We had not realized that she is a city of canals, and the fact being thrust suddenly upon us at night produced a remarkable impression. Water at night is always mysterious. Here, it winds about you in every direction, the foreground twinkling with reflections of a thousand lights, the background fading into vistas of dark canals where the lights are lost in the shadow of enormous trees, or into indistinct perspectives of water-streets lined with rows of crazy, decrepit buildings which were out of line and out of plumb a hundred years before you were born. This scene awakens sensations hard to describe.
Did you ever use the old, mirror-backed sconces? or one of great-grandfather’s mirrors with candelabra attached to the frame? In them you see twice as many lights as there really are and these look quite dazzling ; the mirror, by contrast, seems dark and deep; so deep as to reflect not only the room but more beyondindeed, if you be in the mood, even scenes reflected a hundred years ago. You momentarily expect to see shapes in the wigs and ruffs and powder and patches of other days; duels would not surprise you, nor highway robberies, nor any of the dark, mysterious doings of another age. So the reflections of Amsterdam left usself-hypnotized, almostwith the strange feeling of having seen a fairyland that faded away in all directions through a gloomy region of dark ages to the fearsome background of the Inquisition.
Rising early, next morning, Scoffy threw open the casement and stepped on the balcony overlooking the waters of the Amstel. The near-by bridge was crowded with workers hastening to their daily tasks ; strange looking trolley-carswith disks showing a number instead of the name of the linecrossed and recrossed; various queer vehicles rumbled over it, including even the much-admired milk wagon pushed by the milkman himself on this occasion.
But the real life of the city seemed to be on the river. Boat after boat passed in quick succession. Some were steamboats with or without strings of barges; some, motorboats; some, motor-barges laden almost to the water’s edge with merchandise or pro-duce of various kinds ; other barges were poled along by their crews of two or four men. Barrels of oil, cans of milk, vegetables, hay, coal, building materials all the varied products necessary to the life and growth of a big citypassed along this waterway. Once, during a pause in the traffic, four young men rowed by in cedar, double-scull shells, taking an ante-breakfast constitutional which ended in a spirited race. A bit later, the water was deserted save for a river-man laboriously poling along a barge-load of brick; the bricks, it may be interesting to know, were carefully piled, each one separated from its fellows by a liberal quantity of straw.
To get under the bridge, steamers had to lower their smokestacks ; as these were hinged at the bottom and counterweighted, the performance was no more difficult than the opening of a door. Rivermen on the motorboats sounded a warning horn or pulled a jangling bell, to clear the way. These sounds attend the good burghers all day long and lull them to rest at night; but they served to arouse the Youth (the youngest member of our party), who emerged through the wonderfully and fearfully arranged hangings of an adjoining window to blink out at the sunlit morning.
Across the Amstel, every second house is having its doormat shaken or beaten and its already immaculate front steps scoured; a small steamer is turning around and warping itself in to the dock by means of a curious arrangement of piles, like the entrance to a cattle corral, driven into the river-bed ; this accomplished with-out aid of a hawser or of a man ashore, the captain leaves the wheel, takes off his coat and shoes, and be-gins to wash the deck.
With the cessation of the noise of clanking engine and squeaking piles, a peculiar whistle floated up from the garden under our bedroom windows.
“Hi! Pater is up,” exclaims the Youth.
Sure enough; the signal comes from our chief who is already at work making his plans for the day. Standing upon the little boat-landing at the foot of the garden steps, he strikes an impressive attitude and says, “Children, take notice ! This morning you may walk, shop, and be merry; but this afternoon you will assemble here at two o’clock sharp ; then we will step into our motor-gondola and explore the streets of `Venice.’ ”
Nothing, if not obedient, we proceeded to inspect the town. Pater excused himself on the plea of official business regarding the hiring of an automobile. The Youth, past master on the subject of motorcars, elected to accompany him; so did one of the Young Ladiesas a check on the Youth’s ambition to ride in a sixty horsepower car of maximum speed and mini-mum comfort.
Amsterdam, by daylight, proved pretty and picturesque beyond expectation. The Gallerie (arcade) surrounding the little wooded park of the Paleis vor Volksflijt first ensnared us, and only a promise of better things induced Mater to desert its attractive shops. Progress was slow; every cross street boasted a broad gracht (canal), and every bridge of Utrechtsche Straat (Utrecht Street) occasioned a delay to inspect the gracht and decide whether it was more picturesque than the one preceding, or its superb elm trees, along the flanking roadways, more magnificent. Whichever way the decision went, cameras were busy. We had no difficulty in realizing that the city is divided into ninety islands connected by . nearly three hundred bridges. Lack of trees along a few of the canals gave an unobstructed view of picturesque gabled buildings.
