Netherlands - Amsterdam
( Originally Published 1922 )
The Venice of the North—The beauty of gravity—No place for George Dyer—The Keizersgracht—Kalverstraat and Warmoes Straat—The Ghetto— Pile-driving—Erasmus's sarcasm—The new Bourse—Learning the city—Tramway perplexities—The unnecessary guide—The Royal Palace—The New Church—Stained glass—The Old Church—The five carpets—Wedding customs—Dutch wives to-day and in the past—The Begijnenhof—The new religion and the old—The Burgerweesmeisjes—The Eight Orange Blossoms—Dutch music halls—A Dutch Hamlet—The fish market—Rembrandt's grave—A nation of shopkeepers—Max Havelaar—Mr. Drystubble's device—Lothario and Betsy—The English in Holland and the Dutch in England—Athleticism—A people on skates—The chaperon's perplexity—Love on the level.
AMSTERDAM is notable for two possessions above others : its old canals and its old pictures. Truly has it been called the Venice of the North but very different is its sombre quietude from the sunny Italian city among the waters. There is a beauty of gaiety and a beauty of gravity ; and Amsterdam in its older parts— on the Keizersgracht and the Heerengracht—has the beauty of gravity. In Venice the canal is of course also the street : gondolas and barcas are continually gliding hither and thither; but in the Keizersgracht and the Heerengracht the water is little used. One day, however, I watched a eostermonger steering a boatload of flowers under a bridge, and no words of mine can describe the loveliness of their reflection. I remember the incident particularly because flowers are not much carried in Holland, and it is very pleasant to have this impression of them—this note of happy gaiety in so dark a setting.
An unprotected roadway runs on either side of the water, which makes the houses beside these canals no place for Charles Lamb's friend, George Dyer, to visit in. Accidents are not numerous, but a company exists in Amster-dam whose business it is to rescue such odd dippers as horses and carriages by means of elaborate machinery devised for the purpose. Only travellers born under a luckier star than I are privileged to witness such sport.
In the main Amsterdam is a city of trade, of hurrying business men, of ceaseless clanging tramcars and crowded streets ; but on the Keizersgracht and the Heerengracht you are always certain to find the old essential Dutch gravity and peace. No tide moves the sullen waters of these canals, which are lined with trees that in spring form before the narrow, dark, discreet houses the most delicate green tracery imaginable ; and in summer screen them altogether. These houses are for the most part black and brown, with white window frames, and they rise to a great height, culminating in that curious stepped gable (with a crane and pulley in it) which is, to many eyes, the symbol of the city. I know no houses that so keep their secrets. In every one, I doubt not, is furniture worthy of the exterior : old paintings of Dutch gentlemen and gentlewomen, a landscape or two, a girl with a lute and a few tavern scenes ; old silver windmills ; and plate upon plate of serene blue Delft. (You may see what I mean in the Suasso rooms at the Stadelijks Museum.) I have walked and idled in the Keizeçrsgracht at all times of the day, but have never seen any real signs of life. Mats have been banged on its doorsteps by clean Dutch maidservants armed with wicker beaters ; milk has been brought in huge cans of brass and copper shining like the sun ; but of its life proper the gracht has given no sign. Its true life is househidden, behind those spotless and very beautiful lace curtains, and there it remains.
One of the wittiest of the old writers on Holland (of whom I said something in the second chapter), Owen Felltham the moralist, describes in his Brief Character of the Low Countries an Amsterdam house of the middle of the seventeenth century. Thus :-
When you are entred the House, the first thing you encounter is a Looking-glass: No question but a true Emblem of politick Hospitality: for though it reflect your self in your own figure, 'tis yet no longer than while you are there before it; when you are gon once, it flatters the next comer, without the least remembrance that you e'ere were there.
The next are the Vessels of the House, marshalled about the room like Watchmen : All as neat as if you were in a Citizen's Wives Cabinet ; for unless it be themselves, they let none of God's Creatures lose anything of their native Beauty.
