David Storrar Meldrum.

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morning and worked on until seven or eight at night;
for seventeen and sixpence a week ; and lived in a
Rowton House, and saw most of the sights of London
from it ; and with nothing to gain made a determined
effort to learn English, and did it! He went home
after our game, and returned with a little pious story-
book published (by Mr. Murray, I believe) in 1820, on
which it seemed he practised his English ; and he pro-
duced also a shred of a nursery wall-paper, with an
illustrated snatch of song which puzzled him. It was
the old " Where are you going, my pretty maid ? " and
the last line stumped him, and no wonder : " Nobody
axed you, Sir, she said." I should have been sorry to
have had anybody overhear my efforts to explain that
axed, but he was eminently satisfied apparently. He
was at least mightily pleased with himself, and later,
when I strolled round the square before turning in, I
recognised his voice across it as he went off with


some companions, still in discourse I doubt not
friendly: he beat me at billiards also about the

This matter of language in Holland has many
curious and some unique aspects. The acquisition of
foreign tongues, for which I have heard many Dutchmen
disclaim praise, so imperative is it, is of sufficiently long
standing to have become a tradition among them, like
the handling of cotton among the people of Lanca-
shire. The remarkably methodical development of
it in the last decade is easy, being founded on a
gift. German and English, reflecting the rival influences
in Holland's own material development German,
generally speaking, in science, English in commerce
are chiefly pushed ; but French is still the customary
second tongue.

The sensitive, instinctive patriotism of the Dutch
guards their language, even as it preserves their individu-
ality, often by uncomfortably assertive manifestations.
The vehicle of a classic literature closed to the outer
world, it has never received from them more jealous
attention than at this moment. There exists, too,
that living literature which no living country ever fails
to produce. But there, also, observers perceive the
contest of forces. A burgherly tradition, lodged deep
in the people, resists an exotic and world influence.
It does so even in the hearts of the artists themselves,
who have a deeply sympathetic consciousness of the
spirit I call " something Dutch," but in their work seem
to strain it out in an essence too rare for popular

The Beurs in Amsterdam, designed by Mr. Berlage,
with its beautiful reposeful lines, is explained as constructed
round the very marrow of old Dutch architecture ; but the
plain Hollander does not see this in it, and indeed almost


universally scoffs at it as a very ugly as well as inadequate
building. In the same way the new writers, the admiration
of the initiated, are not read by the mass. As in all
countries, perhaps, they keep too conscious an eye upon
their artistry, and too subservient an eye upon the elect.
And all this might no doubt be summed up by saying
that the Dutch, like their neighbours, await the coming
of a genius who will compel, as for example the war
in South Africa compelled, a unity in the national

It has also to be remarked, as a result of a language
in which so few read, that literature in Holland is not
a profitable profession. For reasons not wholly selfish,
though often doctrinaire enough, Holland has not signed
the Berne Convention ; it is known, however, that she
will do so before many months are passed, and the
possession of copyright may enhance literary fortunes.
But even with its aid, no one in Holland could hope
to live by his Dutch pen. Except the editors-in-chief
of the more important newspapers and magazines,
whose salaries probably vary between 300 and 1000,
few journalists can do so. Most others have the support of
their reserves, great or small. A popular success in fiction
is a sale of a first edition of from a thousand to fifteen
hundred copies, and from three to five thousand of a cheap
edition later. Serial publication of novels and stories is
remunerated at varying rates, from two guineas to six or
seven, not as with ourselves per thousand words, but for
every five thousand ; that of general popular literature,
sometimes at six guineas, sometimes at as little as two,
per sheet of sixteen pages.

This example of the restriction of Holland's scope
due to language introduces another, wholly arising
out of its smallness, and sustained by very honourable


The opportunities of amassing wealth are few.
Great fortunes are made in business in petroleum and
tobacco still, for example but rarely ; and the incomes
of most Dutchmen are, as compared with those of
Englishmen, pitifully small. A millionaire among them
is a man possessed of a million guilders a little over
83,000, and there are about five hundred such in
all. There are only one thousand rich with 40,000
guineas. There are not ten thousand, at any rate,
paying the Capital tax (vermogens belasting) on 6000 ;
seventy per cent, of those paying it are taxed on less
than 4000 ; not one among every ten income-tax
payers has a capital of more than a hundred guilders
to be charged upon.

