David Storrar Meldrum.

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way is all one level-crossing, and the steam-tram is for



ever nearly pulping somebody against the limes as it
swings round its tracks in village streets, Reglement
Artikel No. ooo is perhaps justified in providing for the
damnable iteration of those automatic clappers. (It
must be a great satisfaction to the Dutch to know so
precisely the clauses of the Code in which are mentioned
the many things they must do and the many more that
they may not.) But why is it that a warning must
always partake of the sinister character of the danger
anticipated ? Pleasant sounds would be equally arresting.
I am sure that the chimes of Leyden striking up on a
country road would surprise me into removing myself
from under an approaching steam-tram as certainly as
that horror-freezing clang.

It is a particular square that I am thinking of, one
that you could identify, but could not find although I
named it, for it is just this moment rechristened, and is
now the one-hundred-and-first " Juliana Plein " of my
acquaintance. Besides, their names apart, these pleins,
like all other things Dutch, seem very much alike, and
require long knowing before they reveal their subtle
individuality. Indeed, Holland is really composed of
infinite variations upon one or two themes, and its
people are so many unmistakable individuals all engaged
in a common business. " A Dutchman," said an old
traveller, " always wishes to know which way the wind
blows : for he is often either miller, sailor, waterman, or
merchant." And that is still another reason, I suggest,
for the singular unity of impression which Holland leaves
with one, and of the satisfaction that, like everything
with unity, it gives.

For ministering to the wakeful or the bright awaken-
ing hour there is no bookshelf at hand ; and books, in
fact, do not greatly contribute to the furnishing of any
Dutch rooms, except perhaps Mynheer's study, where the


choice is not very eclectic. It represents his profession
rather than his taste, look, however ! that is half a row
of French works down there. Mynheer, I may say, is a
great admirer of our social and political institutions, but
has a very poor opinion of the English novel. But in
deploring the absence of the bedbook I am rather
putting myself in the position of the native guest. Is
it not every one's experience, even the slugardliest's, that
he has little inclination to lie abed in a strange country ?
Our minds, as everybody is aware, work for their own
health, apart from us (whoever we may be who give
them body-room), anticipating for themselves the interests
and satisfactions of the coming day. And how delight-
ful to obey their invitation, and look down through the
spring tracery upon this square here spacious itself, yet
overshadowed by the church, which with its pastorie and
school, and Old Men and Women Almshouses, and all
its other increments and offshoots overflowing into a
second side of the plein, suggests that in this land
Geneva matches Rome by sheer ongoingness and weight
of possession.

But it is with some difficulty probably that you look
out and down upon all these. Holland is damp ; and at
the same time the sun reflects fiercely from the canal.
Therefore the jalousies are drawn down outside the
windows, and inside there are blinds over them, and
again curtains over the blinds ; the same remedy
employed against hot and cold at once, as with the
countryman in ^Esop's fable. All of them can be
worked up or down or aside by an apparatus that is
most ingenious, I am sure, and doubtless most simple
for those who understand such things. But for me who
am not mechanical they are difficulties in the way of
achieving the morning view.

Already, however, before I am done with these


cordages, have braced the jalousies, taken a turn of the
curtain and paid out a bit of the running-tackle of the
blind why the devil does that beautiful little copper
block always jam ! before the whole is made shipshape
and Maassluis-fashion, I have got some indication of the
day. The sound of wooden shoes below is a kind of
barometer. It tells you the season, and in a general
way the state of the weather. It tells you, at any rate,
the state of the roads, for if they are muddy it is " klo-
ough ! klo-ough ! klo-ough ! " as the sole sinks, and the
soft clay muffles the " klick" just a touch, of shoe on
shoe at every third step or so, which makes the cheery
summer music of sabots on hard dry roads " kloemp !
kloemp ! kloemp - te - kloemp ! . . . te- kloemp!" that
sounds all over Holland. How that music comes back
in memories of long, hot summer afternoons, when all
else in the world is still, its cadence mounting, then
falling away, in the lane behind the walnut tree in the

