David Storrar Meldrum.

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the sea, or of the rivers either. Have you ever been m
Guelderland, or Overyssel, or in Het Gooi ? "

I told her that I had ; how I had caught a bewitch-
ing glimpse of the river at Ellekom from the Velper
road, and walked over Hoog Soeren to see the deer at
Aardhuis. And I sought, without hurting her feelings, to
explain that, very beautiful and charming as I found it
all, still we have ourselves scenery to match, possibly
even to surpass it, but that the lowlands of Holland are
something apart, a place by themselves, and that that is
why the mills and the ditches and the dikes, and the
meadows with their very ordinary cows, are so remarked
by us.

She appeared to think, however, that I was claiming
for my nation an aesthetic appreciation which it is well
known our neighbours do not allow us.

" Call it only curiosity, then," I said ; " the cult of
the odd. Though that's an aesthetic refinement. The
Japanese gardener cherishes the rare and twisted flowers,
despising large blooms as merely a product of rich soil
and the taste of the vulgar ; and in the same way, my
dear lady, we admire Nederland the bizarre. Like
Perdita, who liked best her ' streaked gilly'vors.' "

" Oh, tulips," she snapped me up. " Does nothing
ever bore you ? "

I admitted that perhaps even windmills and cows


would begin to pall on those who kept gazing on wind-
mills and cows.

" You're only lazy," she said. " You remind me
of Madame D'Hoguere, whose husband was Russian
Ambassador at the Hague in our William First's time.
She found it less trouble to reperuse an old book than to
get a new one, and only at the seventh reading would
say, ' // me semble que I'auteur se repete un peu ! ' ''

Perhaps my lively critic, with her vials of derision so
ready to overflow impartially, was right, and there is a
little indolence in the persistent reperusal, not seven but
seventy times, of the book of the Holland Lowlands. It
is so easy and delightful to eat the lotus in the fat
meadows, with the monotonous soft clank of the mills in
the ear, or on the dike when you can just hear the wind
lazily lifting its wings over the Zuider Zee. That has its
influence upon the native, and may have it upon the
stranger also. The damp, even the diet (for Smollett is
doubtless right about vegetables ; and coffee is drunk in
excess), but at any rate the repose, of Holland, and her
orderliness and unity which so fascinate the French, for
example, depress vitality a little, and produce an effect of
torpor, or at least of stolidity, of body if not of mind.
You cannot deny the Hollander himself the merit of
industry ; but as the Scots ploughman said (only more
frankly than I can quote him) when inviting the
farmer to be seated, who on Sunday evening desired
him to discuss the morrow's harvesting, " Master, you
can do a power o' fatigue, sitting." What profound
labours could not the summer - house seats of the
Vecht the Mennonite heaven bear witness to the
weight of!

Even this glancing allusion to the Hollander's
sedentary habit, or " wise passiveness," would, I dare say,
pique certain Dutch critics and acquaintances whom I


have in my eye: not because they are touchy upon national
idiosyncrasies to the initiated they deal faithfully with
themselves, and especially with one another but because
they are just a little jealous of all unimportant, charac-
teristic things, like these koepels by the Vecht, which
deflect foreign appreciation from the modern interests
and enterprises in which they would range themselves
with the big world.

It cannot be denied that there is good reason for the
Dutch reproach that the bizarre elements in their country's
appearances have a foolish attraction for many strangers.
It is precisely the complaint of Mr. Yoshio Markino
about some who profess an interest in his country.
" May I call these people curio-lovers," he says : " they
love Japan because anything Japanese is strange in their

The tourists who swarm from the Amsterdam hotels
every morning in summer may well be called curio-
lovers. They love Holland so far as they find things in
it that are strange to their eyes, and they have a way of
looking at it (so some have of writing about it) as if it
were a toy-shop or a comic opera. The breadth of their
interest is that of the Marken beam, the refinement of it
the shape of the patch on Urker breeches.

