Haarlem – France And The Netherlands

A few minutes bring us from Leyden to Haarlem by the railway. It crosses an isthmus between the sea and a lake which covered the whole country between Leyden, Haarlem, and Amsterdam till 1839, when it became troublesome, and the States-General forthwith, after the fashion of Holland, voted its destruction. Enormous engines were at once employed to drain it by pumping the water into canals, which carried it to the sea, and the country was the richer by a new province.

Haarlem, on the river Spaarne, stands out distinct in recollection from all other Dutch towns, for it has the most picturesque market-place in Holland—the Groote Markt—surrounded by quaint houses of varied outline, amid which rises the Groote Kerk of S. Bavo, a noble cruciform fifteenth-century building. The interior, however, is as bare and hideous as all other Dutch churches. It contains a monument to the architect Conrad, designer of the famous locks of Katwijk, “the defender of Holland against the fury of the sea and the power of tempests.” ” Behind the choir is the tomb of the poet Bilderijk, who only died in 1831, and near this the grave of Laurenz Janzoom—the Coster or Sacristan—who is asserted in his native town, but never believed outside it, to have been the real inventor of printing, as he is said to have cut out letters in wood, and taken impressions from them in ink, as early as 1423. His partizans also maintain that while he was attending a midnight mass, praying for patience to endure the ill-treatment of his enemies, all his implements were stolen, and that when he found this out on his return he died of grief.

It is further declared that the robber was Faust of Mayence, the partner of Gutenburg, and that it was thus that the honor of the invention passed from Holland to Germany where Gutenberg produced his invention of movable type twelve years later. There is a statue of the Coster in front of the church, and, on its north side, his house is preserved, and adorned with his bust.

Among a crowd of natives with their hats on, talking in church as in the market-place, we waited to hear the famous organ of Christian Muller (1735-38), and grievously were we disappointed with its discordant noises. All the men smoked in church, and this we saw repeatedly; but it would be difficult to say where we ever saw a Dutchman with a pipe out of his mouth. Every man seemed to be systematically smoking away the few wits he possest.

Opposite the Groote Berk is the Stadhuis, an old palace of the Counts of Holland re-modeled. It contains a delightful little gallery of the works of Franz Hals, which at once transports the spectator into the Holland of two hundred years ago—such is the marvelous variety of life and vigor imprest into its endless figures of stalwart officers and hand-some young archers pledging each other at banquet tables and seeming to welcome the visitor with jovial smiles as he enters the chamber, or of serene old ladies, “regents” of hospitals, seated at their council boards. The immense power of the artist is shown in nothing so much as in the hands, often gloved, dashed in with instantaneous power, yet always having the effect of the most consummate finish at a distance. Behind one of the pictures is the entrance to the famous “secret-room of Haarlem,” seldom seen, but containing an inestimable collection of historic relics of the time of the famous siege of Leyden.

April and May are the best months for visiting Haarlem, which is the bulb nursery garden of the world. “Oignons a fleurs” are advertised for sale everywhere. Tulips are more cultivated than any other flower, as ministering most of the national craving for color; but times are changed since a single bulb of the tulip “L’Amiral Liefkenshoch” sold for 4,500 florins, one of “Viceroy” for 4,200, and one of “Semper Augustus” for 13,000.