David Storrar Meldrum.

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our " mother's help " ; but here I am thinking particu-
larly of " de juffrouw" for the children, or kinder-
juffrouiv. The juffrouw is their nurse, but not their
nursemaid. She never has a costume, as the nursemaid
is now beginning to have. The Dutch have no generic
equivalent for our " nurse " : the trained sister sent out
from an institution, from the diakonessenhuis, for example,
is a pleegzuster\ the trained maternity nurse a verpleeg-
ster\ the untrained, a baker (this ancient family piece,
conspicuous in Dutch literature, still survives) ; the wet
nurse is a min ; the nursemaid is the kindermeid. " The
juffrouw " is most nearly defined by calling her a nursery-
governess ; only that, as I am about to explain, there
are few nurseries in Holland, and the status of the
governess is there jealously preserved. She is known
then as "de juffrouw," and the children call her "juffie"
or "juff," as here they would call her "nursie" or
" nannie," imagining that so she was christened.

Though there is a tax upon domestic servants in
Holland, there is none upon a juffrouw. Let no one
think, however, that this opens a way to enjoying a
dutiable service without paying the impost. I have
heard of a household being pounced upon with a demand
note (or its Dutch equivalent) because its "juff" had
been seen to " answer the door bell," a taxable servant's
duty. It is not easy to evade the Dutch Receiver. He
never sleeps, and, according to stories one hears, employs
spies and rewards informers.


I was really led to write of the " useful juffie " by
recollecting that in our progress of the house we shall
often look in vain for the nursery which she is supposed
to adorn. If it does exist, it is probably a small apart-
ment so called because it conveniently stores the children's
toys. One reason for the absence of nurseries in Dutch
houses is that there is no room for them. All along the
scale Dutch houses are smaller than ours, and their two
or three living-rooms, usually lofty, occupy a large pro-
portion of the cubic space. But the main reason is
that no one wishes the children kept to special quarters
of their own.

This is one of the matters in which our customs and
our neighbours' are antipodal. Just as in Holland the
foot-passenger must stand aside for the vehicle, and here
he has the privilege of the high road, so instead of
children being sent out of the way of their elders, as with
us, in Holland the elders remove themselves out of the
way of the children. The parlour is the children's play-
ground. They have the run of the house. When they
become too numerous, as they have a way of doing, they
overflow into the street and square.

In such houses as we are here exploring, the children
live from their infancy in the company of their parents.
The Dutch mother can say, like Madame Daudet, that
she has " always kept her children in her pocket " ; and
her pocket ought to be larger than her French neighbour's,
for she generally has more to put in it. Thus throughout
Holland (except where the fashion of the later dining hour
has been adopted), somewhere between five and six, all
Dutch families, including even the baby, the "juffie" in
attendance, are sitting down to dine together.

This custom of Dutch parents to companion their
children (or Dutch children their parents) is favoured by
the system of education ; and this brings me to speak of


the house where, with or without a " juffrouw," there is a
gouvernante, and where, if there is an apartment to spare
for a nursery, it is rather converted into a schoolroom.

The giving to the governess her French title points
to a time when that language was dominant in Dutch
education. A generation in Holland just passing away
received the elements of all instruction in French books.
The French school was not so long ago an important
institution. Mr. Motley, by his eloquence and enthusiasm,
has rather coerced the English-speaking public into
concentrating their interest in the Dutch upon the
seventeenth century, and as a consequence they often
miss the marks of the influence of France on modern
Holland. These souvenirs profonds et falatants (as a
Frenchman spoke of them to me the other day) are
met at every turn : in the code of Justice, in the regula-
tion of the communes, the ideals of education the
" neutrale "-school, for example, but still more in the
little significant things we are most on the track of, like the
neat white numbers painted on every door of every farm-
place. There French logic and Dutch orderliness meet.
One of these " survivals " is the continuance of French
influence in a scheme of education which virtually makes
a knowledge of French the pass from the elementary to
the intermediate school. But to-day French takes its
place only as part of a more liberal system, which I hope
to display elsewhere in this book. Here I am confining
myself to the rdle played in it by the schoolroom in the

