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[Illustration: The Delft Gate at Rotterdam.]
Dutch Life in Town and Country
P. M. Hough, B.A.
With Thirty-Two Illustrations
I. National Characteristics
II. Court and Society
III. The Professional Classes
IV. The Position of Women
V. The Workman of the Towns
VI. The Canals and Their Population VII. A Dutch Village
VIII. The Peasant at Home
IX. Rural Customs
X. Kermis and St. Nicholas
XI. National Amusements
XII. Music and the Theatre
XIII. Schools and School Life
XIV. The Universities
XV. Art and Letters
XVI. The Dutch as Readers
XVII. Political Life and Thought
XVIII. The Administration of Justice XIX. Religious Life and Thought
XX. The Army and Navy
XXI. Holland Over Sea
List of Illustrations
The Delft Gate at Rotterdam
Types of Zeeland Women
Zeeland Peasant–The Dark Type
A Zeeland Woman–The Dark Type
Dutch Fisher Girls
A Bridal Pair Driving Home
A Dutch Street Scene
A Sea-Going Canal
A Village in Dyke-Land
A Canal in Dordrecht
An Overyssel Farmhouse
An Overyssel Farmhouse
Approach to an Overyssel Farm
An Itinerant Linen-Weaver
Farmhouse Interior, Showing the Linen-Press Type of an Overyssel Farmhouse
A Farmhouse Interior, Showing the Door into the Stable Farmhouse Interior, the Open Fire on the Floor Palm Paschen–Begging for Eggs
A Hindeloopen Lady in National Costume Rural Costume–Cap with Ruche of Fur
An Overyssel Peasant Woman
Zeeland Children in State
St. Nicholas Going His Rounds on December 5th Skating to Church
Parliament House at the Hague–View From the Great Lake Interior of Delftshaven Church (Where the Pilgrim Fathers Worshipped Before Leaving for New England)
Dutch Life in Town and Country
There is in human affairs a reason for everything we see, although not always reason in everything. It is the part of the historian to seek in the archives of a nation the reasons for the facts of common experience and observation, it is the part of the philosopher to moralize upon antecedent causes and present results. Neither of these positions is taken up by the author of this little book. He merely, as a rule, gives the picture of Dutch life now to be seen in the Netherlands, and in all things tries to be scrupulously fair to a people renowned for their kindness and courtesy to the stranger in their midst.
And this strikes one first about Holland–that everything, except the old Parish Churches, the Town Halls, the dykes and the trees, is in miniature. The cities are not populous, the houses are not large, the canals are not wide, and one can go from the most northern point in the country to the most southern, or from the extreme east to the extreme west, in a single day, and, if it be a summer’s day, in _day-light_, while from the top of the tower of the Cathedral at Utrecht one can look over a large part of the land.
[Illustration: Types of Zeeland Women.]
As it is with the natural so it is with the political horizon. This latter embraces for the average Dutchman the people of a country whose interests seem to him bound up for the most part in the twelve thousand square miles of lowland pressed into a corner of Europe; for, extensive as the Dutch colonies are, they are not ‘taken in’ by the average Dutchman as are the colonies of some other nations. There are one or two towns, such as The Hague and Arnhem, where an Indo-Dutch Society may be found, consisting of retired colonial civil servants, who very often have married Indian women, and have either returned home to live on well-earned pensions or who prefer to spend the money gained in India in the country which gave them birth. But Holland has not yet begun to develop as far as she might the great resources of Netherlands India, and therefore no very great amount of interest is taken in the colonial possessions outside merely home, official, or Indo Dutch society.
[Illustration: Zeeland Peasant–The Dark Type.]
With regard to the affairs of his country generally, the state of mind of the average Dutchman has been well described as that of a man well on in years, who has amassed a fair fortune, and now takes things easily, and loves to talk over the somewhat wild doings of his youth. Nothing is more common than to hear the remarks from both old and young, ‘We _have_ been great,’ ‘We have _had_ our time,’ ‘Every nation reaches a climax;’ and certainly Holland has been very great in statesmen, patriots, theologians, artists, explorers, colonizers, soldiers, sailors, and martyrs. The names of William the Silent, Barneveldt, Arminius, Rembrandt, Rubens, Hobbema, Grotius, De Ruyter, Erasmus, Ruysdael, Daendels, Van Speijk, Tromp afford proof of the pertinacity, courage, and devotion of Netherland’s sons in the great movements which have sprung from her soil.
To have successfully resisted the might of a Philip of Spain and the strategy and cruelties of an Alva is alone a title-deed to imperishable fame and honour. Dutch men and women fought and died at the dykes, and suffered awful agonies on the rack and at the stake. ‘They sang songs of triumph,’ so the record runs, ‘while the grave diggers were shovelling earth over their living faces.’ It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that a legacy of true and deep feeling has been bequeathed to their descendants, and the very suspicion of injustice or infringement of what they consider liberty sets the Dutchman’s heart aflame with patriotic devotion or private resentment. Phlegmatic, even comal, and most difficult to move in most things, yet any ‘interference’ wakes up the dormant spirit which that Prince of Orange so forcibly expressed when he said, in response to a prudent soldier’s ear of consequences if resistance were persisted in, ‘We can at least die in the last ditch.’
Until one understands this tenacity in the Dutch character one cannot reconcile the old world methods seen all over the country with the advanced ideas expressed in conversation, books, and newspapers. The Dutchman hates to be interfered with, and resents the advice of candid friends, and cannot stand any ‘chaff.’ He has his kind of humour, which is slow in expression and material in conception, but he does not understand ‘banter.’ He is liberal in theories, but intensely conservative in practice. He will _agree_ with a new theory, but often _do_ as his grandfather did, and so in Holland there may be seen very primitive methods side by side with _fin de siecle_ thought. In a _salon_ in any principal town there will be thought the most advanced, and manner of life the most luxurious; but a stone’s-throw off, in a cottage or in a farmhouse just outside the town, may be witnessed the life of the seventeenth century. Some of the reasons for this may be gathered from the following pages as they describe the social life and usages of the people.
In the seven provinces which comprise the Netherlands there are considerable differences in scenery, race, dialect, pronunciation, and religion, and therefore in the features and character of the people. United provinces in the course of time effect a certain homogeneity of purpose and interest, yet there are certain fundamental differences in character. The Frisian differs from the Zeelander: one is fair and the other dark, and both differ from the Hollander. And not only do the provincials differ in character, dialect, and pronunciation from one another, but also the inhabitants of some cities differ in these respects from those of other cities. An educated Dutchman can tell at once if a man comes from Amsterdam, Rotterdam, or The Hague. The ‘cockney’ of these places differs, and of such pronunciations ‘Hague Dutch’ is considered the worst, although–true to the analogy of London–the best Dutch is heard in The Hague. This difference in ‘civic’ pronunciation is certainly very remarkable when one remembers that The Hague and Rotterdam are only sixteen miles apart, and The Hague and Amsterdam only forty miles. Arnhem and The Hague are the two most cosmopolitan cities in the kingdom, and one meets in their streets all sorts and conditions of the Netherlander.
[Illustration: A Zeeland Woman–The Dark Type.]
All other towns are provincial in character and akin to the county-town type. Even Amsterdam, the capital of the country, is only a commercial capital. The Court is only there for a few days in each year; Parliament does not meet there; the public offices are not situated there; and diplomatic representatives are not accredited to the Court at Amsterdam but to the Court at The Hague; and so Amsterdam is ‘the city,’ and no more and no less. This Venice of the North looks coldly on the pleasure seeking and loving Hague, and jealously on the thriving and rapidly increasing port of Rotterdam, and its merchant princes build their villas in the neighbouring and pleasant woods of Bussum and Hilversum, and near the brilliantly-coloured bulb-gardens of Haarlem, living in these suburban places during the summer months, while in winter they return to the fine old houses in the Heerengracht and the many other ‘grachten’ through which the waters of the canals move slowly to the river. But to The Hague the city magnates seldom come, and the young men consider their contemporaries of the Court capital wanting in energy and initiative, and very proud, and so there is little communication between the two towns–between the City and Belgravia. One knows, as one walks in the streets of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, or Utrecht, that each place is a microcosm devoted to its own particular and narrow interests, and in these respects they are survivals of the Italian cities of the Middle Ages. There is, indeed, great similarity in the style of buildings, and, with the exception of Maestricht, in the south of the country, which is mediaeval and Flemish, one always feels that one is in Holland. The neatness of the houses, the straight trees fringing the roads, the canals and their smell, the steam-trams, the sound of the conductor’s horn and the bells of the horse-trams, the type of policeman, and above and beyond all the universal cigar–all these things are of a pattern, and that pattern is seen everywhere, and it is not until one has lived in the country for some time that one recognizes that there are differences in the mode of life in the larger towns which are more real than apparent, and that this practical isolation is not realized by the stranger.
The country life of the peasant, however, is much more uniform in character, in spite of the many differences in costume and in dialect. The methods of agriculture are all equally old-fashioned, and the peasants equally behind the times in thought. Their thrifty habits and devotion to the soil of their country ensure them a living which is thrown away by the country folk of other lands, who at the first opportunity flock into the towns. But the Dutch peasant _is_ a peasant, and does not mix, or want to mix, with the townsman except in the way of business. He brings his garden and farm produce for sale, and as soon as that is effected–generally very much to his own advantage, for he is wonderfully ‘slim’–he rattles back, drawn by his dogs or little pony, to the farmhouse, and relates how he has come safely back, his stock of produce diminished, but his stock of inventions and subtleties improved and increased by contact with housewives and shopkeepers, who do their best to drive a hard bargain. In dealing with the ‘boer’ the townspeople’s ingenuity is taxed to the utmost in endeavouring to get the better of one whose nature is heavy but cunning, and families who have dealt with the same ‘boer’ vendor for years have to be as careful as if they were transacting business with an entire stranger. The ‘boer’s’ argument is simplicity itself: ‘They try to get the better of me, and I try to get the better of them’–and he _does_ it!
If, however, there are these differences between city and city and class and class, there is one common characteristic of the Dutchman which, like the mist which envelops meadow and street alike in Holland after a warm day, pertains to the whole race, viz. his deliberation, that slowness of thought, speech, and action which has given rise to such proverbs as ‘You will see such and such a thing done “in a Dutch month.”‘ The Netherlander is most difficult to move, but once roused he is far more difficult to pacify. Many reasons are given for this ‘phlegm,’ and most people attribute it to the climate, which is very much abused, especially by Dutch people themselves, because of its sunlessness during the winter months; though as a matter of fact the climate is not so very different from that in the greater part of England. The temperature on an average is a little higher in summer and a little lower in winter than in the eastern part of England; but certainly there is in the southern part of the country a softness in the air which is enervating, and in such places as Flushing snow is seldom seen, and does not lie long. But the same thing is seen in Cornwall. Hence this climatic influence is not a sufficient reason in itself to account for the undeniable and general ‘slowness’ of the Dutchman. It is to be found rather in the history of the country, which has taught the Netherlander to attempt to prove by other people’s experience the value of new ideas, and only when he has done so will he adopt them. This saps all initiative.
There is a great lack of faith in everything, in secular as well as religious matters, the Dutchman will risk nothing, for four cents’ outlay he must be quite certain of six cents in return. As long as he is in this mood the country will ‘mark time,’ but not advance much. The Dutchman believes so thoroughly in being comfortable, and, given a modest income which he has inherited or gained, he will not only not go a penny beyond it in his expenditure, but often he will live very much below it. He would never think of ‘living up to’ his income; his idea is to leave his children something very tangible in the shape of guldens. A small income and little or no work is a far more agreeable prospect than a really busy life allied to a large income. All the cautiousness of the Scotchman the Dutchman has, but not the enterprise and industry. With his cosmopolitanism, which he has gained by having to learn and converse in so many languages, in order to transact the large transfer business of such a country as the Netherlands, he has acquired all the various views of life which cosmopolitanism opens to a man’s mind. The Dutchman can talk upon politics extremely well, but his interest is largely academic and not personal; he is as a man who looks on and loves _desipere in loco_.