The reader will bear in mind that these are the
revelations of tax-papers ; only let me add that the
tax-gatherer in Holland is said to be a ferret. Keeping
this in view, let us look at the figures of the other
part of the income-tax collection, which are still more
remarkable. This tax (bedryfs belasting) is imposed on
the practice of trades and professions, and involves some
400,000 inhabitants. Over seventy-five per cent, of these
are assessed at an annual income of less than 12 5, over
forty per cent, of less than 65 ; and the percentage, of
course, is higher if we do not include the rentiers
with very small earnings. There are only 60,000
persons in all Holland shown with earned incomes
between 125 and 500; 19,000 with between 250
and 500; no more than 7500 with more than


Inaccurate as these figures necessarily are, they
illustrate the point I wish to make now. Some of the
moderate fortunes used to be, at any rate, and no doubt
still are, held by the farmers, and farmers do not pay
bedryfs belasting ; the profits of their labours are


sidered too uncertain, and the risks to their crops too
great. Set against this relief is the cost of polder
upkeep, which falls upon the land, that nearest the dike
paying a larger proportion than that farther inland.
It is the great merchants, again, who make the great
incomes. Consider, then, the simple, even straitened
lives that the middle classes must lead, many of whom,
on the income of a handsomely paid London mechanic,
seem to surround themselves with a certain grave and
cultivated comfort.

I do not imagine how they do it. In all the neces-
saries of life, Holland is as dear as England. Rents are
not lower. Yet there seems to be no doubt about
figures which suggest a further speculation : 4000
students at the universities, and only 7000 householders
earning over $oo. There could scarcely be figures
more startling or more illuminative.

In some private business undertakings banks and
commercial houses I know of salaries of from 400
to 900 paid to men who have made themselves
indispensable, as far as any man can. The average
is probably 150. A Cabinet Minister gets jiooo;
a lieutenant-general in the army, >$2$; a naval officer
of the equivalent rank, a little more; a judge, ^250;
the Headmaster of a Higher-burgher school, 210 to
275; a Professor at the University, 415; high
officials in the Postal and Telegraph service, a little
over 200. From these plums of the professions we
can judge the ordinary fare.

I think I am justified in saying that there is not to
be imagined a more honourable trait shown among any
people than that exhibited by this body of men in
Holland, arduously equipped, as we shall see, some of
them of splendid talents, some even acknowledged
leaders in the sciences and the professions, who give


their services to their country or, if you like, are
content with a living in it on the earnings of one of
our young buyers in the City.

Let us look next at services of another kind which
Dutchmen give to their country. A small, purely
voluntary force of 10,000 men is enlisted among them
for the colonies, which with native troops brings up the
army of the Indies to 35,000 men. The system of
military service was purged about ten years ago of
r emplacement^ and now one in every three youths who
have entered upon their twentieth year is drawn by lot
for the army ; each commune contributing a maximum
levy according to population. The period of service is
only eight months, and extraordinary care is given to
the health and education of the conscript. This makes
him costly, and invites still another grumble from a
tax -burdened people ; but in reality the service is widely
approved in the country, on account of the physical
training it involves as well as of a sympathy between
members of different classes too rare in Holland
which it engenders.