Nearer the inner city the great number of civil uni-forms become a matter for much speculation; besides policemen and postmen, there were messengers, hack-men, drivers, porters, and doormen, to say nothing of uniforms beyond our knowledge or surmise.
A group of pretty, young girls, wearing violet dresses relieved with white, belonged to the Walloon Orphanage; wards of the Municipal Orphanage show the city colors (red and black) in their costumes ; black with white headdress, indicated the wearers be-longed to the Roman Catholic Orphanage. Dutch municipalities are painstaking and thorough in the care of their public charges ; we did not meet a single beggar in Holland.
The attire of private citizens also drew attention. Straw hats with high crowns and narrow brims, worn by men and women alike, reminded Scoffy that he lacked suitable headgear. Grave young dandies in neat suits, wearing bright neckties with hatbands to match, and carrying canes indispensable even in business hours, regarded Scoffy’s foreign-cut clothes with interest, but, raising their eyes to his steamer-cap, looked away in marked disapproval. The costumes of Mater and the Young Lady also created much comment and they soon became the observed rather than the observers; for, as Mater remarked, the Dutch were not the only “sights” in Holland.
Of course the Delft store under the Munttoren claimed us for a while, though not for long, as the famous Kalverstraat lay across the way, and Mater was eager to enter. this Mecca of the shopper. Kalverstraat is narrow, and resembles some streets of lower New York in that the roadway, as well as the scanty sidewalk, is crowded with pedestrians. Silversmedderien, jewelry shops, art stores, antique shops, and other little places alluring to the traveler, lined the way; the prospect of a motorboat ride at two o’clock was rapidly fading into the dim region of might-have-been.
But Pater is wise in his generation. Barely half Kalverstraat had been traversed, when he appeared and, by cleverly inveighing against certain tempting shop windows, piloted us to the trolley station on the Sophien Plein.
Mater remarked there was no harm in stopping long enough to take “one more picture, anyway.” Scarcely had she pressed the bulb when a uniformed minion of the law strode towards her ; she paled visibly and an “I-never-laid-eyes-on-your-old-pocketbook” expression flitted across her features, but the minion, undaunted, inquired had she “taken a picture?” She answered, “Yes,” with the hesitation of one debating whether it would not have been justifiable to say “no”; where-upon the minion politely touched his helmet and said he supposed he “must be in the picture,” would she mind “sending him a copy ?” Our laughter nowise disconcerted him, and he blandly remarked that a let-ter addressed to number , Amsterdam police force, name of , would reach him. With an imperious gesture he stopped our trolley-car, handed us aboard, and, again saluting, left us to complete our homeward journey.
The Youth, who had been busy feeding the Dutch equivalent for sparrows, made the first announcement : “Hi! the boat’s waiting for us, I think.” A glance from the sitting-room window showed a spick-and-span motorboat bobbing up and down at the garden dock. An alacrity which spread even to the Young Ladies, hurried us downstairs and soon we were being rapidly chuf-chuffed up the broad Amstel waterway.
Old Amsterdam was built in a semicircle, with Het IJ (the Y, an arm of the Zuyder Zee) as its northern diameter; the city lies quite close to the Zuyder Zee, and the broad east end of Het IJ is closed by a huge dam with five locks for the passage of vesselsthe narrow, meandering west end (beyond the city) having been converted into the Noordzee Kanaal which cuts through some fifteen miles of intervening country to the North Sea. This canal makes Amsterdam a seaport and, with the newer Merwede Kanaal leading through Utrecht to the Lek and the Maas, has revived the city’s commercial prosperity, which had declined and was being rapidly absorbed by her great rivalRotterdani,
While passing into the Amstelschuts lock we noticed an interesting feature, to be seen in various parts of the city ; at intervals, along the brick walls of locks and bridges, stone socketseach with a heavy vertical iron barare inserted to enable rivermen to push their barges through these narrow passages. Evidence of countless cargoes which have passed this way in the course of centuries, is presented by the fact that many of these iron bars are nearly worn through and, where improvident former generations have failed to furnish sockets of stone, the brickwork is scraped away for al-most a foot on both sides of its proper boundary.