Their Houses, especially in their Cities, are the best Eye-beauties of their Countrey ; for cost and fight they far exceed our English, but they want their Magnificence. Their Lining is yet more rich than their out side, not in Hangings, but Pictures, which even the poorest are there furnisht with : Not a Cobler but has his Toys for Ornament. Were the Knacks of their Houses set together, there would not be such another Bartholomew-Fair in Europe... .
Their Beds are no other than Land-cabins, high enough to need a Ladder or Stairs. Once up, you are walled in with Wainscot, and that is good discretion to avoid the trouble of making your Will every Night, for once falling out else would certainly break your neck perfectly. But if you die in it, this comfort you shall leave your Friends, that you dy'd in clean Linnen.
Whatsoever their Estates be, their Houses must he fair. Therefore from Amsterdam they have banisht Sea-coal, lest it soil their Buildings, of which the statelier sort are sometimes sententious, and in the Front carry some-conceit of the Owner. As to give you a Taste in these.
Every Door seems to be studded with Diamonds. The Nails and Hinges hold a constant Brightness, as if Rust there were not a quality incident to Iron. Their Houses they keep cleaner than their Bodies ; their Bodies than their Souls. Go to one, you shall find the Andirons clos'd up in Network. At a second, the Warming-pan muffled in Italian Cut-work. At a third, the Sconce clad in Cambrick... .
The absence of any lively passenger traffic on the canals has this compensation, that the surface is left untroubled the more minutely to mirror the houses and trees, and, at night, the tramcars on the bridges. The lights of these cars form the most vivid reflections that I can recollect. But the quiet reproduction of the stately black façades is the more beautiful thing. An added dignity and repose are noticeable. I said just now that one desired to learn the secret of the calm life of these ancient grachts. But the secret of the actual houses of fact is as nothing compared with the secret of those other houses, more sombre, more mysterious, more reserved, that one sees in the water. To penetrate their impressive doors were an achievement, a distinction, indeed ! With such a purpose suicide would lose half its terrors.
For the greatest contrast to these black canals, you must seek the Kalverstraat and Warmoes Straat. Kalverstraat, running south from the Dam, is by day filled with shoppers and by night with gossipers. No street in the world can be more consistently busy. Damrak is of course always a scene of life, but Damrak is a thoroughfare—its population moving continually either to or from the station. But those who use the Kalverstraat may be said almost to live in it. To be there is an end in itself. Warmoes Straat, parallel with Damrak on the other side of the Bourse, behind the Bible Hotel, is famous for its gigantic restaurant —the hugest in Europe, I believe—the Krasnapolsky, a palace of bewildering mirrors and myriad billiard tables and writing desks. This street when I first knew Amsterdam was of a hectic character, as was its southern continuation, the Nes, where, at night, some very lurid life might be studied. But all that has now passed and the Nes has been rebuilt, sober offices taking the place of the old haunts. Possibly the fact that the top of Warmoes Straat is close to the harbour accounted for much of its liveliness. Sailors will be sailors.
For the principal cafés, as distinguished from restaurants, 'ou must seek the Rembrandt's Plein, in the midst of which stands the master's statue. The pavement of this plein on Sunday evening in summer is almost impassable for the tables and chairs that spread over it and the crowds overflowing from Kalverstraat through Regbreestraat in one direction and Amstel Straat and Utrecht Straat in another. All four of these streets are given to loafers, or rather drifters.
But there is still to be mentioned a district of Amster-dam which from the evening of Friday until the evening of Saturday is more populous even than these streets. This is the Jews' quarter, which has, I should imagine, more parents and children to the square foot than any residential region in Europe. I struggled through it at sundown one fine Saturday—to say I walked through it would be too misleading—and the impression I gathered of seething vivacity is still with me. These people surely will inherit the earth.
Spinoza was a child of this Ghetto : his birthplace at 41 Waterloo Plein is still shown; and Rembrandt lived at No. 4 Jodenbree Straat for sixteen years.
