Copyright
David Storrar Meldrum.

Home life in Holland online

. (page 21 of 31)
Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 21 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


acquaintance with this particular section of Dutch life,
in which our countryman could discover no religion at



28o HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

all, reveals in it a very wide simple and deep piety, a
faith and acquiescence in an overruling Providence, I
am stating an experience of my own, corroborated by
others with better opportunities of judging. But besides
this passive Orthodoxy, there is also a very general and
bold freedom of thought on religious questions, and frank
avowal of a sceptical position. A Dutch gentleman told
me that once, travelling in England, he fell in with a
scholar of Oxford, learned, gracious, excellently informed,
whom he companioned on a stage of his journey. They
had many opportunities for conversation, and once the
native, enlightening the Dutch stranger about our
institutions, touched upon the tenets of the Church in
a way that led the other to ask in surprise, " Do I
understand, then, that there are great numbers in your
country who believe . . . ? " mentioning a point of
doctrine that in Holland is discussed without the least
reserve. The Englishman stiffened, and turned upon
him severely. " I hope so, Sir ! " he said. Even in
recalling the incident my Dutch acquaintance showed
his bewilderment at the attitude it discovered. "The
man," he mused, " was so evidently a scholar, and so
intelligent. ..." I do not think that pages would
better illustrate the relative positions in the two countries
in this matter; and, on the wider question, it is not
forcing the contrast beyond endurance to say that as
the man of education among ourselves is put upon his
defence when he disavows Church and creed, so is
he in Holland who openly associates himself with
either.

That there is often intolerance, even arrogance, in
the avowal of negation cannot be denied. It sometimes
shows itself, matching a very crude politics, among the
teachers in the public schools : the evidence and
testimony I have of this did not come through the



THE CHURCH AND THE HOME 281

Antirevolutionnairs, whose campaign it goes far to
justify. Yet its volume may easily be exaggerated by
one who forgets the element of political bitterness in
the discussion of religious questions. By nature the
Hollander is religious. Scornfully as he may reject
the doctrines of Calvinism, he has inherited its fruits in
his blood. Even if history did not tell us so, we could
be sure that Holland was fostered upon the Institutes.
And just as, in the next chapter, we are to discover an
amelioration of the strain in the political situation, so I
think my last impression is not wrong of a spiritual
development that may largely relieve that of the religious
as well.

Indeed the quality of the " new conscience," as
I call it to myself, is indicated by its not being
easily separated, even in one's mind, from the new
humanitarian spirit in politics. Among the upper
middle class, in which it seems to show itself most
clearly, and especially in the rising commercial section
of it in which education is more modern, I notice a
sub-conscious reaction against a materialism which is to
be attributed to a hundred circumstances, and not to
any one. The policy of the neutral school had behind
it no tradition, as in France, to accomplish the irreligious
work of tearing faith from the hearts of men. And yet
it is by no means certain that Dutch Liberalism has not
for many " extinguished the lights of heaven." If the
teacher's ranks are crowded with materialists by training,
is it doubtful what will be found in the pupils? A
Frenchman whom I met in Holland recently, told me
that in Zeeland, at an inn table d'h6te frequented by
residents, there was one who blatantly proclaimed his
atheism to the company. I expressed the belief that
this island atheist (so we talked of him) was an unusual
spectacle in Holland. " Ah ! " mused my acquaintance,



282 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

" perhaps he thought, as I am a Frenchman, to find me
in his company."

It is indeed something quite different from that
insular crudity which appears in the attitude towards
religious belief of the educated in Holland whom I have
been so freely discussing. Is it fanciful to say that it
also is influenced by the ingrained respect for the expert,
the determination to exclude from every province the
amateur, which demands a diploma from the adventure
schoolmaster, deprives the country of the benefit ours
enjoys of the services of the untrained magistrate in the
police court, and in the face of the world's practice
refuses to adopt the jury system? Does this account
for the malaise that prevails in Holland to-day ? Yet
the Protestantism which shrinks from permitting a man
to be an amateur between himself and his God is surely
coming wonderfully round in the circle to the Priestly
pretension.