The Dutchman is therefore a philosopher and a delightful _raconteur_, but at present he is not doing any very great things in the international battle of life, though when great necessity arises there is no man who can do more or do better.
Court and Society
Society life in Holland is, as everywhere else, the gentle art of escaping self-confession of boredom. But society in Holland is far different from society abroad, because The Hague, the official residence of Queen Wilhelmina, is not only not the capital of her kingdom, but is only the third town of the country so far as importance and population go. The Hague is the royal residence and the seat of the Netherlands Government; but although, as a rule, Cabinet Ministers live there, most of the members of the First Chamber of the States-General live elsewhere, and a great many of their colleagues of the Second Chamber follow their example, preferring a couple of hours’ railway travelling per day or per week during the time the States sit, to a permanent stay. Hence, so far as political importance goes, society has to do without it to a great extent. Nor is The Hague a centre of science. The universities of Leyden, Utrecht, and Amsterdam are very near, but, as the Dutch proverb judiciously says, ‘Nearly is not half;’ there is a vast difference between having the rose and the thing next to it. In consequence the leading scientific men of the Netherlands do not, as a rule, add the charm of their conversation to social intercourse at The Hague.
High life there is represented by members of the nobility and by such high officials in the army, navy, and civil service as mix with that nobility. Of course there are sets just as there are everywhere else, sets as delightful to those who are in them as they are distasteful to outsiders; but talent and money frequently succeed in making serious inroads upon the preserves of noble birth. This is, however, unavoidable, for the Netherlands were a republic for two centuries, and the scions of the ancient houses are not over-numerous. They fought well in the wars of their country against Spain, France, and Great Britain, but fighting well in many cases meant extermination.
On the other hand, two centuries of republican rule are apt to turn any republicans into patricians, particularly so if they are prosperous, self-confident, and well aware of their importance. And a patrician republic necessarily turns into an oligarchy. The prince-merchants of Holland were Holland’s statesmen, Holland’s absolute rulers; two centuries of heroic struggles, intrepid energy, crowned with success on all sides, may even account for their belief that they were entrusted by the Almighty with a special mission to bring liberty, equal rights, and prosperity to other nations.
When, after Napoleon’s downfall, the Netherlands constituted themselves a kingdom, the depleted ranks of the aristocracy were soon amply filled from these old patrician families. Clause 65 of the Netherlands constitution says, ‘The Queen grants nobility. No Dutchman may accept foreign nobility.’ This is the only occasion upon which the word nobility appears in any code. No Act defines the status, privileges, or rights of this nobility, because there are none. There is, however, a ‘Hooge Raad van Adel,’ consisting of a permanent chairman, a permanent secretary, and four members, whose functions it is to report on matters of nobility, especially heraldic and genealogic, and on applications from Town Councils which wish to use some crest or other. This ‘High Council of Nobility’ acts under the supervision of the Minister of Justice, and its powers are regulated by royal decrees, or writs in council. The titles used are ‘Jonkheer’ (Baronet) and ‘Jonkvrouw,’ Baron and Baroness, ‘Graaf’ (Earl) and ‘Gravin.’ Marquess and Duke are not used as titles by Dutch noblemen. If any man is ennobled, ail his children, sons as well as daughters, share the privilege, so there is no ‘courtesy title;’ officially they are indicated by the father’s rank from the moment of their birth, but as long as they are young it is the custom to address the boys as ‘Jonker,’ the girls as ‘Freule.’
For the rest, life at The Hague is very much like life everywhere else. In summer there is a general exodus to foreign countries; in winter, dinners, bazaars, balls, theatre, opera, a few officiai Court functions, which may become more numerous in the near future if the young Queen and Prince Henry are so disposed, are the order of the day. For the present, ‘Het Loo,’ that glorious country-seat in the centre of picturesque, hilly, wooded Gelderland, continues to be the favourite residence of the Court, and only during the colder season is the palace in the ‘Noordeinde,’ at The Hague, inhabited by the Queen.
Her Majesty, apparently full of youthful mirth and energy, enjoys her life in a wholesome and genuine manner. State business is, of course, dutifully transacted; but as the entire constitutional responsibility rests with the Cabinet Ministers and the High Councils of State, she has no need to feel undue anxiety about her decisions. She is well educated, a strong patriot, and has on the whole a serions turn of mind, which came out in pathetic beauty as she took the oath in the ‘Nieuwe Kerk’ of Amsterdam at her coronation. How far she and her husband will influence and lead Society life in Holland remains to be seen. Both are young, and their union is younger still. During the late King’s life and Queen Emma’s subsequent widowhood, society was for scores of years left to itself, and of course it has settled down into certain grooves. But, on the other hand, the tastes and inclinations of well-bred, well to do people, with an inexhaustible amount of spare time on their hands, and an unlimited appetite for amusement in their minds, are everywhere the same. Of course, Ministerial receptions, political dinners, and the intercourse of Ambassadors and foreign Ministers at The Hague form a special feature of social life there, but here, again, The Hague is just like European capitals generally.
Once every year the Dutch Court and the Dutch capital proper meet. Legally, by the way, it is inaccurate to indicate even Amsterdam as the capital of Holland; no statute mentions a capital of the kingdom, but by common consent Amsterdam, being the largest and most important town, is always accorded that title, so highly valued by its inhabitants. The Royal Palace in Amsterdam is royal enough, and it is also sufficiently palatial, but it is no Royal Palace in the strict sense of the word. It was built (1649-1655), and for centuries was used, as a Town Hall. As such it is a masterpiece, and one’s imagination can easily go back to the times when the powerful and masterful Burgomasters and Sheriffs met in the almost oppressing splendour of its vast hall. It is an ideal meeting-place for stern merchants, enterprising shipowners, and energetic traders. Every hall, every room, every ornament speaks of trade, trade, and trade again. And there lies some grim irony in the fact that these merchants, whose meeting-place is surmounted by the proud symbol of Atlas carrying the globe, offered that mansion as a residence to their kings, when Holland and Amsterdam could no longer boast of supporting the world by their wealth and their energy.
Here they meet once a year–the stern, ancient city, represented by its sturdy citizens, its fair women, its proud inhabitants, and Holland’s youthful Queen, blossoming forth as a symbol of new, fresh life, fresh hope and promise. Here they meet, the sons and daughters of the men and women who never gave way, who saw their immense riches accrue, as their liberties grew, by sheer force of will, by inflexible determination, by dauntless power of purpose; here they meet, the last descendant of the famous House of Orange-Nassau, the queenly bride, whose forefathers were well entitled to let their proud war-cry resound on the battlefields of Europe: ‘A moi, genereux sang de Nassau!’
When the Queen is in Amsterdam the citizens go out to the ‘Dam,’ the Square where the palace stands, offering their homage by cheers and waving of hats, and by singing the war-psalm of the old warriors of William the Silent, ‘Wilhelmus van Nassouwe.’ Then the leaders of Amsterdam, its merchants, scientists, and artists, leave their beautiful homes on Heeren-and Keizers-gracht, with their wives and daughters wrapped in costly garments, glittering in profusion of diamonds and rubies and pearls, and drive to the huge palace to offer homage to their Queen, just as proud as she, just as patriotic as she, just as faithful and loyal as she.
Three hundred years have done their incessant work in welding the House of Orange and Amsterdam together; ruptures and quarrels have occurred; yet, after every struggle, both found out that they could not well do without each other; and now when the Queen and the city meet, mutual respect, mutual confidence, and reciprocal affection attest the firm bond which unites them.
To the Amsterdam patriciate the yearly visit of the Queen is a social function full of interest. To the Queen it is more than that; she visits not only the patricians, she also visits the people, the poor and the toilers. Of course Amsterdam has its Socialists, and a good many of them, too, and Socialists are not only fiery but also vociferous republicans as a rule, who believe that royalty and a queen are a blot upon modern civilization. But their sentiments, however well uttered, are not popular. For when ‘Our Child,’ as the Queen is still frequently called, drives through the workmen’s quarter of Amsterdam, the ‘Jordaan’ (a corruption of the French _jardin_), the bunting is plentiful, the cheering and singing are more so, and the general enthusiasm surpasses both. The ‘man in the street,’ that remarkable political genius of the present age, has scarcely ever wavered in his simple affection for his Prince and Princess of Orange; and though this affection is personal, not political–for nothing is political to ‘the man in the street’–there it is none the less, and it does not give way to either reasoning or prejudice.
Such is the external side of Court life. Internally it strikes one as simple and unaffected. Queen Emma was a lady possessing high qualifications as a mother and as a ruler. She grasped with undeniable shrewdness the popular taste and fancy, she had no difficulty in realizing that her rather easy-going, sometimes blustering, Consort could have retained a great deal more of his popularity by very simple means, if he had cared to do so. She did care, so she allowed her little girl to be a little girl, and she let the people notice it. She went about with her, all through the country, and the people beheld not two proud princesses, strutting about in high and mighty manner, but a gracions, kind lady and an unaffected child. This child showed a genuine interest in sport in Friesland, in excavations in Maastricht, in ships and quays and docks in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, and in hospitals and orphanages everywhere. Anecdotes came into existence–the little Queen had been seen at ‘hop-scotch,’ had refused to go to bed early, had annoyed her governess, had been skating, had been snow balling her royal mother, etc. And later, when she was driving or riding, when she attended State functions or paid official visits, there was always a simplicity in her turn out, a quiet dignity in her demeanour, which proved that she felt no particular desire to advertise herself as one of the wealthiest sovereigns of the world by the mere splendour of her surroundings.
This supreme tact of Queen Emma resulted in her daughter being educated as a queen, as the Dutch like their sovereigns. Court life in The Hague or at the Loo certainly lacks neither dignity nor brilliancy, but it lacks showiness, and many an English nobleman lives in a grander style than Holland’s Queen. Now, education may bend, but it does not alter a charactcr, and whatever qualifies may have adorned or otherwise influenced the late King, he was no more a stickler for etiquette or a lover of display than Queen Emma has proved to be. So there is a probability that their daughter will also be satisfied with very limited show, and if Prince Henry be wise, he will not interfere with the Queen’s inclinations. He is said to be ‘horsy,’ but the same may be said of her, though as yet her ‘horsiness’ has not become an absorbing passion, nor is it likely to be.
It is said also that she abhors music; but as long as she, as Queen, does not transfer her abhorrence from the art to the artists, no harm will be done. The facts are that, simple as her tastes are, she does not impose her simplicity upon others. When she presides at State dinners or at Court dinners, she is entirely the _grande dame_, but when she is allowed to be wholly herself, in a small, quiet circle, she is praised by every one, low or high, who has been favoured with an invitation to the royal table, for her natural and unaffected manners, her urbanity, and her gentle courtesy.
The Professional Classes
The professional classes of Holland show their characteristics best in the social circle in which they move and find their most congenial companionships. Imagine, then, that we are the guests of the charming wife of a successful counsel (‘advocaat en procureur’)–Mr. Walraven, let us call him–settled in a large and prosperous provincial town. She is a typical Dutch lady, with bright complexion, kind, clear blue eyes, rather dark eyebrows, which give a piquant air to the white and pink of the face, and a mass of fair golden hair, simply but tastefully arranged, leaving the ears free, and adorning but not hiding the comely shape of the head. She wears a dark-brown silk dress, covered with fine Brussels lace around the neck, at the wrists, along the bodice, and here and there on the skirt. A few rings glitter on her fingers, and her hands are constantly busy with a piece of point lace embroidery; for many Dutch ladies cannot stand an evening without the companionship of a ‘handwerkje,’ as fancy-needlework is called. It does not in the least interfere with their conversational duties. She is rather tall. Dutch men and women seem to have all sizes equally distributed amongst them; it cannot be said that they are a short people, like the French and the Belgians, nor can the indication of middle size be so rightly applied to them as to their German neighbours, whereas the taller Anglo-Saxons can frequently find their match in the Netherlands.