A large number of the Amsterdam Jews are diamond cutters and polishers. You may see in certain cafés dealers in these stones turning over priceless little heaps of them with the long little-finger nail which they preserve as a scoop.
Amsterdam may be a city builded on the sand; but none the less will it endure. Indeed the sand saves it; for it is in the sand that the wooden piles on which every house rests find their footing, squelching through the black mud to this comparative solidity. Some of the piles are as long as 52 ft., and, watching them being driven in, it is impossible to believe that stability can be attained, every impact of the monkey accounting for so very many inches. When one watches pile-driving in England it is difficult to see the effect of each blow ; but during the five or fewer minutes that I spent one day on Damrak observing the preparation for the foundations of a new house, the pile must have gone in nearly a foot each time, and it was very near the end of its journey too. In course of years the black brackish mud petrifies not only the piles but the wooden girders that are laid upon them. Pile-driving on an extensive scale can be a very picturesque sight.
Statistics are always impressive. I have seen somewhere the number of piles which support the new Bourse and the Central Station ; but I cannot now find them. The Royal Palace stands on 13,659. Erasmus of Rotterdam made merry quite in the manner of an English humorist over Amsterdam's wooden foundations. He twitted the inhabitants with living on the tops of trees, like rooks. But as I lay awake from daybreak to a civilised hour for two mornings in the Hotel Weimar at Rotterdam—pre. vented from sleeping by the pile-driving for the hotel extension—I thought of the apologue of the pot and the kettle.
I referred just now to the new Bourse. When I was first in Amsterdam, in 1897, the water beside Damrak extended much farther towards the Dam than it does now. Where now is the Bourse was then shipping. But the Bourse looks stable enough today. As to its architectural charms, opinions differ. My own feeling is that it is not a style that wears well. For a permanent public building something more classic is probably desirable ; and at Amsterdam, that city of sombre colouring, I would have had darker hues than the red and yellow that have been employed.
It is stated that the kindly custom of allowing the children of Amsterdam the run of the Bourse as a playground for a week every year is some compensation for the suppression of the Kermis, but another story makes the sanction a perpetual reward for an heroic deed against the Spaniards performed by a child in 1M.
My advice to any one visiting Amsterdam is first to study a map of the city—Baedeker gives a very useful one —and thus to begin with a general idea of the lie of the land and the water. With this knowledge, and the assistance of the trams, it should not appear a very bewildering place. That the Dam is its heart is a fact which will help very sensibly. All roads in Amsterdam lead to the Dam, and all lead from it. The Dam gives the city its name—Amstel Dam, the Dam which stops the river Amstel on its course to the Zuyder Zee. It also gives English and American visitors opportunities for facetiousness which I tingle to recall. Nearly every tram sooner or later reaches the Dam : that is another simplifying piece of information. The course of each tram may not be very easily acquired, but with a common destination like this you cannot be carried very far wrong.
One soon learns that the trams stop only at fixed points, and waits accordingly. The next lesson, which is not quite so simple, is that some of these points belong exclusively to trams going one way and some exclusively to trams going the other. If there is one thing calculated to reduce a perplexed foreigner in Amsterdam to rage and despair, it is, after a tiring day among pictures, to hail a half empty tram at a fixed point, with Tram-halte written on it, and be treated to a pitying smile from the driver as it rushes by. Upon such mortifications is education based ; for one then looks again more narrowly at the sign and sees that underneath it is a little arrow pointing in the opposite direction to which one wished to go. One then walks on to the next point, at which the arrow will be pointing home-wards, and waits there. Sometimes—O happy moment—a double arrow is found, facing both ways.
It is on the Dam that guides will come and pester you. The guide carries an umbrella and offers to show Amster-dam in such a way as to save you much money. He is quite useless, and the quickest means of getting free is to say that you have come to the city for no other purpose than to pay extravagantly for everything. So stupendous an idea checks even his importunity for a moment, and while he still reels you can escape. The guides outside the Ryks Museum who offer to point out the beauties of the pictures are less persistent. It would seem as if they were aware of the unsoundness of their case. There is no need to reply to these at all.