A witty Dutchman of my acquaintance has a name
for the type. He calls it the " Volendam Englishman,"
which is excellent for a gibe, though here, where we are
taking things very seriously, it requires some qualification.
The Volendammer, so far as I have the pleasure of his
acquaintance, is a wonderfully contained and simple man
he is also a Roman Catholic who keeps to himself
even his disdain for the tripper. I do not say that I have
never been invited within his half-door to purchase the
family tiles, but the manufacture and sale of sham curios
on a grand scale he leaves to his insular, and Protestant,


neighbour of Marken, whose attitude towards the stranger
whom he " does " or fails to " do," is that of his little
boy who shouts after you " Yah ! " Therefore it is
" Marken," not " Volendam," which should give the local
colour to my friend's jest.

I am afraid, however, that the substance of the
Englishman cannot be kept out of it, though there are
others of his family with as good a warrant for sharing
his pillory. When any of our Anglo-Saxon race step upon
the Dam in their first morning in the capital, they are
immediately accosted by a guide with a " Marken, sir ! "
If by a miracle, for there is a whole machinery of touting
that works to carry them there, they escape being lured
to Marken, and hold on their way to the Rijks Museum,
another guide outside its entrance hails them with a
" Costumes, sir ! " There is no incertitude, you see, as to
where our interests lie. Imagine the foreigner visiting
Edinburgh to snap-shot a Newhaven fishwife, or hasten-
ing past the British Museum to gape at the Highlander
at Catesby's, and you have the precise parallel to the
manner of seeing Holland which occasions the jest about
the Volendam Englishman.

I hope I shall not fail to ingeminate respect in the
reader for the resources of modern Holland, but her
greatest possession, I declare, is still her landscape.
There is nothing more characteristic about her home
life, and nothing more potent in influencing it, than the
strange and subtle beauty amid which her homes are set
and home-lives led. It is a question whether the Dutch
themselves always realise this. Most of them doubtless
would believe that, writing as I do now, I must be
referring to the wooded landscape in the East. To
neglect that for the polderland is, as my clever lady
revealed, often regarded as one of the slights which the
foreigner puts upon their country. It shows the taste of


many of them that he is so frequently reproached for
dwelling with curiosity and admiration upon the un-
broken meadows of the lowlands, and being only saved
from the error of conceiving of the whole country as
treeless by the recollection of the Haagsche Bosch,
through which he passed in drives out from the Hague,
or of the Middagten Alice, which with unusual enterprise
he may have discovered near Arnhem.

Much of the timber in Holland is young, grown for
an immediate market, but much of it also is old and
stately. From Utrecht to Arnhem there is a great belt
of trees that almost keep true the saying that a squirrel
can go between them without touching ground. All
along this line, by Zeist, Doom, Amerongen, Reenen,
Wageningen, the southern borders of the Veluwe, ranged
far above the Rhine and the Betuwe beyond, one finds
splendid wood, avenues of beech and fir and lime which
it would be difficult to match elsewhere.

And when we push farther north and east we come
to woods more extensive still. In Utrecht Province,
within sight of the Dom, to go no farther afield, you
can walk for miles along ant-run, sandy tracks, between
fragrant pines, and through close-set young firs, glimmer-
ing grey, veiling as with smoke the green beyond, or lie
knee-deep in the heather in a great waste with no living
thing near save the screaming hei-tuters.

The inhabitants of the neighbouring meadow lands,
so an old writer tells us, used to go to 't Gooi, that odd
little hilly corner of North Holland that faces the Zuider
Zee without any help from dikes, to see its beautiful
variety of landscape. " In the valleys between the
heather-clad hills are fertile fields, some sown, some
mown, some covered with the white buckwheat blossoms
like a sea of milk ; from the highest hills we see in one
glance the Zuider Zee, the low Waterland, the blue


Veluwe, moorland fields, meadows, and woods : " so he
describes this pretty, if not fertile corner, to which tax-
ridden Amsterdammers are often driven to make their

The blue Veluwe ! The sandy Veluwe ! Here we
have the same variety of scenery as in 't Gooi, but there
is more water, the hills are higher, and the woods are
larger. A thin population lives on a poor agriculture
and the cultivation of wood, and where the mossy sheep-
sheds shelter under the trees we see those shepherds and
those sheep to whom the genius of the painter Mauve
was dedicated.