The room in which we are seated is furnished in so-called ‘old Dutch style.’ My friend and his wife have collected fine old wainscots, sideboards and cupboards of richly carved oak in Friesland and in the Flemish parts of Belgium. Their tables and chairs are all of the same material and artistically cut. A very dark, greenish-grey paper covers the walls; the curtains, the carpet, and the doors are in the same slightly sombre shades. Venetian mirrors, Delft, Chinese and Rouen china plates, arranged along the walls, over the carved oak bench, and on the over-mantel, make delightful patches of bright colour in the room, and the easy-chairs are as stylish as they are comfortable.
Our visit has fallen in the late autumn, and the gas burns bnghtly in the bronze chandelier, while the fire in the old-fashioned circulating stove, a rare specimen of ancient Flemish design, makes the room look cosy and hospitable. For the moment our friend the lawyer is absent. He has been called away to his study, for a client has come to see him on urgent business, and we are left in the gracious society of his wife in the comfortable sitting-room. On the table the Japan tray, with its silver teapot, sugar-basin, milk-jug and spoon-box of mother-of-pearl and crystal, and its dark-blue real China cups and saucers, enjoys the company of two silver boxes, on silver trays, full of all sorts of ‘koekjes’ (sweet biscuits). Many Dutch families like to take a ‘koekje’ with their tea, tea-time falling in Holland between 7 and 8 o’clock, half-way between dinner at 5 or 6 p.m. and supper at 10 or 11 p.m. A cigar-stand is not wanting, nor yet dainty ash-trays; while by the side of our hostess is an old-fashioned brass ‘komfoor,’ or chafer,[Footnote: _Komfoor_ (or _kaffoor_) and _chafer_ are etymologically the same word, derived from the Latin _califacere_. The French member of the family is _chauffoir_.] on a high foot, so that within easy reach of the lady’s hand is the handle of the brass kettle, in which the ‘theewater’ is boiling.
Conversation turns from politics and literature to the ball to which my hostess, her husband, and we as their guests have been invited at a friend’s house. She intends to go earlier; he and we are to follow later in the evening, for that evening his ‘Krans’ is to meet at his house, and it will keep us till eleven o’clock. A ‘Krans’ is simply a small company of very good friends who meet, as a rule, once a month, at the house of one of them, and at such meetings converse about things in general. The English word for ‘Krans’ is ‘wreath,’ and the name indicates the intimate and thoroughly friendly relations existing between the composing members. They are twisted and twined together not merely by affectionate feeling, but also by equality of social position, education, and intelligence.
Our friend’s little circle numbers seven, and as every one of them happens to be the leading man in his profession in that town, and in consequence wields a powerful influence, their ‘Krans’ is generally nicknamed the ‘Heptarchy.’ Our friend the lawyer is not only a popular legal adviser, but as ‘Wethouder’ (alderman) for finance and public works he is the much-admired originator of the rejuvenated town. The place had been fortified in former days, but after the home defence of Holland was re-organized and a System of defence on a coherent and logically conceived basis accepted, all fortified towns disappeared and became open cities, of which this was one. The public-spirited lawyer grasped the situation at once, and, spurred by his influence and enthusiasm, the Town Council adopted a large scheme of streets, roads, parks, and squares, so that when all was completed the inhabitants of the old city scarcely knew where they were. Besides this, he is legal adviser of the local branch of the Netherlands Bank, a director on the boards of various limited companies, and the president-director of a prosperous Savings Bank. Nevertheless, he finds time in his crowded life to read a great deal, to see his friends occasionally, and to keep up an incessant courtship of his handsome wife, who in return asseverates that he is the most sociable husband in the world.
After Walraven has returned to the tea table, his admiring consort leaves us, and shortly afterwards his best friend, within and without the ‘Krans,’ Dr. Klaassen, appears on the scene. He and Dr. Klaassen were students at the same University, and nothing is better fitted to form lifelong friendship than the freedom of Holland’s University life and University education. Dr. Klaassen is one of the most attractive types of the Dutch medical man. His University examinations did not tie him too tightly to his special science. Like ail Dutch students, he mixed freely with future lawyers, clergymen, philosophers, and philologists, and it is often said that while the University teaches young men chiefly sound methods of work, students in Holland acquire quite as much instruction from each other as from their professors. Doctor Klaassen left the University as fresh as when he entered it, and ready to take a healthvariousest in all departments of human affairs. He is a man to whom the Homeric phrase might well be applied–‘A physician is a man knowing more than many others.’
His non-professional work takes him to the boards and comrmttees of societies promoting charity, ethics, religion, literature, and the fine arts. The local branch of the famous ‘Maatschappy tot Nut van ‘t Algemeen’ (the ‘Society for promoting the Common-weal’) and its various institutions, schools, libraries, etc., find in him one of their most energetic and faithful directors; a local hospital admitting people of all religions denominations has grown up by his untiring energy; and he prepared the basis upon which younger men afterwards built what is now a model institution in Holland; nor does he forget the poor and the orphans, to whom he gives quite half his time, though how much of his money he gives them nobody knows, least of all he himself.
The Reverend Mr. Barendsen, the third arrival, is a very different person. His sermons are eloquent; he is a fluent speaker–too fluent, some say, for words and phrases come so easily to him that the lack of thought is not always felt by this preacher, although noticed by his flock. Now, a sermon for Dutch Protestants is a difficult thing; it has to be long enough to fill nearly a whole service of about two hours; and it is listened to by educated and uneducated people, who all expect to be edified. Dominee Barendsen, like so many of his colleagues, tries to meet this difficulty by giving light nourishment in an attractive form. But if his sermons do not succeed as well as his kind intentions deserve, his influence is firmly established by his sympathetic personality. He may be much more superficial than his two friends; he may be less dogged, less tenacious than they; yet his fertile brain, his quick intelligence, and his serious character have won for him a unique position, and his public influence is very great. Both doctor and parson meet and mix in the best society of the town, but the slums of the poor are also equally well known to them; neither is a member of the Town Council, but the same institutions have their common support. Livings in Holland are not over-luxurious; and the consequence is that many ‘Dominees’ go out lecturing, or make an additional income by translating or writing books. Some of Holland’s best and most successful authors and poets are, or were, clergymen, such as Allard Pierson, P. A. de Genestet, Nicolaas Beets (Hildebrand), Coenraad Busken Huet, J. J. L. ten Kate, Dr. Jan ten Brink, Bernard ter Haar, etc. Dominee Barendsen is likewise well known in Dutch literary circles.
General Hendriks is the next to be announced. Dutch officers do not like to go about in their uniform, but the gallant general is also expected at the ball, and so he has donned his military garments. He is a ‘Genist,’ a Royal Engineer, and had his education at the Royal Military Academy at Breda. This means that he is no swashbuckler, but a genial, well-mannered, open-minded and well-read gentleman, with a somewhat scientific turn of mind and a rare freedom from military prejudice. Hollanders are not a military people in the German sense, and fire-eaters and military fanatics are rare, but they are rarest amongst the officers of the General Staff, the Royal Engineers, and the Artillery.
General Hendriks married a lady of title with a large fortune, so his position is a very pleasant one. His friendship for the other ‘Heptarchists’ is necessarily of recent date, for he has been abroad a great deal, and was five years in the Dutch East Indies fighting in the endless war against Atchin. His stay there has widened his views still more, and when he tells of his experiences he is at once interesting and attractive, for he is well-informed and a charming _raconteur_. His rank causes Society to impose on him duties which he is inclined to consider as annoying, but he fulfils them graciously enough. He is a popular president-director of the “Groote Societeit” (the Great Club), and of Caecilia, the most prominent society for vocal and instrumental music; and whenever races, competitions, exhibitions, bazaars, and similar social functions, to which the Dutch are greatly addicted, take place, General Hendriks is sure to be one of the honorary presidents, or at least a member of the working board, and his urbanity and affability are certain to ensure success. He has been a member of the States-General, and is said to be a probable future Minister of War. But the weak spot in his heart is for poetry and for literature generally; the number of poems he knows by heart is marvellous, and at the meetings of the Heptarchy he freely indulges his love of quotations, a pleasure he strictly denies himself in other surroundings, for fear of boring people. But everybody has a dim presumption that the general knows a good deal more than most people are aware of, and this dim presumption is strengthened by the very firm conviction that he is an exceedingly genial man and a ‘jolly good fellow.’
Mr. Ariens, Lit.D., ‘Rector of the Gymnasium (equivalent to Head-master of a Grammar School), is the most remarkable type even in this very remarkable set of men. He is highly unconventional, and his boys adore him, while his old boys admire him, and the parents are his perennial debtors in gratitude. He is unconventional in everything, in his dress, in his way of living, in his opinions and judgments, but he parades none of these, reducing them to neither a whim nor a hobby. He passed some years in the Dutch Indies, travelled all over Europe, knows more of Greek, Latin, and antiquities than anybody else, and is as thoroughly scientific as any University professer. But the Government will never give him a vacant chair, for his pedagogical powers surpass even his scientific abilities, and they cannot spare such men in such places. To some aristocratic people his noble simple-mindedness is downright appalling; but when he goes about in dull, cold, wintry weather and visits the poor wretches in the slums, where nature and natural emotions and forms of speech are quite unconventional, he is duly appreciated. For he is not only a splendid ‘gymnasii rector,’ he is also a very charitable man, though he likes only one form of charity, that by which the rich man first educates himself into being the poor man’s friend, and then only offers his sympathy and help, the charity which the one can give and the other take without either of them feeling degraded by the act. He is not a public-body man, our ‘Rector,’ but his friends appreciate his keen, just judgment. They may disagree with him on some points, but a discussion with him is always interesting on account of his original, fresh method of thought, and instructive by reason of his very superior and universal knowledge.
His best friend is Mr. Jacobs, a civil engineer. Dutch civil engineers are educated at Delft, at the Polytechnic School, after having passed their final examination at a ‘Higher Burgher School.’ Boys of sixteen or seventeen are not fit to digest sciences by the dozen, and, however pleasant and convenient it may be to become a walking cyclopedia, a cyclopedia is not a living book, but a dead accumulation of dead knowledge, which may inform though it does not educate. Happily, the majority of Dutch engineers are saved by the Polytechnic School, where they have about the same liberty as undergraduates at the Universities to go their own way. Educationally they are not so well equipped, attention only being paid to mental instruction, for the Director of a ‘Higher Burgher School’ is a different man from the Rector of a Gymnasium, while the System over which he presides is more or less incoherent so far as educational considerations go.
But if a civil engineer is a success he is generally a big one. So is Mr. Jacobs. He is thoroughly well read, though his reading may be somewhat desultory. His splendid memory, assisted by a remarkably quick wit, allows him to feel interested in nearly everything–sociology, literature, art, music, theatre, sport, charity, municipal enterprise. If he is superficial, nobody notices it, for he is much too smart to show it. His general level-headedness makes him an inexhaustible source of admiration to Dr. Ariens, whose peer he is in kindness of heart. His manner is irreproachable; he never loses his temper in discussion, and treats his opponents in such a quiet, courteous way that they are obviously sorry to disagree with him. His business capacities are of the first rank; he makes as much money as he likes, and however crowded his life may be, he always finds time for more work. He is a member of the Town Council and a staunch supporter of Walraven’s progressive plans. Walraven has certain misgivings about Jacobs’ thoroughness, but he fully realizes his friend’s quick grasp of things. He may build bridges, irrigate whole districts, and drain marshes in Holland, open up mines in Spain, build docks in America, or hunt for petroleum in Russia; he is always sure to succeed, and a fair profit for himself, at any rate, is the invariable result of his exertions. He travels a great deal, knows everybody everywhere, and always turns up again in the old haunts, bristling with interesting information, visibly enjoying his busy, full life, and not without a certain vanity, arising from the feeling that his fellow-citizens are rather proud of him.