‘Tis a strange experience to glide unnoticed through the arteries of this great city and watch its busy life. Old gabled buildings tower above youstores, warehouses, residencesnearly all provided with a hoisting-beam over the attic door. The merchants of former times lived above their shops or sample rooms, attic spaces being devoted to the storage of goods; this accounts for the invariable door and beam in the gable. Queer craft lie moored along the banks; many strange cargoes line the stringpieces of the quays or are being hoistedwith that universal, crooning chant out of the vessel’s hold, or up into their attic resting place.
Occasionally our route carried us through grachten devoted to private residence. They are nearly always lined with fine trees. Children play in the street, in-different to the watercourse. Even at this hour, maids are busy with the ceaseless sweeping, polishing, and scouring; but mevrouw is enjoying her afternoon relaxationdiligently working at her embroidery, out upon the steps, or, maybe, nodding over her knitting at the window.
Our boatman pointed out several picturesque towers which add so much interest to Amsterdam’s sky line. The Holttoren came first ; then we crossed the Joden-Bree-Straat, the main street of the Jewish quarter, and, passing the Montalbaans tower, we entered the broad Oster Dok, in front of the West India House. To our right lay the Rijks Marine Dok, the Merchant School for Navigation and the Sailors’ Home; to the left stretched the Prins Hendrik Kade, with Admiral De Ruyter’s house. In the distance rose the squat Schreyerstoren built in 1482once the starting place of ocean-going vessels, and called “Criers’ Tower” because of the wails of departing passengers and of their friends, in the old, hazardous days of ocean travel.
Soon our boat emerged from the outer locks into Het IJ. Dancing waves rocked the little craft and a fresh breeze swished the salt spray across our faces; we forged past the Handels Kade and other quays where scores of seagoing vessels lie, then crossed over to visit the Wilhelmina Dok, a dry-dock, with a big East Indiaman having its hull repainted below the waterline. At one quay we noticed a large English yacht whose passengers were gathered in the after deck, gravely taking the inevitable afternoon tea.
We reentered the city through more locks and resumed our cruise through its placid grachten. The old town was bounded by the semicircular Singelgracht whose sharp salient angles, breaking the uniformity of its contour, still suggest the bastions of former fortifications ; within the Singel-gracht are five concentric canals, the principal lateral waterways of the old cityLijnbaans-gracht, Prinsen-gracht, Keizers-gracht, Heeren-gracht, and Singel. On the Singel, the inner canal, you pass several churches, and the University Library which, among its 350,000 books, possesses the rather unusual collection of 8,000 volumes of Jewish literature.
Owing to religious toleration, Amsterdam harbored a very large colony of Jewish refugeesmainly Spanish or Portuguese, though persecution in Germany, Poland, and in the Spanish Netherlands added others ; being the principal traders and merchants of the Middle Ages they could hardly have found a refuge more congenial than this great commercial city. The art of diamond polishing introduced by Portuguese Jews after the sack of Antwerp, in 1576, has made Amsterdam, today, the greatest diamond market in the world. Spinoza the philosopher, son of a Portuguese Jew, was born in Amsterdam in 1632; Rembrandt, at the height of his prosperity, occupied a magnificent house in the Jewish quarter at Joden-Bree-Straat No. 4. In fact, the Jews formed a very rich and influential part of the community; they were patriotic as well, never failing to take the side of the stadholders in any dispute with the states-general.
The Amstel, the Binnen Amstel, and some minor canals cut across the five great grachten; but the Amstel does not supply water for the canals ; to prevent malhelvetica exhalations, their water is continuously renewed from an arm of the North Sea Canal, and dredges are constantly removing any mud which may accumulate.
The quiet, sedate, semicircular grachten had special attraction for us ; on the Prinsen and Keizers-gracht lie many old houses, churches, and market places. On the Heeren-gracht is the Willet-Holthuysen Museum, a private house dating from about 1672 ; also the house of Baron Six (a descendant of Burgomaster Jan Six, a friend and patron of Rembrandt) which contains many fine paintings by Rembrandt and others, nearly all acquired through inheritance.
The Heeren-gracht appealed to us most of all ; the Fifth Avenue of Amsterdam, it displays styles of architecture ranging from the quaint brick dwellings of the seventeenth century to the limestone palace of today. Our skipper spoke of stately gardens, invisible to us, behind walls and buildings. We looked upon this silent water-street, peopling it with the images of times long past ; our mind’s eye saw it covered, by day, with fleets of merchantmen bearing strange cargoes from the Indies and stranger sailors armed and earringed as of old. At night, we agreed, there should be gaily dressed jonkheers poling along to seek their sweet-hearts; or tattered adventurers and handsome villains, muffled in cloaks, silently stealing by on questionable ventures ; and we decided that the great merchants and nobles of those days would not sally forth in a coach-and-four, but would stride down the damp stone steps in the glare of the links and travel away into the night on the seat of a speedy barge. Alas ! all too soon, we were landed at the little garden dock we had left three hours before. What happy hours ! what a strange experience to store away in our memory.