I cannot write here, of course, of Dutch schemes of
defence, except to say that the large sums spent and
contemplated for fortifications are not to be taken as
indicating a change in the pacific attitude of the nation.
Whatever his Governments may do, the individual
Dutchman is a fierce anti-militarist. The services still
evoke no enthusiasm in him. The profession of Arms
is not popular, and no one can say that it is profitable.
The navy is less favoured than the army : the sea fails
singularly to fill the imaginative horizons of the landward
Dutch, and even of those who live within sight and
sound of it. A Dreadnought on the stocks at Amsterdam
excites little attention ; yet I believe that popular feeling
would be moved by a flotilla of boats capable of re-


peating the Water-beggars' tactics, even as, with a sound
instinct, it turns for security still to flooding for defence.
For Dutch martial sentiment is a reminiscence rather
than a tradition. I cast no doubt or aspersion upon the
patriotic feeling of the Hollander, knowing well how
ardent it is ; but in a situation of danger and dependence
he builds his hope and faith mainly, I believe, upon the
self-interest of his neighbours, and when one opens with
him, as the Briton invariably does, upon Holland's
imminent danger from the swelling desires of Germany,
he slyly answers that as a matter of fact the lust of
which he is fearful blows up rather from across the
North Sea.

Other and less lovely phases of Dutch life revolve
into view now. It is impossible to avoid saying, since
so many Hollanders themselves declare it, that their
country is considerably busybodying and not a little
censorious. But this it only to repeat that it is a small

The habit of curiosity is engrained in all human
nature that is worth considering : next to a fight, gossip
is what it loves. Everywhere it makes the most of its
opportunities, and it is evident how especially plentiful
these are among a close-set, concentrated, material,
materials-loving, and, in the backwaters, still an etiquette-
ridden people. In the country the stranger often finds
it embarrassing. In Amsterdam curious, thrang,
leisurely Amsterdam it is only amusing, for the
stranger. It is often remarked that one can attract the
attention of a crowd at a moment's notice in London,
but in London I witnessed a little incident, really I
think the most appalling I ever saw, so revealing was it
of the callous self-centredness we may all fall or have
fallen into. It was in Queen Victoria Street, just
opposite Mudies'. A man slipped and fell on the


pavement in a heap in front of an advancing pedestrian.
And he, lifting a foot a little higher, stepped over the
impediment he saw but never looked down at, and
stalked on without a break in his march or his self-
absorption. Well, the discomforts of the small place are
cheaply bought in the avoidance of the inhuman strain
that can produce a scene like that !

The upper, or rather the educated classes that is
the distinction in Holland mitigate these discomforts, as
I have already indicated, by a practised reserve. There
is, however, another form of busybodying from which
they have not found relief. All Holland is over-
regulated. The Law strikes one as just, and its
administration as exceedingly humane, but the police-
regulations seem rather a pest, because intolerably
enforced. The restrictions upon the coming and going
of life are many. The passion for laying down and
posting up what you may do and what you may not do,
and generally for ordering life for all men, is well recog-
nised as a nuisance by many Hollanders, who can only
console themselves with the reflection that it is nothing
to what is going on in Germany.

The Dutch official can sometimes, however, put the
telescope to his blind eye, as this true story illustrates.
A friend of mine, wishing to take his boy with him into
the Ryks Museum, was stopped at the door by a demand
for the boy's age.

" Eleven."

" Can't take in children under twelve."

" But there," said my friend, pointing to a group that
had just passed in : " there's a baby in arms ! "

" True," was the answer, " but they are saying it's

I do not find the Dutch manifesting any awe of their
officials. They are at least always criticising them.


The police have notoriously failed to establish authority.
An altered attitude towards them can be remarked in
Rotterdam recently, helped possibly by the introduction
of a very smart-looking mounted force. But in
Amsterdam the policeman is still the butt of the
populace. Possibly the unfortunate man's pay does
not enable him, in spite of sword and helmet, to present
an appearance for respect. He slouches. His hands
are generally in his greatcoat pockets. His toes turn in.
He frequently smokes his cigar on duty. He always
seems to me to look a little shivery. And when you
do see him active as a rule in a back street or up a
lane it often appears to be, as the Amsterdammers
declare, on trifling inquisitorial duty. But the Amster-
dammers are a difficult people. And there is, of course,
another side to the case. Their policeman is hanged
already, having been given a bad name.