The last to come is Mr. Smits, President of the Court of Justice, a man of philosophical turn of mind, an ardent student of social problems, a fine lawyer, a first-rate speaker, a shrewd judge of men, and a tolerant and mild critic of their weaknesses. He also is a member of the Town Council, and, like Jacobs, a member of a municipal committee of which Walraven is the chairman. Their duties are the supervision and general management of the communal trade and industry, such as tramways, gas-works, water-supply, slaughter-houses, electrical supply, corn exchange, public parks and public gardens, hothouses and plantations, etc. Smits is also the chairman of two debating societies, one for workmen and the other for the better educated classes; but social problems are the chief topics discussed at both. These societies, he says, keep him well in touch with the general drift of the popular mind; as a fact, by his encouraging ways, he draws from the people what is in their thoughts and hearts, and very often succeeds in correcting wrong impressions and conceptions. He is also the Worshipful Master of the local Masonic lodge, ‘The Three Rings,’ so called after the famous parable of religions tolerance in Lessing’s noble drama, _Nathan der Weise_. Dutch Freemasonry is not churchy as in England; it is charitable, teaches ethics as distinct from, but not opposed to, religion, admits men of all creeds and of no creed whatever, and preaches tolerance all round; but it fights indifferentism, apathy, or carelessness on all matters affecting the material, intellectual, and psychical well-being of mankind.
Smits feels very strongly on all these matters, and his enthusiasm is of a staying kind; but the ancient device ‘Suaviter in modo’ has quite as much charm for him as its counterpart, ‘Fortiter in re.’ The consequence is that superficial people take him for a Socialist because he neither prosecutes nor persecutes Socialists for the opinions they hold. Himself an agnostic, and lacking religions sentiment, he realises so well the supreme influence of religion on numberless people and the comfort they derive from it, that many consider him not nearly firm enough in his intercourse with Roman Catholics or ‘orthodox’ Protestants, with whom, in fact, he frequently arranges political ‘deals.’ For Smits is, if not the chairman, the most influential and active member of the Liberal caucus; and, being in favour of proportional representation, he insists that the other political parties shall have their fair number of Town Councillors.
Such are the men who come together in this elegant and yet homely sitting-room; each of them a leader in his profession, each of them coming in daily and close contact with all sorts and conditions of men and women in the town, and enabled by their wide and unbiassed views of humanity and human affairaffairsntrol them and to divert the common energies in wise paths. The ‘Heptarchy’ has, of course, no legal standing as such, but from their conversations one understands the influence which its members wield by their intellectual and moral superiority. They conspire in no way to attain certain ends, but discuss things as intimately as only brothers or man and wife can discuss them, in the genial intimacy of their unselfish friendship. They generally agree on the lines to be taken in certain matters, but even if they fail to agree, this does not prevent them from acting according to their own rights, still respecting each other’s convictions and preferences. And not only local topics are discussed in the meetings of the ‘Heptarchy,’ for politics, art, trade, and science, foreign and Dutch, come within their scope; for their intellectual outlook, like their sympathies, is universal.
Towards eleven o’clock we take leave of each other. Walraven, Hendriks, and ourselves go to the ball at the house of the ‘Commissaris der Koningin’ (Queen’s Commissioner), the Lord-Lieutenant of the county, Baron Alma van Strae. Baron and Baroness Alma live in a palatial mansion, and we find the huge reception and drawing rooms full of a gay crowd of young folk. The rooms are beautifully decorated, there is a profusion of flowers and palms in the halls and on the stairs; and a host of footmen in bright-buttoned, buff-coloured livery coats, short trousers, and white stockings, move quietly about, betraying the well-trained instincts of hereditary lackeydom. There are county councillors, judges, officers of army and navy, bankers, merchants, manufacturers, town councillors, the mayor and town clerk, the president and some members of the Chamber of Commerce, and committee-men of orphanages and homes for old people. All have brought their wives, daughters, and sons to do the dancing, for though they occasionally join themselves, they prefer to indulge in a quiet game of whist or to settle down in Baron Alma’s smoking and billiard room for a cigar.
These social fonctions, however, are much the same in Holland as in other countries. Etiquette may differ in small details, but on the whole the world of society lives the same life, cultivates the same interests, and amuses or bores itself in much the same fashion. It is _tout comme chez nous_ in this as in nearly everything else.
On the whole, this elegant crowd shows a somewhat greater amount of deference towards professionals than towards officials. Doctors, lawyers, and parsons are clearly highly esteemed; it is the victory of intellect in a fair field of encounter. In The Hague the officials beat them, but not so much on account of their office as in consrquence of the fact that so many are titled persons, highly connected and frequently well off. But after the great Revolution and the Napoleonic times officialdom lost its influence and social importance in Holland in consequence of the demolition of the oligarchic, patrician Republic; and clause five of the Netherlands constitution, which declares that ‘Every Netherlander may be appointed to every public office,’ is a very real and true description of the actual, visible facts of social life.
The Position of Women
The Dutch woman, generally speaking, is not the ‘new woman’ in the sense of taking any very definite part in the politics of the country. Neither does she interest herself, or interfere, in ecclesiastical matters. Dutchmen have not a very high opinion of the mental and administrative qualities of their womenfolk outside of what is considered their sphere, but for all that the women of the upper class are certainly more clever than the men, but as they do not take any practical part in the questions which are ‘burning,’ as far as any question does burn in this land of dampness, their interest is academic rather than real. The wives of the small shopkeeper, the artisan, and the peasant take much the same place as women of these classes in other European countries. They are kind mothers, thrifty housewives, very fond of their ‘man,’ not averse to the fascinations of dress, and in their persons and houses extremely trim and tidy, while the poorest quarters of the large towns are, compared with the slums of London, Manchester, and Liverpool, pictures of neatness. It is true that windows are seldom opened, for no Dutch window opens at the top, and so in passing by an open door in the poor quarters of a town one gets a whiff of an inside atmosphere which baffles description; but the inside of the house is ‘tidy,’ and one can see the gleam of polished things, telling of repeated rubbings, scrubbings, and scourings. In fact, cleanliness in Holland has become almost a disease, and scrubbing and banging go on from morning until night both outside and inside a house.
Probably the abundant supply of water accounts for the universal washing, for, not content with washing everything inside a house, they wash the outside too, and even the bark of any trees which happen to lie within the zone of operations. The plinths and bricks of the houses are scrubbed as far as the arms can reach or a little hand-squirt can carry water. In cottages both in town and country there is the same cleanliness, but the people stop short of washing themselves, and the bath among the poorer classes is practically unknown. People of this kind may not have had one for thirty or forty years, and will receive the idea with derision and look on the practice as a ‘fad,’ while the case of many animals is seriously cited as an argument that it is quite unnecessary. A doctor told me once of a rich old patient of the farming class near Utrecht who, on being ordered a bath, said, ‘Any amount of physic, but a bath–never!’ On the principle that you cannot do everything, personal cleanliness is apt to go to the wall, and the energies of the Dutchwomen of the lower middle and the poorer classes are concentrated on washing everything _inanimate,_ even the brick footpath before the houses, which accounts for the clean appearance of the Dutch streets in town and country. Even a heavy downpour of rain does not interfere with the housewife’s or servant’s weekly practice, and you will see servants holding up umbrellas while they wash the fronts of the houses. This excessive cleanliness, together with the other household duties of mother and wife, fills up the ordinary day, and a newspaper or book is seldom seen in their hands.
Passing on to the middle class, we find the mistress’s time largely taken up with directing the servants and bargaining with the tradesmen, who in many cases bring their goods round from house to house. The lady of the house takes care to lock up everything after the supplies for the day have been given out, and the little basket full of keys which she carries about with her is a study in itself. Even in the upper class this locking up is a general practice, for very few people keep a housekeeper. The mistress also takes care of the ‘pot.’ This is an ingenious but objectionable device to make a guest pay for his dinner. On leaving a house after dining you give one of the servants a florin, and all the money so collected is put into a box, and at certain times is divided between the servants, so that a servant on applying for a situation asks what is the value of the ‘pot’ in the year. There are signs of this practice of feeing servants after a dinner being done away with, for it spoils the idea of hospitality, and one’s host on bidding you ‘Good-bye’ resorts to many little artifices in order not to see that you do fee his servant, added to which you are very likely to shake hands with him with the florin in your hand, which you have been furtively trying to transfer to the left hand from the right, and very often the guest drops the wretched coin in his efforts to give it unseen. It is to be hoped that the ladies of Holland will succeed in abolishing a custom which is disagreeable alike to entertainer and entertained.
The women of the upper middle class are certainly much better educated than their English sisters. They always can speak another language than their own, and very often two, French and English now being common, while a few add German and a little Italian, but most of them read German, if they do not speak it. French is universal, however, for the French novel is far more to the taste than the more sober English book. The number and quality of these French books read by the Dutch young lady are enough to astonish and probably shock an English girl, who reads often with difficulty the safe ‘Daudet’ (‘Sapho’ excepted), but the young Dutchwoman knows of no _Index Expurgatorius,_ and reads what she likes. At the same time the classics of England and Germany are very generally read and valued, and many a Dutchwoman could pass a better examination on the text and meaning of Shakespeare than the English-woman, whose knowledge is too often limited to memories of the Cambridge texts of the great poets used in schools.
But, well educated as the Dutchwoman undoubtedly is, there is nothing about her of the ‘blue-stocking,’ and she does not impress you as being clever until a long acquaintance has brought out her many-sided knowledge. The great pity is that her education leads to so little, for there are very few channels into which a Dutchwoman can direct her knowledge. Politics turn for the most part on differences in religions questions, which are abstruse and dry to the feminine mind, and of practical political life she sees nothing. There is no ‘terrace,’ no Primrose League, no canvassing, no political _salon_, no excitement about elections; and added to these negatives, women get snubbed if they venture opinions on political matters, and young people generally look upon politics _et hoc genus omne_ as a bore, and the names of the great statesmen at the helm of affairs are frequently not even known by the younger generation. Little interest is also taken in the army and navy, owing to the fact that there is so little active service in the former and to the smallness of the latter; and woman does not care much about orders, regulations, manoeuvres and comparative strengths–she wants ‘heroes,’ and to know what they have done, and does not consider what the ‘services’ might, could, or should do. The officers who have served in India and have seen active service rank high in her estimation, but as these are few, beyond the affection bestowed upon soldier husband, brother, or lover, which is chiefly displayed in anxiety lest they should be sent to do garrison duty in some town where social advantages are small or _nil_, there is no great interest taken in army affairs by the Dutchwoman. As to the navy, they philosophically acquiesce in the fact that as a ship must sail on the water they must patiently bear the necessary separation from their sailor friends.
When we come to things ecclesiastical there is still less interest taken in the Church. The Roman Catholic Church is outside the question, for the position of the laity there has been well described as ‘kneeling in front of the altar, sitting under the pulpit, and putting one’s hand in one’s pocket without demur when money is required.’ The Protestant laity, however, do not take any great interest in the National Church, and while there are deaconesses devoted to nursing and all good works, as there are _soeurs de charite_ in the Roman communion, yet the rank and file of Dutchwomen do not trouble about their church beyond attending it occasionally–one may say, very occasionally. There is but little brightness in the services of the Reformed Church, no ritual, no scope for artistic work, no curates, and above and beyond ail, no career in the Church for the clergy. At the best they may get sent to one of the large towns, but the life is the same as in the village for the wife of the ‘domine,’ as the Dutch pastor is called. And if the domines move about in fear and trembling because of the argus-eyes and often Midas-like ears of the deacons, their wives must be still more discreet. One ‘domine’ has been known to brave public opinion and ride a bicycle, but for a mother in Israel to do the like would scandalize all good members of the Reformed Church. The wives of the clergy, however, do good and useful work, and probably are more real helpmeets to their husbands than women in any other class of what may be called official life, but they take no sort of lead in parochial or ecclesiastical matters. They do not direct the feminine influences which do work in the parish, but rather take their place as one of them. If, therefore, a woman marries a clergyman, she does so for love of the man and his work’s sake; there cannot be a tinge of ambition as to the career of her husband, for there are no such things as comfortable rectories and prospective deaneries or bishoprics, with their consequent influence and power. Nothing but love of the man brings the ‘domine’ a wife, and she knows that there will be inquisitorial eyes and not too kind speeches about her behaviour from the ‘faithful,’ while the great people, to their loss, will ignore her socially in much the same way as Queen Elizabeth did the wives of the bishops in her day.