The next day was Sundaymuseum day, Pater termed it. Scoffy had purchased a straw hat to wear with his “Sunday clothes.” Having learned that the sign “Groote Oppruiming” means “Bargain Sales,” he hied himself to the Utrechtsche Straat and scanned the shop windows so labeled. He found a hat marked sixty cents, which seemed ridiculously cheap, being twenty-four cents (American) ; its shape was a bit too Dutch, so he decided on one at the exorbitant (! ) price of sixty cents (American) which might pass muster in other countries. He still regrets that rejetted bargain, feeling he missed the pleasure of taking home a hat costing less than a quarter.
The Nieuwe Kerk, adjoining the palace, strongly attracted us, but its being in course of restoration and renovation balked our laudable intentions. The restoration of the New Church was not altogether unnecessary; for, as may easily happen with so-called “new” things in old countries, its claim to newness lay in the fact that it dates back only five-hundred years as against the six-hundred and eight years of the Oude Kerk (Old Church). Before turning from the venerable edifice one of us quoted the thoughts it inspired in the poet Aldrich :
“Grave, portly burghers, with their vrouws, Go hat in hand to cool their brows. But high in the fretted steeple, where The sudden chimes burst forth and scare The lazy rooks from the belfry beam, And the ring-doves as they coo and dream On flying-buttress or carven rose Up here, mein Gott ! a tempest blows ! Such a wind as bends the forest tree, And rocks the great ships out at sea.
“Plain simple folk, who come and go On humble levels of life below, Little dream of the gales that smite Mortals dwelling upon the height !”
“Well,” exclaimed Scoffy, “that fits the former citizens of Amsterdam to a ‘T’; they submitted to the Spanish yoke and sweated under it, while all about them, even small towns were doing great deeds and tasting the breath of liberty. A fierce and dangerous tempest to breast, and thousands came to grief ; but those who refused to temporize, and struggled gamely to the end, achieved a victory.”
The palace lies on the Dam. The only open door at the front was an entrance to the guardroom, yet a circuit of the building revealed no other; as a matter of fact, the building has been criticised for having no main entrance. Having mustered up sufficient courage to address the lone sentry at the rear, we were directed to pull an odd looking bell-handle hanging on the door jamb, and it proved an open sesame to the grim old structure.
During the usual wait for a guide a young Japanese tourist cornered Scoffy and quizzed him in very fluent but indescribably comical English. It appeared he was traveling eastward around the world. His questions illustrated in a striking manner the indefatigable efforts of Japan to educate her people according to European standards. Conversation was productive of little information other than the fact that he expected to see Berlin and St. Petersburg. Scoffy was glad to end the talk, though afterward he had an in-exhaustible stock of quotations proudly prefaced with the words, “as my friend, Prince `Fuji Yama’ used to say,” etc.
Het Paleis has been called a palace without a king. Indeed, it is apt to give the impression that no one has ever lived there or ever will, even though we are assured that Queen Wilhelmina makes it her duty to spend at least two weeks every year within its gloomy walls. The rooms have a musty smell, carpets are either covered or taken up, and furniture and decorations are shrouded in linen, except for little samples left uncovered for the tourist’s inspection. But the paintings on walls and ceilings are worth seeing, and the carved marble decorations in most of the rooms are noteworthy. Of more than passing interest is the first-floor vestibule which was used as a municipal tribunal (Vierschaare) ; we can look down from a room in the second story, as from a gallery, and see the raised marble seats of the magistrates and the fine sculptured frieze with caryatides emblematical of disgrace and punishment. The large reception room may be overrated in being called the finest hall in Europe, but it is a splendid apartment one-hundred feet high and one-hundred and seventeen feet long, with marble walls and a fine marble group over the throne room door. Of greater popular interest than its roof, with a clean span of fifty-seven feet, is the collection of Spanish battleflags and trophies hanging overhead, both here and in the throne room.
“Well, it is nice to breathe fresh air again,” admitted one of the Young Ladies, as we stepped out of doors. Scoffy was the last to emerge, having had some difficulty in effecting the release of an umbrella retained at the office, until in a desperate repetition of “umbrella, regenschirm, parapluie,” this last proved the magic word.