No one who has ever seen them would disparage
these genial, bosky high lands, or wonder at the refresh-
ment they give the inhabitants of the neighbouring
meadows, who as of old seek them out for their variety
of scenery. I have no wish to do so, because for me a
subtler beauty, a still finer refreshment of spirit, resides
elsewhere in the country: here in the wind- and sea-
swept nether islands, for example ; over in the luscious
meadows of South Holland where the roof-ridges of the
boerderyen " island farms " without the " seas of corn "
cut a black pattern into summer afternoon skies
behind their pollarded willow screens; down at Loeve-
stein where Maas and Waal celebrate their royal union ;
in the deeply embowered, uncanny waterland between
them and the Lek ; on the austerer, still more delicately
profiled, Lek itself, with an aspect which Ruysdael fixed
for ever in his Wyk-by-Duurstede landscape ; in the
poetic groves of the glossy, silent-flowing Vecht ; in the
polders round Workum, say, during the intoxicating
gaiety of the hay harvest, meadows which the Frisians
will not allow that all Holland else can rival ; ... in
that particular intense polder landscape outside Hoorn,
which I never saw the equal of for poignant beauty,


meadow and black cattle soaked in passionate gold by
the setting sun one night last June. . . .

It comes to this, always, with those who have dis-
covered the beauty of these lowlands : in the vague
ecstasy of the recollection we attempt to describe some
singular impression of it, only to find ourselves faced
with the impossible, so simple and so common to all
others are its elements, and so impervious to interpreta-
tion the nuances of their admixture in it.

This unity of impression makes it really a mistake
to have emphasised, as I have just been doing, a dis-
tinction between the east and the west, for in the one
scarce less than in the other there is always present the
" lowland quality," as it may be called. Even in its
landscape, Holland is not two countries or ten, but is
one. And the unifying influence cannot be missed.
This quality, found everywhere in it, is due to the
enchained water, that like a slumbering passion creates
an atmosphere which even at its tenderest and most
joyous is also charged with something dread and

This element accounts for the skies, and it is of
the skyscapes rather than of the landscapes of Holland
that one must speak. I wonder will the new science of
aeronautics, by charting those regions of immensity, rob
us of their glory and mystery the human mind being
prone to run after the petty facts of knowledge so
that we may come to speak of failing to see the sky for
the clouds. Everywhere in Holland the field of one's
vision is almost wholly claimed by the high overarching
sky, which almost invariably, too, mirrors itself in fore-
ground water, reduplicating there its vast and buoyant
expanses. And in between these two infinities comes
the darker strip of earth, whose low, melancholy lines
and foreshortened spaces, gravely silhouetted against


them, invite the ; eye to search out their profound and
cunning values.

Now into this landscape, composed of elements of so
extreme a largeness and simplicity, there are introduced
innumerable traces of a human occupation. These are
not the uglinesses of great industrial communities ; and
many of them preserve marvellously the secrets of
proportion known to the older craftsmen those, for
example, that give lift and spring to architecture, which
we have (the whole world of modern men) so inexplicably
lost ; and frequently they preserve also the nervous
impression of human handiwork. But, on the other hand,
they often are only minute and immaterial orderlinesses,
the small contrivances of pinched resources and narrow
margins, and of men driven by the mere need of the
keeping in of life to an ingenuity almost absurd (at least
as men now regard such things). They include all the
little characteristic things of Holland which the foreigner
so often makes trivial by taking them trivially, and that
I plead for the single enjoyment of as they fall into the
picture quite harmoniously, to enrich it.

Taken by themselves, the little bridges, the little
washing places, the wooden shoes, tiles, brasses, painted
posts and pots, the bizarre costumes, even the mills and
farms sometimes, are just those things which in studio
slang would jump out at you and scream. But it is
noticeable that the painters of Holland, when, at least,
they have been true to their own traditions and not
debauched by foreign patrons, never have taken them by
themselves. They have never emphasised local peculiar-
ities in the sense in which our painters often have. It
is terrifying to think what a collection of Volendam
fishermen and orphanage maidens, painfully elaborated,
our Tate Gallery would have been had our painters had
the opportunities which Dutch masters had and have.