Passing to lighter subjects, Dutch girls are now breaking loose from the stiffness and espionage in which their mothers were brought up, and this is without doubt in a large measure due to the introduction of sport. Tennis, hockey, golf, and more especially bicycling have conferred, by the force of circumstances, a freedom which strength of argument, entreaty, and tears failed to effect. Mothers and and chaperons do not, as a rule, bicycle, and play tennis and golf; they cannot always go to club meetings, even to yawn through the sets, and so the young people play by themselves, and there are fast growing a lack of restraint and a healthy freedom of intercourse which are gravely deprecated by grand-mammas, winked at by mothers, but enjoyed to the full by daughters. But quidnuncs prophesy, however, that people will not marry as early as of yore, for young people get to know one another too well by unrestricted intercourse, and the halo with which each sex surrounds the other is dispelled. Be this as it may, no Dutch girl wishes to go back to the old days when she could go nowhere alone.
Yet, however much men like to have women as companions in games, they are not so willing to allow them much to say in matters which the masculine mind considers its own province; for the fact is that most Dutchmen consider women inferiors, and when there is a question of admittance into literary or artistic circles and clubs, women’s work has to be of an undeniably high order. There are one or two ladies’ clubs, but they do not at present flourish, there being so few public platforms on which women can meet, and so the ‘social grade’ determines women’s relative position by women’s votes, and there is small chance of crossing the Rubicon then. There is no doubt, however, that women in Holland are slowly winning their way to greater independence of life. They are filling posts in public offices; they are going to the universities; they are studying medicine and qualifying as doctors; and no doubt they will in time compel men to acknowledge their claims to live an independent life rather than a dependent one. Besides, in Holland, as in other countries, the proportion between the sexes is unequal, and so necessity will force open doors of usefulness hitherto closed to women.
The Dutchwoman dresses expensively in all the towns, and generally well. The toilettes are mostly of a German model, which suits the build of the Dutchwoman better than the fashions of Paris. Rarely, however, do women dress in that simple style in vogue in English morning dress, and a Dutch town or seaside resort is filled in the mornings with gay toilettes more fitted for the Row or the Boulevard. Even when bicycling the majority do not dress very simply.
[Illustration: Dutch Fisher-Girls.]
[Illustration: A Bridal Pair Driving Home.]
Holland has always been noted for the variety and quaintness of its provincial and even communal costumes, and these may all still be seen, though they are dying out slowly. In some, and in fact many cases, a modern bonnet is worn over a beautiful gold or silver headpiece, fringed with lace, but ancient and modern do not in such cases harmonize. Of the distinctly provincial costumes, that of Friesland is generally considered the prettiest, but as illustrations are given of them all in a later chapter, it must be left to the reader to decide the point for himself. The fisherfolk more than any other retain their distinctive dress, although even among them some of the children are habited according to modern ideas, and certainly when the women are doomed to wear fourteen or sixteen skirts, which have the effect of making them liable to pulmonary complaints, it is surprising that modern fashions are not more generally adopted. The plea for modernity in respect of Dutch national costumes is considered rank heresy among artists, but the figures look better in a picture and at a distance than in everyday life, added to which the custom of cutting off or hiding the hair, which some of the head-dresses compel, is not one to be encouraged; and it is a wonder that woman, who knows as a rule her charms, has for so long consented to be deprived of one of the chief ones. But in Holland, as in all countries where education is spreading, cosmopolitanism in dress is increasing, and the picturesque tends to give place to the convenient and in many cases the healthy.
Marriage with all its preliminaries is woman’s triumph, and in Holland she makes the most of it. The manner of seeking a wife and proposing is no doubt the same in the Netherlands as in other European countries, with the exception of France; but once accepted, the happy man must resign himself to the accustomed routine. First of all he exchanges rings, so that a man who is engaged or married betrays the fact as well as a woman by a plain gold ring worn on the third finger. A girl, therefore, has a better chance against those who were ‘deceivers ever’ than in a country where no such outward and visible sign exists. The engagement is announced by cards being sent out, counter-signed by the parents on both sides, and a day is fixed for receiving the congratulations. The betrothed are then considered almost married. Engagements are, of course, frequently broken off, but such a thing as an action for ‘breach of promise’ is impossible, and would be considered most mercenary and mean. As a rule, engagements are not long, and as soon as the wedding-day is agreed upon, the preceding fortnight is filled with parties of various kinds, while there is another great reception just before the wedding day, in which, as before, the bride and bridegroom have to stand for hours receiving the congratulations of their friends. Every now and then they will snatch a chance to sit down, but another arrival brings them again to their feet, weary but smiling. On the wedding morning the happy couple drive to the Town Hall; for all marriages must first be celebrated by the civil authorities, and so they appear before the Burgomaster, who says something appropriate, and they make their vows and sign the papers, after which, if they desire it, there is a service at the church which is called a ‘Benediction,’ at which they are blessed, and have to listen to a long sermon, at the close of which a Bible is given them. This sermon is not the least of the trying experiences, for frequently many of the older members of the party are reduced to tears by allusions to former members of the two families, and all sorts of subjects alien to the particular service are introduced. At a recent wedding known to me, the guests had to listen to a long address in which the Transvaal War and the Paris Exhibition were commented upon. Not only so, but no fewer than three collections are taken at the service, so that people who desire to enter into the holy estate of matrimony must not lack fortitude when they have made up their minds to it.
But once married, a Dutch home is indeed ‘Home, sweet home,’ as is the case more or less in all the northern countries, where the changeful climate compels people to live a great deal within four walls. Dutch fathers are kind, and the mothers are indulgent, and among the poorer classes especially family affection is very great. Most beautiful and touching instances might be abundantly quoted of family devotion, and a society like that for the ‘prevention of cruelty to children’ would find little to do in Holland.
The Workman of the Towns
The condition of the Dutch urban working classes is by no means an enviable one. Granting that wages are much higher than half a century ago, when bread cost fivepence-halfpenny the loaf as against three halfpence to-day, and when clothes and furniture cost fifty per cent. more than now, the average working-man cannot be otherwise described than as distinctly poor when compared with his English colleague. Yet it would be misleading to judge exclusively by the scale of wages, and against making comparisons of the kind the reader should at once be warned. The fact is that there are very wide divergences of condition amongst the working classes of Holland. A carpenter or a blacksmith earning from L1 to L1 10s. in weekly wages all the year round will rank, if sober and well-behaved, as a comparatively well-to-do workman. On the other hand, a bricklayer or a painter, whose work in winter is very uncertain, and who earns, maybe, a bare L1 a week during the nine months of the year wherein he can find work, is a poor workman at the best, and his condition is greatly to be deplored. More pitiable still, however, is the case of working-class families in some of the manufacturing towns, where wages are still lower, and where an even tolerable standard of life cannot be maintained unless mother and children take their place in the factory side by side with the head of the household as regular wage-earners.
For, as labour is cheap and families are numerous in Holland, as soon as the boys and girls have reached the sacramental age of twelve, at which Dutch law allows them to work twelve hours a day, they leave school, and enter the factory and workshop.
It is no joke for these children, who have to leave their little beds, frequently under the tiles, at 5 or 6 a.m., or earlier, summer and winter, to gulp down some hot coffee, or what is conveniently called so, to swallow a huge piece of the well-known Dutch ‘Roggebrood,’ or rye-bread, and then to hurry, in their wooden shoes, through the quiet streets of the town to their place of work.
Sometimes they have time to return home at 8 or 8.30 a.m. for a second hurried ‘breakfast,’ which as often as not is their first, for many of them start the day’s work on an empty stomach. Those who cannot run home and back in the half-hour usually allowed for the first ‘Schaft,’ or meal-time, take their bread-and-butter with them in a cotton or linen bag, and their milk-and-water or coffee in a tin, and so shift as well as they can. Dinner-time, as a rule, finds the whole family united from about twelve until one o’clock or half-past in the kitchen at home. This kitchen is, of course, used for cooking, washing, dwelling, and sleeping purposes. The walls are whitewashed, and the floor consists of flag-stones. Of luxury there is none, of comfort little. Generally the fare of the day is potatoes, with some vegetable, carrots, turnips, cabbage, or beans. A piece of bacon, rarely some beef, is sometimes added; while mutton is hardly ever eaten in Holland, unless by very poor people. Fish is too expensive for most of them, except fried kippers or bloaters. If there is time over, and the house has a little garden attached to it, the children help by watering the vegetables growing there, should it be summer-time, or by making themselves generally useful. But at 1 or 1.30 they have to be back at the workshop, and until 7 p.m. the drudgery goes on again. On Saturday evening the boy brings his sixpence, or whatever his trifling wages may be, to his mother. Rent and the club-money for illness and funeral expenses must be at hand when the collectors call either on Sunday or Monday morning. As a rule, though the exceptions are numerous enough, the father also brings his whole pay with him; but drink is the curse–a decreasing curse, it may be, but still a curse–of many a workman’s family, and in such cases the inroads it makes in the domestic budget are very serious.
So the boys grow up, in a busy, monotonous life, until they are called upon to subject themselves to compulsory military service. Before they become recruits they have usually joined various societies–debating, theatrical, social, political, or other. Arnold Toynbee has a good many admirers and followers in Holland, who do yeoman’s work after his spirit, and bring bright, healthy pleasure into the lives of these youthful toilers. Divines of all denominations, Protestant and Catholic, have also their ‘At homes’ and their ‘Congregations,’ and innocent amusement is not unseldom mixed with religious teaching at their meetings. In this way, too, a helpful, restraining influence is exerted upon youth. And gradually the boy becomes a young man, associating with other young men, and, like his wealthier neighbours, discussing the world’s affairs, dreaming of drastic reforms, and thinking less and less of the dreary home, where father and mother, grown old before their time, are little more than the people with whom he boards, and who take the whole or part of his wages, allowing him some modest pocket-money for himself.
In the meantime his sisters have been living with some middle-class family, starting as errand-girls, being afterwards promoted to the important position of ‘kindermeid’ or children’s maid, though all the time sleeping out, which means that before and after having toiled a whole day for strangers, they do part of the housework for their mothers at home. After some time, however, they find employment as housemaids, or in other domestic positions. If they have the good fortune to find considerate yet strict and conscientious mistresses, the best time of their life now begins; there is no exhaustion from work, yet good food, good lodging, and kind treatment. Should they care to cultivate the fine art of cooking, they get instruction in that line, and are in most cases allowed to work independently, and even, when reliable and trustworthy, to do the buying of vegetables, etc., by themselves in the market-places, which all Dutch towns boast of, and in which the produce of the land is offered for sale in abundance and appetizing freshness. All this tends to teach a servant-girl how to use alike her eyes, hands, and brain, and to educate her into a thrifty, industrious, and tidy workman’s wife, who will know how to make both ends meet, however short her resources may be. This is one of the reasons why so many Dutch workmen’s homes, notwithstanding the low wages, have an appearance of snug prosperity–the women there have learned how to make a little go a long way.
And how about their future husbands? Have they, too, learned their trade? Perhaps; if they are particularly strong, shrewd, industrious, and persevering, though technical education (‘ambachtsonderwys’) is much a thing of the future in Holland.
