far as costumes go, how-
ever, we have lost distinctions, and perhaps to say
that in the Roman Catholic provinces there is the
greatest taste in dress, and most distinction in the
wearing of it, is a sounder generalisation than any we
can base on race.


FROM the boat at the Hoek of Holland you step
out upon the Westland, famed of old for its
market-gardening. Tucked, in a suave climate, behind
the dunes, from over which the sand is blown to make
a subtle mixture with its light clay, it is encroaching
with its new culture farther and farther upon the
meadows of Delfland ; for the Westland, partaking
in the general revival of Dutch agriculture, has gone in
for intensive gardening, and in a few years has estab-
lished one of the particular agricultural industries of
Holland, of which I propose that we make a tour.

The green glint of the sun on glass sparkles through-
out it. Seen from a distance, the rolled matting of
its frames cause the villages to appear as if they were
built on huge lumber rafts. The gardens show their
recent development, hectare added to hectare, and glass
added to glass, filling up odd corners, here with cucum-
bers or gherkins, there perhaps with French beans, as
the skill of the grower reaped a profit on easily borrowed
money. Elsewhere, orderly nurseries of grapes, great
stretches of glass evidently planned of a piece, are
testimony to the success established in the country-

The growers, less picturesque than business-like, rub

shoulders in their industry with men of other countries,



and have the eagerness of those who have tasted their
first success. For furthering their interests they have
united in an inevitable Bond : they co-operate to buy
their Schiedam manure and nitrates ; and to provide
the regular market, by which alone their trade must
flourish, they have built auction-rooms, whither in the busy
days of spring and summer is brought by canal and
high road the produce of the smaller gardens for sale
to the German and other buyers. That of the larger
is steam-trammed to the Hoek, to be shipped to the
English market.

Thus the Westland grower, his wife and household,
live among the fruit and vegetables to which their
talk follows their thoughts inevitably. Tomatoes colour
all their hopes. Their fortunes are staked on their
asparagus. Their ambitions are set on the early straw-
berry, and they dream of the peach in the first months
of spring which brings a shilling at Covent Garden.

As all the Westland talks tomatoes and Aalsmeer
and Boskoop flowers and shrubs (as we should hear
had we time to turn aside to them) so does all
Hillegom talk bulbs. I take Hillegom (which I happen
to know) as typical of a countryside that for two months
in the spring is surely unlike any other in the world.
It stretches from Lisse to Bloemendaal, but its special
culture straggles south to Zeeland, and can be traced
northwards to Alkmaar. These patchwork miles of
varied colours white, cream, ultramarine, deep indigo,
claret, scarlet, red, rose-madder, salmon, saffron, in a
word, all the shades that can be achieved by mixing
the rainbow's hues make, truly, something indeed un-

The blooms, excited by the bright sunshine, fly
out at one with an astonishing fierceness. There is
something a little grotesque and even monstrous in the


appearance of these bulb fields. If one came upon them
unawares, not knowing what to expect, he would hardly
believe that they were growing flowers. The blooms
mass so solidly and uniformly, and have so compact
a vividness, yet, withal, so subtle a harmony the
scarlets and mottled saffron and flesh of the tulips,
the profound purples of every shade, with the lavender
and ripe cream and dead white of the hyacinths that
one thinks at once of fabrics or fayence. But the
richest brocades are without the brilliance of the tulips
gleaming between the bare hornbeam hedges with the
life of the sun itself that beats on them ; and when night
falls the hyacinth colours are veiled under a tender
enamel such as the rarest blue of China or of Delft
cannot match.

I do not say that to this aspect of his industry the
Dutch bulb-grower is oblivious. Take my acquaintance
Mr. Pietersz, for example. (That, I may remark, is
not his name.) Mr. Pietersz was quite sympathetic to my
ecstasies on the morning we rode past hillocky Benne-
broek to Haarlem to see the National Flower Show
there. At the same time he gave me to understand
that the fields are not planted for artistic effect, and
at the exhibition afterwards, as earlier in the morning
in his own gardens, his appreciation of- the blooms
seemed to me to be limited to their professional points.
I would salute with respectful language " the ingenious
delight of Tulipists," but I do not pretend to under-
stand it.

