David Storrar Meldrum.

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two parties were the Orthodox and the Moderns ; and
they were found in all the Churches, and also in the State.
The Church of the Netherlands itself during the whole
period has been engaged in an endeavour after com-
promise, and has succeeded just to the extent which I
have indicated. On the one hand, the Modern stream
has rather flowed away into the channel of a certain cold


piety, which attracts no popular following, if not into
another of vague idealism or avowed indifference. We
have seen how in the residue there is a tolerated
Unitarianism. And at the other extreme, the Orthodox
in large numbers have found a harbour of their own in
the united Reformed Church.

That body was fashioned by one man out of the
fanatical Calvinism roused by the neutral school : the
immediate occasion of its separation was the liberalism of
the Higher Education. For many in the Church the
instruction at the free official universities became too
advanced ; the Higher Criticism within the Church itself
threatened the faith in the supremacy of Holy Scripture ;
and in 1880 they founded a university at Amsterdam,
called by them " Free " in another sense ; and there
appeared among the professors at it Dr. Abraham
Kuyper, a remarkable figure, destined to loom large in
subsequent Dutch politics. Now the Church did not
recognise this Free University as a nursery for its ministry,
and in 1886 there was an open rupture, resulting in
the appearance of the Church Reformed and Doleance,
otherwise the Doleerenden. A few years later, these and
some other Christian and Reformed Churches, of strange
and various origins, not to be sought here, were united;
enough to say that they have become the most
living, certainly the most exciting, institution in the

Amid these conditions there has arisen a situation, the
curious, pitiful, amusing phases of which (for it shows
them all) are only to be understood completely when we
know their political significance as well. I will illustrate
it from a concrete local case. The town of Enkhuizen,
one of the " dead cities " of the Zuider Zee, has a
population of 8000. This population is served by twelve
churches. They are


2 National Churches;

i Christian Reformed;

i Do. do. building;

i Baptist (Doopsgezinderi) ;

I Catholic Apostolic ;

i Lutheran ;

I Old Roman;

i Roman Catholic ;

i Free Reformed ;

i Synagogue ;

i Other (whose precise designation I forget).
There is nothing unusual in Enkhuizen in this respect :
as a stranger passing through it, whose eye had become
accustomed to the spectacle of this kirkly activity every-
where, I had my attention attracted by these details on
a plan of the town. They make, in no other sense, a
selected case. The two National churches, the Zuiderkerk
and the Westerkerk, are both, as it happens, in their
several ways unusually fine. The first, with its well-known
tower, has recently been restored at a cost of fl. 50,000.
The Westerkerk, an even more interesting structure,
possesses a choir-screen of the sixteenth century which is
considered the finest of its kind in the country. Attached
to these two churches, jointly, are three clergymen or
dominees, for each of whom there is a pastorie or manse;
pointing to the fact that there was still a third church in
the days of the town's earlier greatness. On the Sunday
which I spent in Enkhuizen there was a service in the
Zuiderkerk in the morning, at the comfortable hour of
eleven. In the evening, when I was keeping a noteful
eye upon a few hundred places of worship in the sur-
rounding country, the Westerkerk was open, I was
informed: If the congregation there was no larger than
that I saw in the other church in the morning, both might
have worshipped in an aisle. There was a large and


punctual gathering of the Romans at 8 a.m., and (I
believe) again later in the day ; that of the Christian
Reformed was considerable ; and it was zealous, I judged
from its demeanour in dispersing. Various handfuls of
the 8000 souls found communion together elsewhere
throughout the town.

Among these various bodies there was, I suppose, no
mutual condemnation, except between the Romans on
the one side and the assorted heretics on the other.
One cannot be sure, of course : these free Reformers
probably have their doubts about Christian Reformed,
else they would not be isolated. Something pure in
worship may be preserved in their Zion that has been lost
in the Zuiderkerk ; but, if so, I cannot imagine it, though
bred among the niceties of Anti-Burghers and E.U.'s.
And in a word, I ask the comparative concord of Scotland
to witness to the disruption of Dutch Protestantism.