This, at any rate, is what chiefly interests in the
situation : the battle has been frankly joined on creed.
It does not by any means divide men up as regards
their Church. It divides them whether they have a
Church or not. There is no particular fashion of church-
going, and those who so wish honestly stay away. It
is largely an accident that a man is a member of the
national Church and not a Remonstrant, a Lutheran
and not a Reformed Christian. Much, that is, depends
upon which of these his father was. If it is no accident
that makes a man a Doleerende, that is because the
Doleerenden have come into existence with the
present struggle, and are, so to say, an ad hoc
body.

And what the fight is for which they have been
created is not for a moment kept in doubt. Be
you Remonstrant or Lutheran, or Baptist or Walloon,



THE CHURCH AND THE HOME 283

the question is, " Do you believe in Miracles, and
in the Divinity of Christ ? " Perhaps to that might
be added, " and in a special Revelation to Israel ? "
That is the issue in this Orthodox and Modern
struggle.



CHAPTER XXIII

CALVIN IN THE BINNENHOF

POLITICS in modern Holland might be compared
to a Dutch waterway which burst its dikes and
overflowed upon the land. A stream that had long
run in two main branches, though not within very well-
defined banks, left its courses and was lost in a morass.
A period of draining and empoldering and normalising
followed, at the end of which it was hoped that it had
regained a normal bed. But the hope was premature.
The waters are still " out."

To interpret this figure is the task of the present
chapter, and there is only one place where it can
be performed with the appropriate atmosphere about
us. That is the Binnenhof, the hub of Holland, the
Provinces in miniature, the tabernacle of their history.

All this the group of red-grey buildings on the Vyver
at the Hague is to one who knows its story ; but it is not
to be read on its face. No classic ground that I re-
member, indeed, more than that between the Noordeinde
and the Plein, requires that you shall dig for yourself to
find its treasure. The unlearned stranger in Edinburgh,
one thinks, for example, could not go between Holyrood
and the Castle without experiencing from the appear-
ances on his route some thrill, vague, but convincing,
of unprobed romance. The walk from the Binnenhof
to the Old Court would surely leave him cold. The



CALVIN IN THE BINNENHOF 285

Quarter is charming, vivacious, but its bland and well-
bred features betray no memories. It beckons you
with grace, but with no invitation of sentiment. But
bring history to it, and it is alive and glows.

To-day Queen Wilhelmina is in her palace, amid
the accumulated traditions of her line since Louise de
Coligny sat in it three hundred years ago fretting for
France. The Second Chamber meets in the ancient
dancing-hall of the Binnenhof: the First in the hall
of the States of Holland and Friesland : the Raad van
State in their dining-room. If walls have memories
(and why not, since we know they have ears ?), what
do those of the Binnenhof think when the rumours of
the Baker's Law steal up them to join the echoes of
Mare Liberum or of the Triple Alliance !

Let us look first at the modern legislative machine
at work within them.

The two Chambers, which sit together at their
opening and closing sessions, are known as the States-
General, an ancient name for a modern body. The
Provincial States survive, but their powers are almost
wholly administrative. Though they elect the members
of the Upper House, the political authority they possess
in consequence is more apparent than real. The Upper
House has greatly less power that the Lower ; more-
over, the Provincial States are themselves popularly
elected, though not, or rather not necessarily, for political
ends. The daily administration and execution of busi-
ness lies with a Standing Committee in each Province,
over which a Commissary of the Queen presides. The
individuality of the Provinces is fostered in this way,
and something at most, not much of official gaiety
is introduced into their capitals.

The fifty members of the First Chamber are chosen
from among the most highly taxed subjects in



286 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

each province, the qualification being so fixed that
there is an eligible subject for every 3000 of the
population. But men occupying, or having occupied,
certain high positions in the State can also be elected,
although they do not possess the qualification of fortune :
thus both estate and worth are represented. The
members are chosen for a period of nine years, and
every third year one-third retires.

The First Chamber has no rights of initiative or of
amendment ; it must reject or accept bills as they are
sent from the Second Chamber. It can, however, be
dissolved. Dr. Kupyer, for example, thwarted in his
Higher Education legislation, dissolved it a few years
ago, and the country returned him a Conservative one,
thus breaking a long tradition of Liberalism in the
Senate.