On the Dam also is the Royal Palace, which once was the stadhuis, but in 1808 (when Amsterdam was the third city of the French Empire) was offered to Louis Napoleon for a residence. Queen Wilhelmina occasionally stays there, but The Hague holds her true home. The apartments are florid and not very interesting ; but if the ascent of the tower is permitted one should certainly make it. It is interesting to have Amsterdam at one's feet. Only thus can its peculiar position and shape be understood : its old part an almost perfect semicircle, with canal arcs within arcs, and its northern shore washed by the Y.
Also on the Dam is the New Church, which is to be seen more for the tomb of De Ruyter than for any architectural graces. The old sea dog, whose dark and determined features confront one in Bol's canvases again and again in Holland, reposes in full dress on a cannon amid symbols of his victories. Close by, in the Royal Palace, are some of the flags which he wrested from the English. Other admirals also lie there, the Dutch naval commander never having lacked honour in his own country.
The New Church, where the monarchs of Holland are crowned, has a very large new stained-glass window representing the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina—one of the most satisfying new windows that I know, but quite lacking in any religious suggestion. That poet who considered a church the best retreat, because it is good to contemplate God through stained glass, would have fared badly in Holland.
The New Church has a very pretty spire springing away from an open colonnade. Most of Holland's spires are worthy, even if one does not too much care for the bulb on them, which imparts a curious Oriental impression. The Wester Kerk in Amsterdam, that huge temple of tiny red bricks, has a glorious spire, or minaret, culminating in a brightly coloured crown. From a distance Amsterdam is a city of towers.
The New Church is new only by comparison with the Old. It was built in 1410, rebuilt in 145e and 1645. Amsterdam's Old Church, on the other side of Warmoes Straat, dates from 1300. The visitor to the New Church is handed a brief historical leaflet in exchange for his twenty-five cents, and is left to his own devices ; but the Old Church used to have a koster who took a pride in showing his lions, and deprecated gifts of money. An elderly, clean-shaved man, with a humorous mouth, he might have been taken for Holland's leading comedian. Instead, he displayed ecclesiastical treasures.
It is in the Old Church that most of the weddings of Amsterdam are celebrated. Thursday is the day, for then the fees are practically nothing ; to be married on other days is an expense. The koster deplored the modern materialism which leads so many young men to be satisfied with the civil function ; but the little enclosure, like a small arena, in which the church blesses unions, had to me a hardly less business-like appearance than a registry office. The comedian overflowed with details. For the covering of the floor, he explained, there are five distinct carpets, ranging in price from five guelders to twenty-five for the hire, according to the means or ostentation of the party. Thursdays are no holiday for the church officials, one couple being hardly united before the vehicle of the next is at the door.
I saw on one Thursday three bridal parties in as many minutes. The happy bride sat on the back seat of the brougham, immediately before her being two mirrors in the shape of a heart supporting a bouquet of white flowers. Contemplating this simple imagery she rattles to the ecclesiastical arena and the sanctities of the five, ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five guelder carpet. After, a banquet and jokes.
This is the second banquet, for when the precise preliminaries of a Dutch engagement are settled a betrothal feast is held. Friends are bidden to the wedding by the receipt of a box of sweets and a bottle of wine known as " Bride's tears ", For the wedding day itself there is a particular brand of wine which contains little grains of gold. The Dutch also have special cake and wine for the celebration of births.