Mr. Pietersz, however, told me, or put me in the way
of learning, other things more to my present purpose.
For instance, Bulb-land, it seems, has rather a poor
opinion of the Westland, Pomona's Garden, which may
grow the crocus and narcissus, and even the tulip, but
cannot achieve the hyacinth, which one admits is the


crown of the culture. I fancy, at the same time, that
it rather simulated the indifference it showed to the
tale of 300,000 tomatoes and one million kilo of grapes
grown in the rival streek which I brought from Loos-
duinen. Again, both are largely Roman Catholic ;
" but," said my Protestant informant, " my master, who
is one, doesn't let that influence him in engaging his
men, and he allows us to observe our own holidays."
Those in Hillegom who are not Roman Catholics are
Antirevolutionnair, he added he himself, of course,
being Liberal : it is a curious fact that it is almost
always Liberals who impart you information in Holland.
If I were to judge by his followers whom I have dis-
covered, I should consider the cult of Dr. Abraham
Kuyper a myth. And that, as we shall see, would be a
great mistake.

This, however, was a conversation by the way, out-
side the barn door, while Mr. Pietersz was inside giving
some orders for the afternoon. These bulb-barns, with
their curious earthy-woody smell, emanating, I suppose,
from the store-trays stacked to their roofs, are sometimes
accretions of sheds, that are quite picturesque in their
accidental grouping, but there is nothing about them,
any more than about their owners, which one can call
characteristically Dutch. I should sum up both as
clean, business-like, efficient, and ready to exchange
their present worldly estate for a better. Here, of
course, I am speaking of the enterprising "big men,"
those whose erections of brick barns on the latest
model, springing up everywhere, testify to their assurance
that their bloeityd the " boom " in their business is
going to last. The race at present, at least : Holland's
moral is all against the short view is for those strong
men, the exporters.

I gathered on the spot that it is they, and not the


other class of cultivators which grows for them, who
make the culture pay. And I am bound to report the
opinion, also from the spot, that some who popularly
push an export trade are rather " giving the show away "
(the " show's " own phrase) by delivering inferior stuff.
The gardener at home will tell you that if you wish
a good bulb, English or Dutch, you must pay for it,
but that many of his clients, with auction-room prices
in view, imagine it is to be had for little or nothing,
with consequent disgust in the growing of hyacinths.
Dutch trade in many branches has been lost in the
foreign market in the past by a policy which I shall
be content to call short-sighted. In saying this, I
am only repeating what Dutchmen themselves assert in
much less mincing terms, and am bringing no charge
against the bulb-exporters as a class. Nor is there any
reflection upon them, or upon the generation of keen,
enterprising traders to which they seemed to me to
belong, by judging them merely on the low level of
business men, who know that honesty is the best com-
mercial policy.

The large bulb-grower is " not only a lord of
gardens, but a manuall planter thereof." He has long
contacted with the outer world. If he is of the younger
generation he is probably a product of the higher-
burgher school, and to the French he has learned there
has added some English, and more than a little German.
He frequently travels in foreign countries, and, at any
rate, men of foreign countries journey to visit him. I
have seen him one of a cosmopolitan group, each
member of which was a household name in Hillegom,
and wherever bulbs are grown. That was in spring,
and at the Exhibition time, when the countryside was
in carnival, and that " thrang " canal road between
Haarlem and Amsterdam, crowded with vehicles of


every kind " from a high-grade motor to a Tate sugar-
box on wheels" (will this, I wonder, meet the eye
of the chance fellow-traveller whom I quote ?), reminded
me of Newington Causeway on a Derby day with
a favourite wearing the colours of S. Hyacinthus.

For the bulb is a national industry, and the grower
is justified in his pride of lineage. He is the aristocrat
among Dutch gardeners. And without unduly exalting
him he is a capable enough player on his own trumpet
we may regard him as showing the way which one
sanguine Dutchman at least has pointed out to me
as that the boers are all likely to take.

When they have emerged from their shell, according
to his prediction, they will be as little like their fathers
as those gardeners are like themselves, but while they
are to take off their hats to science, they are not to
have lost their respect for experience. Something of
their picturesqueness of course must go, but their
tradition is to remain. Their lives will approximate
more nearly to the townsmen's, but they will not
have lost their profound love for the soil.