There are one hundred seats in the Second Chamber,
each representing an electoral district. The Chamber
dissolves every four years. Its members must have
reached the age of thirty, and they are allowed fl. 2000
(166, 133. 4d.) a year, and travelling expenses, defined
with Dutch particularity. Small as Dutch incomes are,
this scarcely fosters the professional politician. Ministers,
however, receive ^1000 a year, with a pension after
three years of office : the only cohesive element in Dutch
Governments, remarked to me a cynical Hollander. I
did not believe him. There is no Speaker. Both
Chambers meet under the direction of a President
nominated by the Queen.

Briefly, the routine of Government business is this :
A legislative measure is laid before a Committee in
each Chamber, and the Government answers their re-
ports. The Bill is in all cases submitted first to the
Second Chamber, the Minister in charge of it being
present to defend it. After the various interpolations



CALVIN IN THE BINNENHOF 287

the Chamber passes a Motion of Order, embodying
its clear opinion. If the measure is vital, or causes
strong party feeling, the Opposition may move a vote
of No Confidence, or the Ministerial following move one
of Confidence ; either may lead to the resignation of the
Government. Having passed the Second Chamber, the
Bill is introduced and defended by the Minister in
the First ; confirmed there, it receives the Royal assent.
But previously to being introduced at all, each Govern-
ment measure is examined by the Raad van State ; and
private bills also are considered by this Council before
becoming law.

The Raad van State has existed in Holland for
centuries. The Queen is its President (the Prince
Consort, however, representing her at its sittings) ; and
there are fourteen members, with a vice-President. Its
important function is the exercise of the Royal pre-
rogative in certain cases foreseen in the Constitution ;
but the Sovereign's right of dissolving Parliament does
not pass into its hands. A division of the Council,
known as " Contenticus," advises the Sovereign on con-
tentious measures submitted to him ; to this extent,
therefore, the Raad possesses judicial powers. In
reality it does not interfere directly with the government
of the country, since in practice Ministers pay just so
much attention to its deliberations as they think
useful.

The true government thus lies with the body of
responsible Ministers, nine in number, all equal, and
each independent in his own department. Though
their selection rests with the Sovereign, Cabinets are
almost always Parliamentary, not Royal. With a few
exceptions, Ministers are chosen in accordance with
professional fitness : the Minister of War, that is to say,
from the Army, the Foreign Minister from the Diplo-



288 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

matists, while the Minister of the Waterstaat is an
engineer. As the Chambers do not always contain suit-
able men, such are sometimes found outside the legislature,
and they need not seek election to either ; nor, of course,
need a member of either stand for re-election on re-
ceiving a portfolio. All Ministers, however, have the
right to sit in both Chambers ; indeed, as they introduce
and defend Government measures, the Chambers have
a claim upon their attendance. The Prime Minister,
as a rule, is a member of the Second Chamber, but
the Premiership carries less authority than at home.
The number of parties weakens the Cabinet homogeneity,
though there is generally a clear issue determining a
Parliamentary crisis.

The Ministers advise the Sovereign, whose person is
inviolable ; and Sovereign and Ministers constantly con-
sult together, although the Constitution makes no pro-
vision for their doing so. The Royal prerogative is
great. Supply, however, is voted by the representatives,
and if the Sovereign exercises his right to dissolve
Parliament, new Chambers must be formed within
forty days.

The right to vote for a member of the Second
Chamber is possessed practically by every Netherlander
of twenty-five years who contributes to the State Capital
or Income tax ; or to the Communal tax for the use of
a house ; or who pays a certain weekly rental (it varies
from is. 4d. minimum to 45. 2d. maximum, according
to local situation or advantage) ; or rents a boat of a
certain capacity ; or earns an annual salary or income
(the limits of which also vary between 18, 155. and
,29, 33. 4d.) ; or has been for a certain period in the
same employment ; or possesses fl. i oo in Consols or
fl. 50 in a Savings Bank; or holds certain certificates
and diplomas. The qualifications are almost identical



CALVIN IN THE BINNENHOF 289

for Parliamentary, Provincial, and Communal elections.
A voter at the last, however, need not be over twenty-
three years of age. Holland is the only country of
Europe where the legal minority endures until the
twenty-third birthday.