Yet it is scarcely possible to find a local costume
depicted with particularity by even a modern Dutch
master. And as with the painters so with the landscape
itself. The blue of smock and A.P. poles is absorbed
in the infinitely grey-green of the whole. All these
violences of local colour are smoored in the general tonal

And this, again, there is no need to explain, is due
to the all-prevailing element. The Dutch artist, Dr. Jan
Veth, whose felicity with the pen could not be surpassed
by that of his brush, speaks of Albert Cuyp finding on
the lower Maas only, near Dordrecht itself, the happy
country where a delicate vapour from the rich marshy
lands lies over the meadows, covering them in the morn-
ing and in the evening with a peculiar golden veil. But
indeed such a delicate vapour, grey when not gold,
covers this whole beautiful country, making its land-
scape a harmonious thing. Le pays clair et uni, as
M. Mirbeau says happily.

Touching the appearances of Holland, in a last word
before leaving them for good, one asks whether they
seem to owe anything to a conscious instinct of the
inhabitants. There are few signs that the Dutch lower
orders have taste or sensibility ; there are many of their
indelicacy. Yet to say that they lack the first, however
copiously they reveal the other, would be much too
sweeping a statement ; and for the aesthetic enjoyment
to be achieved in Holland, they deserve their share of
credit, inasmuch as they have the courage of their

However they have arrived at it, the Dutch rustics
have the secret of open-air effect : pure, flaming colour
(as in their painted houses and carts and barges, or in their
costume how opportune, aesthetically, is the crimson of
the fisherman's slops on Scheveningen sands !) con-


trasted with blacks and whites (as in their dark petti-
coats and breeches, or it may only be their linen caps).
This in the open, and with this we have the further con-
trast of the cool, low-toned Dutch interiors, which only
in a little more intimate sense than the landscape spaces
without compose Dutch homes.

Holland is grey : for a considerable part of the year
very grey, very misty, and very damp. But, on the
other hand, the sunshine there, though not plentiful or
in itself very fierce, gathers up from the omnipresent
waters and reflects a very brilliant vibrant effect ; and
this, I would suggest, has much to do with the colour
sense of the Dutch. The sunshine seems focused to
a sharp glittering point, and the whole scene caught
acutely, but in miniature, as in a convex mirror.

The landscape of Holland is not a scene to lose
yourself in, but rather a scene to bind you intensive
landscape, so to say, borrowing from her agriculture.

Intensive. That is, the quality of Dutch landscape,
as indeed it is of Dutch art and Dutch life. While
others extend, the Hollanders enclose.


ONE of my letters recently was from a correspon-
dent in Holland who, speaking of a certain
order of school teachers, wrote that " they mostly come
from the nette burgerstand " (literally, " clean and decent
folk "). No native would fail to understand from that
their precise social grade.

In Holland, people live in rings, from which they
seldom move out, and so become strongly confirmed in
their habits and ideals. We are to see how exclusive
and singular, in spite of the variety of estate it contains,
is the farming class. Equally singular and exclusive
is the aristocratic. And in the wide middle class,
from whose homes I have sought to construct a
typical Dutch interior, there are certain quite definite

Owing greatly to the individuality of the towns,
Dutch society fails to create a sense of its weight.
Indeed it is so small and its influence is so dissipated
that really it is not weighty at all. In our narrower,
exclusive sense of the word, Society in Holland scarcely
exists. That of the Court, located in the Hague, is
reported less brilliant than dignified, and as often
exhibiting, together with excessive exclusiveness, an
oddish quality of reserve. There is an old aristocracy
which still preserves names familiar to all from a read-


ing of European history, and there is a new, with historic
traditions, mostly patrician, and more local, but not a
whit less proud. It would be wrong to believe that
these circles are without influence : the highest adminis-
trative posts are largely filled from them ; but it is right
to say that none of them, and indeed no single class in
the country, sets a model for all the others. There is
certainly no territorial influence in Holland ; and how
much is thus eliminated from its life we in England are
in the best position to imagine.

