David Storrar Meldrum.

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from the family room in my Dutch house of composite

It enhances Dutch hospitality surely the most
gracious and homely bloom of that virtue that it admits
to so intimate a circle. They do not keep open house in
our off-hand sense in Holland. Entertaining there has
in it less of lightly come and lightly go. Many of the
most desirable households live on a simple scale. Great
establishments are few. It is not usual to keep troops
of servants. The day's routine may not be wantonly
disorganised. A disturbance of the linen-cupboard is a
matter for grave consideration. The Dutch housewife,
moreover, like the French, regards it as one of the duties
of hospitality to offer her guest a dinner worthy of his
acceptance. " Pot-luck " does not appear in her invita-

It is true to say that the key to the Dutch house is
the " good " introduction. Even in the Dutch Indies, I


am told, where open house is one of the conditions of
life, this passes you on with a difference through the
marble loggias. Towards a guest so introduced, the
Dutchman regards hospitality as one half a duty. He
assumes that this claim to his services will not have been
put upon him unwarrantably, and he accepts it with a
sense of responsibility. His friend's friend is for the
time his friend. My host as I write this, whom I had
not seen before, anticipated our meeting by some miles
of my journey. Because my time was short, he came to
" make a plan " with me on the remainder of the way for
spending it most advantageously. His house, his hours,
his introductions were placed at my command. " It will
be best," he said, " that you do as if you were my
brother." Nothing could have been more charmingly
responsible than his welcome.

And from his village there runs a road to the woods
of Guelders and the uplands of Overyssel, and north to
the fringes of Groningen ; and down by Utrecht, and the
Vecht and the Lek, and round the lowlands to the capital
itself. Along it, hospitable doors have been pushed
open, family circles made free with a charming grace.
The traveller who is looking back now along that pleasant
road confesses to feeling like one sitting in a cafe in the
Kalverstraat, Dutch fashion, on the outer, dark side of the
drawn curtain, looking forth upon the promenade. He
thinks of the bulky notebook in his pocket, and the notes
in his valise, and all the fine speculations revolving in his
head, " Where the Dutch live," " How the Dutch vote,"
how they work, and play, and eat and drink, and study,
and make love. What, he asks himself, is it that he is
proposing to do with them, when he has turned them
into a book, but to sit in the dark and measure a whole
people with his own little rule of comfort or inveterate
sentiment or prejudice ?


Yet there is still another element in Dutch hospi-
tality which dispels all such qualms. Admitting the guest
of the house with a sense of duty, it expands readily
under his pleasure in his entertainment. Your hosts
in Holland warm quickly to your interest in what they
have to show and tell you, and you are made delight-
fully to feel that your own response opens the inner

I am not sure that there is not still another element
in their welcome, that of responsibility to their country.
May we not say that the Dutch enclose their
national sentiment also upon the house, thus giving
it its curiously personal intensity? Their patriotism is
not the pride of a great Power, though their history
also colours it deeply. It only partly defines its object
as a geographical area. It seems to me that a desire
and hope for the persistence of a tradition, of a way
of life and particularly of looking at life, which can
only be called Dutch, largely composes it. And this
something Dutch is preserved most jealously in the
house, and, because their sentiment attaches to material
objects, in the things in the house.

Here we are on the track of the " home- view " which
the American critic discovered. In a very special sense
the Hollander's house has a national quality. Even in
a foreign country it contrives to surround itself with a
Dutch atmosphere. And that is why, if one would
write with understanding of Holland, he must discuss
the intimacies of her hearths, and even with seeming
indecency analyse the nature of his welcome at

The best figure for the Dutch home is the Dutch
polder, entrenched and diked as far as the wit of the
polderman can devise against the waters of adversity.
Most polders are very small affairs, yet each is an


independent entity which, however involved with its
neighbours, administers its own affairs, and does so as
punctiliously as if it were one of the greatest water-
basins with the fortunes of half the nation at stake
within it.