For children to the age of six, any method of educa-
tion may be adopted which the parents desire. Book-
learning is wisely discouraged. It is compulsory,
however, that between six and thirteen they receive such
instruction as is provided, at a varying cost, in the
different primary schools. They may, indeed, receive it


where the parents will, but only from certificated teachers.
The mother is not considered qualified to impart it,
unless she has passed the examinations for an elementary
teacher, and received the certificate hulp-acte. If she
has not done that, and yet education of the children at
home is considered desirable, or circumstances make
it imperative, then a certificated instructor must be
employed to teach them.

The Dutch tutor and governess, therefore, are always
qualified, or at least certificated. They may complete
the education they have begun, or they may only
prepare their pupils of tender years for entrance to the
intermediate or the Latin schools or to the University.
At the elementary stage, when the primary school is not
convenient, they are the only alternative to the boarding-

Boarding-schools for both boys and girls are plentiful,
and are much used by children from the Dutch Indies,
who, however, are not sent home so young as Anglo-
Indian parents think desirable. In the highest classes
the sons (after perhaps sitting in the country primary
school ; I know of such cases) are sometimes tutored at
home for the University. Others of them, again, go
(or used to go) to the school " Northey " at Voorschoten,
which for many years has been conducted on English
Public School lines, though the important accomplish-
ment of cricket, I believe, has never been acclimatised.
The reaction from rather too bookish an instruction is
leading to much experiment, in boarding, as in other
schools, not all of it obviously wise. With the intention
of fostering the breadth and self-reliance which the
English Public Schoolboy is believed to possess, the
director of one of these institutions gives the boarders
a free pass, to come and go, in the evening hours until
I o p.m. I expect soon to hear of one with a latchkey.


The girls of the same rank are most often sent from
their governess's hands to boarding-schools, abroad or at
home ; but some have been caught up in the stream of
Dutch women following the higher-education career.
"Deportment" is less importunate than it used to be in the
training of the young Dutch lady. The boarding-school
where she was taught the art of graceful ascent and
descent in inclement weather when the roads are muddy
has gone into the limbo of forgotten things, like the
old family coach which was set up in its attic for that
course of instruction. Yet I doubt whether the relics of
that coach are not still in that attic. In Holland few
things are considered too obsolete for storing in the zolder.

The great majority of Dutch children, however, are
educated in the strenuous atmosphere of the public schools,
or in that, often not less strenuous, of the schoolroom in
the house. In either case they remain, until well into
their teens at least, under their parents' roof, and enjoying
their daily and often hourly companionship.

Having brought them so far from the nursery and
the schoolroom, we may observe them a little farther.
We promised ourselves a leisurely and comprehensive

The strictness of the Dutch girl's upbringing has
been considerably relaxed of recent years. One of my
hostesses, who appears to allow her daughters just as
much freedom as any English mother would, told me
that she herself, until she was twenty, was not permitted
to appear out of doors without her companion. Her
recollection is that that was not unusual in stiff towns
and stiff homes such as hers. Certainly in the street,
she says, girls acknowledged the bows of their male
acquaintances, and passed on : it would have occasioned
a small scandal to have stopped to speak even with a
distant kinsman (if he were young).


Another recalled how she and her sisters thought
twice before they walked past the students' club in
the square. She cast no reproach on the manners of
Dutch students twenty years ago, though possibly she
did on the modesty of some Dutch schoolgirls, whose
fondness for that part of the town was a byword, and a
bogey to her and her sisters. Reflecting on the matter,
she is of opinion that perhaps there was too much
consciousness of the existence of students among the
daughters of these safeguarded homes. Now a healthier
relationship exists with less formality between the sexes.
The ice, wonderful to say, thawed etiquette. Young
men and maidens might go skating when they might not
go walking together. Later on they might go walking
in clubs ; safety was discovered in numbers. There was
no hard-and-fast custom, and there is none now. The
conventions varied with the family, and the town, and
the condition, and vary with them still. But tennis and
the cycle have wonderfully broken down barriers among
them all.