The position of the Dutch wife is now very much that of the wife in England ; but in Holland's great days she ruled. Something of her quality is to be seen in the stories of Barneveldt's widow and Grotius's wife, and the heroism and address of the widow Kenau Hasselaer during the siege of Haarlem. Davies has an interesting page or two on this subject : "To be master of his own house is an idea which seems never to have occurred to the mind of a genuine Dutchman ; nor did he often commence any undertaking, whether public or private, without first consulting the partner of his cares ; and it is even said, that some of the statesmen most distinguished for their influence in the affairs of their own country and Europe in general, were accustomed to receive instructions at home to which they ventured not to go counter. But the dominion of these lordly dames, all despotic though it were, was ever exerted for the benefit of those who obeyed. It was the earnest and undaunted spirit of their women, which encouraged the Dutch to dare, and their calm fortitude to endure, the toils, privations, and sufferings of the first years of the war of independence against Spain ; it was their activity and thrift in the management of their private incomes, that supplied them with the means of defraying an amount of national expenditure wholly unexampled in history ; and to their influence is to be ascribed above all, the decorum of manners, and the purity of morals, for which the society of Holland has at all times been remarkable. But though they preserved their virtue and modesty uncontaminated amid the general corruption, they were no longer able to maintain their sway. The habit which the Dutch youth had acquired, among other foreign customs, of seeking amusement abroad, rendered them less dependent for happiness on the comforts of a married life; while, accustomed to the more dazzling allurements of the women of France and Italy, they were apt to overlook or despise the quiet and unobtrusive beauties of those of their own country. Whether they did not better consult their own dignity in emancipating themselves from this subjection may be a question ; but the fact, that the decline of the re-public and of the female sex went hand in hand, is indubitable."
To return to Amsterdam's sights, the church which I remember with most pleasure is the English Reformed Church, which many visitors never succeed in finding at all, but to which I was taken by a Dutch lady who knew my tastes. You seek the Spui, where the electric trams start for Haarlem, and enter a very small doorway on the north side. It seems to lead to a private house, but instead you find yourself in a very beautiful little enclosure of old and quaint buildings, exquisitely kept, each with a screen of pollarded chestnuts before it ; in the midst of which is a toy white church with a gay little spire that might have wandered out of a fairy tale. The enclosure is called The Begijnenhof, or Court of the Begijnen, a little sisterhood named after St. Begga, daughter of Pipinus, Duke of Brabant,—a saint who lived at the end of the seventh century and whose day in the Roman Catholic Calendar is December 17.
The church was originally the church of these nuns, but when the old religion was overthrown in Amsterdam, in 1578, it was taken from them, although they were allowed —as happily they still are—to retain possession of the court around it.
In 1607 the church passed into the possession of a settlement of Scotch weavers who had been invited to Amsterdam by the merchants, and who had made it a condition of acceptance that they should have a conventicle of their own. It is now a resort of English church-going visitors on Sunday.
Most of Holland's churches—as of England's—once be-longed to Rome, and it is impossible to forget their ancient ownership ; but I remember no other case where the new religion is practised, as in the Begijnenhof, in the heart of the enemy's camp. In the very midst of the homes of the quiet sweet Begijnen sisters are the voices of the usurp- - ing Reformers heard in prayer and praise.
One little concession, however, was made by the appropriators of the chapel. Until as recently as 1865 a special part of the building the original Roman consecration of which had not been nullified was retained by the sisterhood in which to bury their dead. The ceremony was very impressive. Twelve of the nuns carried their dead companion three times round the court before entering the church. But all that is over, and now they must seek burial elsewhere, without their borders.
In Amsterdam, however, Rome is still strong and the services are very impressive. The difference between the demeanour of the congregations here, and, say in Italy, is marked, for in Amsterdam, no matter in which of the five great churches, there is perfect stillness, every one seated and none of the restless perambulation that can be so disturbing to Protestant visitors. Rather is it in the established conventicles that one finds a lack of reverence, and I shall never forget the alacrity with which, on Christmas morning, I922, in the Nieuwe Kerk, the men clapped their hats on their heads as the minister finished the benediction and hurried forth to dinner. One of the pleasantest Catholic churches I was ever in is that of St. Francis Xavier on the Singel, so cool and spacious and bland, with its stately columns painted the whitest of white, with a scarlet line all round the gallery.