So much for the system. We turn next to look
at some active agencies within it creating the unique
situation adumbrated in the preceding chapters.

After 1830, the year of Revolution, in which Belgium
separated from Holland, there followed the breeding
season of modern Dutch Liberalism. In the Constitution
of 1815 had been embodied three great principles :
freedom of religion, equality before the Law, and the
independence of the Judicial power. The States-General,
however, as yet were chosen upon a narrow suffrage ;
their powers were small, and the principle of the re-
sponsibility of Ministers was not recognised. Budgets
had not long been submitted to the Chambers, and even
now were discussed and revised every ten years only.
It was not until 1841 that they were made biennial;
nor did they then contain reference to the Colonies,
which the Constitution expressly designated to be, for
legislative and administrative control, the possession of
the Sovereign.

But now the natural development of Liberal principles
proceeded. A Liberal parliamentary opposition had been
steadily growing, and it only reflected a growth of opinion
in the country which could not be resisted. There was
a partial revision of the Constitution in 1840, and then
there came that of 1848, with which began the real
government by the people and the history of modern
Holland.

Dutch Liberalism, the domination and triumphs of
which are the political history of Holland during the
19



290 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

subsequent half-century, was the Liberalism of the mid-
nineteenth century everywhere, with a specially in-
tellectual cast. Its banners were freedom, development,
tolerance, and these it kept flying in a specially rarefied
air. Even the aloof standard of laisser-faire seemed
planted in unusual chill and inaccessible heights. As
an object of admiring contemplation, at least, the party
had the advantage of not only great prestige and learn-
ing among its own members, but also an opposition
worthy of itself in character and a certain noble address.
If in any sense burgher and patrician were here opposed
and the fall of the aristocracy and the rise of the
bourgeoisie was signalled in the earlier fights both
appear with a senatorial dignity : Thorbecke and Groen
van Prinsteren and Opzoomer assume in their writings
the heroic figure. There were giants in the political
arena in those days, whose debates (on the bitter question
of the " neutral " school) were praised by Matthew
Arnold as exceeding in knowledge, intelligence, and
moderation those of any parliamentary assembly in the
world.

Their battle-ground might be said to be that saying
of Thomas of Kempen that all reason and natural re-
search ought to follow faith ; but the fight was only on
the order of their going, and not necessarily at any rate
in derogation of either the freedom of knowledge or the
wisdom of babes and sucklings. To neither the Liberals
nor the Antirevolutionnairs of the fifties, glowing as their
convictions were, would have appeared tolerable the
emotional humanitarianism which has been adopted by
the successors of both in our day. Both, though in
different ways, were convinced of the power of knowledge.
The Calvinists, no less than their opponents, believed
that " a thinking man is the worst enemy the Prince of
Darkness can have " ; and implicitly at least, if not so



CALVIN IN THE BINNENHOF 291

arrogantly, they joined in the Liberal challenge that the
unthinking part of the nation ought not to give its tone.
Both perhaps were by temperament a little withdrawn
from the political arena, where nevertheless they refought
effectively battles already joined in the intellectual
sphere. Both, as they deserved, won victories in that
higher sphere which, in the eyes of the admiring
spectators at least, compensate for the defeats both
suffered in the lower.

The defeats of both in the lower are obvious enough.
Groen van Prinsteren withdrew discomfited into private
life when the Act of 1857 confirmed the " neutral " and,
as he conceived it, irreligious school; and one wonders
whether it would have comforted him in that retirement
to have foreseen the triumphs of Dr. Kuyper later in his
cast armour. And if the Liberals were the victors in
1857, a defeat more striking, because they could not
but acquiesce in it, awaited them in the recognition of
the " free " school thirty years later. Their intellectual
victories cannot be thus sharply defined. Yet one can
scarcely be wrong in ascribing to the impression of that
generation of political thinkers and parliamentary fighters
of whom we have been speaking, an element still very
marked in Dutch life to-day, which realises the best
qualities of a citizen society, and leaves comparatively
little to regret in the way of aristocratic qualities that
are wanting.