In the general course of life a boy goes to a trade which offers him the highest wages. If he can begin by earning eightpence a week, he will not go elsewhere to earn sixpence if the wear and tear of shoes and clothes is the same in both cases, although the sixpenny occupation may perhaps be better suited to his tastes, ability, and general aptitude. To his mother the extra two pence are a consideration; they may cover some weekly contribution to a necessary fund. Running errands is his first work, until accidentally some workman or some apprentice leaves the shop, in which case he is moved up, and a new boy has the errands to do. But now he must look out for himself; his master is not over-anxious to let him learn all the ins and outs of the work, for as soon as his competitors hear that he has a very clever boy in his shop, he is sure to lose that boy, who is tempted away by the offer of better pay. Nor are the workmen greatly inclined to impart their little secrets, to explain this thing and that, and so help the young fellow on. Why should they? Nobody did it for them; they got their qualifications by their own unaided exertions–let the boy do the same. Moreover, the ‘baas,’ or chief, does not like them to ‘waste their time’ in that manner, and the ‘baas’ is the dispenser of their bread-and-butter; so the boy is, as a rule, regarded merely as a nuisance.
There are workshops, first-class workshops, too, where no apprentices have been admitted for dozens of years, simply because the employers do not see their way to make an efficient agreement with the boys or their parents which would prevent them from letting a competitor enjoy the results of their technical instruction. One would not be astonished that in these circumstances all over Holland the want of technical schools is badly felt, and that agitation for their provision is active. Only some twenty-four such schools exist at present; the oldest, that at Amsterdam, dates from 1861, and the youngest, that of Nymegen, was established in 1900. Partly municipal schools, partly schools built by the private effort of citizens, they all do their work well. It is only during the last few years that the nation has begun to ask whether technical education ought not to be taken up by the State. The Dutch like private enterprise in everything, and are always inclined to prefer it to State or municipal action; but they have come to recognize that technical schools may be good schools, and may do good work on behalf of the much-needed improvement of handicraft, even though not private ventures, and that so far this branch of national education has not kept up with the times.
The idea which will probably in the end gain the day, is that the Technical Schools should be managed by the town councils and subsidized by the State, who in return would receive the right of supervision and inspection, and of laying down general rules for their curricula. For the present, however, there is no law settling the question, and the apprentices are the sufferers by the lack, since the employers shrink from employing their means, time, and knowledge on behalf of unscrupulous competitors.
In general the life of an urban working-man is a constant struggle against poverty and sickness. Children come plentifully, rather too much so for the unelastic possibilities of their parents’ wages. The young wife does not get stronger by frequent confinements; and the fare is bound to get less nourishing as the mouths round the domestic board increase–always simple, it often becomes insufficient. The mother, working hard already, has to work harder still and to do laundry work at home or go out as a charwoman, in order to increase the modest income. In industrial centres women frequently work in the factories as well, though the law does at least protect them against too long hours and premature work after confinement.
Thanks to the Dutch thrift, burial funds and sickness funds come promptly to the rescue when death lays his iron grip on the wasted form of the poor town-bred babies, when illness saps the man’s power to earn his usual wages, and the family’s income is for the time cut off. Of these benefit funds there are about 450 in Holland, distributed amongst some 150 towns. Half of them are burial funds, and half mixed burial and sickness funds; their members number about two millions; yet, although they certainly do much to prevent extreme poverty, they do it in a manner which in many cases is little short of a scandal. Their legal status is rather uncertain, and in consequence many managers do as they like, and make a good thing for themselves out of their duty to the poor. Too often these managers are supreme controllers of the funds, and the members have no influence whatever. In many cases the only official the latter know is the collector, who calls at their houses for the weekly contributions. This official frequently resorts to questionable tricks for extorting money from the poor helpless members, who simply and confidently pay what they are told to pay–small sums, of course, a few cents or pence, it may be, but still ‘adding up’ in the long run–and when sorrow and death enter their humble dwellings they are easily imposed upon by cool scoundrels, who trade on their disinclination to quarrel about money when there is a corpse in the house.
Another danger of the irregular condition of these funds lies in the fact that outsiders may take out policies on the lives of certain families. A few years ago the country was shocked by the alarming story of a woman who had poisoned a series of persons merely to be able to get the funeral expenses paid to herself, while many a wretched little baby has in this manner been the horrible investment of heartless neighbours, who, knowing the poor thing was dying, took out policies for its funeral. For medical examination is not required for these beautifully managed associations. Their premiums are, however, so high that this detail does not materially affect their sound financial position; and this being the case, it cannot be denied that the absence of such examinations considerably increases their general utility for the labouring classes.
[Illustration: A Dutch Street Scene.]
The clubs for preventing financial loss by illness do require a medical examination. They number in Holland nearly 700, distributed in over 300 towns. Some allow a fixed sum of money during illness, others provide doctor and medicines, others do both. But the same objections and grievances which workmen entertain against burial funds apply likewise to these latter clubs. The curious thing is that, instead of grumbling, the workman does not make up his mind to mend matters by insisting on having a share in the management of societies and funds to which he has contributed so large a part of his earnings. As yet, however, the Dutch labouring classes have not found the man who is able to organize them for this or other purposes. They have able advocates, eloquent, passionate reformers, straightforward, honest friends, but the work of these is more destructive criticism than constructive organization. Where organization exists, it is political, social, religious, but not industrial–local, but not universal, and it often has the bitter suggestion of charity. On the other hand, the poor fellows have so often been imposed upon that they feel very little confidence in each other and in the wealthier classes who profess deep interest in their woes and sorrows. There are no very large industrial centres in Holland; the wages are so low that most workmen are obliged to find supplementary incomes, either by doing overtime, or by doing odd jobs after the regular day’s work is over. Hence there is not much time or energy left for the common cause. Some great employers, like Mr. J.C. van Marken, of Delft, and Messrs. Stork Brothers, of Hengeloo, have organizations of their own, by which important ameliorations are obtained; but smaller employers hear the labour leaders constantly deprecating such efforts and preaching the blessings of Social Democracy as the true panacea, so they do not see why they should put themselves to any inconvenience or expense for the sake of earning abuse and ingratitude.
Moreover, many of these employers adhere to the obsolete maxim of the Manchester economists, that labour is merely a sort of merchandise, of which the workman keeps a certain stock-in-trade, and that the capitalist’s simple task, as a man of business, is to buy that labour as cheaply as possible, and that he has done with the seller as soon as his stock-in-trade is exhausted. Happily, a good many others understand now that in the long run this ridiculous theory is quite as bad for the State as killing was for the fowl which laid the golden eggs.
At all events, the feelings of the workman for his ‘patroon,’ as the old name still in use calls the employer, are none of the kindest. Sweating is a much less common occurrence in Holland than it was some twenty years ago; but while it would be mere demagogic clap-trap to speak of the remorseless exhaustion of labour by capital, there is nevertheless room enough for the cultivation of greater amenity between the two. And so it will remain for some time to come. Social legislation may do a great deal in the course of time, but it cannot do everything, and at best it must follow the awakening of the popular conscience. Hence progress must be made step by step, for nothing is so menacing to the stability of the social fabric as sudden changes, and a wise statesman prefers to let every one of his acts do its own work, and produce its own consequences, before he risks the next move. The disintegration of social life is much worse than social misery, for disintegration makes misery universal, and throws innumerable obstacles in the way towards restoration.
And, however much the Dutch understand the workman’s feelings and position, however much they all long to see the latter improved, they also have learned enough of social and political history to know that for the community in general the only wise and safe principle of action is progress by degrees–evolution, not revolution.
The Canals and Their Population
When Drusus a few years before the commencement of our era excavated the Yssel canal, and thus gave a new arm to the Rhine, he began a process of canalization in the Frisian and Batavian provinces which has been going on more or less ever since. To the foreigner Holland or the Northern Netherlands must always appear a land of dykes and canals, the one not more important for protection than the other as an artery of communication; spreading commerce and supporting national life. Napoleon, with _naive_ comprehensiveness, called Holland the alluvion of French rivers. Dutch patriots declare with legitimate pride, ‘God gave us the sea, but we made the shore,’ and no one who has seen the artificial barrier that guards the mainland from the Hook to the Texel will disparage their achievement or scoff at their pretensions.
[Illustration: A Sea-Going Canal.]
The sea-dyke saves Holland from the Northern Ocean, sombre and grey in its most genial mood, menacing and stormy for the long winter of our northern hemisphere; but it is to the inland dykes that protect the low-lying polders that Holland owes her prosperity and the sources of wealth which have made her inhabitants a nation. The original character of the country, a marshland intersected by the numerous channels of the Rhine and the Meuse, rendered it imperative that the System of dykes should be accompanied by a brother system of canals. The over-abundant waters had not merely to be arrested, they had to be confined and led off into prepared channels. In this manner also they were made to serve the purposes of man. High-roads across swamps were either impracticable or too costly; but canals furnished a sure and convenient means of transport and communication.
At the same time they did not imperil the security of the country. Roads on causeways or reared on sunken piles would have opened the door to an invader, but the canals provided an additional weapon of defence, for the opening of the dykes sufficed to turn the country again into its primeval state of marshland. The occasion on which this measure alone saved Holland during the French invasion of 1670 is a well-known passage in history, and the hopes of the Dutch in resisting the attack of any powerful aggressor would centre in the same measure of defence, which is the submerging of the country, practically speaking, under the waters of the canals and rivers. There exists a popular belief that there is at Amsterdam one master key, a turn of which would let loose the waters over the land, but whether it is well founded or not no one except a very few officials can say.
Pending any unfortunate necessity for breaking through the dykes and letting loose the waters, it may be observed in passing that the effectual maintenance of the dykes is a constant anxiety, and entails strenuous exertions. They stand in need of repeated repairing, and it is computed that they are completely reconstructed in the course of every four or five years. A sum of nearly a million sterling is spent annually on the work. A large and specially trained staff of engineers are in unceasing harness, a numerous band of dyke watchers are constantly on the look-out, and when they raise the shout, ‘Come out! come out!’ not a man, woman, or child must hold back from the summons to strengthen the weak points through which threatens to pass the flood that would overwhelm the land. It is a constant struggle with nature, in which the victory rests with man. As the dyke is the bulwark of Dutch prosperity in peace, it might be converted into the ally of despairing patriotism in war.
There are marked differences among the canals. The two largest and best known canals, the North Canal and the North Sea Canal, are passages to the ocean for the largest ships, and specially intended to benefit the trade of Amsterdam. The North Canal was made in 1819-25, soon after the restoration of the House of Orange, with an outlet at Helder, near the mouth of the Texel. It has a breadth of between 40 and 50 yards, a length of 50 miles, and a depth of 20 feet, which was then thought ample. After forty years’ use this canal was found inadequate from every point of view. It was accordingly decided to construct a new canal direct from Amsterdam to Ymuiden across the narrowest strip of Holland. Although the Y was utilized, the labour on this canal was immense, and occupied a period of eleven years, being finally thrown open to navigation in 1877. In length it is under 16 miles, but its average breadth is 100 yards, and the depth varies from 23 to 27 feet. Consequently the largest ships from America or the Indies can reach the wharves of Amsterdam as easily as if it were a port on the sea-coast. Leaving aside the sea-passages that have been canalized among the islands of Zeeland, the remaining canals are inland waterways serving as the principal highways of the country, giving one part of the country access to the other, and especially serving as approaches or lanes to the great rivers Meuse and Rhine.
[Illustration: A Village in Dyke-Land.]