One may leave the Begijnenhof by the other passage into Kalverstraat, and walking up that busy street towards the Dam, turn down the St. Lucien Steeg, on the left, to another of Amsterdam's homes of ancient peace-the municipal orphanage, which was once the Convent of St. Lucien. The Dutch are exceedingly kind to their poor, and the orphanages and almshouses (Oudemannen and Oudevrouwen houses as they are called) are very numerous. The Municipal Orphanage of Amsterdam is among the most interesting ; and it is to this refuge that the girls and boys belong whom one sees so often in the streets of the city in curious parti-coloured costume—red and black vertically divided. The Amsterdamsche burgerweesmeisjes, as the girls are called, make in procession a very pretty and impressive sight —with their white tippets and caps above their dresses of black and red.
This reminds me that one of the most agreeable performances that I saw in any of the Dutch music halls (which are not good, and which are rendered very tedious to English people by reason of, the interminable interval called the Pause in the middle of the evening), was a series of folk songs and dances by eight girls known as the Orange Blossoms, dressed in different traditional costumes of the north and south—Friesland, Marken, and Zeeland. They were quite charming. They sang and danced very prettily, as housewives, as fisher girls, but particularly as Amsterdamsche burgerweesmeisjes.
In the music halls of Amsterdam and Rotterdam I have listened to comic singers inexorably endowed with too many songs apiece ; but I saw also some of those amazing feats of acrobatic skill and exhibitions of clean strength which alone should cause people to encourage these places of entertainment, where the standard of excellence in such displays is now so high. I did not go to the theatre in Holland. My Dutch was too elementary for that. My predecessor Ireland, however, did so, and saw an amusing piece of literalness introduced into Hamlet. In the impassioned scene, he tells us, between the prince and his mother, " when the hero starts at the imagined appearance of his father, his wig, by means of a concealed , spring, jumped from ` the seat of his distracted brain,' and left poor Hamlet as bare as a Dutch willow in winter."
The Oude Kerk has very beautiful bells, but except at night Amsterdam is no place in which to hear such sweet sounds. The little towns for bells. If, however, one's hotel is near the Old Mint tower in Sophia Plein, as mine was on my last visit, the bells are a very pleasant accompaniment to wakefulness. At five a.m. they seem to be in their most enterprising mood : the rising hour, I imagine, of a vast number of the ceaselessly industrious inhabitants of this prosperous city.
Near the Oude Kerk is the New Market, with the very charming old weigh-house with little extinguisher spires called the St. Anthonysveeg. Here the fish market is held ; and the fish market of a city like Amsterdam should certainly be visited. The Old Market is on the western side of the Dam, under the western church. " It is said," remarks the author of Through Noord-Holland, " that Rembrandt has been buried in this church, though his grave has never been found."
Napoleon's sarcasm upon the English—that they were a nation of shopkeepers—never seemed to me very shrewd but in Holland one realises that if any nation is to be thus signally stigmatised it is not the English. As a matter of fact we are very indifferent shopkeepers. We lack several of the needful qualities : we lack foresight, the sense of order and organised industry, and the strength of mind to resist the temptations following upon a great coup. A nation of shopkeepers would not go back on the shop so completely as we do. No nation that is essentially snobbish can be accurately summed up as a nation of shop-keepers. The French, for all their distracting gifts of art and mockery, are better shopkeepers than we, largely because they are more sensibly contented. They take short views and live each day more fully. But the Dutch are better still ; the Dutch are truly a nation of shop-keepers.
If one would see the Amsterdam merchant as the satirist sees him, the locus classicus is Multatuli's famous novel Max Havelaar, where he stands delightfully nude in the person of Mr. Drystubble, head of the firm of Last and Co., Coffee-brokers, No. 37 Laurier Canal. Max Havelaar was published in the early sixties to draw attention to certain scandals in Dutch colonial administration, and it has lived on, and will live, by reason of a curious blend of vivacity and intensity. Here is a little piece of Mr. Dry-stubble's mind:
Business is slack on the Coffee Exchange. The Spring Auction will make it right again. Don't suppose, however, that we have nothing to do. At Busselinck and Waterman's trade is slacker still. It is a strange world this: one gets a deal of experience by frequenting the Exchange for twenty years. Only fancy that they have tried—I mean Busselinck and Waterman—to do me out of the custom of Ludwig Stern.