To understand the wider significance of this local
situation, it must be remembered that in Holland the
Roman Catholics are a full third of the population ;
that the stalwarts, mostly kleine luyden (the " little
people "), on the right of Protestantism, most assured of
the damnable heresy of Rome, have nevertheless come into
political alliance with her, and in this way make the
party in political power; and that the Protestant Left
stretches away through the moderates and Protestant
Bond of the Church and the Higher Criticism, within and
without it, to the undefinable body of laymen who attend
Old Year services before going home to drink in the New
in mulled " bisschop." It is easy to prognosticate how
curious a chapter must that be which tells of the
debacle of Liberalism before the assault of the "little

I have sought, so far as I found it possible to do so in
a brief chapter, to present the ecclesiastical side of a


situation, which it will fall to me to complete in another
upon politics which follows.

The outstanding fact in modern Dutch politics is that
the passion of Protestantism, which burned up in 1854
on the restoration of the Roman hierarchy, was fed with
a cruder Calvinism, and became a political instrument for
the discomfort of the Liberal party. But the Gothic
attack only succeeded with the aid of the Romans.
Orthodoxy in the Church found its rough counterpart in
the State in the party of the modern Antirevolution-
nairs, a term whose meaning will become evident later.
And Antirevolutionnair and Roman Catholic, combining,
routed the Liberals, and in coalition now rule the country
with a majority in both Chambers.

It was necessary to anticipate the political chapter
so far, in order that the reader may understand how a
spirit of bitterness manifests itself to-day, though less
possibly than yesterday, in Dutch ecclesiastical and lay
politics alike. In the next chapter the theme is to
be the influence of this situation on the daily life of
the people.


/ T~* V HE most obvious impression to reproduce in this
JL chapter is the pervasiveness of religious dissen-

That between Roman Catholic and Protestant (politi-
cal alliances apart) runs necessarily strong, but it also
runs deep, and its signs are not on the surface. The
predominantly Protestant provinces are those which first
revolted against Spain ; long after the war of liberation,
Brabant and Limburg remained under Flemish and
Catholic influence, and it is in these two provinces that
the Romans are massed to-day. They are noticeably
numerous in some Protestant countrysides, the Westland
for example, or the bulb-growing regions. Isolated com-
munities in the north, wholly Catholic, like Volendam
and Laren and Rysenburg, are accounted for, I suppose,
by the presence in them in the sixteenth century of a
specially influential, probably spiritual and well-living
priest ; or perhaps, like isolated costumes, merely by later
casual migrations. Where the two religions come in
contact they live in harmony, or only in the rivalry of
aggressive good works. Still, they keep to themselves.
There is a Catholic circle in Leeuwarden, say, even as
there is one at the Hague.

The dissension I am thinking of is between Protestant
and Protestant. Quite possibly, let me remark, the bizarre



aspect of the situation, taking the eye of the foreign
observer, tempts him to exaggerate its features. The
discord certainly would be less conspicuous were it not
for sensational political events I have mentioned the
coalition between Rome and Calvinism, and the defeat
of a specially intellectual Liberalism by a really stupendous
throw-back to a seventeenth-century theory of government.
It amuses some and disgusts others in the country itself;
but it is possibly the alien onlooker only who enjoys the
full significance of this eruptive orthodoxy in the land of
the Higher Criticism.

Custom has staled the religious fight for the Dutch.
The present generation have grown up with an education
question battered in it. So, as I shall be reminded,
have the present generation of Englishmen ; but with a
difference. Elementary education is taken much more
seriously in Holland than with us, and its results upon
the Dutch boy when he has reached thirteen determine
his future as educational results determine the future of
scarcely any English boy at any age whatever. Further,
almost all Dutch boys, as has been seen, receive the
same elementary instruction. The haphazard method of
our private schools is unknown in Holland. The only
choice for most parents there is between the public
school and a private, which is not private in our sense at
all. In the Dutch public school the instruction is strictly
secular. In the private school it is theoretically, and
most often in fact, the same as in the public, with an
added religious colouring. From the fight over the
" neutral " school, the victorious private schools have
emerged, blazoning themselves " Christian " and " Schools
with the Bible," but under strict supervision in their
educational standard. The majority of children attend
the public school, but the numbers in the minority grow.
A third of the parents have repudiated the " neutral "


school. In a word, the educational question is more
vital in Holland than with ourselves, its religious issues
are more vivid, and few households can evade a decision
upon it.