I have got to detect a diminution of the interval
between the rainy-day " klo-oughs " when the owner,
hurries up sign of a particularly heavy downpour. I
dare say if one lived long enough here he could recognise
footsteps. Wood can surely index occupation and temper
and temperament as well as leather. Why should not a
peasant in sabots show the cloven hoof like the dude in
pumps who is always doing it in the novels ? Dress has
much to do with the sound of these shoes. If you wear
clogs with narrow garments, like Japanese women you
must take short, shuffling steps ! The big-breeched, wide-
petticoated Dutch have a long, shuffling gait, and both
their body- and their feet-wear suit their occupations.
That is the first rule of costume. Costume lingers
among those who have to " lay their way to their
winnings." Dress changes from day to day with those



who can suit their occupation to the cut of their skirts
or the pattern of their uppers.

The klomp survives in Holland because it is indis-
pensable. Comfortable, accommodating, warm in winter,
cool in summer, it is everybody's wear on the land. It
is nobody's wear in the house. When the boer takes
off his wooden shoes in the notary's hall, he is only
following his own custom at home. There are always
rows of them, plain, carved, soiled, scrubbed, white-
washed, or picked out in black along the gang of the
village houses, and outside the doors of the farms at the
siesta hour. And in larger, smarter houses as well, and
in town as well as in country. Mynheer puts them on
when he is going to cross his plashing meadow, or visit
his greenhouses or his stable. Mevrouw slips her feet
into them when she has her chickens to feed. And her
other chickens, in their run, they wear them, and wear
them out !

Now that they are bitten with the football craze,
street gamins have taken to practise dribbling on stray
corks and rotten apples in wooden shoes a disconcert-
ing exercise for the unsporting passenger. Innumerable
are the uses of the klomp. To slay your rival with. To
drop toll into. To drink out of (I have seen it). And,
setting his on toe against the garden wall, the boy
mounts on the heel and thus adds nine inches to his
stature towards the overhanging cherry boughs.

Some of the maids, I see (now that I can survey the
square), have shod themselves with wood for the morn-
ing's swabbing. I wonder if any of them were roused
out of their sleep by a porder ? He (or she : Justus van
Maurik's, I think, was a " Mietje ") has the calling up of
the domestics, by tugging at a cord attached to a bell in
their chamber and hanging down in front of the house.
But, mark you ! not so far down that the enterprising


boy can get at it ; therefore until nightfall it is looped
high on a nail, where few strangers remark it. In most
places, indeed, it and the porder himself exist looped on
a peg of memory only : do the maids also still observe
there the compact and get up ?

This, as I have said many times before, is a marvel-
lous country for survivals. It gives no occupation for
" the oldest inhabitant." Perhaps you think that the
Watch is long extinct in Europe ? The klepper, let me
tell you, " occurred " (as the observers of strange birds
say) in Utrecht within this decade. And I can send you
to a village in South Holland where you will find him
yet picking his way, if not by the light of his lantern,
at any rate to the sound of his rattle under your
window, and calling up to you the hour o' the night :
"De klok heeft tien tien heeft de klok ! " and all's

Here, at any rate, are the maids, up and out, and
busy on stoep and pavement with pail and mop and
glazen-spuit. If they do not possess the last, which is
just a large brass squirt for sending the water sluicing
about the window panes and the outside window shutters,
they make a cup or a wooden ladle serve instead. See
them at work splashing in all directions ; or indus-
triously bent over their red and green pails, blue or
heliotrope wrappers uniformly tucked up, rather ungainly
ankles as uniformly displayed in loose white cotton
stockings. Much of the work, which in England is done
at the back of the house, where open windows, flying
rugs and mats are a melancholy disfigurement, or that
isn't done at all, is carried on in Holland in the public
street. Or, rather, in public, on the private parts of the
street, for all above high-water mark (the old gutter) is
the possession of the owners of the houses. That is why
you have these breaks : different elevations, alternating


flags and clinkers, which make walking on Dutch pave-
ments uncomfortable.

As for walking on the cobbles Oh ! that wearisome
Smedery-straat in Deventer, the far end of which they
have discovered to be the true centre of the town, and
the proper place therefore for the post office. Yet I
would not have missed its hardships, for was it not there
that I discovered a tip-cat sewn in flannel, the gem of
my collection of Dutch curios !