From top to bottom of the social scale at least
within the widest limits of the middle classes there
appears still, as Sir William Temple discovered in his
day, a careful keeping of accounts, which is more than
half the secret of careful living. It is indeed a happy
circumstance for the majority in Holland that the scale
is comparatively so restricted that no one is ashamed
of practising small economies. For in this ironical
country, where there is hoarded wealth, as the financiers
of the world know, earned incomes are ludicrously small.
The cost of living, moreover, is not low. And although
most people appear to live remarkably well, all live
carefully. Extravagance there is none. A perfectly
frank display is made of managing on small margins.
The aim of most appears to be not only to avoid exceed-
ing their incomes, but to keep within them. " Lay past
something each year, be it only a cent " is the counsel
of Dutch Nestors. Een appeltje voor de dorst (an apple
for the thirst) is the prudent reserve of Holland, and it
has been so carefully stored for generations that most
households start with some inherited resources, however
tiny. And these are not wantonly drawn upon. If
something outside the usual routine of life is contemplated,
a " pot " is made from savings upon the customary ex-
penditure. This is true even of most comfortable house-
holds. All make much of small excursions from life's
habitual levels, and it might be contended that they get
more than we do out of life by thus grasping at less.

No doubt on the other hand they miss much through
risking little. The sense of security which they enjoy


(so far as that is possible in the lot of man) restricts
their actions and their outlook. The home-view has the
defects of its qualities. And here is to be noted one of
the contradictions with which this curious people abound.
While their habits are so stay-at-home, their minds range
freely over all fields of speculation. Their command of
tongues induces them to open the door to every new
doctrine. They entertain strange prophets, and many a
quack. But first, before the intruder enters, they turn
an inner key upon their convictions. Sticklers for ideas,
they hold fast to experience. Often incapable of com-
promise, they yet never find it difficult to keep theory
and practice distinct. Like Voltaire's journalist, but in
all honesty, they will not bet on the information they
are ready to swear to. And therein as often as not they
are wise.

At all costs they mak' siccar. Shrewd and of an
eminent integrity in business, they strike the merchants
of more audacious countries as throwing away oppor-
tunities in their determination to be safe. I suspect some
of these merchants of meaning opportunities of being
smart The exceptions, these add, show an extreme of
reckless plunging. So it is in private life. There are
daring iconoclasts, with their theories of free marriage
and the like, publicly flaunted, even in newspaper an-
nouncements. But the rule of the home is the safe one
of an extreme respectability.

Looking out from this circle, it is the uniformity of
the life that strikes one as most significant. There is a
variety of conditions, of course, and a distinction of class
even more marked than that of social estate. There are
differences of race and of religion. There is certainly an
infinite diversity of opinion. The farmer is not as the
townsman. The cities tenaciously preserve their individu-
alities. Province differs^from Province. I do not know


the extreme south of the country, but there, one is
always told, life and character are French. In the east
you find German influences in daily customs like the
midday dining hour as in the speech of the policeman.
Yet it is the similarity of life, in the outlying provinces
as in the Hollands proper, that I have remarked most.
It is not only that you can tell what the men and women
of each class will be doing at most hours of the day,
but that during many hours of it those in all classes will
be doing the very same thing.

I shall give some examples, choosing still the
homeliest. In Amsterdam this winter it fell to me on
several mornings, taking the place of her usual com-
panion, to convoy the little daughter of the house to
school. It was a delight to be out on the grachts on
these sharp mornings, when the sun glistened on the
rime, and a thin mist rose among the bridges ; and the
scene was animated by crowds of fathers and mothers,
sisters, governesses, juffrouws, all with their charges, on
errands similar to my own. Each morning we met
the same parties, it seemed to me, punctually at the
same spot. In that regular passage acquaintanceships
were budding ; the way was variegated with many shy
half-nods of recognition. And I realised that all over
Holland, just as I had seen it in a score of scattered
houses, the routine of life at this hour was directed by
this serious occupation, for elders and children alike, of
primary education. I shall always think of Amsterdam,
in the hours between eight and nine, as assiduously
going to school.