That is one side of Dutch life on which religion
presses. I can think of few that it does not affect. It
disrupts, for example, the organisations of the workmen,
and even prejudices the combinations of the masters.
Probably between a third and a fourth of Dutch trades-
unionists are associated in confessional bonds, and these
not all Catholic. Besides the Bureau of Roman Catholic
Trade Organisations, there is a Christian National Trades
Bond, of both Protestants and Catholics ; while Protest-
antism has its Christian Workman's Bond, more or less
non-political, and the strong society " Patrimonium," of
Antirevolutionnair colour. In innumerable interests of
Dutch life, petty and great, similar distinctions appear.
I do not think I am wrong in saying that there is a
Christian Goat Society (which sounds modern enough).
The co-operative agricultural Loan Banks of Eindhoven
and Utrecht have now a sturdy competitor in the Chris-
tian Bank at Alkmaar. The point need not be pressed
farther. It is evidently difficult in a Dutch home to
escape the religious question.

It is easy, on the other hand, to escape religious
ordinances, and it seems to me that certain classes of
Society as uniformly avoid as others punctiliously observe
them. But now we are in a world of perplexities.
Religious life in Holland is full of Dutch opposites, and
differs from that among ourselves to an extent such
as probably few home readers of this book can imagine.
Let me give an example. The political movement
known as Antirevolutionnair recruits its most strenuous
fighting forces from the Reformed bodies who have come
out from the National Church. But it would be a


ludicrous error to conclude that the Antirevolutionnairs
are all dissenters or (being dissenters) must therefore be
Liberal. " Antirevolutionnair " is a political distinction,
applied to a conservative force too wide for any or all
Church communions. The reader who would understand
the religious situation in Holland must put from his
mind the distinctions of Churchmen and Dissenters, as he
must for the moment those of Liberalism and reaction-
ary Rome. The salient distinctions are Modern and

The Orthodox are found in all the Churches ; but
Orthodoxy is strong only in a few classes. It is en-
trenched, if not aggressive, in Court, and what may loosely
be termed County circles. It is a tradition in them ; a
fashion, its critics call it, with jibes that pursue the
devout everywhere. The majority of the people on the
land, too, are orthodox, since they are conservative.
Such an exception as the modernity of Groningen is
already almost a conservative tradition. And finally, as
has been said, the fighting strength of Orthodoxy lies in
the small bourgeoisie, the " little people," of all Churches,
and mostly marshalled under Dr. Kuyper's political
banner. Now, it is not my impression that the religious
life of Holland is wholly comprised in the Orthodox I
know it is not. But it is among them that religion is
strongly professed, while in the professional and the
middle classes generally, which are the strongholds of
the Modern, the profession of religion is as strikingly

These, indeed, are broad generalisations, subject to
many modifications and exceptions that will occur at
once to a native ; but they appear to me to be true
enough to justify the remark earlier, that it was easy to
guess among which classes our countryman moved who
found the Dutch extraordinarily religious, and among


which the other who could discover in them no religion
at all.

It is significant that by this indirect road we have
reached the broad social distinctions of politics also
and indeed it is evident how the religious and political
sentiments, acting and reacting upon each other, have
given the Conservative elements a cohesion which the
Liberal elements as noticeably lack. We may sympathise
with the anger and disgust of those who have honestly
striven yet how unsuccessfully ! against the old bug-
bear of Holland, this conjunction of religion and politics;
but do these feelings not prejudice their views of the
quality of the forces at work ?