All the washing and swabbing and brushing and
beating of rugs and carpets out there will soon be over,
for it must cease at a given hour if the police regulations
are obeyed, not to be renewed until late in the night.
Too much is made of it, and of the cleaning and scrub-
bing and polishing indoors, both by the indefatigable
natives themselves and by the quizzical strangers who
observe them at it.

Too much is certainly made of it by the natives.
There are wonderful stories told, all of which I am quite
prepared to believe. I never, it is true, saw a servant
holding up an umbrella while washing the front of her
house. But the other night it was in Arnhem return-
ing to my hotel in a violent thunderstorm, and passing
through the square with my head down against the
deluge as the clock struck ten, I was made to jump
by clap after clap that caused the dust to fly out of the
pavement at my feet. Then I saw that it was only a
muscular vrouw beating her rug on the wall as I passed.
Carpets can be beaten after 10 p.m. Ten p.m. has
struck. Therefore, though the heavens fall, out and beat
your carpets ! That evidently was the logic of this

Hers is a monomania, but so is the curiosity of
certain travellers who make straight for Broek in


" Marken ? " says the guide on the Dam.

" I guess it's either Marken or that lovely little place
where they tie up their cow's tail," says the lady with
the Kodak.

What fearful wildfowl must not some of their visitors
appear to these grave hydro- Hollanders !

Broek is just a very clean village, a slight exaggera-
tion of innumerable clean villages in Holland. They
tell us the inhabitants might with advantage turn their
mops and glazen-spuiten upon themselves. Well, if every
youth in England who talks about tubbing were to tub,
the water-rates would rise.

I am amused with the speculation that the obsession
which produces these clean villages is only a confirma-
tion in long tradition. Servants, I read, quarrelled over
the gutters and the keeping of the klinkers bright, and
housewives were judged by the polish on bell and
knocker, a hundred or two years ago ; and long before
that, twelve months' service in keeping clean the streets
and quays was the price a stranger paid for his citizen-
ship in Utrecht.

The Dutch bedroom is a bed-room, not a boudoir.
In picturesque Holland it is not a bedroom at all, but a
cupboard or press in the wall of a living room, into
which you ascend by a ladder ; and being keen on the
track of survivals we may account in this way for the
highness of even modern beds in modernly appointed
Dutch houses.

In old Dutch pictures we can see in front of the beds
footstools, scabellekens y by means of which better-class
sixteenth-century citizens mounted to beds a la Duchesse
which sometimes stand on raised platforms. These foot-
stools are said to be precursors of the stoof, perhaps the
most distinctive piece of Dutch furniture. Foot-stoves
were more than mignons des dames, as Roemer Visscher


calls them, though in the Jan Steens and Metzus they
play the role of elegant toys in my lady's boudoir. The
newer fashion is round, and of mahogany ; it seems
scarcely necessary to describe it. The inside is lined
with zinc, and within is a test, or stone basin, green or
brown ; in this glowing peat is placed, the fumes from
which issue through holes at the top.

"A vestal turf, enshrined in earthen-ware,
Fumes through the loopholes of a wooden square."

In olden days, I recall from prints, the clergyman's wife
going to church was preceded by her maid, carrying her
stove more consequentially even than her gold-clasped
Bible ; and the congregation also supplied themselves
with these aids to cordial worship, as they do still. The
Dutch (like John Wesley) do not see why the devil
should have all the comforts.

These box-beds in the fisher houses in Marken and
Volendam, and in the peasant cottages at Laren, for
example, are much gazed at by tourists, who might have
seen them nearer home had they been enterprising
enough to visit the Volendams and Markens and Larens
in their own country. But in them there would be
missing the bed-cord, by which you can raise yourself
from the mattress ; and if it is in an Overyssel kitchen
you are sleeping an old lossehuis there is a little glass
window in the partition at the side of your bed through
which you can look into the byres, and see that all is
well with the beasts in their stalls.