I shall take another example of this uniformity,
venturing on it a little dubiously, however, for it brings
me to ground of which Dutch hostesses are jealous. In
our progress of the house we did not linger at the linen
cupboard. It is to be found in no particular room, but

X g

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is set up in any most convenient ; wherever it is, there is
the housewife's pride. I discovered the finest example
known to me of the cupboard itself, one built on beautiful
bellying lines, in a remote little inn to which I had been
taken to inspect a service of Delft that indeed would
excuse the greenest shade of envy. When I begged to
see the interior of the handsome piece, the hostess was
summoned, and beamingly unlocked to view as fair an
array of linen as Dutch mansion could show.

Great as ancient is this institution of the linnenkast.
You can still see in farms in Overyssel rolls of linen,
eaten away and falling to pieces with age, which
were brought home by brides of generations ago.
And the pride of the trousseaux of all Holland's
daughters is still the products of Twenthe or Brabant
looms ; treasures kept in these cupboards, mangled (not
ironed), folded, pressed, tied with daintiness, regarded
with pride, handled with affection, stacked with care,
and even, I am told, with a measuring-rule.

It is long since I made the acquaintance of the
Dutch garret, and discovered its possibilities for those
permitted to rummage in it. Among its multifarious
contents, I soon observed, were generally a clothes-horse,
a square laundry basket, and a laundry tray (a kleerebaK).
And now I never visit a house in Holland without
begging a sight of the zolder, for I have an exciting bet
with myself that in no one where appear horse, basket,
and tray, shall I fail to find them painted a particular
light shade of blue, with the initials of the owner stamped
in neat white letters upon them. So far I have not lost
my bet.

I do not, I think, in all this exaggerate the con-
centration upon the house and its contents which the
Dutch still exhibit, or do wrong to catch in it still the
spirit of the old time, especially as it has been preserved


in the art of Holland in the seventeenth century. All
her painters, each within the limits of his powers, and
each after his own manner, showed no " ballooning," no
vapouring, no rhetoric, but the concentration of aim, of
energy of character, upon the object, petty or great, of their
painting. The result inevitably was great craft, often
great art. But their appeal to their native contem-
poraries did not lie in that, consciously, though, just
because it is the outcome of concentrated forces, great
craft in art is the final appeal. The things they painted,
to us beautiful, touching, significant often, but as often
saved from ugliness only because of the manner in which
they were painted, were, in themselves, objects of a great,
real concentrated interest, and often affection, for the
Dutch people.

Nor, as is, or, at any rate, as was, so constantly as-
sumed, did this sentiment flourish in a society of low
culture. Many fall into the error of supposing it did
through fixing their eyes too exclusively on the bucolic
humours which occupied some of the seventeenth-century
painters. Sir Walter Armstrong has pointed out how,
contrary to the general rule, Dutch painting lost its salt
as it condescended in the social grade. There are other
interiors in Dutch art besides the taverns and tabagies,
and they, with their evident refinement and elegance
(acquired how, who shall say ?), were found not only in
the learned shades of the Rapenburg, but also in the
houses of the merchants, traders, and officials, the jovial
schutters and the sober regents, whose unseignorial
features are subpoenaed often to support a futile theory
of painting.

The canvases of Metsu, or the household of the
Zwolle Receiver painted by its great son, illustrate the
homeliness and refinement at once to which Dutch
family life had attained during half a century of often


very brutal struggle, but, indeed, nurtured and achieved
long before that. This essential culture in Holland
before the War, as illustrated for me especially in the
history and art of the great Terburg, is surely an illumina-
tive fact in European history. It was like that of society
in Edinburgh a century and a half later, which, indeed, in
many of its aspects presents so interesting a parallel with
it : whose intimacies in the open of the street and tavern,
and the common stair, veiled deep reserves of the family
life behind the closed doors of the lands. 1 If in the
seventeenth century Dutch interiors, as at the Corpora-
tion boards and at the Schutters' feasts, the jovial
gatherings of the Arquebusiers celebrated in the canvases
of Hals and van der Heist, there was a frankness which
modern taste does not permit, we ought to remember
that the table manners of Sir William Temple once
scandalised the Hague.