It sometimes seems to the foreigner that the Anti-
revolution nair gets scant justice from his opponents in
Holland, and that there is among them too virulent a
scorn of the fyne, as the pious are there called. It is
impossible that behind this public turmoil there is not
much individual religious fervour. With the outbreak of
churchly activities, there has surely come a revival of the
religious spirit. The Reformed Churches are strenuous,
as we should expect the struggle they have come through
to make them. They have suffered great sacrifices in
money for the profession of their faith in innumerable
churches and schools lamentable waste it may be
that have sprung up as thickly as those of the Roman
Catholics themselves. Simultaneously there has been an
awakening in the National Church also, and in all sections
of it, orthodox, ethical, modern. A humble class in
the nation, in whom lodged a singularly unadulterated
Calvinism, found a voice in politics, and is it impossible
that it has called forth a confession of faith and an
activity in good works from others of greatly more liberal
convictions ?

That is a speculation by the way, suggested by a


certain intellectual snobbery in the opponents of the
"little people" not to be omitted from the causes of
dissension. The impression I wish to convey is that an
evangelical religion is active in Holland to-day, as it was
not, say, ten years ago, and with results that often are
countenanced by others besides the orthodox. It is not
always easy, indeed, to discriminate between the mani-
festations of this religious conviction and those of the
altruistic spirit which has cut across faith and no-faith
alike. Both seem to meet, for example, in the new care
for Missions. On the other hand, much recent legisla-
tion of a Puritan cast betrays an inspiration which the
enemy never fails to acknowledge in a phrase : " More
Clerical government ! "

The pious among the upper classes I have spoken of
do not deny themselves all worldly distractions. They
dance, they go to the theatre, they play cards, though
not always on Sunday. Those in the humbler classes do
none of these things on any day, but all the week through
pursue their ideal in a strict and very narrow round.
Theirs is often a painful religiosity. One gets glimpses
among them sometimes of an extraordinarily crude
theology. A Sabbatarianism shows itself which is more
rigid than that of the fyne twenty years ago, some of
whom were not averse from a game after the service of
the church. A Dutch friend has told me how it was in
the house of his grandparents. They were what is called
" steil Orthodox" unbending stalwarts. The Bible was
always read before breakfast, and the household usually
went twice on Sundays to the church, of which the old
gentleman was an office-bearer. Yet every Sunday
evening a round game of cards was played for some
trifling stakes, and between the sermons the parents
amused themselves with backgammon. Possibly the
Hebraic, Old-Testament notion held that the Sabbath


finished at sundown. The fyne are less liberal

The new Governor- General of the Indies, an Orthodox
soldier, has been discountenancing official presence at the
Sunday afternoon parade in the Waterloo Plein. That,
at any rate, is not playing for popularity in Batavia. It
is worse than doing away with the Kermis at home, the
daring offence of some Orthodox burgomasters. The
pious have their own ptdanterie.

Signs of the times are sometimes derived from
experiences no less trivial than the two which follow.
The other day I was visiting with a friend and his family
the monuments in a church, and a curious discovery we
made surprised him into an exclamation, usual enough
in Dutch speech, which smacks of irreverence. He was
there and then challenged and rebuked by the beadle
who stood by. Such an expression in the ears of his
children ! Like every other man in the building but
myself, the beadle was wearing his hat, but what he did
not take off for the sacred place he did not keep on to
deliver his sermon. And so surprised was my friend by
his decorous admonition that he took it like a lamb,
though his is not a lamb-like nature.

It was only a night or two later that I was dining
in a restaurant in Alkmaar and observed two young men
at the next table of the yeoman class, one would have
said at home silently saying grace before beginning
their meal. I mentioned the incident surprising any-
where to - day to Dutch friends on returning to
Amsterdam, and was laughingly assured by them that
I was mistaken. " No one did that sort of thing in
Holland ; " the mind and ideals of one-half of Holland
are strangely dark to the other. Twice within a week
later I saw this bidding of a blessing upon " the ceremony
of manducation " by commercial travellers, one in


Groningen, the other in a village in Friesland. I doubt
if that could have been witnessed anywhere in Holland
ten years ago.