Critical the Dutch certainly are, and sometimes, it
may be, censorious. They have not always learned to
be "soople" in things immaterial. In great cities and
among large populations, men are taught, or teach
themselves, to be accommodating ; but in Holland they
are permitted to practise a surly independence. Village
humours, at any rate, often issue from this characteristic.
A burgomaster in a commune in the country is called
upon continually to intervene in disputes over water-
butts, and the like. If not water-butts, then things as
trivial occasion quarrels in our own and all countrysides ;
but in Holland the feud is followed with a peculiarly
native tenacity. The champions will not let each other
alone, but tease and taunt, sometimes even issuing covert
offensive menaces in the advertising columns of the local

The church organist (who is likewise the schoolmaster)
in a village which I know, possesses a pew which is always


empty, for his household never by any chance wait upon
religious observances. One Sunday a lady who arrived
late slipped into this pew instead of pressing forward to
her own. The organist glared at her all through the
sermon from his loft, instead of, as usual, reading his
newspaper (sometimes he smokes his cigar the while) ;
and rushing home without playing the voluntary,
addressed a letter to the offender, which he got delivered
before her return, reminding her that that particular pew
was his property, not any late-comer's.

I ought to say that the village which still enjoys the
services of this genial creature lies over the Yssel, towards
the German frontier, a region pointed at by the true
Hollander for its rude population. And I am assured
by a friend who has lived long in Germany that the
characteristics this and similar tales indicate are exactly
paralleled in village life there. But it is not over the
Yssel only that there occur rudeness and licence in the
assertion of personal rights. Authenticated cases of
insubordination in public departments are notorious in
Holland, in which the culprits have found widespread
support; whereas among ourselves, impertinences and
defiance like theirs would have put them out of court
instanter, and, whatever their rights, they would have
been packed about their business, with the approval of the
whole community. This rude and unruly spirit, which
is growing, is indeed singularly in contrast with the
graciousness of the " civilised " classes, and I mention it
here because it seems to show that the excessive regula-
tion of life prevents the growth of a controlling public
opinion such as comes by making the masses responsible
for themselves.

The Dutch do not require each other very much or
so it seems. They are, in spite of what I have said
about their constant contact with one another, a little


remote in their own homes, a little remote in their own
skins. With all their tolerance, they are not always very
good at tolerating. At least they are not very good at
sympathising. Perhaps one ought to qualify this still
further, and say that the circle of their sympathies is not
particularly wide, even as the circle of their intimates is
not. Many of them have told me that they found the
fewness of friends, still more the large number of
acquaintances, the surprising thing in English (no doubt
they meant London) life. At home they cultivate the
first, and rather discourage the other.

There are indeed in Holland few occasions (though
they become more frequent) for acquaintanceships in
amusement only. Such, Charlotte Bronte opined, not
too profoundly, do not lead to liking as do those in work,
and perhaps in suffering. But they do lead to sym-
pathies and understanding among men who have no
other opportunities of working or suffering together
than are afforded by a lost round at golf, with a ball
a corner thrown in. And they widen the knowledge
of human nature, which in Holland is not always

But enough, and more than enough, of elements
which are, after all, merely trifling disagreeable ex-
pressions of a strong and noble personality. The
Dutch are not adepts in "the science of honeyed
suasion." Their bluntness, and an uncompromising,
sometimes rude, stand upon immaterial rights, are
native to a race whose assertion of their character and
ideals, in the face of the odds of circumstance, has
the virtue of high courage.

And even more intimate to them is the quality that
accounts for the excessive regulation they impose upon
their life I mean the craftsman spirit, which delights in
doing a thing thoroughly, for its own sake, even if it be


only " making a plan." Ironical as it may appear, after
the evidences of a certain unruliness which we have just
been seeing, the instinct for orderliness is shown in every
aspect of existence in Holland. It is the Dutchman's
second nature, or rather it is his first. It is bred in
his bone. For since the day there was a Holland, the
Hollander has been centering and plumbing, and
squaring and confining, and finding levels, for his life.
I have often thought, as I watched him busy in
the same preoccupations to-day, setting his whole
existence four-square, that were he to find the " folly
of his delight," would not his punishment be a
" melancholy metamorphosis " back to his original wastes
and wanderings ?