This sentiment attaching to material objects, and
those especially of the house, which the Little Masters
imputed to the accessories of their pictures, survives
to-day, often within the same circle of homeliness and
refinement, whose culture still escapes the superficial. It
is a sentiment incommunicable to the stranger ; yet if
his sympathies do not catch some reflection of it, to
heighten and overlay the mere interest of curious sub-
ject, neither the old art nor the new appearances of
Holland will long refrain from boring him.

It might seem to follow from this uniformity of
home life that there must be few social distinctions and
few opportunities for the display of individuality ; but
this is not so. A mixed society living closely together,
in similarity of condition, generally imposes on itself a
somewhat complicated etiquette. In Holland classes are
sharply marked off, and distinctions of titles, for example,

1 The " lands" in Edinburgh are flats off common stairs.


are punctually regarded. With much informality, if less of
ease, in life, and a great intimacy among friends, there goes
a scrupulous social observance. The essential simplicity
of life is encased in a certain shell of artificiality. Again,
the Dutchman knows how to practise reserve without
losing his individuality ; which sometimes seems to
manifest itself in a specially vivid way because of a
routine in which he frequently moves. The restrictions
of his life, like the necessity of rhyme to the poet, only
compel him to clearer expression of himself.

All conditions of Dutch life have become more fluid
in the last quarter of a century, markedly in the last
decade, but those within the home remain wonderfully
steadfast. Here, for example, is a town-house in Amster-
dam, small and old, which still sets a spying-mirror or
spionnetje to the street in the voorkamer window ; yet the
inmates are young, very modern, and quite incurious.
Probably the only attentions the mirror receives are the
ablutionary ones of the maid-servants, who, for all I know,
may to-day be working to orders that have been handed on
for a century. The members of this household are absorbed
in a variety of interests, scholastic, artistic, and philan-
thropic, and possibly never have given a thought to
revise the house surroundings as left by their parents at
their death a few years ago. On the other hand, it is
not improbable that while very modern and " free " they
still cultivate a sentiment of loyalty to old Dutch ways
which induces them to retain, for instance, this spionnetje.
The white linen, long-fringed window blinds still fold up
in a bunch of plaits like the spars of Venetians, and all
behind them, except for two changes, remains much the
same as I knew it in the parents' day. One of the
rooms has become a bathroom, fitted with a geyser.
The other change is that from the huiskamer have
disappeared some ancient copies in oils, making place


for a jumble of prints, ancient and modern Vermeers,
Steinlens, Walter Cranes, and Roland Hoists. A
Catholic Bohemianism is encamped here in legendary
Dutch surroundings.

This contact of old and new, not merely in the
materials, so to say, of living, but also in the sentiments,
ideals, and outlook of life itself, explains the character-
istic impression left by Holland to-day. Already from
the circle of this family-room we can anticipate some of
the contrasts that we are to find when we move out
next into the street and market-place, and the senate-

Like the gaudy bonnet pitched upon the gold oorijzer
of the North Holland woman, the new is everywhere super-
imposed upon the visible old. The Middle Ages jostle
the twentieth century, as the old-model wagons the auto-
mobile on the dike. The Utrecht farm-hand lays down
his flail, and mounting his cycle rides off to see Mr.
Wynmalen fly. The Limburg knecht gives his team of
oxen a holiday while he visits the Exhibition at Brussels.
It may happen to a Wogrum dairymaid, who yesterday
had never been so far from home as the capital of her
own province, to sing to-morrow in a London music-hall.
The householder in the islands turns off the electric
light and puts himself to bed when the klapper, following
the round of ten generations of the night-watch, sounds
his rattle under the window and proclaims that the
clock gives ten.

The most individualistic of peoples is a nation of
co-operators. A race of idealists attaches its affections
closely on material things. Fiercely loyal to their
sovereign, they are at heart Republicans. Democrats,
they live in rings. Citizens, theirs is the only written
Constitution which mentions a nobility. Scornful of
rank, they are punctilious about titles. Sticklers for the


right of private judgment, they fix their faith upon the
expert in authority.