But whether church works are more and religious
interests keener in the households of Holland than once
they were, their volume is small compared with that
in our own country. It could only have seemed
extraordinary to the stranger deceived by the
tremendous energies of ecclesiastical politics and the
pervasiveness of the religious question. And as
strong as the impression these make, is the other
that the Protestant Church has lost its hold on the

The national Church has not suffered in prestige
through being disestablished. One never doubts which
communion is meant when men talk of " the Church."
It imposes itself on the land by many fine and spacious
fabrics, which State, commune, congregation, and private
citizens in Dutch fashion combine to preserve. The
most splendid of the charities for which Holland is
famous are administered by it. And as we have seen,
also, this Church contains all the shades of spiritual
conviction, and lack of conviction. The nation is
represented by its pews if not in them. Its Catholicism
is its weakness as well as its strength. The prosperity
of the Reformed Churches testifies to the popularity of
no compromise. The tolerance it imagines it fosters
does not fail often to warm into intolerance in pulpit
and pew. " Oh ! we don't go to the Church. The
dominee is Antirevolutionnair." How often have I
heard that ! And how often I know to interpret it that
were the dominee more to their liking they might some-
times drop in !

Separation from the State does not account for the
decline in the Church's authority ; and perhaps we need


not go further for a reason than that in the heat of
polemics the people were forgotten. Great things were
mistaken for small. Even in the congregations the
fervour encouraged was often that of debate. Church
government was not free from the slightly haughty
exclusiveness of all Dutch governments: It seems as if
there, as everywhere in Holland, the opportunity was
missed of elevating the mass by entrusting it with
responsibility. The " little people " were kept wait-
ing too long without the voice which the Church
might have given them with advantage to the State.
And, possibly, but for politics, woman would have
been taken into the Church's counsels, and won a
personal devotion for it, which is what it most

At the same time, the Church has kept free from
becoming a social affair, and one must admire the
instinctive self-respect of the Dutch which comes out in
a hundred instances besides this of declining to make
a tea-party of a church feast, or to encroach on the
solemnities of religion in the garb of bazaar mummers.
Nevertheless another of one's impressions to be recorded
is the failure of the Church to produce a reverent

There is, so far as I can see, little alteration in the
order of worship in Dutch churches. The picture of
ten years ago remains as it was, without so much as a
change in the clergyman's text. The boer strolls to the
kirk, perplex'd wi' leisure, like Stevenson's Lothian
ploughman, and, like him, gossips at the door until the
last " jow " of the bell. But he smokes also at the door,
and even within it. I have seen a deacon with his hat
on his head and a cigar in his lips even in the consistory
itself, and no dominee reproving him ; and men some-
times keep their hats on their heads throughout the service


though it was in an Amsterdam Church I saw this, and
they were sitting in the sombre waste of pews behind
the pulpit.

The hard-featured, clean-shaven men, erect through
the long prayer in front of their seats, with their peaked
caps before their eyes, look reverent enough ; more so
than the women all save the few in native costume
rather over-dressed who sit by themselves downstairs
or across the passage with their feet on the stoofjes, and
sniffing eau-de-Cologne from their folded handkerchiefs.
The atmosphere, physically and spiritually, is a little
dreary. A chill has settled in the untenanted spaces
round the enclosed " body of the kirk." The elders look
forlorn in their high pew, facing the enormous, brass-
bound Bibles. There is a cauldrife smell of soft soap
in the air.

Whether or not anything suggested in these
impressions explains it the weariness of ecclesiastical
politics, the anti-clerical feeling it has fostered, the
narrowness of the faithful, a primitive and often a cold
service the Protestant Church has failed to convict the
" civilised " classes (to grant them their own title) of the
duty of regularly attending its ordinances. I am not
now thinking of the indifferents, who are found in
all countries, or of the avowed non-believers (in
Holland unusually numerous), but of the many devout
souls in this large section of Dutch society who
apparently do not find the need, who presumably
have not found the benefits, of attendance at Divine

I am trying to present a situation that is manifestly
interesting and unusual, yet is one that the stranger
may well hesitate to discuss. If I say that closer

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 20 of 31)