The Dutch girl when she " comes out " is emerging
from no cloistered seclusion, and the training of the Dutch
boy is such as to make him well able to look after
himself. Dutch chaperons, being also human, have often
a friendly blind eye. Occasions for young men and
maidens meeting are quite evidently as plentiful and as
happily taken in Holland as at home. The formularies
before marriage are different, and some of them elaborate.
Since the father's consent to marriage is required until
son and daughter are thirty, his consent is more eagerly
sought for the engagement also. Fair reports being
gleaned of the wooer's character and conduct, there
follows an inquisition on finance; sympathetically,
however, directed towards his prospects rather than his
present position. Give every young man his chance !


There is nothing detrimental in a long engage-
ment. And no complication is started from the other
side on the question of settlements. The dowry is
not an institution in Holland, where all children share
equally. So at length, the matter being " in order "
(as the Dutch say), the franked couple send out their
cards together, thus announcing themselves engaged,
and further proclaim it by appearing arm-in-arm in the

Then follows the acknowledged courtship. I know
no equivalent for the word in Dutch, but in Holland the
thing is conspicuous, even a little loud. It also has its
conventions. There might perhaps be an objection to
the lovers making two at a country house party. But
in one thing there is shown a characteristic Dutch blend
of sentiment and naiveness. It is assumed that the two
hearts beat for each other alone. Opportunities are
arranged and taken for them to do so, frankly, in public.
Invited together and seated together, the lovers sup
together and dance together, and neither goes where the
other is not. That a girl should enjoy a ball without
her fiance passes wonder among her companions. And
so it is throughout the engagement.

There is an old Frisian rural custom, still practised,
I hear, known as the joen-piezl, by which a man and
a girl about to be married must first sit up for a whole
night in the kitchen with a burning candle on the
table between them. It is assumed that by the time
the candle is burnt low in its socket they must be
ardently fond if they are not heartily sick of each other.
Something like ti\& joen-piesl is the ordeal of the engage-
ment period !

The legal preliminary to marriage of aanteekening or
" signing on " is regarded as the signal of betrothal, and
cards announcing the wedding-day a fortnight later, as


well as the reception at the home of the bride, go out
from her parents and the bridegroom's together. But
betrothal is not more legally binding than the earlier
engagement. A case for breach of promise does not lie
in Holland. In essentials no pride of noble birth over-
matches that of Dutch citizen society.

But it is not allowed to be a barrier to practicality.
Only very near or old friends could contribute a cheque
to the bride's trousseau without wounding susceptibilities.
Some value comes to a gift through the trouble taken in
choosing it. Yet discretion also enhances its worth. So
the bride makes a " list," which lies with her mother
or other relation, and is consulted by friends, who can
thus choose their presents to suit their purses and
her needs at once. In this practical way is avoided
a collection of compote dishes and modern blue that
would furnish a respectable window in the Kalverstraat.
This custom of the list is followed at birthdays as

The reception, three or four days before the marriage,
is the climax of its social formularies and festivities. For
a fortnight the bridegroom is scarce ever out of his dress
coat, the wedding garment in Holland. The bride
appears at the reception in bridal array, heading two
families made one for the occasion, and carefully
marshalled in the voorkamer according to the rules of
precedence. Marriage is one of the occasions for counting
kin in Dutch families, which have vast ramifications that
generally some member of them punctiliously traces. A
patient genealogist, one fancies, could easily prove all
Holland related. With the deep-seated sense of family
in the Dutchman there goes a sane discrimination.
Among so many affinities, cousins can be counted
without prejudice. A wedding is a jolly reunion.
Bride and bridegroom are happily adopted into each


other's family circle. But neither is invited to marry
the clan.