The country of the Higher Criticism is governed by
Ministers committed to the literal interpretation of Old
Testament Scripture. Essentially " modern," it is repre-
sented as hankering after the ideals of a theocracy, with
the suffrage exercised only by the heads of house-
holds. While the rights of parents in it are so strictly
maintained that a man or woman under thirty may not
marry without their consent, children are taken from
their incapable or neglectful guardianship into that of
the State. The influence of woman is great, for life
concentrates in the home ; but she plays no part in
public affairs, and legally her status is barbaric.
Theology enters into every question in life, and alienists
test for the credibility of witnesses with the problems of
the Schoolmen. 1 Yet the churches are preached empty.
And in this most contradictory of countries, the
profession of High-Calvinism is ton.

1 In the recent notorious Papendrecht case, which went out in a burst of
derision over the Psychiaters, a body of these specialists was instructed to
examine rustic witnesses as to their mental capacity. The first question they
put to them was whether the Deity was male or female.


THAT all who visit their country do not do so in the
proper spirit is, I gather from indirection at least,
an opinion of the Dutch. I hear their complaint in the
voice of the reporter, here quoted, abridged, from the
Alkmaar Courant of a recent date :

" On Saturday afternoon [he said] Alkmaar was
visited by a party of twenty-nine English people. They
came in auto's from Rotterdam, having seen on their way
thence the Hague, Leiden, Haarlem ; they found the
towns pretty and the surroundings beautiful ; and were
going back via Hoorn, Edam, and Volendam, to Am-
sterdam, where they expected to dine about nine o'clock.
What will these English be able to tell of Holland when
they return home ? "

A characteristic, purely Dutch, I may remark, is here
attributed to us when it is assumed that on returning
home we are anxious to tell what we have seen, and
find others as eager to hear it. In any case, the para-
graphist is a little exacting. Miss Una Silberrad, when
she visited the bulb-fields, of which to write her very
charming account, sailed in a bulb-boat from the Tower
Bridge. We are not all so thorough as that, but are any
of the Dutch? I have known a good many of them
to spend a day or two in Wight that island of their
fancy and enjoy them, and return home comfortably


refreshed and recreated, without being able to tell very
much about England, or being reproached in England
for having seen so little, or not taking more time to see
so much. And why should not our automobilists, poor
things, recreate themselves with a strenuous pleasure,
without being reproached for not matching it with an
equally strenuous mental toil ?

There is a great deal of talk in Holland, as else-
where abroad, about what " these English do," when their
only oddity lies, like other people's, in doing it in their own
way. When I remarked that to a Hollander once, he
told me, quoting Benevenuto Cellini no less, that those
who wish things done in their own way ought to make a
world for themselves. " And so we English have," I

answered him, " but ." I had only to point to the

strangely compacted water and clay all about us to
finish my remark. It ill becomes a Dutchman to
reproach one with making a world.

From the Alkmaar paragraph is also to be extracted
the information that in this country which the Dutch have
so strenuously made for themselves, it is possible to lunch
at Rotterdam, drink tea in Alkmaar, dine in Amsterdam,
and sleep at the Hague in fact, to cover in one half-day
the region of Holland which holds the stock attractions
for the stranger.

But just in these attractions we appear again to
disappoint our hosts.

" I don't understand you English," said a Dutch
young lady to me the other day in London. " When
any of you write about Holland, you are always admir-
ing our cows. It's ' the cows in the meadow,' and again
' the meadows with their cows ' : toujours koeien. From
this eternal refrain I thought, ' In England they
have no beautiful cows.' But now that I am here,
though I have a great admiration myself for ours, I


think yours are not less lovely, and I'm sure you have as
many as we have, and doubtless more, for in most things,
you know, Mynheer, Providence has blessed you with

" But not such meadows," I suggested.

" Ah ! You mean the canals and dikes and wind-
mills and things."

" You don't deny them ? " I asked.

" No. But all Holland doesn't lie under the level of

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 4 of 31)