Under or at the foot of these box-beds may be dis-
covered the cots of the newest child, or children ; as I
have seen the cradle, or koets, on a ledge at the foot of
a peasant's bed on the Lek. And to this day people
who retire to a well-picked and well-aired mattress in a
lit-jumeau or the more intimate recesses of a carved and


curtained or brocaded four-poster, will still say, " Ik ga
naar myn koets"

Beds a la Duchesse, with their surrounding curtains
and imposing canopy, were for comfort and modesty.
Holland has a trying climate and also a rather prying
population. Bedrooms, as I have said, are never recep-
tion rooms. The ribbed Spanish matting on the floors
of many of them stings the tender sole and braces the
luxurious body to speedy descent to the day's work
awaiting. And Holland with its Spartan rule may not
even delay you by an early cup of tea in them. Their
furnishing keeps strictly in view their use as sleeping-
rooms. Such mirrors as there are hang a little inacces-
sible, which may have something to do with my lady in
Holland wearing the hair always in the same mode, and
not dressing and stuffing it out with each new hat.
Bedrooms are comfortable, but scarce luxurious ; between
comfort and luxury Dutch custom is careful to dis-
tinguish. And very sensibly those who sleep in the
house regularly are given the first choice. The " best
bedroom " is in nightly use. The guest chamber is not
generally selected for situation or furnishing (though the
fairest room in the house will be yielded up willingly
sometimes to the stranger). The Dutch themselves are
not much given to the custom of staying overnight in
one another's houses, partly because of the ease with
which in so small a country their own can be reached at
the end of a day's visit, but still more because of their
love of their own home and its comforts.

All this I am recording of a house at the heart of
Old Holland, which will soon be rare, while smart
houses will be common until they too have become the
oude mode. Here no gong summons to breakfast. Nine
is the breakfast hour, and the clock in the hall, cuckoo-
ing nine times, bids us descend.


F^HE Dutch breakfast is not French, and it is still less
English, and possibly, being something of a com-
promise, it lacks the charm of either.

To tea and coffee and roll are added the egg and
the plate of rook-vleesch, the inevitable cheese fair keb-
buck in its palace of glass and honey-cake which is
called the ontbyt-koek. Dishes which are the particular
glory of the English breakfast may be found where they
lunch at one and dine at seven or half-past ; here I speak
of the simple ontbyt, to be followed by the equally simple
coffee-drinking (the tweede ontbyf) at noon, on which in
plain and modest households (the adjectives are for their
charm, not their social rank) the Dutch start the serious
labours of the day.

Served in the huiskamer, it is a meal for the round
table, particular symbol of the family circle. No servants
wait. The viands are a little uncomfortably overflowing.
Mevrouw cooks the eggs in a net (but this is a departing
fashion) in a tea-kettle at her side, or fishes them out
from the boiling water with the massive eierlepel, which
the irreverent Scots boy likens to a niblick. This adds
to her business over her china, and as milk as well as
tea is drunk, tumblers as well as cups crowd the board.

The breakfasters take time to thaw. It may happen
to folks in any country to rise off their wrong sides.


Here, as everywhere, man displays the taciturnity of the
morning hour, and the selfishness of the first meal of the
day which people work through with little concern for their
neighbours' entertainment. Mynheer reading his Rotter-
dammer or the Telegraaf recites to an unedified house-
hold the news that interests himself alone. There is the
scramble which with us goes on a little more circumspectly
about the dumb-waiter. And should the sun shine and the
veranda doors be drawn, and the morning tempt you
out among the flower-beds between the cups of tea, there
is no breech of the family manners if you yield. So the
family eats its informal ontbyt as, literally, a running meal.
And by and bye the men folks disperse.

They do not, however, so generally as with ourselves,
disperse to reappear no more until the end of the day.
The end of the day, in an ample sense, is the dinner.
Towards that noble issue all its hours labour. With
that achieved, Holland sits back in comfortable and
complaisant ease, drinking tea. The men, toying ab-
stemiously with a second dejeuner, inform themselves of
the menu in store. Like Trice in the play, they love to
have the satisfaction of the day before them. Now in
very many Dutch households still, the dinner hour is
as early as five or half-past, which means an early return
home of the male. But very frequently he has never
left it. This house in the square, the type of that
" something of good old Dutch " which matches most
closely the " something of good old Scots " that Carlyle
praised, is the modest, well-ordered contained town-
house of the professional man ; and in it, we have seen, the
professional man frequently does his day's work. If it
calls him forth to the bureau, the stadhuis, the university,
the gymnasium, the courts, the casern, he returns to drink
coffee ; and here he is back again at five o'clock to dine,
and as often as not to digest his dinner in the salon or


his own study. He is, at any rate, always " about the
house," and every woman is aware how even the know-
ledge that he may be there modifies the day's economy.
She has to reckon with his presence in the ordering of
her hours, which we must now observe her doing.

