David Storrar Meldrum.

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of liberty he has had the misfortune to come into conflict
with the police.


No account of Dutch university life is complete that
does not mention the Corps, in which these scattered
and freedom- loving students, otherwise united under no
authority, are in a manner held together. There is a
Students' Corps in each University, and all of them have
very much the same constitution. At the head of the
Corps, to administer its affairs and attend to all its
interests, is a Senate or College, composed of a rector,
a secretary, and three members, elected annually, gener-
ally from among the students of four years' standing.
A member of the Corps is entitled to be elected to the
Corps Club and to any of its various social and sports
societies. The Corps, in fact, is the heart and spring of
student life.

The novice, or " green," has to endure for three or
four weeks a severe test of his spirit The first thing he
does is to leave his name with the Senate, after which he
starts upon a round of calls upon the members of the
Corps. The reception accorded him is of a kind less
agreeable to himself than to his entertainer, who discovers
a painstaking interest in all his doings, in his religious
views, his morals, his scholarship, the various members
of his family. Before the interview ends, the " green "
has to get a signature to his visiting-book, which is
examined by the Senate once a week.

From early morning until ten at night he is at the
beck and call of any member of the Corps who may be
feeling in need of a little entertainment, and with the
best grace he can muster he has to submit to any usage,
howsoever insulting, so long as it falls short of physical
constraint It is a bad time for molly-coddles and
bumptious fellows. In this common discipline, however,
the " greens " of each year are united in an informal
body, with certain rights which are jealously preserved.
One of them is the sanctity of their social meetings, from



which any old member who invades them is expelled
by officials whose title of uitsmyters is exactly translated
by " chuckers-out." When the novitiate is ended the
" greens " are formally installed by the Rector in all
the privileges of membership at a special meeting of the
Corps ; and they too, of course, drive through the streets
decked in the colours of their Faculty, and hold a feast
of fraternisation at the club.

Every fifth year each University in Holland cele-
brates its foundation by a week of feasting, a mode
characteristically Dutch. It is a time for the meeting of
old friends ; and on the first night the members of each
year's class, who have come from all parts of the country
to attend the celebrations, dine together somewhere in
the town, and afterwards march together, headed by
bands of music, to the pleasure-garden where the festivi-
ties are wound up each day. It is impossible to describe
the hilarious excitement as these parties keep arriving,
marching, or rather leaping and dancing arm-in-arm,
through the garden to the strains of lo Vivat ; and it
reaches a climax when the older members appear,
survivors of classes away back in the " sixties " and
" seventies," dancing and singing with as much spirit
as the youngest. To-morrow these elders will have
relapsed into thein usual grave demeanour, not to be
tempted from it for another five years, if they live
so long.

No one who knows these Dutchmen would grudge
them that hour of high spirits, or think the worse of
them for it ; but it may be doubted if there is another
country in the world where professors and statesmen, and
lawyers and country gentlemen, would be found suffici-
ently ingenuous to present such an exhibition of abandon
in public. The reader, remembering one of the failings
of the Dutchman, may say that schnapps loosens the


joints. But neither his frolicsomeness nor his senti-
mentality is merely imbibed. Both are as much part
of his nature as his intellectual hardness. We might
say of him as Mackellar said of the Master in Stevenson's
novel, that he has an outer sensibility and an inner
toughness. Yet he is at the other pole from Mr.

I may be permitted to recall a pretty pageant I
witnessed many years ago, now, with which the Students'
Corps of Utrecht celebrated the 26oth year of their Uni-
versity. " Town " had followed " Gown " into very high
jinks. For a week the people of Utrecht were just a
little bit " daft." The receptions and orations of the
opening day were caught up in a whirl of concert and
garden-party, reunion dinner and bal-champetre, and the
feast-week ended with a burst of horseplay only a little
less boisterous than we should tolerate. It was to crown
these University celebrations that the masquerade I
allude to was given, representing the Tournament in
Vienna in 1560, when Maximilian, King of Bohemia,
honoured his guest, the Duke of Bavaria. Some
two hundred students took part in it, half of them
representing historical personages, the others their
heralds and bodyguards, and all of them in armour
and trappings and costumes, careful reproductions ot
the originals.