There is thus no County. Its elements gravitate
from the ends of Europe to the Hague after Sint Niklaas
for winter gaieties and functions. There is all the year
round there a society that in the eyes of the rest of the
country fills up an empty life rather emptily. Since
Society has a religious cast, Hague dissipations are
sometimes works of charity. One must guard against
generalisations. All county families, for example, are
not to be declared contemptuous or indifferent towards
intellectual and cultivated interests because some resemble
the bourgeoisie (rather than the burghers : a useful dis-
tinction) in a love of ease, or at any rate of pleasure.
Again, I have heard from English residents at the
Hague quaint stories of prida and poverty among the
Dutch aristocracy, but they could be matched by others
about families in provincial towns who are without
any distinction that is not purely local. The foible of
a Dutch ell of genealogy is wrongly attributed to the
ennobled in particular.

It is difficult to find a definition for the social grade
immediately below the gentle. To call it upper-middle
class is to be at once too narrow and too wide. It is
too narrow, for it has aristocratic elements, and others
which, at any rate judged by our standards, would be
esteemed " lower-middle." It is, on the other hand, too


wide, for " upper-middle class," again by our standards,
admits many who would be barred out from it for want
of the requisite culture.

" Middle class," when I come to think of it, is not a
distinction I have ever heard made in Holland itself;
it is not one that appears to be recognised by those
whom it properly defines. They talk of the armelui
(arme-lieden or " poor people ") and the burgerlui
(" artisans ") and the winkeliers (" shopkeepers "), and
the nette burgerstand, and of the parvenus. I have
also noticed the fashion among them to affect a little
disdain of the adelstand (nobility), though not all are
free from the desire to mix with its members, and many
mothers among them regard a Jonkheer as quite a
desirable son-in-law. For their own wide class be-
tween there does not seem to be any term in general
use. Grades in it are suggested among themselves by
such everyday phrases as goedefamilie and deftige familie.
I thought I had penetrated to the exact subtle sense
of deftige, as of something entirely fit; only to find
that it has resigned that distinguished meaning for
nothing less vulgar than our own " carriage people."
Far be it from a foreigner to imagine all that a goede
familie is in Holland, but at least it implies a sound
burgher ancestry, with education and some cultivation
among its possessions. At the same time, though there
still remains a pride in the burgherly estate, the name
betokens often the characteristics of a bourgeoisie: it is
not a compliment to any one, for example, to say that
he has the " burgher manner."

The effect of all this upon the social life of the
country is one, not of severalty, but of singular unity.
This is not difficult to explain. The independence of
the towns enormously complicates the machinery of the
national life, but it brings little diversity into its pattern.


The assertiveness of the local rights appears out of all
relation to the rights themselves, often ludicrously so ;
and to the foreigner it is the same with the assertion of
individual rights : he is for ever in Holland asking
himself, " Wherefor all this to-do ? " Severally, all seem
to be claiming and asserting the same comparatively
unessential thing ; and further, it is the same thing as has
been pressed from time immemorial. But while this is
so in detail, the sum of its effect is the persistence
throughout the whole country ot old habits and customs,
and especially of a characteristic way of looking out
upon life.

It seems to be that for human nature there are only
two alternatives : you must cultivate an imperfect sense
of proportion in the persistent, often rather curmudgeonish
assertion of all rights, or drift to general compromise
through the repeated perception that this particular
right is not, really, after all, one which it is worth while
to assert. The smallness of their country, their history,
the physical conditions in which they live, and the
prodigious obstinacy of their nature these produced,
have driven the Hollanders upon the first alternative;
and the rather unexpected result of their almost molestive
individuality has been the conservation in a remarkable
singleness of the peculiar conditions that can only be
described as Dutch.

And that is why, throughout this book, when seeking
typical conditions, we turn to the various middle classes
which have this at least in common, that they all preserve
this " something Dutch."

If woman in them seems unusually preoccupied
with housewifely duties and Mr. Chailley Bert, most
acute observer of the Dutch Indies, remarks this as her
chief characteristic even when she settles in the East
it is largely because these have not the rivals for her


attention which are so conspicuous among ourselves.
There are many friendly dinner-parties, some dances, a ball
or two given by the military or the students. Occasion-
ally she and her husband go to the theatre, and probably
they are subscribers to a series of concerts, at which

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 5 of 31)