To which I can only answer, a little desperately,
more than a little illogically, that when the prosperous
Mr. Pietersz had finished giving his orders, and carried
me far afield into this domain of bulbs, I found that all
the growers in it were not " big men," and that in the
making of " big men " a great many little men have to
be sacrificed. I am not thinking of the labourers, but of
certain small cultivators pointed out to me as " bound to
go to the wall," who with wife and children live a life as
hard as any labourer's to preserve the field, or two, from
so surely slipping away from them. Theirs, of course,
is the little man's case everywhere. The struggle for
life is no harder because it is carried on among crocuses
and daffodils and somer sottekens. When the fight is so


strenuous to keep the sand compacted on the bulbs,
there is no time for sentimental reflections on the waste
of beauty in the cut hyacinths that manure and mat it.
But every one tells me that this small gardener loves the
bulb if not the bloom, and at any rate he has in his
blood the Dutch countryman's passion for his own

These sombre reflections, forcing themselves upon
the delirium of tulip-land in May, are to be laid to the
account of Mr. Israel Querido. Mr. Querido, who is an
Amsterdammer, has written a novel (which may be read
in an English translation) descriptive of the life of the
market-gardeners of Kennemerland, immediately north
of where it is cut by the Ymuiden canal. Theirs is no
special culture under glass, nor has it the distinction of
the bulb-industry farther south, in which it takes only
a straggling part. Besides tulips and narcissi and
hyacinths, their gardens show peas, beans, spinach,
asparagus, radishes, carrots, cabbages, lettuce. They are
those, that is, among the market-gardeners of whom
Mr. Querido writes essentially representative of the
" little men." Yet among them also has been developed
a particular culture, notorious all over Holland, that of
the strawberry, the gathering of which sums up in three
feverish, driving weeks of July the labour and anxiety of
the round of the year. I believe that there are some
625 acres in this corner of North Holland under straw-
berries, and the produce is sold in advance to big local
contractors, who in turn re-sell it to salesmen in

It was some weeks after reading the novel at Hille-
gom that I paid a visit to Beverwyk, the harbour and
centre of Mr. Querido's Wiereland. I was still too
early for the strawberry crop, of which the very first
baskets, with some early asparagus, were shown to me as


a special prize in one of the stores on the quay. I thus
missed seeing this extreme example (as I suppose one
is right in considering it) of the grind of the great,
competitive, commercial machine when it is introduced
suddenly into the platteland of Holland.

But, as a matter of fact, the strawberry-picking is
only one incident in the life of Wiereland. The novelist
describes with remarkable detail the round of the year
among the little gardeners of this region. Their gardens
are partly rented, partly owned. The grey earth on the
tenacious, gurgling clay is trenched and broken with
sweat. Mist rises from the fields like steam. Work in
them breeds ague. Wind and rain roars among the
dunes like thunder, and the roads and lands inside them
are sodden and a slimy morass. A grey, sullen gloom
lies over them. Spring is a joy too often chilled with
damp. The fever of work engendered in it alone carries
the growers on against the knowledge of mounting debt.
Caterpillar gets into the cabbage and strawberries ;
continuous rains ruin the fruit ; thunder-storms cut the
beans to shreds. And all through the summer the
gardeners are hard at work through a thirteen-hour day,
grubbing nose to earth, fingers worn blunt like the points
of their sabots.

The home life pictured amid these hard physical
conditions is one of sordid misery. Pease-pudding,
onions and potatoes, rye-bread and cheese, black-pudding,
is the food. Coffee, and again coffee, is the drink, and
then gin. The family sleep in beds in the walls, with
doors ; the one girl in the open living room. Cows are
housed under the same roof, their lowing at night
disturbing or lulling the sleepers, according to their
conscience. Hard work in the gardens alternates with
hard drinking in the taverns. The kermis is an orgy.
The conditions of existence are poverty-stricken, immoral,


coarse, hopeless. " The nurserymen are swallowing up
the whole place," is the complaint ; and doctor, notary,
banker, together with the burgomaster, batten on the

That is Mr. Querido's picture, not mine. I cannot
but reflect that mine, had I depended on all I saw at
Beverwyk and in the villages around, would have been,
if not idyllic, at least pencilled in the sober and silver of
tenacious and successful industry, not in this gloom, and
that my palette elsewhere may be therefore altogether
wrongly spread.