For the whole week they played their mimic parts.
Men-at-arms stood at every corner, knights in armour
pranced in every street. During that time the student
who represented the king held his court, dined in state,
with a hundred knights round him, watched the dance
from his throne with the beauty of his choice seated
beside him, and received the obeisance of the citizens
(punctilious on the part of the professors) when he rode
out with his retinue. On the field of the tournament he


flew his colours over his pavilion, set beside that where
the Orange waved above the young and as yet un-
crowned Wilhelmina, and in the name of the Koning his
mock majesty's heralds announced to the real sovereign
that the tournay was at an end.

I wonder if the young fellow felt any decline when
Sunday morning came, and he had to step out from all
the pomp and circumstance of royalty? There were
signs, at any rate, that the coat of mail sat as heavily
upon him as the cares of State are said to do. And,
speaking from the spectator's point of view, one never
quite lost the sense of a mimic show ; except once, when
the procession passed through the Maliebaan in the
darkening to the music of pipes and tambours. The
ostrich plumes of the knights reared against the over-
hanging branches, and their armour glanced in the light
of the torches, in the smoky gloom of which the mimicry
was hid for a moment, and the pageant of the sixteenth
century was realised.

We started out on this inquiry into Dutch education
on the Academic steps after a day's ghost-hunting in
Leyden. Let us end it together in salutary refreshment
at the Levedag there. It is an inn for bona-fide travellers
only. The urbane, elderly waiters shut the door against
all shades. Mine host attends upon us a little lordily,
which braces our self-respect ; it is well to feel that we
are the important personages in the present at least.
Even the present is a little out of date with him ; all his
concern, you can see, is for to-night's Promotion dinner,
when still another young gentleman, having stormed the
heights of the Doctoraat, will gather his friends and
relations around him to pledge his future conquests in a
great carouse.


Listen to the lo Vivats in Minerva across the street.
Does not the Academie chime the generations as merrily
and irrevocably as the Stadhuis bells the quarters?
Ghosts are all very well ; but here we will drink to
Youth, while it is yet busy making the Past.


IT will be gathered from this sketch of the educational
opportunities of Holland that she takes the instruc-
tion of her people very seriously.

The political and religious strife in which education
has been involved has left marks upon it which seem
ridiculous to the stranger; even the stranger from a
country where frequently religious schism is socially and
intellectually embittering, and has disgracefully sacrificed
education for catch-penny triumphs, especially in the
English part of it where a liberal culture might expect to
be nourished most.

I have, however, discussed this sorrowful question
in earlier chapters, and here will only venture (for it is a
perilous subject) on two observations as regards its effects
upon education. One is, that narrow as the spirit may
be which is at present triumphing for it undoubtedly
is triumphing and hostile to the intellectual ideal which
I believe to be still the worthiest thing in Holland, it
does not appear to have affected to any great extent the
efficiency of the schools. The weight of opinion is, I
think, on the whole to that effect. The other is, that it
is not illiberalism only that can be intolerant, and that
there was perhaps a need that the older intellectuals of
Holland should be made to realise how human nature
craves for a mystery no less than for knowledge. I have


been much struck by the almost identical confession
made to me by several of the anti-Clericals in regard
to the Antirevolutionnairs : " I used to think it was
hypocrisy, now I believe it is conviction."

Two traditions in the country are at grips. It can
hardly be said of the one that understanding leavens its
fanaticism ; but the other, perhaps, by such a recognition
of sincerity in those with whom it has little sympathy,
will add a grace to the ideal it strives to preserve, which
will give that ideal an enhanced educational value.