The interesting canal population of Holland is, of course, to be found on these canals, which are traversed in unceasing flow from year’s end to year’s end by the tjalks, or national barges. On these boats, which more resemble a lugger than a barge, they navigate not only the canals of their own country, but the Rhine up to Coblentz, and even above that place. It has been computed that Germany imports half its food-supply through Rotterdam, and much of this is borne to its destined markets on tjalks. The William Canal connects Bois le Duc with Limburg, and saves the great bend of the Meuse. The Yssel connects with the Drenthe the Orange and the Reitdiep canals, which convey to the Rhine the produce of remote Groningen and Friesland. The Rhine represents the destination of the bulk of the permanent canal population of Holland, whose floating habitations furnish one of the most interesting sights to be met with on the waters of the country, but which represent one of the secret phases of the people’s life, into which few tourists or visitors have the opportunity of peering.
The canal population of Holland is fixed on a moderate computation at 50,000 persons. For this number of persons the barge represents the only fixed home, and the year passes in ceaseless movement across the inland waters of the country or on the great German river, excepting for the brief interval when the canals are frozen over in the depth of winter. Even during these periods of enforced idleness the barge does not the less continue to be their home, for the simple reason that the canal population possesses no other. Their whole life for generations, the bringing up and education of the children, the years of toil from youth to old age, are passed on these barges, which, varying in size and still more in condition, are as closely identified with the name of home in their owners’ minds as if they were built of brick and stone on firm land. The ambition of the youth who tugs at the rope is to possess a tjalk of his own, and he diligently looks out for the maiden whose dowry will assist him, with his own savings, to make the purchase. This he may hope to procure for five or six hundred gulden, if he will be content with one of limited dimensions, and somewhat marked by time. When a family comes he will want a larger and more commodious boat, but by that time the profits which his first tjalk will have earned as a carrier will go far towards buying a second.
The tjalks are all built in the same form and from a common model. They carry a mast and sail, although for the greater part of their journeys they are towed by their owners, or rather by the familles, wife and children, of the owner. Mynheer, the barge-owner, is usually to be seen smoking his pipe and taking his ease near the tiller. Formerly it was otherwise, for the towing was done by dogs, under the personal direction of, and no doubt with some assistance from, the barge-owner himself, while his wife and children remained on the poop of the boat. But five and twenty years ago the authorities of Amsterdam issued a law prohibiting the employment of dogs in the work of towing, and gradually this law was generally adopted and enforced throughout the country. When dogs were emancipated from their servitude on the canal-bank the family had to take their places, and by degrees the ease-loving head of the family has grown content to look on and think towing a labour reflecting on his dignity. There is nothing unusual in the sight of a barge being towed by an old woman, her daughter or daughter-in-law, and several children. As they strain at the rope the work seems extremely hard, but the people themselves appear unconscious of any hardship or inequality in the distribution of labour.
The barge is in the first place a conveyance. The whole of the front part of the boat represents the hold in which the cargo is placed. This is generally represented by cheese or vegetables, timber, peat, and stones, the last-named being a return-cargo for the repairing of dykes and the construction of quays. But in the second place it is a house or place of residence, and the stern of the boat is given up for that purpose. The living room is the raised deck or poop, on which is not only the tiller, but the cooking-stove. The sleeping-room forms the one covered-in apartment. It is easily divisible into two by a temporary or removable partition, and it always possesses the two little windows, one on each side of the tiller, which give it so great a resemblance to a doll’s house. This resemblance is certainly heightened by the custom of colouring the barges, which are always painted a bright colour, red or green being perhaps the most usual. As ornament there is usually a good deal of brasswork; the handle of the tiller is generally bordered with the metal, and the owner seems to take pride in nailing brass along the bulwarks of his boat where it is not wanted and is even little seen. It has been suggested that the polishing of these brass plates or bars provides a pleasant change from the dull routine work of towing. The brightness of the paint and the brasswork constitutes the pride of the barge-owners, and supplies a standard of comparison among them.
To increase the homelike aspect of this water residence, birds and plants, always in more or less quantity and variety, are to be seen either in the windows or on the deck. The poorest bargee, which generally means the youngest or the beginner, will have one song-bird in a gilt cage, and as he accumulates money in his really profitable calling, he will add to his collection of birds a row of flowers and bulbs in pots. Thus he says, with a glow of satisfaction, ‘I possess an aviary and a garden, like my cousin Hans on the polders, although my home is on the moving waters.’ To strengthen the illusion what does he do but fix a toy gate on the poop above his sleeping-cabin, and thus cherishes the belief that he is on his own domain? In the evening, when the towing is over for the day, the women bring out their sewing, the children play round the tiller, and the good man smokes his immense pipe with complete and indolent satisfaction. And so day passes on to day without a variation, and life runs by without a ripple or a murmur for the canal population, while the mere landsmen look on with envy at what seems to them an idyllic existence, and even ladies of breeding and high station have been known to declare that they would gladly change places with the mistress of the bargee’s quarter-deck. That was no doubt in the days before women had to take on themselves the brunt and burden of the towing.
[Illustration: A Canal in Dordrecht.]
But even for the canal population of Holland the halcyon days are past. The spirit of reform is in the air. It may not be long before the tjalk, with its doll’s house and its residential population, will finally disappear, and leave the canals of Holland as dull and colourless as the inland waters of any other country. The reform seems likely to come about in this way. There are at least 30,000 children resident on the canal-boats. How are they to be properly educated and brought up as useful citizens if they are to continue to lead a migratory existence which never leaves them for a fortnight in a single place? Formerly, nobody cared whether they were educated or not. They were left undisturbed to live their lives in their own simple and primitive way. As De Amicis wrote: ‘The children are born and grow up on the water; the boat carries all their small belongings, their domestic affections, their past, their present, and their future. They labour and save, and after many years they buy a larger boat, selling the old one to a family poorer than themselves, or handing it over to the eldest son, who in his turn instals his wife, taken from another boat, and seen for the first time in a chance meeting on the canal.’ But now the State has begun to interest itself in the children, and its intervention threatens to put a rude and summary ending to the system of heredity and exclusion which has kept the canal population a class apart.
For some time past schools have been in existence, especially devoted to the education of the barge children, and whenever the barges are moored in harbour the children are expected to attend them. But these periods of halting are very brief and uncertain. The stationary barge earns no money, and it may even be that the parents evade the law as far as possible for fear of seeing their children acquire a distaste for the life in which they have been brought up. But the Government, having taken one step in the matter, cannot afford to go back, and it must also have definite satisfactory results to show for its legislation. The tentative measure of temporary schools along the canals has not leavened the illiteracy of the canal population. It will, therefore, become necessary at no great interval to devise some fresh and drastic regulations. Compulsory attendance at school for nine months of the year, which now applies to children in normal circumstances, may not be the lot of the barge children for some time, but when it comes, as it inevitably will one day, it will of necessity mean the break-up of the home life on the canals, for the children will have to be left behind during the almost unceasing voyages, and a place of residence will have to be provided on land. Where the children are the women will soon be, and gradually this place of residence will become the home, displacing the barge in the associations and affections of the canal population. Whether these changes will benefit those most affected by them cannot be guaranteed, but at least they will put an end to the separate existence of the canal population.
When this result has been compassed by the inexorable progress of education and knowledge, the gradual disappearance of the canal population, the class of hereditary bargees as we have known it, and as it still exists, may be expected to follow at no remote date, for it was based on the enforcement of the family principle, and on the devotion of a whole community, from its youngest to its eldest member, to its maintenance. As it is the tow-barge is something of an anachronism, but the withdrawal of the youthful recruits, whose up-bringing alone rendered it possible, will entail its inevitable extinction. The decay and break-up of the guild of tjalk owners will be hastened by the introduction of steam and electricity as means of locomotion. The canals will lose the bright-coloured barges which are to-day their most striking feature, and the population that has so long floated over their surface. Life will be duller and more monotonous. The canal population, so long distinct, will be merged in the rest of the community. The tug will displace the tow-rope. The pullers will be housed on land, mastering the three R’s instead of learning to strain at the girth.
But there is still a brief period left during which the canal population may be seen in its original primitive existence, devoted to the barge, which is the only home known to six or seven thousand families, and traversing the water roads of their country in unceasing and endless progression. There is nothing like it in any other country of Europe. Venice has its water routes, but the gondola is not a domicile. There was a canal population in England, but, like much else in our modern life, it has lost whatever picturesqueness it might once have claimed. For a true canal population, bright and happy, living the same life from father to son and generation to generation, we must go to Holland. There these inland navigators ply their vocation with only one ambition, and that to become the owner of a tjalk, and to rear thereon a family of towers. It is said that the life is one that requires the consumption of unlimited quantitics of ‘schnapps,’ and the humidity of the atmosphere is undoubted. But even free libations do not diminish the prosperity of the bargees. They are a thriving race, and it must also be noted to their credit that they are well behaved, and not given to quarrels. Collisions on the thickly-covered canals are rare; malicious collisions are unknown. The barges pass and repass without hindrance, the tow-ropes never get entangled, there is mutual forbearance, and the skill derived from long experience in slipping the ropes uncler the barges does the rest. The conditions under which the canal population exists and thrives are a survival of an older order of things. When they disappear another of the few picturesque heritages of mediaeval life will have been removecl from the hurly-burly and fierce competition of modern existence.
A Dutch Village
Villages in Holland are towns in miniature, for the simple reason that when you have a marsh to live in you drain a part of it and build on that part, and so build in streets, and do not form a village as in England, by houses dotted here and there round a green or down leafy lanes. The village green in Holland is the village street or square in front of the church or ‘Raadhuis.’ Here the children play, for you cannot play in a swamp, and that is what polder land is seven months out of the year, and so we find that a Dutch village in most parts of the country is a town in miniature.
[Illustration: An Overyssel Farmhouse.]
Thirty years ago the ‘Raadhuis’ would have been the village inn, barber’s shop, and the principal hotel all rolled into one, and the innkeeper, as a natural consequence, the wealthiest man in the neighbourhood. The farmers would have sat at the ‘Raad,’ i.e. the Village Council, with their caps over their eyes, long Gouda pipes in their mouths, and a ‘Glaasje Klare’ (‘Schiedam’) under their chairs which they would have steadily sipped at intervals, puffing at their pipes during the whole sitting. Their wooden shoes (‘Klompen’), scrubbed for the occasion to a brilliant white with the help of a good layer of whitening, might have been seen in a row standing on the door-mat, for no well-educated farmer would ever have dreamed of entering a room with shoes on his feet, and he would have taken his ‘pruim,’ or quid of tobacco, which every farmer chews even when smoking, out of his mouth and laid it on the window-sill, the usual receptacle for such things, and there it would lie in its own little circle of brown fluid, to be replaced either in his own or his neighbour’s mouth after the meeting was over. Nowadays a farmer goes to the ‘Raad’ dressed in a suit of black clothes and with his feet encased in leather boots. He never wears ‘Klompen’ save when at work in the field or on the farm. He also talks of his ‘Gemeente,’ for all Holland is portioned off into ‘Gemeenten,’ and a village is such in as good a sense as large towns like The Hague and Amsterdam, and better if anything, for the taxes there are not so high. Each ‘Gemeente’ is separately governed by a Burgomaster and ‘Leden van den Raad’, which is nothing more nor less than a County Council, presided over by a prominent man nominated by the sovereign, and not elected by the members, of which some are called ‘Wethouders,’ and are, like the other members, elected by the residents of the district. These Wethouders, with the Burgomaster, form the ‘Dagelyksch Bestuur.’ All ordinary matters concerning the ‘Gemeente,’ such as giving information to the Minister of War about the men who have signed for the militia, or about any person living in their ‘Gemeenten,’ are regulated by the ‘Dagelyksch Bestuur,’ though matters of import are brought before the ‘Raad.’ Next in importance to the Burgomaster come the ‘Gemeenteontvanger,’ who receives all the taxes, and the ‘Notary, who is the busiest man in the village, although the doctor and clergyman or priest have a large share in the work of contributing to the welfare of the villagers.
[Illustration: An Overyssel Farmhouse.]