They drive together on the wedding morning in a
little white-satin-lined brougham to the town hall, where
the burgomaster or his deputy joins them man and wife,
and is the first to felicitate Mevrouw in a little speech.
There is no ceremony beyond the recital of the section
of the Code. The bridegroom is unattended. The bride
has her maids, and perhaps a small page. The register
is signed, and the party possibly drives on to seek the
Church's blessing, which is longer in giving than the
civil sanction. Dutch praise is always long drawn out.
The Dutch dominee is never " a barber of prayers " or of
addresses. An offertory is taken for the poor. And
then the party returns for the dejeuner, during the
jollities and orations of which man and wife are allowed
to steal away in their brougham without embarrassing
rice or old slippers advertising their bliss.

The party they leave behind generally spend the
evening at an uitspanning if it is summer, or, if it is
winter, fill a row in the theatre. I heard of a wedding
the other day for which a theatre and the company
were engaged for the night, and a dance was given in the

A friendly eye supervising these pages reminds me
that I have said nothing of the custom of the ring in
Holland. It does not appear in the marriage ceremony,
either civil or ecclesiastical. Plain gold rings are
exchanged at the engagement, and worn upon the third
or "ring" finger of the left hand. After marriage they
become the marriage rings, and are worn on the right.
This usage can be traced back for two hundred years.
Earlier than that, custom varied. The wife sometimes
had on her thumb a double ring, one hoop of which had
been worn by the husband during betrothal. That


was in the days when lovers broke a ducaton between
them and sometimes signed their marriage in their

This has been a long excursion from our typical
Dutch house, where there still await two rooms into
which we must glance. One is the small audience-
chamber, or spreekkamer, a plainly furnished little room,
conveniently tucked away somewhere not too far from
the front door. It reminds us that a variety of business
transacted by ourselves at the office or chambers, or over
luncheon at the club, is done by Dutchmen in their
private houses ; and there its interest for us would cease
were it not for one object in it. This is a safe, disguised
as a cupboard. There is in Holland the body of
smallish rentiers which is the inevitable creation of
continued subdivision of properties ; and there are also,
we shall see, in almost all Dutch families resources of
fortune, however trifling, which are rather to be traced to
the determination to live within a scheme of personal
security. As a result, monies which might have fostered
local industries have been invested in foreign stocks and
foreign undertakings. To this day there is, even among
the humbler shopkeeping classes, a continual peddling
with the nearest notary in foreign bearer bonds, which may
partly account for the notorious exploitation of the larger
shops by foreign capital. A great extension of banking
has occurred in the last ten years, among the agriculturists
especially ; but still, outside commerce, few Dutchmen
carry a cheque-book or have a banking account. House-
hold and personal bills are invariably paid in cash. Each
house has its safe.

With no lukewarm concern do I approach next, not
the inner sanctum, indeed, but one of its immediate outer
courts in the Dutch woman's domain. The provisie-
kamer % as she calls her store-room, is often less a small


room than a large cupboard. Here it is of greater
dimensions, at the back of the house, away from the sun.
I remember another, bone-dry and fresh-smelling, in the
cellar depths of a moated grange. Whereas the sun
seemed always to be shining in on the one beside the
Rhine of which I had my first vision ; and that remains
the archetype of all later impressions.

A fair apartment, with a window on the face of the
house turned towards the street, across which is drawn a
screen of plane-trees. Inevitably whitewashed, precisely
shelved; a square of Spanish matting on the boards.
On the shelves small Cologne pots with pickled onions,
gherkins, and cucumbers, and a large flat one for butter ;
bottles of sterilised vegetables and fruit ; the canister
with coffee-beans ; those for tea kitchen tea, morning
tea, evening tea, each of considered quality ; yellow,
barrel-shaped jars, ringed with brown, holding sago, sugar,
rice ; smaller white ones, with the names of their con-
tents cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace carefully lettered
upon them. A wooden rack with eggs. In a cupboard,
a ripe Gouda from the farm (not the factory, yet) : the
taste here runs against soft cheese. On the back wall
an assortment of new, spare mats and brushes and
besoms, in case any of those in use should become
suddenly indisposed, and the whole morning's service in
the house be disorganised.