As I do not know whether you are familiar with the Exchange, I will tell you that Stern is an eminent coffee-merchant in Hamburg, who always employed Last and Co. Quite accidentally I found that out—I mean that bungling business of Busselinck and Waterman. They had offered to reduce the brokerage by one-fourth per cent. They are low fellows—nothing else. And now look what I have done to stop them. Any one in my place would perhaps have written to Ludwig Stern, "that we too would diminish the brokerage, and that we hoped for consideration on account of the long services of Last and Co."
I have calculated that our firm, during the last fifty years, has gained four hundred thousand guilders by Stern. Our connexion dates from the beginning of the continental system, when we smuggled Colonial produce and such like things from Heligoland. No, I won't reduce the brokerage.
I went to the Polen coffee-house, ordered pen and paper, and wrote :
" That because of the many honoured commissions received from North Germany, our business transactions had been extended "—(it is the simple truth)—" and that this necessitated an augmentation of our staff "—(it is the truth: no more than yesterday evening our bookkeeper was in the office after eleven o'clock to look for his spectacles) ;—" that, above all things, we were in want of respectable, educated young men to con-duct the German correspondence. That, certainly, there were many young Germans in Amsterdam, who possessed the requisite qualifications, but that a respectable firm "—(it is the very truth),—" seeing the frivolity and immorality of young men, and the daily increasing number of ad-venturers, and with an eye to the necessity of making correctness of conduct go hand in hand with correctness in the execution of orders "—(it is the truth, I observe, and nothing but the truth),—" that such a firm —I mean Last and Co., coffee-brokers, 37 Laurier Canal—could not be anxious enough in engaging new hands."
All that is the simple truth, reader. Do you know that the young German who always stood at the Exchange, near the seventeenth pillar, has eloped with the daughter of Busselinck and Waterman ? Our Mary, like her, will be thirteen years old in September.
" That I had the honour to hear from Mr. Saffeler "—(Saffeler travels for Stern)—" that the honoured head of the firm, Ludwig Stern, had a son, Mr. Ernest Stern, who wished for employment for some time in a Dutch house.
" That I. mindful of this "—(here I referred again to the immorality of employes, and also the history of that daughter of Busselinck and Water-man; it won't do any harm to tell it)—" that I, mindful of this, wished, with all my heart, to offer Mr. Ernest Stern the German correspondence of our firm.
From delicacy I avoided all allusion to honorarium or salary ; yet I said :
" That if Mr. Ernest Stern would like to stay with us, at 37 Laurier Canal, my wife would care for him as a mother, and have his linen mended in the house "-(that is the very' truth, for Mary sews and knits very well),—and in conclusion I said, " that we were a religious family."
The last sentence may do good, for the Sterns are Lutherans. I posted that letter. You understand that old Mr. Stern could not very well give his custom to Busselinck and Waterman, if his son were in our office.
When Max Havelaar gets to Java the narrative is less satisfactory, so tangential does it become, but there are enough passages in the manner of that which I have quoted to keep one happy, and to show how entertaining a satirist of his own countrymen at home " Multatuli" (whose real name was Edward Douwes Dekker) might have been had he been possessed by no grievance.
The book, which is very well worth reading, belongs to the literature of humanity and protest. Its author had to suffer much acrimonious attack, and was probably called a Little Hollander, but the fragment from an unpublished play which he placed as a motto to his book shows him to have lacked no satirical power to meet the enemy
OFFICER.—My Lord, this is the man who murdered Betsy. Judge.—He must hang for it. How did he do it?
OFFICER.—He cut up her body in little pieces, and salted them.
JUDGE.—He is a great criminal. He must hang for it.
LOTHARIO.—My Lord, I did not murder Betsy: I fed and clothed and cherished her. I can call witnesses who will prove me to be a good man, and no murderer.