The one immediately following ontbyt is occupied by
Mevrouw in " washing away the breakfast things." It
is the invariable custom in the Holland here pictured
for the lady of the house to do this with her own hands,
a daughter possibly assisting, as Marie is doing now.
Except for the one beside the kitchener, there is no hot-
water tap in the house. The basin of hot water is as
handy in the huiskamer as in the kitchen. So Mevrouw
and Marie rinse the cups and tumblers, and wash with
the little mop the saucers and plates, at the table on
which they have been used ; replace the bread and koek
in their green enamel boxes, and in time have them all
away in the sideboard or in that cupboard in the wall,
which, since the door is papered like the rest of the room,
is only to be detected by its tell-tale key and glass handle.

This custom, observed as most often customs are
after the reason for them is vanished, and even forgotten,
signalises the Dutch housewife's care for her plenishing,
which was rare as well as ample. I dare say there are
changed ways with the changed days. But no change
in Holland has brought about that state of things, truly
horrible in Dutch eyes, which compels the housewife in
London, by the steady and heart-breaking experiences
of London servants, and dust and laundries and London
wear-and-tear generally, to buy cheap things and let
them rip. I am sure that among the little tragedies of
many a woman's life in English middle-class households,
none is more common than this sacrifice of the treasures
of her first furnishing, and of her ideals of preserving
them in the sanctity of the sentiment associated with


that. In Holland that sentiment survives more or less
throughout her life, with the material objects which
embody it.

The irksomeness of this Dutch hour, if it is ever felt,
is relieved by its cheerful bustle. Truitje the maids
are called by their Christian names announces that the
groente-boer is at the door. If the stranger is curious,
and will peep out of the voorkamer window, he will see
a greengrocer's cart, with a dog in the shafts, and piles
of vegetables, fresh cut from the market-gardens beyond
the town.

Cart of Holland's Plenty ! Long and low and laden,
altar for the daily sacrifice to the Goddess of Abun-
dance ! between whose shafts the panting guardian lolls
a vermilion tongue among his muzzle-thongs ! Fruits
of Pomona's garden, increase of Ter Aar and Beverwyk,
vegetables garnered by careful husbandry in the Beem-
ster and the Streek, and by the torpid waters of the
Vecht, all in their season : Molsla, brusselschlof, asperges^
spinazie, zuring, doperwtjes, peultjes, capucyners, postelein,
peterselie, worteltjes, slaboontjes, snyboontjes, komkommers,
grooteboonen, bloemkool, roodekool, wittekool, savooiekool,
boerekool, andyvie, and schorseneeren, bieten, spruitjes, knol-
rapen, raapstelen, seldery, knollen, augurken, pry ; all juicy
and succulent within these hard rinds of vocables. What
visions are awakened by thy green amplitude ! Of gar-
dens from Limburg to the Langedyk, where the blunt
toes of ten thousand sabots brush the dews of morning
from leguminous verdure.

Meanwhile a sample basket drawn from the piles on
the cart may have been brought in for Mevrouw's in-
spection. There follows a little cloud of criticism, a
flutter of calculation in cents running into dubbeltjes, and
Truitje goes forth to complete a bargain at the door.
That business is done for the day.


Follows the butcher, bringing his book in its green
tin case so that Madame may enter her order and keep
fingers unsoiled. Then come the milk boer, the baker,
the grocer, all, most likely, paid at the door by Truitje
out of the ryksdaalder given out to her overnight ;
which when the morning traffic in the hall is over, leads
to a balancing between her and her mistress of the
meticulous entries on her kitchen slate. The butcher
is paid twice a year. A good many households, how-
ever, especially in the large towns, get most of their
provisions from Eigen Hulp, the greatest of the co-
operative societies in Holland. I have been told that
quite half the families in the Hague are supplied with

Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 8 of 31)