I have been sketching a scheme that is evidently the
creation of a disinterested love of education. It may
show, here or there, the bias of a class or of a way
of thinking, but never the deliberate sacrifice, to the
interests of either, of the right of the people to be
instructed. No government can assess that right too
generously, except by thinking that its realisation will
accomplish too much. If in Holland that error has been
fallen into in the past, it is being dealt with faithfully in
the present. There is a party there there are parties
everywhere who are assured that they know something
which it is still better that the masses should have.
They may be right ; their conviction, even if they are
wrong, has a value. Only one hopes that now that
the masses are offered it also, they will remain happy in
the other and older possession which was won for them
by so determined if misjudged an optimism.

The stranger, viewing such a scheme, judges of it by
his own predilections, of course, but still more as it
contrasts with the practice of his own country. It is
possible that I am unduly laying stress upon a detail
when, with our own unhappy chaos in mind, I say that
the most admirable thing about the Dutch education is
its strict supervision by the State. It is not cast-iron in
consequence. Great discretion is permitted to the local


authorities, even in the elementary stage. The second-
ary, as we have seen, is largely the public organisation
of private effort, and thus is generally kept inspired
by local needs. Higher education is entirely free. But
having adopted a scheme, and become responsible for it
by imposing it upon the nation, the State is determined
to secure for it an efficiency that is impossible if every
unqualified person is to be at liberty to exploit a rival
scheme of his or her own. We at home daily see the
lamentable consequences of that.

It is difficult to avoid such comparisons, and if they
are odious when made they are still more so when only
half-made. I do not say that the masses in Holland
are as civilised as in England, for they are not, as every-
body who is acquainted with both countries knows ; but
that, as almost everybody says, they are not so well
instructed of that I am far from being so sure. Those
immediately above them certainly are, class for class,
immeasurably better educated there than here, in that
narrower sense. With such a system of instruction they
cannot fail to be. But something more than instruction,
something more, too, than the Doleerende dreams, goes
to the making of nations ; though what shall we say is
the secret of their " thriving genius " ?

Education is free only to such as cannot pay for it.
Those who can, the Dutch are cynical or simple enough
to believe, would despise it as a gift. It is compulsory
in a country where compulsion is particularly out of
favour ; but between them, the inspectors and commis-
sions, and the fear of seven days' imprisonment, bring the
children to the sacred fount. Indubitably they do not
make them all drink. You do not require to visit a
reformatory (ttichf) school to know that many leave the
primary school at thirteen because it is the legal age, and
not because they have achieved the sixth standard, or


even the third. Were I to speak of teachers in Dutch
elementary schools only from the few whom I have met,
I should rank them high indeed for enlightenment and
a great disinterestedness. I cannot forget, however,
things read (about rights of men and Juliana feasts, for
example), nor opinions heard. There must be some
truth, one supposes, lying in the complaint so often
made that in the class which recruits many of the
teachers, the Christian and social graces, at least, do
not conspicuously shine. And from the reports of the
undisciplined mutinies against small oppressions referred
to, I should judge that among its virtues also, that of
humour is lamentably wanting.

I have shown with what thoroughness and patience
the new structure of industrial education has been reared.
The older one of the intermediate higher-burgher school
weathers the tests of time, and Higher Education reshapes
itself according to modern needs. The admirable feature
of the whole is its continuity. Instruction in Holland is
so orderly that, conversing with a man in the street or in
society, you can almost with certainty tell in what in-
stitutions he has been educated. There is something
repugnant to us in such uniformity, but is it certain that
the alternative is not this, that, speaking with men in the
street, despite the colours of their ties, you must wonder
if they can have been to school at all !