JUDGE.—You must hang. You blacken your crime by your self-sufficiency. It ill becomes one who . . . is accused of anything to set up for a good man.
LOTHARIO.—But, My Lord, . . there are witnesses to prove it; and as I am now accused of murder .. .
Judge.—You must hang for it. You cut up Betsy—you salted the pieces—and you are satisfied with your conduct—three capital counts—who are you, my good woman ?
WOMAN.—I am Betsy.
LOTHARIO.—Thank God ! You see, my Lord, that I did not murder her.
JUDGE.—Humph !—ay—what !—What about the salting ?
Betsy.—No, my Lord, he did not salt me :—on the contrary, he did many things for me he is a worthy man !
LOTHARIO.—YOU hear, my Lord, she says I am an honest man ! JUDGE.—Humph!—the third count remains. Officer, remove the prisoner, he must hang for it ; he is guilty of self-conceit.
In the Stadelijks museum at Amsterdam is a room entirely devoted to editions of Max Havelaar and souvenirs of its author's life.
Shopkeeping—to return to Amsterdam-is the Dutch people's life. An idle rich class they may have, but it does not assert itself. It is hidden away at The Hague or at Arnheim. In Amsterdam every one is busy in one trade or another. There is no Pall Mall, no Rotten Row. There is no Bond Street or Rue de la Paix, for this is a country where money tries to procure money's worth, a country of essentials. Nor has Holland a Lord's or an Oval, Epsom Downs or Hurlingham.
Perhaps the quickest way to visualise the differences of nations is to imagine them exchanging countries. If the English were to move to Holland the whole face of the land would immediately be changed. In summer the flat meadows near the towns, now given up to cows and plovers, would be dotted with cricketers ; in winter with football-players. Outriggers and canoes, punts and houseboats, would break out on. the canals. In the villages such strange phenomena as idle gentlemen in knickerbockers and idle ladies with parasols would suddenly appear.
To continue the list of changes (but not for too long) the trains would begin to be late ; from the waiting-rooms all free newspapers would be stolen ; churches would be made more comfortable ; hundreds of newspapers would exist where now only a handful are sufficient ; the hour of breakfast would be later; business would begin later; drunken men would be seen in the streets, dirt in the cottages.
If the Dutch came to England the converse would happen. The athletic grounds would become pasture land ; the dirt of our slums and the gentry of our villages would alike vanish; Westminster Abbey would be whitewashed; and . . . But I have said enough.
It must not be thought that the Dutch play no games. As a matter of fact they were playing golf, as old pictures tell, before it had found its way to England at all ; and there are now many golf clubs in Holland. The Dutch are excellent also at lawn tennis ; and I saw the youth of Franeker very busy in a curious variety of rounders. There are horse-racing meetings and trotting competitions too. But the nation is not naturally athletic or sporting. It does not even walk except on business.
In winter, however, the Dutch are completely trans-formed. No sooner does the ice bear than the whole people begin to glide, and swirl, and live their lives to the poetry of motion. The canals then become the real streets of Amsterdam. A Dutch lady-a mother and a grandmother —threw up her hands as she told me about the skating parties to the Zuyder Zee. The skate, it seems, is as much the enemy of the chaperon as was once the bicycle, although its annual reign is briefer. Upon this subject I am personally ignorant, but I take that gesture of alarm as final.
And yet M. Havard, who had a Frenchman's eye and therefore knew, says that if Etna in full eruption were taken to Holland, at the end of the week it would have ceased even to smoke, so destructive to enthusiasm is the well-disciplined nature of the Dutch woman.
M. Havard referred rather to the women of the open country than the dwellers in the town. I can understand the rural coolness, for Holland is a land without mystery. Everything is plain and bare: a man in a balloon would know the amours of the whole populace. What chance has Cupid when there are no groves ? But let Holland be afforested and her daughters would keep Etna burning warmly enough ; for I am persuaded that it is not that they are cold but that the physical development of the country is against them.