I do not think it is certainly not altogether.
Wiereland is, I believe, for the reason I have indicated,
an extreme example, and Dutch opinion is not all agreed,
so far as I inquired and found an opinion on the point,
that, even so, it is as sombre as it is depicted in
Mensclienwee. Some Liberals again told me that the
author is a Socialist, and is only following a usual
Socialist practice of seeking out the worst, and represent-
ing it as the normal. But I am not prepared to accept
unreservedly Dutch (or any other) Liberal estimate of
Socialism. It is a little fearful. Others not all Liberals
have said to me that it is quite likely that Mr.
Querido's picture truly represents the facts.

The night I returned to Amsterdam from Beverwyk,
I fell in with some English friends just arrived from a
tour round the lowlands. They were in a mixed mood
of amazement and depression. What an industry and
thrift and prosperity everywhere ! And how slack and
spendthrift and depressed their own country across the
North Sea. I could not deny the harvest, and the spring,
and the evident success and I wondered how our Dutch
companions at the table relished their ascription to
Protection ! With protected Germany clamouring for
Beverwyk's fruit, its middlemen pressing for delivery, and


masters goading their workers, and the pickers stimulating
one another ! But Mr. Querido's book was an excellent
correction to any illusions about the underlife of that
traffic which gives to many corners of Holland the
appearance of an Eastern bazaar.


IT is when we come off the gardens and step upon the
meadows that we discover the Dutch boer proper.
Those meadows and those cows which the stranger is
reproached for regarding as comprising the whole country !
Well, they comprise a good deal of it. Five million
acres nearly of permanent meadow (to say nothing of
the grazing land, which the Dutch count as arable) carry-
ing perhaps two million cattle, a full million of them
milk-bearing cows. That is not an inconsiderable part
of Holland.

I cannot avoid a few figures here; they shall be
made as round and to the point as accuracy will
allow. The butter production of Holland is 64 thousand
tons, that of cheese, 80 thousand. Much of the butter is
made in factories ; all but some 20 thousand tons, to be
exact. Further, comparatively little of that 20 thousand
is carried to market. The auction-rooms swallow up
most of it. Half the cheeses practically all of the Edam
kind are produced in the factories, and those still made
in the farms are for the greater part sold to the whole-
salers through commissionaires, or " bookers," who come
round and buy up the weekly supply. All this means
that, particularly in the case of butter, but also in that
of cheese, the strain of work in the farms has been con-
siderably slackened.



Still, there is the milk that goes to the production of
those 150 thousand tons of dairy produce, and there are
the sixty millions of that production which come out of
the farms. A further point has to be noted by the way.
Of the turn-over of the factories in butter (of the cheese
I have not the figures), over seventy per cent, comes out of
co-operative concerns run by the boers themselves. Now
consider that this enormous industry, confined to six
months of the year, is spread over all the Provinces ;
because the Hollands and Friesland are not alone in
it, but more and more the farmers on the sand, for
example, are becoming rearers of cattle, and growing
crops only for their upkeep. And consider, further, that
in all of them the farms run small, and are worked by
the farmer and his family, with whatever hired help they
must have, and how much of the labour of it all falls on
the wife, and the narrowness of the margin of profit that
there can be at best to many of them. Amplify the
reflection, in a direction that to me seems irresistible :
How many of the round six million inhabitants have to
be up with the sun, week-day and holy-day, to do that
milking !

It begins to be plain, how closely bound up are
innumerable homes in Holland with the fortunes of those
meadows and cows.

I shall draw upon my recollection of days spent
among them last summer, in order to give a glimpse of
the life and industry of these dairy farmers. But in the
first place, a word or two, or even more, ought to be said
of their homes.

The construction of the Dutch farmhouses is a
subject upon which the late Professor Gallic, who had
made it his own, more than once entertained me. He
explained, for example, that the type down in Zeeland,
for all the differences it showed from that in the north-


west, was nevertheless distinctly Frisian, and that both
the resemblance and the contrast were exactly such as
might be expected in the farms of a Frisian people,
settled in an arable, not a cattle-rearing, country. Dutch
farms, in a word, like Dutch costumes, had for him a
significance, as indicating the origin and fortunes of the
race who occupied them.

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 14 of 31)