It may strike one as curious that this uniformity
should be suffered by a people whose motto only too
persistently is, " Let every man be persuaded in his own
mind." For the value of orderliness is more real to the
community and the mass of men than to the individual
man, and for the first and second also there lies in it
a danger. Most men it confirms in their selfishness, and
the collectiveness soon becomes arrogant or too great
or too pure, and it is necessary for the community to


be roused out of its routine. The orderly, educational
training does not necessarily educate a man at all : it
only brings him to the brink of the highest educational
possibilities, and enables him, though an ordinary enough
person, to take the step across. For the extraordinary
man it will not compare with an aggressive, desultory
training : that leaves him just as educated as ever he
could have been. Still, in Holland as elsewhere, the
mass of men are only ordinary, and the system we
are considering does economise effort and prevent the
splendid wastage that one sees at home.

There is the further consideration that Government
could not build up such a structure had they not the
will and the effort of the people behind them. The
Dutch are persuaded in their own minds that education
is the highest good. That is a tradition with them. If
it dates back to their golden time and the name of
Grotius, as many say, it is a recovered tradition. It may
date back so far ; so many things in Holland do. But
it springs directly and has come down unbrokenly from
the other source of her notable forces, the French
Revolution, and the instinct of the Calvinists is sure
enough in entitling themselves the Antirevolutionnairs.
The principle of the neutral school, for example, was
implanted in the educational system by its earliest
cultivators, the Societe du Bien Public, the famous
Maatschappy tot Nut van 't Algemeen, at the end of the
eighteenth century.

Whatever its origin, it is a living tradition. I do not
say that it works strongly as yet in the peasantry. It
is a greater influence, it seems to me, among the artisans
than among the smaller tradesmen and the bourgeoisie
Its appearance in the general commercial classes is com-
paratively recent, and I am not certain that there it is of
so pure a type. It is still true to say, as it was ten


years ago, I repeat, that Holland is not so much a
highly educated country as it is a country of highly
educated people. But the number of highly educated
people increases, even if their ideal of education is not
always so disinterested. One cannot live long in the
country without being amazed to see for how much
education counts, the sacrifices for their children's edu-
cation that so many parents make, and the sacrifices
that voluntarily and compulsorily the children make for
their own.

These virtues, however, are not without their defects.
It was long ago said that the Dutch, in the matter of ex-
aminations, were the Chinese of Europe, and examinations
have at last to-day become a weariness against which the
flesh of the sufferers revolts. The continuity of instruction,
admirable as it is, has led to excessive hardships. I
have spoken of boys who, in order that they may get a
higher-burgher school education, are sent to lodge in a
town at a distance from their homes. Here is another
case known to me, and not, I am informed, quite un-
common : a boy began his course in a higher-burgher
school in the Hague, where his parents resided. His
father was exchanged to a post in Arnhem. There is, of
course, a higher-burgher school there. But rather than
that the continuity of the boy's education should be
broken, the father went alone to Arnhem, and his wife
continued in the Hague with her son until he had com-
pleted the course there.

English public school education occasions no such
case; but among English middle-class people, whose
children attend school in the town where their
parents reside, such a rigid regard for the unbroken
curriculum is inconceivable. These Dutch examples,
moreover, to be considered justly, have to be viewed in
the light of the determined objection of Dutch parents


generally to the education of their boys away from the
home and their own eyes. I have even been told of
cases where, so jealous were the parents for their child's
regular attendance at the elementary school, they returned
her after an infectious illness before a complete recovery
had been made. That seems unbelievable, but I have
been assured of its truth.

Parents are realising that the strain put upon their
children by their schooling is too exacting. " I am
really sorry for my boys and girls," a Dutch lady said to
me the other day, with a kind of helpless affection that
was pathetic. The father whom I have quoted as telling
me that he would send his girls to a higher-burgher
school if he wished them to be worked to death, was not
merely airing a gibe. Another confessed to me that his
daughter was working herself into ill health, but what
could he do ? She had to earn her living. She had
chosen the career of teacher. There was no entering it
save through the strait gate of " exams." And there
could be no turning back.