Owing to the Sabbath we did not cross the Damrak to see the Café Krasnopolsky (one of the largest in Europe) nor the curious store of Wynand-Fockink, a firm established in 1697, whose curaçoa is known all over the civilized world. One Young Lady vetoed the suggestion of visiting the Begynenhof, or béguinage, having heard it was largely restored, and being averse to going out of her way to see buildings not positively grimy with age ; it was, however, a mistake to pass it by.
The rest of the day was devoted to the Rijks Museum. Besides its priceless pictures, there is much that is admirable in this vast collection. Fully a day might be given to the division of ecclesiastical art, the rooms of civic and industrial art, and the military, naval and colonial collections. The gold and silverware, glass, porcelain, faience, and lacquer work are beautiful. Even the Youth, not usually interested in furniture or interior decoration, grew quite excited about the separate rooms with all their old-time fittings; and the rest of us, not generally given to any great appreciation of boats, were charmed with the naval collection, declaring its sectional models more fascinating than any doll’s house ever built, though the museum did not lack dolls’ houses.
An out of the way corner of the rear basement con-tains a large array of wax figures clothed in the peasant costumes of the Dutch provinces. To a stranger the odd clothes mask any awkwardness of posture and make the figures appear singularly lifelike; men and women, old and young, small children, and even babies, are depicted. The dainty lace cap of the Volendam fisher-girl, the ruffled hood and spiral gold pendants of the near-by peasantry, the gold helmet of the noble freule of distant Friesland are all represented; in the course of the next forty-eight hours we saw many of these on their native strand or heath.
While viewing the pictures, the Youth assumed command of the party in virtue of having a guidebook which indicated those of greatest repute. His idea of art approximates that of the old-style tourist who rushed through the galleries with eyes for nothing except those canvasses which have a star of special merit in the catalogue and which, consequently, one must see. Accordingly, with merciless forefinger moving down the page, he hurried us from room to room and gallery to gallery until we were almost overcome with fatigue, and Scoffy growled that he was going to sit down and admire “something I like, be it triply starred or doubly damned.”
Occasionally there is quite some pleasure in being perverse and wandering through a gallery without a catalogue; in many a room of great collections one suddenly comes upon the original of a picture long admired, and barely escapes stretching out one’s hand and saying, “Well, I declare, how are you! You certainly look fine; I never realized that you were located in Amsterdam,” or “Dresden,” or “Paris,” or wherever the place may be. But there is a middle ground ; though enthusiasm inspired by the guidebook is often mere affectation, it is just as questionablein strolling through a Dutch gallery, for exampleto deliberately avoid mention of a name so famous as Rembrandt and to raise one’s lorgnette with studied indifference and say, “Ah! a van Rijn, I supposejust as I thought.” Or in some other gallery, “I should say that this must be a Santi,” or “A Holbein! of course. One of Hans’ best, don’t you think so ?” Many people go into ecstacy over a picture because the book lauds it, whereas they might better frankly say with Scoffy, “As my friend, Prince `Fuji Yama’ used to say, `Honorable picture may be really some fine excellent, but perhaps I think always much opposite.’ ”
“But the `beat’ of them all,” says the Youth, “is a certain lady who, on seeing the Dresden Chocolate Girl, exclaimed, `Merciful heavens ! what have they got that old advertisement stuck up in this picture gallery for?’ ”
And so they were all inspectedThe Night Watch, The Staalmeesters, The Banquet, The Jovial Toper, The Fool with the Lute, The Dancing Cat, The Married Couple in the Garden, The Sick Girl with the Physician, The Old Lady Elizabeth Bas, The Water Mill, Potter’s Cattle and Weenix’s Dead Game, The Roysterers, The Cavalry Fighthundreds of them, great and small; starred, double starred, and not starred at all. All of them depicted merely the Dutch people of years gone by ; how they lived and loved, how they ate and drank, worked and played, and quarreled and foughtand all were strangely and insistently attractive.
What is there about the old Dutch paintings that makes them so interesting, so restful and satisfactory to contemplate? They fit into any environment and yet never lose their individual atmosphere and charm. Can it be that the minute detail and commonplace subject rest us by making no demand upon our imaginations when we are not in the mood ; and that, conversely, when our spirit stirs, their lifelike colorings and the warm gloom of the backgrounds stimulate our thoughts by suggesting mystery and romance? Or, is it the elemental Dutchness of the Teutonic race hidden away in every German, Englishman, and American of us allwhich detects a kindred spirit within those gold frames and welcomes it as one meets congenial company.