Dutch existence is the very honeycomb of order. I
have noted its precision in accounts which several
travellers observed three hundred years ago. It is the
same with records and statistics. The tabulating passion
of a Hague official has often made the labours of this
book a little exhausting, and tempted me ungraciously
to follow Pallet in blessing myself from the courtesy of a
Dutchman, and praying to heaven for deliverance. Not
in the public bureaus only, but in those of private enter-
prise as well, this reduction of enlightenment to the terms
of figures is going on. When I was in the Westland the
other day, and visited the experimental garden at
Naaldwijk, I found electro-culture on trial, it is exactly
what one would expect to find on trial in Holland, and
punctually received a report, with the results (and a
thousand others) elaborately set forth. And earlier in
the same day, on a great grape-growing garden belonging
to a private company, I had been told of similar experi-
ments, on a still greater scale; and I was shown (in flimsy
duplicate, which by some quirk of association give them
a greater impressiveness in my eyes) the records of every


greenhouse, almost of every vine-branch, tabulated with
a fascinating precision.

Whether for business more was necessary than a
rule-of-thumb achievement of the information that an
electric current flowing round vines does not add to the
market value of their grape produce' the English way
is open to question. Clearly what differentiates the
two methods, ours and the Westland's, is its more general
interest in possible scientific aids ; but I think that there
must also be added a Dutch instinct for the formal and
precise, which is often most unpractical. In everyday
living this race of craftsmen are (so to say) in love with
their medium.

Instinct and training exalt the value of exact infor-
mation in the Dutchman's eyes, and they also incline
him to seek it wheresoever it is to be found embodied in
orderly devices. Thus each statistician issues his patient
tabulations, secure in an audience appreciating and
delighting in his expertness. A map is not only
valuable because of its configurations ; it creates an
interest in configurations which can be so lucidly
mapped. Reports on drainage-levels and on peach-
culture indiscriminately attach to drains and to peaches
the attention of a man who knows nothing about
either, but can himself tell how badly a report can be, how
well this report has been, prepared. Thus is, as it were,
completed a circle of craftsmanship, in a country where
order, the inspiration of the crafts, is also the very breath
of life.

In this somewhat fanciful way I seek to explain the
Dutchman's faith in the expert, and his patience under
official regulation. It suggests also how the Dutch-
man's local pride often comes to be fed by the interest
which he takes in his country's activities. None of
them, we have seen, lie very far from his own door. He


can inspect them for himself. The expert kept on hand,
more likely the body of experts, is ready to welcome him
with information, and to speed his return with more,
much more. And in the expressed essences of all this
garnered knowledge, dropped into the conversation of the
family circle, the country is brought into the house.


IT seems to me, if I begin to grope among my
memories of the round of the clock here in Holland,
that when I fall asleep in that country it is always to
the " konkd-k ! " of a bucket on brick and the "gulp-t ! "
of a pump in the village square.

For the eternal fetching and carrying of water, that
ceases not with the midnight hour, there is an explana-
tion, if not a good reason ; and so there may be for
the special Dutch brand of warning-metal on train and
steam-tram to which one's ears seem to open with one's
eyes to daybreak here.

I must not say " always," indeed, for does there not
linger in my ear still the sound of O- VER\ that beautiful
ferry-call of Holland, cheerful in spite of its minor key
which used to come floating in across the classic waters
of the Vecht, carrying in its note something of the
mother-of-pearl quality of the morning landscape ?

Water, I have already said, is not laid on in all
houses in the towns, and never (or seldom) is in houses
in the country. That is why I shall have so small so
very small a portion of hot water handed in by Rika
a few minutes hence, and why the pump here in the
square creaks and groans night and day.

So, too, in a flat land like this, where the permanent

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 7 of 31)