If we follow now, ever so briefly, the history of
parties in the Binnenhof, it is not merely to compose a
chapter on local politics. Even in the often trivial and
ludicrous appearances of the later contest, there appear
the gravest problems of all nations, presented in a con-
dition of purity, or if anyone likes, of rawness, which
makes the Dutch way of dealing with them unique.

In Calvinist Holland, dissent has been towards a



292 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

stricter orthodoxy under pressure of the fear of liberal
thought. The Liberals in politics were neither professedly
nor in reality subverters of religion. The spirit of the
old Liberalism of Holland, indeed, was always more
English than French. Its ideals were those of Cobden
and the young Gladstone rather than of the French
Republicans of 1848. Under its domination, English
capital built Dutch railways, English manufactures were
sought by Dutch importers, and Holland reflected with
particular acuteness the Continental Anglomania of the
fifties and sixties. But undoubtedly at the same time
old Dutch Liberals moved in an atmosphere of doubt.
The party which opposed them was, to begin with, con-
servative in all things, but especially in the ideal of a
society acknowledging in every aspect of it the principle
of the sovereignty of God.

Liberation of the Roman Catholics ranged Liberalism,
with Roman Catholic support, against a Conservative
opposition reinforced by the whole weight of militant
Protestantism ; and it was in this array that was fought
the first phase of the battle after it shifted to the ground
of the " neutral " school.

There followed next a running fight over denomina-
tional education, which developed fresh combinations of
forces and ended in a deceptive truce in 1889, when a
new Education Act established the right of Protestant
"Bible Schools" and the "Catholic Schools" of the
Romanists to receive Government subsidies.

In the meanwhile, however, the question had opened
wider, and there had been in preparation a new situation.
On the one hand there was a great extension towards
the Left among the Liberals, under influences such as
the history of politics in any country during this period
enables us to imagine. Factory legislation, the insurance
of workmen against accidents, forecasts of the Children's



CALVIN IN THE BINNENHOF 293

Act, showed the new tendencies in the party. Universal
Suffrage, disrupting the powerful Liberal Union, became
another question of stumbling in the way of harmonious
advance. The appearance of an active Social Democrat
party in the Chamber complicated political distributions,
inasmuch as it discovered an urgent terror for timid
electors, and disturbed the issue.

In this way there have been developed the parties
of the Left in the present Chamber : the Liberal Union,
led by Mr. Goeman Borgesius ; the Liberal Democrats,
by Mr. Drucker; and the Free Liberals, by Mr. Tydemann.
The Liberal Union is the strongest, because, without
formulating a programme, yet declaring for extensive
administrative reforms, it represents all the shades of
Liberalism in the country except the Radicals, who return
Mr. Drucker's following, and the most moderate who
support Mr. Tydemann in an older individualism.

All the elements of Liberalism, from the remnants of
the old Whiggery to a Radicalism that only stops short
of Socialism, are found in this opposition, which has the
general support of the Parliamentary Socialists under
Mr. Troelstra. It is not its composition, however, for
that shows no more than local variations upon the
Liberal parties in many countries, but it is the composition
of the Right, which is extraordinary. In it are united
all the forces of conservatism ; for this strange coalition
of Roman Catholics and high-Calvinists can usually
count upon the votes of the Christian Historic Party,
aristocratic and above all Protestant, which hates the
conjunction, but fears Socialism more.

The Government is therefore clerical, and on that
account is detested by all who openly regard clericism
with a bitterness as profound as that which flows in
covered depths between the present allies of Rome and
Geneva. It is in following the fortunes of the party of



294 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

the Right, then, that I will complete this broad sketch
of recent Dutch politics. They are bound up in the
remarkable figure of Dr. Abraham Kuyper. Dr. Kuyper
is the spokesman of an extreme Calvinist sect, an
Orthodox professor of Theology, a parliamentarian who
practises the arts of popular oratory, and a great
journalist with an instinct for organisation and reclame.
A fanatic and a priest, he yet knows how to reconcile
conviction with a skill in tactics which his enemies
declare is unscrupulous. The detestation in which they
hold him, even more than the domination he exercises
over his followers, is the measure of his power. One
cannot imagine a combination of talents less in ac-
cordance than his with the traditions of the ruling



Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 21 of 31)