A village clergyman is an important person, for he is held in high honour by his parishioners, and his larder is always well stocked free of cost. His income also is relatively larger than that of a town pastor, for besides his fixed salary he reaps a nice little revenue from the pastures belonging to the ‘Pastorie,’ which he lets out to farmers. The schoolmaster, on the contrary, is treated with but little consideration, and he often feels decidedly like a fish out of water, for though belonging by birth to the labouring class, he is too well educated to associate with his former companions and yet not sufficiently refined to move in the village ‘society,’ besides which he would not be able to return hospitality, as his salary only amounts to from L40 to L60 a year, and nowhere is the principle of reciprocity more observed than in Dutch hospitality in certain classes. In very small villages many offices are combined in one person, and so we find a prominent inhabitant blacksmith, painter, and carpenter, while the baker’s shop is a kind of universal provider for the villagers’ simple wants. The butcher is the only person who is the man of one occupation, though he, too, goes round to the neighbouring farms to help in the slaughtering of the cattle, and sometimes lends a hand in the salting and storing of the meat.
The farmers live just outside the village, and only come there when they go to the ‘Raad’ or on Saturday evenings when the week’s work is done. They then visit the barber before meeting at the _cafe_ for their weekly game of billiards. Every resident of the village also betakes himself to his ‘club’ or ‘Societeit’ on Saturday night, and just as the ‘Mindere man,’ i.e. farmers and labourers, have their games and discuss their farms, their cattle, and the price of hay or corn, so, too, the ‘Notabelen’ discuss every subject under the sun, not forgetting their dear neighbours.
On Sunday mornings the whole ‘Gemeente’ goes to church, from the Burgomaster to the poorest farm-labourer, and all are dressed in their best. The men of the village have put aside their working-clothes, and are attired in blue or black cloth suits with white shirt fronts and coloured ties. The women have donned black dresses, caps and shawls, and carry their scent-bottles, peppermints, and ‘Gezangboek’ (hymn-book) with large golden clasps. The ‘Stovenzetster,’ a woman who acts as verger, shows the good people to their seats and provides the women, if the weather is cold, with ‘warme stoven’ (hot stoves), to keep their feet comfortable. These little ‘stoves’ contain little three-cornered green or brown pots (‘testen’), in which pieces of glowing peat are put, and sometimes when the peat is not quite red-hot it smokes terribly, and gives a most unpleasant odour to the building. The women survive it, however, by resorting to their _eau de Cologne,_ which they sprinkle upon their handkerchiefs, and keep passing to their neighbours during the whole service.
The village schoolmaster has a special office to perform in the Sunday service. It is he who reads a ‘chapter’ to them before the entrance of the clergyman, who only comes when service has begun. Then the sermon, which is the chief part of the service in Dutch churches, begins. This sermon is very long, and the congregation sleep through the first part very peacefully, but the rest is not for long, for when the domine has spoken for about three-quarters of an hour he calls upon his congregation to sing a verse of some particular psalm. The schoolmaster starts the singing, which goes very slowly, each note lasting at least four beats, so that the tune is completely lost. However, as a rule, every one sings a different tune, and nobody knows which is the right one. Two collections are taken during the service, one for the poor and one for the church, the schoolmaster and the elders (‘Ouderlingen’) of the church going round with little bags tied to very long sticks, which they pass ail along a row in which to receive the ‘gifts.’ Generally one cent is given by each of the congregation.
[Illustration: Approach to an Overyssel Farm.]
After church is over the Sunday lunch takes the next place in the day’s routine. The table is always more carefully set out on Sundays than on other days, and to the usual fare of bread, butter, and cheese are added smoked beef and cake, while the coffee-pot stands on the ‘Komfoortje’ (a square porcelain stand with a little light inside to keep the pot hot), and the sugar-pot contains white sugar as a Sunday treat, for sugar is very dear in Holland, and cannot form an article of daily consumption. Servants always make an agreement about sugar; hence on week-days a supply of ‘brokken’ (sweets something like toffee, and costing about a penny for three English ounces) is kept in the sugar-pot, and when the people drink coffee they put a ‘brok’ in their mouths and suck it. Should their cup be emptied before the ‘brok’ is finished, they replace it on their saucers till a second cup is poured out for them, and if they do not take a second cup, then their ‘brok’ is put back into the sugar-pot again.
After lunch the men now find their way to the ‘Societeit,’ or in summer to the village street, where they walk about in their shirt-sleeves and smoke. The children go to their Sunday schools, or, if they are Roman Catholics, to their ‘Leering,’ which is a Bible-class held for them in church, and in villages where there is no Sunday school they, too, leisurely perambulate the village dressed in their best clothes, even if it is a wet day. The women first clear away the lunch utensils, and then have a little undisturbed chat with their neighbours on the doorstep, or go to see their friends in town. At four o’clock the whole family assembles again in the parlour for their ‘Borreltje,’ either consisting of ‘Boerenjongens’ (brandied raisins) or ‘Brandewyn met suiker’ (brandy with sugar), which they drink out of their best glasses. There is no church in the evening, so the villagers retire early to bed, so as to be in good trim for the week’s hard work again.
From this sketch it will be judged that life in a village is very dull. There is nothing to break the monotony of the days, and one season passes by in precisely the same way as another. Days and seasons, in fact, make no difference whatever in the villager’s existence. There is no pack of hounds to fire the sporting instinct; no excitement of elections; no distraction of any kind. All is quiet, regular, and uneventful, and when their days are over they sleep with their fathers naturally enough, for only too often have they been half asleep all their lives.
The Peasant at Home
To describe an ‘average’ Dutch peasant would be to say very little of him. There is far too much difference in this class of people all over the Netherlands to allow of any generalization. In Zeeland we meet two distinct types; one very much akin to the Spanish race, having a Spaniard’s dark hair, dark eyes, and sallow complexion, and often very good-looking. The other type is entirely different, fair-haired, light-eyed, and of no particular beauty. In Limburg, the most southern province of the Netherlands, one finds a mixture of the German, Flemish, and Dutch types, and the language there is a dialect formed from all those three tongues, while in the most northern province, Groningen, the people speak a dialect resembling that spoken in Overyssel and Gelderland, and the Frisians, their neighbours, would feel themselves quite strangers in the last named provinces, and would not even be able to make themselves understood when speaking in their usual language. In the Betuwe the dialect spoken differs from that in the Veluwe, but no distinct line can be drawn to determine where one dialect begins and the other ends.
In their mode of dressing, too, there is a great difference between the people of one province and of another, and in Zeeland every island has its own special costume. Just as they differ in dress, so they also differ in appearance and education, wealth, and civilization.
A North Holland farmer is well-to-do and independent. For centuries he has battled and disputed every inch of his land with the sea, and it has been pointed out by observant people that the effects of the strife are still marked in his harsh and rugged features and independent ways. It is well known that his cattle are the best in all the country, for the pastures, by reason of the damp polder ground, are very rich, and yield year out year in an abundant crop of grass and hay, the cows he keeps for milking purposes giving from 20 to 30 litres, or from 45 to 70 pints, of milk a day, which is a very high yield.
[Illustration: Zeeland Costume.]
The ‘Vrye Fries’–for the Frisian congratulates himself on never having been conquered, but always having in days of war and tribal feud made his own terms more or less with an adversary–stands higher in culture and intellect, and is also more enterprising, than the great majority of the Dutch peasants. He welcomes many inventions, and is willing to risk something in trying them, and so one can see many kinds of machinery in use on the Frisian farms. He also works with the most modern and approved artificial manures.
[Illustration: Zeeland Costumes.]
The Groningen and Overyssel boer[Footnote: Peasant and farmer as a rule are convertible terms. A farmer is a peasant, although a peasant is not always the owner of a farm. In point of education the farmer himself does not differ from the average labourer on his farm, and both alike are classed as ‘boeren.’] follows his example unless the farms are so small as to make large machinery impracticable, when he goes along the path marked out by his great-grandfather, and finds safety, if not novelty, in so doing. All over the north of Holland the cows are good, and there is milk, butter, and cheese in abundance at the markets, especially the two last-named articles, as nearly all the milk is sent to the ‘Zuivelfabrieken,’ as butter and cheese factories are called.
Travelling from north to south, and so reaching the Wilhelminapolder in Zeeland, we come across the steam-plough, but that is the only place in the Netherlands where it is in use. The further south one goes–Zeeland excepted–the lower becomes the standard of life, and the peasants seem to care for little else than their fields and cattle, while the people of Noord Brabant are the poorest and dirtiest of them all. The produce of the soil varies according to the ground cultivated. In Utrecht and Brabant many thousand acres are devoted to tobacco, while Overyssel and Gelderland, as a rule, grow rye, oats, buckwheat, and flax. In Drenthe the greater part of the province yields peat, and North and South Holland are famous all over the world for their rich pastures. Cabbages and cauliflowers are also extensively cultivated for exportation, and in Friesland they have begun to cultivate them also. From Wateringen to the Hoek van Holland one sees smiling orchards, while from Leyden to Haarlem blossom the world-famed bulb fields, too well known to need special description.
The farm-work is done in the spring and summer. The women invariably help with the lighter work of weeding in the fields, while in harvest-time they work as hard as the men, and very picturesque they look in their broad black hats and white linen skirts. But when the harvest is gathered in, and the pigs have been converted into hams and sausages, the man’s chief labour is over, although the manuring of the land and the threshing of the corn have to be attended to. Still, he has his evenings wherein to sit by the fireside and smoke, presumably gathering energies the while for the coming spring. A woman’s work, however, is never ended, for while the man smokes she spins the flax grown on her own ground and the wool from the sheep of the farm. In some parts of Overyssel it is still the custom for the women to meet together at some neighbouring friend’s house to spin, and during these sociable evenings they partake of the ‘spinning-meal,’ which consists of currant bread and coffee, and in turn sing and tell stories.
A weaver always visits every house once a year with his own loom to assist at these gatherings, and when the linen is woven it is rolled up and tied with coloured ribbons, decorated with artificial flowers, and kept in the linen-press–the pride of every Dutch housewife–and when a daughter of the house marries several rolls of this linen are added to her trousseau. The wealth of a farm is, in fact, calculated by the number of rolls. These are handed down for generations, and often contain linen more than a hundred years old. The wool, when woven, is made up into thick petticoats, of which every well-dressed peasant woman wears six or seven.
The education of the farmer is not very liberal. A child generally goes to school until he is twelve years of age, and during that time he has learnt reading, writing, and arithmetic. As a rule, however, he does not attend regularly, as his help is so often wanted at home, especially at harvest-time, and although the new education law–the ‘Leerplichtwet’ of July 7th, 1901–has made school attendance compulsory, yet a child is allowed to remain at home when wanted if he has attended school regularly during the six previous months. The interest of the parent and the inclination of the child are thus combined to the retarding of the intellectual progress of the boer. And yet, although they are so badly taught, the peasantry have a very good opinion about things in general, and if you assist them in their work and show them that you can use your hands as well as they can they have great respect for you, and will listen to anything you like to tell them about or read to them. The women especially have very pronounced views of their own, a trait not confined to Netherland womenfolk. To go about among them is at present the best way of educating them, and when you have once won their regard they will go through fire and water for you; but they despise any one who ‘does nothing,’ for, like most manual workers, they do not understand that brain-work is as hard as manual labour.
[Illustration: An Itinerant Linen-Weaver.]
[Illustration: Farmhouse Interior, showing the Linen-Press.]
The farmhouses in most parts of the country are neat and more or less of a pattern, although they differ in minor details. Outside their appearance is very quaint and picturesque, and the roofs are either thatched or tiled. In Groningen they now hardly resemble farms. They are, indeed, little country seats, and the interior is decidedly modern. Some of the very poorest-looking houses are to be found in Overyssel and Drenthe. These are built of clay, and stand halfway in the ground. The roofs are covered with sods taken from the ‘Drentsche Veengronden.’ Some of these ‘Plaggewoningen,’ as they are called, are not more than twelve feet square