There are auxiliary stores throughout the house.
The apples and pears are spread, near the bulbs, in one
of the attics. Potatoes and beans seek the coolness of
the cellar, next door to the wine, where also the jenever
and vinegar and oil are laid in.

The reader, remembering the Dutchman's fondness
for his cigar, may ask if I have not missed a chamber
for its enjoyment in this house of memories. I have
been noting the ash-tray in them all. The aroma of


Sumatra lingers everywhere. We may say of Dutch
houses, as Mr. Pickwick remarked of the streets of
Rochester, that " the smell which pervades them must be
exceedingly delicious to those who are extremely fond of


THIS is still another chapter about homely things.
Some readers may consider it unworthy of my
subject and them to have kept them so long among the
brasses and the Coin pots of the kitchen and the still-
room. I confess to have watched with qualms this
section expand under the persuasive direction of my
publishers. Yet I am not sure that the quality of the
Dutch can anywhere be so well revealed as during such
a leisurely, curious perambulation of their houses.

Certainly there are few things of importance in
Holland that do not connect themselves with her home
life. Dutch careers are largely followed in the house.
The women are absorbed in its management, and many
of the men do their work in and from it. Few it is
one of the conditions of a small country are called
upon to sleep a night away from their own roofs, and
there are certain classes of citizens who appear to issue
from under them seldom even by day.

Countrymen of mine, for example, have often asked
me why in Amsterdam at least they never caught sight
of the upper classes. It is possible that they saw them
without recognising them. Amsterdam patricians are
shy, reserved birds with nothing in their plumage to
distinguish them for the stranger. Indeed, good burgher
folk in Holland seldom, out of the Hague, quite dress their


worldly part, and some still cultivate on the contrary a
pedantic contempt for the fashions. A young English
merchant once told me ruefully how he received a
Rotterdam millionaire de haut en das, estimating his
visitor, as our practice is, at the value of his clothes.
I recall the derisive smiles of soberly clad Dutch pro-
fessors at a University town function when two sparkish
members of the Corps Diplomatique appeared in correct
Bond Street liveries. And Dutch ladies living abroad
assure you that before they revisit their homes they pack
away their dressmaker's latest creations, and choose others
less modish, fearful of losing the respect of friends and
relations by dressing over well. Besides, the boys in the
streets would mob them.

In all this, indeed (save the rudeness of these gamins),
a change appears in recent years. Is it perhaps indi-
cated in the time-tables of the various " household "
schools which they have seen established for the training
of ladies' maids and the like ? Many Dutch girls who
previously would have been doomed to the obscurity of
plainness are now blossoming into beauty at a deft
millinery touch. Still, the Dutch are in no sense
" smart," and they would rather resent it did you call
them so.

Let me not be mistaken. Dutch ladies dress well,
and all Dutch women soundly. It is the business of
dressing that is little cultivated perhaps too little.
The " smartness " that is noticeably lacking means no
more than the latest modes, and is evidently the easiest
possible thing to acquire for those who set their heart
upon it. And here I may note my impression, after
consideration of a certain " antiquity " appearing through-
out Dutch life, that what English and American eyes
most miss in it is seldom unpurchasable.

The foreign observer is right, however, in remarking


the absence of patrician ladies in Amsterdam streets.
Plain or smart, except for the afternoon drive and a
brief shopping hour in the Leidschestraat, they withdraw
themselves, a little primly, from the public gaze. They
are not seen at the opera on an ordinary night which
would draw our patricians, and a gala night, when they
are present in force, is an occasion to be remembered.
Other classes in the city are less reticent, as the Kalver-
straat, for example, bears daily and nightly witness ; but
this does not refute the general observation that all
Holland, on the land and in the towns, seeks seclusion
behind its own shut doors. It is not fanciful to say that
here also the Dutch " enclose." They are a domesticated
people. I have heard the criticism upon their outlook
by an American who lived long among them. He said
that theirs was the " home-view." And I propose in this
chapter to seek some understanding of this home-view

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 3 of 31)