Is one wrong in thinking that in the past this strain
was an overstrain, showing itself in a certain lassitude in
all but the most physically and mentally hardy of Dutch-
men when their first youth was past ?

The criticism of the English eye in Holland has
always been that the race requires exercise. It was
probably deceived to some extent by the peculiarity of
complexion " the faint, pale blue, which might well be
called watery," an old traveller called it which is to be
attributed to other causes than the absence of sport from
the life. It will be deceiving itself now in respect of the
present generation if it accounts for any of their defects by
a shirking of bodily activities. One thing the English
eye should remark young Dutchmen do, even when
they do not play football, or play it only on Sunday :


they serve their country. All of them, indeed, do not
do so, for the State cannot afford universal service,
especially since it expends so much upon the health and
welfare of the conscript ; but all upon whom the lot falls,
whatever their influence, or occupation, or social degree,
serve side by side. The substitute is a figure of the

Equally erroneous would be the conclusion, because
of the strict organisation of primary instruction, and the
responsibility imposed upon the student later by a social
usage, or even from the exaction of military service, that
the Dutch youth is not free. It is more true to say that
from his entrance into the primary school he is entrusted
with his own making ; in the largest sense, that is
entrusted to the boy under the Dutch system to a greater
extent than it is to the public schoolboy of England,
for whom, like every good thing, this freedom is claimed.
And coming of a hardy and full-blooded race, the Dutch
boy has always found an outlet for robust spirits.

But, on the other hand, it does seem true that the
conditions of his life, as schoolboy and as student, have
deprived this product of a fine and systematic education
of the element of organisation in his sports and games
the logical, or rather the practical, basis of esprit de corps
that underlies ours. As a boy he snatches his play in
the playground, when there is one, and the square, which
in Holland is always at hand ; and as a student he does
not find in the regime of the Corps the discipline of
the cricket or football combination. Things, I have
indicated, are changing ; but here, it can hardly be
denied, is one thing still lacking in Dutch educational

It is, however, less in the region of bodily than of
mental activites that many Dutchmen on reaching full
manhood seem to me to exhibit signs of an overstrain in


youth. I have elsewhere extolled the intellectual energy
of a special class in Holland. It is possible that I have
found too large a measure of it in this class, and have
overlooked it too entirely in others. I do not think so ;
yet it is of members of this class especially that I am
thinking now, when I say that many Dutchmen do not
crown in later years the attainments of their youth.
Then they displayed an unusual mental energy, but they
have not kept it up. They are in many cases men born,
if not with a silver spoon in their mouth, at least with
one of serviceable nickel, and they seem in some cases
content to lie back at a very early age, and listen to
Emerson's injunction to hear what wine and roses say.
And often, I imagine, this is due to an overstrain in
youth. Yet here one must not be deceived by a dis-
interested acquiescence in their limited opportunities
which I have already extolled in many members of this
class, or overlook the conscientiousness, and sometimes
the enthusiasm, which they bring to their restricted
round of duties.

These criticisms upon their splendid system of
education are frequent in the mouths of many young
Dutchmen themselves, and we find them, rather amus-
ingly, turn wistful eyes upon some results of our own,
in which they yet discover so much to condemn. The
most highly educated among them, dispossessed of the
old authority in the State which descended to their
fathers, seem often assailed by a sense of futility. It
brings a whiff of bitterness into the fine mockery of their
conversation, a mockery that, like an equally fine reserve
in their bearing, gives distinction to the Dutch Burgher
manner. They will tell you sometimes that " they have
been taught to do nothing in six languages." Like men
in their case and mood all the world over at this
moment, they almost imagine that if only they could


take a spade and dig, their malaise would be dispersed.
Perhaps that malaise, the inheritance of our generation,
hurts especially in a country where outlets for talents
and energies are so constantly denied. Holland does
not escape the squeeze of competitive pressure. Its
youth as a whole is too vigorous to accept calm, how-

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 25 of 31)